Tuesday, July 27, 2021

Junk Science Masquerading As Political Advocacy

 Yesterday, I learned of the existence of a group calling themselves "Gender Dysphoria Alliance Canada". I was not happy with what I saw. 

They claim to be "evidence-based", and that's the first red flag when I wandered over to their website and started perusing it.  To me, the term "evidence-based" means something quite specific.  It means that you are using the best available science to inform your positions and advocacy. This is not particularly difficult to understand ... I hope. 

However, this group is not representing gender dysphoria, or its treatment in a reasonable  and evidence-based manner.  Far too much of the material presented is far from the mainstream of treatment and support for transgender people, and far too many talking points come straight out of the anti-transgender "Gender Critical" world. 

As far as I can tell, nobody involved with this group is actually involved in the science or treatment aspects related to Gender Dysphoria, and given the nature of what they are presenting, that is deeply concerning. 

Friday, July 16, 2021

It's Time To Blow Up The Party System

I have never been a political partisan.  That isn't to say I don't have political beliefs, or positions.  But I simply don't buy into the broad idea of being a member of a political party.  My own politics are fairly complex, and I don't wish to find myself in the position of having to conform with some "party policy" or another on the basis of creating the appearance of unity.  

However, over the last decade or so, I have observed a disturbing change in the nature of our political parties in Canada. They have become businesses - businesses that sell access to power.  Perhaps most disturbingly, they do so on the backs of what is largely a volunteer workforce.  While a small number of people are employed by these parties, the vast majority of the work of fundraising (cash flow) is really done by the active volunteer base.  Meanwhile, the proposition to the voter is "if our party gets into power, we can give you what you want".  

This is true of all parties - everybody is jockeying for a position of influence somewhere.  However, it has also created a more disturbing industry of groups that are attempting to control the parties themselves.  Don't get me wrong, factions in a party are a normal social consequence of putting a group of people together to accomplish a common goal.  I'm talking about organizations like Campaign Life who have spent decades organizing their base in a bid to assert covert control over the Conservative Party. 

But there's more to this whole picture. 

Monday, July 12, 2021

Faking Incidents To Attack Rights

The recent Wi Spa video incident in Los Angeles raises some very troubling implications about both the tactics that the Gender Critical / TERF crowd are now adopting, as well as the role of emerging technologies in facilitating those tactics.  

The first point is that the Wi Spa incident suggests that in the absence of real incidents supporting the claim that allowing transgender women to access female spaces will enable sexual predators, the next step is to start manufacturing the incidents needed.  We've certainly heard threats along these lines in the past, where RW organizers have threatened to enter women's spaces on the basis of claiming a female gender identity. I'm not aware of any such incidents actually happening. 

A willingness to manufacture incidents to support a political narrative strikes me as both dishonest and dangerous.  

The potential role of technologies like Deep Fake to enable the creation of "evidence" for these moments is profoundly worrisome.  It is now perfectly plausible that someone could make a video of a space, and then insert the desired person - complete with verbal cues etc. - into the video.  This is a very dangerous situation for anyone, because it means that "the camera never lies" evidence is now subject to overt manipulation and outright fakery.  

Now we are in the situation where "events" can be manufactured on someone's laptop and distributed around the internet very quickly.  Just as the Wi Spa incident has resulted in two transgender women being violently attacked, the potential for the fundamental safety of people to be violated is much higher now. 


Friday, July 02, 2021

Senator Plett's Speech On Bill C-6

 So, the other day, Bill C-6 passed from the House of Commons to the Senate.  As I had expected, Senator Don Plett led the conservative attack on the bill with a lengthy, long-winded speech full of utter nonsense.  

Let's take a closer look at the speech now that it's in the Hansard, and I've had some time to read it and digest the nonsense that Senator Plett has uttered. 

