Tuesday, September 30, 2008

More Conservative Accountability ... Election Style

Remember PMSH railing against the evils of patronage appointments? It wasn't that long ago that he was promising us a panel to oversee all of the government appointments...2006 in fact.

Then there's reality:

The Harper government approved 148 appointments to federal boards and agencies, long used as rewards for supporters of the party in power, as the election neared, The Canadian Press has learned.

Cabinet handed out the pots in three rounds, the first only two days before Parliament recessed for the summer, the second on July 30, at peak holiday time for politicians and political journalists, and the third less than a week before Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced the election for Oct. 14.

... and you wonder why I dubbed him 'HarperCrit'?

Mr. Harper, who railed against Liberal patronage in the 2006 election, later failed to deliver on a campaign pledge to put an independent commission in charge of vetting cabinet appointments. He angrily shelved the idea after opposition MPs refused to ratify his nomination of Gwyn Morgan, a Calgary oil baron who is also a friend of the prime minister, as the commission chair.

Oh right - he got his knickers in a twist because he couldn't get away with making the head of his oversight committee a patronage appointment! Someone remind me how this is open, accountable government.

Voting Options:

Anyone But Conservative
Vote For Environment

Banking Meltdowns, The Free Market and Bailouts

There's a very natural, almost visceral response to the difficulties of the big investment banks in the United States - 'you created the mess, you clean it up!'. Especially when one hears about the mind boggling salaries that the top executives get.

I have huge reservations about simply handing nearly a $1 Trillion dollars over to the banks as a 'bail out' package without some strings on it - both for oversight and to put in motion a process to examine what happened and restructure the marketplace to control that kind of risk better.

Banking has always struck me as a fairly staid, risk averse business. Perhaps at its core it is, but clearly the so-called "investment banks" have clearly been running towards risk in the name of profits.

I disagree substantially with this economist on a key point:

The fact that government bears such a huge responsibility for the current mess means any response should eliminate the conditions that created this situation in the first place, not attempt to fix bad government with more government.

My disagreement is simple - this is the classic line of the "Free Marketeer" (sounds surprisingly close to "Privateer" - an archaic term for Pirate, doesn't it). Basically his entire argument hinges on the idea that government intervention in the markets is "bad". He's wrong. Very wrong.

The problem here is very much that the government has not thought to draw out the lines of the 'sandbox' that is the free market in the banking and lending arena. Consequently, this has allowed the banks to come up with some unique - if predatory - lending practices that are simply bad investment thinking.

I don't think you simply hand Wall Street bankers a bag of money either. Any bailout has to be accompanied with a few strings:

1. Accountability. Not just to the shareholders, but to the public. Sorry Mr. Banker, but you've proven that you are not mature enough to run about unsupervised.

2. Regulation. A process must be put in place that will lead to a balanced, regulated marketplace.

The "free market" is a concept, but it works fundamentally by being "just slightly" out of balance - rather like standing on a wobble board. Ideally it is always counterbalancing itself. Regulation does not exist to prevent the market from changing and adapting, but rather to identify when the situation is becoming unbalanced to to prevent it from doing so.

If you will, it should be the equivalent of speed limits on the highway - intended to keep things more or less in check, but recognizing that you cannot catch all of the cases where things go a little too nutty.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Putting Down "But It's Soooo Improbable" Arguments

One of the favourite - and utterly brain dead - criticisms of evolution that is often raised is the "sheer improbability" of the world - and the universe we live in - having "simply occurred" as a result of highly unlikely events coinciding.

Fundamentally, this is an emotional reaction - one firmly rooted in the same insecurity that gives religion its foothold in our world in the first place. There's something very unsettling to humans about the notion that we are in many ways simply a part of nature, and not divinely privileged in any respect.

However, one has only to look as far as the complex computer systems that we have today to get some idea of how these seemingly infinitely small probabilities line up.

A number of years ago, I was tasked with finding a bug in a piece of software I was responsible for at work. Every so often a handful of projects would pop up with exactly the same fault occurring, but we could never reproduce it in our test lab.

Eventually, we did track the fault down to a single line of code that had a small, but significant coding error. However, the coding error was not likely to cause a serious problem unless the following combination of failures happened to coincide:

1. The faulty line of code executed and produced a fail condition.
2. The program received a 'page' of memory that just happened to have a meaningful value in the correct location from the last execution of the loop
3. The correct sequence of related programs executed, and left the system in a state where 1 and 2 could in fact occur and coincide.

When we found the error, one of the team spent a few hours working out what the likely combination of events was that was necessary to coincide for this result to occur - and the number was surprisingly close to 1 in a million - quite literally. When we sat down and ran the numbers, the average time between errors happened to be awfully close to when the millionth execution of that could would likely have taken place on that system.

With the exception of the code error, the rest of the events that had to coincide were quite beyond our control - effectively random for all intents and purposes. While one might argue that the computer system itself was the result of intelligent design, that misses the point. The systems in question were never designed to produce the result that was observed. The second point is that the various aspects of the computer environment were acting as independent, but interacting, systems - not unlike those we see in the world around us (admittedly the computer software involved exists on a far smaller scale than the world we live in).

So, if one were to draw out the analogy a bit further - especially when considering the fundamental concept of evolution - we find ourselves examining the probability that random biological events would be occurring, some more successful than others at propogating themselves. So, let's consider that any particular biological event (e.g. DNA mutation) has a probability of 1 / 1 x 10^7 of occurring (my estimate of the probability here is arbitrary). Now consider how many biological events occur in the world every second of every day. Cells split and reproduce all the time - think about the number of cells in our world - even in one body - the numbers are unimaginably huge, far more than 1 x 10^7 - which means that the odds are that somewhere, any one arbitrary event has occurred.

