For my regular visitors, if you find that this blog hasn't been updating much lately, chances are pretty good I've been spending my writing energy on my companion blog. Feel free to pop over to Home is Where the Central Cardio-pulmonary Organ Is, and see what else has been going on.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Another one?

So here's a rarity.  Two posts in one day - and on the same subject; pithy sayings that reveal more about the people making them, then the people they are targeting.

This time, after being away from my computer for a few hours, I came back to find another graphic making the rounds.  This one is a combination of text an image.  On one side, there is a bicycle.  On the other, a car.

I'll bet you already suspect which one is demonized.

Over the bike, the text reads: This one runs on fat and saves you money.
Over the car, the text reads: This one runs on money and makes you fat.


I've said it before, and I'll say it again, because so far, nothing has shown me otherwise.  Logic is what people use to justify their emotional responses.  I now add to this, the stronger the emotional attachment, the more willing people are to suspend logic completely.

Let's look at the first part.  The bike, we are told, runs on fat.

Really?  Not too familiar with biology, are we?  Fat, of course, is basically stored energy.  Key word being "stored."  It's not going to do anything on its own.  What we use when riding a bike are our muscles.  Yes, I do realize that this statement implies that, if only we all just cycled more, we'd lose fat.

Which is bullshit.

Yes, some people do lose body fat when they increase their exercise levels.  Lots of people don't.  There are skinny cyclists and there are fat cyclists, and a fat person suddenly starting to cycle isn't going to miraculously become a skinny person.  Because bikes don't run on fat.  They run on muscle.  Now, I'm not going to go on yet another rant on how you can't judge a person's health by looking at them right now.  Suffice to say, there is a whole lot of ignorance and misinformation surrounding body fat. 

The second part of the statement tells us biking saves money.

Well, that depends.  If you're just tootling along a few blocks every now and then, you can get away with a cheap or second hand bike and minimal equipment.  Of course, there are helmets (if local laws require them).  And backpacks.  Water bottles.  Repair kits.  Lights and reflectors (cyclists, pleasepleasePLEASE don't skimp on lights and reflectors!).  Proper clothing and shoes.

For a dedicated cyclist, a good bike can easily set you back a thousand dollars or more, not counting equipment.  Others, just a few hundred dollars.  Still a lot cheaper than a car, but certainly not pocket change, either.

That's just for one person.  What about families?  For my own family, if we were to switch to cycling instead of our van, we'd need to multiply all the expenses by 4.  Still cheaper than a van, sure, but the cost is climbing fast.  For people with small children, there is the additional cost of child seats or trailers.  If cycling is one's primary mode of transportation, add in saddle bags or a trailer to haul the groceries or other such things.  One could, of course, just dangle the grocery bags off the handle bars, but that gets rather dangerous.  I speak from experience, there.

You can forget hauling anything big.  For that, you'd have to either borrow/rent a vehicle, pay someone else to deliver, or find some other way of hauling larger items.  Forget about hauling anything fragile, either.

You can also forget about helping other people out by giving them rides and whatnot. 

None of which covers another problem of cycling I know only too well - it can be surprisingly dangerous.  As someone who used to cycle as my primary mode of transportation, I try to be understanding and considerate of cyclists on the road.  They don't make it easy.  I know it's not a bike-friendly city that we live in, but when cyclists don't even try to follow the rules of the road, it frustrates the heck out of me.  Or scares the heck out of me as I find myself having to avoid killing someone who thinks it's a good idea to swerve in and out of traffic, run red lights, go from road to sidewalk and back again, and my personal "favourite," cycle and text at the same time.  Using both hands to text. 

But I digress.

Simple rebuttal; no, bikes don't run on fat.  They run on muscle.  And no, they do not make you skinny, either.  Do bikes save you money?  That all depends on your family needs and what use they'll be put into.  I'd say yes, with exceptions.

What about the next statement?  Do cars run on money?

Well, obviously they don't.  It's the price of fuel that's being referred to.  And yeah, fuel costs are getting ridiculously expensive.  That fact that these price increases are completely artificial and contrary to a free market economy doesn't help.  What about the cost of the vehicle?  Well, for us, the monthly cost of car payments plus insurance, plus fuel, plus maintenance does add up.  However, buying 4 adult bus passes per month is pretty much a car payment right there.  Buying four bikes, helmets and equipment?  Still a financial hit, but yes, cheaper than our van.  Not being able to buy in bulk makes food purchases more expensive.  Having to pay to deliver larger items, uncommon as that might be, also adds to the expense. 

As to the second part, does driving a car make you fat?

Just as the magical thinking involved in saying bikes run on fat, saying cars make us fat is false and misleading.  Cars can't make anyone fat.  The implication, of course, is that people who drive don't exercise, and if they don't exercise, they will become fat.

Ah, if only the world were so simple and magical.

Judging some one's body size by the fact that they drive a car is as ludicrous as judging a person's health by the size of their body. 

Of course, judging a person for driving is just plain stupid in the first place.  Unless you actually know a person's circumstance, you have no idea why they are driving.  We had some neighbours who would drive the two blocks to the store.  They were both thin, too.  So why did they drive?  Because being heavy smokers, they both found walking two blocks left them short of breath.  If you want to talk wasting money, there's a much better example! 

