A Bit More Detail

Assorted Personal Notations, Essays, and Other Jottings

Archive for April 2012

[BRIEF NOTE] On Conrad Black and his lost citizenship in Canada

Conrad Black, former Canadian citizen and conservative pundit and press baron, currently a British citizen who is still a pundit but who is also serving hard time in an American prison, is going to be released from prison soon.

Fallen Canadian-born media tycoon Conrad Black is scheduled to be released from a U.S. prison by next weekend, according to corrections officials.

The Federal Bureau of Prisons online inmate locator lists Black’s release date from Miami’s Federal Correction Institution as next Saturday.

Bureau spokeswoman Tracy Billingsley told CBC News the date is only a “projected estimate” of a release date but is “generally accurate.'” But she added Black could be free as early as Friday.

“When a release date falls on a weekend, we can release them on the Friday prior to that weekend,” Billingsley said Sunday.

Black, 67, was resentenced last June to 42 months in prison on fraud and obstruction of justice charges.

Black had already served 29 months in the Coleman federal prison in Florida before the U.S. Supreme Court struck down some of his initial convictions, citing a misuse of the “honest services” provision of the U.S. fraud statute. His original sentence was for 78 months in prison after multiple convictions on fraud and obstruction of justice charges.

Conrad Black is Canadian-born, and was a Canadian citizen from birth. Black famously renounced his citizenship for Britain’s in 2001, following the outcome of the case Black v. Chrétien wherein the Canadian courts confirmed that the Canadian prime minister did have the right to ask the British queen not to confer titles of nobility on a Canadian citizen. Black’s renunciation was made quite happily, accompanied by a denunciation of Canada generally. When he was hit with fraud charges, Black tried to regain his Canadan citizenship, but by the time he was sentenced to prison–amid a fair degree of happiness by Canadians unfond of Black–he was far from getting it.

The question now being asked, in the National Post he founded and in the Globe and Mail and in the Canadian Press, is how can Black come back to Canada? Black’s unusual citizenship status was long noted as having strongly negative implications for his desire to live in Canada after his release, as I noted in a July 2010 [FORUM] post. As a convicted felon, the Canadian Press’ Michelle McQuigge confirms, his options are few.

Joel Sandaluk, partner with immigration firm Mamann, Sandaluk and Kingwell Llp, said Black’s pending citizenship will be as complex, unusual and uncertain as his previous clashes with the North American justice system.

[. . .]

Black was born in Toronto, but gave up his citizenship in 2001 after being offered a peerage in Britain’s House of Lords. Then-prime minister Jean Chrétien forbade him from accepting the role while he held a Canadian passport.

Sandaluk said that decision — made before his legal woes began in the U.S. — means Black must be treated as any other foreign national when applying to move back to Canada full time. Black can only be considered as a potential citizen after attaining permanent residency status and living in the country for at least a year.

Permanent residency, however, seems unlikely due to Black’s criminal record, Sandaluk said.

[. . .]

Although he will complete his sentence and be released on Friday, Sandaluk said his two convictions make him criminally inadmissible for residency in Canada.

Black’s only recourse, he said, is to apply for a temporary resident permit — a document that essentially stands as permission from the federal minister of citizenship and immigration.

“What (the permits) basically are meant to be is a cure-all for any form of inadmissibility,” Sandaluk said, adding the document would allow Black to come to Canada for anything from an overnight visit to a prolonged stay.

Will the Conservative government, long associated with Black and his late media empire, give him this temporary resident permit? Harper had promised back in the day not to, but that day was the day of his minority government. What might a majority government do? And what sort of reaction would it get if it gave Black this temporary residency? (What reaction would it get if it didn’t?)

Written by Randy McDonald

April 30, 2012 at 11:58 pm

[BRIEF NOTE] On sympathies for the ex-gay movement

A while ago at the soc.motss group on Facebook, I linked to (out, gay) Jayson Littman‘s perplexing Huffington Post essay on the ex-gay community and its members, and the ways in which they’re “persecuted”.

Recently an “ex-gay” friend of mine was detailing the pain he felt when some of his colleagues at work were gossiping about him after finding out he was an ex-gay. “It gets better,” I jokingly told him, before immediately realizing that that statement in itself was an act of bullying.

I recalled my five years in reparative therapy through the Jewish ex-gay organization JONAH (Jews Offering New Alternatives to Homosexuality) and remembered attending ex-gay conferences such as Love Won Out and being confronted by LGBT protestors. Those times were quite difficult, because even though I was confident I was on the right path, I felt I was being challenged, mocked, and put down.