Now, thinking beyond that, then the question is whether that event occurs in a context which makes it significant? Well, if the event itself can occur, and has a pretty reasonable chance of occurring, then it is hardly an unreasonable assertion that the events could occur in the correct context to become significant.

Is this guaranteed? No. Is it impossible? No - which is by far the more significant point.

Does this preclude the existence of some metaphysical being and their involvement in our universe? No - of course not. By definition the metaphysical being is unprovable until we ourselves become peers to that being somehow.

However, it does provide us with a knowable explanation that does not require the intervention of an unknown and unprovable entity. This produces a logically consistent explanation - one which stands to scrutiny.

For some, what I postulate here is going to be emotionally unsatisfying - but that's not surprising - statistics and the mathematics of probabilities are seldom emotionally satisfying. Science in general isn't about sating someone's emotional needs.

Feeling Like You're Being Taken For Granted?

Do you live in Calgary? Wondered what happened to the election that is supposed to be going on?

Well, chances are, your riding is one of the ridings the HarperCon$ think is "safe" - so most of the incumbents are off running about campaigning anywhere but in Alberta. It was headline news when Jim Prentice actually spent a day or two campaigning in his Calgary riding.

Other conservative campaigns largely seem to consist of billboard signs put on public property, and the candidate is mysteriously invisible - whether we are talking about the media or at all-candidate's forums. In fact, finding a Conservative candidate in Calgary these days is almost as difficult as finding hen's teeth.

Now, in this regard, Alberta voters have themselves to blame. By not holding some of the worst excuses for MPs to account for their lack of availability, non-responsiveness and secrecy, they have handed Harper's band the arrogance that we see exhibited in Alberta's ridings. These clowns think they are entitled to their seats. They aren't, and nor should Alberta's voters be so complacent about handing any of these people a renewed contract this election. - Especially when they cannot be bothered to make themselves present in their own ridings during an election!

By no means does this let the opposition parties off the hook. The Liberals, NDP and Green Party have all dropped the ball in Calgary. Instead of fighting for every vote they can get, the opposition parties seem to have conceded Alberta as a whole to the HarperCon$. There are an amazing number of votes available in Alberta - but whoever wants them is going to have to struggle for each and every one of them. That means finding quality candidates, grooming them over multiple elections and being visible not just at election time, but between elections. There are a lot of Albertans who will vote for something other than a HarperCon, if you can convince them that you exist as something other than a zephyr at election time.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Let's Talk About Logical Consistency For A Moment...

As if Harper couldn't sink any lower, he proves that he can.

Canadian bitumen – the thick, heavy oil that is transformed into crude oil – is exported mainly to the United States. Mr. Harper's ministers noted that both U.S. presidential candidates have promised tougher emissions standards, so a ban might never apply to exports to the United States.

Wait a second, wasn't he just talking the other day about handing more and more of the regulatory regime around resource management over to the provinces?

Then he proceeds to brag about a supposed surplus in the last quarter:

Crowing about new figures that show Ottawa posted a $1.7-billion budget surplus in July, Mr. Harper told reporters that Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion has been irresponsibly trying to drive down confidence in the economy.

Now, there's two problems here - Mr. Harper's magic surplus is more than overshadowed by the currently unfunded, but committed, contracts for military equipment that he has sent various parts of the military scurrying after - from shiny new equipment to extended term leases of "gently used" gear to tide them over in Afghanistan. The costs of those bills alone more than exceeds the $1.7 billion he's blathering about.

As for confidence in the economy, the shakiness has nothing to do with any of the politicians or what they are saying. Voters aren't stupid - we know damn well what's going on right now in the financial sector south of the border will inevitably splash Canada. It can't help but do so.

To this point, Harper's idea of fiscal prudence is nothing more than corporate welfare for the wealthy and no protection whatsoever for middle class Canadians. The Harper approach has placed the government in the perilous position where it may be unable to respond to the shifting economic conditions in a way that benefits Canadians - largely because Harper has increased government spending at a profligate rate while reducing the government's revenues - a model which even the most elementary understanding of finances and economics shows to be deeply problematic. (In essence, Harper's approach to government finances is equivalent to using a sub-prime mortgage to finance the purchase of a new car - it depends entirely upon the overall value of the economy increasing at all times)

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Confusing The Issues

I do not believe the reasoning given by the Calgary RC School Board in refusing to make HPV vaccine available through their schools:

Calgary Catholic school board members voted Wednesday night not to make the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine available in schools.

Trustee Mary Martin said Calgary Bishop Fred Henry didn't want to appear to be condoning pre-marital sex.

"The bishop felt it was a moral issue."

When will idiots like Bishop Henry get it through their thick skulls that preventing disease has exactly NOTHING TO DO with premarital sex?

This meme about providing the vaccine "might give the impression that ..." is completely specious. It's like saying that sex education is giving license for people to engage in extra-marital sex. It's completely devoid of any anchor in reality.

Using the Bishop's logic, we shouldn't provide treatment for Syphilis - because the afflicted must be involved in immoral behaviour.

The Veneer Cracks

To be honest, I'm actually a little surprised by this. Lee Richardson has been around politics to know better - but it appears that the festering ooze of what passes for thought among the ReformaTory set has infected Mr. Richardson:

"Particularly in big cities, we’ve got people that have grown up in a different culture," he said. "And they don’t have the same background in terms of the stable communities we had 20, 30 years ago in our cities … and don’t have the same respect for authority or people’s person or property."

He later added: "Talk to the police. Look at who's committing these crimes. They’re not the kid that grew up next door.”

What a delightful sentiment - so who among the HarperCon$ is going to take off their muzzle next?

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Generalize Much, Steve?

