Saturday, August 24, 2013

Law-Abiding Politicians

"I think politicians are entitled to private lives," - John Baird

Yet another article in today's G&M - page 3 no less - about pot smoking politicians.  Recently Trudeau admitting to having a puff since becoming an MP.

I totally support legalization of marijuana, and I don't care if you were a junkie as a teenager, but I think all politicians should be law-abiding while in office, and, ideally, maybe even a few years prior.  Is that so much to ask?

I remember once, in my early 20s, sitting with friends when a joint was being passed around.  One friend got up and left because she was thinking about becoming a cop and didn't feel right being in the same room with people breaking the law.  She was just thinking about it.

That's the kind of politicians I want.  Once you start thinking about getting into politics, you've got to clean up your act.

Which is why I prefer to just blog about politics and write them letters!

Friday, August 23, 2013

On Canada: A Fair Country

I used to be so proud to be Canadian and that's wavered over this difficult period in our history.  I was searching for this book to loan out, and once found, I got totally engrossed in re-reading it.  It made me feel so much better.  It's an important book about who we really are:  A Fair Country: Telling Truths About Canada by John Ralston Saul (2009).  What a delight!

Like Hedges' Empire of Illusion, this book focuses on our cultural stories or myths.  How we understand ourselves affects how we live and act, our beliefs and allegiances.  And we Canadians have lost our way swimming through the miasma of American influence.  As a civics teacher, when I do a pre-test at the beginning of the year, a good half the grade ten class give American answers to questions about Canadian politics.  Once in a while, someone admits that they thought Obama was our president too.  And they're not far off.  We have a long journey ahead of us to correct this indoctrination.  We can't be true to ourselves if we don't know who we are.  

Here are my notes and thoughts along the way, but do read the book - I've just captured the ideas, but the stories are what make it. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Paternity Rights in Rape Cases

It's an interesting moral dilemma to have a judge decide a child has access to a father when the only contact the mother and father had was a sexual assault producing this child.  This isn't entirely the story here.  In this article, it could be a case of statutory rape.  It's possible there was a relationship for a while, that led to vocally consensual, yet not actually legal, sex.  It's not clear from the article if it was a guy jumping out of the bushes or a romantic tryst gone wrong or something in between.

The young mother, H.T."says she lived with her mother, who had to quit her job to care for the baby."

Well...the grandmother didn't have to quit her job to support the baby.  That was a choice she made - a difficult choice, but not the only possibility.  It makes me nuts when someone says they "had to" make some sacrifice for someone.  Apparently abortion wasn't on the table even though she was 14 when she gave birth, but that could have been an alternative to suffering caused by one fewer paycheque in the family.  It was her choice to leave her job.  But that's just a minor point.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Benevolent Dictator isn't a Fascist

In a post a while back I advocate the best of our worst options for saving our species:  a government that forces us be less wasteful.  It's an idea that James Lovelock proposed, and some called it fascist. But there's a world of difference between enforcing legislation that actually protects the citizens in the long term and a police state.

John Oliver did a series of clips about how Australia managed to change their laws to ban semi-automatic weapons and seriously restrict other guns.  The trilogy is well worth a watch at only 18 minutes in total.  But the part that interests me is the idea that politicians had to commit political suicide in order to pass the legislation through, AND they were willing to do this for the good of the country.  People protested the new restrictions and voted the politicians who supported it out of office.  But it had already passed.  This was in 1996, and since then, the citizens have gotten used to the restrictions on their freedom and appreciate that mass shootings have gone from almost one/year down to zero.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

On Hedges' Empire of Illusion

"People who shut their eyes to reality simply invite their own destruction, and anyone who insists on remaining in a state of innocence long after that innocence is dead turns himself into a monster."  - James Baldwin 

Thus begins Chris Hedges' Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle (2009), a collection of five independent parts that lead to the same place.  We're in denial - thick and deadly.  It's similar to Jane JacobsDark Age Ahead, but I can't, for the life of me, find my heavily annotated copy of the book.  So I'll skip the comparison except to say they both suggest we're in a similar cultural place that many empires were just before collapsing.  What Jared Diamond did with environmental degredation's effect on the fall of empires, Hedges does for cultural illusions.  The problem with this fall is that it will be global.  There will be no area of the world that can rise up afterwards.  There will be no area of the world.