There are also other possibilities.  A person may be driving because they have health problems or injuries you know nothing about.  Their job might require them to go places and do things that cannot be done on a bike.  Who knows?

What I know, however, is that it's pretty rich for people to make such smug, judgemental statements about people based on what mode of transportation they use, and just plain stupid to make assumptions that those choices affect our body sizes.


Every now and then, various groups come up with a catch phrase or quote that they start using because it wittily portrays their own position in a positive light while demonising those who hold opposing positions in a few, easy to remember words.

Unfortunately - for them - what they've really done is revealed their own intellectual shortcomings, or at least highlights their willingness to suspend logical thought in favour of emotionalism.

There's a couple of those being gleefully passed around right now, but here's one I've seen a often enough to comment on.  It's a simple text graphic.  There's some sort of tumblr url on the bottom I can't read, but no accreditation, so I have no idea where it came from or who came up with it.  The text reads:

Homosexuality is found in over 450 species.
Homophobia is found in only one.
Which one seems unnatural now?

Wow.  Really?  Do you really want to be saying this in support of your position?

Right off the top, I see one, two part problem, and it centres around the word "species."  Humans, we are to assume, are the "only one."  In other words, humans and animals are placed on the same level.  Now, this is the standard position of atheists/materialists, so that should be no surprise, but some of the people sharing this are either not atheists, or not materialists.  I'll explore that later, but first I'll address the equivalency problem.

There's two ways one can view the equivalency problem.  Either it raises animals up to the level of humans (as some animal rights groups believe), or it reduces humans to the level of animals (as materialists believe).

Let's examine the first position.  In this case, animals are basically anthropomorphic.  They think and behave on the same intellectual level as humans.  In other words, animals can think through various possible courses of actions, are capable of understanding the consequences of those actions, then choose one course of action over another.  This, of course, is completely untrue.  Animals can do some pretty amazing things, but there is no evidence that they are able to think like humans and can thereby willingly control their own behaviour through the choices they make.  Animals may be intelligent, but you're not going to see lions and hyenas engaging in peace talks to end millenia of killing. 

On the flip side, humans are reduced to animals.  In other words, our ability to think through and choose our actions is an illusion.  We are really base creatures, ruled by our hormones and physical desires. We don't really control ourselves.  We just think we do.  Thereby, not acting on our physical desires or instinctual behaviour is what is unnatural.

Which leads me to the next problem with this statement - the use of the word, "unnatural."  Basically, it's animals do it, it's natural, therefore it is acceptable and it's okay for us to be doing it, too.

Again, there are two problems with this.  Actually, three problems.  First, that because animals do it, thus making it "natural," this means it's somehow normal.  The other is that, because animals do it, that means it's okay for humans to do it.  And finally, there is the implication that because something is "natural" it is also "good" in some way.

Let's start with the first two parts. 

You know what?  Animals engage in a lot of behaviours that are perfectly "natural" for them to do.  How does that have anything to do with humans?  Dogs eat their feces and vomit.  If a human starts doing that, are we to say it's okay because dogs do it, making it "natural?"  Or do we say that this person has an illness?  Animals also kill and eat their own young, kill their own mates, kill the young of their own and other species, rape, and engage in the animal equivalent of mass murder - killing just for killings sake.  Animal parents reject their young, abuse their young and sometimes allows them to starve in favour of keeping themselves (or leaders of their pack/pride/etc.) fed. 

We all love to see animals engaged in behaviour we approve of. Mothers caring for their young, the young playing with each other, or animals engaging in co-operative behaviour.  We also love our animal hero stories, where animals risk their own lives to help others.  We aren't so keen on stories about baboons stealing and eating human babies, or a pack of hyenas eating a water buffalo trapped in the mud, yet very much alive while they eat it. 

Then we get to the third part of this problem; the idea that something being "natural," either in the human world or the animal world, in any way makes it good or acceptable.  As I've mentioned in a previous post, humans choose our behaviours.  We are capable of examining the consequences of our actions, then choosing to either act on them anyway, or not to act on them at all.  Animals have no way of knowing, understanding or even caring that their actions have consequences; that their behaviour injures others, or that it spreads illness and disease, or any sort of long term consequence.  Just because it is "natural" for animals to engage in certain actions, that doesn't mean those actions are not ultimately harmful.  It's perfectly natural for animals to do all sorts of things that, were humans to engage in them, would lead to anarchy.  Instead, when humans behave like animals, we use the term as a derogatory way to describe those actions.  A man who rapes a woman isn't just asserting his dominance; he is a beast who commits a crime.  A woman who kills her own infant isn't preserving her own survival; she is ill and needs to be medicated (we'll not go into the double standards in these examples).

I could go on, but there are so many directions I could go to describe how illogical the statement is, I'm actually having troubles focusing on just a few.  Instead, I'll move on to a final point.

The use of the word "homophobia."

Now, a phobia is an irrational fear.  Most importantly, it is a fear of something that is not really a danger.  Phobias can range from the mildly annoying to completely debilitating.  Though it is difficult, phobias are treatable and curable.

I have no doubt that there really are homophobes out there.  Heck, my husband served with a couple while in the navy (and being the mature sorts that they were, he and others had no end of fun driving one guy in particular out of the room by "acting gay"). 

