July 31, 2010

Stop Looking At Me!

I just spent an hour or so making dog food for my beast - not because I like handling raw meat so much as I like knowing what my dog is eating. If I don't know what's in there, then there's not much I can do to prevent his getting sick. I can't control what he finds on the trails around our house (he's a dog, after all), but I can see to it that he gets a proper diet to maintain his health.

This is why I find it so strange that the Conservatives decided it was vitally important to do away with the long form census this year. Population information is vital to governing... well, anything, really. I cannot imagine someone trying to run a business without having as much information on their own operations as possible.

Well, I can imagine it, just not for long.

Basic asset management 101. It's not even a case of a business getting information on customers. Everyone in this country is part of the country - we're not apart form it, we are it.

The only defence I've heard on removing the long form from the census was a rather feeble libertarian effort claiming it would reduce the number of government employees because the short form is easier to check. In between claims that the government was going to use their ill-gotten knowledge of how many bathrooms are in my house for their own nefarious (and mysterious) ends, of course. Alas, Industry Minister Clement himself mentioned that the federal government was going to spend $30 million in advertising to encourage people to fill to fill out the new forms.

A slightly more reasonable claim could be that by placing the long form under a different title (the National Household Survey), it no longer becomes mandatory to fill out, letting people relax about the theoretical invasion of privacy the survey involves.

First, about that "invasion of privacy" thing that some folks rail against: Statistics Canada has an excellent reputation around the world for maintaining that privacy. No information is ever rendered down to an individual basis, not for anyone. Even other branches of government can't see individual responses; neither can CSIS, the RCMP, or Revenue Canada. You even have to check a box to say you agree to release your information 92 years from the census date.

Frankly, if you're still around in 92 years (I know I will be), why not brag a little? More seriously, I'm a trivia nerd, so I think it would be interesting to see how people in Canada actually lived during World War I instead of relying just on popular images.

Second, making not filling out the survey punishable by law really does get more people to fill them out - even when breaking that law only involves a minor fine and a reprimand. That "Oh yeah, right!" moment when a reminder is delivered weeks later brings a second wave of responses as folks are goaded into opening the envelopes for the first time.

Third, the whole purpose of gathering information is to make governance possible. For those who say "Why would I want to help them?" ask yourself if you want to live with an educated populace, with well maintained roads, a sufficiently manned police force, and hospitals that can care for the people living there.

It becomes a far more serious issue when not filling out the census is viewed as a political stance: if Canada, many in First Nations communities consider it an act of rebellion, feeling the information gathered is somehow used against them. This led to the very strange situation where the 2008 census numbers were different from the Indian registry, leading to complaints that the information was skewed to show fewer natives were living on reserves. This was after the Akwesasne and Kahnawake tribes refused to participate.

So yes, the numbers were different: tens of thousands of natives refused to take part. So you can see how those two things might be linked.

Still, Tony Clement is standing by his decision to change how the long form census is delivered, and he's been

"[...]actually pleasantly surprised at the support I am getting given the one-sidedness of the mainstream media[...]"

No, really. He's had a few people Twitter him with their support, so all that negativity out there must be the "main stream media". And where have we heard that excuse for failure before...? It looks like the "main stream media" in this case includes the chief economist at the Toronto Dominion Bank, a former clerk of the Privy Council, the CEO of the United Way, the CEO of the Toronto Board of Trade, the president of Environics Analytics, and a dozen and a half other folks who either rely on accurate information or know something about getting it.

I swear the phrase "main stream media" is turning into a dog whistle for people trying to claim popular support for stupid actions. Maybe not always, but it certainly is now.


posted by Thursday at 2:16 pm 0 comments

Adding Gold

One more blog is going on the list at the lower right: Hyperbole and a Half has wonderful writing and disarmingly good illustrations. Allie Brosh is well worth the time, even if you have to wait a few days for a new post.

Put the time to good use by going through her backlog. It'll do you good.


posted by Thursday at 1:48 pm 0 comments

July 30, 2010

When is Racism Not Racism?

When it's not only taken out of context, but the message is actually turned into the exact opposite of what was said. The entire point of Shirley Sherrod's story was that she was able to forgive the very people who had killed, beaten, deprived of rights and freedoms, forced into slums and ignorance, and persecuted in every way members of her own family.

