Thursday, July 31, 2008

Potential Light Blogging Ahead...

...As I will be moving into a pimpin' new crib.

In the meantime, enjoy this:

And in the meantime, maybe psychopathic cyberstalker Canadian Cynic can go obsess over someone else.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Barack Obama: Trojan Horse or the Anti-Bush?

A recent report by the Real News network reveals some interesting intellectual conflicts underlying Barack Obama's recent visit to Berlin.

The UK's The Guardian reported that Obama recieved a "rock star welcome" in what one German government employee described as "an anti-Bush rally."

The Guardian reported that Obama recieved the greatest applause when he followed a brief listing of some of the world's pressing problems by asserting that "no one nation, no matter how large or how powerful, can defeat such challenges alone."

Some people have read into that statement a promise of an American return the world of true multilaterialism -- a necessary ingredient if potent internationalism is to blossom.

Yet the Financial Times Deutslachland wrote that the speech was an "ad for the war on terror", and decried that despite being poised to ask the German government to deploy troops in the "dangerous South" of Afghanistan, Obama was being treated "like a teddy bear".

Like most of Obama's message, how one interprets it seems to depend on whether one is predisposed toward hope or pessimism. For hopeful Europeans, Obama represents a new era of cooperation and collaboration between the United States and Europe, and a blissful end to the confrontationalism so often practiced by George W Bush.

But for the pessimistic, such as those at the Berliner Zeitung, Obama represents little more than a trojan horse, smuggling a Bush-esque foreign policy centred around the war on terror under a much more pleasing and inspiring guise.

Like George W Bush, Obama is very aware of his base, and he knows how to speak to them.

But like Bush, many of those who may otherwise be predisposed toward being part of that base have seen their hopes dashed before. Obama's language has an inspirational quality to it, but it's of limited effect on those who have had such dashed hopes turn to cynicism.

Speaking to 200,000 supporters in Berlin is an accomplishment that should not be discounted. But the inherent pessimism slowly bred into the global political system may explain why Obama's European trip has yet to have a significant impact on his polling numbers.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Nine Inch Nails = Outstanding

...So if any creepy cyberstalker types are wondering just what kept me away from my computer?

Now you know.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Zig Heil, herr Stein

Ben Stein's unusual osbsession with Nazis spills the boundaries of Expelled

Ben Stein provoked a great deal of outrage when, in the course of his film Expelled, he attributed the horrors of eugenics to Darwinism.

Even though he took great lengths to add the caveat that Darwinism alone isn't sufficient to lead to full-out Nazism, Stein's envokation of this led some viewers of the film to promptly walk out.

Many people invoked Godwin's Law -- the tenet suggesting that invoking Nazism in the course of debate should be treated as a consession of defeat -- to suggest that Stein had immediately conceded the argument.

In the case of Expelled and the Darwinist principles (even if they are misread and misinterpreted Darwinist principles) at the very heart of eugenics programs -- including the protracted ethnic cleansing undertaken by the Nazis -- these people are wrong. Whether they like it or not, Stein is stating simple historical fact.

Not so much in the course of a recent controversy the now-perpetually-controversial figure has provoked with his comments regarding Barack Obama's planned speech to the Democrat National Convention at Invesco Field in Denver.

"I don't like the idea of Senator Obama giving his acceptance speech in front of 75,000 wildly screaming people. That is not the way we do things in political parties in the United States of America. We have a contained number of people in an arena.

75,000 people in an outdoor sports palace -- well, that's something the Fuhrer would have done.

And I think whoever is advising Senator Obama to do this is bringing up all kinds of very unfortunate images from the past.
Never one to quite be undone, Glenn Beck pitched in with some equally ill-concieved remarks:

"I've been saying that we're headed towards a Mussolini-style presidency forever. ...I mean, it's crazy!"
Of course, for anyone who's bothered paying the slightest bit of attention to the 2008 Presidential Elections -- even for those who haven't -- the differences between Barack Obama and Hitler and Mussolini are so far beyond obvious that they render Stein and Beck's comments nothing short of befuddling.

Some minor similarities are undeniable. Hitler and Mussolini both marketed themselves as visionaries with the courage and intention to drastically transform their countries. Many of Barack Obama's supporters insist the same thing about him.

But the inherent malevolence of Hitler and Mussolini's messages were apparent from the very get-go. Hitler and Mussolini both succeeded because they appealed to the darkest psychological elements of their respective societies. In Hitler's case this was the bitterness provoked by the First World War-ending Versailles treaty coupled with the desperation resulting from severe economic depression.

In Mussolini's case, he appealed to a disturbing lack of confidence in the national character of the Italian state, and a belief that Italians were being left behind in the rush for international prestige.

Obama, meanwhile, has campaigned on a message of hope from the very beginning -- an idea that has slipped by even some of the most astute American conservative commentators. Consider the remarks of National Review editor Jonah Goldberg, again invoking fascism:

"I think one of the things that is decidedly fascistic, or at least just a bad idea, is looking for silver bullets. You know, when Barack Obama campaigns, he's basically saying, 'I'm a silver bullet. I'm going to solve all your problems just by electing me.' FDR, Hitler, all these guys, they basically said, 'All your problems can be solved.'"
Of course, this is an implicitly inaccurate comment. There's little question Goldberg legitimately believes it, but it's still untrue.

Obama's campaign slogan -- "Yes we can" -- emphasizes the Barberian Strong Democratic principle of communal democratic action -- the idea that democracy is built from the citizenry up, not from the government down.

Certainly, Obama argues that electing him would be the first step. But Obama has never really argued that he could single-handedly solve the United States' problems. Rather, he's campaigned on the notion that, with himself as president, Americans could solve many of their problems by working together.

That's a far cry from the authoritarianism that Ben Stein decries in his Glenn Beck comments. He does, however, make on valid point:

"I think he has to recognize some bounds on his own ego. I understand politicians are politicians because they have ego deficit problems and they try to cure them by having lots of worship and adulation and adoration."
Which is certainly fair comment. Certainly, many politicians are drawn to politics in order to resolve their own sense of inadequacy. Indeed, Barack Obama may be one of those individuals.

But in the end, Stein just can't clear that hump of authoritarianism:

"But 75,000 people screaming in an outdoor arena, that's just too much. It's just -- it's scarily authoritarian."
Authoritarian like Hitler and Mussolini. And never mind the fact that Hitler and Mussolini both literally campaigned on a platform of authoritarianism, while Barack Obama has done the exact opposite.

Stein and Beck's Hitler/Mussolini comparisons may be the most resolute invokations of Godwin's law seen in quite a while.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

So Cozy...

Alberta and Saskatchewawn natural bedfellows

When Alberta premier Ed Stelmach and Saskatchewan premier Brad Wall teamed up to oppose a proposed inter-provincial cap-and-trade scheme on greenhouse gas emissions it became apparent that a potent new political coalition had been formed.

The article, written by Murray Mandryk and published in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix and Regina-Leader Post, asks an interesting question: how did Alberta and Saskatchewan become so cozy in the first place?

"Here's one of the more intriguing "chicken or the egg" type of argument you'll hear on coffee row:

"Did this province elect a Saskatchewan Party government because we were already becoming more like Alberta, or has the election of a Saskatchewan Party government made this province more like Alberta?"

Regardless of which side of he debate you support, what's indisputable is the premise is that Saskatchewan has become more like Alberta.
Some residents of Saskatchewan may find the very premise to be alarming. In the same vein as Canadians who cry foul every time Canada inches too close to our southern neighbours for their liking, many of those who feel Saskatchewan's unique character -- as it were -- is threatened by too closely associating with the cowboys west of Lloydminster, they'll insist that too closely associating with Alberta somehow diminishes Saskatchewan.

Of course, there are some traits that Saskatchewan shouldn't be so eager to share with Alberta.

"More like it, mind you. Not exactly alike.

The outcome of elections in Saskatchewan, after all, are still not a foregone conclusion and will remain so for some time. This province also still has significantly deeper agricultural and small-town roots and significantly less urban pull than does Alberta (or any other province, for that matter).
Indeed, democracy in Saskatchewan is much healthier than in Alberta.

During the 2007 provincial election, 76% of eligible voters reported to the polls, compared to the absolutely dismal figure of 41% in Alberta's 2008 election.

Saskatchewan does maintain a largely rural character, but a newfound determination to develop the province's considerable energy resources -- including oil sand reserves that may rival those in Alberta will inevitably change that. The kind of building projects necessary to support such development will require increased manufacturing capacity throughout Saskatchewan, particularly in the urban centers.

"Most significantly, Saskatchewan is the birthplace of the CCF-NDP and its social democratic influence isn't about to disappear anytime soon. Even at one of its historically low ebbs, the NDP still has 20 seats in the legislature and something close to 40 per cent of public support.

But it's also telling that on the very week that the NDP is celebrating the 75th anniversary of the Regina Manifesto, which urged the eradication of capitalism, the most exciting speculation within New Democratic ranks is the possibility of the return of a conservative-minded capitalist such as Dwain Lingenfelter to lead the party.
Certainly, being defeated after 16 years in power must certainly be deflating for the provincial NDP. Likewise, the party's federal prospects in the province are less than encouraging.

"That Saskatchewan's affinity for Alberta actually might have started under an NDP administration is more than a little ironic.

