Wednesday, March 31, 2010

In contrast: A message from the civilised world or: why I like old Europe

Recommendation CM/Rec(2010)5
of the Committee of Ministers to member states
on measures to combat discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity

(Adopted by the Committee of Ministers on 31 March 2010
at the 1081st meeting of the Ministers’ Deputies)

The Committee of Ministers, under the terms of Article 15.b of the Statute of the Council of Europe,

Considering that the aim of the Council of Europe is to achieve a greater unity between its members, and that this aim may be pursued, in particular, through common action in the field of human rights;

Recalling that human rights are universal and shall apply to all individuals, and stressing therefore its commitment to guarantee the equal dignity of all human beings and the enjoyment of rights and freedoms of all individuals without discrimination on any ground such as sex, race, colour, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, association with a national minority, property, birth or other status, in accordance with the Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms(ETS No. 5) (hereinafter referred to as “the Convention”) and its protocols;

Recognising that non-discriminatory treatment by state actors, as well as, where appropriate, positive state measures for protection against discriminatory treatment, including by non-state actors, are fundamental components of the international system protecting human rights and fundamental freedoms;

Recognising that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons have been for centuries and are still subjected to homophobia, transphobia and other forms of intolerance and discrimination even within their family – including criminalisation, marginalisation, social exclusion and violence – on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity, and that specific action is required in order to ensure the full enjoyment of the human rights of these persons;

Considering the case law of the European Court of Human Rights (“hereinafter referred to as “the Court”) and of other international jurisdictions, which consider sexual orientation a prohibited ground for discrimination and have contributed to the advancement of the protection of the rights of transgender persons;

Recalling that, in accordance with the case law of the Court, any difference in treatment, in order not to be discriminatory, must have an objective and reasonable justification, that is, pursue a legitimate aim and employ means which are reasonably proportionate to the aim pursued;

Bearing in mind the principle that neither cultural, traditional nor religious values, nor the rules of a “dominant culture” can be invoked to justify hate speech or any other form of discrimination, including on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity;

Having regard to the message from the Committee of Ministers to steering committees and other committees involved in intergovernmental co-operation at the Council of Europe on equal rights and dignity of all human beings, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, adopted on 2 July 2008, and its relevant recommendations;

Bearing in mind the recommendations adopted since 1981 by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe regarding discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity, as well as Recommendation 211 (2007) of the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of the Council of Europe on “Freedom of assembly and expression for lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgendered persons”;

Appreciating the role of the Commissioner for Human Rights in monitoring the situation of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons in the member states with respect to discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity;

Taking note of the joint statement, made on 18 December 2008 by 66 states at the United Nations General Assembly, which condemned human rights violations based on sexual orientation and gender identity, such as killings, torture, arbitrary arrests and “deprivation of economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to health”;

Stressing that discrimination and social exclusion on account of sexual orientation or gender identity may best be overcome by measures targeted both at those who experience such discrimination or exclusion, and the population at large,

Recommends that member states:

1. examine existing legislative and other measures, keep them under review, and collect and analyse relevant data, in order to monitor and redress any direct or indirect discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity;

2. ensure that legislative and other measures are adopted and effectively implemented to combat discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity, to ensure respect for the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons and to promote tolerance towards them;

3. ensure that victims of discrimination are aware of and have access to effective legal remedies before a national authority, and that measures to combat discrimination include, where appropriate, sanctions for infringements and the provision of adequate reparation for victims of discrimination;

4. be guided in their legislation, policies and practices by the principles and measures contained in the appendix to this recommendation;

5. ensure by appropriate means and action that this recommendation, including its appendix, is translated and disseminated as widely as possible.

Appendix to Recommendation CM/Rec(2010)5

I. Right to life, security and protection from violence

A. “Hate crimes” and other hate-motivated incidents

1. Member states should ensure effective, prompt and impartial investigations into alleged cases of crimes and other incidents, where the sexual orientation or gender identity of the victim is reasonably suspected to have constituted a motive for the perpetrator; they should further ensure that particular attention is paid to the investigation of such crimes and incidents when allegedly committed by law-enforcement officials or by other persons acting in an official capacity, and that those responsible for such acts are effectively brought to justice and, where appropriate, punished in order to avoid impunity.

2. Member states should ensure that when determining sanctions, a bias motive related to sexual orientation or gender identity may be taken into account as an aggravating circumstance.

3. Member states should take appropriate measures to ensure that victims and witnesses of sexual orientation or gender identity related “hate crimes” and other hate-motivated incidents are encouraged to report these crimes and incidents; for this purpose, member states should take all necessary steps to ensure that law-enforcement structures, including the judiciary, have the necessary knowledge and skills to identify such crimes and incidents and provide adequate assistance and support to victims and witnesses.

