Monday, 10 August 2015

Pilot Episode: Harper Knows Best

The Canadian summer has long been known as our political silly season. Which may explain why Election 42 is proving to be so bizarre already.

"Harper promises to a tax credit for businesses on wages paid to apprentices"
No, not that one.

"Stephen Harper unveils home renovation tax credit"
No, not that one either.

"Stephen Harper’s vow against a Netflix tax"
Almost there!

"Stephen Harper vows to outlaw travel to 'places that are ground zero for terrorist activity'"

There we go!

Before I get into it, I am reminded of the Bullshit Asymmetry Principle and note that it applies here.
I may not be up to the task of achieving the required magnitude to refute Harper's Travel Ban.

To properly deconstruct this, we need to understand the motivation behind the reasoning so far:

1) "[Canadians] are going to terrorist training"
2) "There is no human right to travel and visit ISIS. That is not a human right in this country"
3) "necessary to fight jihadist terrorism"

One thing I've learned about Harper, is that he loves to make sweeping statements and use them as certifiable facts. His statements are like his omnibus legislation. So vast in scope, yet so devoid of rational analysis.

So I am going to attack this from another angle, by analyzing another threat to Canadians the Government likes to warn us about. Organized Crime. Remember when that was the biggest threat we faced?

"it is estimated that organized crime costs Canadians $5 billion every year"
"In 2010, police reported 94 homicides as being gang-related, compared to 72 in 2000"

Islamic Terrorism on Canadian soil has resulted in (arguably at most) 2 deaths and 5 injuries. Source. Costs to society? Can't find any Government numbers but the fight against it has cost us $122 million?

So to summarize: Organized crime costs us 70-90 lives per year and $5 Billion per year. Jihadist Terrorism has cost us 2 lives total and next to no social costs. It is reasonable to conclude we have this terrorism issue beat and need to step up our efforts to fight organized crime. Or at least use the same tools where applicable.

If people visiting Jihadist countries are going for the express purposes of being trained, and we need to stop that, does it not follow that we should stop people from visiting and being funded and trained by organized crime groups? After all, we know who the top 5 organized criminal groups are.

Using Harper's own logic of "There is no human right to travel and visit an organized criminal group" and banning such travel "is necessary to fight the global scourge of organized crime" I await Harper's announcement that travel to Japan, Russia, Italy and Mexico is hereby banned without express permission for legitimate travel.

Have to do what it takes. "There's no more importance than ensuring the safety of Canadians" after all.

Wednesday, 13 May 2015

Mob Justice Rules

It was with some qualms that I joined in the social media hunt to name and shame the men that had verbally harassed CityNews reporter Shauna Hunt. I'm not supportive of the social justice mob and it's desire for vengeance. It's never clear if the mob is interested in punishment or reform.

It was beyond any doubt that what these men had done was reprehensible. But when one was fired from his job, my fears crystallized and came into focus.

Justine Sacco
Adria Richards
Lindsey Stone
Chad Shanks
Alicia Lynch
Matt Bowman
Lawaun Edwards
Sierra Mccurdy
Remington Allen Geisler
Anthony Federico
Shawn Simoes

These are all people that have lost their jobs over some public statement or another. Enough people thought that each one had done something offensive enough to warrant pressuring their employer (overtly or otherwise) into firing them. That is what all these people have in common. One mob or another wanted retribution, and it was delivered.

Even if we grant that some of these actions were so egregious as to justify the loss of employment, it is apparent that it is not true for all of them. And that is the crux of the problem we face. Because if you cannot agree that everyone in that list deserved to lose that job, why do you get to decide that some of them do?

This is the problem with mob justice. There are no rules or controls that can be relied on to apply an equal sense of justice. There are no appeals, no impartial trials, no weighing of the facts or the reliance on precedence. When it comes to our civil and criminal courts, we emphasise due process. For good reason. It is due process that mob justice lacks; and it is a problem and a threat.

It is true that speech is not consequence free, but that does not mean all consequences are appropriate. When seeking justice, society must temper vengeance with reform. But the mob has downloaded that responsibility to those that employ us. Not the most trustworthy allies. If a company is threatened, they will act to protect their brand.

