Thursday, December 21, 2023

Energy Transition and Electrifying The Vehicles

So, this past week, Canada's environment minister, Steven Guilbeault unveiled plans that would ban the sale of new ICE vehicles in Canada by 2035.  Of course, the usual suspects are whining about how "unrealistic" this is.

Here's the thing, this is a generational shift in technology, and one that has to happen for serious reasons.  Anyone who lived through the 2023 fire season in Canada needs to understand that a big portion of that fire season had to do with climate change.  Maybe it's too late to hold back the storm we face on that front, but that doesn't change the fundamental obligation we have to both ourselves and future generations to act. 

Largely the complaints I hear are along the following lines: 

1 - building electric vehicles is hard, and retooling manufacturing plants to the new technology is harder.  

2 - the electricity grid isn't ready for everybody to start using electric cars - it would collapse if that happened tomorrow. 

Both of these are to varying degrees true. The fact that something is hard doesn't mean that it isn't a valid goal.  The automotive industry has been through this before.  In the 1970s, the introduction of CAFE regulations meant that suddenly cars had to get fuel efficient.  Guess what?  It happened.  A family sized car today has vastly better fuel consumption than a lot of the "economy" cars of the 1970s.

Did this happen overnight?  Nope.  Did it nearly kill the domestic automakers?  Yes.  But by the mid-1980s, they were finally starting to figure it out.  Japan was vastly ahead of them by that point, but that's another story.  

What did the CAFE standards and other related standards of the 1970s do?  They birthed the development of a range of technologies - some of which succeeded and survived, others died out.  Carburation was replaced by fuel injection; early pollution control was almost entirely vacuum driven, that got augmented by electronic controls; catalytic converters became mandatory; engines tightened up, and non-interference designs gave way to interference designs; transmissions evolved, and automatics eventually surpassed manual transmissions for efficiency.  

Innovation sometimes requires government to set the direction.  Capitalism is, at its core, fundamentally opposed to any change that affects profitability.  If we let the automotive sector alone, we'd still be driving cars designed in the 1960s.  Why?  Because making them is easy and profitable. 

So, when I hear "industry players" talking about how hard it is, or that it "can't be done".  Yeah - everybody said that as Henry Ford set up his first production line too.  Get down to the hard work of figuring out how you _can_ do it instead of telling us that it's hard.  

The electricity grid needs a massive overhaul anyhow.  In Alberta, 20 years ago, we built a ridiculous transmission line to sell "surplus" production into the US market.  We (rate payers) are still paying for that in spite of it never having been needed.  You were willing to have us pay for that because you understood how to use it for profit.  Now the electricity grid needs to change dramatically so we can produce fewer emissions for transportation.  I don't see a problem here.  

Again, there are a myriad of technologies that need to be considered - perhaps every roof should have solar added to it.  "Oh, but micro generation is hard say the megalith generating companies" - because they don't know how to profit from it. There are many possible solutions, and likely the real answer is a catch bag of multiple solutions put together. 

Engineers love solving problems - this objective creates a whole lot of problems to be solved.  The starter has fired the starting pistol.  Why are you standing around quibbling about how "difficult" it is? 

The blunt reality is that energy transition is happening whether you, the current automotive world, or the oil execs like it.  Get on board and figure it out, or be prepared to become part of the past just as bespoke buggy makers and stable keepers are today.  

I don't know that I expect the 2035 target to be hit, but one thing is certain:  You will never hit the target if you don't try to. 


Sunday, December 17, 2023

Losing International Support

International support is an interesting phenomenon.  Generally speaking, for most of my life, Israel has had pretty much unconditional support from all the “western powers”.  It hasn’t been subjected to significant criticism no matter what it has done.

However, its incursion into Gaza seems to be drawing a different response.  Instead of unconditional support, many countries are starting to pull away as the war progresses.  Where one can point to Hamas’ actions on October 7, 2023 as a clear trigger point for the current conflict, the Israeli response has flipped things around in the public eye, and Israel is being seen as the aggressor.  

Certainly, Israel has the advantage of military superiority compared to Hamas. But it isn’t “military superiority” that tilts the scales of public opinion. If that was the case, then one would think that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine would generate a very different reception.  

In this case, I think that two major factors have resulted in the Israeli actions in Gaza being seen as heavy handed.  First is the revelation of Netanyahu’s cynical game of “feeding” Hamas for political gain. There is no question that this has sounded a sour note on the world stage. 

The second is the revelation of Israeli policy documents actively exploring the idea of pushing the people of Gaza into Egypt.  This, combined with the shape of Israel’s ground level approach of pushing Gazans towards the Egyptian border, smacks of “ethnic cleansing”, and that is not something that many people have an appetite for any more. 

Israel’s action in Gaza, and at the ground level, the individual actions of their troops, speak more of collective punishment, rather than a mission focused on rooting out Hamas.  Israel’s much vaunted intelligence networks should have long ago told them who the leaders of Hamas in Gaza are.  A few units of specialized forces could easily have rolled in and gone after them; if the bulk of Hamas’ arms caches and operations centres are buried in the network of tunnels below Gaza, why didn’t Israel tackle that first instead of engaging in what amounts to “carpet bombing”?  

The answer is fairly obvious.  Israel’s current political leadership isn’t actually interested in ferreting out Hamas.  In fact, Netanyahu’s policies over the last 15 years make that abundantly clear - Hamas has been politically useful to him while his government engages in kicking the Palestinians out of West Bank by installing “settlements”.  No, this war is being conducted in a manner that is politically advantageous for Netanyahu, with no regard for anything else.

The issue that this will create is, of course, that Israel stands to isolate itself on the world stage, and perhaps more dangerously for all, it stands to destroy whatever normalization of relations with its neighbours that it has established.  A situation which only benefits Russia and Iran.  

October 7, 2023 is perhaps better understood not as the “act of a terrorist organization” (it was), but as the failure of cynical politics.  Israel allowed itself to walk away from the truly hard work of negotiating a real, and lasting solution with the Palestinian people.  Instead, a cynical politician made fomenting division among the Palestinians his policy.

The situation now is set back to well before the Oslo Accords were written.  A “muscular and violent” Israel might be a good look within Israel, but its neighbours will once again be looking at the 1967 situation and be worrying about a return to that conflict.  On the world stage, is there anybody who can credibly be the “honest broker” between Israel and the Palestinian people?  

The potential backlash towards Israel if it continues on the path it has placed itself on could make the situation in 1967 and prior look positively peaceful.  While Lebanon and Syria are both on their heels right now, struggling with their own internal conflicts, make no mistake about how quickly an external threat can unify and focus a government.  Iran, North Korea, and China would all be quite happy to take money from other states (e.g. Saudi Arabia) to arm up forces in neighbours to Israel.  The resulting conflagration could tear the region asunder for decades to come, and as well armed as Israel is, it’s simply not that big. 

Thursday, December 07, 2023

Israel Is A Study In Collective Trauma

Israel, as a state, was formed as a Jewish state.  As such it was formed with the collective generational traumas that Jewish people have experienced over centuries, and in particular it carries the trauma of what happened during the Holocaust.  To be clear, Israel was hardly welcomed by its neighbours when it was created in 1948, and it has existed in more or less a state of siege ever since.

However, I want to introduce this as an example of continuous collective trauma, and I think this collective trauma concept goes a long ways to explaining Israel’s response to the events of October 7, 2023.  To be clear, this is not intended to justify the excesses of that response, but rather to serve as a framework within which to understand the nature of the response. 

Collective Trauma is simply defined as the shared experience by a group when they are affected by a common set of traumatic events.  In Canada, there has been much discussion of the collective trauma inflicted upon the First Nations as a result of policies ranging from the Reservation System to the Residential Schools system (and many others).  It becomes “continuous collective trauma” when the circumstances that created the trauma continue beyond a singular event.  The policy and political environment related to indigenous peoples in Canada is a good example of something that creates an environment for repeated traumatic experiences to the affected people. 

History is filled with examples of Jewish people being persecuted, and for the purposes of this essay, I think it is more than adequate to demonstrate that there is a valid argument that Jewish people have experienced collective trauma not merely over years or decades, but literally over centuries and millennia.  There can be little doubt that over time, these experiences have formed a collective sense of "existential dread".  After all, one cannot be forcibly detained, marginalized, or murdered repeatedly without there being an impact on the survivors and their descendants.  This is what is known in psychology as "transgenerational trauma", and it generally describes how the impacts of trauma are passed through generations, even if the specific traumatic events have long since ended, impacting people even in times of relative peace and stability. 

Fast forward to the formation of modern-day Israel in 1948, and its creation was perhaps the "last gasp" of the European colonial era.  Put kindly, the formation of Israel was not greeted with open arms by its neighbours or by the Palestinian people who were displaced by the creation of Israel.  Numerous insurgent groups formed that made "erasing Israel from the map" their stated goal, and the Arab and Persian powers in the region certainly played their role in numerous military conflicts with Israel.  It is understandable that since 1948, the people of Israel would perceive their existence as a nation-state as one of being under nearly perpetual attack, from forces both outside and inside the territory of Israel. 