4. Member states should take appropriate measures to ensure the safety and dignity of all persons in prison or in other ways deprived of their liberty, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, and in particular take protective measures against physical assault, rape and other forms of sexual abuse, whether committed by other inmates or staff; measures should be taken so as to adequately protect and respect the gender identity of transgender persons.

5. Member states should ensure that relevant data are gathered and analysed on the prevalence and nature of discrimination and intolerance on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity, and in particular on “hate crimes” and hate-motivated incidents related to sexual orientation or gender identity.

B. “Hate speech”

6. Member states should take appropriate measures to combat all forms of expression, including in the media and on the Internet, which may be reasonably understood as likely to produce the effect of inciting, spreading or promoting hatred or other forms of discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons. Such “hate speech” should be prohibited and publicly disavowed whenever it occurs. All measures should respect the fundamental right to freedom of expression in accordance with Article 10 of the Convention and the case law of the Court.

7. Member states should raise awareness among public authorities and public institutions at all levels of their responsibility to refrain from statements, in particular to the media, which may reasonably be understood as legitimising such hatred or discrimination.

8. Public officials and other state representatives should be encouraged to promote tolerance and respect for the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons whenever they engage in a dialogue with key representatives of the civil society, including media and sports organisations, political organisations and religious communities.

II. Freedom of association

9. Member states should take appropriate measures to ensure, in accordance with Article 11 of the Convention, that the right to freedom of association can be effectively enjoyed without discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity; in particular, discriminatory administrative procedures, including excessive formalities for the registration and practical functioning of associations, should be prevented and removed; measures should also be taken to prevent the abuse of legal and administrative provisions, such as those related to restrictions based on public health, public morality and public order.

10. Access to public funding available for non-governmental organisations should be secured without discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity.

11. Member states should take appropriate measures to effectively protect defenders of human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons against hostility and aggression to which they may be exposed, including when allegedly committed by state agents, in order to enable them to freely carry out their activities in accordance with the Declaration of the Committee of Ministers on Council of Europe action to improve the protection of human rights defenders and promote their activities.

12. Member states should ensure that non-governmental organisations defending the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons are appropriately consulted on the adoption and implementation of measures that may have an impact on the human rights of these persons.

III. Freedom of expression and peaceful assembly

13. Member states should take appropriate measures to ensure, in accordance with Article 10 of the Convention, that the right to freedom of expression can be effectively enjoyed, without discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity, including with respect to the freedom to receive and impart information on subjects dealing with sexual orientation or gender identity.

14. Member states should take appropriate measures at national, regional and local levels to ensure that the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, as enshrined in Article 11 of the Convention, can be effectively enjoyed, without discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity.

15. Member states should ensure that law-enforcement authorities take appropriate measures to protect participants in peaceful demonstrations in favour of the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons from any attempts to unlawfully disrupt or inhibit the effective enjoyment of their right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.

16. Member states should take appropriate measures to prevent restrictions on the effective enjoyment of the rights to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly resulting from the abuse of legal or administrative provisions, for example on grounds of public health, public morality and public order.

17. Public authorities at all levels should be encouraged to publicly condemn, notably in the media, any unlawful interferences with the right of individuals and groups of individuals to exercise their freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, notably when related to the human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons.

IV. Right to respect for private and family life

18. Member states should ensure that any discriminatory legislation criminalising same-sex sexual acts between consenting adults, including any differences with respect to the age of consent for same-sex sexual acts and heterosexual acts, are repealed; they should also take appropriate measures to ensure that criminal law provisions which, because of their wording, may lead to a discriminatory application are either repealed, amended or applied in a manner which is compatible with the principle of non-discrimination.

19. Member states should ensure that personal data referring to a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity are not collected, stored or otherwise used by public institutions including in particular within law-enforcement structures, except where this is necessary for the performance of specific, lawful and legitimate purposes; existing records which do not comply with these principles should be destroyed.

20. Prior requirements, including changes of a physical nature, for legal recognition of a gender reassignment, should be regularly reviewed in order to remove abusive requirements.

21. Member states should take appropriate measures to guarantee the full legal recognition of a person’s gender reassignment in all areas of life, in particular by making possible the change of name and gender in official documents in a quick, transparent and accessible way; member states should also ensure, where appropriate, the corresponding recognition and changes by non-state actors with respect to key documents, such as educational or work certificates.

