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Brexit

09-Nov-19 11:14 am EST Leave a comment

Feeling compelled, as a friend of the United Kingdom (UK, including of Northern Ireland, Scotland, Wales and England), I’ve repeatedly found myself at odds with those from the nation with whom I’d had discourse (typically via the app ‘Discord’) concerning its fate as regards its membership within the European Union (EU). I’m often told that, as a Canadian, I am unable to appreciate the particulars of life in the UK or somehow fail to appreciate its culture and history. At home, I’ve heard these same criticism from Québec separatists although I can speak french and certainly understand life here, living just a kilometer or so from the Québec border and routinely visit the province while on business or to visit friends there. I was even given the same argument by a recent movement the appeared here in the wake of the Liberal Party Justin Trudeau’s 2nd term election victory over the Conservative Party candidate Andrew Scheer called ‘Wexit’ wherein disaffected Alberta voters founded a serious movement (perhaps the first of its kind) to break away from Canada because anyone living east of Winnipeg, Manitoba paid attention to the western part of the country. Yet I spent the first 21 years of my life living in Manitoba (especially Winnipeg) and feel ‘from’ there far more than my current city ‘Ottawa’ where I now live and work. So the latter two charges from Canadian separatists seem out-of-touch with the facts of my life. And yet I’m certainly not from the UK, so could I be so far off on the subject of a break-away from the EU?

When I first looked into the rationale behind the vote to leave, I’d dismissed it as something of an anomaly in UK politics that would clear itself up quickly. To my astonishment, that didn’t happen and the extraction process merilly rolled on ahead without apparent reason. I’d heard the complaints; the EU was “dominated” by France and Germany who’d routinely “gang up” on England in votes. Money to support the EU left the UK without return or recompense of any kind. And UK sovereignty was being systematically eroded to the point where the island would end up ruled from either Paris or Berlin in short order. Yet my research kept hitting dead ends. I examined a TED Talk done in the city of Vancouver, Canada to get some additional insights from a very British person who, herself, seemed very knowledgeable on the subject — to no avail.

Caption: Carole Cadwalladr presenting Brexit research findings at TED Vancouver in June 2019

Her rational analysis seemed to lay to rest any doubt that the UK received a great deal from the EU; contributing significantly to the recovery of the Welsh economy in recent years (the region she happened to be from). She also presented credible evidence that pointed to a careful campaign of manipulation by social media agents, foreign to the UK, of UK public view citing Facebook doing all but a dry run in the UK to prepare for a similar attempt at manipulating the forthcoming electorate in the United States (US). This effort, she claimed, culminated in the election of Donald Trump and gave rise to the theory two of the world’s most powerful democracies were being attacked by totalitarian movements bent on curbing the very idea of one person, one vote.

So if it wasn’t my being a foreigner to the UK, nor did the facts seem to do much to back up the claims of the pro-Brexit camp, perhaps its departure from the EU wasn’t such a good idea after all. And then with the withdrawal of John Bercow from the speaker’s chair of the UK’s House of Commons, it starts to look as if the dispassionate review of the material I thought I’d done might have some merit. After all, wasn’t that the job of the Speaker of the House of Commons?

Caption: Days after bowing out as Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow has described Brexit as Britain’s biggest mistake since the second world war. He said: ‘I think we will suffer in trade terms and suffer in terms of global standing and influence, and that seems to me to be so obvious’

Bercow (in my view one of the greatest Commons Speakers in the last 200 years!) echoes many of my views on this subject, so naturally, I think his comments above are worthy of attention before the UK makes a final decision on the subject of whether to leave the EU. Perhaps as importantly is the considered gains that will be made by the enemies of the UK and its allies should this idea actually proceed. Russia under Vladimir Putin, the US under Donald Trump and Facebook under Mark Zuckerberg all stand to gain from a UK withdrawal from the EU. And I say to my friends in the UK once more — look at yourselves not only provincially; but rather as member of the world community and understand how badly we need the UK’s contributions as a partner and ally instead of being as one relatively small, distant island nation of years gone by!

CTV’s Power Play Decries “The Art of Apologizing”

10-May-18 06:17 pm EDT Leave a comment
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oor Don Martin.  CTV’s host of Power Play spent his “Last Word” (if only!) decrying Justin Trudeau apologizing 5 times during his government’s term in office thus far, with a 6th apology for our nation returning Holocaust-fleeing Jews back to the Nazis during World War II.  It’s just too often, says Martin, and too well politically-timed not to be suspect.

 

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CTV’s “Power Play” Host, Don Marin

Of course, such rhetoric is absent justification for the political timing of each of the 5 preceding times.  And, no Don – don’t hasten to demonstrate your own team’s research skills as not being able to create the illusion of such.  I’m sure they’re at least as good as Trudeau’s speech-writing team, although need I enlighten you about our Prime Minister’s own ability to deliver speeches?  (Granted, Justin’s not as experienced as his father was, but he’s among the best our nation can offer at present according to my ear — and I’ve been in a public debate or two in my time too!)

 

The apologies Trudeau has given on our nation’s behalf serve a purpose.  We could follow Martin’s suggestion and say nothing to redress historical wrongdoings — the practice of Canadian governments for decades.  Perhaps nobody alive today had the experience of suffering the injustices and outright atrocities being apologized for.  But it does serve the purpose of those who are alive and still bearing the scars of such actions years later perhaps due to indirect associations of one form or another to have the Government of all Canadians (not just Liberals like Trudeau, but Conservatives like Marin too) recognize an injustice done to people and apologize.  This doesn’t somehow express the guilt and remorse of Canadians today, but it does express the guilt and remorse of the Government — even if it’s presumed that nothing of this sort could ever happen again.

Rest assured, Mr. Martin, the Government of Canada still has acts which it has to apologize for and will well into this century at the very least (perhaps with or even without the knowledge of our Prime Minister).  Human beings, so error-prone as we are; so flawed in our ability to exercise mature judgment at the best of times, are forced to learn from mistakes made.  And this Government isn’t perfect, as you rightly point out.  But it is Canadian.  It is our government.  And sometimes an apology is the proper course; however frequent it may seem to you.

Perhaps you’ll join your fellow Canadians in offering an apology or two someday.  If not for any errors in judgment you might have had, at the very least for holding a Government’s honest efforts to provide those who feel injustice some kind of recognition for their emotional traumas.  Unless of course, you believe that a television camera or very big microphone renders you incapable of error or immune from the need to offer a simple apology.

Where there’s smoke…

22-Jan-18 09:36 am EST Leave a comment
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enying you’re guilty of something can be difficult when the rumor mill / charge keeps happening, Scott Adams reminds us in his recent blog entry.  Indeed, proving a negative is impossible and leads to what scholars refer to as argumentum ad ignorantiam (argument from ignorance) wherein an argument is presumed true because it has not been proven false — a logical fallacy.  Yet we fall prey to this one pretty easily and Adams cites the case of Donald Trump attempting to deny ongoing allegations of collusion with Russia during the most recent American presidential election.  But is that what’s really going on here?

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U.S. President
Donald J. Trump

Journalism is particularly vulnerable to this phenomenon because, out of a desire to “build the story” for readers, asking questions about something that didn’t demonstrably happen repeatedly actually contributes to it.  What we all want to know simply is this: is there testable evidence that Trump colluded with Russia?  Pure and simple.  But with an ongoing investigation — about which readers will want reminders of in their sub-24-hour news cycle — updates will inevitably be desired.  Also, it doesn’t hurt to repeat the question they’ll argue to see if anything inconsistent appears to quote, though over time and with many a practiced rehearsal this is less and less likely.

Instead of the constant clamour for updates, perhaps we’d all be better off letting the investigation conclude and fill our news cycle with whatever else is going on in the world; waiting patiently until the investigation comes back with a finding of no fault or charges.  It’s Donald Trump, for goodness sake — it’s not like he’s avoiding making statements that anyone with half a brain would find morally reprehensible from one week to the next.