These events combine collectively to foster a general sense that Israel's citizens are constantly exposed to traumatic events, both directly and indirectly.  This creates a general condition of ongoing, collective trauma in the population.  

People who are traumatized individually will experience a wide range of symptoms.  A society that is subject to constant traumas is eventually going to express that in its politics, government, and approach to its neighbours and rivals.  Over the course of my lifetime, I have watched Israel shift from a combative, expansionist orientation to one of peace-seeking, and more recently to one where the government has become increasingly belligerent again.  In its politics, there has been a steady rise of increasingly militant religious parties, and that has ultimately forced the current Prime Minister into making common cause with them in order to maintain power.  

From a trauma perspective, none of this is entirely surprising.  The traumatized party wants to make their world safer, and in terms of collective action, that often means becoming increasingly hardline and militant.  More or less, the reasoning goes "well, our enemies are still there, so we have to become more difficult for them to attack.  The natural consequence is that when there is an attack (intifada, uprising, lobbing of missiles into Israel, etc.), the response is to become ever more controlling of the situation. 

Over the last 15 years, we have watched Israel increasingly make itself difficult to deal with.  Netanyahu deliberately fed Hamas to sow divisions within the Palestinian people so he could claim that there was nobody to talk peace with; "settlements" throughout the West Bank territories have been used as a form of ethnic cleansing to push the Palestinian peoples out of the region, Israel has seldom hesitated to respond with bombs and artillery the moment someone even positions a unit within firing range of Israel's borders, and so on. 

So, when October 7 occurred, it really came as no particular surprise that Israel's response has basically been to level the urban development of the Gaza Strip.  The pattern of escalation exhibited over the last 15 years or so supports that notion.  In some fundamental way, Hamas basically poked Israel's government "in the eye with a stick" - saying in essence "you can lock Gaza down, but you can't stop us".  Israel's reaction was to lash out as violently as possible - exactly what I would expect given the long history of trauma in the society. 

If, as I postulate here, Israel's response is best understood as being driven by collective trauma, we have a framework within which to understand how Israel arrived at "flatten Gaza" as a response.  Basically, they're lashing out, reacting more to their own internal traumas than anything else.  

This gives some sense as to why the Israel / Palestine fight is so intractable.  Both of the parties have been mutually traumatizing each other for years now (and yes, Israel's actions towards the Palestinians can be framed equally as traumatizing too).  You literally have two belligerent parties who are mutually traumatizing each other.  I don't know what the solution is, but I think we can guarantee that the next steps will be escalation of violence.  

Ultimately, it's going to require getting both parties to a table, and acknowledging the harm that each has done to the other - and that event is a loooong ways away. 


Sunday, November 26, 2023

Carbon Capture & Storage (CCS) Is Problematic

 In my travels on Twitter (sorry, X) this morning, I saw this, and it raises more questions than it answers:

This is a “look, it works!” statement. We had already proven that CCS was possible a decade earlier.  8,000,000 tonnes sounds like a very large number - but that works out to barely 1 Mt annually.  Alberta alone produces some 260 Mt annually just from its oil production.

There’s a red flag here.  This is a technology still very much in its infancy.  Then in October, it was announced that Oxy had sold off its plant in Texas, after never running it up over 1/3 of its stated capacity.   Even if that was a means to offset the cost of acquiring Carbon Engineering earlier in the year, something still doesn’t add up.

Saturday, November 25, 2023

No, Ms. Kheiriddin, You’re Quite Wrong

Over at Conservative propaganda rag “National Post”, we have Tasha Kheiriddin trying to turn the lack of attention on the civil war going on in Sudan into “why criticizing Israel’s actions is antisemitic”.  

First, I invite Ms. Kheiriddin to inspect the news - particularly North American sources, and consider how much coverage the Sudan war is getting.  If it wasn’t for BBC’s World Service, I wouldn’t even be aware of it, coverage here has been so sparse, but then again, there are numerous armed conflicts going on in various parts of Africa.  

But, Ms. Kheiriddin seems to think that we can’t “walk and chew bubble gum” at the same time.  Apparently, unless we’re condemning the horrors happening in Sudan just as loudly as what we see happening in Gaza, we must be criticizing Israel because it’s a Jewish state.  

This is utterly incorrect.  Most “left-leaning” people I see online are responding to what we are seeing Israel doing in Gaza because it is being covered in real-time in front of them, every time they look at the news.  What do they see in this coverage? Civilians being forcibly displaced by a vastly larger military force, homes and livelihoods being bombed out of existence from the air, and Israeli politicians making statements like “clearing out Gaza is the solution” - which sounds like something between ethnic cleansing (see Rwanda), and Hitler’s “final solution” (yeah, I said it - sue me - we’ll come back to this point in a minute).

You will find that most “leftists” who are criticizing Israel’s actions in Gaza are doing so through the lens of “the State is not its people”.  In other words, Israel’s politicians and political government are accountable for their actions quite apart from the people.  Just as Hamas is an organization and exists as a separate entity from the civilians of Gaza, the STATE of Israel is not “the Jewish People” per se.  That distinction is important, because it separates the civilians from the belligerents in conflict. 

Is it “anti-Semitic” to criticize Israel’s actions in Gaza?  If the narrative was being framed in terms of ethnic and religious identity, perhaps it would be.  However, most writers I see, myself included are talking about the actions of the state and its politicians.  For example, does the fact of Netanyahu being Jewish exempt him from criticism for engaging in a cynical political game of condemning Hamas on one hand, while feeding it on the other?  I would argue that has nothing whatsoever to do with his being Jewish, and just makes him one more cynical politician willing to play any game as long as it gains him political advantage at the polls. 

More to the point, the construct of antiSemitism is built around the idea that discrimination based on someone being Jewish is wrong.  It is not a blanket exemption that anything done by someone who is Jewish from criticism of any sort.  Even if we broadly agree that Israel is a “Jewish State”, that is no blanket exemption from criticism when that state chooses to act in ways that are unacceptable.

This is no different than the clear statement that Hamas isn’t beyond reproach simply because it is Palestinian (I think the world has been clear about that).

Now, I’m going to come back to my earlier statement about ethnic cleansing in Gaza.  I was not joking when I said it echoed the language of Hitler’s “Final Solution”.  Consider the following from a former Israeli defence minister: 

Combined with Israeli government documents that have been published in numerous other places, it’s pretty hard to ignore the eliminationist tone of these statements.  It’s just as difficult to ignore the similarities to Hitler’s “Final Solution”, especially when the tactics of the IDF have clearly been designed to push the 2.5 million inhabitants of Gaza towards the border with Israel.  

Is it “antiSemitic” to say this?  I suppose that those who connect their identities to the very idea of the state of Israel might argue that it is.  I draw a different line, because the State can never be held up as exempt from the norms of international law and convention.  A state that engages in collective punishment, or ethnic cleansing, must be held accountable, regardless of matters of faith, ethnicity, or even long standing historical horrors like the holocaust.

Ms. Kheiriddin is engaging in the most scandalous of rhetorical tactics - she is using unrelated events to deflect criticism away from the situation in Gaza, and to then insulate the State of Israel from criticism by labelling its critics as antiSemitic.  The intellectual dishonesty of that sleight of hand is beyond stunning. 

Monday, November 20, 2023

Cynical Politics, Propaganda, and Hardening Hearts

I awoke this morning to hear an article in the news about Israel’s latest actions in Gaza.  I won’t bore you with the details here.

What I did find myself thinking was that even if Israel “flattens Gaza into a pile of concrete rubble”, that won’t solve the problem.  It might save Netanyahu’s political career, if temporarily, but it won’t make Israel any more secure.  

Let’s examine that for a moment. Suppose for a moment that Israel drives every Palestinian out of Gaza, destroys every building, and fills in every inch of the tunnel networks that have been dug underneath Gaza with the rubble.  Sure, they will have deprived the Palestinian people of their homes, Hamas of its bases of operations, and perhaps even accomplished a military victory of some sort.  They might have even succeeded in making it impossible for Hamas to continue to exist in the form it has.  

The problem for Israel is that they won’t have killed off the idea of Palestine itself.  Perhaps more worryingly, they will ultimately have rendered it impossible for the people who identify as Palestinian to consider any kind of negotiated settlement arrangement with Israel.  That makes things much, much more dangerous for Israel and its citizens, because the adversary that Netanyahu has both enabled and demonized for the last 15+ years of his career suddenly has nothing to lose. 

If, things unfold as I expect will happen, most of the population of Gaza is going to end up in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, likely crushed up against the Israeli border.  This will be a return to the squalor of the refugee camps that were originally created in Gaza in the wake of Israel’s creation and the fallout of the first few Arab-Israeli wars.  Those camps will become places where the next Hamas will form, and it will have the collective memory of Israel’s actions in Gaza, as well as Israel’s illegal settlements in the West Bank. A more fertile place to spread propaganda, and to harden attitudes towards Israel and its peoples is hard to imagine. 