Her father was shot to death by a white man when she was 17, but never served time despite eyewitnesses at the scene. The 6,000 acre communal farm she started in Georgia was opposed by the surrounding farmers, who thought it was a communist camp, but also by the segregationist Governor Lexter Maddox, who ensured not funds were brought into the state for the project. She and her husband lost their farm when they were unable to get Department of Agriculture loans, while white farmers around them had little problem getting the same. Eventually a lawsuit had to be brought against the USDA, and the USDA not only admitted they were in the wrong, but that they were wrong to the tune of nearly $1 billion.

Now, can you think of any reason why she shouldn't harbour a life-long grudge, or distrust, or even an open hatred of white people?

What was used as "evidence" of Ms. Sherrod's inherent racism was a three minute piece of a 50-minute speech where she was describing the fact that she didn't give all the help she should have to a white farmer when he was trying to keep his land. Even then, she took him to a "white lawyer" who only had "a little training" regarding the new chapter 12 bankruptcy laws as they applied to farms.

And that was it. That was the total sum of her supposed racism. Even in this little segment of tape, she alludes to her realizing that what she did was wrong, and later in her speech she discusses how her faith had brought her from a place of hating white people to one of trying to help all the poor. You know, someone who actually thought about "what would Jesus do".

So it has been pointed out, rather forcibly in some quarters, that the person who had put the edited tape on the air was a scumbag who went out of his way to present her as the exact opposite of who she was.

Jeffrey Lord of the American Spectator called Sherrod a liar for describing her relative as "getting lynched" when he was in fact only "beaten to death", and that perhaps she was trying to "add glamour to a family story". No, I'm not kidding.

A bit of social context here: we're not talking about something that happened 100 years ago. All this is within living memory: it took until 1965 before the Jim Crow laws were finally taken off the books in the United States, and Ms. Sherrod was born in 1948.

Think of that. When were you born, or your parents, or your grandparents? Imagine that being not only in your family's history, but having happened to your living relatives. How long would it take you to get over it?

My own grandfather shocked me when he told the man working on his roof to "get rid of that raghead or don't come back" some years ago. He had never used anything like a racist term anywhere near me before, and I had no idea that attitude was sitting under the surface. I live in a logging town, and it's easy to hear derogatory terms in the bars and from school kids, but it never occurred to me that my family would have taken part.

If even my own gentle grandfather had a hatred for other races, I can't imagine what someone trying to live in a place filed with him (and worse) would have been like.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: given the option of living anywhere in time and space, I'll take right here, right now every time.


posted by Thursday at 12:49 pm 0 comments

July 20, 2010

Playing Catch-Up

Oh, damn.

Still waiting for the broken kneecap to heal, and for a very, very good reason: I'm now on the last hole in my belt. This is NOT a good thing.

All my exercise was walking the dog, but my walking has been limited to about 20 minutes at a time at most, and more frequently 10 or 15 minutes. Though a friend of mine advised me not to worry too much about it, as the legendary line goes: "The bigger the cushion, the better the pushin'!"

Unfortunately, the bigger the waist line, the longer the down time, too. The very best reason to lose weight and stay in shape is so you don't end up being winded after foreplay. Why would you want to limit not only what you can do, but how long you can do it for?

In the mean time, I've been spending way too long on the internet, and ended up in an argument about gay rights and whether and why they should be granted. After a few days of little back and forth messaged on a YouTube video (500 characters is really tough to get your point through in), it seems to have boiled down to this (after it was pointed out that there is nothing, and I mean nothing that homosexuals can do that hetros aren't happily doing right this minute):

"Society will never accept gays having full rights because of Gay Pride parades!"

That's paraphrased a little, of course, but that was the message in essence. Which I've certainly heard before, and know it to be a fairly common excuse for withholding rights to minorities. The self-same people will protest that they don't have any problem with gay people, but "why do they have to flaunt their 'otherness' out in the open like that?" The other variant of this excuse is "Why do they bother with that stupid lisp, and that prissy, faggy behaviour? It's all such a stupid act and I hate it! If they didn't behave that way, I'd be fine with them!"

Well, there are reasons.

First off, about the stereotypical "fag" behaviour: why shouldn't some people act like that? Is it seriously any worse than, say, the idiots on Jersey Shore? Or goofy little wiggers? Not really, no. Sorry, but if I had to choose someone to be sterile, it wouldn't be the folks for whom not having kids comes naturally.

It'd be this guy.

But that "fag" behaviour is what those who behave that way are comfortable with. Call it an act if you want to, but it is no more an act than anyone else's behaviour in public. Saying you have nothing against someone, then demanding that they change because you don't want to see them is, well, a bit stupid. Don't you think?