It was under former NDP premier Roy Romanow that deficit control, a curtailing of public investments and even income tax cuts really began. Romanow's successor as NDP leader and premier, Lorne Calvert, extended this agenda with cuts to the province's sales, business and corporate taxes.
Certainly, this would seem ironic if it weren't entirely in line with the political trends of the time.

Consider that Jean Chretien, one considered a stalwart of the liberal wing of the Liberal party, led a government that reduced the country's deficit drastically, and posted some of the only surpluses of the day in the Western World.

Chretien was responding to pressures being exerted upon his government by Preston Manning's Reform party, just as Roy Romanow -- and Lorne Calvert after him -- were responding to pressure being exerted by the upstart Saskatchewan party.

"This change under NDP governance happened at the same time that Saskatchewan's economic interests became more closely tied to the oil economy. The prospect of oil at nearly $100 a barrel was something that even an NDP government from this province could share eagerly with the Progressive Conservative government in Alberta.

It can be argued that Saskatchewan grew that much closer to Alberta with each dollar that a barrel of oil increased in price over the past four years. What's been bad for everyone else's economy has been great for ours, especially since the Saskatchewan Party's election win last November that has coincided with the price hike in a barrel of oil by $50.
It should be considered only natural that Saskatchewan and Alberta would grow closer considering the number of interests they hold in common. Both economies have constantly strengthened with the increasing value of oil and gas. Thus, as goes oil and gas will go the economies of Alberta and Saskatchewan -- although with some creative government and appropriate investment, this need not always be so -- and as goes the economy of Alberta or Saskatchewan will almost inevitably go the other.

"That said, Saskatchewan and Alberta today appear to be as closely bonded by political ties as economic ones. At least that's what some recent developments suggest.

The first ministers meeting in Quebec last week, where Premier Brad Wall and Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach found themselves at odds with their counterparts who were promoting cap-and-trade system on carbon emissions, was only the latest evidence of this emerging alliance.

We saw pretty much the same reaction from the two provinces to federal Liberal Leader Stephane Dion' Green Shift strategy, which takes square aim at Alberta and Saskatchewan's energy resources.

Stuck in the same foxhole and dodging bullets from eastern critics eager to portray Alberta and Saskatchewan as greedy, selfish and environmentally irresponsible, it's only natural that the two provinces would become that much closer.

That said, it's highly unlikely that an NDP government in Saskatchewan would have jumped into that same foxhole on the Green Shift or perhaps even on a cap-and-trade scheme.
Of course not.

It's easy to get along with your neighbours when you see eye-to-eye. And it would simply be less than reasonable to expect a Progressive Conservative government -- particularly one led by an individual like Ralph Klein -- to see eye-to-eye with an NDP government.

Likewise, there's nothing like an external threat -- say, that posed by a federal party with a history of confiscatory tax policies and a habit of breaking its promises -- to bring two provinces even closer together.

"The latest evidence of the bi-provincial political link came Monday with the Saskatchewan Party government signing on to Pacific North West Economic Region (PNWER) -- something the New Democrats of this province not only wouldn't do but would vigorously oppose, because they see it as precursor to joining the Trade and Investment Mobility Agreement reached by Alberta and British Columbia."
Then again, considering the vehemence of the NDP's opposition to NAFTA, it should be considered unsurprising that the NDP would decline to join an organization such as PNWER.

It's also less than surprising that a Saskatchewan party government -- considering that the Saskatchewan party was founded out of a coalition Progressive Conservatives and conservative-minded Liberals -- would be so eager to join.

It's also less than surprising that Alberta -- looking for any dance partner it can find in an effort to resist a potential replay of the infamous National Energy Policy -- would be so eager to get Saskatchewan on board.

"Lest there be any doubt about this newfound closeness, consider what deputy Alberta premier Ron Stevens said about sponsoring Saskatchewan's application to join the private-sector organization his province helped to create:

"I can tell you, as a neighbouring sister province, (Alberta has) seen under Premier Wall a change in attitude," Stevens said during Monday's PNWER press conference.

"The province now has a outward looking, engaging, active attitude and I think that Saskatchewan is going to be a robust, full member of this organization. We are all going to be beneficiaries of that."

Maybe the close bond with Alberta wasn't forged quite overnight. But make no mistake that Alberta and Saskatchewan have become closer than they've been in decades.
Certainly, Alberta and Saskatchewan have grown closer -- more than simply economically or politically.

Numerous residents of either province have migrated to the other over the past numerous years. In particular, there has been a strong trend of Albertans moving to Saskatchewan. And anywhere Albertans are moving in such numbers is almost inevitably due for a conservative resurgence.

In other words, it's no surprise that Alberta and Saskatchewan have become so cozy. Furthermore, it's about time.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Richard Dawkins Far From a Paragon of Reason

The Enemies of Reason bumps against numerous shortages of reason

Richard Dawkins has unquestionably become the growing atheist movement's resident heavyweight.

Whenever asked, he'll be the first to insist that atheism is the natural handmaiden of scientific rationalism, and insist that the only way for such rationalism to ultimately endure is for its alternatives -- notably, religion and spirituality -- to be discredited and, ultimately, destroyed.

One would be tempted to dismiss this as hysteria unless one of Dawkins' closest collaborators, "EZ" PZ Meyers, hadn't said so much himself.

However, if Dawkins and his cohorts are really so concerned with preserving rationalism and reason, one would expect that they would strictly impose themselves within the limits of these concepts.

In the hysterically titled The Enemies of Reason, a Dawkins-produced documentary aired by the BBC, Dawkins proves himself to fall far short of that.

In the first part of the two-part documentary, "Slaves to Superstition", Dawkins emerges as a curmudgeony, cynical individual prone to hyperbole.

"Science has sent orbiters to Neptune, erradicated smallpox and created a supercomputer that can do 69 trillion calculations per second," says Richard Dawkins during the opening of his television documentary, The Enemies of Reason.

"Science frees us from superstition and dogma," he adds. "And allows us to base our knowledge on evidence."

Dawkins' thesis on religion in his film becomes immediately apparent -- religion makes people small-minded and irrational, and poses a threat to the world's ability to govern itself according to reason.

Yet Dawkins indulges his own irrationality and small-mindedness at length throughout his film -- rarely as cogently as within the opening 60 seconds.

"There are two ways of looking at the world," he insists. "Through faith and superstition or through the rigours of logic, observation and evidence -- through reason."

Reason is threatened by an "epidemic of irrational thinking," he insists. Religion "impoverishes our culture," he announces. "New age gurus exhort us to run away from reality," he laments.

To Dawkins, religion is more than simply a means for individuals to seek answers to questions that science can't answer, it's some sort of insidious threat to civilization itself.

"As a scientist, I don't think our indulgence of irrational superstition is harmless," he says. "I believe it profoundly undermines civilization."

"We live in dangerous times when superstition is gaining ground and science is under attack," Dawkins muses. "In this program I want to take on the enemies of reason."

Apparently, in Dawkins' mind, science is at risk of being subjected to another holy inquisition such as that inflicted upon Gallileo. But instead of resisting the spectre of dogmatic intolerance wholesale, Dawkins' solution seems to be to unleash an inquisition on religion instead.

"Increased life expectancy, health and leisure provided by modern medicine and industrial technology have given more people more time than ever before to educate themselves, express their creativity and ponder existence."

People expressing themselves and pondering existence are both pursuits that Dawkins seems fine with -- he just wishes people would restrain themselves within the means of which he personally approves.

"Yet into this better world that reason has built, primitive darkness is coming back," Dawkins laments. "A disturbing pagan mix of superstitions."

Dawkins first takes aim at astrology, trying to draw as close a comparison between it and racism as he can manage. "Amusingly, it falls afoul of our modern taboo against lazy stereotyping," he insists. "How would we react if a newspaper published a daily oolumn that read something like this: 'Germans - It is in your nature to be hardworking and methodical, which should serve you well at work today. In your personal relationships, especially this evening, you'll need to curb your natural tendency obey orders. Chinese - Inscrutibility has many advantages but it may be your undoing today. British - Your stiff upper lip may serve you well in business dealings, but try to relax and let yourself go in your social life'. And so on through 12 national stereotypes. Of course, the astrology columns aren't as offensive as that, but we should ask ourselves exactly where the difference lies."

The fact that racism divides people based on immediately apparent physical and cultural characteristics - skin colour, language, etc -- and astrology practices divides people more arbitrarily is obviously among the chief differences between astrology and racism, as is the fact that astrology divides people fairly evenly across (not amongst) such racial and cultural divides.

In other words, there's a world of difference between astrology and racism. Neither fall within the narrow conflines of what Dawkins would consider to be "rational" or "reasonable".

From astrology (Dawkins notes that, surprise surprise, he prefers astronomy), Dawkins moves on to belief in the paranormal -- in particular, psychics.

Once again, Dawkins is picking an easy target. The revelation of JoJo Psychic Alliance's Miss Cleo as a complete fraud served to largely discredit the psychic community.

But Dawkins makes no mention of Parapsychology, a scientific (probably better described as pseudo-scientific) field in which researchers attempt to apply the scientific method to the paranormal in an attempt to explain it, most often with mixed results. They often study psychic phenomenae.