How does this make Israel less secure? Think about it.  An adversary that believes it has nothing to lose, and can easily convince the people among whom it organizes that they have nothing to lose has an indefinite supply of people willing to do horrific things.  

For the last several years, the “fight” has been mostly symbolic - Hamas lobbing rockets into Israel, and Israel’s “Iron Dome” shooting most of them down.  Prior to that, Israel experienced regular waves of violence ranging from riots to suicide bombings.  One of the things that October 7 demonstrated was that an adversary willing to be patient and to carefully plan its actions can accomplish a lot in a short amount of time.  Put that adversary in a place where they can convince the people around them that their fight is existential, and the “bad guy is just over that fence”, and they will find ways to get over those fences. 

Within Israel, I’m sure that Netanyahu’s “crush them now” approach is playing well.  It’s no secret that within Israeli politics there are those factions who see a “pure Israel” with no compromise involving the Palestinian people as some kind of fulfillment of a religious imperative.  Those people will be ecstatic for a while.

But, once the dust settles, the world needs to understand that Israel’s actions in response to October 7, 2023 will make the region much less stable, much more dangerous.  The danger for Israel is that the slow, painful process of “normalizing relations” with its neighbours may have just ended, and that leaves Israel in a much more dangerous place than it was in.

Friday, November 17, 2023

How Did You Think Gazans Would Respond?

The dispute between Israel and the Palestinian people has been in and out of the news cycle my entire life. For years, the narrative in the news has been very much around “terrorism”, with the Palestinians being broadly characterized as the perpetrators of terrorism.

There is no question that in terms of military capability, Israel is the 500lb gorilla here.  They have one of the most impressive militaries on the planet, and for good reasons. The creation of Israel out of the end of the European colonial empires wasn’t exactly greeted with good wishes by its neighbours.

However, people seem genuinely shocked when Israel puts on display what is clearly the contents of a weapons cache.  Let’s talk about how Israel has treated Gaza, and Palestinians since Netanyahu came onto the political scene (which, mysteriously, isn’t far off when Hamas took political control of Gaza).

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

How War In Gaza Should Change The Rules Of War

Current international law on war is largely derived from the fallout of WWII.  It’s seen a little bit of trimming around the edges, but for the most part it is the child of WWII.  That it has lasted over 70 years with only minimal change is in some respects creditable.  Israel’s actions in Gaza should result in massive changes to it.

Let me explain.  Gaza presents unique challenges to the conduct of war.  We have a region that is half the size of a major North American city - Calgary, AB - with a population that is at least double that of Calgary.  To say it is densely built is an understatement. That necessarily means that just about any major action in Gaza is going to result in massive civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure. 

Where this represents a serious challenge for current laws is that current international law doesn’t really deal with the kind of messy, asymmetric situation we have in Gaza, where the belligerents in Gaza are embedded deeply with the civilian population, and actual military assets are commingled with civilian infrastructure.  

This necessarily means that heavy-handed strategies like “carpet bombing” are simply invalid - the odds of massive damage that unreasonably harms civilians is far too high.  To this point, Israel has simply bombed the hell out of locations and then turned around and claimed “but Hamas was there”.  That seems to be something of a truism - in the 15 years since Hamas took control of the Gaza, they no doubt have built an enormous infrastructure for their military ambitions and have embedded it in the densely built up urban areas for both military and political reasons.

Here is where Israel’s ‘right to defend itself’ runs up against the rights of the civilian population of Gaza.  Israel cannot justifiably claim “Hamas” and exempt itself from the impact on Gaza’s civilians.  Regardless of where the conflict is taking place, we have to recognize that the belligerents are fundamental military and governmental constructs, not civilian.  Recognizing the nature of political and governmental power, we cannot claim that the civilians are directly responsible for the actions of their governments.  

This raises the first point of rights in tension - in asymmetric warfare like we see in Gaza, where do the rights of the civilian population take precedence?  Intuitively, it seems a little too simplistic to have one side simply claim “bad guys here”, and bomb it into oblivion from the air.  Yet, at the same time, we also know that “street by street” fighting is just as messy and even more brutal.  

Is Israel’s “evacuate this region” approach adequate?  Or is it simply another military tactic that puts a veneer of respectability on an otherwise heavy-handed approach to the conflict?  Demanding people evacuate makes the assumption that people are in fact able to do so.  Factors ranging from poverty to illness, age, and disability can make such orders utterly impractical for some.

Allegedly, Hamas has built a huge network of tunnels underneath Gaza.  I don’t doubt that is the case, in fact the attacks on October 7 made it quite clear that is the case.  Does that give Israel the blanket right to start dropping “bunker buster” bombs on Gaza?  Or would the level of destruction that would wreak on densely populated regions render that unacceptable?  Israel’s argument is that Hamas is using the civilian population of Gaza as “human shields”.  I’m not sure that the complication that presents for military action erases the rights of those civilians.

WWII era doctrines tend to focus on destroying an enemy’s ability to arm, supply, and defend itself.  For the most part industrial and military infrastructure was separate from civilian.  In Gaza, all three are commingled, and that changes the dynamics of warfare.  My personal feeling is that if Israel wants to destroy all of the underground infrastructure, they need to resurrect the pre-aerial era roles of sappers who specialize in underground warfare.  Hamas has a tunnel network that needs to be rendered unusable?  Cool - get in there and do that.  You can make tunnel systems unusable with minimal damage to civilian infrastructure - but if you think street by street combat is ugly business, a network of tunnels is going to make that look like a walk in the park for the troops. 

Lastly, when we examine the actions of the belligerents, we cannot simply examine a singular event.  There are often years, if not decades, of grievances on both sides.  Proponents of Israel’s approach in this conflict point to decades of actions on the part of Hamas - and Hamas has a very ugly history that it is very valid to criticize.  One can also understand that the Palestinian governments are also operating in an environment that has to respond to the pressures that Israeli policy creates.  

Unfortunately, Israel’s history here is arguably no better.  Increasingly heavy-handed approaches to events have effectively walled Gaza off, and severely limited the ability of Gaza to develop itself economically.  Other aspects of Israeli policy have isolated Palestinian peoples from each other, as well as promoted division.  It’s no secret that Netanyahu has been quite happy to “feed Hamas” because it keeps the Palestinian peoples divided, and enables him to argue that there is nobody to “talk peace” with.  

This is not a simple conflict, but in its wake, the assessment of the actions of the belligerents needs to be assessed through a new lens, one that sees the right to self defence not merely as a “right in the moment”, but as a right that exists in tension with other rights, and exists in the full context of events leading up to open conflict.  We cannot simply look at October 7 and make a declaration, we must examine the full picture.

Unfortunately, such an examination will invalidate a lot of people’s presuppositions about the actions taken, regardless of their sympathies. 

Monday, November 13, 2023

Effective Altruism

Coming out of the Silicon Valley libertarian sphere, Effective Altrusim is basically little more than 1980s era Reaganomics with a side order of philanthropy to paper over the rotting stench of unmitigated greed. 

For many people, their first exposure to it probably comes from the trial of Sam Bankman-Fried.  Broadly speaking, the basic principle of Effective Altruism is to use your financial resources (wealth) to benefit the most people possible.  If this sounds utilitarian, it’s because the phrase “benefit the most people possible” is straight out of utilitarian or consequentialist analysis.  Basically, the person tries to direct their wealth towards targets that they can determine will “benefit” a maximum number of people.  Doesn’t sound too bad, does it? 

Except it really is quite a stinker.  First, it supposes that the person with the money is the only person capable of deciding who the beneficiaries should be, and it encourages donating the money where it will benefit the most people.  This basically says “the person with the money knows better than anybody else how to utilize it for benefit” - sounds a little paternalistic, doesn’t it? 

Now, before you go jumping down my throat about whether the person with the money has the right to decide where it goes, of course they do.  But we should not be fooled that a blithe statement about “doing the most benefit for the most people” is going to work out for the greater benefit of society.   Sometimes, we have to ameliorate the situation of a minority in order to improve the overall of society, and simple utilitarian or consequentialist analysis isn’t going to pick up on that. 

Second, and it’s my bigger criticism of the concept.  At best it's built around the idea of "accumulate as much wealth as you can".  If you haven't heard this before, think back to the 1980s and the era of so-called "Junk Bonds", when Michael Milken declared "Greed is Good" (I wish I was joking).  This is the same kind of thinking, with a thin layer of philanthropy glued on to give moral justification to it.  

In other words, it's little more than "Trickle-Down Economics".  Become fantastically wealthy (apparently even through fraud is fine), and then assuage any guilt you might feel by donating money.  Yeah - that's going to work out - if you're a hollow husk of a human being utterly devoid of empathy, ethics, and morals. 