Post-Modern Electioneering: Back to the Future

09-Feb-17 08:11 am EST Leave a comment

Robyn Urback | Columnist

Robyn Urback Columnist

Written in response to CBC News: “Millennials finally fall out of love with Justin Trudeau after he abandons electoral reform: Opinion by Robyn Urback

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s a member of the vaunted (yes and cynical) Generation-X, I’ve got to just roll my eyes once more….. Millennials are doing precisely what the generations before have done as youth – not voted as a block….at least – not for long.

But if there is really a block here to be won (and – let’s be clear – there isn’t), it would be easy to take yesteryear successes and use ’em again. We need more IT staffers (like me!) to explore service industries like software development or network engineering. And offering a bit of money for vocational training here (alongside some success stories) would really go a long way toward making up for lost ground on the FPP voting fiasco. Trudeau, God bless him, should’ve known better than to try saying “well we tried, but you know in government – you can’t always do what you thought you could before being elected” routine. Even if you believe it, it’s kind of a crappy reason to go back to the public with.

The real worry I have isn’t the loss of some fictionalized Millennial solidarity. It’s the potential for cross-demographic populism and fascism to take hold in this country! And while O’Leary isn’t Trump, maybe the best we can hope for it the short term is that fascism will pass us by and that Trudeau’s over-promise, under-deliver showing so far somehow reverses itself the more experience he gets as our Prime Minister.

I’m about the same age as he is – but it’s obvious to me while he might be better at leading the country than I’d be….his father he is not. And there is plenty for him to learn yet!

Doomsday Clock: It is now 2 minutes before midnight!

30-Jan-17 07:30 am EST Leave a comment
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efore I had entered high school (back in the late 1970’s), I can remember the periodic ominous warnings of the world’s “Doomsday Clock” scientific group.  And I was greatly relieved (as I’m sure we all were) when the pressures of a looming nuclear apocalypse seemed to disappear with the collapse of communism in what is now called “The Russian Federation”.  We got all the way back to 15 minutes before midnight (or just about) and then with the rise of terrorism it started to creep back toward midnight again.

So now it almost seems shocking to hear the clock is nearly as close as it’s ever been to midnight (surpassed only by periods of extreme political tension when nuclear war between Russia and the U.S. seemed an ever-present threat)!  Last week’s article on the subject is worth a read as is taking a moment for each of us to reflect on what we can do to save our planet.  At the moment, things are looking especially apocalyptic again — climate change, the rise of fascism, threats of war on multiple fronts (as was pointed out over the weekend by the last President of the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev)…we need to stop allowing apathy and mediocre leadership to drive us all over a cliff.

 

 

 

Police Requests for New Internet Powers Could Cost You Big

19-Nov-16 07:29 pm EST Leave a comment

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anada’s CBC (a leading media and news organization in the country) promoted a story this past week concerning a very public request to the senior politicians for greater investigative powers.  This was followed by a poll that showed a degree of support for the police requests – seemingly predicated on a desire to curb child pornography among other crimes.  While civil libertarians and technology professionals raised the alarm on hearing this request, there was only limited consideration given to the cost of granting powers of this sort to police – tied largely to the cost of potentially onerous data warehousing by ISPs.  (As a footnote here, I want to cite the case of the UK which, this past week, saw Parliament enact legislation that would be largely in-line with the kinds of legislative change the RCMP would like to see enacted here in Canada.)

“Two parliamentary committees examined this issue.  Then there was the unanimous Supreme Court [of Canada] decision.  What part of ‘unconstitutional’ doesn’t [RCMP] Commissioner Paulson understand?”

Michael Harris, iPolitics.ca, November 25, 2016

Privacy and Internet Commerce

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anadians (and people generally) can still be very reluctant to share their personal information online.  A recent website delivered by The AppRefactory — the Edgewater Tenants’ Community Website — has been off to something of a slow start with the administration fielding questions about why an end-user’s address is needed as part of the signup process.  This is done with the awareness and limited support from the property management company that acts as the landlord which has data about every tenant’s address, yet that same information is not so readily volunteered when it takes digital form.  The information in this case is used to simply verify that an end-user signup request is for a tenant as opposed to some random user from the Internet; in order to ensure that any information a tenant elects to access or share on the site is kept within the tenant community only.  As such it is a measure intended to protect tenant privacy, but there can still be reluctance about sharing it.

This is just an example of how users have adapted over the years to safeguard their privacy.  Yet now the police want measures taken by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) to circumvent privacy to such a degree that they will never again be aware of who exactly has access to their information.  (We saw in another article posted this past week how police could access computer records without appropriate authorization or authority.)  And should police officers once again demonstrate how human they can be and make a mistake, suddenly the information they’ve been entrusted with is available to parties unknown.

Such cases, once known to the public (as they will tend to be, thanks to our free press), could easily put end-users further on the defensive about their information.  And, despite poll results suggesting some support for increased police powers, there remains the likelihood the average person in Canada (which, historically, tends to be a person that trusts police authority) hasn’t thought the issue through very thoroughly and certainly not technically.  The regime Canadians will be confronted with, whatever their decision about the powers police should have online, could easily be one business is less well-able to thrive in and would find it harder to operate in without being less able to solicit end-user consent and confidence meaningfully.

And they wouldn’t know it until it really was too late.

New Powers Add Onerous Burdens on All Business (Not Just ISPs)

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he legislation in the UK does not specifically distinguish nor give license to ISPs to operate or grant any special legal distinction to them apart from providers of Internet-facing services generally.  As such it would seem to stand as a matter of law that anyone providing Internet-facing services could be compelled to maintain logs concerning end-user activity.  From a technical perspective, the law wouldn’t be all that meaningful if it couldn’t extend, for example, to providers of Virtual Private Network (VPN) services which are frequently used to both secure corporate communications online as well as anonymize network access to  BitTorrent media sharing sites or “Deep Web” network traffic.

msazurelogoSo the law must apply to businesses using the Internet equally (or at least be seen to apply as such).  And how will the small business be impacted when they’re suddenly required to maintain a database documenting (as the RCMP want) up to two years of end-user activity?  One approach we could use would be to use Microsoft Azure’s service calculator to take a service that uses a very modest 5GB of data monthly to track data transfer activity for a service, numbering just 10,000 transactions.  Without any service connections, charging just for the storage of table-based data only, we get an added cost of $409.00 per month, including a $364.00 Standard Support feature on local redundancy only.  (Nothing could immediately be found on legislative requirements for backing up this data, but a vendor support feature seemed logical to imagine in this scenario.)  That’s a not-so-inconsiderable $4,900 per year and is getting pricey for the average small business.

Now if you run a big business, things get interesting: scaled up to 5TB of data and 1 million transactions, the costs at the same level of support (with local redundancy only) balloon out to $5,223.68 per month or a whopping $62,684.16 per year.

These costs are certainly something to consider when it comes to determining who is paying for all this extra monitoring.  One thing is clear, it won’t be coming out of the RCMP’s budget!

And although this is the costs according to one vendor, it is an industry leader in a space oft-credited with reducing the costs associated with maintaining large warehouses of data (a main selling point behind “the cloud” movement).  One shudders to think how much more onerous these costs could become if one is required by law to maintain hardware and software of their own, in a facility that is solely under their own control.

Final Analysis: Restrain Police Powers Online

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ith passage of the UK legislation this past week, the Government of Canada may be best-advised to stay the course for now and weigh its options again at a later date if it chooses.  While I suspect both in the wake of Brexit and their now police powers law (called the “Investigatory Powers Bill”) will lead the UK (and England in particular) into a self-made socio-economic crisis, there remains the question as to what exactly the impact of their measures will have.  The opportunity here isn’t to regulate early and hopefully stop child sexual abuse — a cause I’m very sympathetic to and have even had occasion to assist police with.  Rather, it’s to gain the wisdom about whether the impacts of these measures will simply drive it further underground or make a meaningful difference (as opposed to being an issue cited simply as a political red herring to grant powers that will be used for other purposes).  To discover whether the economic impact is too burdensome.  And to learn comprehensively if there will be the promised ‘greater good’ worthy of the limits a free and democratic society — a just society — places on itself and its citizens.