22. Member states should take all necessary measures to ensure that, once gender reassignment has been completed and legally recognised in accordance with paragraphs 20 and 21 above, the right of transgender persons to marry a person of the sex opposite to their reassigned sex is effectively guaranteed.

23. Where national legislation confers rights and obligations on unmarried couples, member states should ensure that it applies in a non-discriminatory way to both same-sex and different-sex couples, including with respect to survivor’s pension benefits and tenancy rights.

24. Where national legislation recognises registered same-sex partnerships, member states should seek to ensure that their legal status and their rights and obligations are equivalent to those of heterosexual couples in a comparable situation.

25. Where national legislation does not recognise nor confer rights or obligations on registered same-sex partnerships and unmarried couples, member states are invited to consider the possibility of providing, without discrimination of any kind, including against different sex couples, same-sex couples with legal or other means to address the practical problems related to the social reality in which they live.

26. Taking into account that the child’s best interests should be the primary consideration in decisions regarding the parental responsibility for, or guardianship of a child, member states should ensure that such decisions are taken without discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

27. Taking into account that the child’s best interests should be the primary consideration in decisions regarding adoption of a child, member states whose national legislation permits single individuals to adopt children should ensure that the law is applied without discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.

28. Where national law permits assisted reproductive treatment for single women, member states should seek to ensure access to such treatment without discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation.

V. Employment

29. Member states should ensure the establishment and implementation of appropriate measures which provide effective protection against discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity in employment and occupation in the public as well as in the private sector. These measures should cover conditions for access to employment and promotion, dismissals, pay and other working conditions, including the prevention, combating and punishment of harassment and other forms of victimisation.

30. Particular attention should be paid to providing effective protection of the right to privacy of transgender individuals in the context of employment, in particular regarding employment applications, to avoid any irrelevant disclosure of their gender history or their former name to the employer and other employees.

VI. Education

31. Taking into due account the over-riding interests of the child, member states should take appropriate legislative and other measures, addressed to educational staff and pupils, to ensure that the right to education can be effectively enjoyed without discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity; this includes, in particular, safeguarding the right of children and youth to education in a safe environment, free from violence, bullying, social exclusion or other forms of discriminatory and degrading treatment related to sexual orientation or gender identity.

32. Taking into due account the over-riding interests of the child, appropriate measures should be taken to this effect at all levels to promote mutual tolerance and respect in schools, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. This should include providing objective information with respect to sexual orientation and gender identity, for instance in school curricula and educational materials, and providing pupils and students with the necessary information, protection and support to enable them to live in accordance with their sexual orientation and gender identity. Furthermore, member states may design and implement school equality and safety policies and action plans and may ensure access to adequate anti-discrimination training or support and teaching aids. Such measures should take into account the rights of parents regarding education of their children.

VII. Health

33. Member states should take appropriate legislative and other measures to ensure that the highest attainable standard of health can be effectively enjoyed without discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity; in particular, they should take into account the specific needs of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons in the development of national health plans including suicide prevention measures, health surveys, medical curricula, training courses and materials, and when monitoring and evaluating the quality of health-care services.

34. Appropriate measures should be taken in order to avoid the classification of homosexuality as an illness, in accordance with the standards of the World Health Organisation.

35. Member states should take appropriate measures to ensure that transgender persons have effective access to appropriate gender reassignment services, including psychological, endocrinological and surgical expertise in the field of transgender health care, without being subject to unreasonable requirements; no person should be subjected to gender reassignment procedures without his or her consent.

36. Member states should take appropriate legislative and other measures to ensure that any decisions limiting the costs covered by health insurance for gender reassignment procedures should be lawful, objective and proportionate.

VIII. Housing

37. Measures should be taken to ensure that access to adequate housing can be effectively and equally enjoyed by all persons, without discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity; such measures should in particular seek to provide protection against discriminatory evictions, and to guarantee equal rights to acquire and retain ownership of land and other property.

38. Appropriate attention should be paid to the risks of homelessness faced by lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, including young persons and children who may be particularly vulnerable to social exclusion, including from their own families; in this respect, the relevant social services should be provided on the basis of an objective assessment of the needs of every individual, without discrimination.

IX. Sports

39. Homophobia, transphobia and discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity in sports are, like racism and other forms of discrimination, unacceptable and should be combated.

40. Sport activities and facilities should be open to all without discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity; in particular, effective measures should be taken to prevent, counteract and punish the use of discriminatory insults with reference to sexual orientation or gender identity during and in connection with sports events.

41. Member states should encourage dialogue with and support sports associations and fan clubs in developing awareness-raising activities regarding discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons in sport and in condemning manifestations of intolerance towards them.