Every one of these fools needs to spend as much time understanding Rousseau's Social Contract as they wasted reading Ayn Rand and Margaret Thatcher. 

Thursday, November 09, 2023

Restructuring AHS - The Wrong Way

I was never particularly impressed with the AHS “Superboard” concept that was instituted in 2009 - it got some thing right (like centralizing procurement), but it also had the effect of gutting the ability for the system to respond to local needs.  It effectively turned major decisions into political fodder - suddenly matters like building new facilities became political footballs, with little or no regional input into matters like requirements.

After an initial period of utter chaos, which arguably lasted through 2012 or 2013, AHS started to find its feet and initiated programs like Primary Care Networks which went a long ways towards smoothing out access in the system, and in particular communication between family physicians and specialists.
Today, AHS is far from perfect, but it has done a lot to rebalance the system and introduce more local responsiveness to issues.  

What was rolled out by the Danielle Smith-led UCP government yesterday is a recipe for disaster.  We don’t have a lot of details yet, but the basic structure effectively creates a series of “silos” that will inevitably make communications between groups much, much worse. Vertical silos like what has been proposed are almost inevitably going to create walls between organizations that prevent meaningful knowledge sharing and collaboration.

Second, when I see this kind of structure trotted out in the corporate world, it almost always means that things are being lined up to be sold.  Once the walls go up, and mutual collaboration is severed, it’s relatively easy to sell off pieces and make huge profits on the sale.  Corporate “mergers” tend to go one of two ways:  The acquired entity is assimilated into the larger organization and its core functions become part of the larger whole; or, the acquired entity remains an all but separate business of its own that feeds a few % of its profits into the parent corporation - until such times as the parent company decides to skim a profit by selling it off. 

The UCP structure for health care in Alberta seems to be designed with an orientation towards the latter.  Create a bunch of isolated vertical silos that can then be dismantled.

Given the lack of detail, lack of risk management planning, and the complexity of trying to dismantle AHS into this new structure, the government’s self-assigned budget of some $120M is almost laughably small.  Having been a project manager myself, I look at that and go “you’re going to restructure a $45B organization that cheaply? - yeah keep kidding yourselves.”.  

When - or if - a more detailed plan is made available, I will look at it.  But, at the moment, I take one look at this, and my first thought is “this is a completely unrealistic plan that will be detrimental to the well-being of Albertans”.  I have little doubt that the real goal of this is to sell off as much as they can to US interests before the next election. After that, Albertans will find themselves stuck with the same affordability dilemma that so many in the US face:  Do I pay my rent or my healthcare premiums? 

Sunday, November 05, 2023

The UCP Goes "Hold My Beer" To The CPC

Author's Note:  I started writing something about the UCP's policy resolutions in October, but it seemed redundant.  Now that the UCP has held their AGM, and these have been voted on, it's time to take a look at the shape of the party that results from it. 

In September, the CPC held its policy convention and went full SoCon - passing every discriminatory, bigotry-laden policy put before them - and by significant margins.  This weekend, the UCP said to the CPC:  "Hold my beer".  

Before the UCP delegates this weekend were some 30 policy resolutions, and they ranged from almost reasonable sounding policy ideas to outright conspiracy theory level crackpottery.  The resulting policy is a pastiche of terrible ideas rooted in bigotry and ignorance.  

Friday, November 03, 2023

Israel/Palestine; Russia/Ukraine - The Politics of War

One of the key features of war in the modern era is the need to demonize the “other” in order to create a justification for military action.

In the Russia/Ukraine war, Putin has claimed that Ukraine is being taken over by “Nazis”.  There is a carefully cultivated “grain of truth” in Putin’s claim - several military units who have been fighting back against Russian attempts to annex parts of eastern Ukraine do in fact have Nazi / neo-Nazi leanings.  Is that “all Ukraine”?  Nope - not even close.  Putin has simply used it as a pretext and as fodder for a propaganda campaign to justify what really is little more than a war of conquest.  

Similarly, when we look at what’s going on in Gaza, we can see unfolding in real-time the propaganda machine.  Yes, Hamas is a bunch of rotten bastards - I don’t think that’s in question here.  Israel’s propaganda however is outright dehumanizing not only Hamas, but ultimately it is really aimed at the Palestinian people as a whole.  

In both conflicts, we have to recognize that the “underdogs” in these conflicts have been subject to decades of oppression at the hands of others.  Ukraine at the hands of Stalinist USSR, and the Palestinians at the hands of the Israeli government - especially since Netanyahu came to power, but arguably since so many were forcibly evicted from their homes in 1948, creating the now permanent “refugee camps”.  

Russia has shown a repeated pattern of targeting civilian infrastructure and homes throughout the conflict.  You can’t tell me that there’s convincing evidence that an entire block of flats is “all occupied by Nazis” - that just doesn’t make any sense. Yet, when Russia deigns to respond to these claims, they swear up and down that they’re not targeting civilians.  (If you believe that, I’ve got some oceanfront property in Saskatchewan I’d like to sell you). 

Similarly, Israel swears up and down that they’re not targeting civilians in Gaza, yet we have verified instances where Israel has told people to move to locations, and then bombed those very locations a few days later. Similarly, Israel is making bold claims about the number of Hamas militants they have killed.  I’m sure that when you carpet bomb an entire neighbourhood out of existence, you will no doubt kill some number of militants, but in doing so, you are ignoring the fact that no matter how selective you claim to be, the fact is that those bombs you’re dropping simply aren’t selective weapons.

Just as I don’t believe Putin’s argument that he’s removing fascists from Ukraine, I don’t believe that Israel is interested in “destroying Hamas” - if they were, they’d have their espionage units taking out Hamas leadership in other countries.  More and more, this looks like Israel has decided that it is going to depopulate Gaza and push its peoples into the Sinai.  

In both conflicts, there is an enormous propaganda campaign that is designed to dehumanize the other side in the minds of the public.  That dehumanizing serves the purpose of making it easier for people (and combatants especially) to accept the idea of killing another human being.  In the past, it was mostly reserved for the troops - they got fed a steady stream of invective designed specifically for that - now that is making its way into the public discourse. 

Consider, in WWII, the Germans were referred to as “Jerries” or “Krauts” (a reference to sauerkraut - pickled cabbage); in Vietnam, the Viet Cong were referred to as “Gooks”.  In these conflicts, Russia is referring to Ukrainian soldiers as “Nazis”, and we’ve had Israel refer to Hamas as “dogs”.  While I can guess what Hamas tells its people, it’s fairly clear that they’ve spent the last 15 odd years developing quite a line of anti-Israel, anti-Jewish propaganda.  It’s not difficult to see the purpose of all this.

The first casualty in any war is truth - and in particular - the truth about the other side.  I grew up in the middle of the so-called “Cold War”.  We were inundated with propaganda about the USSR and Communism.  To the point that even today, some 3 decades after the collapse of the Soviet empire, we still have a lot of people who mistake democratic socialism for totalitarian communism as implemented by Stalin.  It’s kind of stunning actually. 

Make no mistake when you are looking at the news and how they recount what is going on - there is a metric ton of propaganda being fed to us.  Israel wants us to believe Hamas is “a bunch of cowardly dogs” that they have to eradicate, but the truth is not so simple.  Russia wants us to believe that all they’re doing in Ukraine is “purging Nazis”, and the truth there is not so black and white either. Intriguingly, Putin’s fingerprints are in both conflicts.  

I’ve suspected for a long time that the Ukraine war serves two purposes for Putin.  First, he sees it as the beginning of rebuilding the old Russian Empire, thus putting him into the same league as Tsars like Peter the Great.  Second, it acts as a wedge in an effort to draw NATO into open conflict with Russia.  He’s argued for years now that “NATO is expansionist” because countries that used to belong to the old Warsaw Pact have joined NATO in an effort to hold Russian territorial ambitions at bay. 

Putin’s fingerprints on the latest events in Israel and Gaza show up in a couple of ways.  First, it’s no secret that Iran has been funnelling resources into Gaza, assisting Hamas with building up their munitions and probably providing training and materials.  Second, we know that Hamas leaders had meetings with Putin back in May, 2022.  As the old saying goes, it takes a lot of planning for coincidences to happen. 

Why now?  It’s a matter of timing. Putin sees this as a way to weaken the US and NATO by taking focus away from the Ukraine conflict, but also he’s leveraging the chaos that a GOP controlled House of Representatives in the US can create.  The GOP has been signalling for months that they are tired of pouring money and resources into Ukraine, and the Israel conflict is a perfect opportunity for them to push for a redirection of resources.  There’s plenty of good reason to suspect that the GOP’s caucus in the legislature is in fact compromised by Russian operatives and money - including the ongoing politicking of Trump.