Occasionally, an opportunity would arise to meet with a graduate student writing her thesis on ex-gays, or a filmmaker wanting to document someone’s journey out of homosexuality. I guess a part of me wanted to connect with the mainstream world, and therefore I usually obliged. Graduate students seemed interested in the desire of someone wanting to change their sexuality, while filmmakers tended to focus on mocking the ex-gay process. Many times I left feeling defeated and down after having my level of attractions challenged and questioned.

The media didn’t help, either. During my process of change, I saw the Will & Grace episode in which Jack becomes attracted to the leader of an ex-gay program (played by Neil Patrick Harris) and acts straight to woo the man — and succeeds. The movie But I’m a Cheerleader, about a naïve teenager who is sent to rehab camp when her conservative parents and friends suspect her of being a lesbian, also mocks the ex-gay movement. At the time, I felt bullied by mainstream media, and no outrage was mentioned anywhere. Had there been movies and television shows that mocked the LGBT community, there would have been an uproar (as seen when ABC aired the cross-dressing sitcom Work It). Why had no one come to the defense ex-gays being mocked in the media?

The ex-gay life is a constant struggle, and the inability to “come out” as ex-gay is a result of the LGBT community ridiculing and mocking the visible and outspoken ex-gays and putting their mannerisms and affectations under a microscope. If this were done to us, we would call it bullying. At one of my lowest times as an ex-gay, I called the Trevor Helpline (now called the Trevor Lifeline, a program of the Trevor Project) to talk to a counselor. I didn’t identify myself as an ex-gay, but just needed to speak to someone. I imagine others in the ex-gay world do the same in moments of crisis.

As many people over in the comments at the Huffington Post pointed out, the problem with Littman’s claims of ex-gay persecution is that the entire ex-gay movement is founded on the assumption that anything non-heterosexual is immoral, that the only moral way to behave sexually is heterosexually (or not at all), and that maintaining an ex-gay movement linked closely with political and cultural forces strongly opposed to gay rights is an OK thing to do. Complaining that ex-gays are “ridiculed and judged” by non-heterosexuals for their ideological alignment overlooks the reality that the ex-gay movement is based on a negative critical judgement of out non-heterosexuals. What’s wrong with (say) pointing out the many instances where the ex-gay movement can be proven to be factually wrong, or proven to be doing harm, or shown to be fronted by people who are hypocrites in denouncing gay sex while indulging (not gay relationships, sadly, since that’s too gay)?
Littman does have a nub of a point with his plea for sympathy. He is right to point out that ex-gays have their own psychological issues meriting concern, and that ex-gays, too, belong to the spectrum of people who aren’t heterosexual. I do feel a certain sympathy for ex-gays inasmuch as most people coming out have had their own issues with recognizing and acting on their sexual orientation (I certainly did), and it’s probably true that for many people trapped in conservative religious environments an ex-gay community might be a necessary point en route to a more mature relationship to their sexuality than blanket denial. (After all, in an ex-gay group you have to admit to having certain … inclinations.) Having the space to deal with individual ex-gays in environments where the movement can be dealt with more gently might not be a bad idea. (But how, I know, I know.)

Written by Randy McDonald

April 30, 2012 at 11:04 pm

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[BRIEF NOTE] On homophobia, homosexuality, self-censorship and anxiety

Daniel Engben’s Slate article makes the necessary point that the recent University of Rochester study suggesting a strong linkage between homophobia and one’s own homoerotic impulses isn’t the end-all of the story.

In fairness to the University of Rochester, its coverage of the report was subtle and not nearly as overblown as the popular spin would hold: the press release was titled “Is Some Homophobia Self-phobia?”, and the author went on to suggest that “[t]he findings provide new empirical evidence to support the psychoanalytic theory that the fear, anxiety, and aversion that some seemingly heterosexual people hold toward gays and lesbians can grow out of their own repressed same-sex desires” (emphasis mine). The authors of that study certainly didn’t exclude the possibility that someone could be homophobia and not experience any homoerotic impulses at all. An honest homophobia is possible.

Engben makes the further point that even this connection isn’t confirmed by the study on its own terms. Freudian slips may well exist, but the mechanisms used by these researchers–and by others, too–don’t distinguish sufficiently between different emotional states.