Facebook Move May Cause Greater Secrecy About Data (Ab)Use

08-Nov-16 04:04 pm EST Leave a comment
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ata use in violation of Facebook’s licensing agreement for developers has prompted the company to intervene to halt distribution of an insurance industry app that would have used end-user data (shared by consent) to track social media behaviour and qualify some for discounts on insurance rates.  Facebook claims it has a policy to prohibit such use — but the move raises questions around privacy and whether or not Facebook acted in its own interests; possibly masking a hidden intent to mentize similar apps later itself.  Regardless, one consequence is likely: nothing stops an app developer from not disclosing the true intent behind acquiring user data nor even offering a misleading or untrue rationale for data capture.  This could simply mean England’s “Admiral Insurance” is last case of this kind we hear about.

For more information, see the attached segment from Canada’s CBC News:

Motorists fined for failing to give cyclists space in Somerset blitz — Ottawa Citizen

03-Nov-16 08:58 pm EDT Leave a comment
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ow if there wasn’t a police action that was long, long overdue in the city of Ottawa – surely this had to rank high on the list of priorities…

Ottawa police handed out a dozen fines to motorists during a safety blitz in downtown Ottawa Wednesday. Seven motorists were fined for failing to keep a one-metre distance between their cars and cyclists on Somerset Street. The infraction cost each motorist a $130 fine and 2 demerit points, Ottawa police Const. Marc Soucy told the…

via Motorists fined for failing to give cyclists space in Somerset blitz — Ottawa Citizen

Ezra’s Error

14-Sep-14 06:27 pm EDT Leave a comment
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Ezra Levant in a typical pose.

Ezra Levant in a typical pose.

bsent context, the Canadian political right has cultivated a new stereotype for itself in the last two decades.  Led astray in the wake of the Great Conservative Cataclysm (the deed of former Conservative Prime Minister, Brian Mulroney via Schreibergate), provocateur pundits like Ezra Levant have a new favourite tactic: to use character assassination and innuendo to shape political fortunes when the strength of goals and ideas can’t be found.

And in today’s Sun News’ “Straight Talk” column, a renewed drumbeat of criticism and dogma handed those of us who have a vein somewhere on our foreheads that thirsted to be-a-throbbin’.  Brought to us by way of Twitter: @SunNewsNetwork writes “Trudeau opposes revoking the citizenship of Canadians suspected of being involved in terrorism,” inviting readers to Ezra’s article and another poll that the neocons can use to erode liberties a little further, no doubt.

Funny how the right never seems particularly interested in getting at the truths comprising an issue and instead revert to wordplay masquerading as an unbiased poll (we’re supposed to ignore the leading nature of the question — after all, you don’t want to support terrorism do you?) which then somehow gets quoted in Question Period, in campaign literature or one of those helpful automated phone calls made during dinner.  The article itself turns out to be a tissue of quotes taken completely out of context; and you know there’s some constituency out there inhaling this stuff like a crack addict.  But how bad can it possibly be?  Surely there aren’t that many of ‘em out there…  Oh yah, this is the group running the government right now.

Uh oh!

Yes, there actually are enough people swallowing this stuff hook, line and sinker or people like Ezra wouldn’t have a job, and Harper wouldn’t be Prime Minister.  But Trudeau didn’t say Communist China was his favourite foreign country — it was just China, and he spent a bit of time there earlier in his life. Yes, you can favour decriminalization of drugs without advocating everyone should get high more often!  And taking quotes completely out of context and asking “Pardon?” as if it was Trudeau that didn’t make any sense instead of Ezra himself: this is just not supporting a political view centered on facts, reality or truth.

I don’t know how I will get through the next year if I have to watch the country come unravelled because Conservative politicians using vague ad hominem references, McCarthyist innuendo about views pursuing innocent political debate, or — I swear to God — one more tissue of lies published by Ezra Levant simply because he’s anxious to engage in another inflammatory, disingenuous diatribe on Liberal campaign issues (which aren’t published just yet).

Ezra, if the truth really will hurt the Liberals so much when they go public with their campaign, why are you slithering about the nether regions of what passes for Canada’s political theatre conjuring up demons?  Why not cling to whatever integrity as a journalist you have left and simply await this field day of yours, smiling patiently?  Reducing the political discourse to the degree you do really is bad for the country!

Butthole(s) of the Year for 2013: The Conservative Party of Canada

17-Dec-13 05:12 am EST Leave a comment
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James Moore (cutaway from Commons video), MP (Conservative), Ministry of Industry and Trade, Government of Canada.

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hether it was covering up the expenditures of its Senate appointees, hurting Canada’s standing in the international community with mid-east policy (being America’s “yes” man), glossing over cases of dirty campaigning (being found guilty of causing election irregularities through committing election fraud), to record-setting spending on personal attacks of opposition leaders, bankrupting environmental activists with legal fees over legitimate public concerns, or imposing a tyrannical regime of anti-drug paranoia in response to a legitimate, medically-prescribed treatment of mental illness, or (late, this past week) telling a reporter it was neither “the [Government of Canada]’s job” nor “[his] job to feed [his] neighbour’s child.”

Is it just me or is it starting to look like maybe — in the eyes of our nation’s leaders — that nothing is really their job until it comes time to pay themselves and their buddies with bottomless expense accounts and other rewards that prop-up their morally bankrupt ideology?

These dickheads make the spectre of Marie Antoinette look like the sugar plumb fairy!

Yes, it’s been quite a year and one I’m not likely to forget anytime soon.  My only hope is that October 2015 rolls around, my fellow citizens don’t suffer another lapse in memory and stick this truly undesirable element back into power when the time comes.  Though I’m not what you’d call a traditional supporter of rightist politics, I’ve never in my life been so filled with dread and deep-seated resentment about a Canadian political party.  It actually feels like the Republicans crossed north across the 49th and picked up where George W. Bush left off.

On his apology…were it just he and were it just this one thing, I could readily accept it.  But Moore is a part of a club that demands a #MooreChristmas doctrine – and, fundamentally, a heart that’s three sizes too small.  Nothing short of resignations to accompany apology will do now.  Would that it were a world wherein such Christmas miracles happen…

Political Meddling at its Very Worst!

29-Nov-13 09:08 am EST Leave a comment
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utrage doesn’t begin to describe what I felt after hearing about the plight of this RCMP officer this morning (see below).  I hate the way the RCMP gets so easily turned into a political football — especially in cases like this.  The force was dealing with the case of this one Mountie just fine….but when he decided (with the nod from his union) to demonstrate his use of medicinally-prescribed marijuana while in-uniform, the force suddenly reacted as if mental illness wasn’t worthy of “the optics” involved!

And, of course, the Conservatives are once again turning what should be a common-sense issue into political football by seizing upon the opportunity to make some kind of ridiculous statement about their anti-drug policy (another holdover from a long, by-gone era) and making an example of this decorated officer.

 

Pot-smoking Mountie has uniform seized by RCMP (Source: CBC.ca, 28-Nov-2013)

 

Shame on Tony Clement, Stephen Harper and the Conservatives for being more eager to change the channel away from the Senate scandal (just one among several) and punish a loyal public servant in the most crass and medieval manner imaginable!

How A UFO Story Is “Killed” by Politicians

17-Aug-13 01:13 am EDT 1 comment
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o you ever get the feeling that the Government (either of Canada or the United States) might not be totally forthcoming on the question “has Earth been visited by an alien civilization yet?”  Well a recent event off Canada’s Atlantic coast (Newfoundland) gives some cause for you being suspicious, if it makes any difference to you.