I will repeat myself on this point:

Consider for a moment the repercussions of threatening a company's brand over something an employee says. This notion therefore means that a company must police all employee online communications; whether at work or in private and shutdown any behaviour that threatens the company's reputation. The best defense is a good offense, so every organization should monitor and control what employees are allowed to say or access online while in the office. Not only that, but they probably should put in their employment contracts that employees must allow the company to monitor all personal devices for any activity that could harm the company. This is the logical conclusion. If the mob threatens a company over an employee's actions, then that company has a right to prevent those actions from happening. And before hiring an employee, it is only right and just that all online communications be handed over to be judged by HR for troubling commentary. Why hire potential trouble?
By threatening corporate brands, the mob citizenry is giving the very power to corporations that they most loathe corporations for using. Not only giving them that power, demanding and pleading that corporations take it and use it.

This is a volatile mixture. A mob can decide our fate, and a financially self-interested organisation is the arbiter of that fate. There is no recourse for anyone that has been judged and found wanting.

Just because the mob might be right in a particular case does not mean it is always right. I submit it hasn't been right in the majority of cases it has tried and judged individuals. It cannot be trusted, and it should not be celebrated. We can do better.


Friday, 24 April 2015

Best Tech Support Answer Ever

Back in the mid-nineties I was a Computer Science Co-op student. We are all eager to get out into the work force and find out what "real" IT work was. After our first work semester we returned to class and swapped stories. Of course the most popular stores were about the dumb-ass users we had to support.

This was back in the day of 486 processors, DOS 5.x and Windows 3.1, but the following story still is quite relevant.

Fellow student was working the help-desk and had one user in particular that would complain daily about how slow here computer was. After doing every optimization trick in the book, it still wasn't enough.

So one day he told her "Here's a trick I learned. I don't tell it to everyone, because if you don't do it perfectly it doesn't work. You have to follow these instructions exactly. Take your mouse pointer and put it in the bottom left hand corner of the screen. Go straight up to the top left corner, then to the top right, down to the bottom right and back to the bottom left. Your mouse pointer cannot leave the edge of the screen or this won't work. Do this over and over again until the program loads. You will find it loads a lot faster when you do this trick."

He demonstrated what he meant, and then told her to try it. She studiously applied herself to keeping that pointer moving, and only touching the edge of the screen.

After a week he hadn't heard from her and ran into her in the office

"Thank-you so much for that trick! Ever since I started doing it, I find my computer is much faster!"

Genius. I bow before you.

Monday, 13 April 2015

The Persecution of Idiots

James Lunney: Christianity under siege

"Questioning theory vs. fact is the unpardonable sin for adherents of evolutionism.
Bigotry and intolerance are the trademark of militant atheism and its adherents’ campaign against God. Conrad Black exposed as much in his eloquently written and defended articles recently. As a multi-racial, multicultural, multi-faith society, Canada has been known to a world in conflict as a standard for respect for diversity and inclusion. However, a religious defence of science seems to be the vehicle for the most vitriolic, pejorative, vulgar campaigns of intolerance and ad hominem attacks in Canada today."

Ai-yi-yi-yi! James Lunney, where does one even begin?

Oh yeah.

Let's start with some basics. There is no war on Christianity. There is a war against idiocy trying to masquerade as intelligent debate. In concept, an ideological war on Christianity isn't even possible. Not if such a war is conducted by attacking every single belief (as Lunney is describing). Worldwide there are over 40,000-FORTY THOUSAND- different Christian denominations that all splintered away from each other over some disagreement or another. Ask 40,000 Christians detailed questions about what they believe and you will get 40,000 different answers. Survey how many Christians wince when James Lunney opens his mouth and you'll likely get a very high and statistically significant number.

James Lunney is pre-occupied by "militant atheists" attacking him. What about fellow Christians? Any Christian calling James Lunney an idiot is therefore a self-hating Christian?

Lunney is quite preoccupied with the "Theory of Evolution." He describes it as "losing its grip as biological sciences have outstripped any rational defence of the origins of life or the complexities of the simplest cell ever coming into being by random undirected events or natural processes"

Oh bullshit. That tired old argument. (And what the hell does "the world of the cell was beyond anything Darwin could have imagined" even mean?" If Lunney is proposing that Darwin should have had all of the definitive answers when he developed his theories on evolution he is beyond nuts. What Darwin could or could not have imagined (or even understood) is in no way relevant to the continuing scientific study of evolution. If Darwin had all the answers, it wouldn't be an ongoing field of study!) (I'm going to ignore the WTF? reference to "The Father of Eugenics." Someone else can knock down that particular straw-man.)