Looked at through that lens, the Israel / Hamas conflict is an easily provoked bit of violence that provides a needed distraction from what is going on in Ukraine, and potentially distracts enough US attention from Ukraine to allow Russia to capitalize on that by ramping up it’s activities in Ukraine.  (We’ll see how this goes over the winter months)

The point here is that there’s a huge amount of political maneuvering behind the rhetoric and violence we are seeing.  So while we all have our own perspectives and sympathies in these matters, it takes work to put on our filters both to put bias to one side, and to filter out what is propaganda designed to inflame opinions and what is reasonably factual. 

Tuesday, October 31, 2023

Some Thoughts on the SBF / FTX Trial

I’m something of a “crypto skeptic”.  I don’t necessarily accept as valid the idea that cryptocurrency is a natural replacement for state controlled fiat currencies, or that Blockchain and its associated constructs such as crypto “wallets” are in fact as inviolable as claimed.

When FTX collapsed so spectacularly in 2022, my initial reaction was basically “well, what did you expect? - the crypto markets have been crumbling for months”.  I was peripherally aware of FTX, Binance and a few other exchanges, but it wasn’t central to my world, so I more or less ignored it except when it made headlines.  A few of these operations collapsing on themselves wasn’t particularly surprising to me. 

What makes the trial of Sam Bankman-Fried (SBF) so interesting is the scale of the fraud, the youthfulness of the accused, and the seeming cluelessness they all exhibited. 

After listening to summaries of the testimony from Caroline Ellison, Gary Wang, Nishad Singh, and Sam Bankman-Fried for the last few weeks, my thinking on this has evolved considerably. 

My first comment is that Alameda Research and FTX did not start out with the intent to commit fraud.  However, as things grew, none of the “inner circle” players had the experience or wisdom to recognize the risks they were facing and put in place the kinds of financial and business practice controls needed to effectively manage risks.  

They needed to consult more deeply with people experienced in the commodities/futures trading world, legal experts, and accountants before making some of the decisions they ultimately made.  

Just from the timeline of events, it was painfully clear that Alameda was already in deep trouble when the “allow negative”, and unlimited “line of credit” constructs were put in place.  Both of those should have been a giant red flag to the executives that something was becoming very precarious. 

However, the kinds of profitability and growth that FTX had experienced in a few very short years is one hell of a drug for people who aren’t experienced in the rise and fall of boom/bust markets.  That, combined with a naive belief that somehow technology would solve all the problems, led FTX’s leadership to make some very poor decisions. 

Criminality in this case starts to creep into the story when FTX started to allow Alameda to draw funds which ultimately had to be coming from FTX customers.  The minute that FTX allowed that, they not only violated their own terms of service, but in fact took down one of the few “guardrails” that would have served to keep FTX above board.  

Once they started feeling that it was necessary to “fiddle the balance sheets” in order to access loans, that is clearly fraudulent (you’re deceiving the prospective lenders). That act alone serves as solid evidence of mens rea (guilty mind - or intent).

But, by the time summer 2022 had rolled around, the holes in FTX were going to sink it primarily because the company was not hedged adequately outside of the crypto world, so when crypto tanked, there was no way that the company could meet its liquidity requirements (and that's ignoring the hole that Alameda blew in the balance sheets).  Like the "unsinkable" Titanic, once the holes are below the waterline ... the ship is going down. 

This, of course, doesn't absolve the accused of the criminality of their actions.

I don’t think FTX and Alameda Research were set up as scam companies in the first place.  But, I do think that a lack of regulatory guardrails, inadequate legal advice, and youthful poor judgement combined to make them into a scam.  The sequestration of customer funds from FTX resources was allowed to collapse - if it had existed at all.  That, combined with the glass house of doing most in-house business using an internal token with a floating value, created an environment where it was far too easy for greed to rule the day. 

The legal advice was faulty in part because SBF had become very skilled … at giving people part, but not all, of the story.  That guaranteed that any advice he did receive was built on the information that he gave the lawyers - which was probably incomplete at best.  It didn’t help that counsel included a man who was involved in an online betting fraud a decade or so back.  

To be clear, I’m not defending SBF or his inner circle in the least here. None of them stood up and said “wait a second, this looks really questionable” until after the collapse. I don’t think any of them realized that they were engaging in fraud until the collapse was imminent.  That said, the line was crossed when Alameda was allowed special privileges on the FTX platform. 

After hearing about SBF’s performance in testimony (especially on cross-examination), I think he’s going to prison for a very long time indeed.  At the end of the day, he was the person with the full picture and the stake in both companies that meant he had motive to engineer fraud.  Keeping parts of the picture from various members of the executive team is enough to demonstrate an effort to wilfully maintain control. 

As for those who “turned state’s evidence”, they still deserve prison time too.  At the end of the day, their willingness to compromise ethics and honesty in participating in this fraud warrants sanction as well.  Whether that’s for as long as SBF goes to prison, or a lesser period remains to be seen.  At this point in time, SBF seems to be heading for a nice 30+ year stretch in a Federal Penitentiary.  

Monday, October 30, 2023

Speculation: Gaza Outcomes

Recently, articles have begun circulating which state that Israel has no plan for Gaza after their military operations cease. To the extent that Israel hasn’t stated what its plans are beyond the immediate military operations, this is true enough.  I think that this is a horribly naive way of assessing the situation, and it ignores the history of cynical politics that have brought us to this point. 

Up until the last couple of iterations of the Netanyahu regime, Likud has more or less managed to keep the most extreme elements of Israeli politics on the margins of government.  The current coalition has a much different composition, with some highly radicalized players playing significant roles in the cabinet.  These more radicalized people are opposed to any kind of peace arrangements with regards to the Palestinians, and are often active proponents of the Israeli “settlements” programs which clearly are intended to erode Palestinian presence on the lands and replace it with Jewish settlers.  

From an external perspective, this creates a significant problem because these hardline activists generally seem to carry the belief that the only acceptable outcome is a contiguous Jewish State from the West Bank through to the Mediterranean Sea.  This is presumably in part driven by religious beliefs, as well as a now toxic blend of propaganda that has been used to dehumanize the Palestinian people as well. (To be fair, Hamas no doubt does the same propaganda regarding the Israelis)

The stated goal of the current military operations in Gaza is to “destroy Hamas”.  Sounds like a nice clean goal, except Hamas is just as much a part of the culture in Gaza as it is a governing body.  If Israel’s government truly believes that blowing up buildings and rendering tunnel complexes unusable is going to destroy Hamas, they’ve missed the boat.  

Israel might even be able to kill or capture much of Hamas’ organizational leadership, they’ve still missed the boat.  Just as the idea of Israel as a state is a cultural and religious truth among the Jewish peoples, Hamas and its goals of liberating the Palestinian people from what it sees as Israeli oppression is now a cultural and religious truth.  It is this very matter of “truth” that stands in the way of making meaningful progress towards a functional peace.  Destroy the physical parts of Hamas, and a new Hamas will rise up among the people because you will have done nothing to address the issues that gave rise to Hamas in the first place. 

Netanyahu has played a very cynical game with Hamas.  It’s perhaps among the worst kinds of cynical politics, because while he was perfectly aware of what Hamas was, and what it represented, it was convenient to him to use them to drive political division between the Palestinians.  With much of Hamas’ senior leadership living outside Gaza in other countries, flattening Gaza ultimately does very little to “destroy Hamas”.  It may be disrupted for a period of time as a result of the current muscle-flexing by the Israel Defence Force (IDF), but it will re-emerge in a new form sometime after Israel ends its military operations. 

To this point, Israel’s military response in Gaza looks a lot like US Vietnam-era “carpet bombing”.  Drop lots of large explosives in the area and level as much of the city as possible.  While the IDF continues to insist that they are “targeting militants”, that doesn’t exactly stand up to scrutiny when they level entire residential neighbourhood.  It’s a bit like burning down a house because you saw a spider in it.  

The IDF at this point has basically ordered civilians in Gaza to move south towards the Rafah border crossing, including ordering that hospitals be evacuated.  Evacuating a hospital is a whole lot more complex than ordering the residents of an apartment complex to move, and sends a disturbing message about the IDF’s intentions.  Hospitals are, even in wartime, places that you do not bomb deliberately.  

No doubt, the IDF will argue that either Hamas is using the patients of the hospital as “human shields”, or that they have to destroy the facility in order to get at the tunnel complexes Hamas has dug underneath them.  But that’s really no different than declaring that anybody they see in the evacuation area after their deadline will be assumed to be a militant.  It provides easy justification for their actions, while avoiding the necessarily difficult problems of urban warfare.  

So, what does this tell us about Israel’s unstated plans for Gaza?  

It seems as though Israel is gearing up to render it uninhabitable.  In other words, I fully expect that anything resembling a major population centre in Gaza is going to be bombed into rubble, followed by the use of “bunker buster” bombs to render the underground tunnel complexes unusable.  This will effectively render most of the cities in Gaza uninhabitable.  My guess is that Israel will do this with “northern Gaza” (everything northeast of the Wadi Gaza river), whether they move on to do the same towards Egypt depends on how hardline the Israeli government gets.  