The new study works like an elaborate game of “homo say what?”: Evidence of private, homosexual urges is elicited by subtle verbal cues. The researchers start by asking college freshmen, mostly women, to rate their sexual orientation on a scale from 1 to 10 (1 means completely straight; 5 means bisexual; 10 means totally gay) and then to say how much they agree with politically charged statements like, “Gay people make me nervous” and “I would feel uncomfortable having a gay roommate.” Once the students have been characterized according to their relative degrees of gayness and homophobia, they’re shown a series of icons or photos of wedding-cake figurines on a computer monitor—two women, two men, or a man with a woman—and told to label each one as being “gay” or “straight.” In a final twist, some of the “gay” and “straight” images are preceded on the screen by a subliminal verbal cue—a word flashed quickly on the screen that reads either me or others. If seeing the word me shortens a student’s reaction time for the gay-themed imagery, it’s taken as a sign of her implicit homosexuality. On a subconscious level, at least, she’s associating the word me with gayness.

[. . .]

Whatever the precedents, their homo-say-what task leaves itself open to an easy, alternative interpretation. It could be that both gay people and homophobic straight people responded more quickly to the gay-themed imagery because they were all secretly gay. Or it could be that both gay people and homophobic straight people are more keyed up by gayness in general. A homosexual might be more attuned to a picture of two men because it aligns with his personal interests—no surprise there. But a homophobe would be more attuned to it for the opposite reason: It runs counter to his personal interests; it makes him nervous. The sociologist Michael Kimmel has argued that some men are less afraid of gay people than they are of being labeled as gay (and thus emasculated) themselves. By that logic, me-gay pairings would be particularly nerve-racking to true homophobes. And it’s well-known that these two factors—salience and anxiety—tend to shrink reaction times. People get a little speedy when something upsets them, or turns them on.

[. . .]

If the reaction-time tests can’t provide a satisfying proof, is there any hope left for the he-who-smelt-it-dealt-it theory of sexuality? Could scientists ever demonstrate that, as Freud suggested, homophobes are reacting to subconscious, gay urges? Maybe if there were some more direct way to measure a man’s private sexual desires, we’d be able to tell for sure whether he was a closet homo. Imagine if you put a bunch of homophobes and more tolerant straight people into a room and forced them to watch man-on-man sex films while measuring the size of their erections with some kind of circumferential strain gauge. Would the gay-haters be revealed by the size of their boners?

Good news: This exact study was carried out in the mid-1990s at the University of Georgia. Using penile plethysmography, researchers compared the erectile responses of 35 homophobes and 29 non-homophobes to pornographic films in various gender configurations. All the men were clearly aroused by the lesbian and straight porn, but their sexual responses differed when it came to the gay clips. Around three-quarters of the guys in the homophobic group experienced some engorgement—not nearly as much as they’d had watching other clips, but enough to be labeled as either “moderately” or “definitely tumescent” by the researchers. In the non-homophobic group, the proportion was just one-third.

But even these penis-based findings won’t tell us very much about human nature. The results haven’t been formally replicated by another lab since they were published, and as the Georgia team concedes in its original paper, there’s a long history of research demonstrating that anxiety itself can produce sexual arousal. A 1977 study, for example, measured vaginal blood volume in women as they watched erotic film clips, some after having viewed a graphic depiction of an auto accident. Women in the crash group became aroused more rapidly than the others. More recent work from a group at the University of Texas, Austin, finds that moderately anxious women have a much higher sexual response than either low-anxiety or high-anxiety women. The UT researchers propose that activation of the sympathetic nervous system (the one we use for fight-or-flight responses) plays into our erotic behaviors.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 30, 2012 at 8:25 pm

[LINK] “The deep strangeness of Israel’s national security debate”

What Daniel Drezner says about former Israeli military and security bureaucrats influencing the political debate in Israel.

As someone who thought the Iran rhetoric coming from Jerusalem was decidedly overheated, I nevertheless have more mixed feelings about these developments than, say, Peter Beinart. What’s disturbing is that even though Israel’s actual opposition party is evincing many of the same sentiments as the former military officers quoted above, they are not the ones moving the policy debate — it’s the ex-military/intel guys.

That’s a problem. As much as candidates for higher office like to talk about “consulting the commanders on the ground” and the like, big decisions about national security policy should be the province of elected leaders. Civilians need to be in control of these decisions — the moment that elected leaders give up this control, then the voters have forfeited the most vital decisions of a republic. This is why, in the United States, one of the rare sources of continuing bipartisan agreement is that when military commanders voice their policy opinions to the press in a way that contradicts the President, they need to be canned.