If you have any awareness of the arts world, you will know just how badly Harper mischaracterized the arts community yesterday:

the Conservative Leader draped himself in populism and said he sided with regular folks who aren't troubled that his policies rile fat-cat artists or people “in ivory towers.”

Mr. Harper would not, however, repeat in French his criticisms of artists, for outrage at his party's culture platform is most outspoken in Quebec.

It's the kind of generalizations Harper makes that show us his thinking is extremely limited. His world is all black and white. The arts world - which is so often about 'the show' - is far from wealthy. Artists are ordinary Canadians. Look around your community, and how many volunteer theatre companies run on shoestring budgets - barely able to pay any staff salaries for the routine business of keeping things going.

How many people sitting in offices or working at Starbucks are writers, sculptors or other forms of artist who haven't come anywhere near 'the big time'?

The rest of us are in one form or another consumers of the output of the arts. Whether you attend a play or two a year, or you are a passionate devotee of literature.

The problem with Harper's recent cuts to the arts is not their scale, but rather the way in which he has gone about it. Rather than putting it forward as part of the government's budget, and making it part of the larger financial discussion for the government. Instead, Harper did the changes under the rules of Order In Council, a tool primarily intended to enable Her Majesty's Government to continue the day to day operations of government while Parliament is not sitting.

The issue is this - like Ralph Klein in Alberta, Harper is doing as much as he thinks he can get away with outside of the open forum of Parliament. When he does have to use Parliamentary process, Harper tries to make everything a confidence motion, and further abuses both the concepts of democracy and parliamentary politics.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Telling Half The Story

When groups like Lifesite take it upon themselves to parrot the news, you can almost guarantee that they'll only tell half the story.

Consider the following story from Lifesite: Contraceptive Hormones Mutating Fish in St. Lawrence River

Estrogen from birth control pills in highly populated areas of Canada is washing into the water table and flooding the St. Lawrence River, a new study has found. University of Montreal researchers said that the St. Lawrence River near Montreal has an alarmingly high level of estrogens that are mutating male fish.

... and oh-my-goodness, the compounds in question just happen to be those used in female birth control pills.

In fact, if you only read the story on Lifesite, which they lifted their facts from this CBC story for, you'd think that there was this looming catastrophe about to occur, all because of female contraceptives.

Then there's reality:

While researchers found estrodiol, a naturally occurring hormone that all women — particularly pregnant ones — release, they discovered synthetic estrogenic compounds as well.

"They're really pharmaceuticals which are used either as contraceptives or in hormone replacement therapy," Sauvé said.

Sauvé said even though HRT use has dropped dramatically in Quebec in the past few years, what ends up in the wastewater is still significant. Some compounds are filtered out at the sediment plant, but most ends up in the St. Lawrence.

Also implicated are the byproducts of plastics as they break down, and effluent from pulp and paper mills.

It's not like nothing is being done about it either:

Environmental engineers are hoping the hormones and other pharmaceuticals in human waste will be destroyed for good once Montreal installs a new ozonation process at its plant.
Sauvé's fellow researchers are among those now running tests to make sure the process will work on a grand scale.

Of course, none of that warrants a mention in Lifesite's article.

And, let's not ignore the impact of the chemistry that industrial activity often dumps into the river systems.

Similarly, Lifesite's article implies that what happens to fish applies equally to humans. Of course, what they don't discuss is that mammal biology and response to estrogen ingestion is quite different than that of fish who literally are living in the chemical stew that is being dumped into the rivers.

Lifesite - when you want a 'Chicken Little' version of the world, and real news sources when you want to know what's actually happening.

What Is It With These People?!?

At the rate that the Conservatives are ditching people for saying things that are unspeakably stupid, they're going to run out of party pretty soon.

Whether we are talking about stupid comments regarding the Manitoba bus tragedy, joking about the Listeria outbreak, or accusing the father of a dead soldier of being "a liberal", all of these comments are plain stupid and in their own right warrant very little attention...except that they are all little windows into the complete lack of respect for the Canadian public that the HarperCon$ so clearly have.

Fundamentally, this is a party with its head firmly stuck in a grade 8 boys' locker room. Bigger is better, guns are cool and anyone who disagrees with you is fair game for crude and cruel jokes.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

On Criminalization of Marijuana

This post stems from a conversation I had earlier today about Marijuana in general and its criminalization. In large part, the issue came up because the local Green Party candidate seems to be more of a marijuana advocate than environmentally conscious.

I'm not exactly a big fan of criminal prohibition of marijuana - sure, it's nasty stuff, but so is tobacco and alcohol when used to excess. The long standing criminal ban on possession hasn't been terribly effective, and although we have a fairly good understanding of how Cannabis affects people, it is a lot less clear whether those effects warrant criminal sanction.

If we simply take the claim that because Marijuana is a psychoactive drug as the basis upon which we ban it with criminal enforcement, then one has to raise the question of whether a similar ban is appropriate for alcohol?

We tried the ban alcohol during the early part of the 20th Century, and the cold, hard reality was that we simply gave control of the product and its distribution over to criminals. We didn't achieve a better society for the ban on Alcohol, nor did we actually stop people from drinking.

What we do as a society is criminalize the abuse of the substance. For example, someone who goes out with friends and has a glass of wine (but does not get drunk) and drives home a few hours later has not committed a crime; but certainly we recognize that certain levels of blood alcohol represent serious abuse and and irresponsible decision to drive. We criminalize the latter case - fine.

If we decriminalize Marijuana, what do we effectively do? Well, first of all, we take the underground economy out of the picture. The underground economy - from the grow-ops to the dealer at the local 7-11 - depends on the fact that producing the stuff has to be kept secret. Like tobacco, there isn't a lot of point in being secretive about it if it's legal.