I'll let others refute Lunney's complete ignorance of the scientific method, biology, evolution or even logic. Well actually, I'll continue to attack his logic.

For fun let us accept Lunney's contention that life is too complex to evolve without a creator. Why does that prove that Lunney's God is that creator? Where is the proof? I'm fairly certain that followers of other faiths in this world would have trouble with Lunney's assertion that his God created the universe. I haven't seen his argument telling them that they are all wrong. (That would be quite entertaining to witness.)

What Lunney completely fails to understand; if you are going to assail the logic of your opponents, your own logic had better be rock solid. Otherwise you risk looking like an untutored idiot.

Oh wait.

The thing about faith in God is, is it does not need or rely on logic. That's why it is called faith. And this is how Lunney is both correct and wrong at the same time. "The notion that belief in God is incompatible with pursuit of science is a falsehood" is entirely correct. But Lunney is ignoring his own words. I'm going to make it simple for him.

"Evolutionism is based on a false construct from another century; it is as repugnant as any other form of bigotry."

Evolutionism? Bigotry? Look dude, just because you can form sentences stringing together random words, it does not make them true. For instance: "Creationism is based on a rigorous study of all the scientific literature. Its self-evident truth cannot be denied."

Man I cannot tell you how much it hurt to write that. My brain's idiocy callus is not as thick as Lunney's apparently.

Lunney writes like a looney. And I will continue to call him out for it as long as he continues to think he has a valid platform to preach from.

Over to you Dogbert:

Friday, 3 April 2015

Terry Glavin, Full of Shit

I will admit that I do not have a clue how or if we can solve the ISIS/ISIL problem in the Middle East. As passionate as Thomas Mulcair has been, he hasn't convinced me that there is no acceptable military solution available to us. However, I do give him credit for presenting a clear, unambiguous position.

The argument for military intervention. Well....

According to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Canada has deployed forces to Iraq because:

"The highest priority of any government must be protecting its citizens from harm. I believe that Canadians realize that we cannot stand on the sidelines while ISIL commits atrocities in the Middle East and promotes terrorism in Canada and against our allies. We are therefore seeking the support of Canadian parliamentarians for our decision to extend and expand Canada’s military mission, with our allies, to fight Islamic jihadism which threatens national and global security. We intend to continue to degrade and disrupt ISIL as well as provide humanitarian and stabilization support to help alleviate the suffering this terrorist group is inflicting."1

"Our Government believes that we must act to protect Canadians against the threat of terrorism at home and abroad.
As a result of ISIL’s specific threats against Canada and Canadians, our Government has worked closely for the past six months as part of a broad international Coalition, including our closest allies, to help degrade and disrupt ISIL’s ability to inflict harm. While the Coalition has succeeded in stopping ISIL’s territorial spread, the global threat that ISIL poses remains. In particular, we cannot stand on the sidelines while ISIL continues to promote terrorism in Canada as well as against our allies and partners, nor can we allow ISIL to have a safe haven in Syria. That is why I am pleased that the House of Commons has passed a motion supporting the Government’s decision to extend and expand Canada’s military mission against ISIL for up to 12 months."

So according to our esteemed and honourable Prime Minister, ISIL is building up an armada of landing craft and troop transport planes to invade our shores and take over our country. Canadians must be protected from this threat. Yes, yes I jest. But come on. The self-evident total and complete bullshit in these statements does not merit a serious response.

Since the leader of our country cannot be taken seriously in a time of war, we must turn to others in search of justification for our military efforts. Enter Terry Glavin.

How does he justify this action? By relentlessly mocking Thomas Mulcair and the NDP.

I can be persuaded by a well laid out argument. Andrew Coyne, Dan Gardner, Andrew Potter and others are quite good at laying out the foundation of their premise, and layering their supporting arguments to guide you to a clear conclusion. I may disagree with them at times, but to do so requires thought and consideration on my part (even if it only happens inside my head.)

