Thursday, January 26, 2006

Local Bigot Headed for Ottawa

Voters in my neighboring riding of Kitchener-Conestoga have elected a local bigot, Harold Albrecht, as their representative in the Parliament of Canada. Shame on them.

For those who read our local paper, the Kitchener-Waterloo Record, Albrecht is infamous for a series of misinformed and nasty rants against sex and gay marriage. Here is a selection:

In an opinion piece published in the Record on October 29, 1993, Albrecht falsely claimed that "An analysis by researchers at the University of Texas estimates that when condoms are used, the risk of acquiring HIV from an infected partner is 31 per cent over a year's time. This study was reported in the Journal of Social Science and Medicine in June 1993."

Albrecht was evidently referring to this paper: Susan C. Weller, A meta-analysis of condom effectiveness in reducing sexually transmitted HIV, Social Science and Medicine 36 (12) (1993), 1635-1644. It's clear Albrecht never read the article, because he gets the title of the journal wrong: it's not the Journal of Social Science and Medicine, but simply Social Science and Medicine.

More importantly, Albrecht seriously misrepresented the conclusions of the Weller study. In the abstract, Weller concludes that "condoms may reduce risk of HIV infection by approximately 69%." A casual reader might think Albrecht is right, since 100% - 69% = 31%.

He's not. Albrecht is mixing up apples and oranges. The 69% figure of Weller represents the reduction in risk associated with using a condom. Let's say that the risk of getting HIV from an infected partner over one year's time without a condom is 10% (Weller's 1993 meta-analysis found figures varying from 4% to 19%). Then a 69% risk reduction means that with a condom, the risk of contracting HIV from an infected partner in one year decreases to about 3%. And 3% ain't 31%. Albrecht is either misinforming us, repeating misinformation, or innumerate -- not the best resumé for somebody headed to Ottawa to run things.

Furthermore, one should note that in 1999 Weller disavowed her 1993 study (see here), admitting that her earlier result was "was flawed because it aggregated studies with varying definitions of condom use, directions of transmission, study designs and types of index cases." In the newer paper [Karen R. Davis and Susan C. Weller, The Effectiveness of Condoms in Reducing Heterosexual Transmission of HIV, Family Planning Perspectives 31 (6) November/December 1999] Weller concluded that if one always uses a condom, the rate of transmission is 0.9 per 100 person years, or about 1% -- a far cry from Albrecht's 31%. (I'm not claiming Albrecht should have known in 1993 about a 1999 study, just showing his figures are all wrong.)

Albrecht next went on to claim "At a 1991 national conference on HIV held in Washington, D.C., none of the 800 sexologists raised a hand when asked if they would trust a thin rubber sheath to protect them during intercourse with a known HIV-infected person." This claim appears to be plagiarized practically verbatim from a 1992 fund-raising letter from known liar James Dobson. I doubt this incident ever happened. But even if it did, so what? All other things being equal, I wouldn't hold a gun to my head and pull the trigger, if it contained 100 empty chambers and 1 bullet. But, of course, all other things aren't equal. The Weller figures are for sex with a known HIV-positive partner, whereas what Albrecht is really getting upset about is teens having sex with other teens. Guess what? The HIV-infection rate among teens in Canada is quite small, so their risk of contracting HIV using a condom is much, much less than 1% in a year.

Albrecht then said, "Small wonder, when you consider that the human immunodeficiency virus is 1-25th the width of sperm and can pass easily through the smallest gaps in condoms." This claim is truly moronic. After all, water molecules are even smaller than viruses, but they don't seem to pass so easily through a condom. The World Health Organization debunks Albrecht's claim, stating that "Laboratory studies have found that viruses (including HIV) do not pass through intact latex condoms even when devices are stretched or stressed." Who are you going to believe, a prestigious non-partisan health group, or a bigoted fundamentalist?

Finally, Albrecht concludes with this admonishment: "Some of our brightest and best young people are being placed in a position of grave danger by being fed half-truths which, by simple mathematical deduction, are also half-lies." Pretty ironic, considering all the misinformation Albrecht was dishing out.

In 1995, Albrecht wrote a nasty opinion piece against Planned Parenthood, snidely suggesting it should change its name, and false claiming "The work of Planned Parenthood has very little to do with planning." Actually, most of their work, from workshops to condom distribution, concerns planning.

In 2002, Albrecht wrote an opinion piece in which he claimed "Child pornography is considered to be an art form". Nothing supporting this bizarre claim was advanced. He also took objection to a local performance of Puppetry of the Penis, saying "I appeal to Kitchener council to "close the lid" and cancel this event." I'm sure that when Albrecht gets to Ottawa, we can expect similarly stirring defenses of freedom of expression.

In 2003, Albrecht produced one of his most despicable rants, this time against gay marriage. He said "If one is truly committed to the marriage vows of fidelity, these same-sex marriages would succeed in wiping out an entire society in just one generation. So much for a bigger family." What ignorance! I have two relatives in a same-sex marriage, and they are happily raising two children with no infidelity involved. (I leave it for those with an outlook slighly broader than Albrecht's to figure out how.)

He went on to say "Nature alone points to the ridiculous "wisdom" of calling these relationships marriage. Thankfully, only a very small percentage of people will fall for this thinking -- but the ongoing damage to future generations will reveal this "wisdom" to be yet another step away from the beautiful relationship that God has created and defined so clearly."

And "Marriage is God's idea, not man's; therefore, He alone has the authority to redefine it."

