Friday, October 30, 2015

Obey, or else

There has been quite the kerfuffle this week surrounding a police officer in South Carolina who attacked a female black student, tossed her halfway across her classroom onto a concrete floor, and was subsequently fired for his actions.  Multiple students filmed the incident on their phones and I am glad they did - it seems likely to me that nothing of consequence would have happened to the cop had the damning videos not been immediately circulated far and wide.

Most of my network is appalled at the video footage and cannot fathom how this could be justified.  If the teen in question had a gun, a knife, or otherwise been very dangerous I could see the officer's level of violence being warranted, but the officer could not have thought he was in any danger.  The man had combat training, could reportedly benchpress 600 pounds (?!?), and was standing over a teenage girl who couldn't have threatened him even if he literally had one arm tied behind his back.  So why did he attack her?

It is an old and familiar answer - she was resisting authority.  That is, she had pulled out her phone for a minute and been told to leave class, which she refused to do.  Refusing to obey direct orders while being black is something this particular white officer could not condone, so in a fit of rage he attacked.   Unsurprisingly he was accused of having a history of prejudice towards black students and a track record of over the top violence - not an ideal candidate to work at a high school, one would think.

But there are those who defend him.  The line of defence they use boils down to a simple idea - she did not obey.  (There is some hand waving about her fighting back, but when someone with literally five times your strength is lifting you into the air your hands ineffectually hitting at them is not assault.)  This lack of obedience, of blind deference to authority, warrants severe and immediate punishment by this line of thinking.  When a cop tells you to do something, you do it, no matter how wrong it may be, and if you do not then expect to be attacked for your temerity.

It speaks to a worldview that I can't get behind.  Essentially it boils down to the idea that doing as you are told by the powers that be is a inherently moral act, and not doing what you are told is immoral.  The natural extension of this is that if you disobey you are bad, and thus deserving of any suffering that comes your way.

This makes me think of the five pillars of moral behaviour model - Care, Fairness, Loyalty, Respect, Sanctity.  Conservatives tend to believe in all five pillars, whereas liberals tend to only believe in Care and Fairness.  It is one of the explanations of why right and left have such a hard time talking to one another... it is difficult to discuss what we ought to do when we can't even agree on what sorts of things we might use to decide if a given thing is moral in the first place.

Attacking the student was not caring.  It was not fair.  It was an angry, emotional response to a lack of respect for his position of authority over her.  That isn't justified, it isn't moral, and we ought to make it clear that blind obedience isn't a moral necessity.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Its alive!

I finally have a real live copy of Camp Nightmare (the board game I have been developing for a year) in my grasp.  All the art is done and I went and got it printed out.  It feels great to have cards with good colour, proper art, and even a really nice snap to them in my hands.  My old prototypes were just slips of paper with terrible art, terrible colour, and I had to use old Magic sleeves to keep them stiff.

Now I am busy cutting things out with scissors and stacking everything up.  I admit, I had lots of doubts surrounding the expenditure of time and money to make the game real as the months passed, but now that I can actually feel it I am so happy it exists.

The Kickstarter to make the game a thing for real is going to be a big project, and it is still intimidating to some extent.  I will have to promise a lot of stuff to a lot of people and hope that nothing goes critically wrong that leaves me unable to deliver.  But just look at that manual and that board!  They look like something real people made, instead of hacked together junk like I have always used for these things.

It is time to go camping.  Roast some marshmallows, run from some bears, sit miserable in the pouring rain, and most of all cope with fellow campers and their wild ideas about what exactly the group should do on their trip through the wilderness.

If you want to keep tabs on my Kickstarter progress the page for it on Facebook is here.  If you Like it you will see the posts I make and know when things get going, which will be soon.  I had thought things would go faster, but now I really see from personal experience why everybody says that the process of getting a Kickstarter and a game going is a slow thing.  Even when the total time investment isn't huge everything has to be done in order and life gets in the way.  Soon though, so very soon.

One more picture, this time of the stack of Gear cards you can use during your ill fated trip.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

The hottie

I thought a lot of things about Justin Trudeau were interesting and might get talked about after the election.  His family dynasty, his campaign style, maybe even his party platform and promises were all on my mind.

The fact that Trudeau is, apparently, a stone cold hottie wasn't really the thing I was thinking about.

It turns out that the rest of the world is mostly interested in how attractive our new Prime Minister is and across the globe people were commenting about how much they wanted to rub bits of themselves on JT and sharing an image of him shirtless in a boxing pose.