After reading this, I checked some statistics and learned that a full 93% of respondents to one CBC poll indicated that they were sure aliens existed elsewhere in the universe and, of those, another 70%+ were confident Earth had already been visited.  (Interestingly, Stanton Friedman; a Canadian nuclear physicist who’s been on something of a UFO information crusade for the past 40+ years also made the point in a recent interview that most people believe they are in the minority believing in the existence of aliens and encounters here on Earth.)

With the recent acknowledgement of the U.S. concerning the existence of Area 51 and the discovery of planets smaller than Earth in star systems less than 500 light years away from this world — I’m starting to think a larger announcement might not be too far off in the future.  At least now there’s some reason to feel confident governments will come clean with what they know; not because of any sudden resurgence of faith in democracy by politicians or bureaucrats previously hell-bent on secrecy…but simply because they’ll have no choice.

NextEra vs. “The Little Lady”

23-Jun-13 12:06 am EDT Leave a comment
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am not usually one to find myself agreeing with Conservative mouthpieces; but Ezra Levant has done a story that really hits on a big issue in Canadian Justice.  Why is it the entity with the most money should win in our legal system?

To summarize:

“A $32 billion energy corporation has filed a massive lawsuit against an Ontario environmentalist named Esther Wrightman. It’s a SLAPP suit: Strategic litigation against public participation. It’s not really about legal arguments. It’s about crushing Wrightman with legal bills and burning up her time, so she can’t spend time campaigning against them.”

The specific issue cited in the lawsuit is apparently one of her “being in competition” somehow with NextEra as a result of her protest, which to me seems immediately frivolous.  I’d have to guess that, in the purest legal terminology this a “torte” action (but, since I’m not a lawyer, I couldn’t say for certain) and so whether one needs to bother establishing a prima facie case isn’t clear either.  But it seems there ought to be a mechanism to prevent any corporation capitalized in the tens of billions of dollars from suing a homemaker and plant nursery caretaker who’s just trying to make sure her kids are safe and imposing insurmountably high legal costs she really can’t afford even with generous, repeat donations from the public.

I wish her best of luck – but maybe this is the kind of thing that needs more scrutiny by our hard-working politicians to correct.

New Space Race: Pros & Cons

02-May-13 02:48 pm EDT Leave a comment
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have to disagree with myself it looks like. (Maybe that doesn’t happen often enough!) But only recently has the “big picture” being pursued by the Obama administration started to become evident. And, I hate to admit it; it might not have gone so well if details of what must surely have been a deliberate strategy been announced at the beginning: let the private sector pave the way to space exploration.

The Ross Report

What this "spurning" by NASA entailed, we’ll probably never know.  But it’s not hard to speculate that NASA might find another space race with its old cold-war adversary useful.  What’s not useful is the inevitable adversarial attitude that occurs politically being exacerbated by a new space race.  So – is a space race good or bad?

Overall, I think we should probably be spending appreciably on extraterrestrial research because, overall, there appears to be plenty of evidence that the technological advances which result invariably imrpove the condition of humanity, and our understanding of the universe.  Too often, politicians come along and dogged by those who think the world’s problems will be solved organically by kind-hearted human beings spending on feeding the poor and healing the world’s sick with the…

View original post 231 more words

Elections Canada drops plan for online voting due to cuts – Politics – CBC News

02-May-13 04:56 am EDT Leave a comment
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midst all this talk of a budget surplus of $3.1 billion (among other criticisms of a multitude of spending faux pas by Canada’s Conservative administration), somehow a pretty high-profile item can’t even earn $0.0073 billion ($7.3 million) worth of attention from the Government of Canada: online voting.

It might not sound like a big deal; but, according to Elections Canada (the regulatory authority responsible for running elections in the country), the $7.3 million shortfall means no online voting will be available to citizens sooner than the general election of 2023.  Notwithstanding the several elections irregularity issues that have erupted around the Conservatives in the past few elections, or the (arguably) excessive spending on the F-35 contract, not subject to a competitive bidding process for some reason, two Auditors General (one of whom used to be a Conservative cabinet minister herself) have found this government heavy on spending and taxing the middle and lower classes – light on audits to measure results on various programmes under Conservative stewardship.  Admittedly, I’m a bit partisan toward the Liberals (no big shock there) – but on my most objective day with the wind at my back playing the most pro-Conservative apologist I can – I couldn’t find the straws to grasp ahead of the arguments needed to explain this emerging tale of fiscal incompetence.

What ever happened to that great Canadian mythology about Conservatives being better stewards of the nation’s purse strings?  Who’d have thought I’d ever be pining for the return of the old Progressive Conservative party (the one before Preston Manning and his entourage of displaced Texans moved into 24 Sussex Dr.)?

Ontario Government Introduces Legislation to Protect Consumers from High Cellphone Bills

29-Apr-13 05:49 pm EDT Leave a comment
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rotecting consumers from outrageously high cancellation fees (to now be limited to a maximum of $50) and compulsorily requiring customer consent to change cell phone contracts are just two of the measures drafted into long-awaited legislation aimed tabled in the Ontario Legislature today.  While consumers and the industry still await a code of conduct for vendors to be brought forward by the CRTC, the minority governing Liberals argue these measures are already overdue.

More details are available here.

Conservative Crime & Punishment Agenda Trumps Free Speech

22-Apr-13 02:26 pm EDT Leave a comment

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ews from Mexico of a Canadian woman’s 18-month (formerly indefinite) incarceration without representation by her Canadian government was only one of two items this week illustrating a long-standing pet peeve I have with the Conservatives’ crime & punishment agenda.  Now, the Conservative house-leader (in the Canadian House of Commons) has cancelled debate on a resolution that would have seen more power granted the back benches to speak on behalf of Canadians, and represent their constituents in favour of rushing through debate on a hastily-drafted anti-terrorism bill that seems little more than taking political advantage of the tragedy in Boston.

    Hopefully, my country(wo)men are getting as tired of this as I am!  (That, and the latest attack ads which put the new Liberal Party Leader, Justin Trudeau in the cross-hairs of Conservative pre-election spending.)

Mission Improbable: Analyzing Conservative Justice

22-Apr-13 01:53 pm EDT Leave a comment

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anadians seem to be having a tough time getting their consular representatives to help with problems abroad again….re-enforcing words spoken by (Canada’s) Liberal Party leader, Justin Trudeau at the convention last weekend.  Once again, the governing Conservatives seem to be abandoning those detained abroad to whatever injustices prevail instead of taking an interest in the outcome of cases where Canadians are detained without having the benefit of a government that will see them returned safely home; whether it be to serve time in a Canadian prison or simply to be exonerated of charges that have no merit.

In this episode of the CBC’s Fifth Estate, a woman who’d committed no crime was charged and held in a Mexican maximum security prison.  Was it her government that came to her aid?  Not bloody likely – it was the Mexican Supreme Court which finally agreed that based on numerous human rights violations during her incarceration her case should be thrown out!

Still, it was a hellish 18-month ordeal involving a heart-attack amongst other health problems resulting from a confinement that was absent a crime.  And nowhere to be seen were Canadian consular officials, perhaps presuming her guilt without so much as a review of the case (or none on record).  Or perhaps there was a review….one that had the stamp of RCMP approval on the word of a convicted felon and known liar.  Political scandal being swept under the carpet?

At least she’s home now – but the questions will, if there still is justice to be found in Canada, continue…

Canada’s net.Gestapo: The CRTC?