Thursday, June 24, 2021

On Transgender Athletic Performance

There is an enormous amount of noise being made about the alleged advantage that transgender women have in athletics.  First, let me start off by saying that the topic of athletic performance is not an area of expertise for me, so what follows is largely my opinion, bolstered by observations about what I see in the academic materials published. 

Broadly speaking, the claims of "an advantage" hinge around the development of secondary sex characteristics from a male puberty.  Generally speaking, these claims fall into a small range of categories relating to skeletal structure, muscle mass, and height, and so on.

A superficial look would suggest that a male certainly does have "an advantage" in athletics, and to some extent that is borne out by marked differences between male and female record performances in various forms of athletics.  However, it's a much more complicated discussion when we start talking about transgender athletes.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

On Bill C-6 - Conversion Therapy

 Bill C-6's next step is on to the Senate once the House of Commons holds a third reading vote.  I expect the usual suspects like Senator Plett will do their level best to muddy the waters and confuse things.  Let's take a closer look at what the uproar is really about.  

Sunday, June 20, 2021

Let's Talk A Bit About "Gender Ideology"

Over at The Economist, we have a somewhat simplistic article blathering away about how there's a backlash happening against "Gender Ideology".

I'm not going to dissect the article in detail, because there's a more important point that needs to be made here.  The concept of "Gender Ideology" is fundamentally a creation of the various anti-transgender groups in an effort to define the discourse.

The problem with the term is that it is fundamentally a straw man in the first place. A variety of people opposed to transgender rights contributed to the "idea" that there is such a thing, be they "TERF"s, hardline religious types, or more recently the so-called "Gender Criticals".

Friday, June 18, 2021

Doubling Down on Racism - The Chris Champion Edition

 Over at the Dorchester Review, we find one Chris Champion doubling down on his position that the "Indian Residential Schools (IRS) really weren't all that bad".  

The dust-up on Twitter starts a few days ago, but culminates in a series of posts like this one, depicting students "having an absolute blast on that play structure", for which the poster got well blasted in the responses.  


First of all, I will point out that WWII Nazi propaganda showed us pictures of smiling children in concentration camps, and prisoners playing football - that doesn't change the brutality of the conditions they were kept in - it was still propaganda. 

For context, the Dorchester Review is a quasi-intellectual publication operated by the same Chris Champion that led the writing of the much criticized Social Studies components in the Kenney Government's proposed curriculum revisions - we'll come back to that.  For now, I want to focus on what the Dorchester Review's Twitter account has posted, and an article that was published on their website this morning.  Given the tone and tenor of what is written in the article, and what I have seen on Twitter, I assume that whoever is running the Dorchester Review Twitter account is either Chris Champion himself, or someone very close to Mr. Champion. (does it really matter?)  

This morning, in reply to this tweet, and several others, we find the following tweet: 


Which just happens to link to an article on the subject written by Mr. Champion.  Let's take a closer look at Mr. Champion's ideas here, shall we? 

Tuesday, June 08, 2021

Referendumbs and Equalization

 So, the Kenney-led UCP government in Alberta wants to hold a referendum on equalization.

Here’s the proposed question: 


I want to bring two points to your attention here. First, is the fact that this is about removing Section 36(2) from the constitution. To put it bluntly, this is a non-trivial amendment to propose (I’ll come back to this in a moment).  Second, is that this isn’t a referendum about opening negotiations with Ottawa about the equalization formulas as they are currently implemented.  

If, as Kenney was asserting but a few years ago, equalization is unfair to Alberta, fixing that should be a matter of negotiating new formulas with Ottawa. Of course, in Kenney’s mind, that would mean negotiating with those gosh-darned Liberal elites that Trudeau Junior (add sneer) has installed. No, this is political theatre.  It’s purpose has more to do with creating another grievance politics item that conservatives can bang on about for years to come like they did with the NEP.  

Let’s dive a little deeper into this and explore what’s likely really behind all this, shall we? 