Although that doesn't solve the drug issue entirely, it takes one more issue and removes it from the table - freeing us to go after the more serious problems. Should we establish lines at which use of Marijuana constitutes legal impairment? Absolutely. Should we regulate its production and availability? Sure - we do that with lots of other substances.

But, this is but one part of addressing the complex problem that drug abuse and gang activity presents in society. We still need to address the socio-economic imbalances that drive people to desperate acts such as becoming involved in gangs or turning to drugs for relief from day to day stresses.

Readers will note that I am not calling for absolute decriminalization, rather I am advocating a limited form that will not only knock the legs out from the criminal producers and distributors, but also opens the door more readily to more practical research into the product itself. Few researchers are willing to jump through the hoops necessary to successfully do research on banned substances, and even more complicated is finding participants for that research - often for the same reasons.

Outright prohibition is a doomed policy from the outset, we need to find more practical options that enable us to develop policy that is based upon credible evidence.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

I Believe That's Why We Call Them Criminal Gangs

Joe Warmington seems to think that because Gangs kill people, that we should kill gangsters.

Our justice system does not have the death penalty.

Theirs does. In fact in the gang world, they have child executions. Our system is soft. Theirs is deadly, and conducted in our schoolyards or wherever they darn well choose.

The implication is knee-jerk and impulsive. That because we don't apply the same brutal penalty that gangs do, we are being "soft on criminals".

In light of last week's carnage in Calgary, I can almost understand Warmington's logic - but he's still dead wrong.

First of all, he's forgetting the old adage about two wrongs not making a right. The state killing someone because they killed someone else doesn't really accomplish anything. In fact, the states with the highest murder rates in the US happen to also be the most zealous about using the death penalty. Kind of tells you something doesn't it?

Second, gangs are closer to paramilitary organizations than they are anything else. You don't shut them down by 'getting tough' - that doesn't work - in fact it plays into their hands. You shut them down by dismantling the social conditions that allow the gang to flourish in the first place.

Calgary is an interesting example in this respect. It has been a relatively peaceful city for many years - even in the light of dramatic growth and prosperity. So, why the flaring violence this year? I can think of several factors at play. First is money. There is a LOT of it floating around this city. I've seen 20-somethings tooling about in cars I wouldn't even dream of purchasing; housing is at a premium - if you aren't making a six figure salary, kiss home ownership goodbye, and chances are pretty good that finding rental options that aren't falling apart that you can afford is next to impossible.

So, not only is there huge money around, but the lower income bracket is getting squeezed. Don't have a degree? Tough luck, right? Well, not entirely - when you can pull down a pretty healthy bit of cash selling some dried up leaves or rocks of crack, suddenly drug dealing looks pretty compelling.

Crime will always exist to some degree; violent, organized crime is almost always an indication that something in the social balance equation has gotten out of whack. If we are going to conquer this problem, it won't be through 'tough' laws that throw people in jail for longer periods of time. We need to look at other large cities who have been through this same experience - like New York, which in the early 1980s was the most dangerous city in the USA, and now is actually fairly safe. It wasn't done by throwing people in jail or making the penalties harsher - it was done by addressing the problems that enabled the criminal elements to thrive in the first place.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Straight From the PMO?

Defence Dept. restricts interviews during election

Bureaucrats said the department's assistant deputy minister for public affairs issued a directive stating that they cannot grant interviews for the duration of the five-week campaign.

"During an election period it is of utmost importance that National Defence employees and Canadian Forces members do not act in any way that could influence – or be perceived as influencing – the outcome of the electoral process," reads the directive, sent to The Canadian Press following a request for an interview on a health matter affecting Canadian Forces personnel.

The Assistant Deputy Minister gave the order you say? Oh...so that probably means it came from the political leadership - that would be Peter Mackay, wouldn't it? Peter, who marches along so smartly in lock step with Stephen Harper.

In fact, this would be the same Peter Mackay who reneged on his pledges and sold out the Progressive Conservative party and handed the keys over to the Harper-led ReformaTories.

Anyone want to place odds that a few conveniently unrecorded phone calls between PMSH and Mackay got this ball rolling? After all, we wouldn't want the public thinking too hard about things that go "boom" and result in dead bodies during an election, would we?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008


The irony in this story is hilarious.

"They were always producing negative reports about Venezuela," Chavez told reporters. "They forgot about themselves ... and 'boom!' they were bankrupt."

For years, we've been listening to the Americans trashing Hugo Chavez, but as he rightly points out, the American government and the large financial institutions haven't exactly been doing a good job of stewardship where their economy is concerned.

I may not agree with everything Chavez says or does, but in this case I'd say he's earned the right to poke the current meltdown in the US financial sector.

The tally so far?

Taken over (for all intents and purposes) by the US government:

Fannie Mae
Freddie Mac


Lehman Brothers

Bailed Out By US Government: (not sure if control moved or not)

Bear Sterns

That's quite a list of failures. I'm not actually sympathetic to any of these businesses - they hung their fates on the 'subprime mortgage' hook, and it fell off the wall.

What does surprise me is that they were foolish enough to do that in the first place. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that the terms of the sub-prime mortgages were predatory, nor does it take a lot to realize that giving people credit when they can't support it is going to sooner or later backfire.

The entire US economy has relied entirely on consumer spending since 2000/2001, and what gains were to be had after 2004 were almost entirely based on debt-funded consumer spending. You had to know that this was going to be messy.

It really does put paid to the standard right-wing shtick about good fiscal management. Every time we see a paleoCon government, the economy ends up tanking, it seems. It was a mess in Canada throughout the Mulroney era, and under Bush II, the US economy is being left in a deplorable state as a result of short-sighted policy and a dogma about not intervening in the so-called 'free market'.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

You've Got To Be Kidding

I've said for a long time that just beneath the veneer of civilized that the current owners of the name 'Conservative' in Canada is a squirming base of ugliness.