Flattening Gaza in the north will be justified by Israel in terms of “further securing Israel from Hamas incursions”,  and would effectively split the Gaza into two pieces, with the bulk of the Palestinian population sandwiched southwest of the Wadi Gaza with Egypt and Israel bordering.  

There have been rumours for a while now that Israel’s plan is basically to push Gaza’s Palestinians into Egypt’s Sinai, and those come from multiple sources. Further, states like Egypt have expressed resistance to taking Palestinian refugees in. So, I’m hardly the only person who sees Israel’s ground strategy as further pressuring the Palestinians to leave Gaza.  I suspect that the discussions within the Israeli government are revolving around depopulating Gaza by making it unlivable for the Palestinians.  

They’ve already effectively doubled the population of southwest Gaza, which will inevitably create much larger problems as civil order breaks down due to the resource pressures that will create. 

So, what does Israel do with Gaza once they declare that they have achieved their military objectives?

They will have a “tiger by the tail” problem at that point.  There are a few options:

1.  Israel undertakes a major military occupation while allowing the Gazans to pick up the pieces and rebuild.  This will be the messy route because Gazans will be angry and IDF troops will rapidly find themselves targets of anything from thrown stones to active sabotage. 

2.  Israel could modify the above scenario by requesting UN or foreign (US?) peacekeeping forces come in and keep order, although one does wonder if that wouldn’t create a whole new set of problems.

3.  If Israel stops at the Wadi Gaza line, it could establish a new “Gaza border” there, and leave Gazans in even more compressed circumstances. I do not think this would be wise, as the resulting pressure cooker in Gaza would quickly descend into a humanitarian disaster.  The Israeli goal in this situation is that Palestinians caught in this pressure cooker will seek the “path of least resistance” and flee into Egypt by bypassing the Rafah border crossing.

4.  It seems highly unlikely that Israel will simply pull out of Gaza at this point.  The military / security perspective would be that doing so opens the door to allowing Hamas to rebuild far too easily.  The minimum stance would be a locked down Gaza border with only “food and fuel” being allowed through.  Again, this returns to the “pressure cooker” analogy, and is very likely to explode in Israel’s face sooner rather than later. 

This is all rather gloomy, because the longer term outcomes of any of these is further suffering for Palestinian civilians, and it could quickly turn the Middle East into a war zone as countries around Israel fight back to either ensure their own political stability (e.g. Egypt), or because they come to perceive that Israel has lost all sanity.  Further, militant “Islamist” groups may see this as an opportunity to further their own goals in the midst of the ensuing chaos.  

All this because a very cynical Netanyahu decided that it was politically advantageous to try dividing the Palestinian peoples against themselves so he could claim that “there was no one to sit down at the table with” while the Palestinians were squabbling with each other.

Thursday, October 19, 2023

About That Hospital in Gaza

There’s been a lot of discussion back and forth about the explosion at Al-Ahli Hospital in Gaza.  Hamas claims it was an Israeli bomb or missile attack, Israel claims it’s the result of a failed rocket launched from within Gaza. 

I have thoughts about this.  Certainly, I agree that the site does not look like a typical high explosive device went off.  That is a point that leans away from the standard bombs that Israel has been using.  

The Israeli claim is that the rocket failed, sprayed fuel around which subsequently caught fire after something at or near ground level exploded.  The part about this that doesn’t add up entirely for me with this is twofold: 

1). The alleged rocket appears to have failed at a fairly high altitude, and if it exploded, there should be evidence of  both fuel and rocket debris in the vicinity.  That hasn’t been identified yet. 

2). IF the rocket’s fuel canisters had managed to fall to the ground, and exploded there, that might explain the smaller crater at the site, but where’s the bits of the canister?  

3). The cars - the cars really bother me here.  The pictures I’ve seen show cars that clearly were subjected to intense heat - not the kind of heat that you see when a car catches fire and causes the one adjacent to burn as well.  Assuming that the Gaza rockets use something like Hydrogen Peroxide as a fuel (it’s relatively easily made, and burns plenty hot), I’m not sure that a fuel load would result in a strong enough fire to do what has been observed.  

*For clarity - I am not an explosives or rocket expert, so I will concede that it seems possible that it could have been a failed rocket.

My concern with the failed rocket scenario is it seems just a little too pat, and too specific.  It’s the kind of specificity that I would expect with an actual forensic report of the site itself, and yet Israel trotted it out within hours. 

It also seems that the world is ignoring another line of explanation:  The use of a Thermobaric Weapon.  Those devices are designed to produce exactly the kind of effect that we see at the hospital, and they’re intended to explode above ground level as a rule.  According to Wikipedia (perhaps not the most reliable source), Israel is rumoured to have had these weapons since about 1990, and they could easily have bought them from the US as well.  

Dropping a moderate sized thermobaric weapon in the courtyard of the hospital would produce a considerable amount of damage, and more specifically could explain the damage to the cars, which were clearly subjected to an intense blast of fire.  Further, thermobaric munitions can be delivered in a variety of ways, ranging from aircraft to traditional ground based artillery.  

Even here, we need to go through the site and find any pieces of whatever container held the explosive.  That requires a far more detailed forensic analysis than is likely possible in the heat of active warfare, but it seems necessary.  Both parties in this conflict have too many reasons to assign blame to the other side to be credible. 

[Update Oct 22, 2023]:  Independent reviews by people with more knowledge than I do are lining up on the “errant rocket” hypothesis.  Although I remain somewhat skeptical of that explanation, I have no compelling evidence to the contrary. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2023

Games Without Frontiers, War With Tears

The pressure cooker that is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict exploded this weekend. 

Normally, I stay out of making comment about anything to do with this particular conflict because quite frankly it appears to be intractable on so many fronts.  Between religious and cultural conflicts that go back not merely years, but arguably centuries; and a plethora of issues around everything from territory to resources, and the fallout from the dissolution of Europe’s colonial era political constructs, it’s just one big ugly mess.  

However, I’m seeing lots of posts on social media that are blindly supporting either the Israeli or the Palestinian “sides” in this dispute.  This is one of those rare times where “both sides are wrong” really does apply.  

Nothing justifies the actions of Hamas - nothing.  Going after civilians and massacring them is just plain wrong.  However, Hamas is a political entity, and like all such entities it represents a portion of the people. Once in power, I suspect that they have used their position to spread propaganda to feed their agenda.  I can only imagine the language at use within Gaza that has been used to desensitize Hamas members to the point that they are willing to engage in these horrors.  

Israel’s response is predictably heavy-handed - although as of this writing they haven’t yet rolled tanks into Gaza, just resorted to aerial bombing / missile attacks - which are frankly just as likely to kill innocent civilians as members of Hamas.  That is an understandable reaction to Hamas’ actions - but that doesn’t make it justified either.   

Since the first Arab-Israeli war, we have watched the Israeli state steadily erode the lands originally allocated to the Palestinian peoples.  In the last 20 years we have watched Israel build walls around Palestinian settlements, and restrict resource access for those settlements.  The border to Gaza is one of the most fortified in the world.  Then, the Israeli government has encouraged the formation of “settlements” on those occupied lands.  

Whatever the political justification for these actions, they serve ultimately to create a pressure cooker environment for the people caught within those walls, and those forcibly removed from their homes and lands.  It’s not hard to understand how that would over time alienate the peoples affected, and make them vulnerable to propaganda. While Hamas is not all Palestinian people, you can be absolutely certain that Hamas leadership has taken full advantage of the opportunity that continued oppression by the State of Israel has created. 

The tragedy here is that cynical political leadership on both sides has chosen to use the situation to justify further entrenchment in the conflict. While Netanyahu continues to talk about a "two state solution", his government's actions have done little to move towards any kind of peace.  Similarly Hamas profits from the stalemate, using it to justify continuing to lash out at Israel with violence while petitioning its allies in states like Iran for more weapons.  

It will take statesmen with bigger visions than the leadership on either side of this conflict currently demonstrates to move in the direction of some kind of peace, and it will also take major steps from the leadership of countries like the US, Iran, and Russia to facilitate a meaningful peace.


Thursday, September 21, 2023

The Spat With India

 So, India is expanding its temper tantrum over Canada expressing concerns over the suspected role of the Modi government in the murder of Hardeep Singh Nijjar.  To a certain extent, this is a “meh, so what?” kind of move, but on other fronts its more significant and an indicator of the Modi government’s larger agenda.  

One could infer from the level of outrage coming out of India that in fact the Canadian government’s expressed worries that in fact the allegations have some merit.  It’s very much a case of “India doth protest too much” - if they really had nothing to do with this Nijjar’s murder a few months ago, then why such a public temper tantrum? 