Terry Glavin. Well.

He rants. He rants quite well as a means of expressing his outrage, but that's all it accomplishes. The problem with rants is that they are often an incoherent mess with leaps of logic that rely on spurious correlations and other fallacious methods. I should know, I do it a lot. You read them and you either agree or disagree depending on your point of view before entering the swampy morass of his foam-flecked rages. As a means to convince the undecided? A total failure.

Rants are also hard to pick apart and refute. Because it's so hard to decide where to begin. But I shall try.

Glavin's focus on the NDP's pacifist streak (by selectively rambling all over recent history) is a curious thing. For one, the NDP do not form the Government of Canada (for good or for ill, I leave the reader to decide) and as such are completely unable to dictate foreign or military policy. And two, they are the Opposition. And the job of the Opposition is to oppose. Last I checked Canada has an adversarial type Westminster Parliament. Under such a system, it is the job of the Opposition to hold the Government to account, to challenge every assumption, to question every policy. To present an alternative point of view. Thomas Mulcair and the NDP have been doing a pretty good job on this front. I can quibble with some of the arguments they have chosen to use, but overall they are serving their purpose. To do otherwise subverts their role in our system of Government. They are not the official Cheerleaders. They are the Official Opposition.

In short, Glavin's focus and attack on the NDP is an attack on the fundamental principles of our democracy.

I'm of the firm opinion that journalists and pundits should primarily be holding the Government to account. You know, the people with the actual ability and power to make and execute policy. Especially in times of war. When lives are on the line. (It is perfectly OK to point out when the Opposition makes unreasonable arguments. But that is accomplished with something more than rambling diatribes.)

And this is where the utter bullshit in Glavin's columns starts to smell. Glavin espouses mission goals that are almost entirely absent from Harper's official stance. Glavin talks about saving lives in Iraq and Syria, Harper is "defending Canada." But even if one accepts that Glavin knows the point of the mission better than Harper, he still traps himself with his own logic.

He acknowledges that, the US led mission "in the cause of at least stalling the ISIS rampage, it’s the only thing on offer" which may "save even a few thousand lives"

Does it not make sense that to save a few thousand lives, you need to do more than stall the rampage? Would you not need to end the rampage, and prevent it from restarting at a later date? But that's what the official mission is; "to help degrade and disrupt ISIL’s ability to inflict harm"

Is there not something seriously at odds about an "operation against this genocidal terrorist organization-I emphasize the word genocidal" that has a "middling Canadian Forces role" participating in a "half-baked U.S.-led coalition?"

Sounds like a mission designed to fail to me. And that's what really bothers me about this mission. If something is worth doing, it's worth doing right. And we aren't committed to that. We're committed to doing it in a "half-baked" way. But Harper and his cheerleaders think doing anything is better than doing nothing at all.

That's a strange view of combat. History is littered with half-baked wars and the countless wasted lives expended in these efforts. Enemy combatants rarely leave the battlefield where the vanquished acknowledge the righteousness of the victor's cause. And that's even after a complete military victory. The hatred, recriminations, and sense of victimization can last decades, even centuries. Victory has to be near absolute to ensure the losers are unable to retaliate in any meaningful way. Are we going to have a total victory with a "half-baked" "degrade and disrupt" mission? 

Given the two choices on offer, I'll take peace at any cost over half-assed wars any day of the week.

Sunday, 22 March 2015

It's Not the Cold That Gets You

It's the wind!

March 22,2015. Minus two degrees Celsius and sunny. Feeling pent up and decided to take the dog for a walk. Head out the front door, and it's not too bad. But when I turned the corner and started heading north...

Holy fuck, why does it feel like a Frost Giant is flaying my face with an ice whip? Within steps the bridge of my nose froze and my eyes started watering like I witnessed the death of Gandalf all over again, "Fly! You fool!" West and North, the wind rips and tears at me, turning an outing into a chore. I want nothing more then to turn around (heed Gandalf's advice) and hide in my home until July.

And it's impossible to avoid. One cannot go for a walk, and hope to return home, without facing North or West at some point. You can't walk in a circle only going South and East. And while this past winter has driven this point home stronger than most, this has been a worsening trend we have noticed for the last decade or so.