It appears the veneer's wearing thin:

Ezra is definitely in the Harper war room, a place he jokingly considers to be more of a "peace room. It's more huggable.

"I'm a volunteer helping out. I do burger runs. I do TV panels as a Conservative strategist. It's not that big a deal," says Ezra.

Well, when Ezra is contacted, he is not about to do a burger run but he is about to go on CTV as a Conservative strategist. Ezra tells us nothing about the burger preferences of the Tory war room but he lets us in on strategy.

"Huggable"??? Harper? Right ... but then again the odds of me seeing eye to eye with Ezra Lerant on anything are pretty slim.

Anyway, Chandler is back in the game and he plans to be working on the Harper team, almost certainly being in a Tory phone room wooing undecided voters in Ontario.

"I've been asked by the Tories to be involved heavily in this campaign. I get up from one fight with a black eye and it heals and I get into another one," says Chandler, who no one accuses of staying on the canvas long.

"The federal party is not like the provincial PCs. We work well together. We don't have a problem. I will have an involvement. It's a 99 percent guarantee. It will be in the phone rooms, wherever they are."

Chandler also says when Calgary gets new seats in Parliament because of the city's growth, some top Tories want him to run for one of the open spots.

"I've been asked to seek one of the seats," he says. Who has asked?

"These are people who are high-profile in the party."

The man also has a book coming out next year.

Chandler is well aware his presence in the campaign will raise some eyebrows.

"People can complain all they want. Democracy takes all kinds. We have to learn to play in the sandbox. If they can't grow up, that's their problem," he says.

"I'm not going away. Politics is a blood sport and I'm just going to get better at it."

Half of Chandler's problem is that he has no idea how to compromise. I've yet to see him in a contentious situation where he hasn't tried to bully and bluster his way through it - and then have a major hissy fit when it doesn't go his way.

To hear him talking about 'learning to play in the sandbox', it's almost laughable. It's not like his track record exactly shows us that kind of willingness to cooperate with anyone who dares disagree with him.

If the HarperCon$ are inviting him to run for a seat, they are either just as nutty as Chandler himself has proven to be, or they are oblivious.

Whatever vestiges of the old PC party that used to exist are long gone indeed.

Let Me Get This Straight...

So, when there's a chance that something could affect refinery capacity, it's okay to jack the price of gas at the pump over 10%, but we get the song and dance later on when prices soften, we get told that the "higher cost product takes a while to work through the system".

Sorry, but you can't have it both ways. No matter how I slice it something smells here - and it smells rotten. The claim is constantly made that there's no collusion. While it might not be direct collusion, it's still wrong. How many small businesses out there can randomly jack up their prices 10% simply because they believe that there will be a supply problem? Not so many.

Friday, September 12, 2008

It's Not Ideology?


But Mr. Harper flatly denied any ideological underpinnings, saying the cuts were made through a series of analyses, the bulk of which “the Department [of Canadian Heritage] itself” carried out.

For those who haven't spent time in Ralphberta, home roost for Harper and his band of thieving neoCons, Harper's hostility towards arts funding, equality rights and so on is simply typical extreme neoCon dogma. The attitude is based on a blithe supposition that the 'free market reigns supreme'. To hell with anyone who doesn't have huge bags of money to back them - more or less.

Particularly laughable is this little gem:

“I've always been torn on music and piano in a way because I actually get a great deal of satisfaction out of when I do it, but I get so wrapped up in it. I've always had that problem with the artistic things I've enjoyed doing – I've played piano, I've sung a bit, I used to write poetry – I've always found with these kinds of things that they draw me in and I can't let them go. I find it difficult to do it just on the side, a little bit here and now,” he said.

Don't even try to make yourself look 'warm and fuzzy', Harper - you aren't, and you won't ever be publicly. What this looks like to me is the classic line used by the religious right towards GLBT people - "But I've got friends who are ..." - it's condescending, pretentious and disrespectful to those that you've just kicked in the face.

And it's not just a $45 million dollar cut - because you started hacking at such things back in 2006 when your government went on its lovely little hack-and-slash campaign of $1 BILLION. Which you've subsequently spent goodness knows how many times over on short term leases to conduct your most excellent adventure in junior empire building.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Of Debates and Conspiracy

Okay, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May will be in the leader's debate this election.

In spite of the fact that the Greens haven't elected any MPs to seats, they have run numbers in the 5-8% range in the last two elections - more than enough base support to demonstrate that there is a significant amount of interest in what they have to say.

There have been many times in the past when the NDP in particular has been polling down in that same range. Which is one of the reasons I take exception to the argument that 'only people who have a chance of becoming PM should be in the debate' that has been put forward. This is a spurious argument, IMO, because it suggests that only two leaders should ever be in these debates - the incumbent PM and the Leader of the Opposition. (Historically, I don't think that the 'third party' leaders have ever prevailed on election day)

But, what really bothers me about this whole affair is the way that Harper and Layton have been moving in virtual lock-step with each other on this:

The broadcasters changed course after Conservative Leader Stephen Harper and NDP Leader Jack Layton indicated earlier Wednesday that they no longer oppose May's participation in the debates on Oct. 1 and Oct. 2.

... and just a few days ago, we have this:

In arguing against May's inclusion, the Tories and NDP cited a deal she struck with Dion, in which they agreed not to run candidates against each other in their respective Nova Scotia and Quebec ridings.

It strikes me that Msrs. Harper and Layton are cut from the same Machiavellian cloth - it's all about personal gain for them, not about making Canada a better place to live.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

About That Withdrawal Date Thing ...