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Wherein We Learn That Cryptocurrency Is About to Repeat History

 According to this article, Cryptocurrency market volatility is because they are "free"

The upshot of the argument being made here is that because the "worth" of a cryptocurrency is entirely decoupled from any measurability, that this means that the markets are "more free" (free as in freedom, in a somewhat libertarian sense of the word).

As an investor with a pretty good background in different kinds of instruments and valuation tools, I see this kind of blithe claim, and I shudder.  It brings back memories of things like Black Friday, or the collapse of Enron.  There are lessons in these events - and those lessons are important for anyone interested in investing. They are tales of how a wealthy few played the rules to their own advantage, and caused enormous harm to others in the process. 

The libertarian notion of freedom often overlooks the moral and ethical dimensions of how one's actions affect others. In the context of cryptocurrencies, that seems to mean "I can run the price up as far as I want, and as long as I make money, who cares?".  

When you have a "commodity" (cryptocurrency) that operates as if it is completely disconnected from market forces, you have a gambling instrument, not a credible investment. Even a casino game is more predictable than a cryptocurrency in this regard - a casino game operates within an established set of probabilities that can be measured, and a clever player can usually figure out where things stand. 

With cryptocurrency valuation, even the science of probabilities doesn't come into play.  The valuation literally becomes "what will the market bear" - an arbitrary number based on how participants feel about things at that moment.  While that opens the door to enormous gains to be had, it also opens the other door to enormous losses - a market that is not connected to actual economic forces is vulnerable to manipulation.  

I'm sure that in time, forces will emerge that stay the hand of the more chaotic aspects of the cryptocurrency market, but until that happens, fortunes will be made and destroyed in that market in much the same way that the old 'penny stocks' used to. Right now, the entire cryptocurrency world is hugely volatile, and it is subject to the kind of shenanigans that gave us the Wall Street Crash of 1929, or Enron's collapse in the early 2000s. 

Freedom can have a price, and as is often said about it in democratic societies, the price is eternal vigilance.  If I were playing any amount of money in cryptocurrency right now, I'd be peeling off profits when they happened, and expecting whatever capital I put in to vanish overnight. 

Thursday, May 20, 2021

A Skeptical View Of Cryptocurrencies

Recently, I have seen a lot of discussion on Twitter about cryptocurrencies, and their validity.  The arguments basically boil down to proponents arguing that this technology is the future of currency, and others pointing out a range of problems from "what's the basis of valuation?' to "jeez, something about this technology doesn't smell right/good/whatever".  

A Little History

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

A Little On Workspaces and Design

This morning on CBC, there was a brief segment on "what will workplaces look like after COVID".  They brought in someone from one of the big architecture firms to talk about this, and the first words out of her mouth were something to the effect of "more emphasis on collaborative work" <blah blah blah> ... after that I tuned out.  

Here's the thing. I've been hearing the "collaboration" argument used to justify cramming more workers into less space for years. The result has been a one-size-fits-all dystopian hellscape of so-called "open concept" workspaces that are noisy, have no privacy for workers, and are basically breeding grounds for adult-onset ADHD problems. 

In my opinion, the "open concept office" is one of the greatest failures of the 20th century.  It "saves money" by cramming more people into less space, but with no regard for how the individual needs to work, or the nature of the work that they are doing.  

However, it takes away from people a myriad of things that contribute to being productive in the workplace, including personalizing their workspaces (yes, this is often much more important than you think), recognizing different working styles that people may have, and so on. Banging away on "collaboration" is missing the point - collaboration isn't some magical elixir that's going to make business better, or make the workplace better. 

In a 25 year career in software development, I experienced multiple types of workplaces, and some worked better for me than others. Some I liked, some were absolute trash. The work I did often involved long periods of time for deeply focused concentration - as in close the door, and get lost in the problem I was trying to solve.  The last thing I needed was the kind of constant distractions that happen with the pervasive noise and activity in a cubicle farm or "open concept" environment.  