The wind. Remember calm days and gentle breezes? I think I do. But I'm not so sure any more. 29 days out of 30, there is wind to contend with and plan for. And no we can't get a gentle warm breeze. I think I know where the Arctic Ice Sheet is disappearing to. The North Wind is carrying it south to torture us with. "So it looks sunny and warm out eh? Here's some ice to the face to make you cower and hide from my wrath!"

So am I imagining things? Off to Google I go. Oh what's this?

"The projected results clearly show that Canada could possibly receive more wind gust events late this century than has been historically experienced."
Possible Impacts of Climate Change on Wind Gusts under Downscaled Future Climate Conditions: Updated for Canada. Journal of Climate, Volume 27, Issue 3 (February 2014)

You know what? Time to say "Fuck it" and just build a bunker to live out the rest of my life in. I might know a guy to help me too.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

All About Those Values

"This isn’t about the right to choose a burka over a bikini. It’s about a country’s values." So says National Post columnist Tasha Kheiriddin. This point of view has been expressed by multiple individuals, so it is a worthwhile endeavor to attempt to understand the logic and reasoning behind it.

According to Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his supporters "This is a society that is transparent, open and where people are equal, and I think we find [wearing a niqab] offensive."

This line of reasoning is being used to justify the banning of a woman wearing a veil covering her face while swearing the oath of citizenship. While her face is covered, she is not being transparent and open about her intent to become a Canadian citizen. If we accept that logic, why do we wait until the Oath of Citizenship to enforce this rule? Becoming a Canadian citizen involves multiple steps where the Oath of Citizenship is the last step. If we truly value openness, transparency and honesty, a woman wearing a veil for religious or cultural reasons would be banned from the process entirely. A woman that wears a veil, specifically a niqab, would be doing so at all times as an expression of her culture and/or religion. This part of her identity would be honestly and openly conveyed to Canadian officials at all stages of the citizenship application process. Since she is being open and transparent with us, do we not owe her openness and transparency in return? Or are those values conditional, subject to our whim and only used when convenient? Denying a woman her citizenship at the very end of the process amounts to a cruel joke, perpetrated by the Government of Canada.

The thing about values is, either you believe and hold to them, or you don't.

And that leads to another problem with the values argument. Asking a woman to suspend her values for the time required to take the oath is not consistent with the values requiring her to do so. If Canadian society finds the niqab offensive, it should find it offensive at all times. Allowing a women to wear a niqab anytime except the 15 minutes required to recite an oath is turning this strongly held value of Canadian identity into a value of convenience. If the niqab is truly offensive to Canadian values such that no Canadian citizen would ever accept wearing one, then it should be banned at all times. Banning it for 15 minutes accomplishes nothing.

Correction. Banning it for 15 minutes accomplishes one thing. It degrades and embarrasses the very woman we are trying to free from oppression. If a husband and wife were to take an oath of citizenship where both of them strongly believe women must be veiled in public, the woman would be denied citizenship, but her husband would not. Because a woman expresses her belief that women must be veiled, she is punished for it. But we do not punish those that hold the belief. Even more importantly, we do not punish the misogynistic, paternalistic men that propagate this belief.

Quite frankly, banning veils during the Oath of Citizenship punishes the victim, the very person we are supposedly championing the rights of. If the niqab is so offensive to the Canadian Government that it must act through law, why are we not stripping the citizenship from and deporting the very men that preach, teach, promote, encourage and enforce the wearing of a niqab? Why do we let the offenders in and grant them citizenship, but punish the victim?

I can only conclude that banning women from wearing a veil during the Oath of Citizenship is not about protecting or helping them. It is about appeasing Canadians that don't want to be offended by "others." It is a bandage solution that harms more than it heals, and does nothing to address the root of the problem of misogynistic beliefs.

As Steph C. said on Twitter, "Last I checked, it was the Charter of Rights and Freedoms, not the Charter of Values." This gets to the heart of the matter. The Charter defines everyone's rights, even the rights of people we may see as victims of oppression. We can't stop someone from choosing oppression. What we can do is grant them citizenship and equality before the law, so that they now have the opportunity to throw off that oppression.

If they so choose to do so. Let's give them that opportunity, instead of punishing them. They are oppressed enough, we shouldn't be adding to their burden.