X. Right to seek asylum

42. In cases where member states have international obligations in this respect, they should recognise that a well-founded fear of persecution based on sexual orientation or gender identity may be a valid ground for the granting of refugee status and asylum under national law.

43. Member states should ensure particularly that asylum seekers are not sent to a country where their life or freedom would be threatened or they face the risk of torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity.

44. Asylum seekers should be protected from any discriminatory policies or practices on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity; in particular, appropriate measures should be taken to prevent risks of physical violence, including sexual abuse, verbal aggression or other forms of harassment against asylum seekers deprived of their liberty, and to ensure their access to information relevant to their particular situation.

XI. National human rights structures

45. Member states should ensure that national human rights structures are clearly mandated to address discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity; in particular, they should be able to make recommendations on legislation and policies, raise awareness amongst the general public, as well as – as far as national law so provides – examine individual complaints regarding both the private and public sector and initiate or participate in court proceedings.

XII. Discrimination on multiple grounds

46. Member states are encouraged to take measures to ensure that legal provisions in national law prohibiting or preventing discrimination also protect against discrimination on multiple grounds, including on grounds of sexual orientation or gender identity; national human rights structures should have a broad mandate to enable them to tackle such issues.

https://wcd.coe.int/ViewDoc.jsp?id=1606669&Site=CM&BackColorInternet=C3C3C3&BackColorIntranet=EDB021&BackColorLogged=F5D383

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Stupid Person of the Week: Morgan Tsvangirai

It's of course well-known that Zimbabwe's crackpot dictator Robert Mugabe doesn't like gays and lesbians. What's news is that his counterpart, Morgan Tsvangirai (Movement of Democratic Change), is in the same ballpark. Here's his explanation for why he doesn't think sexual orientation should be protected in new Constitution that they're working on. Quote: 'Women make up 52% of the population... There are more women than men, so why should men be proposing to men?' Leaving aside the obvious idiocy of such a statement (homosexuality has nothing to do with the supply of sexual partners of the opposite sex), this makes you wonder whether he thinks it's cool for women to pick women, seeing that there's an obvious oversupply in Zimbabwe. Anyhow, funny stuff... out of Africa. Tsvangirai seems to think that the civil rights of gays and lesbians should be contingent on the size of the pool of potential opposite-sex sex partners. Timeless.

Herewith the Stupid Person of the Week Price is awarded to Morgan Tsvangirai, Prime Minister of Zimbabwe. Congrats Morgan. You're joining other famous Zimbabweans, notably multi-award winning Robert Mugabe on the podium. Well done Sir!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

The Catholic Church and its Sex Abuse Scandals

You might think, 'oi wei, there he goes again', but seriously, the ever-growing sex scandal in the Roman Catholic Church is surely something to savor by any atheist. Not because we wouldn't feel sorry for the children who have been abused sexually and otherwise by what amounts to thousands of priests who were supposed to look after them in some role or other. One has every reason to feel sorry for them. Equally though, this IS another case of 'we told you so'.

I don't want to dwell too much on the horrific abuse that has (and probably still is) taken place, tempting as it is to recount some of the more salacious details. Here's the real problem for an organization that relies on people buying into lots of bizarre stuff in order exercise power over people's lives directly and indirectly. Just recall how the Catholic bishops in the US tried hard to kill health care reform in the US just a week ago, playing against the 'ethics' and 'morals' card. Remarkably that this bunch of discredited old men still dare to talk to us about morality. It is clear that senior management of the Church the world all over (and including the organization's CEO, its current Pope) have worked day and night to conceal the abuse and have worked day and night to protect its raping and beating staff from being prosecuted by the state. Says British human rights campaigner Peter Tatchell,
"In a 2001 edict to Catholic Bishops worldwide, the Pope ordered a cover-up of child sex abuse by Catholic clergy. He failed to ensure that priests who raped and sexually abused young people were reported to the police. This is why he is not welcome in the UK and why we object to him being honoured with a State Visit in September, especially a State Visit that is being funded by the taxpayer."

Makes you wonder, even if you hold the organization not in as much disdain as I do, why would the Church do this?

The answer, I think, is actually quite simple: Part of the Catholic fairy tale is that the Pope and his staff are representatives of God on earth. You know people us mere mortals are meant to look up to for guidance. Surely an omnipotent, omniscient and good God would not allow his own local reps to engage in such sort of perverted behaviors, especially not in such large numbers. At least that's what most sane people, believers and atheists, would have to wonder. It's one thing for them to say that God ain't interfering with what mere mortals are doing on earth, that he's given us autonomy to live our own lives and so on and so forth. Fair enough, but that surely doesn't explain why God's own reps engage in such reprehensible stuff and God does nothing. If, on the other hand God's reps are in those crucial respects no different to the rest of us, we have every reason to ask why we should trust their advice on matter ethics anymore than the next person in the street. I suspect actually that priests ARE more likely to engage in such aberrant sexual activities due to the celibacy related hypocrisy, but that's another story.