01-Feb-11 07:23 pm EST Leave a comment
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The Canadian Radio-Television and Communications Commission (CRTC) has recently been criticized for making rulings which overtly favour the larger Internet service providers and owners of service infrastructure (which in Canada are one and the same); leaving smaller Internet companies at a competitive disadvantage.
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ow did Canada’s Radio-Television and Communications Commission (CRTC) get the job of regulating virtually every aspect of Internet connectivity in the country?  It’s a question a growing number of people are finding themselves asking in light of a recent CRTC ruling concerning mandatory bandwidth caps being imposed on consumers.  The plan would also impose a billing system of usage-based billing where the amount of network bandwidth used — or the amount of data downloaded within a fixed period of time — would become the lone basis for which Internet access could be sold. (Meaning no more “unlimited bandwidth” accounts.)

Proponents argue that other services, such as conventional utilities, offer such metered service in the same way and that Internet access should be no different since the amount of network traffic is really what drives infrastructure costs for service carriers.  But consumer advocates and smaller Internet companies, including smaller Internet access providers who are already forced to pay larger carriers like Bell Canada and Rogers Communications for the bandwidth they effectively resell to their customers argue that mandating metered or usage-based access inevitably makes access more expensive, and thus limiting their options in terms of the service bundles smaller service providers can offer.  The small Internet companies say that this is actually the real aim of of the new rules being advocated by the larger carriers: to eliminate them from the market altogether creating a near-monopoly.

But it does seem to fit the pattern of decision-making exhibited by the CRTC.  I can’t think of a single ruling in the past 10 years that has favoured either the consumer or the ideal of improved competition.  To answer the lead question of my article superficially; the CRTC regulates not only radio-frequency and wireless technology (who can transmit on what frequency), but also who can have access to property to install infrastructure such as cable or phone lines and under what terms.  And it’s precisely because they regulate the infrastructure, they also get to regulate the rates consumers pay for those services.  But small Internet companies are distantly removed from any of this, yet their business models are directly impacted when the CRTC and extends its mandate into the world of how much data transmitted over the infrastructure should cost.

But it’s been decades since that infrastructure was laid down and while it is still maintained today and rights of access and other practical concerns need regulation, it’s really hard to see what business the CRTC has in dictating what pricing model a small Internet service can offer its customers.

Yet that’s precisely what it’s doing today.

And so the time has come perhaps to review the CRTC’s role and, in fact, limit its ability to regulate in the area of data and Internet.  These newer technologies simply don’t need a regulatory body to involve itself the way the CRTC does and it should be explicitly prohibited from having any say in how the industry is run.  It should enforce the right of access to subsidiary carriers to all services which are part of its mandate – for those services exist by virtue of government regulation.  But beyond that, there’s simply no need that I can see for them to be involved.

Here’s hoping the upcoming review uncovers this obvious truth and that the Conservative government decides to take a common-sense approach to ensuring consumers are protected and the market remains healthy and competitive.

Tories Trash Canadian Citizenship

08-Nov-10 07:03 pm EST Leave a comment
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great article in the National Post today echoes earlier complaints I’ve made about the Conservatives’ practice of virtually ignoring Canadians incarcerated or detained for whatever reason abroad.   This goes quite beyond the story of Omar Kadr who has been left to languish in Gitmo (the highly controversial detention facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba where captured combatants from the Afghan theatre of conflict are detained); quite understandably feeling betrayed by his nation and its people (who for reasons I’m starting to have difficulty understanding still seem to prefer the government of Stephen Harper over the candidacy of Michael Igntieff, Leader of the Liberal Party, Her Majesty’s Loyal Official Opposition).

The Tories continue to argue — in some cases just plain wrongfully — that Canadians being detained abroad are terrorists, criminals, or what have you and that they must answer for their crimes in whatever country has detained them.  Of course, the detention facilities in places like the Sudan or Thailand are less comfortable to be sure and initially one might think “too bad”; ya do the crime, ya do the time…wherever you did the crime.  But in most cases, extradition treaties have been put in place precisely to ensure that Canadians have the option to serve sentences in Canada to facilitate re-integration as citizens in this country.  And to not grant Canadians access to the benefits of these treaties is to deny them the opportunity for rehabilitation into our society — the stated mission of our penal system.

Peter Van Loan (left), the Canadian minister for international trade, meets with Prince Khaled bin Sultan, assistant minister of defense and aviation for military affairs, in Riyadh on Wednesday. (SPA) (Image Source: ArabNews.com)

Beyond this, there are several cases where Canadians are convicted of severe crimes, eliciting in punishments that violate our Constituion; and every Canadian is supposed to be protected by our Constitution regardless of where they are.  A recent case of two young Canadians (one a teenager at the time of the alleged incident and thus a minor in our system) were convicted of a capital crime in Saudi Arabia and faced the death penalty by means of public decapitation.  Most in Canada would consider such a penalty not just cruel and unusual (particularly for the boys’ parents and family), but barbaric and unacceptable.  Yet the Conservatives had done precious little on this file until just this year (they were arrested in 2007) and their lives still remain in jeopardy, though the sentence has been delayed while the Saudi justice system deals with the numerous irregularities cited in their trial.

What might really be behind the Tories’ seeming reluctance to protect Canadians travelling abroad is simply good ‘ol right-wing ideology.  It’s long been suspected that Stephen Harper has secretly favoured the death penalty, despite publicly commenting otherwise; yet it’s pretty obvious that a philosophy of non-intervention in capital cases will increase the likelihood of executions.  And in the non-capital cases; part of that inconsistent desire to be a “law and order” party, except when it’s politically inconvenient.

Ironically, what might eventually put an end to this practice isn’t an unprecedented upwelling of Canadian angst about fellow citizens being executed for crimes they didn’t commit, nor will it be any great philosophical or spiritual epiphany being had by Stephen Harper.  It seems that the other nations of the world — even those whose legal systems are more reminiscent of well-organized drumheads than courts of justice — are getting tired of the Canadian government “dumping” criminals on them.  In particular the United States has lodged a formal diplomatic protest concerning an unprecedented backlog of unprocessed requests for transfers of prisoners to Canadian jails and prisons.

And all the stars would have to disappear both from the sky and the American flag before a Tory Canadian PM would dare to defy the American government, you can be sure!

Categories: Law and Public Policy

Conrad Black gets bail – News – MSN CA

20-Jul-10 12:37 am EDT Leave a comment
Above: CBC’s Mike Hornberg (CBC correspondent covering the Black trial) reviews the court order granting Conrad Black bail being reviewed by Judge Saint-Yves later this week.  Black’s release is certain, but the terms of his release still need to be set, according to Hornberg (Monday, July 19, 2010).
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ord Conrad Black still manages to garner headlines here in Canada.  And now, just 2 years into his 6½-year sentence, an appeals court in the U.S. has overturned 3 of the 4 chargers that previously landed him in prison.  And now it looks a whole lot like Black, who is to be released later this week, may never go back to prison.

Left: CBC interviews Eric Sussman, the lead attorney in the prosecution of the Black case following news of his successful appeal and release (Monday, July 19, 2010).

”I am very surprised…though I don’t know why I’m surprised by this case anymore.”
”I would think it likely he will be out of jail…by Thursday or Friday, at the latest.”

— Eric Sussman

Of course, I was always of the view Black deserved jail time.  But his original sentence (which was in excess of 12 years, if memory serves) was far too harsh.  In my view, the United States punishes its non-violent criminals far too harshly to begin with.  Certainly, with 60-70% of its national prison population incarcerated on drug charges (unrelated to violent crime), one has to question the sentencing guidance at minimum.  Huge costs are going to keep these people in jail, after all.  Until recently, I was paid less than the maintenance costs associated with annual incarceration (and what’s changed is advancement in my career…not that less is being spent on prisons).

So I find myself sort of thinking Black should be released at this point, even if he was guilty.  But that decision lies in the hands of authorities south of the border.  Of course, his legal troubles aren’t over yet simply because he’s out of jail: the IRS is after him for over $70 million and questions over whether he’s guilty of tax evasion…which could land him in jail again at some future date.

But for now, it appears that insofar as these charges are concerned, he may never return to jail.