This is not, however, how the term is used or meant.  It's meant to imply, not fear, but hate.  Anyone who in any way disagrees or disapproves of homosexuality or anything that gay activists want is painted as a homophobe.  They don't just disapprove of an action nor do they just have a mental disorder.  They are painted as haters.

What this trite little phrase does is not only try to portray homosexual activity as "natural" because all these different types of animals go it, but that disagreeing with it is "unnatural" hatred.  On the one hand, the statement puts humans and animals on the same level by using the term "species," then on the other it differentiates humans as being separate, due to our "unnatural" homophobia.

This puts humans into one of two camps.  On the one side, we have animals and humans who engage in homosexual behaviour, and this is "natural."  On the other, we have humans who are homophobes (haters), and this is "unnatural."

What this also does is shut down debate completely.  It is not possible to have a logical conversation with a side that dismisses the opposition so completely.  I find it interesting that the side that latches so firmly onto notions such as "equality" and "tolerance" is also the most adamantly intolerant of anyone who dares question their position.

This pithy little catch phrase that is being passed around by so many to demonise those who disagree with them, instead reveals themselves to be the illogical, irrational and intolerant bigots they claim to oppose.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Oh, the outrage!

Taking a moment to skim through the news, and this headline caught my eye.

Tough justice outrages Opposition and critics.

What they're talking about is the Safe Streets and Communities Act.

Bob Rae tells us "the legislation provides no additional protection to the public and that it’s an ideological bill that panders to the Conservative base."

Interesting.  Will have to take a closer look to see. Meanwhile,

Inmate advocacy groups said the cost to implement the justice package is foolish with the economic uncertainty facing Canada.
“Canadians are telling us and politicians that they would rather see their hard-earned tax dollars spent on public housing, child care, pensions, health care, mental-health services, education, victims and other social services,” the Elizabeth Fry and John Howard societies said in a statement.

So their objection to it is the money?

Their comment reminds me a lot of a problem I'm seeing in our co-op (who'd have thought being on the finance committee would be so ... entertaining...).  Group 1 proposes a change. Money for it is to be paid out of budget item A.  Group 2 doesn't like the change proposed.  They start a campaign vilifying the proposal, saying the money would be better spent elsewhere, such as for things covered in budget item B.  What they are ignoring is that the money allotted to the proposal has nothing to do with anything else in the budget.  You can't just arbitrarily take money budgeted in A and reassign it to B because you don't approve of something that would be paid for out of A.  B already has its own budget.  The money for A isn't at the expense of B.

What we really have is a bunch of people who don't like a particular proposal.  So they twist things around to imply that the money going to pay for the proposal out of A's budget is somehow depriving B's budget of funds.

A similar mindset is what I'm seeing in the above quote.  By saying Canadians would rather see tax dollars going to other things (of course, by saying "Canadians are telling us..." they make it sound like they are speaking for all Canadians, which they don't). Fair enough.  What they make it sound like, however, is that this act will somehow take money away from these things, or that the money should be reallocated to these things.

Here's the problem.  We have a budget that allots money to a lot of things (including a lot of things that government shouldn't be paying for at all, but that's a different topic), and the government can't arbitrarily remove money from one area and reallocate it to another.  That's not how it works.  Can you imagine if we had a style of government that could just ignore the budget and throw money at whatever cause is popular at the moment?

If these advocacy groups want more money for these things, they need to fight to get more money for them in the next budget.  They're not going to accomplish that by complaining about the money spent in areas that have their own budget.  The money for prisons is the money for prisons.  Preventing that money from being spent isn't going to magically increase the amount of money being spent in their preferred area.

Near the end, the article makes a brief mention about new prisons being needed for this, even though current prisons are not full.

Personally, I have a problem understanding why people are against new prisons being built.  Some of the old prisons are over 100 years old.  They are horrible places, expensive to maintain and inadequate to the needs of the prison population.  I especially don't understand the objection from people who focus on the rehabilitation of prisoners.  The current facilities make rehabilitation much more difficult.  The resources and infrastructure isn't really there.  Building new prisons will allow us to do a number of things.  The buildings themselves could be built with better materials, making them more efficient and cost effective to run.  They can be built with better infrastructure and resources, including educational, therapeutic, medical, etc., depending on the need.  Instead, it's being portrayed as new prisons would automatically be some sort of warehouses to shut prisoners away and forget about them.  Why?  On what basis are they assuming that new prisons will be a bad thing, rather than an improvement on our existing, antiquated, facilities?

A discussion for another time, perhaps.  For now, let's look at the proposed act.
The Protecting Children from Sexual Predators Act (former Bill C-54), which proposes increased penalties for sexual offences against children, as well as creates two new offences aimed at conduct that could facilitate or enable the commission of a sexual offence against a child;

I have no problem with something that gets the sexual predators of children off the streets longer. 

The Penalties for Organized Drug Crime Act (former Bill S-10), which would target organized crime by imposing tougher sentences for the production and possession of illicit drugs for the purposes of trafficking;

Specific to organized crime.  Looks good to me.

S├ębastien's Law (Protecting the Public from Violent Young Offenders) (former Bill C-4), which would ensure that violent and repeat young offenders are held accountable for their actions and the protection of society is a paramount consideration in the treatment of young offenders by the justice system;

I've got no problem with this, either.  Violent and repeat young offenders are being enabled by the current system.