This then is the reason, I think, for why the Church has gone out of its way to keep the abuse under wraps, even if that meant to protect child abusing staff members from prosecution. Of course, this permitted many of the child abusers to continue their abuse for decades. It is clear then that the Church, in order to uphold the fiction of Gods reps on earth, did not hesitate to protect child abusing staff the world all over.

So, my advice to employees of the cult of misery: cease and desist to engage in any further attempts at influencing public policy in areas of reproductive health or any other matter. You are in no situation, credibly, to claim special moral insights and competence.

As to my fellow atheists out there: indeed, there is no God that's omniscient, omnipotent and good. Otherwise, no doubt, today's latest scandal in the ongoing saga would also not have happened. God would not have permitted a Roman Catholic priest to abuse 200 deaf boys sexually and get full cover from the church hierarchy (I do mean the Vatican). It is that simple.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

US Health Care Debate

I'm sure it's tempting to go on and on and on about the US health care debate, but really, the less said the better. So, the Democrats (a party nearly as sad and as spineless as the Liberals in Canada) barely managed to get what they consider a reform package thru the Congress where they have a massive majority. A lot more people will be able to access health care, that's about the only good news. The bad news is found all over the place. The skyrocketing share prices of major insurance companies tell you who the real winner of this exercise is: shareholders of insurance companies. There's no public option, so the milking of individual patients by insurance companies will continue. Wow, amazing reform this is! Then there have been those right-wingers (teabag, sandbag and otherwise) that went on and on and on about a government takeover of health care. I only wish there had been a government take-over. Sadly there wasn't. All this silly hand-waving about losing lack of control over one's health care was just mind boggling. I would prefer a government controlled health care system over one controlled by for-profits at any time. Why should control over my access to a given surgical procedure by an employee of a for-profit insurance company give me any more choice than if the same was undertaken by a doctor in a public health care system? Well, what can I say, having lived in countries with public health care (UK, Australia, Canada), government health care is preferable to for-profit health care at any time. It is that simple. It's cheaper and more efficient in terms of bang for your buck. You wouldn't expect US Americans that rely on Fox agitprop to realize that. Well, and Mr Obama, much like the Canadian Liberal's Ignatieff, should probably have gone into academia as opposed to politics. I wouldn't call his last minute scramble a 'fight' (of the political kind) for health care reform. More of a sell-out in terms of progressive politics.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

BA strike - the other side of the story

Seeing that most UK based media have been ganging up on the striking BA airline crew members I thought it's fair enough to offer the other side a reasonably public voice. Here's a bit I picked up from the comments page of the Daily Torygraph. Spelling mistakes as in the original.

'I have worked for BA for 21 years, I am not a militant person and wear my BA uniform with pride. I feel compelled to post this because I am sick of hearing nothing but crew bashing from the media. After 21 years with British Airways my salary is 21,000 pounds a year, nothing close to the 56 thousand that is being reported on the news, whereas Mr Walsh recieves the highest salary of any CEO in the airline industry not to mention his generous bonuses and share options. British Airways is informing the press and public that 60% of flights are departing today, well let me explain why this is. British Airways operate many code share flights with other airlines, in other words, the flight is operated by another carrier with a BA flight number. British Airways is also operating a huge number of what we call "Ghost Flights" These are BA planes that are being flown without passengers or Cabin Crew to destination in order to collect passengers and bring them back to London and finally, all the BA flights operated by the wet lease aircraft are flying with a BA flight prefix so I guess with that information, BA will get many flights away today. The volenteer crew that Mr Walsh is using have not recieved the proper medical training that we recieved, infact an email was sent out by the company 2 weeks ago stating that these crew were not to deal onboard medial problems or emergencies, these should be left to the fully trained crew.
Over the past couple of years, BA have been hit very hard by enormous fines for our price fixing scandal, the Terminal 5 fiasco, incorrect fuel hedging, Cargo price fixing fines, the list goes on. These fines ammount to over 600 million pounds and contributed to our record losses. Mr Walsh has a record of destroying airlines, Aer Lingus being his legacy. He was thrown out by the Irish prime minister for selling of priceless works of art in order to keep the company affloat, only to then try and complet a hostile buy out with 2 colleagues. He was called "Nothing but a common Thief" by the Irish prime minister.
My Walsh has a history of bullying his emplyees too and BA is no exception. We are all scared by this man, we recieve nothing but a constant barage of threatening e-mails from him and his managers tellings us that if we don not report for work during this legal strike we will face severe punishment. As a cabin crew community we have offered to take a pay cut, not a pay rise as has been reported by so many media outlets. We want BA to succeed but Mr Walsh is hell bent on destroying our union, this was never about money. We have had to watch Mr Walsh destroy our company reputation by cutting corners and costs on our flights. We spend more time appologising for the lack of ammenities on our aircraft these days than acctually delivering the once world-class product that we were known for. Food and wine shortages onboard, an inflight entertainment system that was bought on the cheap and is substandard at the best of times. Please skynews, let the public know that cabin crew are not greedy money grabbing people, we know we have better terms and conditions than many of the other British airlines but we have been around longer and and offer a totally different style of service onboard our aircraft. We are truly sorry for spoiling the travelling plans of so many hard working people but in the grand scheme of things, this is our life, we have famillies to support, mortgages to pay and financial commitments the same as so many other people. We may be spoiling the travel plans of the public for the weekend, but this at the end of the day, is our liveleyhood.
Mr Walsh must be held accountable for this strike and hopefully the share holders will see this and vote him out very soon.'