Thinking about the different kinds of work that were going on in that company, there were clearly departments who benefit from having individual offices, and there were other departments which would have benefited from having more open environments, and still other parts of the operation where combinations were needed because of varying workloads.  

There's a point here:  businesses need to get away from what I will only kindly call "one size fits all" approaches to workspaces and working.  When you are designing a workspace, talk to your stakeholders, and design the space for how they want to work. Understand both the nature of the work itself, as well as the workflow that is going on, then design for that.  

Additionally, you need to pay attention to the human needs - not just the shape of the chairs, or the height of the desks, etc., but also the very human need for people to make their workspace at least somewhat their own.  If you're expecting someone to be at their desk all day, it's utterly unreasonable to insist that they not personalize their space at all (a practice that has become increasingly common as walls have slowly dropped in height to barely be enough to keep your neighbour's lunch from landing on your desk, and the concept of "hoteling" or unassigned seating has become fashionable. 

While these more recent trends no doubt reduce the "cost per employee" in terms of space, they do very little or nothing to improve the working conditions for employees, and have a hidden cost in terms of lost productivity.  

After spending the last year mostly working from home, many workers are going to return to their former workspaces and ask themselves "what kind of hell is this from?".  For the last year, workers have had direct control over their workspaces, and while we might all be a little tired from constantly using Zoom, Teams or other conferencing tools to communicate with our peers, many have had a level of control over their work environment that they haven't had for years.  Businesses should not expect them to give that up. 

Monday, April 12, 2021

Some Animals Are More Equal Than Others (The Alberta Edition)

 In KenneyLand (aka Alaberta or Bertabama), it seems that there are two sets of rules at play.  

First, let me introduce you to the saga of GraceLife Church in Parkland County.  This organization has been holding services and ignoring public health orders since Fall of 2020.  The province has seemingly been unwilling to do anything about it until recently - in fact, it took until just after Easter (we'll come back to this point in a moment) for concrete steps to be taken.  Steps that the government had to take if they were going to enforce anything with a rising third wave of the pandemic. 

Friday, April 09, 2021

48 Hrs In Alberta Politics

 The last couple of days in Alberta have been interesting ... not good, but interesting.  

It all starts with a bunch of rural UCP MLAs putting out a joint letter complaining loudly about the return to a much stricter set of restrictions to control the spread of COVID-19. 

In public, Kenney tried to paper this over as "legitimate debate", saying that his party supports differences of opinion.  Then there's what happened behind closed doors.  Not only did Kenney threaten to call a snap election in caucus, but he also threatened to boot out MLAs who violated public health orders - a non-subtle reference to the Christmas travel scandal a few months ago. 

All of this paints a very interesting political picture.

Sunday, April 04, 2021

The Vaccination Rollout In Canada Is Being Botched - Deliberately

As a third wave of COVID is about to clobber Canada, I want to talk a bit about why this is completely unnecessary, and likely as not has more to do with politics than it does anything else. 

Since Canada has no capacity of its own to produce vaccines, especially not something as sophisticated as the Pfizer mRNA vaccine, the Federal Government took the step of over-procuring - basically signing contracts for far more than we actually need with multiple vendors, and hoping that enough would come in from each of them to be useful.  More or less, that plan has worked out fairly well.  There have been hiccups resulting from production capacity problems in Europe, and more recently some squawking from European states over exports, but nothing insurmountable. 

The point being that vaccines are here, and they are being distributed to the provinces. 

So, why is it being so painfully slow to get vaccines into people's arms?  

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

... and Kenney Called The NDP "Ideological"

 So, today the Kenney government took the wraps off its proposed K-6 school curriculum: 

https://curriculum.learnalberta.ca/curriculum/en

*I can't guarantee how long this link will be viable, so screenshots will be used to illustrate points.

Kenney bitched and moaned at every turn about the curriculum revision that the NDP was working on.  What is in this is even more ideological than anything that he could criticize in the NDP's efforts.  This isn't just a "step backwards" in terms of educating future generations, it's a walk off an ideological cliff.  