The Ending House Arrest for Property and Other Serious Crimes by Serious and Violent Offenders Act (former Bill C-16), which would eliminate the use of conditional sentences, or house arrest, for serious and violent crimes;

Specific to serious and violent crimes; again, I have no problem with this.  I never understood how repeat violent offenders qualified for house arrest in the first place.

The Increasing Offender Accountability Act (former Bill C-39), which would enshrine a victim's right to participate in parole hearings and address inmate accountability, responsibility, and management under the Corrections and Conditional Release Act;

Yes!  More voice and rights to the victims of crime!

The Eliminating Pardons for Serious Crimes Act (former Bill C-23B), which would extend the ineligibility periods for applications for a record suspension (currently called a "pardon") from three to five years for summary conviction offences and from five to ten years for indictable offences;

Again, specific to serious crimes.  Sounds good to me.

The Keeping Canadians Safe (International Transfer of Offenders) Act (former Bill C-5), which would add additional criteria that the Minister of Public Safety could consider when deciding whether or not to allow the transfer of a Canadian offender back to Canada to serve their sentence;

Additional criteria added.  I'd like to know what those are, but more tools to make a decisions is usually a good thing.

The Justice for Victims of Terrorism Act and related amendments to the State Immunity Act (former Bill S-7), which would allow victims of terrorism to sue perpetrators and supporters of terrorism, including listed foreign states, for loss or damage that occurred as a result of an act of terrorism committed anywhere in the world; and

Ha!  Does that mean Canadian victims of 9/11 can sue the Saudi government?  Love it.

The Preventing the Trafficking, Abuse and Exploitation of Vulnerable Immigrants Act (former Bill C-56), which would authorize immigration officers to refuse work permits to vulnerable foreign nationals when it is determined that they are at risk of humiliating or degrading treatment, including sexual exploitation or human trafficking.
I would want to know more about this.  It's one thing to prevent work permits, but what recourse is there to investigate if these foreign nationals really are being exploited, and how can they be helped or protected?

Going through all this, I have a hard time seeing what the Opposition is outraged about.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Choose to be gay?

This is a piece I have been slowly working on in response to something that happened several weeks ago. 

(note: I have tried to thoroughly link throughout this piece.  In come cases, these are links that portray contradictory points of view.  Unless I state otherwise, these do not reflect what I, personally, do or don't agree with, but rather are used to illustrate the controversy.)

I recently made a comment about how the only person I know well that is gay is someone who chose to be gay.  I was promptly told that NO ONE CHOOSES to be gay.

Now, aside from that fact that this statement essentially declares this person, a family member, to be a liar, it is completely false.  The concept that homosexuality is anything other than a choice is completely modern, as is even the word "homosexual."   The idea of homosexual behaviour as separate from any other sexual behaviour was a foreign concept throughout much of human history. 

There is no question that some people, from an early age or later in their lives, realize that they are sexually attracted to their own gender.  They account for approximately 3% of the human population; 10% if you include the entire LGBT-etc. community.  Note that these are only approximations, as it is extremely difficult to get accurate numbers on such a thing.

We don't know why some people are only sexually attracted to their own gender.  There is no "gay gene."  Whatever the possible reasons, this is not the group I am talking about. 

However until we reached a point, medically and technologically, to recognise this, the idea that people didn't choose who they preferred to have sex with was a completely alien concept.  Historically, humans have had sex with whoever and whatever they felt like.  Male, female, adults, children, animals, inanimate objects, it didn't matter.  Through various times in our history, we've gone through veritable sexual smorgasbords of choices over who and what to have sex with. Even concepts of pederasty and pedophilia are modern.  I think the only real overarching taboo was incest, and even that had exceptions.
Perhaps the most famous example of cultural homosexuality is the Spartans.  This was a culture where homosexuality was mandated by law.  Males and females were generally kept apart.  Men were expected to have sex with each other, as this was supposed to encourage bonding between warriors.  There was also the practise of pederasty.  An adult male could enter into a contract with the father of a boy  who attracted his attention.  The mentor would be responsible for the boy's upbringing and education, and the boy would be available for sex in return. This was sometimes viewed as an unfair contract - for the adult.  As the boy reached puberty, he would likely turn his sexual attention to his age-mates over his mentor.

Women of Sparta, meanwhile, were expected to keep themselves physically fit and agile, so that they could be good breeders, though they had more freedom than other women of the time period.  The beauty ideal for woman's body was a man.  Or perhaps a boy.   Concepts of fidelity or adultery did not exist, and wife swapping was common.  People, and their children, belonged to the state.  While homosexuality was mandated by the state, so was marriage.  On her wedding night, the bride had her hair cut short, was dressed as a man, and taken to a mattress in the dark to await her husband.  He would later enter, have sex with her, then leave to join his fellows in the barracks.  Heterosexual sex came to be viewed as distasteful, shameful, and required only to produce more strong Spartan soldiers.

The Roman and Greek empires  were both known for their homosexual conquests.  By the time Nero was emperor, early Roman ideals of chastity before  marriage, fidelity during marriage and marriage as the holiest of Roman rites were made a complete mockery of.  Nero was seemingly a sex addict, with several "wives."  One was a boy he tried to have surgically turned into girl through castration.  He then married the youth, in a mockery of the ceremony, dressed him in women's clothing and cosmetics, and engaged in public displays of passionate affection with him.  Nero's ... celebrations, shall we say, were renowned for their debauchery.  He was hardly alone, eagerly joined by the nobility (whom he eventually killed off). 