Friday, March 19, 2010

The modern world

Quite funny, the types of things that happen in the age of computers and the internet. So, today I get three bills. One from a company in Germany. They ask me to pay 93 Euro plus a 9 Euro late fee for access to its internet site. No, not one of those sites ... - I must have used the site when I downloaded Open Office (an open source suite of office programs that's available free of charge from gazillions of outlets on the web). So, when I downloaded the software I duly filled in their forms, not at all realizing that I was subscribing to anything. Well, now they want money - that they won't be getting obviously. Instead, I notified German police, their bankers and for good measure the German Revenue service about their activities. While searching for them on the web (all German language, unfortunately!) I noticed to my horror, that people actually paid up (for access to open source software!). Sad sad sad.

Well, the other bill I received was from the CAA, a Canadian motoring club (they help you when your car breaks down etc). The letter says outside: Annual Membership Notice. Inside a bill and stuff explaining to me the benefits of my membership. It goes without saying that I am not actually a member of the CAA, I don't owe a car, indeed, I can't even drive. What made them write to me? I have no idea.

Another bill I got today (yep, one of those days) is for the renewal of a subscription I actually hold. Turns out, if I subscribe on the renewal form I pay more than if I end the subscription and start a new one immediately.

Gotta watch out folks. They're out there to get you, reputable organisations and outright scam artists.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Rightwing liars

Weird story from the land of the free. Reportedly a lesbian couple was awarded by a judge the right to adopt a foster kid they'd been looking after for some time. The Christian fundamentalist Florida Family Policy Council did a mailshot alerting its troops to this mother of all scandals.The included a photo of the lesbian couple (the two women on the left-hand side of the photo). According to the site Sociological Images the photo they used didn't actually show the couple in question. The couple in question is on the right-hand side of the photo. So, other than the Christian agitprop outfit aiming toward stereotyping lesbian women as butch, we now also know something that doesn't come as a surprise to anyone knowing how these sorts of outfits function, namely that they lie thru their teeth in order to get their point of view across. Their official version, when caught in the act of lying, is to claim that it's all an innocent error. Really? Just have another look at those images... - and something else, for the fun of it, I typed 'ugly lesbians' into google. Guess which image popped up on top of the list? You guessed it, the two women to the left. Anyone willing to bet on how the Florida Family Policy Council might have come across the image? - For what it's worth, I am not suggesting that these folks are ugly in any meaningful way!

What's worrisome is, of course, that something might get lost in translation here, namely that nothing is wrong with lesbian women adopting kids even if they look butch. Simple as that.

The thing that begins to bother me ever more is that these religious agitprop outfits (of which there are many, just think of the Family Research Council in Washington DC, the Scottish Council on Bioethics and the list goes on) deliberately hide behind secular facades to sell their religious agenda. That is nauseating.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

'Race' and God people

Not only in Canada institutions of higher learning have long been sensitive to concerns that students, staff or faculty might be subjected to unfair discrimination by virtue of their 'race', sex, sexual orientation and any number of other features. These concerns are well justified. You don't want anyone discriminated against just because they are of a particular skin color, or because they're female, or gay. The only thing that should matter, surely, is whether someone is best qualified for a job.