Categories: Law and Public Policy

The Canadian Line of Succession: A Crisis Waiting to Happen?

05-Jul-10 11:36 pm EDT 7 comments
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magine this scenario.  During a major international conference in Toronto in the year 2018, North Korea’s young, new yet dangerously paranoid leader Kim Jong-un achieves what to date has been even more unthinkable than the 9/11 tragedy.  Fearing an international force led by the United States and supported by other nations whose leaders attend the meeting are days away from launching an attack on North Korea, Jong-un has DPRK operatives detonate a low-yield fission nuclear charge in downtown Toronto, killing tens of thousands.  Among the dead are the President of the United States, the Prime Minister of Canada and Canada’s de jure head-of-state, the Governor-General.  The world and North America in particular are immediately plunged into a crisis of historic proportions; and shortly after the event and the discovery of enriched uranium originating from North Korea at ground-zero, there is widespread support for war in both the US and Canada.  But there’s a stark difference between the two principle nations involved in the emerging crisis….in the United States, the Vice-President is immediately sworn into office as the new President.  But what about Canada?

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper presided over the G20 summit in Toronto during the final week of June 2010.  The Governor General was also in attendance, which isn’t unusual.  Could this be a recipe for disaster?

I was reading an article this evening that posed this question (absent the dramatic preamble).  And it seems that since Canada’s constitution recognizes only the Governor-General as having the power to form the government with the Prime Minister (by convention) appointing the Governor-General via an order-in-council.  But it isn’t clear what happens if both are incapacitated or lost at the same time.  Indeed, even the loss of the Prime Minister requires the Governor-General to perform a political function quite apart from his/her usual role.

I wasn’t aware of this flaw in the Canadian system, really. Any one of a number of scenarios would likely play out so that Canada wouldn’t be leaderless long. In the scenario I described, it seems likely the Deputy Prime Minister would likely appoint a new Governor-General fairly quickly who, jointly with the Deputy PM, would agree on some kind of interim government.  But apart from some general practices and procedures concerning ministerial succession in government, there’s nothing to really guide the House of Commons in a situation like that described.

And there should be.

The last thing you need in a national emergency is political in-fighting to screw things up even more.  And while one hopes we never have a day like the one I described, it would be pretty important for the country to be able to pull together and respond quickly.  And the only way to do that well is to provide for solid leadership at the top.

I’d encourage everyone giving this subject a read to e-mail their MP and ask about succession in the government and what has been done, what is being done, and what remains to be done on this file.  History teaches us there’s little chance our politicians will get together to do the job themselves without some urging from the electorate.

“Whiny” Protesters Don’t Deserve Sympathy

03-Jul-10 01:34 pm EDT Leave a comment
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a know….I still can’t get past this. What did these guys expect? They’re police for Christ’s sake! When they arrest you, it’s not like you get treated all nice. They’re not looking out for your comfort. They harden their emotions towards you right from the start and they’re certainly not gonna feel sorry because you didn’t realize what was in store for you….

I think when you deliberately involve yourself in a protest that you know could turn violent, it’s naive at best, and simply stupid at worst to think there aren’t risks. Nobody from the Auto unions or the morning protests (on Saturday) echoed these complaints — because they’d all gone home by the time the real crazy started. And their demonstrations were peaceful and even protected (to some extent) by police.
Should it be this way? Perhaps not in a perfect world, but the police do have a bit of a rough time trying to filter out the law-breaking insurgent element from the supposedly responsible demonstrator mixed up with the former.

Categories: Law and Public Policy

On Treason: A Contemporary Perspective

15-Apr-10 08:48 pm EDT Leave a comment
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he following is in response to an article by Tom Flanagan, writing in a (mostly) conservative blog called “C2C: Canada’s Journal of Ideas”.

It seems I am inclined to take the precisely opposite point of view from Mr. Flanagan: I can’t imagine a coherent argument being made in favour of Louis Riel being found guilty of treason, yet I think the charge of treason has both utility and merit in being applied to one or two contemporary cases.

Flanagan cites cases like the Toronto 18, aboriginal protests at Caledonia and the FLQ as examples of cases where applying a criminal charge of treason or high treason would have been counter-productive.  I am not at all certain he’s being realistic where aboriginal protests are concerned, for the simple fact that one enters a rather messy zone asserting that any aboriginal defending land claims or treaty rights is somehow guilty of treason.  But the issue is one of a treason charge in any sense being a misapplication of the criminal law rather than any conceptual fault with treason being in the Criminal Code.

The acts of the FLQ are a different matter entirely.  Clearly, kidnapping and murdering political figures while making demands that further the goal of political autonomy outside of the rule of law is, most will agree, very treason-like behaviour.  And applying a treason charge to individuals in such a group does not somehow set a precedent or indicate will or intent to start laying charges of treason against members of the Parti Québecois (either in whole or part).  There is a very wide, obvious gap between acknowledging the current political establishment as legitimate and working from within to change it to something else, with the expressed belief of the result being of greater good for all vs. committing acts of violence to achieve some perceived benefit for one’s own group at the expense of the other.  The ambiguity Mr. Flanagan sees is, to my eyes, imaginary.

The Toronto 18 were about as close to a textbook case of traitors as one could get, I think.  Not only was there a stated goal of killing the de facto head-of-state (Prime Minister Harper), there’s apparently evidence of seizing control of Parliament and blackmailing the government of Canada – without the consent of or any concern for its people.  In contrast, the FLQ at least was trying to further the liberty and interests of the people of Québec — absent was any such desire amongst the Toronto 18.

So why not a charge of treason?  Regardless of how "feudal" the word sounds to Mr. Flanagan’s obviously learned ear, the crime exists to address behaviour motivated by and executed according to specific criteria.  And very real harms result from treason – harms to us all.  Do laws exist providing lesser charges to redress the same conduct?  Certainly the Anti-Terrorism Act is a good example.  And perhaps the Criminal Code definition deserves review and update to constrain its use to cases where the malevolence against the people of Canada is indicated.  But when such a crime is committed, there’s no question in my mind the appropriate charge and punishment ought to be applied.

And let those other charges for terrorism, etc. be applied in the less extreme cases absent the criteria matching treason.

We need treason to remain in the Criminal Code more than ever now – to reflect that acting against the people of Canada is among the most serious of offences and an affront to the conscience of our society; with correspondingly severe penalties.  Will we remain safer?  It’s odd that Flanagan thinks not because surely having the power to hold these traitors in jail for life is better than the relatively lenient penalties outlined in the Anti-Terrorism Act.

Responses here or on my Facebook profile, welcome…(although comments here are preferred, naturally).

Categories: Law and Public Policy

Dolphin Language Complexity Gets Attention of SETI

09-Apr-10 01:55 am EDT 2 comments
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articipation in the You Tube comments section attached to a trailer for the award-winning documentary “The Cove” has resulted in my attention remaining focussed on this issue this past week.  (To me, there was something very appropriate about my experiences facing the semi-wilful ignorance of many commentators falling in the week leading up to Easter.  The words of Christ just prior to his execution kept appearing in my mind: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” [Luke 23:34]) One of the more popular points of debate was centred, predictably, on a dispute about whether dolphins are sentient, and thus whether they should be considered persons under the law.  Unfortunately, the video comments section on You Tube leaves something to be desired – comment size is restricted to 350 characters or less so the expression of ideas occur in a rather staccato fashion without much pause for cultivation of ideas.  To complicate matters, the anti-dolphin arguments are coming almost entirely from Japanese commentators whose first language is, quite naturally, Japanese — a language I don’t speak, read or write.  I am unsure that my opponents can articulate their ideas as clearly as they might otherwise (in English), although certainly (with occasional aid from translation software) I get the main ideas being conveyed. Still, I have to say, there seems to be very high resistance to the idea that dolphins are people — almost all seem unwilling to look at any scientific evidence or even consider the notion.

