An Open Letter to Vince Agovino

Dear Mr. Agovino,
Recently, in your campaign for the position of Member of Provincial Parliament in Willowdale, you sent out a letter (p1, p2, p3, ad) to all constituents. In this letter, you included an advertisement for a petition regarding the sex ed program in Ontario schools, and a long explanation about the problems you see regarding Ontario schools (Catholic schools, specifically) and the "Gay Agenda".

I have to start by saying that your letter lost some of its impact by arriving at my house on October 12th, a little too late for the October 6th election (besides, I voted in the advance polls). However, I did find it quite insulting that Canada Post seems to think that one cent of postage was not sufficent for this letter, and that I am now personally responsible for $1.81 in outstanding postage.

The mode of delivery of this particular letter, however, is not what offends me the most. What offends me are the views expressed in this letter. But first, a little about myself.  I was born in Ontario and was a student in Ontario's Catholic school system from Grade 1 onwards. As a child, I didn't know lots of things, including much about homosexuality (or, let's face it, about sexuality at all). But I did know that someone you didn't like in the schoolyard was called a "fag", though I didn't use that word very often.

Now, I am living in Willowdale and am raising a family of my own. In a way, my situation is a bit like yours. However, our choice of city (and provincial riding) appear to be the only similarities we share. Because frankly, I found it incredibly offensive that your letter establishes your campaign platform along the following two ideas:
  1. Sexual education for children is bad. 
  2. Gays are bad, or at least, should be ignored, and certainly not supported in schools.
The first point is one that I've already rebutted on my blog.  In a nutshell, the sex ed curriculum changes that the Liberal government had proposed was almost completely unremarkable, and it should have simply been implemented as-is. It is total misinformation and fear-mongering to suggest that children will be learning about "sex" when they should be learning to tie their shoes.  That argument doesn't even make sense. Children can learn more than one thing at a time and the sex-ed curriculum doesn't bump out any other useful knowledge. And also, learning about anatomy is not the same thing as learning about sexual intercourse. Attempting to equate those two things is, basically, lying. Learning about anatomy, and privacy, are important things to teach small children who otherwise can't articulate themselves when an adult abuses them, and this is what the early sex-ed curriculum addresses. Suffice to say, the government was making a positive change with that curriculum and my disappointment lies in the fact that they backed down because of a rabid, uninformed, fear-mongering outcry.

Your second platform point is actually far worse than your first. Your letter reads as a thinly veiled warning that if we don't elect you, the gays are going to have their way with our children. You must really not like gays. Because if you cared about them at all, you'd be appalled that a gay student killed himself in Ottawa recently, and that he did so because he was bullied by homophobic teenagers in his school. And Gay-Straight Alliances, which the Catholic school boards are resisting tooth-and-nail, are an important tool to help deal with that kind of bullying. But your campaign letter says that you will fight tirelessly to ensure that Catholic schools are free to allow students to bully gays.

How does an educated person in 2011 get to be so wrong about such an issue? Let's pretend that instead of gay students we are talking about black students, or Chinese students. If schools were full of systematic bullying and intolerance for black or Chinese students, wouldn't you want the schools to set up programs to help alleviate this? Wouldn't you support the government's attempts to solve this problem? I'll be honest and say that I don't know how effective a solution a GSA is. Maybe it helps, maybe it doesn't. But you aren't criticizing the solution. You are instead criticizing the problem. Because these students were born gay, they are now fair game for bullying, and any attempts they make to improve their lives must be evidence of an evil conspiracy.

Now, you might raise a bunch of arguments here, such as claiming that being gay is a choice, or that being gay is a sin. First, most scientists do not believe that being gay is a choice. The evidence is pretty clear about it. Besides, what possible advantages does it bring? "Gee, I'd like to be attracted to the same gender as me, so that I can have the same amount of sexual satisfaction as a straight person, but oodles more scorn and derision and bullying from people who see me as a freak! Sounds like a good idea!"

As for it being a sin, please note that the Old Testament explicitly condemns homosexuality only in Leviticus, and the Gospels say nothing about homosexuality. Leviticus is a surprising book to read. It starts out with a detailed description of how to sacrifice animals. Then it talks about which things are unclean and how you are a guilty sinner if you touched an unclean thing, even if you didn't know you had. Also it prohibits the eating of lobster, clams, and other sea creatures that don't have scales, because those are abominations. There are whole lists of creatures that you can and can't eat. Leviticus also prescribes that all men must be circumcised. It goes on and on. My point is that almost all the rules of Leviticus are ignored in modern Christianity. Why does the ban against homosexuality get special treatment? Jesus never said anything about homosexuality. But he did command his followers to love their neighbours.