But why the parades? More to the point, why are Gay Pride parades so frequently overtly sexual? Simply put, sexuality is what is used to separate and ostracize a minority, so that is exactly what is being put forward in these parades. That's what the Black Cat Tavern riot was about, and why raids on clubs happen (even in 2010, if you can believe it). Hell, Gay Pride parades came directly from the Stonewall riots (Christopher Street Liberation Day ended up catching on), so it would be simply amazing if there wasn't a sexual element to an event that celebrates a liberation of sexuality.

Still, tell you what: I'll accept that you hate Gay Pride Parades for their displays only if you agree to protest against Hallowe'en and the Folsom Street Fair.


P.S. Oh, yeah... Don't open either of those last two links if you're at A) work or B) your mom's house. Unless she attends the Folsom Street Fair, then I leave it up to you.


posted by Thursday at 4:40 pm 0 comments

July 14, 2010

To the East, to the West...

Just got a note reminding me that the tickets for the 20th "First Annual Ig Nobel Awards" are going on sale August 1st. The Significant Other and I are going to get tickets ASAP, then off we go to New England for the end of September.

Apparently, there's a lot more to do in Boston - in a major university-laden city? Really? - so we're going for a week or so. Maybe as much as 10 days, but we'll have to see what we can afford. The S.O., bring a Boston Bruins fan, is pitching for a pre-season game against Washington before they bugger off to Europe to open the NHL season. Twist my rubber arm!

Alas, after seeing the doctor, it appears my knee is healing right on schedule, which means I won't be able to get my stride back up for a couple more weeks. And I was so hoping for superhuman healing abilities! Ah, well. I'll just have to train up my endurance in way other than walking until then.

I'd love to have a tour guide or two for one/some of those days. Who knows someone in Boston with a handy day off or two?


posted by Thursday at 12:01 pm 0 comments

July 10, 2010

Regulations Galore!

Been talking about a post I wrote from a couple of years back, and the conversation went from quack medical practices to regulation of medicines; it went on long enough that I figure we should bring it to the front page. Here's my reply to a published report by the Fraser Institute that was sent for my edification:

Took a look at the book whose link you sent (thanks for that!), and there are the problems in it that are unfortunately typical of the Fraser Institute:

1) The assumption that market forces are always right, like when on page 11 where the fact that Canadians pay for alternative therapies "proves" that they provide a benefit;

2) That the placebo effect is enough to warrant continued use without government oversight - without considering that proof that the treatment does no harm is something that such oversight necessitates;

3) Reaching a conclusion that brand names would increase and maintain standards to a greater degree because of "competition between certifying organizations" is one hell of a leap of faith: if there are conflicting reports, people tend to choose one and disregard others. This choice is also affected by the advertising done by the competing bodies, meaning whoever spends more wins.

This holds true with the proposed "certifying agencies" replacing licences as well. It would be very easy for such agencies to abuse their powers, as alternative practitioners are VERY reluctant to call out a method that doesn't work, for fear of closer investigation into their own practices.

The Fraser Institute also often (as in this report) makes the assumption that government regulation eliminates competition and societal pressure, which is simply not true. Both of those things are still in place, as can be witnessed by (for instance) the Maple Leaf listeria disaster.

The British Petroleum nightmare going on in the gulf is a clear example of the difference between government and corporate standards: the regulators that were supposed to safeguard not only the environment but also the worker's safety failed miserably because they were influenced by the company (coke and hooker party, anyone?) into relaxing the government regulations until they were at a level the corporation wanted. There is no reason to believe that corporations, without oversight, would do any better, and plenty of reasons to believe they would do worse.

The banking system in the U.S. failed horribly, and are still fighting any kind of oversight, whereas the one in Canada - with some of the strictest regulations in the world - had not a single failure.

The Walkerton tragedy was a direct result of failure by the government to regulate water consumption - the province had slashed more than a third of those people hired to do so from its payroll. Their Drinking Water Surveillance Program was shut down, along with provincial water testing labs, leaving municipalities to use their own budgets or sell off the responsibility. (The UK had privatized water supplies in 1989, and not only did profits increase, but hepatitis A did too by 200% and dysentery by 600%. This is considered a success by unregulated free market supporters.)

So no, I'm not a fan of letting businesses or corporations regulate their own industries without any government oversight, and this Fraser Institute report hasn't convinced me otherwise. Thanks for the link, though!


posted by Thursday at 11:13 am 0 comments