Contrary to what the anti-dolphin bloc claims, I don’t believe they represent the majority of Japanese public opinion.  The Japanese public has been, until recently, largely uninformed on the issue prior to the release of “The Cove”. (In fact, part of the movie’s purpose was to serve to inform the Japanese public about what is really going on.)  Still, there is clearly an element in Japanese society that feels the whole issue of dolphin rights has been raised to further subjugate Japan’s interests and protect various foreign interests of common benefit to “western” nations.  Often such arguments digress into citations of western racism toward Japan (with any pro-dolphin argument automatically becoming racist and anti-Japanese) and/or conspiracy theories involving Sino-Euro-American collusion.

There are many aspects of this “reasoning’ which are problematic for dolphin rights:

  • Claiming that most (if not all) of the world is against you is the kind of nationalistic xenophobia that can quickly degenerate into extremism within Japan’s political establishment.  It really drives me crazy when anyone starts abusing sovereignty to defend unjust or immoral policy.  And it happens all the time.  A number of anti-dolphin responses tried to cite Canada’s poor treatment of its aboriginal population to claim that even if dolphins were people, I was in no position to lecture Japan on its treatment of them because of that stain on Canadian history.  The difference here is, of course, my nation’s treatment of aboriginals has improved markedly since the mid-20th century as we’ve gradually evolved as a society; to the point our social sensibilities reinforce legal guarantees of equality and treaty rights.  Japan has taken no action to protect dolphins in any meaningful sense since scientists announced that there was sufficient evidence to consider dolphins as people.

    View Taiji Town, Higashimuro District, Wakayama Prefecture in a larger map (Courtesy: Google Maps)
  • Another aspect that contributes difficulty is that there has, in fact, been a history of condescension and outright bullying of oriental powers, including Japan by European powers since the colonial period. And while the 20th century really saw the end of any foreign power holding significant political influence in Japanese affairs (notwithstanding the defeat of Japan in World War II and the use of nuclear weapons to force its prompt capitulation to the United States), there yet remains a quite understandable recalcitrance toward foreigners and Americans in particular meddling in what would otherwise be Japan’s sovereign right to manage its own natural resources.
  • Finally, there’s no easy way to lay these arguments to rest in the minds of those who begin subscribing to this brand of nationalism.  We’ve even begun to hear Taiji’s residents claiming the dolphin hunt is a feature of long-standing Japanese culture.  (Never mind the fact that the American TV show “Flipper” was largely responsible for kindling commercial interest in dolphins making this particular aspect of Japanese “culture” between 30 and 40 years old.  Even Canadians and Americans who have cultures only a few centuries old would consider it difficult to see a tradition that didn’t exist when their grandparents were born as a significant cultural element in the Japanese way of life, which exhibits traditions many thousands of years old.)

Perhaps most frustrating of all is the fact that these arguments are all entirely peripheral to the question of dolphins being sentient.  Japan often finds itself being more technologically advanced than any other nation on Earth (by as much as a decade ahead in some areas of scientific and technological advancement) and clearly has the technology and expertise to see what other scientists in the world can see: that the scientific evidence supports an argument for dolphins being sentient beings deserving of the same protections as humans under the law.

Articles supporting the argument for dolphin sentience aren’t hard to find, although the specific metrics to judge sentience vary as widely as the subjects for the research.  Interestingly, little research has been invested in actually achieving an understanding the grammar of dolphin languages.

Among the latest research on this subject is the discovery that the complexity of dolphin languages are comparable to that of humans.  The SETI Institute is a international non-profit organization (based in the United States) whose name is an acronym for the “Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence” and whose mandate is, as the name suggests, to determine whether sentient life exists elsewhere in the universe.  Technically speaking, dolphins fall outside its mandate, but a 2001 article in the SETI newsletter examined research in the area of information analysis and whether certain patterns of sounds emitted over a certain bandwidth could be characterized in terms of complexity and thus be converted into an indicator of intelligence or perhaps even sentience.

Of course, determining whether a particular emission of sounds exhibits linguistic properties as a means of deriving a probability of artificial source has obvious applications for SETI.  But in order to create a standardized process, SETI researchers are already proceeding on the assumption that humans aren’t the only intelligent life on this planet in hopes of some day finding intelligence elsewhere in the universe.

That assumption: dolphins are another form of intelligent and/or sentient life on Earth.

And when we start using dolphin language(s) as a benchmark for determining whether an intercepted signal from outer space is being sent from an alien civilization with intelligence and/or sentience comparable to that of humanity, what possible rationale could remain for us to consider dolphins as anything less than people themselves?

Categories: Law and Public Policy

Dolphins Are Non-Human Persons

21-Mar-10 01:13 pm EDT Leave a comment

I used to get laughed at by people in the small town I grew up in, Beausejour, Manitoba, saying exactly what scientists said a month ago at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.  Of course, I didn’t have 30 years of collected evidence to present in making my argument.  But even at that time many scientists were coming around to the view many species of dolphins exhibit traits of intelligence, self-awareness and even consciousness approaching those in humans.

So it begs the question: shouldn’t we afford dolphins the same rights as human beings: as “nonhuman persons”?  Well of course we should, and if we did some priority might be given to researching ways to communicate more meaningfully with our oceanic brethren.  More importantly, rights for dolphins might result in nations like Denmark and Japan being prevented from committing, what amounts to, unfortunately, mass-murder.

And therein lies one huge obstacle to dolphins being declared nonhuman persons a reality: nobody wants to be called murderer.  For this reason alone, I suspect there will be certain countries resistant to even declaring a ban on dolphin cullings never mind the larger issue around recognizing dolphins as people.

Categories: Law and Public Policy

Just Say “Know!”

29-May-09 11:28 pm EDT Leave a comment
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eading the CBC News website this evening resulted in my chancing upon a story concerning a landmark Supreme Court (of Canada) ruling.  The case involved a woman who was facing having her house confiscated as a “proceed of crime”, having been previously convicted of running a “grow-op” in her home.  The “grow-op” was relatively small scale and not operated for the purposes of trafficking, so the court ruled in her favour – to wails of “shame” from those who argue for more aggressive (and unfair) drug laws in Canada.  Although most of the comments I read were members of this pro-police-state crowd, there were overwhelming votes of disapproval on each of the comments indicating a silent majority agreed with the Supreme Court ruling.

I couldn’t resist adding my own reaction to the comments – risking having my name being associated with a view that might elicit vigorous disagreement.  Admittedly, I do sometimes worry that a colleague, employer or potential client might disagree with my libertarian perspective or draw conclusions about me from them which could well be untrue.  (In a fashion similar to a proponent of free-speech being mistaken for a sexual deviant after being caught defending a pornography vendor across the street from a high school.)  But sometimes it’s important one announce their beliefs lest we, as a society (and democracy), mistakenly conclude that voices are silent because nobody agrees with us, or those who disagree with us feel justified in stifling our civil rights because our seemingly low numbers make our beliefs insignificant.

The following is my response to the story linked above…

“LOL – the "just say no" crowd again feigns its shock at how unpopular their views are when exposed to the public.  Presumptuously, they contend it must mean that because those of us who disagree must just not know any better.  Some even cite their rehab experience (where they’re ritually indoctrinated with "just say no" dogma in tandem with other treatment) as being ironclad evidence that all drugs are all bad all the time and in every case.

Of course, it doesn’t ever occur to this sanctimonious bunch that there might be some of us who’ve used drugs – have used for many years, and didn’t have that same experience.  We must be either lying or a statistical anomaly – because drugs are always harmful, and there’s no such thing as moderation.  And don’t cite alcohol or tobacco – they’re not drugs.  Not really, anyway – they’re much "weaker" than real drugs.