Of course, as we all know, common sense as this view undoubtedly is, the reality is quite different in many parts of the world. To my biased mind, it's not entirely coincidental that violations of this common sense rule are most frequently committed in developing countries. Also not coincidentally, to my biased mind, these violations seem to occur most likely in countries where religious ideologies are more rather than less influential. No wonder then that Muslims and Christians happily engage in genocidal acts against each other in Nigeria, gay folks are routinely subjected to mob 'justice' in Jamaica, women reportedly lose their lives during pregnancy in Nicaragua because Catholicism reigns supreme in that neck of the woods, and the list goes on and on and on.

Anyhow, I digress, so there's this Ryerson University in Toronto. It duly commissioned its own racism report. True to international form the writers of this report embarrassingly conflate racism (ie someone goes after you because of the color of your skin and other arbitrary ethnicity related features that are beyond your control) and discrimination because of something you choose (in this case your religious ideology). To be clear: I am not suggesting here that it is acceptable to discriminate unfairly against someone because she or he is Muslim, Christian, Jewish or subscribes to any number of other monotheistic ideologies. Quite rightly so, in a free society people are entitled to make those sorts of choices. The nice thing though, is that in a free society (unlike those men's outfits like the Vatican or Iran) people like myself are also entitled to make fun out of folks buying into such religious claptrap. Many religious people and their leaders don't like this bit at all, hence their attempts to get the same types of anti-discrimination protections that people are entitled to because of who they are as opposed to what kind of religious ideology they choose to believe.

It is deeply offensive to conflate in a report on racism racism with discrimination against people who make the choice to believe such stuff, and who then go out of their way to let the world know that they do (eg by putting black cloth over their heads, or wearing any number of religious knickknack around their necks etc). If you belong to an ethnic minority and you have been subjected to racism you will be permanently scarred to some extent or other. You will continuously wonder when the next shoe's gonna drop. Well, compare that to people who choose to wear religious paraphernalia in order to identify themselves as adherents to an ideology they have chosen. Surely this doesn't exactly fall into the same ballpark. Again, my issue is not at all that unfair discrimination against people because of the ideologies they subscribe to is fair game. Quite to the contrary.

Anyhow, back to the racism report at that Ryerson place. Here are some of the highlights that the experts who drafted the document included. Evidence of racism... a student quote:

“I am Muslim, and once I was fasting and there was an exam and I had to do my prayers and I felt like the Professor was not very accommodating, that he/she seemed to make it look like this was something that was my problem and I should just pray after the exam is done and I didn’t feel like that was fair.”

Here then is the difference between racism (eg a professor saying 'you can't attend my seminar because your skin colour is a tad bit too dark'), and the accommodation this student is clamouring for. The student chose to adopt an ideology as her belief system that requires her to stop eating at a certain point in the calendar, and to talk at a certain time to a higher entity that no one has ever demonstrated actually exists. It is clear to me at least that this indeed is the student's problem and not the professor's. Nobody forced her to make the choices she made. The ideology that she chose is her own responsibility, and so is her private matter. It's a bit like me choosing a membership in a political party, the boy scouts, or wherever. In case I wish to attend a party meeting, or go and stuff party political materials into letter boxes I have no reason to assume that my line manager would have to accommodate me. Equally though, as long as I do my job, she has no reason to discriminate against me either. The idea though, that my membership in a voluntary association should kind of trigger a special dispensation - as the Ryerson student seems to think is her God given right - is patently absurd.

Here's another bit from the Ryerson racism report,

Some Muslim students complained about the number of times jokes about sex are used by the instructor and students in class, and how, especially when they seem irrelevant to the subject matter at hand, this makes them extremely uncomfortable. One professor, for example, told a class one day that journalism is all about lots of sex and beer. Another professor who was teaching students how to modulate their voices for radio told the class to pretend they were having sex and to imagine the voice they heard when they experience “pleasure.” Other students joined in and began making “very weird noises,” leaving some students very uncomfortable. They suggested that cultural sensitivity is important in the classroom.

So, the idea here is that as professors we should not talk about sex anymore because it might affect our adult students' sensibilities. I take it, talk of evolution might just have the same effect, so perhaps we should consider dumping that, too. I mention things like abortion in my bioethics classes. Another culturally sensitive issue (and seemingly now a proper topic for a report on racism) obviously. Potentially my Christian students could be upset by what I have to say, or even by some of the language I might choose to describe a few hundred fetal cells (ie the Christian person equivalent). Wow, I can see already that I will find myself quoted in some other insane racism report.