So, now PMSH, author of Steve's Excellent Adventure in Afghanistan, wants to wants to declare an end date for our military involvement.

"You have to put an end date on these things," Harper said.

He added that while Canada's military leaders have not acknowledged it publicly, a decade of war is enough.

"By 2011, we will have been in Kandahar, which is probably the toughest province in the country, for six years," Harper said.

Coming from a man who can't even abide by his own fixed election date law, I don't think I'd put too much stock in any date of withdrawal put forward. In fact, if I look back in time a bit, it wasn't so long ago that Harper was rejecting any kind of end date.

While there may be a few Canadian soldiers who stay on after 2011 as advisers, the bulk of the troops will be home by then, Harper said.

"I don't want to say we won't have a single troop there, because obviously we would aid in some technical capacities," he said.

Uh huh. Spot the weasel words anyone? If anyone is naive enough to believe that an occupied country is going to be mysteriously be able to govern itself after the occupying troops leave, they are deeply mistaken - especially not when you consider the long history of war and occupation in the geographic area that is now called Afghanistan. (and I mean history in terms of millenia of recorded history, not just the Soviet era attempt at control)

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Harper Apologizes?

Sort of...they edited the offending website, but it's not like the Con$ have had the grace or brains to shut the website down.

No, instead, they continue to play from the Karl Rove "lie, smear and distort as long as possible" playbook. In short, the Con$ continue to demonstrate that not only are they utterly classless, but that they have no meaningful platform - they ran out of script 18 months ago, and the script that's left is the one that Big Daddy doesn't want to admit exists.

It's the script embodied by bill C-484, the cutbacks to the very programs that benefit women and minorities, and recent attacks on the arts. All done with the cheering of C. McVety and the "social conservative" set (more accurately the Regressive Conservatives).

Among All The Charcoal, One Finds The Odd Diamond

When one considers the amount of raw ignorance so often heaped on transgender people in this part of the world, it's refreshing when someone takes the time to get it right.

Thank you, CBS.

Yesterday's Rules Are Inoperative

Last election, the Green Party was excluded from the Leaders' Debates ostensibly because they didn't have any MPs sitting in Ottawa. Okay, fine. I don't entirely agree with the supposition, but if the 'rule of the game' is that you have to have an MP sitting in Parliament, so be it.

This election the rules change, largely because someone had a hissy fit over the idea of facing another opposition leader.

Harper said letting May participate in the debates would be in essence allowing a "second Liberal candidate" to participate, which he called "fundamentally unfair."

Oh please. Give me a break. May isn't a 'dark horse' alternate Liberal leader. That's a complete crock of crap - another meaningless meme that the HarperCon$ have invented to sneer with.

What is really interesting is how closely the NDP is parroting Mr. Harper on this one:

NDP campaign spokesman Brad Lavigne confirmed late Monday that party leader Jack Layton had said he wouldn't attend the debate if May were allowed to participate.

"We believe that as someone who's endorsed Stéphane Dion to be the prime minister of Canada, she has endorsed Liberal candidates throughout the country," Lavigne said.

"We said that if the Liberals were going to have two representatives, we would not accept the invitation."

Uh huh. I'll tell you what, Mr. Lavigne. If you can show me that the Liberal and Green parties are in fact one in the same, then I'll accept what you are claiming. Inferring something is not the same as proving it is the case.

Personally, I think both Mr. Layton and Mr. Harper are just flat out scared of Ms. May eviscerating their policies in a public debate.

All that said, the current format for the "Debates" is a bad joke. It's not a debate - it's at best a subset of question period, with the spotlight on the four party leaders. In terms of meaningful debate, you might as well watch four chimpanzees fight over a banana.

So, Harper's Running On His Record

Someone tell him his player's broken. All I hear everytime he opens his yap is "B-B-B-Bu-Bu-Bu-But The Liberals".

Coming from a leader who authorized his party's "In-and-Out" rape of the taxpayer last election, I'd suggest Mr. Harper hasn't got a lot of credibility in the ethics department himself.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Okay Mr. Torode:

Put your money where your mouth is. Sadly, the CBC's online article doesn't quote Mr. Torode saying that he "thinks there are other ways to do what the Mustard Seed is proposing" which was on the broadcast news.

To me, it sounds like Mr. Torode suffering from a bad case of NIMBY, and if, as Mr. Torode claims, that he knows of better alternatives, I suggest that he put his money where his mouth is and make some of them happen.

But then, I suspect Mr. Torode is very much of the 'poverty is the fault of the poor' school of thought and is rather more worried about his precious investment than anything else.

I was wondering what happend to ...

I was wondering the other day what happened with one Craig Chandler. It seems he has turned up in Collingwood ON, where his family's investment in an ethanol plant has gotten into some hot water.

I see that Mr. Chandler is being the same graceful self that Calgarians are so used to:

Craig Chandler and Crutcher were met by a group of east end residents, many of them from Blue Shores, who repeatedly heckled the PGIB representatives. As they spoke, calls of “go back to Calgary” were heard, along with shouts of “you obviously don’t know what’s going on here.”

Chandler responded angrily to the interruptions. He told the spectators he and Crutcher were there to speak to the media only.

“I’m not the nice Chandler here,” he told the spectators.

What is it with these people? Didn't they ever learn the old saying about catching more flies with honey than vinegar when they were growing up?

So Much For The High Road

Yesterday, we heard Stephen Harper bemoaning how he thought this was going to be a nasty acrimonious campaign filled with attacks, and this morning, we find that's exactly what he's doing.

Lovely. He wants Canadians to let him govern, and his idea of campaigning starts off with slagging his opponent. About all that tells me is that the HarperCon$ ran out of script about six months into their mandate and they haven't come up with any new ideas.