Somebody needs to tell Albrecht that his god seems to have lots of weird ideas. For example, in Leviticus 19:19 god tells us that we can't wear clothes that have two different kinds of material. In Leviticus 20:18, we are told to deport any couple that has sex during the woman's menstrual period. Just because his god makes these weird demands, doesn't mean that they are binding on the rest of us.

Gentle readers of this blog, have you noticed the common thread running through all of Albrecht's rants? Yes, it is sex. The man truly hates it. He must really be obssessed with sex, considering how many of his published pieces deal with it.

So how did my neighbors elect this nasty bigot to Parliament?

Here's how: the Conservatives hid him from scrutiny. From the Record, January 20 2006:

Harold Albrecht, a Conservative running in Kitchener-Conestoga who is known for his views against gay marriage, was hustled away from reporters and into a banquet-hall kitchen yesterday where handlers refused to bring him out.

"He's in a meeting,'' a Tory official insisted, pushing a door closed as Albrecht stood next to empty dish racks.

In today's National Post Father Raymond J. De Souza claimed that Stephen Harper's "caucus is the most intellectually principled and serious in several generations". Albrecht's misrepresentations and bigotry, documented here, belie that claim.


M@ said...

What scares me is that Albrecht is far from an anomaly in the CPC caucus -- and maybe not even the most outrageous. David Sweet in Ancaster-Flamborough-Dundas stepped down as president of the Canadian arm of the Promise Keepers to run in the last election.

Surprisingly, his four years at the head of that huge organisation were somehow missed in his candidate bio. And other references to it have gone missing as well. What a shame! Luckily Egale Canada managed to find some of them.

The scary thing is that the past views of Albrecht and Sweet were so suppressed during the campaign, and were apparently unworthy of journalistic attention. Must be that liberal media bias again.

Even scarier is that, even with Albrecht's dish rack meeting appearing in the paper, and even with his intolerant views being generally well-known, he was elected.

Anonymous said...

Are you sure he isn't an American Republican undercover agent? I thought we were the only country in this hemisphere with religious wackos.

Anonymous said...

The CPC has become the Canadian chapter of the US Republican Party which in turn is largely an arm of the US Fundementalist movement.

Anonymous said...

Well, you have identified quite a few points where you disagree with Harold Albrecht, but I don't quite see the justification for your claim that he is a "bigot". My understanding is that at least 50% of the Canadian population is opposed to gay marriage, and I seriously doubt that they are all bigots. Also -- going back to the early 90's to dredge up some of your claims and the "blah, blah, blah meta-analysis" tone of your attack seriously smacks of a witch hunt.

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Dear Anonymous:

My definition of bigot is "one who is irrationally devoted to his opinions". Anyone who says ridiculous things like "If one is truly committed to the marriage vows of fidelity, these same-sex marriages would succeed in wiping out an entire society in just one generation" is clearly not speaking rationally.

If there are rational arguments against gay marriage, by all means, present them. I've yet to hear any. All the arguments I've heard are clearly based on religious dogma.

I am not convinced at all by your argument about "50% of the Canadian people". First, my post was about Albrecht, not Canadians in general. Second, I see no reason why 50% of any population might not be bigoted on a number of different topics. Wouldn't you say that 50% of Americans were bigoted towards black people in 1875?

Finally, as for the "witch hunt" accusation, exactly how should we evaluate someone, other than based on their writings and actions? You give no rational basis to dispute my analysis, you only call it "blah, blah, blah".

All in all, a very unimpressive set of objections, Anonymous.

M@ said...

Well, we could judge them based on the actions and opinions they avoided bringing up during the election campaign...

Voters of Kitchener-Consetoga, congratulations. Not only did you elect a bigot, you elected a bigot who's stupid enough to admit it the day after he's fooled you all. If it weren't for those meddling kids!

Anonymous said...

You say that "All the arguments [you've] heard are clearly based on religious dogma." Are you saying you have never heard the argument that the point of marriage as a state-sanctioned institution is to attempt to provide a stable enviroment for the bringing up of children? That is not a religious argument.

When this argument was brought up at Crooked Timber, I tried to deal with it. Perhaps you can look at the exchange there, and offer your comments, my contribution starts here, and the fellow putting forward the argument is "Enthymeme".

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Dear Calvin:

I don't really have the time right now to get involved with discussions on other blogs. But I'll answer briefly here. You are welcome to respond here.

Yes, I think the "stable environment for children" argument ultimately derives from religious dogma, although the connection is perhaps more subtle than the other arguments.

First, it assumes that there is a single purpose to marriage, an untenable proposition that clearly is based on the idea that marriage is ordained by God. Marriage serves purposes other than providing a "stable environment for children" -- for example, it publicly acknowledges a sexual union, as a way to stave off contention for mates.

Second, it somehow misses the possibility of gay couples having children. The last time I looked at statistics, there were hundreds of thousands of gay couples living together with children in North America. If the goal of those making the argument were really about a stable environment for children, they should be advocating marriage for these couples.

Third, it treats the case of gay childless couples as somehow different from (for example) heterosexual couples marrying past the possible age of reproduction. If those making the "stable environment for children" argument were really sincere, then they would argue that childless marriages should be outlawed, too.

Anonymous said...

If you read the exhange between me and Enthymeme, you will see that I have already brought up arguments similar to those you bring up here, and that he has responded to them, without basing his argument in any religious appeal. I think his responses fail in the end although the thread was closed before he could reply to me. (We also have that according to you, this argument is only "ultimately" based in a "more subtle" way on religion, and not "clearly" based on it).

Jeffrey Shallit said...

Ok, Calvin, you've convinced me that it is possible to make arguments against gay marriage that are not exclusively based on religion. I don't think they're very good arguments, but I concede your point.