Now, recently retired military and intelligence officials are in a slightly different category, but there’s still a danger here. I respect that these ;people should have a voice, particularly if they feel their country is on the precipice of a policy disaster — but should their voice be louder than that of the main opposition party? I don’t think so, and it’s a sign that there’s a problem with Israeli democracy if that’s the case. I don’t think this is entirely the fault of ex-IDF and Shin Bet leaders, mind you — Netanyahu and Barak are part of the problem as well. Still, at least the latter people won elections and must go back to the voters again.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 30, 2012 at 7:46 pm

[LINK] “Building a Business on Churches for Sale”

I’ve blogged in the past about churches, mainly from the perspective of photography but sometimes from the perspective of an observer commenting on the collapse of the old denominations’ churches through the attrition of their congregations.

Mark Oppenheimer’s New York Times article describing the collapse of some churches in the United States, not mainly through lack of interest as in Canada, but rather also via the consequences of the American real-estate bust, is interesting. I wonder: will the disappearance of these churches lead to former members switching to other churches, or perhaps will some drop out of organized religion altogether?

David and Mary Raphael are real estate agents who deal only in church buildings. It’s a rare specialty. They could think of only two other real estate agencies in the country that do what they do, one in Texas and one in Northern California.

As they gave a tour of the sale property here, which is listed for $1.9 million, the couple talked about their calling.

“We’ve been doing only religious buildings since 1979,” said Mr. Raphael, wearing a windbreaker on an unseasonably cold and rainy day. “We tried houses, and we thought, well, some of these people are telling us things that aren’t the truth, so maybe we should try churches.”

[. . .]

The Raphaels met in a square-dancing class at Long Beach State University in 1971 and married the next year. They were both raised Presbyterian, Mrs. Raphael in Marysville, a small town near Sacramento, and Mr. Raphael in Bellflower, in Southern California. They have two children — a son who is a collegiate debate coach in Hawaii, and a daughter who is a public school teacher in Compton.

The church world in which the Raphaels were raised seems distant from the exurban sprawl of Azusa, filled with industrial parks and strip malls.

[. . . A] lot has changed, including preferences in church architecture. “They don’t want the traditional look anymore,” Mrs. Raphael said. “They’re going for the industrial look.”

She said that because city ordinances require one parking spot for every three seats in the pews, parking is essential. In industrial spaces, “you can often get permission to use parking from adjacent lots on Sundays,” when the neighboring businesses do not require the spaces.

[. . .]

The Raphaels have six listings now, and while they say the market for church buildings has held up better than the residential market, times are still worse than they have ever seen.

In their first 31 years in the business, they say they never saw a church foreclosure. But in the last two years, they have worked with 10 churches on foreclosure issues.

“We’re getting calls like, ‘We can’t pay our loans, we have to refinance.’ And now you can’t even get financing at all,” Mr. Raphael said. “It’s always been hard, because for churches they want 30 or 40 percent down. But now even the Christian credit unions aren’t lending.

“The members are out of work,” he continued. “They’re not tithing, and the churches have gone through their reserves, and now they can’t pay the mortgage.”

Written by Randy McDonald

April 30, 2012 at 7:43 pm

[LINK] “Young Israel’s New Love Affair with Germany”

Juliane von Mittelstaedt’s article in the English-language edition of Der Spiegel, describing how after three generations Jews–Israelis, here–are becoming somewhat Germanophile, at least in the cultural sense. Is this a belated recovery of the once-close relationship German-Jewish relationship?

On his first night in Germany, Tomer Heymann, an Israeli, sleeps with a German. He met him — Andreas Josef Merk, blond and Catholic — at Berghain, a Berlin club. Heymann — film director, Jewish and gay — at first takes him for a Swede. He thinks Germans must look different, perhaps more sinister, jagged or cruder.

The next morning, the camera is already rolling, and the Israeli asks the German: Are you proud to be a German? Have you ever spoken with your grandparents about the Holocaust? No, says the German, but it’s very possible that they were Nazis. A long silence follows. It’s the only time they broach the topic.

Shortly thereafter, the German travels to Tel Aviv with two suitcases and a one-way ticket. The two men celebrate Passover and Christmas together. The German demonstrates how to flip pancakes in the air; the Israeli shows him how to stand still on Holocaust Remembrance Day, with your arms pressed tightly against your body while you observe two minutes of silence. These and many other scenes eventually become a film: a 56-minute record of the new, unencumbered way in which many Israelis and Germans are now relating to each other.