Especially in the areas of Social Studies, this curriculum is like stepping back into the 1960s era - an era when the only perspective on Canada's history was defined by British colonialism. Any perspective from indigenous peoples was carefully sanitized out of the picture (and yes, at that time, the "60s Scoop" was forcibly separating native youths from their families and shipping them off to residential schools).  

I can't wade through the entirety of this curriculum to identify all of the absolute nonsense it contains, but there is a lot of bias lurking in it, and the biases come out early.  Consider the following elements from Grade 1 and Grade 2 social studies:  

Grade 1 Social Studies

Grade 2 Social Studies

First, consider the questionable assumption lurking in the grade 1 element that the indigenous societies on the Canadian prairies were "primitive" (unsophisticated to a European's eyes).  The curriculum then goes on to talk about earth worship spiritualities as part of the belief systems of indigenous peoples.  There is a not so subtle bias playing out here of portraying the indigenous as "primitive" or "simple".  

Then in Grade 2, we get a declaration that monotheistic religions have common origins.  Again, a subtle but of priming going on here and it's nasty.  In Grade 1, we prime students with the idea that earth worship is "primitive", and then in Grade 2, we start making declarations about "common roots" for the 3 Abrahamic faiths, but quietly ignores the fact that other faiths arrived at monotheistic models independently.  To a grade 2 student, the logical conclusion to draw would be that the Abrahamic faiths are "more correct" than those "primitive" earth worship faiths.  

Yes, this is an example of bias - and it's a fairly subtle one - one that should make us all very wary of the intentions of the authors of this curriculum plan.  Public schools are not places we should be indoctrinating students with ideas about the "correctness" of any faith - explicitly or implicitly.  If you want to talk about different faiths, that's fine, but it has to be done on a level footing, not with all kinds of subtle priming going on to lead students to particular conclusions. 

... and just in case you're thinking that I'm "reading too much into this", let me introduce part of the "sex education" portion of the curriculum: 

Grade 6 Sex Ed

You're not misreading this - we literally have 'abstinence-only' being imposed here.  This is in no way complete or comprehensive.  This ignores reality, and it clearly comes out of the religious right's toolbox of bullshit.  It's basically saying "don't have sex until you get married, or you will become diseased with something awful and incurable".  I won't go on about how this ignores sexual orientations beyond heterosexual, or gender diversity, because the minute you jump down the "abstinence-only" hole, you're already well into Bible-land.  

Educators I have chatted with briefly are also critical of this curriculum for over-emphasizing memorization, and doing far too little to encourage integration and critical thought.  This is also not a surprise - Kenney is an anti-intellectual with a serious amount of difficulty with the idea that anyone might be able to think beyond him. 

I'm not going to say that I am in any way surprised by this bullshit.  Kenney and the UCP were telling us exactly who and what they are from the get-go.  Albertans voted for this government in droves, many thinking that "oh, they won't be _THAT_ bad".  No, they're _THAT_ bad, and worse. This curriculum is an insidious piece of trash that will put Alberta at the back of the house when it comes to academic achievement.  


Saturday, February 20, 2021

No, Conservatives, Texas Power Grid Collapse Wasn't Because Of Wind Turbine Failures

 Texas had a record breaking cold snap this past week as a result of the Jet Stream slumping way south of where it normally sits, and allowing a huge mass of arctic air to drop temperatures down into the range of -20C.  For a state that rarely sees 0F, that's shockingly cold.  As you have seen in the news, the power grid in Texas basically collapsed in the face of record cold and snowy conditions.  

In the wake of this, we have had numerous figures blaming this power disaster on renewable energy sources like wind turbines. Factually, even CNN is pointing out that this is utter nonsense.  Anyone who lives in a more wintery climate (like Alberta for example) is used to -20C or colder temperatures not affecting much of anything.  

