Monday, June 28, 2010
Wednesday, June 23, 2010
EMG and EMG discuss the etymology of the word 'shitloads'. (Click the image, press play)
It's four and half minutes long. And, no, I didn't put in any music. I figured, why bother? We're all just going to die anyway.
Friday, June 18, 2010
Dan Gardner on "progressives"
Dan Gardner, Progressives unite, whoever you are.
... So what does "progressive" mean today in Canada? Yesterday in this newspaper, Matt Browne and Eugene Lang published an impassioned appeal for "progressives" to unite because, apparently, most Canadians are "progressives" and the government should reflect that. "While conservatives have governed this country for four years," they wrote, "election results and polling data show consistently two-thirds of the electorate support political parties with a progressive orientation."
But since they didn't define what a "progressive orientation" is, I was left with the suspicion that, to Browne and Lang, any party that is not the Conservative party is a "progressive" party and anyone who is not a Conservative is a "progressive." That suggests that "progressive" is whatever John Baird shouts at. Which isn't much of an orientation, it seems to me.
Now, I am being a little unfair. Browne and Lang did suggest en passant "progressives" are those who "wish to use government as a force for good." This is helpful. It distinguishes "progressives" from those who wish to use government as a force for evil, such as Emperor Palpatine from the Star Wars movies.
There I go being unfair again. What Browne and Lang meant, of course, is that "progressives" believe government has a constructive role to play in society, as opposed to conservatives, who believe, as Ronald Reagan put it, that "government is not the solution to our problem, government is the problem." It was this ruthless political philosophy that led Reagan to dramatically reduce the roles and responsibilities of government and shrink the federal budget to a miniscule ...
Oh, right. Reagan's famous aphorism got lots of Alex P. Keatons totally stoked 30 years ago but it actually meant very little to how he governed: When Reagan left office, government spending as a percentage of GDP was higher than when he entered. In modern times, the only significant drop in the U.S. government's share of GDP happened during the administration of that heartless conservative, Bill Clinton.
Canada got the same savage treatment at the hands of Jean Chrétien. More recently, Stephen Harper has spent money at a clip not seen since the glory days of Pierre Trudeau, and often on positively Trudeauvian schemes like regional development agencies.
And yet it's Jean Chrétien who's now involved in talks to unite "progressives" against Conservatives who, we are told, hate government so much they are shoving money down its throat. Maybe they think it will asphyxiate. Or make a nice foie gras.
Look, step back a bit and it's obvious there are great swaths of consensus clear across the political spectrum. That's true in every developed country. It's especially true in Canada. Every party supports government-funded health care. Every party supports trade liberalization. Every party supports progressive taxation. Look closely at what parties actually propose and vote for and even something as divisive as the Conservative "tough on crime" agenda is not actually all that divisive, much as some of us wish it were.
Of course the Conservatives sometimes have different priorities and emphases than the other parties. But there are also significant differences between the Liberals, New Democrats, Bloquistes, and Greens. So aside from the direction of John Baird's shouting, what defines people and parties as "progressive"?
Forget political philosophy. I think the answer is found in psychology....
Friday, June 04, 2010
Towards ignoring the questions
Why does Hashem make us feel the questions if he's not going to give us any answers? - Larry GopnikWe can distinguish between a craving for chocolate, say, and a craving for bread. A craving for water and one for wine--or indeed one for beer rather than wine. That is to say, a person does not simply crave food or drink or sleep, but a very particular set of things and circumstances, sometimes one and not the other, and often without any absolute physical need of them.
Why not then a craving for God?--as often, say, we crave the company of a particular friend and not just anybody? Or our mother rather than that friend? What person hasn't had the experience--however inexplicably--that only that person will do? Only they offer the comfort or nourishment that we need? Why then is it so hard to accept a need for this thing we know to be God? Why is the craving for Chinese food not also ludicrous?
Wednesday, June 02, 2010
P'itchens on selective outrage
I have been to Gaza once, long ago, and can confirm that it is pretty grim, and no doubt has grown much worse since. I think the idea that a blockade will persuade the Gazans to throw out their Hamas government is nonsensical and doomed, and I think Israel's recent behaviour towards Gaza has been cruel and stupid. I opposed and still condemn the recent Israeli military attack on Gaza, which failed to meet the criteria for a just war.