During the time of Julius Caesar, what we now call homosexuality was culturally acceptable, along with numerous other sexual practises.  Snakes were a favourite of Roman women indulging in bestiality (I have no idea HOW...). It may not have, technically, been legal, but it was common. In Greek culture, it was also culturally acceptable, even preferable.  The use of sex toys (content warning) was also common (content warning). I recall reading a Greek comedy about two women meeting on the street.  One asked the other where she got her excellent leather dildo.  The other was surprised she knew about it, as she had lent her new dildo to a friend before she'd even had a chance to use it herself.  Part of the joke was how the dildo had been passed on from one woman to another, including a woman the owner of the dildo didn't even like.  The play ended with the women parting ways, with one of them eagerly running off to the leatherworker to get her own dildo.  Greek art shows public homosexual group sex, masturbation with sex toys, and various other sexual activities that were considered completely normal.

These cultural sexual practises were not always considered acceptable by parallel cultures.  For example, there is the Biblical admonition for Jews "that Jews were forbidden to sell slaves or sheep to non-Jews, lest the non-Jews engage in homosexuality and bestiality" (slavery being something else that has changed significantly over the millennia).  In fact, Judaism was an anomaly in its adherence to fidelity and heterosexuality - and they weren't particularly good at keeping those laws, either.

These are just a few examples throughout history, and doesn't even touch many other cultures. The thing is, we all choose who we do or don't have sex with.  That includes what gender we have sex with.  That we may or may not be sexually attracted to another gender is a different issue altogether. 

As for my family member who chose to be gay, I won't go into her personal story of how this came about.  Suffice to say that, knowing what I do about her situation, I can actually understand how and why she would make this choice.  It makes perfect sense to me.  She is currently in a wonderful same sex relationship.  She is a fantastic person, and I am happy that she is in a relationship that makes her happy.  That's all that matters to me. 

She is, however, not the only heterosexual who has chosen to be gay.  Just to give other examples, another family member used to be a mortgage broker.  She had several clients that were lesbian couples.  In chatting with them over time (and no, she is NOT the sort to ask such personal questions), every one of these couples revealed that one or both of them had been married to men, some with children, but had left those marriages.  They then swore off men entirely and found themselves female partners.  Such tales are also shared by a number of gay blog writers.
Aside from those examples, homosexuality has actually become the newest "thing."  It's trendy and cool.  Weirdly, the cyberworld is filled with 14 yr old girls writing gay porn about young men, written for other 14 yr old girls, because gay boys are just so CUUUUTTTEEEE!!!! [insert anime eyes with floating heart bubbles]  Oops.  Sorry.  That should be "so kawaii!!" It's especially expected of teen girls to experiment with lesbian sex, even if (or especially if) they are attracted to men, because lesbian sex is just sooo hooottt!!!  You have things like "emo culture"  (yes, I know, there really isn't such a thing) where boys are just supposed to have sex with other boys, otherwise, they're not emo. 

I think it's particularly hard on girls, since our sexualized culture frequently uses lesbian sexuality in advertisements.  We've got Lady Gaga and her lesbian porn music videos.  Or Katie Perry with her "I Kissed a Girl" - a song about a heterosexual woman using a lesbian woman for experimentation.  The lyrics of that one are distasteful not only for its glorifying of meaningless sexual experimentation, but also the selfish treatment of the woman the speaker experiments with, as well as cheating on her boyfriend.

Not only are kids encouraged to be sexually active at ever younger ages, but they are *supposed* to engage in homosexual sex as well as heterosexual sex.  They are also being encouraged to explore all their sexual urges, whatever they may be.  It's all good and normalExcept abstaining or heterosexuality without homosexual experimentation.  On the one hand, we deplore the hyper-sexualization of children, yet we are also expected to see them as being sexual beings, and that they must explore their sexuality if they want to know what gender they really are - the concept of binary genders now being the new taboo. 

Even before this became the new trend, there were other cultural aspects that I suspect play a bigger role in homosexuality than is recognised.  This was illustrated by a friend who was studying for a psychology exam.  She was quite frustrated with it, as she had to give the "right" answers to pass the exam, but she frequently encountered things in her textbooks she felt was wrong.  One of them was being told how important it is to make sure children only played with appropriately gendered toys.  Boys had to play with trucks and cars and other boy toys. Girls had to play with dolls and dresses and other girl toys.  Unless the child was gay.  Only then was it okay to let them play with opposite gendered toys.

When she told me that, I mentioned that, based on her textbooks, I should be gay.  I hated "girly" toys. I much preferred to play with bricks and building toys.  I also hated to dress in girly clothes.  According to her text, I should either have been forced to play with girl toys, or assumed to be gay and "allowed" to play with boy toys.

She agreed with my point, then mentioned some friends that she knew that grew up believing they *had* to be gay, because they liked "girly" things. She also mentioned that they lived in a great deal of emotional pain over their sexuality because of this.  She had come to believe that these were people who weren't actually gay, but because our culture assumes sexuality based on gendered activities, they assumed they couldn't be anything else.  It had nothing to do with who they were actually sexually attracted to.  Because they liked "girly" things, they must be gay, therefore they must be sexually attracted to men.