So, why did the Texas power grid collapse so violently?  DailyKOS published an analysis this week which walks through the combination of policy going back to the days of electrification in the 1930s, ego, greed, and what ultimately is a fundamental failure to safeguard the public interest by Texas politicians. 

Mechanically, the basic statement is that Texas has never bothered to spend the money needed to prepare their infrastructure for winter conditions, even in the wake of a 2011 weather event which resulted in rolling power outages. 

While it would be an enjoyable exercise to talk about the relative ease with which the technical problems could be solved, the politics are much more informative, especially with a conservative disinformation campaign gearing up to discredit "green" energy in the public mind. 

Texas' woes really started when the state decided to "go it alone" by not allowing its grid to interconnect with its neighbours.  This arose out of some conservative paranoia about "federal regulators".  As a result, the Texas power grid basically stands as an island in the North American power grid system.  It has minor interconnects with its neighbours, but none are adequate to do more than the most trivial of load balancing, certainly not enough to hold the grid up if a major collapse starts.  

Isolationism, combined with a deep rooted skepticism about climate change (funded by Texas-based oil companies), meant that a lot of executives in the Texas energy industry decided that taking protective steps to avoid blackouts was an unnecessary expense.  When a 2011 winter storm resulted in recommendations to winterize, those ideas quietly disappeared off the radar after a couple of more normal winters. 

Here in Canada, we are getting fed a steady stream of right wing propaganda that "renewables are unreliable".  Yes, there are days where the wind doesn't blow (although residents of Lethbridge, AB  might contest that); there are overcast days where solar isn't going to be as efficient, and so on.  I think we all know these as "self evident facts".  Yes, you need a range of generation options right now.  Nobody with any sense is saying you don't. 

However, politics being what it is, people with very deep pockets are pouring huge dollars into convincing you that renewable energy isn't the way to go.  Why?  Because their profits depend on burning fossil fuels for as long as possible.  They know, just as well as you and I do when we look at the hard science, that the bill for burning hydrocarbons for energy is coming due. They want to maximize their profits as long as possible. So, they pour money into disinformation spread through PostMedia, Fox News, and wherever else they own control. 

The "right" mix of energy sources is largely going to be a matter of engineering decisions, not political.  Arguments like those being put forth by Danielle Smith and other writers for PostMedia do us no favours by choosing to lie about the reality of what happened in Texas.  


Tuesday, February 02, 2021

Alberta's Administrative Penalties Act: Justice More Expedient, or Justice Denied?

 In July 2020, Alberta passed a bill which makes sweeping changes to what it euphemistically calls "Administrative Penalties" (basically anything you might get a ticket for) and the way that they are handled. Bill 21, The Administrative Penalties Act, dramatically changes the scope of what police or other enforcement officials can do when they hand out tickets.  

First of all, a ticket is no longer a "summons" to appear in court.  It becomes an "administrative penalty", which is extremely broadly defined:  

Definition of Administrative Penalty

So, basically, this is just about anything up to, but not including being imprisoned. When you start considering that can include impounding your vehicle, seizure of property, imposing restrictions on your driver's license, etc., that's a lot of potential consequences. 

This legislation is a lot more slippery than merely giving police enormous powers over your life. 

Monday, January 11, 2021

Twisting the Night Away ...

 I won’t waste much time directly addressing the attempted coup that took place in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday this past week. Others have already covered it in considerable depth, and the fallout will no doubt take months or more to sort out.  

However, Maclean’s decided to publish something today that I think deserves to be smacked around for continuing exactly the patterns that I have become increasingly critical of conservatism in Canada for following. 

The column, entitled “Let’s Not Waste This Crisis in American Democracy”, and is written by former Harper-era communications guy Andrew MacDougall.  Please, go and read it.  When you are done reading it, I’ll explain just how twisted it really is. 

Junk Science Masquerading As Political Advocacy

 Yesterday, I learned of the existence of a group calling themselves "Gender Dysphoria Alliance Canada". I was not happy with what...