Following this there was some backlash against the overwhelming objectification of Canada's new leader, and then backlash against the backlash.  Feminists were arguing that we shouldn't objectify him because we wouldn't want a female leader having her looks be the only thing people noticed, and then feminists on the other side argued that it isn't the same thing at all because men aren't treated the same way with regards to their looks and the objectification in this case can be treated as more of a single thing and not part of a societal norm.

I kind of wander down the middle on this one.  We should probably be more focused what JT's election means politically (get the census back online for 2016, stat!) rather than whether or not he is a cutie.  On the other hand this doesn't strike me as a big deal either, as I doubt it is bothering JT nor is it a part of systemic issues.

Really I just sit here baffled that the thing people are all afluster about is the ethics of talking about the relative attractiveness of the new Prime Minister instead of all the other really important stuff.  It isn't a bad conversation to have, but wow I sure didn't see it coming.

Tuesday, October 20, 2015


Canada has elected another Trudeau to the Prime Minister's office.  The Liberals have a majority government and possess the power to undo much of the mess that has come from the Conservatives over the past decade.

They promised to legalize marijuana and stop the ruinous war on drugs.

They promised to get rid of our awful first past the post electoral system.

They promised to repeal much of the worst parts of C-51, Canada's "Be Afraid and don't expect to have any rights" Bill.

They promised to hold an inquiry into the problem of missing and murdered indigenous women.

They promised to bring back the long form census, and restore fact based decision making.

All of this seems easily doable.  It really just requires the desire on the part of the Liberals to do it.  Whether we actually get rid of all of the bits of C-51 that I hate, and whether we get any decent results out of the inquiry surrounding indigenous women, is much more up in the air.  All of these things are things we should absolutely expect to happen and we should make a hell of a scene if they don't.

There are other things though that aren't so clear.  The Liberals, much like every other political party ever, have promised economic growth and prosperity.  Their ability to actually deliver on that is questionable at best.  It might happen, it might not, but I don't think they have nearly as much control over it as they think they do.  Politicians don't want to admit how little power they end up having over the fortunes of the average person or how little they understand what effects their policies actually have.  Who knows?

Also like every opposition party ever the Liberals decried the government's corruption and lack of transparency, and made it clear that they would not be the same.  Again, we should pretty much ignore this as everyone says it, nobody opposes it, and time and time again we see that it won't stay true over the long haul.  Things get corrupt no matter who is in charge.

This is a sad day in some respects because the NDP made such a bad showing.  I didn't want a Liberal government, but if a Liberal government is the alternative to the Conservatives I will take what I can get.

Pass the bong.  It is time to take a big, deep hit.  For Justin Trudeau and his icky, icky dynasty.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Lazy and twitchy

My brother was visiting today.  He and my sister in law were running partial marathons in Toronto, which seemed really bizarre since their home town does have plenty of roads and fields and other such things that could be used as a venue for running.  I get that events that have a lot of people at them have appeal, and that it is easier to make yourself train when you are in a scheduled, unchangeable event... and yet travelling to a place so you can run around and be in pain just isn't my sort of vacation!

The really great thing about the visit was that I learned that there is medical news that is great for me.  We have all heard that sitting a lot is the new smoking and that it is a huge health issue.  I worried about that, and had recently begun doing twelve flights of stairs a couple times a day as a token gesture towards exercising.  I am a three pack a day sitter, for sure.  However, apparently people who fidget while sitting don't have the same health issues that most people do.  Being super twitchy and playing with pens grants immunity to sloth related health problems, in some weird way?

I could probably look that up and find out for sure, but why discount good news?  I am a grand fidgeter, taking the cap off and putting the cap back on my old USB keys a hundred times a day every day.  Pens get grabbed and chewed and flipped, and my knee is forever bouncing in place, vibrating everyone who sits on anything adjacent to me.

So it would seem I am immune to the health problems of sitting around a lot.  Now I just have to focus on plugging my ears while everyone tells me about all of the other benefits of getting up from my computer and actually doing something in the world.  Na na, not listening!

Wednesday, October 14, 2015


There is much ado about the TPP (Trans Pacific Partnership) agreement here in Canada, especially considering an election is happening next week.  I have seen a lot of criticism of the agreement but because we don't have full information about it yet the argument is very much based on guesswork.  Certainly some things that have been bandied about in the TPP are worrisome, like the IP rights of pharmaceutical companies to block generic versions of their drugs for extended periods.