It should be of little surprise to anyone that a scientific field would emerge to stupiy phenomenae that conventional science has all but abandoned, and perhaps for good reason -- science seems to lack the tools necessary to explain them.

In the case of psychics, Dawkins jumps on a theory offered up by skeptic illusionist Darren Brown: cold reading. Cold reading, Brown insists, is basically a glorified method of word association in which various words are offered up and subjects supply the meaning on their own.

Yet cold reading doesn't explain how an individual such as Craig Hamilton Parker could "cold read" such specific details about such specific people.

For skeptics, however, there is a far superior method of debunking many psychics -- such as the case of Peter Popoff, who ran a similar outfit, yet was revealled to be "reading" people through FM radio transmissions to a headset. Various audience members were revealled to be "cased" before hand.

As it turns out, most of Craig Hamilton Parker's congregation are regulars. This alone explains his ability to percieve details about individual members as if they have been delivered from beyond the grave. In other words, the far more rational explanation of familiarity and (perhaps even) research rather than obscure psychological trickery.

Dawkins' questions about the pyschological impact of percieved contact with the dead are also entirely legitimate -- questions that should be asked, and questions that Parker himself should certainly feel obligated to answer.

Parker insists that he's trying to help others -- and he may even believe he is -- but that doesn't change the legitimacy of Dawkins' concerns.

Dawkins then turns his attention to, of all things, dowsing -- the practice of trying to find water using sticks.

Dawkins blames time-old notions of animism -- the belief that everything existing in the world possesses some spiritual nature -- for what he dismisses as -- admittedly, because they so often are -- irrational thought.

In particular, Dawkins notes the tale of the Persian king Xerxes, who once ordered the ocean punished for destroying a bridge he had built. The belief that the ocean was a "malevolent force", Dawkins views as irrational.

Of course, Dawkins is overlooking some realities of the times in which these beliefs were widely held -- times in which many people who travelled by sea never returned alive, if they ever returned at all. The belief that the sea is malevolent could have been treated as a parable for the fact that the sea has, historically, been very very dangerous for those who dared embark upon it.

Dawkins next turns his attention toward gamblers.

He insists slot machines -- "one-armed bandits" as he describes them in the popular manner -- dispense prizes randomly.

He notes that many gamblers have their own particular routines they like to engage in, and then asks if such superstitious behaviour is the result of human evolution. He suggests that quaint notions of luck are actually the result of biological processes that help living creatures judge situations statistically in order to make decisions that help optimize survival.

Dawkins argues that supersition is little more than the fallacious side of a pattern-seeking tendency of animal minds: finding a pattern where none exists.

But for Dawkins to choose electronic gambling machines -- Video Lottery Terminals as they're known in Canada -- as his example of this is, in itself, a folly. First off, these machines don't dispense prizes randomly. They're programmed in order to dispense prizes in a manner that optimizes profit. Furthermore, there is no such thing as a random number within a computer -- only a calculated number deliberately computed to resemble randomness as much as possible.

Nor is there really any such thing as randomness in nature. The governing laws of nature -- physics, thermodynamics, biology, etcetera -- may often collude in such a incomprehensible manner as to appear random, but there is no such thing as true randomness. Thus the suggested animal instict to search for discernable patterns.

When famed psychologist BF Skinner introduced such randomness into an experiment involving pigeons, he witnessed them exhibiting superstitious behaviour -- attempting to influence patterns with "false positives" that they had percieved to influence the "random" distribution of their food.

Dawkins attributes it to a human desire to read meaning into everything -- "faces in toasted cheese" and "fortunes in tea leaves".

Of course, meaning will always remain subjective. Dawkins attributes it to a desire for an organizing force -- yet the human brain itself is an organizing force. The human brain absorbs stimulus from its environment, then natural processes within the brain manage these stimuli to a tolerable level, effectively ignoring any stimulus these processes have been conditioned to treat as immaterial or unimportant.

In other words, there are things going on around the human brain that the conscious mind never recognizes.

An obvious difference between Dawkins and the numerous "believers" he examines throughout Enemies of Reason seems to emerge: simply, that these processes of his brain have been conditioned in order to ignore stimuli that others do not, while others' brains have been conditioned in order to ignore stimuli that he does not.

One could hypothesize at length about differences between individuals like Dawkins and the believers at a fundamental neuropsycholigical level.

Once these differences are recognized, one conclusion becomes unignorable: that Dawkins' mind has reached different subjective conclusions about the nature of the world around us using different information.

It's well-known that Dawkins prefers his own method of attaching meaning to the world around him: science. But it's in this vein that a strong case can be made for at least one alternative: spirituality.

Spiritualists actually come in great variety. Dawkins turns his attention to Satish Kumar, who argues that everything in the world has both physical and spiritual properties.

Without giving Kumar's views any more than a cursory examination, Dawkins dismisses it as "fabricated meaning".

"Science and rationality are often accused of having a cold, bleak outlook,"Dawkins muses. "But why is it bleak to face up to the evidence of what we know?"

In the perception of those such as Kumar, Hamilton Parker and others such as Ben Stein, the answer to this question is very simple: because it discounts difficult questions about what we don't know. Questions of meaning and purpose, which often science will not even begin to explore.

Science is under attack, Dawkins insists. Yet Dawkins and his compatriots are the ones who have professed that they will eliminate religion. It would seem that religion is what is really under attack.

Of course, it hasn't always been this way. When Copernicus questioned the Heliocentric view of the Catholic Church, he was punished severely even after he recanted his view -- which turned out to be demonstrably correct.

There is little question that scientists were targeted by the agents of the Church -- both within the formal structure of the Inquisition, and under other, more informal guises.

But as the formal onslaught of the church against science has effectively subsided -- scientists are no longer imprisoned for their work -- Dawkins seems to believe that the time has come for the exact same evils to be turned upon religion: an inquisition of science against religion.

Individuals such as Michael Onfray have gone so far as to promise a "final battle" between religion and atheism.

For Dawkins, however, the battle is not against religion alone. He also blames postmodernism for allowing alternative worldviews to be treated with respect -- respect that he himself has proven unwilling to afford.

Yet the critiques postmodernism offers to science are entirely benign questions -- questions that, if answered, would strengthen science's claims to objective truth, rather than weaken them.

"Reason has built the modern world" Dawkins insists.

Certainly so. But reason has not built the modern world alone. Religious and spiritual movements have been alongside science all along, often acting as philosophical, moral and spiritual guides to the world. Religious and spiritual movements have provided key cultural memes around which modern societies have been built.

In his effort to enforce his strict views of scientific rationality upon others, Richard Dawkins has fallen far short of the paragon of reason he often purports himself to be.

Calgary Mayor to Aryan Guard: Fuck Off

There's a difference between being "proud to be white" and being racist

Calgary Mayor Dave Bronconnier has a message for Calgary's Aryan Guard: Fuck off. And don't let the door hit you on the way out.

"This is certainly something that we don't support. This is, I think, the wrong move, of trying to take a supremacist organization and trying to encourage people, with money, to join their organization," Bronconnier announced. "I find it distasteful."

This is in response to a "come one, come all -- we'll even pay you" offer submitted by the Calgary white supremacist group to pay the damage deposit on properties rented by any white supremacists willing to relocate to Calgary.

"The Aryan Guard is always seeking new brothers and sisters, if you are interested in relocating to our Calgary area, we will pay the damage deposit for your residence," wrote "Pitbull-AG" on Stormfront, a white supremacist website.

This is only the most recent bold move by this group. In March, 30 members of the Aryan Guard staged a march in downtown Calgary and were promptly out-protested by 150 anti-racist demonstrators.

"We're just proud to be white, that's all. Why can't we be proud to be white?" asked one unidentified member of the Aryan Guard.

Of course, there's a difference between being "proud to be white" and nonsense like this, as quoted from the Aryan Guard's "88 precepts":

"21. People who allow others not of their race to live among them will perish, because the inevitable result of a racial integration is racial inter-breeding which destroys the characteristics and existence of a race. Forced integration is deliberate and malicious genocide, particularly for a People like the White race, who are now a small minority in the world."
There's a difference between being "proud to be white" and teaching people they cannot live beside a family of another racial group without becoming a threat to their own "race".

(On top of that, those who choose to marry and raise children with people of other racial/ethnic groups are perfectly entitled to make that choice.)

"24. No race of People can indefinitely continue their existence without territorial imperatives in which to propagate, protect, and promote their own kind."
There's a difference between being "proud to be white" and insisting on having the right to racially dominate any geographic space.

"27. It is not constructive to hate those of other races, or even those of mixed races. But a separation must be maintained for the survival of one's own race. One must, however, hate with a pure and perfect hatred those of one's own race who commit treason against one's own kind and against the nations of one's own kind. One must hate with a perfect hatred all those People or practices which destroy one's People, one's culture, or the racial exclusiveness of one's territorial imperative."
There's a difference between being "proud to be white" and accusing anyone who doesn't share the Aryan Guard's narrow worldview of being "race traitors".

Many commentators have noted that the fact that the Aryan Guard seems to have to pay existing racists to move to Calgary is encouraging -- it means their local recruitment must be less than brisk.

Of course, this is nothing new. The Calgary-based Final Solution Skinheads disbanded years and years ago. And no cultural movement that loses touch with its youth can sustain itself.