But I have a nagging suspicion that those who now adopt the cause of Gaza (and have swallowed whole the propaganda narrative of the 'Aid Convoy' versus the 'Wicked Zionists') are much, much more interested in undermining Israel's long-term right to exist than they are in the undoubted plight of the Gazans. And why, exactly is that? What is the reason for this selective outrage against one nation among dozens, by no means perfect but also by no means the most oppressive or violent or ill-run state in the world, let alone the Middle East? You tell me.
So in the midst of this confusion, we now find ourselves in a huge row over the alleged 'Aid Convoy' manned by alleged 'Humanitarians' which approached the Israeli coast at the weekend and was boarded by Israeli armed forces.
Is this description 'Aid Convoy' (adopted by many media outlets) not itself partial? It most certainly is. The Israeli authorities offered unequivocally to deliver the ships' cargoes to Gaza if they were unloaded at the Israeli port of Ashdod and passed through the normal checks against contraband. The leaders of the 'Aid Convoy' refused this offer. Therefore it is plain that its prime purpose was not to deliver the aid, but to deliver it in a certain way, in defiance of the Israeli blockade of the Gazan ports, an action they knew from the start would bring the Israeli armed forces about their ears.
If you want to be wholly dispassionate, you might call it a 'convoy' without adornment. But to call it an 'Aid Convoy' is itself a departure from neutrality. I myself would call it a propaganda fleet, but then I am openly partisan on this issue. The use of the expression 'humanitarians' is likewise suspect, as is the use of the word 'activists' without saying what sort of activists they are.
Peter Hitchens, The Joys of Selective Outrage.
Collective ignorance: not quite the same thing as consensus
It's an oft-repeated truism in ethics: "Good facts are essential for good ethics." So surely we need the facts about an issue as ethically fraught as abortion. Yet not only do we not have them, but they are intentionally not gathered or, if some are or might be available, access to them is denied.
That allows two myths that favour the pro-choice stance on abortion to be propagated: That late-term abortion is rare and that there is a consensus in Canada on the public-policy regime that should govern abortion (which, at present, is the complete absence of any law).
...The facts on late-term abortions are intentionally made difficult to obtain. Some time ago, I contacted a staff member at Statistics Canada to ask about the numbers of late-term abortions. She told me they were instructed for political reasons not to collect statistics on the gestational age at which abortion occurs. She explained, however, that hospitals must report the number of abortions and about 45 per cent had continued to report gestational age. From these unsolicited reports, it's known that at least 400 post-viability abortions take place in Canada each year and the actual number is most probably more than twice that. The Canadian Medical Association sets viability (some chance of the child living outside the womb) at 20 weeks gestation.
As to trying to get specific facts on abortion, in general, two British Columbia hospitals, Vancouver General and Kelowna General, have applied to stop a freedom-of-information inquiry initiated by pro-life activists, John Hof and Ted Gerk. After the hospitals refused their request last year for information on abortion statistics, Hof and Gerk initiated applications for access to the information through the B.C. Office of Information. The province's Freedom of Information Act was amended in 2001 to specifically exclude access to information about abortion, but they are using a "public-interest-override" clause in the privacy legislation, to argue that the release of the information is in the public interest and should not be withheld. The hospitals have applied for a Section 56 exemption to Freedom of Information rules requiring disclosure, claiming that it was "plain and obvious that the records sought by the Applicant will not be disclosed." The dispute remains to be resolved.
These situations raise the issue of the ethics of intentionally blocking access to information on abortion.
Such blocking is not neutral, but a strategy to help to maintain the status quo of the complete void regarding abortion law. The unavailability of this information makes the pro-choice lobby's claims that late-term abortion is rare and that there is a consensus on abortion in Canada, much less likely to be challenged, and, therefore, bolsters its case that we do not need any law on abortion.It is also a stance that appeals to many politicians who are terrified of an abortion debate for political reasons. A striking example of the lengths to which they will go to avoid that debate are manifested in a motion just passed unanimously by the three parties in the Quebec National Assembly, in favour of unrestricted access to free abortion, with no limitations mentioned. One can only wonder whether they all, or even just some of them, understood that they were endorsing a position that there should be no legal restrictions on aborting viable babies. If they did not understand that, it's deeply concerning; if they did, in my opinion, it's horrifying.