I suppose the other take on it is that his record in government is so devoid of any real accomplishments that he hasn't got much else to run on.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

So We Have An Election Call

So, Harper decided to call an election for October 14 instead of abiding by the stated intent of his own fixed election date law.

I can think of better things to do than sit an listen to politicians yammer on for the next four weeks, making promises that they have no intention of keeping.

Mr. Harper justified breaking his own law by saying Parliament, which was to resume Sept. 15, had become "dysfunctional" and by arguing he requires a fresh government mandate as the country sails into global economic turbulence.

Bullfeathers, Mr. Harper. By your own stated intention to govern for four years, you still have the high side of a year to go in your current mandate. Whether you have the negotiating skills and personal attributes to actually accomplish anything during the next year or so is another story.

So far, you've shown Canadians that you are a bullying autocrat that can't deal with even so much as the smallest amendment to the legislation your MPs put forth - even when the legislation is obviously brain-dead.

On Saturday, Mr. Harper said he expects the upcoming election campaign to be "very nasty" with him as a target.

"I anticipate a very nasty, personal attack campaign," he said in an interview with CTV. "That's what the opposition's done in the past.

This coming from the man who has authorized his party's operatives to engage in a continuous smear campaign against Stephane Dion from day one. You reap what you sow, perhaps? Or perhaps you merely expect others to be as small-minded and thuggish as you are, Mr. Harper.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Thoughts On Palin as VP Candidate

[Update 16:10 6/9/08]
Someone seems to have done rather more research on Sarah Palin than I have had time to do.

I've been fairly silent on the whole electoral process in the US, but the brouhaha over Sara Palin's selection as McCain's VP deserves a bit of comment.

First off, McCain made an interesting selection in picking Sarah Palin as his running mate. No matter what I think of her politics and track record, I have to say that there is a certain tactical brilliance to his choice of Palin. For all that McCain is about as photogenic as a warthog, Palin is someone that the camera likes. I would not be even a little surprised if McCain steps back in his campaign somewhat to allow Palin to become the 'face' of his presidential bid.

I am disgusted by the almost immediate attacks on Palin based on the fact that her 17 year old daughter is pregnant. It's one thing to attack Palin on her politics and her stated stands on things, it's quite another to go after her because of her daughter's pregnancy. That is vicious, hurtful to her daughter and generally uncalled for.

What needs to be examined and critiqued is just what does Palin represent? It's fairly well known that she is a social conservative, and has argued for creationism to be taught.

Similarly, I am not impressed by the "bad mother" arguments either. It strikes me that those claims are sloppy, ill considered personal attacks based on supposition.

Is it possible, or likely, that McCain selected Palin with the notion that she might attract female voters? (especially disappointed Hillary Clinton supporters) I suppose it is possible, but that requires a lot of knowledge about McCain that I simply don't have. Again, I think such criticisms of the McCain/Palin ticket are spurious until there is some evidence to back them up.

Personally, I think that McCain himself would be disastrous simply for the reason that he would continue to propagate much of what Bush II has set in motion. It would be a continuation of a bad government.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Inconsistent or Just Dishonest - You Pick

I see Dear Leader has decided to bypass his own process for putting judges on the bench of the Supreme Court of Canada:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has nominated Nova Scotia judge Thomas Cromwell to sit on the Supreme Court of Canada.

The move – which bypasses an all-party selection committee just two days ahead of an election call – will fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Justice Michel Bastarache.

Judge Cromwell currently sits on the Nova Scotia Court of Appeal.

Mr. Harper said Judge Cromwell's candidacy was “highly recommended by judges, lawyers and other Atlantic Canadians.”

The announcement suspends the work of Parliament's Supreme Court selection panel, which has been working on a short list of recommended candidates.

Uh huh - so Big Daddy thinks that it's just fine to suspend process and reforms that he claimed were so vital to his government's agenda - just as long as it fits his immediate political agenda.

In related news, David Emerson is going to 'co-Chair' the Conservative election campaign.

Foreign Affairs Minister David Emerson may be leaving parliament, but he will remain a key backroom figure in the Conservatives' re-election campaign.

So ... Mr. Harper is going to take campaign advice from Mr. Emerson. I have to wonder if this is a case of 'honor amongst thieves' taking place...

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Corporate Welfare a la PMSH

The Harper government is almost bad comedy when it comes to anything even remotely resembling economics - especially when you consider that Harper himself is supposedly an economist.

For a man who has railed about the supremacy of the free market, and against government intervention in the economy in years past, the announcement today of a multi-million dollar corporate welfare payment to Ford smacks of both hypocrisy and vote buying.

I'm sure over the next few weeks we'll hear more money thrown at Ontario voters in an effort to buy their votes, all the while this will be done against a backdrop of an economy that is slowing significantly and a government which ran a deficit in the first quarter this year while increasing military spending to support Steve's Excellent Adventure in Afghanistan.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Yo! Kenney!

Last I checked, the HarperCon$ were the government of the day, and the government trying to trigger its own downfall for the last 18 months since it ran out of script.

The issue is your pathetic government's record, not the other parties' records.

Perhaps you'd like to start off by answering some questions about your own government's record:

(1) Why is it that the current government has damaged Canada's economy by attacking its trading partners on the world stage?

(2) Explain why the Harper government is increasing spending on military capital items when that same spending is clearly running Canada into a deficit position economically?

(3) In light of the obvious lie that the fixed election date law is, and the in-and-out financing scam, and your party's 'how to sabotage parliament' manual, how can voters believe anything that your party says or does?

(4) Perhaps you'd like to explain your government's utter failure to represent and defend Canadians held in dubious circumstances abroad?