Unfortunately, some white supremacists seem to be interested in accepting the offer -- a prospect that has some Calgarians worried.

"[It] makes me sick," says Calgary Alderman Ric McIver. "We can't stop people from moving here, but we can make sure that when they do, they know this isn't a city that tolerates hate crimes."

Hopefully, Calgarians from all walks of life, of all racial or ethnic backgrounds and of all political stripes, will come together to insure they recieve a rather chilly welcome.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Stephen Harper at the Fulcrum of Canadian History

The 1995 "Sovereignty Association" referendum marked a significant turning point in Canadian history.

There had always been anxiety concerning whether or not Canada would survive.

Upon Confederation in 1867, two overwhelming anxieties predominated: the fear of civil war -- such as that which had just embroiled the United States -- and the fear of the United States itself, and its expressed ideology of manifest destiny. These two anxieties pushed Canadian politics in two directions: the accomodation, management, and containment of regional conflagurations, and a race westward to incorporate British Columbia, Rupert's Land and the Northwest Territories into Confederation.

Once Canada as we know it was territorially secure, economics became the primary source of this anxiety. Reciprocity and its not-so-distant cousin, Free Trade, effectively became political footballs kicked back and forth by the Conservative and Liberal parties, as each agonized over the emerging behemoth to the south.

Canadians across Canada clung to Britain in order to stave off the pressures to become too closely aligned with the United States. Even those (notably Quebecois) politicians who, like Wilfred Laurier and Henri Bourassa, sought to eke out and preserve as much independence as possible for Canada embraced Britain wholeheartedly, and considered themselves British subjects.

While occasional internal conflagurations -- such as the Riel rebellion, naval controversy, and conscription crisis (one and two) often threatened to grow into broader threats to national unity, an overwhelming focus on external threats to Canadian unity is hard to overlook.

These conflicts were not only partisan in nature, but also pan-partisan. Factions led by Walter Gordon (nationalist) and Mitchell Sharp (realist) would face off over economic nationalism within the Liberal party (with future Prime Minister Jean Chretien coming to favour the Sharp camp). David Orchard would lead a small but determined rebellion within the Mulroney-era Progressive Conservative party over both the Canada-US Free Trade agreement and the broader North American Free Trade Agreement.

Meanwhile, in Quebec, something was bubbling. It had exploded twice before, with terroristic fury -- during the 1970 October crisis -- and impotence -- during the 1980 Quebec sovereignty referendum when the federalist "non" side defeated the sovereigntist "oui" side with nearly 60% of the vote.

Pierre Trudeau went so far as to declare Quebec separatism officially "dead". And while Brian Mulroney -- likely as a virtue of his relationship with future Bloc Quebecois and Parti Quebecois leader Lucien Bouchard -- surely percieved enough of a threat from Quebec separatism to attempt his Meech Lake and Charlottetown constitutional efforts, one could almost forgive Trudeau for believing separatism in Quebec decisively defeated.

One must say "almost" because in order to hold this belief, Trudeau would have had to overlook the 1981 reelection of the Rene Levesque PQ with an additional nine seats in the National Assembly and an additional 8% of the popular vote.

In 1985, the PQ would be defeated by the Robert Bourassa-led Liberal party. Daniel Johnson Jr would take over from the retiring Bourassa in 1994 and would lead his party to defeat less than a year later, when Jacques Parizeau led the PQ back into power, and eventually within half a percentile of "sovereignty association".

Doubtlessly, there were numerous historical grievances that led to this stunning reversal of the sovereingtist movement's fortunes -- the PQ had elected only 29 members in the 1989 election, but returned with 77 in 1994. The largest of which was almost certainly the collapse of the Meech Lake Accord.

Quebec's disillusionment over the rejection of Meech Lake even resulted in a wholesale rejection of the Charlottetown Accord in Quebec, where 56.7% voted against it in the 1992 referendum on the matter -- a rejection second only to the 60% who voted "no" in Alberta.

Beyond a shadow of doubt, the October 30, 1995 Referendum is the fulcrum of Canadian history -- the definitive sign that the greatest threat to Canada's survival will emerge not from outside the country, but from within.

When a country so narrowly avoids being torn apart from within, it leads people to question what could be so fundamentally wrong at the very foundations of that country that its own citizens would so nearly destroy it.

In the case of Canada, the conventional explanation is basically that of a French Canadian -- more specifically, Quebecois -- nationalism that feels so thwarted that it must collapse the country in order to avenge a centuries-passed conquest.

But upon watching the CBC's referendum-night panel one may wonder if perhaps Stephen Harper's explanation may be the most cogent:

"What has to happen, what people have to do tomorrow is -- and I think a lot of people will want to do it in Quebec and elsewhere -- is pressure their governments to govern and get on with addressing their practical, economic, fiscal and social concerns.

Tonight there's been all this attention to the federal government -- what's the federal government going to do? But one of the big questions is: what is the Quebec government going to do? It has used the last two years to prepare for this vote.

Now, is it going to get on with governing itself and improving the lives of the province of Quebec?

There is a tremendous healing that has to be done. But frankly there's a lot of people who have to climb down off their grand visions and start addressing some real concerns because I think people are more sick of that than anything.
As one examines Canadian history, it becomes apparent that Canada is a country that was built upon "grand visions".

The founder of the country, sir John A MacDonald, had a grand vision of a country stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. John Diefenbaker had a grand vision of a more equal federation. Lester Pearson imagined Canada leading on the international stage. Pierre Trudeau had a grand (if vague) vision of a "just society".

Perhaps more than anything else, however, the 1995 referendum result was born out of three visions: Trudeau's vision of a repatriated Constitution (with, conveniently, his own signature adorning it), Mulroney's failed vision of himself as the saviour of Canada via Constitutional reform and the combined visions of Rene Levesque, Jacques Parizeau and Lucien Bouchard of a sovereign Quebec -- one that so nearly came to pass.

Of course, one cannot discount the roll of history in the matter either: the resurgence of Quebecois nationalism and the construction of a sovereigntist movement intersected dramatically with the de-colonization of Africa and the various parts of Asia that had had been incorporated within the British, French and other European empires. The ideas of national self-determination that underscored de-colonization resonated dramatically within Quebecois culture.

The post-1990 strengthening of the Quebecois sovereigntist movement also intersected dramatically with the end of the cold war. As Adam Curtis notes in The Power of Nightmares, the end of the Cold War outdated traditional ideologies, leaving many people in search of alternatives.

In 1981, the drastic post-referendum strengthening of the Parti Quebecois was aided in part by the utter collapse of the Union Nationale, a party that under long-time leader Maurice Duplessis had justified its often-authoritarian streak under the guise of fighting communism.

And while the Berlin wall would not fall for another eight years, many around the world were already smelling the stench of death on the Soviet regime providing the backbone for Eastern European communism.

The strong nationalist elements of the Union Nationale would also be set free by the impending end of the Cold War, and as the nationalists within the Union Nationale felt less threatened by communism, they turned their attentions to Daniel Johnson Sr's call for "Equalite ou Independance", to the direct benefit of the Parti Quebecois.

In time, Separatism became an ideology that appealed to many of those witnessing the end of the threat Maurice Duplessis had once used to maintain control over the province. What many Quebeckers viewed as a rebuked attempt to attain equality turned them instead to seek independance.

It became a new "grand vision" to replace the old vision that had been pushed into obselescence. For those in search of such a vision -- those dissatisfied with the emerging model of the politician as a manager of public affairs -- it clearly became rather attractive, at least in the short term.

The memory of how close Canada came to being torn apart on October 30, 1995 will remain with Canadians for a long time. So long as their remains a Bloc Quebecois or Parti Quebecois to pursue the separatist cause -- whether under the guise of "sovereignty association" or more honest terms -- the fear that we could lose our country will always remain.

It may not be enough for federal politicians to simply tend to the affairs of the country and allow the matter of national unity to tend to itself. But Stephen Harper was right to emphasize the risk of focusing too much on grand visions, and too little on the business of running the country.

A vision of a united Canada will always remain necessary to stave off the threat of Quebecois separatism. But we must always remember there are risks that come with trying to implement such a grand vision.

In 1995, we learned that the hard way.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

What Will They Do If He Stays the Course?

"Peace" movement counting on Barack Obama to curb War on Terror

During his visit to Afghanistan, Democrat presidential nominee Barack Obama has promised Afghan presiden Hammad Karzai that he will fight terrorism "with vigour".

In fact, Obama promised to undertake a complete approach to Afghanistan.

"Obama promised us that if he becomes a president in the future, he will support and help Afghanistan not only in its security sector but also in reconstruction, development and economic sector," said Agha Sherzai, the former governor of Khandahar.

Obama has enjoyed great praise from numerous portions of the anti-war movement as well as Iraqi politicians over his plans to withdraw from Iraq.

But in terms of the Afghanistan conflict, one can rest assured that the so-called peace movement must consider Obama way off the reservation.

Obama has committed himself to the Afghanistan conflict in a very encouraging manner, suggesting commit up to 10,000 more troops to Afghanistan, as well as allowing US forces to pursue insurgent fighters into Pakistan if necessary.

In particular, the Canadian "peace" movement must feel a certain twinge of betrayal. They had to have been counting on Obama to undermine the War in Afghanistan by withdrawing American troops from a conflict that, all too often, they can't tell apart from Iraq.