That boy that committed suicide recently, because homophobic teenagers bullied him? His name was Jamie Hubley. He was a boy, learning about the world and growing up to be a man. And he's dead now, because homophobes made his life unbearable. How can we let something like this happen? How can we pretend that this boy "chose" to be tormented to death? He was a boy, and a human being, and he deserved better from the world and from his school. And your campaign strove to undo any advances this child needed.

That attitude sickens me to no end. Maybe I shouldn't be surprised, since you've aligned yourself with the same party whose Federal brothers and sisters unanimously voted against officially legalizing gay marriage, despite it being clearly required by the Charter of rights and freedoms. It was a mere technicality, yet the entire cohort of elected Conservatives stood up to declare themselves homophobic. It should come as no surprise that you too have the same views as they. But your letter, your anti-gay beliefs are why you, and your party, lost the provincial election: the people of Toronto stood up and denounced this bigotry.

I am sending this letter to you directly from my personal email, and also cross-posting it to my blog. If you reply, I will post your reply as well, so that you can get your word in.

LEGO Kingdoms 7189 Mill Village Raid

I recently found the Lego Kingdoms set 7189 on sale at Toys R Us and decided that I had to have it.

There are lots of things I like about the latest Kingdoms line. First, I am crazy about the evil faction, the dragon knights. They have great minifigs and colours. So a set that features these minifigs is always nice to see. Of course, the main highlight of this relatively large set is not the knights, but rather the peasants.

This set represents the continuation of the recent years' foray into medieval scenes featuring civilians. In the past, virtually all Castle sets featured only combatants, except the odd wagon now and then that might have a lonely farmer. Lately, LEGO has added more "daily life" sets to the mix. One signature set in that series was the Medieval Market, which featured medieval city buildings, farmers, cattle, food, and other day-to-day things you might find in a medieval city.  Now with 7189 they are bringing out a rather large farm set that really shines.

This set is divided up into four stages. Each stage has numbered polybags of parts, so that it's easy to assemble the first time. The first bag has the minifigs and the wagon.  The wagon is nothing great but frankly, who cares. Lego has almost never put out a good wagon and that never bothered me. It serves the purpose of having something to hitch to the horse. The horse, by the way, is really nicely done, with shaggy hooves and blinders. Not a warhorse at all. Aside from the horse, you also get three chickens, two goats, and a pig. I've never seen Lego farm animals before and I have to say that these are really, really, really cute. They look good next to the farmer, his wife, and their son (who needs a haircut, in my opinion :) )

The second stage is the windmill. This is a nice little building, on a rotating base, with a sloped roof. The windmill actually rotates a central shaft that has a grindstone on it. You can turn a crank or turn the blades themselves and the stone grinds. It's really well done. The only thing I didn't like about this windmill is that it's very fragile, for a building. I can never recall when I've ever accidentally crushed a model I was building while trying to attach a piece, but this happened a couple of times while I was putting this together.

The third stage is one half of the barn, and the fourth stage is the other half. The barn is well made; it swings apart so that you can reach inside, and it features a winch, a trap door, and two stalls for the animals. The construction is fairly sturdy and it looks nice when it's completed. There is not too much to remark on, construction-wise.

One thing I did notice is that this model shows how some of the parts in the Lego repertoire have evolved over time.  Consider the door that is used on the mill. On an older kit, this door would be used. It attaches using a special brick that has little tabs hanging off. This mechanism is very old; I have lego from the early 1980s that uses this for shutters. It's also fairly fragile; the tabs on the brick could break off, and the doors fall off during play. In 7189 the door looks like this, and the clips that hold it in place are standard vertical claws. In this particular model, the claws are part of a giant, 3-tall brick with the claws permanently molded in. But there is nothing special about these claws and any standard claw can be used.  The same is true of almost every other hinge in this set. The older hinges have all been replaced with standard claws.  This is an amazing improvement, because it means that you can now be far more versatile in how you connect these pieces. I'm a bit disappointed that all my old doors are obsolete but I'm glad to see real progress.

The other thing I was glad to see in this model is that there are virtually no off-colour parts that are included for bizarre reasons. LEGO often puts a single bright-blue brick in the middle of a model for some reason. In this set, that was kept to a minimum and most of the colour variation is on-palette, that is, it's different shades of brown and grey. And I love the new super-dark brown, and the dark-tan, both of which are used a lot in this set.

Overall, aside from the fragility of the windmill, I find that this set is extremely well constructed. The part selection is really good. The minifigs and animals are excellent. Overall a very good set and worth owning.