(5) And last, but far from least, how can you and your party stand up and talk about not opening the abortion debate when your caucus overwhelming voted to support Ken Epp's attack on women's reproductive autonomy?

The issue in this election is your record as a government.

Monday, September 01, 2008

PFOX Gets It Wrong Again

The ignorance of operations like PFOX is amazing to me, but the depth of their ignorance when it comes to gender identity issues is astonishing to me.

Consider the following gem that popped up on their press releases page in August:

PFOX note: Obviously the child was afflicted with gender identity disorder (GID) and should have received GID counseling instead of being encouraged to dress as something he was not. Encouraging GID behavior creates unsafe schools for our youth.

(An aside - I happen to think the parents in this case are dead wrong in trying to sue the school for not enforcing dress code - the problem, and the responsibility, lies with the juvenile delinquent that was able to bring a loaded firearm to school - period.)

But, let's get back to PFOX's astonishing ignorance. PFOX argues that Larry King should have received GID counseling instead of being encouraged to dress as something he was not.

So, just what is "GID Counselling"? Well, for starters, let's wander over to World Professional Association For Transgender Health (Formerly known as HBIGDA), and take a close look at what they have to say about counselling transgender identified youth in The Standards of Care for Gender Identity Disorders V6:

V. Assessment and Treatment of Children and Adolescents

Phenomenology. Gender identity disorders in children and adolescents are different from those seen in adults, in that a rapid and dramatic developmental process (physical, psychological and sexual) is involved. Gender identity disorders in children and adolescents are complex conditions. The young person may experience his or her phenotype sex as inconsistent with his or her own sense of gender identity. Intense distress is often experienced, particularly in adolescence, and there are frequently associated emotional and behavioral difficulties. There is greater fluidity and variability in outcomes, especially in pre-pubertal children. Only a few gender variant youths become transsexual, although many eventually develop a homosexual orientation.

Okay, so clearly WPATH's standards recognize that there are significant differences between cases involving youth, and when an adult presents with gender identity concerns.

So, what do they recommend in terms of therapeutic intervention? Is it the hard line denial that PFOX seems to suggest is the case? Or is PFOX simply blowing smoke and hoping nobody catches them out?

Psychological and Social Interventions.

The task of the child-specialist mental health professional is to provide assessment and treatment that broadly conforms to the following guidelines:
1. The professional should recognize and accept the gender identity problem. Acceptance and removal of secrecy can bring considerable relief.
2. The assessment should explore the nature and characteristics of the child’s or adolescent’s gender identity. A complete psychodiagnostic and psychiatric assessment should be performed. A complete assessment should include a family evaluation, because other emotional and behavioral problems are very common, and unresolved issues in the child’s environment are often present.
3. Therapy should focus on ameliorating any comorbid problems in the child’s life, and on reducing distress the child experiences from his or her gender identity problem and other difficulties. The child and family should be supported in making difficult decisions regarding the extent to which to allow the child to assume a gender role consistent with his or her gender identity. This includes issues of whether to inform others of the child’s situation, and how others in the child’s life should respond; for example, whether the child should attend school using a name and clothing opposite to his or her sex of assignment. They should also be supported in tolerating uncertainty and anxiety in relation to the child’s gender expression and how best to manage it. Professional network meetings can be very useful in finding appropriate solutions to these problems.

In short, PFOX is grossly misrepresenting the situation. If, in fact, Lawrence King's parents had taken him to a knowledgeable therapist, they could well have found that they would be making plans for him to transition at school. The therapy process would likely encourage him to find a presentation and expression that worked for him. Especially once any concurrent and significant issues had been dealt with constructively.

Gender identity related therapy is not about denial of someone's identity, but rather it is about helping them find a path in the world that is less stressful for them ... and that includes self acceptance.

Well Said!

Lawrence Martin:

A question many Canadians will decide in the polling booth is this: Is Mr. Harper an upright, honest and principled leader? Or is he a cynical operator who occupies the moral low ground?

Progress In Afghanistan?

We keep hearing from proponents of our country's involvement in Afghanistan. The meme is that all that the media reports are the bombings, and they overlook the small successes.

Well, let's talk about small successes then. Is Karzai pardoning gang rape progress?

Let's consider this for a moment. A young woman was gang raped, the offenders were caught, tried and found guilty - and then the government grants them a pardon?

If Karzai in fact signed the pardon, as the story alleges, then I think a few people need to go back and revisit the justification that they put forward for supporting the mission in Afghanistan - namely that we are 'bringing stability and women's rights' forward. Clearly we aren't.

A copy of the pardon was numbered, dated in May and appeared to bear the personal signature of Hamid Karzai. It recommended the men’s release because, it said, “they had been forced to confess to their crimes.”

When showed copies of the presidential pardon and court papers, President Karzai’s spokesman, Hamayun Hamidzada, was visibly shocked and said that if the documents proved genuine, Mr Karzai would be “upset and appalled.”

If this 'plausible deniability' dance is true, then we need to consider just how stable or honest this government is. That suggests that it wasn't too difficult for someone to manufacture this pardon, and that's a huge problem with the viability of the Karzai government.

The MP, Mir Ahmad Joyenda, said cases similar to Sara’s were actually becoming more common. The police and the courts, he said, were usually under the sway of local commanders. “The commanders, the war criminals, still have armed groups,” he said. “They’re in the government. Karzai, the Americans, the British sit down with them. They have impunity. They’ve become very courageous and can do whatever crimes they like.”

... and all of the individual happy moments are for naught if we are simply enabling the same patterns of dishonesty, corruption and inequality that Afghanistan suffered under the Taliban.

H/T: Broadsides

Letting Your Biases Get In Front Of You

Yesterday, I ran across this essay on X(itter), and it annoyed me because the author makes all kinds of errors of both fact and reason.  Si...