Some have already begun to target Obama, denouncing his "right-ward" "imperialist" turn.

But for those still clinging to Obama as their great hope for an anti-war, pacifist foreign policy, one has to wonder: precisely what will they do if he stays the course in Afghanistan?

Of course, the abject irony of the so-called "peace" movement advocating foreign policy stances that would -- and have proben to be -- detrimental to global peace and security, has already been covered at length.

There's no question that the peace movement will need another messiah. Considering the ultimate political fate of their previous anti-war messiah, Jimmy Carter, it becomes apparent they'll be waiting a long time yet.

To make matters worse, the alternative presidential candidate -- Republican John McCain -- is supportive not only of the war in Afghanistan, but also the war in Iraq. Evidently, the alternative to Obama is no better for the "peace" movement, and a great deal worse. There is, of course, always Ralph Nader, but that's a slim hope at best.

The "peace" movement may not like it, but it seems that realism will continue to prevail in foreign policy.

Smarter Than You, But Slower On the Uptake

Coming to us via Ezra Levant is the tale of Richard Dawkins and "Beware the Believers", a hilarous YouTube send-up of the top atheist heavyweight.

"If anyone can understand a single word of this, don't bother to translate, just tell me whose side it's on. I get the feeling (same with South Park) that there are people out there who assume that something that is obviously MEANT to be funny therefore must BE funny, and they immediately shower it with accolades such as "Wow", "Hilarious", "Awesome" and, most side-splitting of all, "LOL"."
Which is almost ironic: in a video that mercilessly lampoons Dawkins' arrogance, anti-religious zealotry and polished abrasiveness all that Dawkins is concerned about is "whose side it's on".

For someone as allegedly brilliant as Richard Dawkins, it should embarrassing to be that parochially slow on the uptake.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Thank God He's a Fictional Character

Ideology handcuffs psychology, criminal justice

What is almost certainly the most anticipated movie of the past three years opened in theatres world wide yesterday, and has left audiences absolutely stunned.

Audiences turned out in record numbers yesterday to see the superhero opus.

What has people talking most is the beyond spectacular performance turned in by Heath Ledger as the Clown Prince of Crime, the Joker. Ledger's take on the villain is unsettling on a deep psychological level, as he takes the character deeper than he's ever been taken before, on the silver screen or off.

Ledger's Joker is a cold, calculating, sadistic, self-styled anarchist determined to show all the "planners" of Gotham -- from District Attorney Harvey Dent (Aaron Eckhart) to the city's "silent protector" himself, Batman (Christian Bale) -- how futile their efforts really are.

Which is, in a sense, ironic. The film opens with a bank heist so meticulously planned that the Joker is ultimately able to blend in with rush hour traffic in a manner that renders him absolutely untracable (specific details withheld for obvious reasons).

The Joker that emerges is the most realistic version of the character offered: an individual carrying psychological trauma embedded so deeply in his personality that he is willing to do absolutely anything, and feels absolutely no remorse.

Human language has a word for such individuals: we call them psychopaths. It should then be interesting to note that our criminal justice system has no such word.

In 1980, University of British Columbia psychologist Bob Hare developed a diagnostic tool known as the Psychopathy Checklist. Five years later it would be revised into the PCL-R.

Upon being presented with the PCL-R, one of the first things Corrections Canada did was shelve it. It was deemed politically incorrect to suggest that any criminal should be considered beyond rehabilitation. It offended the sensibilities of the authorities of the day to suggest that an individual could be considered irredeemable, and it still does.

In other words, if an individual like Heath Ledger's Joker -- a psychopathic criminal with an extreme gift for planning and a predisposition toward terrorist tactics -- ever emerged in Canadian society, our law enforcement and correctional systems would be utterly handcuffed.

On this note, two caveats must be affixed: first off, the character portrayed by Ledger must be treated as hyperbolic beyond all credulity. Secondly, Hare notes that the vast majority of psychopaths are what he terms "subclinical" psychopaths -- an individual who leaves behind them a trail of abuse and personal destruction, but who acts almost entirely within the law -- even if only barely.

As such, the PCL-R would not only provide a useful tool for law enforcement and corrections, but also for family therapists and child protective services -- if only the political will existed to actually make use of it.

There is, of course, a dark flip side to the PCL-R. In many cases -- particularly in the United States -- the PCL-R has been combined with a myriad of political values in order to render an assessment of psychopathy where one would otherwise be unsuitable.

This is a reality that Hare has long realized, and has spurred him to spend his retirement years travelling to various conferences -- on topics ranging from psychology to law enforcement -- to clarif the purposes of the PCL-R. "I'm protecting it from erosion, from distortion. It could easily be compromised," Hare says.

Which is important to remember. Any diagnostic tool can be abused, and often will be. While that necessitates a certain level of vigilance in the use of it, however, it's insufficient reason to discard it altogether.

Ledger's Joker will prove to be as iconic a performance as Brandon Lee's in The Crow -- not least of which because of his untimely demise.

The performance will haunt filmgoers and challenge other actors for years to come.

Hopefully, the film will also challenge some of our law enforcement and correctional authorities to give the PCL-R a second thought as well.

Friday, July 18, 2008

This Is Where It All Breaks Down

In the wake of the release of Expelled : No Intelligence Allowed, it's become apparent that there just cannot seem to be any rational discussion of the virtues of Intelligent Design theory as compared to Evolutionary Biology.

As numerous sources will demonstrate, neither side of this debate is immune to the divisiveness and base irrationality that has swirled around this topic.

First, consider the following video of EZ Meyers and Richard Dawkins -- the latter of whom recieves what could very well be considered to be his comeuppance in Expelled -- discussing the film:

One would expect better from two such "leading intellectuals" as Meyers and Dawkins.

They start off by discussing Meyers' ejection from a screening of the film at the Mall of America -- Dawkins, for his own part, was admitted to the same screening.

While the facts surrounding the matter seem to continue to be a matter of some dispute, Meyers and Dawkins aren't far off the mark at all in describing it as "inept public relations".

But from there, Dawkins continues to let the obnoxious -- polishedly obnoxious, but obnoxious nonetheless -- side of his personality show, as he tries to pick the film apart not based on the facts or ideas contained in the film, but rather on editing technique and such.

"It was a bad film in every possible way," Dawkins insists. "It was also extremely boring."

The irony of Richard Dawkins, of all people, dismissing a film as "extremely boring" should require little explanation. Then again, of course, this is Ben Stein we're talking about -- a man who has become an iconic (if self-effacing) figure in comedy for his ability to induce boredom.

Dawkins further insists that computer generated video of cell generation is "too good" to be the work of the Expelled producers, and Meyers jumps in, attempting to credit it to the XVIVO multimedia group at Harvard University.

Premise films insists that they produced the clip themselves, and careful examination of the two pieces of work (the absolutely gorgeous XVIVO work can be viewed here) bears this to be true -- although it's hard to imagine that the XVIVO work didn't provide significant inspiration for the Expelled clip.

To take Meyers' suggestion of outright copyright violation in this particular video seriously is very difficult to do, as he actually has to stop and ask Dawkins if Expelled features any commentary during the allegedly offending clip (clearly, he has not yet seen the movie himself and could not be expected to be able to objectively judge the two clips).

Dawkins insists that the Harvard multimedia department would have had to be "duped" into allowing the use of the video -- again, conclusively not the same video -- and continues to insist that he and Meyers were Duped into taking part in Expelled.

Eventually, after returning to the complaint about Meyers being refused admission, they finish their video by discussing whether the film is second-rate or third- or fourth-rate.

The entire video comes across less as a substantive rebuttal of the film, and more as a pair of demagogues whose pride has been severely wounded.

Which would be entirely understandable, considering how significantly Dawkins managed to humiliate himself in the course of his great "showdown" with Stein in the film, as shown in this particular video (consider it exhibit B), this time of Ben Stein making himself more than just a little transparent on Glenn Beck's show on CNN:

Beck starts off by insisting that if the "New York Times hates a movie" then he himself would love it (again, an extremely mature, rational attitude).

Stein insisted that people across the United States were "standing and cheering" at the end of Expelled. However, considering the scores of self-styled Darwinists are flat-out refusing to see the film at all (again, an extremely mature, rational attitude), it isn't hard to imagine that most of these people are arriving at the theatre with pre-concieved notions in favour of Intelligent Design or Creationism.

The video features Dawkins' admission -- likely the source of his aforementioned wounded pride -- in the film in which he suggests that if an "ntelligent designer" exists as ID theory suggests, it would have to be a space alien.

Stein then criticizes Darwinism for being unable to explain gravity or thermodynamics -- neither of which are a phenomenon that Darwinism ever even attempts to explain. He then criticizes Darwinism for being unable to explain the origins of life. Again, Darwinism -- in the purest sense of the term -- doesn't attempt to explain this.

Ambiogenesis -- the field in which Dawkins studies -- does, indeed attempt to do so. But while this particular field of Evolutionary Biology -- a broader field based on Darwinian principles -- it itself isn't confined strictly within the confines of Darwinist thought.

In sort, Stein is criticizing Darwinism for being unable to explain things that it lays to claim to explain. It's a key logical misconception that only obscures the margins of this debate.