Part of it, no doubt, has to do with the Khalistan movement to create a “Sikh homeland”. The idea of a Sikh homeland isn’t new - it’s been rattling about for decades, and was very much the driving force behind a bombing launched from within Canada back in the 1980s. I don’t particularly want to spend a pile of time rehashing the Air India bombing here, I mention it to draw attention to the somewhat fraught relationship it created within Canada regarding the Khalistan movement.

Canada’s government might well be more reactive here in part because of the fallout from the Air India bombing - which many still feel has never been fully resolved in our courts.  There have been a few cases brought to trial, but many in the Canadian public felt the outcomes were deeply unsatisfying.  Canada would be naturally sensitive to any action which would appear to be an escalation of violence relating to the Khalistan movement taking place within its borders.  A repeat of the Air India bombing is hardly a desirable thing.

I won’t attempt to go deep into the Khalistan movement and the politics around it - I simply lack the background knowledge to do the subject justice.  What I can remark upon is the Modi government’s propensity for passing arbitrary laws with deliberately discriminatory consequences.  The BJP party is described as “Hindu Nationalist”, and over time we have also observed Modi becoming increasingly authoritarian.  

To be frank, ever since Trudeau’s disastrous trip to India in 2015/16, my trust of the Modi government has been very low. It was fairly obvious that Modi participated in setting a political booby trap engineered by Harper through the IDU.  Subsequently, numerous second-rate conservative politicians have attempted to polish their image with junkets to India as a result of the Modi government inviting them to visit.  So, on that alone, I am suspicious of the Modi government’s actions here.  

It’s entirely possible that this is a setup so that the CPC here can spend the next year or so making itself out to be “the reconcilers” where India is concerned.  India gets to play the “offended party” with its nose out of joint, and effectively cuts the current Canadian government out of the picture, making any diplomatic progress impossible.  Then the CPC can rail on about how Trudeau simply doesn’t have the standing on the world stage to be taken seriously …blah blah blah… I think you get the picture. 

Then, when in 2024/5 when a new government is elected (presumably CPC, or so the plotters imagine), India suddenly stops being hostile … mostly because an IDU-aligned government is in power, and the newly elected Conservative government gets a nice little “slam-dunk” win on the world stage to set its credentials in.  

From Modi’s perspective, it’s a win too, because he gets to deal a blow to a movement that he sees as a political danger with relative impunity.  

That might be a bit of a reach, but I don’t think it’s all that far off the mark. We already have evidence of close ties between Harper and Modi, and it’s fairly clear that they’ve collaborated on schemes to bolster conservative fortunes in Canada.  

[Update:  21/09/23 17:00]:  Well, it seems that Canada does have “the receipts” that implicate the Indian government.  The whole thing just got a lot harder for the CPC to leverage credibly. 


Monday, September 11, 2023

The CPC Went Full SoCon

The brief summary of yesterday’s policy votes at the CPC 2023 convention was published by CBC. Go there first, and read it - but I really think they missed more than a few things, so this is going to be a bit more of a deep dive into the policies they passed and how much worse for women and minorities it really is.

Saturday, September 09, 2023

This Afternoon We Find Out

This afternoon, we find out which of the 50+ policy resolutions get adopted by the CPC.  Back here, I reviewed 3 policy resolutions in context, and questioned just how “broad” the conservative tent really is.  If any of those 3 resolutions is adopted, we can safely conclude that the CPC continues to tilt at the windmills of women’s rights, 2SLGBTQ+ rights, and in particular transgender rights. 

Make no mistake about it, by openly attacking transgender rights, the CPC is lining up to attack a whole host of social issues, ranging from education to women’s healthcare.

Something I want to emphasize is that the current focus of the political right on transgender women has enormous negative implications for women as a whole.  In particular, it represents a return to policing women’s bodies and appearance through peer pressure.  If you don’t look sufficiently “feminine” by someone else’s standards, you will find yourself challenged when you try to use a washroom in a public space - and by “not looking sufficiently feminine”, that could be as simple as wearing a bunch of old clothes when you pop out of the house to pick up some new paint brushes while you’re in the midst of painting your home. Whoops - you’re not dressed in the latest fashions, your hair isn’t done, and you *gasp* forgot your makeup!  I assure you that there will be someone who decides that means you’re not really a woman.  

I wish I was joking.  I’m not.  Stereotypes like the so-called Stepford Wives exist because in numerous religious subgroups, women are not merely expected to be “obedient to their husbands”, but they come under enormous scrutiny and pressure to conform (and while I write this from a generally Anglo-Christian perspective, these same pressures exist in many cultural milieus).  The ultimate goal here is very much to return women to the social role that they were forced into prior to the civil rights era, and potentially even pre-personhood where biology - specifically the ability to bear children - defines womanhood entirely. 

Transgender people present a fundamental threat to that worldview because they demand a separation of “the body” and the social roles associated with that body.  A core demand of feminism has always been autonomy, and in particular bodily autonomy.  Women have long sought the means to control their own fertility, but it has only been in the last 6 decades or so that the tools to do so have come to exist in a reasonably safe form.  To many, the changes that resulted from this autonomy, ranging from women having careers (and demanding equality in the workplace), to having actual public discourse about things like reproduction, have been an existential threat not only to existing power structures, but to their own sense of security.  The old models of “dad goes to work, mom stays home and looks after the household” have given way to much more complex structures that make old biblical adages about “the woman shall submit to her husband” very difficult to place in the modern world. 

Just as the recognition of sexual diversity has challenged the idea that “marriage” only exists for the purposes of producing children (a very utilitarian concept), or that sex only exists between “man and woman”, the mere existence of transgender people challenges previously rigid categories of “masculine” and “feminine”.  That is something which more socially conservative elements in our society have long regarded as an existential threat because not only does it require deconstructing and separating the social and the biological aspects of being human, it undermines centuries old scriptures that they hold as “divine truth”.  

That’s the whole problem here.  We have an entire segment of the population that is struggling to cope with change, and are completely unable to reconcile the “truth” of their faith with the world we exist in.  They desperately seek to roll things back to a “simpler time” where absolutes of the past still functioned - and they can only do that by erasing hard fought rights and freedoms.  

It may seem easy to look at it and say “well, they’re just going after trans people”, but spend any amount of time poking through the content on sites like LifeSite News and others that the Social Conservative set control, and it’s quite clear that if they were to ever gain actual power, a rollback of rights and freedoms across the board is their plan … in some cases think in terms of “yeah - mandatory church attendance” type stuff.  

This afternoon’s votes will tell us how much influence the SoCon right has over the CPC.  My guesstimate based on what I’ve seen over the last 20 years is that the answer is “far too much”.  Remember, this is the party which only grudgingly removed its opposition to same sex marriage in 2015 or 16 (and it did not endorse it - just removed their opposition to it), and coming up on the last election refused to admit that global warming is a thing. 

Thursday, September 07, 2023

What Exactly Is A “Broad Coalition Of Conservatives”?

This morning, on the news one of the headline stories was about the CPC policy convention, where they are going to debate a range of policies, and two of them are outright eliminationist anti-transgender crap. (We’ll come back to that) One of the party talking heads said some inane drivel about the CPC being a “democratic party with a broad coalition of conservatives”. 

Besides being a somewhat silly attempt to define the party as “big tent”, what does the term really mean? It certainly doesn’t mean inclusion - the CPC continues to pander to extreme libertarians whose idea of “economic policy” is basically “let them eat cake”.  So if you’re somewhere in the middle and lower income ranges, they sure as hell aren’t including you - your pockets are the first ones they are going to pick through user fees, means testing programs, etc.  They also continue to be very much in the thrall of social conservative movements that want to exclude people who don’t fit into a particularly narrow idea of the world (usually one based on a bad reading of Old Testament texts).  So yeah, if you’re a woman, a member of the 2SLGBTQ community, or you belong to one of those “other religions”, don’t think for a moment that you’re safe in that party - you aren’t.

I did take a look through the CPC policy proposals, and there are some doozies in there.  Let's go exploring, shall we?

Tuesday, September 05, 2023

"Return To The Office" Policies

So, now that we are 3 years past the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, a sizeable number of companies are beginning to demand people "be back in the office".  For many good reasons, workers are pushing back.  

Here's the first thing about "back to the office" policies.  The vast majority of them are little more than a return to "how do I know work is being done if I can't see a bum in a seat every day?" management.  While there are definitely business contexts where the work requires someone to be physically present (e.g. you're assembling physical parts on an assembly line, you work in retail, etc.).  

So-called "bum-in-a-chair" managers argue that people being out of the office means that problems don't get solved as quickly, there's less opportunity for "collaboration", "communication" etc.  Yet, they ignore that for 3 years, a lot of people worked remotely just fine, and online platforms that facilitate communication worked out pretty well.  

Does managing a team that works "by remote control" turn out to be different from managing a team of people in an office?  Yes, in some respects it is.  If you're a manager, at the end of the day, it's still your job to bring people together when needed, and to help your team achieve their objectives.  