This brings to mind something my daughter brought up.  Love and attraction are not synonymous with sexual attraction, even if those things are present from birth.  Being attracted to someone and wanting to touch them with your genitals is not the same thing. If you've ever had a chance to read some historical letters, you will see some examples.  J. R. Tolkein and C. S. Lewis were extremely close friends.  Their letters to each other were expressions of deep love and affection.  These sorts of expressions of platonic love were common for the time.  While modern humans tend to view ourselves as being more accepting of relationships, we have a terrible habit of sexualizing them.  Anyone expressing themselves in the same language as those used by Tolkein and Lewis today would be branded as gay.  Even my own parents' generation allowed far more open expressions of love between people that did not involve sex or sexual attraction.  Other cultures still do.  Our own culture (in Canada and the US) does not allow for such intimacy without sexualization, and I think we are much the worse for it.

Among the conversations I've had with Eldest, we've talked about how things are gendered in our culture.  Having studied historical dress, I find that men today have it pretty crappy.  They used to be able to dress in lace and flounces, wear bright colours, wigs, freaky shoes, clothes that today would be considered dresses, and so on.  Today's males can't enjoy such things without being assumed to be gay.  At least for girls, if they dress or behave boyishly, they're called tomboys and do not as frequently have their sexuality judged for them.  Heaven help the boy who likes pink or satin or lacy frills.  

Unfortunately, though there is some effort to change that, those efforts are being co-opted by gay activists.  The example that jumps to mind is of a boy who wore a pink shirt to school.  He liked pink.  Once at school, he got teased horribly for it and was called gay.  This lead to a backlash of support for him, with many of his fellow students wearing pink to school.  Eventually, people all over the place were wearing pink in support of this boy, and there is even a "wear pink" day.

So what went wrong?  Well, what started out as a backlash against this boy being bullied for wearing pink, with being called gay being part of the bullying, it became a LGBT promotion event.  People started selling and wearing pink t-shirts that read "it's okay to be gay." 

Now, instead of being an anti-bullying campaign, it became a anti-gay-bullying campaign.  Never mind that the boy wasn't gay.  He just liked pink and wanted to wear it.  He was bullied for it, which should not have happened.  That part of the bullying involved calling him gay was pretty meaningless.  The word isn't even used the same way anymore among most public school teens, and is now being used the way people used the word "lame" in my youth. 

Instead of being about bullying, the whole thing became about sexuality.

Why do we have to push sexuality on our children?  Especially when they're so very young, and all they want to do is play dress up.  It isn't any better when some 5 or 6 year old boy wants to wear pink and his parents say, "that's okay, honey.  We love you even if you're gay."  Huh?  He's 6, for crying out loud.  Let him play dress up!  Let him wear pink!  But for crying out loud, why turn it into something sexual?  And then we wonder why some kids are gender confused?  I remember talking to a mom new to our home schooling group.  While her 7 year old daughter was playing with the other kids, conversation somehow got to potential grandchildren.  She announced that she had to get used to the idea of not being a grandmother because her daughter was gay.  What struck me was not only the strange idea that a 7 year old was already sexualized, but the mother's preening body language.  She wasn't just proud that her daughter was gay.  She was proud of what a great mother this made her.  I found myself wondering, was her daughter really gay, or did her mother decide that for her? 

The images in the above link give an example of how our culture assigns gender to behaviour.  A boy likes to smell flowers?  He must be gay.  A girl likes skateboards instead of dolls?  She must be gay.  Why can't they just be children who like different things?  Why do we have to sexualize their choices, or assign sexuality onto them for those choices?  That these particular children did turn out to be gay is beside the point. 

There are a number of questions that also come up about the "born gay" trope, when it's used to claim that all people who are gay were born that way.  This is on top of our cultural habit of assigning sexuality based on things like colour preference, choice of toys and preferred activities.  How does this explain people who "discover" they are gay or bisexual later in life, even after they have led completely heterosexual lives before then, and had not felt sexual attraction to their own gender until later in life?   

What about the statistics that show same sex relationships have higher instances of infidelity and domestic abuse? What about the higher divorce rates of same sex marriages (and why do gays even want to get married at all, since it's supposedly such a terrible heterosexual construct in the first place?) Why is homosexuality so often associated with fetishes and offensive behaviour in gay pride parades, which includes everything from full nudity to engaging in sex on floats, to disrupting mass at St. Patrick's Cathedral and desecrating the church and Host while harassing the people inside?  Why are so many in the LGBTetc. community people with incredible trauma and abuse in their past?  Could it be that, in going so far to "normalize" all forms of sexuality, we are inadvertently harming people who actually do need treatment?  That in being so "accepting" of a behaviour, we are in fact ignoring symptoms of a problem?  And what do we tell people who say they are gay, but don't want to be?