Stein also notes that he feels sad for Dawkins and his fellow atheists by noting he "feel[s] bad for them and their circles because they don't have god in their lives". Again, this obscures the margin of this debate -- is it about science, religion, or lack thereof?

Stein also suggests that Dawkins and his "circle" reject the existence of God because if God exists, they'll be judged.

But judged for precisely what? Being atheists? Being evolutionary biologists? Precisely what?

Stein doesn't provide the answer to this question, but he does conclude with an extremely valid point: the cold moral asceticism that atheism at least seems to promote -- via the lack of any real arbiter of human morality -- seems to lend itself to immoral acts, at least the hands of those predisposed to such acts in the first place.

But for as dogmatic and ideological as Meyers and Dawkins seem to be in their "rebuttal" video to Expelled, Stein seems to equal during his Glenn Beck appearance.

If asked, any one of these individuals would insist that they are the ones trying to take part in a rational scientific debate. Yet it seems every time they actually open their mouths to speak, rationality flies out the door and dogmatism appears in its stead.

In the end, this will likely be the ultimate legacy of Expelled -- a film that posed a challenge to the scientific community to take part in an open debate, but only served to further entrench both sides of the so-called "debate" so that no rational debate can ever occur.

If the breaking point hadn't occurred long, long ago, Expelled would have been that very breaking point.

Happy Birthday Nelson Mandela

One of history's greatest difference makers turns 90 today

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Yeah, What's Ten Years of Widespread Poverty Between Eco-Warriors?

Guess who's back and saying ridiculous things?

Well, OK.

To say that Kevin Potvin is "back" is like suggesting that Canadian Cynic's dementia-inducing case of neurosyphilis is "back" when it relapses. (Just a quick note here: Canadian Cynic probably doesn't have neurosyphilis. He just acts like he does. -Ed.) He's been there the whole while, maybe not quite saying things as stupid as he's accustomed to, he's been there all along. Not much unlike a case of neurosyphilis.

And so it would seem that Kevin Potvin is having a recurrence of general stupidity -- or could it be general stupidity having a recurrence of Kevin Potvin? Fuck, I get these things mixed up sometimes -- in the course of a recent opinion article in his vaunted Republic of East Vancouver in which he advocates the onset of a new Great Depression.

It starts out with Potvin taking issue with a recent article by Jacqueline Thorpe in the Financial Post:

"“But the best hope,” wrote Jacqueline Thorpe on the front page of The Financial Post section of The National Post, in a regular column entitled “The Big Picture,” “rests on at least a stabilization of oil prices.” The headline of this entry, appearing the past weekend, was “Teetering on the brink of global recession.”

It’s an astonishing statement, and so we see that in the space of just 18 months or less, the Canadian corporate sector’s communications organ, CanWest, or “corporavda” if you will, which owns
The National Post, has gone from paternalistic “sh-sh”s and “don’t worry”s all the way to thoroughly freaked out alarmism. Thorpe’s mental breakdown last weekend has become by no means an oddity. Her’s is but the theme at the corporate press lately.

“Hope for stabilized oil prices” is odd advice to the colonial-minded middle managers of Canada’s wholly foreign owned corporate sector who read
The National Post before the foreign head office calls for its daily chit-chat. To advise the nation’s decision makers that hope is their only choice now is to advise them to close their eyes, block their ears and stop whatever thinking they might have considered doing. The ride is going to get too frightening to behold."
Potvin almost has a point here. When staring down the business end of a recession very much induced by high energy prices, the best thing to do would be to prepare for it and make changes to try and avoid it, rather than simply "hope for a price break".

And while there are likely few things that can be done to deal with the exorbitantly high price of oil, it could be treated as an incentive to start investing more heavily in alternative energy sources.

Otherwise, there simply may be no escaping the economic apocalypse that Potvin is predicting (and, as we will see later, actually hoping for):

"The rapidly rising price of oil has certainly emerged as the key feature of the 21st Century. The Globe and Mail reported the same day on a poll showing the price of oil has now replaced all other concerns at the top of mind of Canadians in general. Rising oil prices promise to be the driver of history in our time. Any eyes not clouded by agendas, fear or subservience can quickly ascertain that oil prices will keep leaping up between short periods of steadying or occasionally dropping prices.

A debate about whether peak oil production has arrived or if it’s all just a ploy by Big Oil, is increasingly irrelevant. Whether by design or happenstance, oil prices will not stabilize or be stabilized at any level. If it’s by design of Big Oil or by the reality of production capacity leaves us equally unable to intervene in the trajectory.

So when the nation’s leading financial media is reduced to advising the sycophants of The Canadian Council of Chief Executive Officers to hope for stabilization of oil prices to avoid a serious global recession, it may as well throw in advice to buy lottery tickets for a retirement plan.
Now, with all this talk about the lunacy of simply hoping for a recession to somehow be averted instead of actually taking action to avoid it, one would think that Potvin would have some constructive ideas.

Instead, Potvin offers up a much more encouraging alternative: outright economic defeatism.

"It’s a fair question to ask why the advice columnists in the financial pages are not instead explaining why global recession is unavoidable (oil prices will keep rising is the simplest way of driving the message home), and how they might best operate their ships in the coming headwinds of the storm.

A big part of managing large national and internationally interconnected firms is pressuring and advising government ministries and influencing public opinion in line with that advice. Government policy-making especially in key economic ministries like industry and finance are now very much the purview of corporate boardrooms. The last three Canadian finance ministers both Liberal and Conservative made their first official appearances upon presuming office in the New York financial district, rather than before Canadian citizens.
Which would seem evidentiary of that old "Canada bowing to American imperialism" that Potvin favours.

Or, it could be interpreted as quite logical, considering that Wall Street very much remains the heart of the increasingly-globalizing economy.

"If the advice government ministers are receiving is to hope for stabilized oil prices instead of planning to manage global recessionary conditions, the aims of their policies will inevitably be thwarted, or worse, completely irrelevant.

The reason neither policy makers in government both on the bureaucratic and elected side, nor executives in corporate boardrooms, nor pundits in the financial press, can bring themselves to accept that certainly rising oil prices will certainly bring global recession is because they have spent decades telling each other within the closed confines of their social circles that recession is irredeemably bad and that it opens the door to an evil worse than war: depression.
And it's generally agreed, recession and depression are very bad things. People lose their livelihoods, their homes, even their families.

Very bad things indeed.

"These are assumptions at the core of all corporate and economic thought that have remained undisturbed by any queries at least since the famous depression of the 1930s. It would be heresy in the halls of ministries, boardrooms and editorial offices to even think about the received wisdom concerning the undeniability of the badness that is recession or depression."
And for good reason. Most people generally regard families losing their homes, individuals struggling to feed their families and bankrupt business people throwing themselves out of windows to be bad things.

Then again, this is Kevin Potvin we're talking about here. Most people generally considered 9/11 to be a bad thing, as well, but he did manage to find it in himself to disagree.

"But now is surely the time, before over-the-top fear produces rash counter-productive policies, to wonder whether recession or even depression are really so bad. After all, it wasn’t so long ago government forestry managers, harvesting companies and the public at large had no reason to doubt forest fires were unquestionably bad things, and look at how far that opinion has swung once the question was first posed.

While there has always been an argument available in favour of recession and depression, however dubious, an entirely different set of circumstances has arisen that makes the argument, whatever it is, far more powerful: the environment cannot absorb any more increases in human production of Co2, and in fact seems to require a drastic decline in human-produced Co2 to stabilize climate change. So dependent is all modern economic activity on energy, and so necessary is Co2 production in the expending of energy, that it is by now certain that the only chance we have of seeing the climate stabilized is through a significant decline in economic activity. That is, a long-term, perhaps even a constant economic depression, may be the only way a stabilized climate is restored.
So emerges some of the deepest, darkest, nuttiest thoughts bouncing around inside of Potvin's twisted little skull.

We're facing an environmental catastrophe, so don't bother trying to reduce emissions or impliment alternative energy sources. Shut everything down. And all those people who will suffer? Well, they won't be so bad off.

Potvin even has the revisionist history texts to prove it:

"Recession and its bad cousin Depression have very bad names. There has been 70 years or more of propaganda terrorizing the public about the prospect of a repeat of what is said to be the worst calamity to have ever befallen them—The Great Depression of the 1930s. But on examination, we find that most of the horrors of that time were due to corporate and state reaction to economic depression, not the conditions of depression in and of itself, and that the economic conditions by themselves, if one asks those who lived through it, coincided with a period of enriched community and individual experience producing what they report as general happiness.

People recall farming their back yards with neighbours, sharing food and lodging with passing strangers, and enjoying community dances, making simple music, and relaxing at home with games and books. That is not to say there wasn’t a lot of unemployment and poor conditions for those trapped in it. But using the same measuring techniques today that were used in the 1930s reveals unemployment then was not much higher that it has been at times in the last ten years. Certainly homelessness and desperation today is easily comparable to anything seen in 1932. Had there been ordinary unemployment insurance, welfare, subsidized housing and social programs in the 1930s to mitigate the worst conditions for those most badly affected, there is little doubt there would be today any of the horror the public associates with economic depression. Even in the absence of all these efforts, it still wasn’t nearly as bad as seven decades of corporavda has made it out to be.
Don't blame the economic conditions, Potvin seems to insist. Blame those evil corporations!