Here are some of the main points in brief.  It's a quick read though, so go buy it!

On Raising the Minimum Wage

So, the argument goes something like this:  If you raise minimum wage, corporations will pay for that cost by raising prices, thereby increasing inflation, and we'll all be poorer for it as everything gets more expensive.  The problem isn't wages, but inflation. Therefore, we should not increase minimum wage.

It follows, that it's necessary that some people work full time yet live well below the poverty line because otherwise, if we raise their wages, they'll end up even poorer because everything will costs so much more - right?  So, we're actually helping people by maintaining a lower wage for them and letting them choose between heat or food.  We're awesome! 

I don't buy it.

Friday, August 16, 2013

On Solar Panels

By request - how well does using solar panels work?

Well, it's hard to say.

I covered my roof with panels under the Ontario MicroFIT (Feed-in Tariff) program that ends next year.  So far I think it's only in Ontario, but some other provinces are thinking about it.  The power I generate from the panels goes directly back to the grid, and I'm paid about 55 cents a kWh and will continue to be for the duration of my 20 year contract.  So far this summer, even with all the rain, it translates to about $300-400/month.  So the cost of the panels is paid for in about 6-8 years.  After that, the money I make in the following 12 years is mine to keep!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Just Legalize it Already

I spent a lovely extended weekend in Awenda and fell in love with Penetanguishene through a scenic bike ride.  The sun filtered through the trees on either side of the road, with the blue, blue lake peeking through - gorgeous!  But it was marred by my chosen beach read:  Chris Hedges' grim Empire of Illusion, which actually gave me nightmares - featuring Hugh Laurie for some reason.  Spooky, me possums!  I'll get to the book another day, but for now, let's focus on the distraction du jour:  marijuana legalization.  That's much easier to think about.  Tra-la-la.

Medicinal ganja is already legal, and new regulations are apparently streamlining the process to access it, but that's a boring issue anyway, so we'll move on.  The meaty question is: Should another mind-altering substance be legally available to the healthy masses?

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

On Categorization of Behaviours and Abilities

People are always looking for the single magic bullet that will change everything.  There is no single magic bullet.  - Temple Grandin

Some people are quite upset about the recent change to the DSM that removes Aspergers as a separate category from Autism. Now kids formally diagnosed as having Aspergers are on the Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) instead. The WHO advocates using the ICD anyway - where Aspergers is still a separate category; the DSM is more American than universal.  Whatever. I’m more bothered by how the DSM and ICD are set up to begin with.

Why do we want to label things so clearly and with finality – particularly conditions that are largely subjectively determined? There’s something nice about knowing. There’s a relief that you’ve finally figured it out and can move on. But that feeling is illusory and temporary. And I’m not convinced it helps us in the long run to have so many kids labeled with something as if they’re static beings that were completely figured out by a professional figure-outerer. As if that’s possible.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

On a Four-Hour Workday

Stephen Elliott-Buckley echoes Bertrand Russell's idea of the 4-hour workday.  Russell in brief:
Above all, there will be happiness and joy of life, instead of frayed nerves, weariness, and dyspepsia. The work exacted will be enough to make leisure delightful, but not enough to produce exhaustion. Since men [and women] will not be tired in their spare time, they will not demand only such amusements as are passive and vapid.
And many of us - maybe half - could do it easily but for our unbridled desire for more stuff.  It's an easy fix for many problems if those who need less money simply worked fewer hours and freed up a job for someone else who needs it to survive.  If all the teachers who are living comfortably worked part-time, we'd be able to hire a bunch of new recruits and get some fresh ideas in the system.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Sammy Yatim: When is a Cop Justified in Using Fatal Force?

There's a "justification" piece in the National Post on behalf of the cop who shot Sammy Yatim.  It doesn't offer much to go on beyond that we shouldn't trust a brief video to tell the whole story.  But I asked a cop what he thought of the situation, and he gave me some astute points for consideration (liberally paraphrased from memory):

But it was just a little knife!

Stabbings kill far more than shootings.  One good jab with a 3" blade can do fatal damage.  Using pepper spray or a taser isn't going to cut it if someone's coming at you with a knife.  You have to stop them for sure.  Immediately.