 How much of our sexuality is biology, and how much is choice?  Being humans, a species that requires two sexes to procreate, heterosexuality is a necessity.  The biological urge to procreate is a heterosexual urge.  It can be nothing else, since it's the only way our species can procreate.  Like any other species of binary gender, heterosexuality is the default.  That this is necessary for the propagation of the species doesn't mean it's the only type of sex binary gender creatures engage in.  I think pretty much everyone has seen a dog trying to hump a human's leg.  I've seen cows trying to mount other cows, and have stopped one of our male barn cats from raping another male cat - and it was most definitely a rape.  Dolphins will screw anything, even a pipe, and will attempt to have sex with human females.  I even watched a video taken by researchers in the Antarctic of a leopard seal sexually assaulting a penguin.  Talk about playing with your food!  When it comes to sexual urges, it's pretty much no holds barred in the animal kingdom.

Unlike animals, humans are not ruled by our sexual urges.  We are not led by our genitals, though some people certainly live their lives as if they are!  Our physiological responses do not rule us, nor do they decide attraction or even sexuality.  Finding someone sexually attractive does not mean we are sexually attracted to that person, even if there is a physiological response.  Our bodies will respond to things, even at odds with our desires.  Perhaps the most extreme example is in rape.  Men who have been raped by women are often told that this is impossible; that they must have had consensual sex because they had an erection or even ejaculated.  They must have enjoyed it or wanted it.  Their rape wasn't really rape.  This is based on the assumption that their physiological response is one of sexual desire.  Yet how many pubescent boys have found themselves embarrassed by erections at inopportune moments?  Even paraplegics with no sensation will get erections.  One paraplegic man whose interview I read recalled the first time he was bathed by a new and inexperienced nurse.  When, much to his embarrassment, he developed an erection, she actually dropped the sponge and ran away, leaving him helpless in the tub.  An older, experienced nurse eventually came and bathed him.  He felt humiliated, yet had no control over his body's response.  The inexperienced nurse could not get past the idea that his physiological response was also a sexual response, and was never assigned to bathe him again.

It's not only men who are demeaned and humiliated by the assumption that physiological response = sexual desire.  Women who have been raped can also struggle with their unwanted physiological responses.  Some women report their shock and horror when, while being raped, their bodies responded to the rape in a pleasurable way.  This has led to much guilt, shame and confusion (sound familiar?).  If their bodies responded this way, was it really rape?  Did they actually like it?  Did that mean they deserved it?

Of course, the answers are yes, no and no.  Their physiological response does not negate their trauma.  It does not mean they liked being raped, or that they wanted to be raped.  Yet we live in a culture that equates physiological response with attraction and desire, and this can cause unbelievable psychological pain.

This leads us to numerous questions.  What is attraction?  When and why is attraction considered sexual desire, rather than just appreciation?  What role does culture play on what we do or don't find attractive? When and why does attraction determine sexual orientation?  Why do we choose to act on our desires? 

Oh, and to answer the question I know is out there, when did I choose to be heterosexual?  The answer, for me, is about 14 years of age.  Maybe a bit earlier, but not much.  Perhaps I was a late bloomer, but the idea of being sexually attracted to either gender was completely foreign to me until then.  Even when I had the maddest crush on someone when I was younger, it had no sexual element to it at all.  Perhaps because I was raised in a very different culture than my peers - a culture that saw women walking hand in hand, men hugging, and everyone kissing everyone else in greeting, even if they were complete strangers - I did not grow up associating the desire to be with someone with wanting to touch genitals with them.

So how do I conclude an already ridiculously long post?  The original statement was, NO ONE chooses to be gay.  It may indeed be true that some people know they are gay from an early age, though it has yet to be determined if anyone is born gay.  To claim that this is true for all gay people is not only false, but it demeans the reality of those who do choose to be gay.  At the very least, it calls them liars.  It also degrades the relationships they choose to be in, reducing them to nothing but hormones and sexual urges.  This would be equally true of heterosexual relationships.  I find my husband sexually attractive because I love him.  I do not love him because I find him sexually attractive.  And I think my husband is HOT. ;-) 

The point is, the relationship came first.  For some people, their relationship with a person is important enough, deep enough, and loving enough, that becoming sexually active with that person is just one more step in the relationship.  Even if it's a same sex relationship, and they themselves were heterosexual.

We can, and do, choose.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

How not to do (and publish) science; metabolic syndrome

I've got another post I've been working on in draft that is taking me forever to finish, but I just had to post about what I encountered in today's health news.

This was the first article I encountered.  One in 5 Canadian adults has 'metabolic syndrome": study

A very brief article, short on details, but at least clear that "Metabolic syndrome isn't a disease in and of itself."  Rather, it's a group of symptoms that increase the risks of increasing the risks of getting "real" diseases.

Seriously.  That's what it comes down to.

No link to the study.

Then I found this one.  Metabolic syndrome now affects 1 in 5 Canadians.  So what is it?

This one, at least, links to the study.  More on that later.  First to the article, which starts with...

If I were to ask you what my most important tool as a doctor was, I bet you would say it is my stethoscope! Wrong. It is a tape measure.

Seriously??  This doctor considers a tape measure her most important tool?  Over a stethoscope?  Over her blood pressure cuff?  Over any number of tools available to her, she chooses a tape measure?

I'm glad she's not my doctor!!

So what is metabolic syndrome?  Well, you have to have at least 3 of these 5 symptoms.

Abdominal obesity
high triglycerides
low HDL cholesterol ( the good cholesterol)
high blood pressure
impaired glucose tolerance
For full disclosure, I have only one of these symptoms - abdominal obesity (more on what that turns out to be later).    My husband has two.