And even then, it wasn't so bad. Those 30 million people who were unemployed? Were just taking what we might refer to as a "vacation". (Potvin insists that roughly the same percentage of people are unemployed today as during the Depression, but fails to mention that these modern figures include Africa, whereas the Depression-era statistics did not.)

And amidst all of the joblessness, poverty and scarcity imposed by Depression, Potvin seems to actually think it was all quite quaint -- not much unlike the post-corporate peacenik utopian societies that Potvin and those who think like him tend to favour.

People farmed together in communes! People read books! Folk music was de rigeur!

People also stole watermelons from farmers (among other things) as property crime rates jumped.

So what if a few hundred thousand people lose their jobs, homes and life savings? To make an omlette, Potvin seems to imply, you have to break a few eggs -- or at least hope for a few to be broken.

Of course, it gets even more amusing than this. It would seem that Potvin can even find the upside in being occupied by a regime like Nazi Germany:

"We know, for example, that during the German occupation of France in the 1940s, when French industry was largely shut down, trees on the Champs Élysées that hadn’t blossomed before took full bloom in the cleaner air. It would be interesting to learn whether similar signs of rebirth were also evident when industry in North America was greatly reduced during The Great Depression."
Interesting, indeed.

It would also be interesting to know if a collaborationist government founded under alleged principles of pacifism would have exported any Jews to concentration camps, as Vichy France did under Marshall Phillipe Petain.

"Economic recession and depression in and of itself really only hurts the high rollers. But those high rollers own the corporate media and they have a huge interest in convincing Canadians depression is the worst thing imaginable, because that’s what it is for them."
Apparently, to Potvin, all the farmers who lost their farms to foreclosure during the Great Depression were "high rollers".

All those unemployed men who rode the rails across the United States and Canada in search of work? High rollers, one and all.

And only was the Great Depression "not so bad", according to an individual who never actually lived through it (yet contesting the historical record established by those who actually did), another one should not only be embraced, but actually encouraged:

"Especially given environmental reality, it may in fact be, for the rest of us anyway, the best thing imaginable. Our policy makers ought to be planning for it and finding ways to manage it and sustain it, rather than being advised to cross their fingers and hope it isn’t going to come, or believe, even, there is anything they can do to derail it. The public isn’t necessarily convinced it’s the worst thing that needs to be avoided at all costs."
First off, Potvin may want to prove that the public is A-OK with the idea of another Great Depression (good luck with that one, Kevin).

But it's just another example of the fact that Kevin Potvin just doesn't seem to live in the same world the rest of us do -- his insistence that everyone cheered a little when the World Trade Center was hit being another obvious example.

And it goes to show exactly how far people like Kevin Potvin are willing to go in order to prevent an environmental catastrophe, according to the whole of the science collected, may or may not actually be coming.

And finally, just another example of why this guy couldn't even make it amongst the ranks of the Green party.

Good fucking grief.

These Are the Days That We Drive

Who says there's nothing to watch on PBS?

Spotted last night on PBS, As the Wrench Turns stars Car Talk's Tom and Ray Tappet (also known as Click and Clack).

"Pasta War" is an pithy and amusing -- if some what narrow -- episode in which the brothers build a pasta-powered car, cause a pasta shortage (angering Italian grandmothers everywhere), and bring the United States to the brink of war with Italy.

The episode is an obvious attempt at making an (aforementionedly problematic) comment on biofuels.

The episode can be watched on the PBS website.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Questions of Academic Freedom Right on Ben Stein's Money

Expelled controversial, mostly benign and -- unsurprisingly -- a target

To a certain extent, there's a degree of silliness enrapt in the Evolution/Intelligent Design debate that lies at the heart of Expelled.

Proponents of the theory of Evolution insist they can't be bothered to share academic space and time with proponents of Intelligent Design because it reeks too much of creationism. Meanwhile, those studying Intelligent Design -- who are applying engineering principles to molecular biology -- implicitly suggest that they deserve as much academic time and space as the theory generally accepted as the basis of modern biology, and one of the historical heavyweights of scientific thought.

Although trying at length throughout the film to make himself seem like an impartial observer abruptly converted to the virtues of at least discussing intelligent design, Ben Stein has clearly chosen sides. One need only consider the broader implications of his film's title, Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed.

In other words, all the intelligent people believe in Intelligent Design, and anyone who doesn't is... well, not so much.

Whether or not Stein intended this when changing the name of the film project from Crossroads: The Intersection of Science and Religion is truly known only to himself and possibly the film's producer, Mark Mathis. But it isn't as if anyone interpreting it as such isn't reading anything into it that isn't already there.

The film circles around what it outlines as a movement within the scientific establishment to stamp out Intelligent Design by blackballing its proponents.

The film explores cases such as that of Richard Sternberg, who was allegedly run out of the Smithsonian Institute for so much as publishing a pro-Intelligent Design article.

Serious questions have been raised about the circumstances of Sternberg's employment at and departure from the Smithsonian. However, a an investigation by Special Counsel James McVay revealled a certain degree of malice in Sternberg's colleagues reaction to the publication, and their intent to discredit him.

In other words, the truth seems to be neither what Sternberg insists, nor what his detractors insist.

A similar case emerges when considering the case of Caroline Crocker, who claims to have been disciplined after merely mentioning Intelligent Design while teaching one of her courses.

The autors of Expelled Exposed insist that Crocker was teaching various inaccurate facts in her class, as outlined in a Washington Post article.

Yet they also credit "student complaints" for the discipline levelled against her. But a quick view of Crocker's rating on makes one think twice about this. In fact, your not-so-humble scribe was able to rate Crocker without any modicum of proof whatsoever that he had even studied under Crocker.

Many of the other ratings on Rate My Professor seem to be nothing more than malicious attacks aimed at Crocker, and are notably fraudulent.

Throughout the film, Stein falls back on a Berlin wall metaphor that, when considered afterward, is actually fairly tortured. He insists that the wall was built to keep western ideas out of Communist East Germany. But anyone even passingly familiar with Cold War History knows quite differently -- that the Berlin Wall wasn't built to keep capitalist ideas from getting in to East Berlin, but rather was built to stop East Germans from fleeing from communism into West Germany, discrediting the ideology.

An argument could potentially be made that proponents of Evolutionary theory have, indeed built such a wall. But Stein's metaphor is inept, and even noting that such a metaphorical wall has been built to prevent students from straying into Intelligent Design theory would have worked for Stein's purposes.

A great deal of protest has also been raised regarding Stein's equation of Darwinism and Nazism.

In particular, the authors of Expelled Exposed attempt to write Nazism off as part of a reactionary response to Darwinism, when nothing could be further from the truth. The specific combination of (perverted) Darwinist thought with some of the subtle Nietzchean underpinnings of Nazi ideology lent themselves quite conveniently to the brutal eugenics program undertaken by Nazi Germany.

Expelled Exposed also accuses Stein of deliberately omitting a portion of The Descent of Man that follows the portion Stein quotes. Stein quotes:

"With savages, the weak in body or mind are soon eliminated. We civilized men, on the other hand, do our utmost to check the process of elimination. We build asylums for the imbecile, the maimed and the sick, thus the weak members of civilized societies propagate their kind. No one who has attended to the breeding of domestic animals will doubt that this must be highly injurious to the race of man. Hardly anyone is so ignorant as to allow his worst animals to breed."
The omitted portion reads as follows:

"The aid which we feel impelled to give to the helpless is mainly an incidental result of the instinct of sympathy, which was originally acquired as part of the social instincts, but subsequently rendered, in the manner previously indicated, more tender and more widely diffused. Nor could we check our sympathy, if so urged by hard reason, without deterioration in the noblest part of our nature."
Yet this does nothing to expel the very real tendency of people such as Adolf Hitler to take portions of such tracts that confirm their beliefs -- and Hitler is noted to have had a pathological obsession with killing in the name of eugenics, musing in one writing that Germany would anually euthanize up to 100,000 "unfit" newborns -- and ignore what does not.

Not to mention the fact that Stein doesn't simply denounce Darwinism as akin to Nazism, but rather Nazism as a destination for Darwinism left untouched by any sense of morality, such as that offered by religion.

Even then, as we've seen in Canada with Alberta's historical eugenics program, Darwinism can still lead to unethical and unjust eugenics when religious morality, although present, breaks down.

The most amusing portion of Expelled arrives as Stein moves toward his final confrontation with Atheist fundamentalist and Evolutionist Richard Dawkins.

In the course of a conversation as to why Dawkins believes Intelligent Design should be definitively rejected by the scientific community -- and Dawkins is only one of many scientists interviewed who insist such -- Stein mercilessly grills Dawkins, and eventually Dawkins suggests it's plausible that life was seeded on earth by a vastly advanced alien civilization.

Which is far from a scientific hypothesis.

It reveals, however, the dogmatism of Dawkins and those like him. He is perfectly willing to accept the idea of an intelligent designer, but refuses to consider that perhaps a "loving god" -- as Stein alludes to in the trailer for the film -- could be that designer. Instead, he relies on a "magical sky daddy" of a different -- and equally unproven -- colour.