[. . .]

Something has changed about the way Israelis and Germans interact, far removed from the endless German debates in which old men wrestle with their ghosts and politicians struggle to perform the mandatory rituals: the obligatory visit to Yad Vashem here, the obligatory visit to Dachau there. For quite some time now, there’s been a new Israeli-German reality beyond the routine of shock and dismay — primarily in Israel.

Nearly 70 years after the Holocaust, the last survivors are passing away, and this is changing how younger Israelis view Germany. Relatively free of historical taboos, they are redefining what this country means to them. This new generation no longer finds it odd that a company like Birkenstock promotes its products in Israel with “Made in Germany,” and a short trip to Berlin is the most normal thing in the world. For them, Germany is not just a country like any other — it also happens to be one of their favorites.

It mainly has to do with a feeling, a new Israeli self-assurance vis-à-vis Germany, one characterized by curiosity and a yearning for discovery. Young Israelis no longer insist on constant remembrance but, rather, on the right to be allowed to forget sometimes.

The sheer scale of this transition is perhaps best expressed in figures: Two years ago, one-quarter of all Israelis were rooting for Germany to win the soccer World Cup. In a survey conducted in 2009, 80 percent of all respondents qualified Israeli-German relations as normal, and 55 percent said that anti-Semitism was no worse in Germany than elsewhere in Europe.

Written by Randy McDonald

April 30, 2012 at 7:38 pm

[LINK] “Did English reach New World first?”

The latest installment of the story of John Cabot, the Italian explorer in service to the English Crown who made the first documented trips to what is now Canada–likely Newfoundland–made the narrative all the more interesting. The suggestion that Cabot was drawing Bristol seafarers’ recently-acquired knowledge of lands on the other side of the Atlantic sounds plausible, to be sure–the Grand Banks, with their once-rich cod fisheries, may have attracted fishermen from western Europe from as early as the mid-15th century.

The Italian-born Cabot is known to have sailed from England in search of the New World three times between 1496 and 1498. He is believed to have reached Newfoundland aboard the Matthew in 1497, but Cabot disappears from the historical record after his return voyage to North America in 1498, and is generally presumed to have perished during that expedition.

[. . .] University of Florence history Prof. Francesco Guidi-Bruscoli, working closely with two British researchers and funded largely by a Canadian benefactor, has now pieced together the full story of Cabot’s Italian financing and published his findings in the scholarly journal Historical Research.

At the heart of Guidi-Bruscoli’s discovery is a long-overlooked accountant’s notation in records held by a Florentine archive detailing a loan of “nobili 50” – 50 nobles sterling or about 16 English pounds – to “Giovanni Chabotte vini-ziano” (John Cabot of Venice) “a trovare il nuovo paese” (to find the new land).

Historians have traditionally described the sailor’s voyages, despite Cabot’s Italian heritage, as a purely English enterprise. But “despite the brevity of the entry” in the record book maintained by the Bardi banking family of Florence, “it opens a whole new chapter in Cabot scholarship, introducing an unexpected Europe-an dimension and posing new questions for the field,” Guidi-Bruscoli writes.

Among the questions posed are two particularly significant ones: Did Cabot already know about “the land” he was supposedly setting off to find? And is it possible that other sailors from England, where Cabot had moved to pursue his dream of overseas exploration, had previously visited “the new land” of North America – perhaps even before Christopher Columbus’s voyage to the Caribbean Islands in 1492 and that epoch-making “discovery” of the New World?

Remarkably, the answer to both questions may be yes, says University of Bristol historian Evan Jones, one of the British scholars working with Guidi-Bruscoli and founder of the Cabot Project research initiative, funded in large part by Canadian philanthropist Gretchen Bauta of the Weston family retail dynasty.

The clue, says Jones, is the ledger’s reference to Cabot’s goal being “the” new land rather than the indefinite “a” or some other less precise phrasing.

“I think we can be pretty certain that ‘the new land’ doesn’t refer to the land Columbus had found – given that the royal patent Cabot was granted was pretty clear about excluding these territories,” said Jones. “So, I think the reference must indicate that the Bardi believed that Cabot was going off to discover/rediscover a land already known about. The use of ‘new’ suggests it was a land which had been found relatively recently – so this can’t be a reference to the Norse voyages.”

Written by Randy McDonald

April 30, 2012 at 4:32 pm