So of these 5 symptoms, abdominal obesity is the most common at... wait for it... 35%.  In other words, while it was the most common of the five, 65% of people don't have it.   They have three of the other 4 symptoms.  Meanwhile, the most common combination of factors was abdominal obesity, high triglycerides and low HDL (note that high cholesterol, the long time scare, isn't even mentioned - they are specifically sticking with low "good" cholesterol).  The article doesn't say how many that group represents.

Now, what are the predictors of having metabolic syndrome?  Is it the usual stuff I hear of lazy fatties stuffing their faces with junk food and too stupid to know better?


These predictors that increased the risk were: education and income level. Higher levels of education and income predicted a lower likelihood of metabolic syndrome.
In other words, the more you know and the more money you have, the less likely you are to have metabolic syndrome.  Which could be considered good news, since 80% of Canadians do NOT have metabolic syndrome.  So solving this "problem" should just be a matter of helping people become more educated, and improving income.  Right?


The implications of these findings are truly important. Among younger adults particularly, it is critical to address poor lifestyle habits.

Wait.  What?  Where did that come from?  Didn't she just write that education and income were...


And in conclusion...

Cardiovascular disease increases with age and if we don't address abdominal obesity, and the other symptoms of metabolic syndrome the burden of chronic disease will continue to soar. What is more critical is that each if the components of metabolic syndrome can be addressed by lifestyle changes.

 So we have a study that, according to this article, shows that low income and education levels are the most common predictors of metabolic syndrome, and that 65% of the people with metabolic syndrome in this study did NOT have abdominal obesity as their  minimum 3 of 5 symptoms (note that some people in the study would have had 4 or 5 of 5 of these symptoms, too), and the cure for this is lifestyle changes.

Well, I suppose if lifestyle changes includes improving our education and increasing income, I could go with that. 

So what does the original report say?  The abstract is here

Notice something?

Yup.  This report is based on a survey.  In the pdf, you learn this survey was done in 2007-2009.

The abstract doesn't even end with a conclusion, but an interpretation (good to see that, for a change, but that doesn't seem to stop the media from reporting is as fact).

Interpretation: About one in five Canadian adults had metabolic syndrome. People at increased risk were those in households with lower education and income levels. The burden of abdominal obesity, low HDL (high-density lipoprotein) cholesterol and hypertriglyceridemia among young people was especially of concern, because the risk of cardiovascular disease increases with age.
 Which tells us... what?  Poor people with a lack of education are at higher risk for poor health than everyone else?  This is news?  Cardiovascular disease increases with age, also not news, but how does this address the problem of young people with metabolic syndrome?  Young people tend to have less education than older people, and less money than older people, anyhow.  It takes time to increase income and continue education.  What is the news here?

Also not addressed; the headlines reads that metabolic syndrome "now effects" 1 in 5 Canadians.  So what was the rate of metabolic syndrome before?  No idea.  As far as I can tell, this is the first time anyone has actually tried to measure it before.  We have data for 2007-2009.  That's it. 

Now then.  What does the report tell us?

Oh, dear.

First, they describe the methods.  Not only is this survey data by Statistics Canada (granted, data taken only from those that had actual blood test information available), but there is a whole bunch of number crunching for weight by

multiplying the weight for the collection site by the selection weights for household, and adjusted for non response. The weights for collection site and households were based on the 2006 census. The household weights were then converted to individual weights and further adjusted for nonresponse.

In other words, it's a data dredge.  They never actually studied anyone, weighed anyone, measured anyone, or took blood tests from anyone.  They used Statistics Canada information.

So let's look at the criteria.  First, let's look at what it means to be "abdominally obese."

waist circumference ≥ 102 cm for men and ≥ 88 cm for women
To translate into Imperial, that means men with waists equal to or greater than 40 inches, and women with waists equal to or greater than 34 1/2 inches, are "abdominal obese."

In other words, unless you are quite thin at the waist, regardless of anything else about your body, you are "abdominal obese." 

No wonder that most people in the survey were "abdominal obese."  It would be almost impossible not to be!

And on it goes.

You can go ahead and read the rest of the report yourself.

It's a whole bunch of data, but what does it actually say?  And what does it recommend?

Well, it takes a bunch of symptoms and, if people have enough of them, they are labelled as having "metabolic syndrome."  It doesn't mean anything more than having a combination of medical readings.

Having that combination of medical readings increases your risks of increasing your risk of actual diseases.  Nothing about causes, of course.  Just correlation.

It shows that there is an increased risk of having metabolic syndrome (the increased risk of increasing your risks) if you lack education an income.

Then we're told in various articles that we can reduce our risk of metabolic syndrome by reducing our abdominal obesity through lifestyle changes, even though 65% of the people described as having metabolic syndrome do not have abdominal obesity.

What questions aren't answered? 

Well, I would wonder what role lack of education and income plays.  Education (and I do not mean "schooling" necessarily, though I imagine formal schooling is how Stats Can defines it) and income are tightly connected.  There are plenty of studies this connection.  No surprise that people's health would be compromised if they don't have enough money to buy nutritionally adequate food.  No surprise, also, that young people are the hardest hit when it comes to low income and less education. 

Instead, writers leap to the idea that, if we just loose our abdominal fat, we'd solve all our problems.

Critical thinking?  What's that?