To my surprise the Globe and Mail's Margaret Wente truly nailed the Ryerson report in an OpEd. I don't say this lightly. I have cancelled my subscription to the Globe and Mail because too many of its editorial writers (Wente being one of em) are so utterly below grade. Anyhow, to give credit where credit is due, she wrote a brilliant OpEd on this occasion. Here's bits and pieces from her piece:

“I pulled my hair when I saw the coverage,” says Kamal Al-Solaylee, an assistant professor at Ryerson's School of Journalism (and a former Globe theatre critic). “I've never worked in a more accommodating environment in my life.”

Mr. Al-Solaylee is a brown-skinned Muslim who is openly gay. He thinks the entire exercise is a frivolous diversion. “There are things that I need from the university, but this isn't one of them,” he says. “I need computers that don't crash all the time. I want students who don't have to hold bake sales to raise money for their graduate projects. There should be money for these things, not equity officers.”

Sensitivity to perceived discrimination is so acute these days that it can lead to perverse results. One instructor at the University of Toronto was told not to criticize foreign-born students for their poor language skills, even if they were unintelligible. Some aboriginal students say they shouldn't be evaluated by the same standards as everyone else, because they have different ways of knowing. Yet, as Mr. Al-Solaylee sensibly observes, his students will be working in an English-speaking, Eurocentric world. So they might as well get used to it.

The most bizarre revelation can be found in the report's fine print. Among the students, racism and discrimination scarcely register at all. Only 315 students (out of 28,000) bothered to respond to a task force questionnaire. Half the respondents were white, and half non-white. On the question of whether Ryerson treats students fairly regardless of race, the vast majority of both groups – more than 90 per cent – believed it did. Fewer than 30 of the non-white students said they had ever experienced discrimination. That's a 10th of 1 per cent of the student body.

Naturally, the task force has an explanation for this: People are too scared to speak out! That's the great thing about systemic racism. You don't need any evidence. Every negative proves a positive, and the absence of evidence just proves how bad things really are."

Go Margaret go! My qualm about this whole sad saga is not that it's unreasonable to have a conversation about reasonable accommodation of God folks, but please do not permit anyone to confuse this with racism. It's beyond pale, and, frankly, unworthy of a university.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Update on Catholic anti-life doctrine and sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church

Update: March 02, 2010. I have received further information on the issue discussed in this blog entry, from Catholics for a Free Choice in the USA.

Here's an excerpt from a report they published in 1998: '
The US bishops' Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services, which strongly prohibit abortion in Catholic hospitals, also say that "operation, treatment, and medications that have as their direct purpose the cure of a proportionately serious pathological condition of a pregnant woman are permitted when they cannot be safely postponed until the unborn child is viable, even if they will result in the death of the unborn child."

"It may seem that this directive permits all life-saving abortions, but that is not the case. The language closely mirrors Catholic teaching on abortion, which forbids direct abortions in all circumstances, even to save the life of the mother. The word "direct" is critical. Indirect abortions are allowed - but there are only a few cases where this applies. In a case where a woman's life was threatened by pregnancy, abortion is directly intended and therefore not permitted.

"The full meaning of the directive played out in 1998 when a pregnant woman on Medicaid in need of an emergency abortion was denied services at a merged hospital in Manchester, N.H. The 35-year-old patient, who had miscarried in the last year, rushed to Elliot Hospital when her water broke at 14 weeks. When she arrived her physician determined she needed an emergency abortion in order to prevent a life threatening uterine infection and other complications. However, because Elliott had merged with Catholic Medical Center in 1994, abortions were banned in 1997 from Elliot at the insistence of its Catholic partner.'

It would appear as if the article in The Interim - Canada's Life and Family Newspaper has been as widely off the mark as I suggested in my initial entry... oh well, now there's a revelation!

In other news, German media report today on the ever growing scandal indicating widespread sexual abuse of pupils in Catholic monasteries and denominational schools in Germany. Also, in what's probably a first, there's been a police raid of a Jesuit monastery in Germany related to the scandal. It is well time that this organisation is being treated like any other organisation that has its hands seriously dirty! I never understood why shouting 'God' would somehow justify putting guys in skirts above the law... The number of victims that has come forward is running into the hundreds and more are coming forward each day. Quite naturally, the church hierarchy does not at all think that celibacy might have something to do with this. Well, I hope you like Il Papa's red Prada shoes... -

What surely is amusing is that these guys still have the nerve to tell us about morality!

Monday, March 01, 2010

Wow, you can buy digital content from our book and individual chapters

That is interesting... I discovered by chance today that Wiley-Blackwell is selling individual chapters from our book 50 Voices of Disbelief - Why We Are Atheists online. So, if you want any given chapter as a file... feel free :-). I wonder whether this is the future of book publishing? indistinguishable from a journal compilation.