Which reveals the amount of faith Dawkins has really based his argument on. Considering the number of proteins that would have to align in perfect sequence in order to become living cells, Richard Dawkins could sit and watch a pool of proteins for every second of every day in his life and never witness it.

For an Atheist, to thusly believe in the Darwinian model of the origins of life, that requires an awful lot of faith. It certainly isn't empirically or scientifically proven (the process of evolution certainly is -- the origins of life not so much).

So for Dawkins, it certainly can't be about science. Perhaps for individuals like Dawkins, the struggle against Intelligent Design is really about stamping out any scientific theory that carries even the vaguest traces of Creationism. It would certainly explain why such individuals have sought to associate Intelligent Design and Creationism as closely as possible.

But a lot of this is actually immaterial: where Expelled excels is in underscoring the slow erosion of academic freedom on University campuses and within Science Acadamies across North America and Europe. He's entirely justified in noting that if Darwin himself wanted to propose such an alternative to Evolutionary theory in today's academic culture, he would face incredible opposition spanning scientific, religious and political divides.

One thing is for certain: Ben Stein certainly hasn't done himself any favours when he made this film, nor has he done himself many favours in the course of commenting on it afterward (this will be commented on here in coming days).

Ben Stein has effectively been villainized by the scientific establishment that he questions throughout the duration of Expelled. Which brings one to an important point:

From a group of people who insist that there is no shortage of freedom in modern academia, it's interesting to see how personal a cost they clearly intend to exact upon someone who isn't even an academic.

Then again, no one forced Ben Stein to wade into this debate. He certainly knew he was taking certain risks, and far be it for those whose orthodoxies he's clearly offended to prove him wrong.

Khadr Case Reaches Definitive Turning Point

Guantanamo interrogation tapes having a profound effect

On The Root of All Evil, Lewis Black ruled that YouTube is, in fact, the root of all evil.

In a show comparing YouTube to pornography, Black determined that YouTube has had such a decisively negative impact on western civilization -- transforming us into the words of advocate Patton Oswalt into a "country of Caligulas".

But if YouTube has really had such a negative impact on civilization, it's hard to overlook some of the good it's done as well. When Robert Dzienkaski succumbed to his injuries after being excessively and mercilessly tasered by airport security, it was YouTube that ultimately brought the outrage to the world's attention. When University of Florida student Andrew Meyer was tasered for asking Senator John Kerry a question that somebody didn't like, it was YouTube that prevented the story from being swept under a carpet.

Now, it's YouTube that has brought the severe psychological stress being experiened by Omar Khadr unignorably to the world's attention. And, just as with these and countless other previous cases, YouTube has had an abrupt effect on the case.

Such is the case with a recent National Post editorial in which Jonathon Kay has finally come around to the thinking of those who agree Omar Khadr should be repatriated to Canada:

"As I write this, at 1 p. m. on Tuesday, piteous video images from Omar Khadr's interrogation at Guantanamo Bay are not only the #1 news item on the National Post Web site, but also the lead item on BBC News and USA Today. Millions of people are now wondering why Canada's government has acquiesced-- and as the video shows, even participated -- in the unconscionable treatment of a blubbering boy-soldier.

As someone who otherwise considers himself one of the War on Terror's noisiest Canadian cheerleaders, I submit that the bleeding hearts are right on this one: Omar Khadr needs to come home.

Here's why:

Omar Khadr was a child soldier

During the carnage that gripped Sierra Leone in the 1990s, the most terrifying crimes often were committed by gangs of children who'd been abducted by the Revolutionary United Front (RUF). Isolated from their families, and stripped of any sort of moral compass, these child brigades were renowned for such monstrous acts as hacking off the legs and arms of defenceless villagers. When the RUF's war with the government ended, many of these children were assimilated back into civilized society. No one -- in the West, at least -- blamed them for what they had done. As in Sri Lanka, Congo and other parts of the world where children are abducted and forced into combat, it is universally recognized that child soldiers are not morally culpable for their actions in the same way as adults. That's why the Sierra Leone war crimes tribunal didn't prosecute child soldiers -- it prosecuted the monsters who exploited them. Can someone please tell me why this principle has not been applied to Omar Khadr, who was all of 15 when he allegedly threw the grenade that killed Sergeant Christopher Speer of Delta Force in 2002?

What makes the case for Khadr especially strong is that he was essentially recruited into combat from birth--by his own flesh-and-blood, no less. The true monster in the Khadr narrative is not Omar, but his father, Ahmed Said Khadr, an al-Qaeda lieutenant who moved his whole family from Canada to central Asia so they could share in the glory of jihad.

As a nine-year-old, Omar drank in his father's Islamist propaganda -- spending months by his father's bed as the jihadi patriarch lay hunger-striking against Pakistani authorities, who'd arrested him on terrorism charges in 1995. Following 9/11, Ahmed (who, thankfully, was dispatched to his celestial virgins in 2003) enlisted his son as a sort of sidekick and maidservant to a jihadi cell hiding out in the Afghan outback. It was in this capacity that Omar tagged along with the pack of terrorists who would eventually meet their maker in the June 27, 2002, firefight that claimed the life of Sergeant Speer.

I have been reading a lot of tough talk on the blogs about how Khadr should be "waterboarded until he stops crying" and such. I wonder if those same hard hearts could tell me how they would have turned out if they'd been told --literally, since birth--about the necessity of jihad and the beauty of martyrdom; if, since their early days, they'd been propagandized into believing that the West was waging a genocidal war against Muslims; and that military resistance was the only path of survival. Are we to expect some sort of inborn moral sense to activate -- to tell us that everything being told to us by our own parents is wrong -- even before one is old enough to shave?

I know about 20,000 former child soldiers in Sierra Leone who could tell you the answer to that question. And unlike Khadr, not one of them stands accused of "Violation of the Law of War."

We don't know that Omar Khadr killed anyone

The U.S. government's line on the events of June 27, 2002 -- reported uncritically, for the most part, by the Canadian media -- is that a cowardly Khadr popped up from the rubble in the aftermath of a firefight in the Afghan hinterland, killing a U. S. medic who was looking to treat wounded survivors. In fact, the grenade that killed Speer (who was fighting, by necessity, as a solider, whatever his training as a medic) was thrown when the four-hour long battle was still hot. And it is far from clear who threw it: Contrary to initial accounts, there was a second jihadi still alive when the fatal grenade was thrown -- and since Khadr was badly wounded at the time, the second militant (who later died) is the more promising suspect.

(We might also dispense with the idea that Speer was on a mission of mercy: Post-battle testimony from his battlefield companions suggests they were -- quite understandably --more interested in shooting the wounded than healing them.)

My own view is that Speer may well have been killed by a grenade thrown by one of his comrades. (Reports from the battle suggest that grenades were flying thick and fast from both sides.) As the Pat Tillman scandal shows, the U. S. military sometimes goes to extraordinary lengths to cover up friendly-fire deaths. And in the Khadr case, his U. S. Department of Defense attorney claims, there is at least one instance in which a lieutenant-colonel retroactively amended and backdated a battlefield report to buttress the case against Khadr.

Even if Khadr did kill Sergeant Speer, he did so as a soldier, not a terrorist

There's little doubt that Ahmed Khadr was training his sons to be terrorists -- the sort of people who blow up buses and restaurants, or who wear civilian clothing as they lie in wait to detonate explosives under vehicle convoys. But what Omar Khadr did on June 27, 2002, wasn't terrorism. It was participation in a military engagement -- a fact that can't be changed merely by slapping a label like "unlawful combatant" on him.

Moreover, it was a military engagement fought on American terms: After U. S. soldiers sealed off the village encampment housing Khadr's cell, they prosecuted the siege with about 100 troops, some of them Special Forces, as well as Apache helicopters, F-18 Hornets and A-10 Warthogs. You can say that Khadr was fighting in an evil cause when he was captured, but you can't say that he was preying on the defenceless.

Even if you don't buy anything I've written above, Khadr's treatment still ranks as abominable

Let us assume that Omar Khadr actually threw the grenade that killed Sergeant Speer, that he did so as a cold-blooded killer, not as a soldier, and that his status as a child combatant is irrelevant -- in short, that Omar Khadr is a murderer. Well then, how do we treat murderers in Western countries? Answer: We put them in jail. We don't beat them, or move them from cell to cell every three hours, or terrify them with threats of pedophilic rape, or deny them appropriate medical care -- all punishments that Khadr has endured -- a litany of abuse so traumatic that, according to one piteous detail among many, he took to falling asleep at Guantanamo desperately hugging a Mickey Mouse book brought to him as a gift.

In the space of six years of incarceration, Khadr has endured more brutality than any ordinary jailbird would endure in 60. And if he had any intelligence value to his American captors, it surely has been exhausted. Please bring Omar Khadr home. If he is to face justice, let it be in Canada.
Naturally, those who disgustingly insist Khadr should be "waterboarded until he stops crying" will consider Jonathon Kay way off the reservation on this one.

But he's right. Whether it's to be put on trial for his alleged crimes or reassimilated back into society (but absolutely not before his demobilization can be assured, Omar Khadr must be repatriated back to Canada.

Which makes the government's insistence that they can do no such thing all the more unacceptable. In time, as the Khadr tapes continue to make their rounds via the mainstream media and YouTube, this position will become utternly untenable.

Even the alleged arch-conservatives at the National Post are beginning to see that.