Okay, an overdose of sarcasm there.  Sorry about that, but it’s hard to understand how people can be so rigidly wed to ideas that can’t withstand the test of evidence staring ya right in the face almost daily.  It’s particularly hard when the consequences of a more enlightened attitude toward recreational drug use could so richly benefit our society and improve the lives of those who’ve had their lives destroyed not by drugs, but ignorant, unfair laws around drugs.  Laws that, unlike any other, ignore individual liberty under the guise of protecting society from being overrun by potheads or other supposed "addicts".

Unfortunately, my rant here will do little good.  All I can do is urge any readers to treat drugs as any other topic about which they are unlearned: if empirical evidence isn’t an option, then read, chat, ask questions and above all think criticallyDON’T JUST SAY NO!”

Story comments, “B.C pot grower won’t forfeit house,” (CBC News, 29/05/2009), by Ross Holder writing as ross613.

Not much has happened in the past several months in the “war on drugs” file.  Well, Canada doesn’t really have a “war on drugs” (thank God), but every so often the Conservative government makes noises about strengthening already hefty police powers or increasing jail time so that there’s less room for real criminals like murderers, rapists, thieves and child pornographers.  For some reason, those crimes don’t offer as many opportunities to attract the glare of television cameras.  Anyway, this case will stir things up a bit and we’ll follow with updates to this story as they arise.

Categories: Law and Public Policy

Secrecy: Good for Business or Government?

08-Apr-09 10:01 pm EDT Leave a comment

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s mentioned here earlier, I’ve left (more nudged, really) my last job working for Microsoft (and Cactus Commerce) and am now employed by a very stable, successful Gatineau-based consulting firm and will be working for the Government of Canada for the foreseeable future.  Notwithstanding any other previous mention specifically indicating the nature of my current work, I’ve decided to not discuss specific projects I’m working on in my blog any more.  This is because I’m bound by a couple of agreements, both of which I take extremely seriously: the standard non-disclosure agreement (NDA) I signed for the consulting firm, and an oath I signed back in 2002, which resulted in my being assigned clearances under the Government of Canada Security Policy.  The primary purpose of these agreements is to ensure the privacy of individuals and corporate entities, to safeguard trade secrets and technologies and business processes which have commercial value, and to protect Canada’s security interests.  These are, of course, reasonable measures and it’s perfectly fair and necessary to have secrecy agreements for employees and government contractors.  But my change in employment made me reflect on my experiences with NDAs and other secrecy agreements in both government and private industry.  And there seems to be an almost obfuscated secondary effect: secrecy can breed inefficiency or cover up poor quality.

So the question needs to be asked, are such blanket agreements the way to go or would a different scheme serve the public better?  While NDAs are very effective at protecting corporations, there is often a term which extends well beyond the last day of employment that prevents the former employee form disclosing the designs of technologies developed by him/her to a new employer, or from starting and/or engaging in commercial activity in the same industry for the duration of the agreement.  Since a contracting programmer’s livelihood depends on leveraging relevant experience, preventing him/her form essentially re-using a block of code on a similar software project for, say a competitor might make it difficult for that programmer to find a job – were the prevailing practice to throw away any knowledge gained on one project in favour of innovating a different approach to achieve the same functionality.  Imagine how much more expensive software would be if cut-and-pasting code from the Internet were suddenly impractical!

“Secrecy can breed inefficiency or cover up poor quality.”

Luckily, the nature of NDAs and contract law generally means that programmers pretty much always get away with re-using old code since the process of compilation obfuscates code, making it virtually impossible for a covetous former employer to prove an NDA has been violated.  That’s not to say NDAs are completely useless; the NDA I signed with Cactus would give either Cactus or Microsoft legal recourse if I were to take the knowledge I acquired helping to write Commerce Server 2009 and applied to create my own very similar retail web e-commerce server application.  So NDAs do help prevent such technology “poaching”. But is that fair to the programmer – particularly when the practical impediments are in themselves plenty disincentive for such a venture being pursued.

But what about national security and individual privacy?  Surely, we all have a right to expect our Government will do all it can to protect our rights – isn’t a blanket secrecy oath or agreement the minimum measure needed to protect the public?  It might be, yes.  But usually, contractors don’t work in areas of public policy where any experience or any type of information disclosure would be harmful.  If a contractor or government employee, for example, works on data including the Social Insurance Number, date of birth, address or other vitals – clearly the point of main risk is disclosure of that information beyond the work environment.  But the terms of that employee’s security clearance may prevent disclosures of another nature – including being a whistle-blower: about bureaucratic inefficiencies that cost people money or loopholes that might give one group an unfair advantage at the expense of another.  Normally, a government employee might be able to call a journalist anonymously to report about such things – but not if the terms under which their security clearance was issued specifically make such disclosure a criminal act; perhaps classifying such behaviour as treason.

“…at the root of the practice of “blanket secrecy” in both commercial and government organizations is risk mitigation.”

Yet, ironically, the intention of the individual could be completely altruistic.  Of course, there might be nothing that can practically be done concerning such activity effectively ending that person’s job with the Government (nobody wants to work with a whistleblower).  But turning it into a criminal affair, as in the example with the NDA, might be taking things too far.

What could be at the root of the practice of “blanket secrecy” in both commercial and government organizations is risk mitigation.  Good lawyers, like any good programmer or project manager, will make every effort to mitigate risk for their clients.  Microsoft, Cactus, the Government of Canada all have lawyers and H/R budgets to help craft secrecy agreements that ensure no employee – disgruntled or otherwise can get out of respecting professional disclosure.  And few programmers are prepared to spend time and money, not to mention jeapordizing a potential new job, negotiating more favourable terms on a matter like disclosure.  (Particularly, when one can’t know beforehand what isn’t being disclosed.)  Employers need to recognize they aren’t risking anything tailoring NDAs and other secrecy agreements to address the particular points of risk associated with a position.  And the government may need to impose some requirements on employers (including itself) to get the ball rolling, making sure to add new measures to protect whistle-blowers extends to agreements related to security clearances held by government employees.

In particular, such agreements should be improved so that they never protect poor performance within the government, as they now likely do in some cases.  As such, refining rules around disclosure can only help build a better, more efficient and well-run nation.

A Post-Script: Should Whistle-Blowers Be Protected?

I said above “nobody wants to work with a whistle-blower”.  That may be presumptuous – and it’s really just a guess on my part.  But you’d have to think it would be tough to work in a government office alongside colleagues whose own performance evaluations could be negatively impacted by an embarrasing public revelation.  At the very least, colleagues might legitimately question whether you might not ‘snitch’ if you saw them doing something you deemed improper.  Consequently, whistle-blowers are vulnerable to being not well-regarded.

In my view, offering official protections for whistle-blowers probably won’t stop such a person from being completely hamstrung since a critical level of trust would be irrevocably compromised.  The exception to this rule might be a particular kind of whistle-blower who’s acted in counsel with his/her colleagues, perhaps as a last resort in the absence of other options – or where the stakes for the public are high and remedial internal efforts have simply failed.  We’d like to think every workplace in the Government of Canada is ideal and such circumstances never arise, but if they ever do it might be important in such rare cases to at least remove the threat of a criminal record.

Unfortunately, like anything, whistle-blowing protections could be abused by disgrunteled employees or by those seized with other kinds of sociiopathic behaviour.  I’m firmly of the view that all other internal remedies should be pursued before turning to public disclosures having the potential to result in political scandal.  And even then, the public interest would have to be of sufficiently high stakes to make taking an action likely to impact the lives and careers of a portentially large group of people justified.

So if being a whistle-blower is so rarely justified (one would home!), why is it worth having?  It doesn’t seem that vehicles for employee feedback are very accessible in government structures.  This has to do with the division between the bureaucracy and elected officials – a line that doesn’t really have a parallel in the corporate structure.  However, were the risk of whistle-blowers drawing attention to deficiencies in the government present, bringing public officials and the bureaucracy closer together might be the outcome; with better service to the public being the inevitable by-product of both measures.

Categories: Law and Public Policy
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