What companies need to acknowledge and deal with is the fact that people are asserting their right to a degree of self-determination in their work.  Over the last few decades, workplaces have increasingly erased any sense of personal identity in workspaces.  Cubicle farms are the beginning of the fall, and so-called open plan offices with open desk arrangements, or worse yet, unassigned "hotel" desk arrangements mean that people going to the office feel absolutely no sense of ownership of their workspace. 

Would you want to go in to sit at a random desk daily where you aren't even allowed so much as a couple of ornaments to make the space feel a bit like it's your own? I wouldn't.  

Then there is the hellish environment that these spaces create.  There's constant noise and activity, and for anybody who has to concentrate to accomplish their job, it's a losing battle.  Out come the noise cancelling headphones - anything to create some kind of barrier between yourself and the chaos around you. 

I don't care what gimmicks you add to make the workplace seem "fun" - whether that's games rooms, cafes, or "privacy booths".  At best you're putting a bandage over the sucking chest wound that is your workspaces suck.

Workers are pushing back because when they work from home, they have some control over their workspace, they have a bit more privacy than sitting at seemingly endless rows of desks with no privacy, and a world of distractions.  

From a worker's perspective, they've already shown that they are perfectly capable of being productive without sitting in the office 8 hours a day - for the last 3 years no less. Workers are asserting a very simple demand for a degree of reasonable autonomy and control over when and how they do their jobs.  They have learned that not only can they do most, if not all of their jobs without "going into the office", they are realizing that their quality of life is better. 

If businesses want people "in the office" then things need to change. Workspaces need to become something people want to go to. They have to be places that people actually want to experience. 

Second, plan on compensating people for the time they spend commuting to / from your workplace.  Yes, that should be paid time - if I have to spend half an hour to an hour each way getting to and from work - especially when the alternative is a few seconds walk down the hall at home, then yes, some compensation is justified.  IMO, we should be insisting that employers pay people for commute time and costs regardless  of the work.

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Bailey’s Baaaack … and He’s Pissed

Apparently, J. Michael Bailey is “back”, and he wants to make himself out as another Jordan Peterson - beset by the onslaught of “woke” attacking his work.  Bailey’s the same researcher who tried to define transgender people based mostly on his interviews of drag queens in a book titled “The Man Who Would Be Queen”.  

Now he’s gotten all hot and bothered about “Rapid Onset Gender Dysphoria” (ROGD).  A “diagnosis” proposed by Lisa Littman, and has about the same amount of intellectual validity as “Autogynephilia” (AGP) - a diagnosis proposed by Ray Blanchard years ago.  (If you’re interested in the background here, I’ve written a few pieces on Bailey’s work here)

His latest piece (it’s an editorial article, not actual academic research) is titled “My Research on Gender Dysphoria Was Censored, But I Won’t Be”.  Apparently, he’s upset that a paper he co-authored was retracted. 

What was that paper about, again, Michael?  ROGD you say?  So that would be the bizarre concept that Lisa Littman dreamed up after talking to a bunch of Gender Critical parents, and not a single transgender youth?  That concept?  

Yup, sure sounds like it.  Littman’s 2018 paper was trash too - for the fundamental reason that it failed to actually explore what was happening with transgender youth, and for massive sampling bias.  What answers did you think you were going to get when the primary avenues of soliciting responses was through web forums full of Gender Critical parents?  

The Littman paper also made the assumption that “social contagion” was a valid construct when talking about gender identity, but never even made so much as an effort to look at it and validate the construct either through other literature, or as part of the research.  No, Littman just assumed it was valid the same way that Blanchard decided that transgender women “get aroused by the idea of having a vagina”, and that’s why they transition. 

Uh - no, Michael - that wasn’t “activist outrage”.  That was plain bad science, and anyone with a reasonable amount of understanding of the fundamentals of study design would pick up on.  It was striking that Littman’s paper was based on information from the parents, and not once did Littman talk to the teens being described.  Further, did Littman go to websites where people were trying to figure out how to support their children? No - she went to some of the most rancid websites on the internet and posted it there.  I can’t imagine how that would turn out (snark).  

I don’t know the full story behind the parting of ways between Littman and Brown University. I can only presume that when actual experts weighed in on the 2018 paper, and Littman’s refusal to do more than publish a minor revision to the title that perhaps things didn’t exactly go in Littman’s favour.  Universities are more than a little sensitive to having their names associated with Junk Science.

Here we also get a hint as to where Bailey is going.  Note the use of the word “progressive community”.  Now, I don’t know exactly what he means here, but it sounds a lot like he’s basically saying “OMG, look what’s happening over there!”, while he tries to claim some moral higher ground.  The problem is that he’s trying to imply some kind of “social contagion” is going on with groups of adolescent girls.  

Now we start getting into the particulars of this latest paper.  We have an “anonymous” author who just happens to have a transgender child that they think is experiencing ROGD.  At that point, didn’t it occur to you Michael that you have all sorts of problems with bias in the fundamental design of the study?  Did it not come to mind that perhaps this was repeating the mistakes that Littman has made in her study? You, of all people, with decades of academic experience should know how to identify flaws in the study design and approach that this person was taking.  

Oh wait - so not only did you repeat the fundamental error of the original Littman study (only talking to parents of transgender youth), you repeated the second error of recruiting only from sources where parents already believed the idea of ROGD?  That doesn’t “limit the research”, it all but invalidates it.  Those are such fundamental flaws that any objective review of the study design should have resulted in it being thrown in the wastebin. 

Which is exactly what other researchers demanded be done a range of concerns:

Here’s a link to the open letter.  Yes, it’s as bad as you might expect at this point, and the authors of the letter point out additional aspects of the “research” that are enormously problematic, not only for the paper itself, but for the general issue of ethics in research.  

Bailey goes on in his tirade to extoll the great wisdom of Ken Zucker, but let’s also remember that he has long acted as a skeptic of transgender youth in particular.  Ultimately, he was pushed out of Toronto’s CAMH gender clinic for using therapeutic strategies that were looking increasingly like conversion therapy techniques.  Zucker unquestionably made significant contributions to research on transgender people - in the 80s and 90s.  That’s a long time ago now.  For the last number of years, he has been part of  an increasingly isolated group that continue to promote constructs like AGP and now ROGD, while being considerably out of step with where the bulk of the literature has been pointing. 

Wrapping up his tirade, Bailey swears that he’s going to launch this huge, long term study.  Until such times as he publishes the study’s design, I’m going to assume he’s going to repeat the same errors.  His past track record doesn’t give me much reason to believe otherwise, and frankly collaborating with both Littman and Zucker on this study is hardly making me optimistic.  

Just to put my $0.02 in on study design, I don’t see one study here, I see a need for several studies that need to be done, and a lot of deep, detailed research in order to make it all fit together. 

First, a study needs to be undertaken to explore the notion of “social contagion” and to validate whether or not it is even applicable to gender identity.  I’ll be quite blunt, as it has been used to this point, the construct comes across as very similar to “tabula rasa” (blank slate) theory which led John Money to advocate that David Reimer be raised as a girl.  The outcome of that experiment was tragic indeed, but it’s also indicative that gender identity is not some easily mutable trait that is going to be influenced by peer pressure in school. Just about every transgender adult’s story seems to back that up - the peer pressure to conform with social expectations was crushing, and still they ended up transitioning. 

Second, once you have some sense that “social contagion” has a reasonable degree of validity, then you can set about designing a study that examines the distinction between “onset” of gender dysphoria (e.g.  when a person starts talking about it) and the actual experience of gender in the individual.  This applies just as much to adults as it does to youth.  Developmental psychology research shows quite clearly that children have a working understanding of gender somewhere between the ages of 3 and 5.  Such a study will help you design tools to assess the experience of the person. 

Third, once you have designed your tools for assessing traits, you will need to execute studies to demonstrate that they have appropriate levels of construct validity (that is to say that they assess what they’re supposed to), and that they are reasonably reliable.  

Then, and only then, do you have the fundamental materials you need to execute your longer term study.  Any reasonable version of such a study will need to:  

Recruit participants broadly. Recruiting participants solely from websites with specific biases isn’t anywhere near acceptable. 

Researchers will need to do more than just talk to the parents of transgender youth.  You MUST talk to the youth directly

Researchers will also need to assess the dynamics within the families, as well as those within the social circles of the youth.  In other words, are the youth reporting what they think they want their parents to hear; are they being given certain messages at home; etc.

The concept of “desistance” is going to come up here.  It will need to be carefully defined for the purposes of the study, because it has been grossly misused in the past, and if not carefully considered will become a serious problem in the analysis of any data gathered. 

If, after all of that analysis, you can find a considerable pattern of “peer influence” resulting in gender dysphoria being expressed, then you might have a credible basis for proposing an explanation like ROGD.  

I do not expect Bailey’s proposed study to be anywhere near this level of complexity and clarity.  He, along with Littman, have already demonstrated that they have an axe to grind.  I fully expect to see a repetition of the same errors that launched so much criticism of Littman’s original paper. 


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