I want to be clear here though - I am not talking today about the specific parts of the TPP, because to the best of my knowledge we don't *have* those specifics nailed down.  We have leaks of draft documents, yes, but everything is subject to change.  What I am talking about today is the general attitude towards free trade I see out there in the world.  As an example, Ziggyny linked me a educational comic strip designed to talk about the problems with the TPP here.

The thing about the strip is it makes a big deal about free trade agreements being bad because jobs get shipped out of the US to other countries, China in particular.  This is a common refrain from all parts of the political spectrum - nobody, liberal or conservative, can stand up and say "I am really glad those factory jobs are in China now instead of the west!"  It is framed as evil companies vs. good people, and usually the *other* politician is to blame for such atrocities.

The problem I have with all that is that it is based on nationalism, which isn't something I can get behind.  Chinese people want jobs too and they need them more than we do here in the west.  So from a humanitarian standpoint I can't get behind all the moral outrage over having factories in China.  The thing is, free trade is good for both sides.  (That doesn't mean every free trade agreement is a good one, obviously, just that the concept of trade with less barriers and tariffs benefits everyone in general.)  Sure, free trade benefits China more than the west because it opens up the enormously profitable markets over here to their products, but reducing tariffs and barriers the other way also helps us!

The equation looks like this:  We open the borders, and people in rich country A get 1 dollar more, but people in poor country B get five dollars.  People in country A cry about the money lost, as though they could take that five dollars for themselves if they just prevented trade enough.  It doesn't work that way!  Look at history - countries that specialized in trade and made sure they made it easy for goods to move became wealthy, and so did their trading partners.  We literally produce value from nowhere when we make it easier to trade because everyone can be more efficient.  China has been producing goods for the west for a long time now, and their standard of living is rocketing upwards... and ours is going up too, though obviously not at the same rate because we started higher.  Making trade more free helps everyone, but the lion's share of that help goes to the people who need it the most and are the poorest.  How can that be a bad thing?

These arguments have much in common with the arguments about immigration.  Yes, immigrants come to western nations and take jobs there.  But then they buy things, from other westerners, and in the end everyone benefits because those immigrants create jobs when they buy things.  The immigrants benefit the most, for sure, just as developing nations benefit the most from trade with rich nations, but when trade is more free everyone gets a piece of the pie.

None of this should be taken to mean that all things western companies do in developing nations are good.  There are human rights abuses, terrible working conditions, and safety problems.  As consumers in the west we can and should take companies to task who don't treat workers in other nations well.  We can't and shouldn't try to control their salaries but we damn well should try to make sure that they are safe and not worked to death and it should go without saying that child labour falls under those goals.

We can and should try to lower or eliminate subsidies for specific industries, but of course we have to insist that our trading partners do the same.  Allowing goods to flow freely and allowing investment in developing nations to proceed (with appropriate concessions to safety, again) is a great way to make everyone wealthier, and particularly to do so for those who have the least right now.

Maybe the TPP will do that, maybe it won't.  I am pretty confident that some of its provisions will be corporate written monstrosities that we don't want, and that some of its provisions will lower barriers to trade both ways and benefit everyone in the process.  So if you have a particular gripe with the TPP I am happy to hear it, and I will likely agree with you, but please let us stop with the assumption that everyone will be better off with protectionist, economic isolationist policies that keep everyone down.

Free trade is a good thing in principle.  We shouldn't fear free trade, we should fear the crap that might get tacked on to the free trade in a big, messy, inevitably corrupt agreement like this.

Monday, October 12, 2015

For rather than against

I have been posting a lot of stuff about why people shouldn't vote for Stephen Harper and the Conservatives.  As was pointed out to me last week though, I should probably put some effort into explaining why you should vote for my favourite option, the NDP / Thomas Mulcair.

Our current system of voting is awful.  First past the post encourages strategic voting instead of people voting for what they truly want and means that success is more about having a party that has no competition in their political area than having a party the populace wants.  It should *not* be a crippling disadvantage to have multiple parties representing similar viewpoints!  The NDP is going to bring in proportional representation, which is one of the best voting systems.  There are other systems that are also fine, and although personally I would go for random ballot I think proportional representation is a great improvement over what we have.

The war on drugs is wasteful, pointless, and destructive.  The NDP is planning to pursue a strategy of decriminalizing and regulation of currently illegal drugs.  I personally don't think that the government should be stepping in to stop adults from taking recreational drugs at all and I am confident that legalizing them would bring great benefits.  However, that won't happen overnight and dialing back our terrible drug strategy towards an end goal of regulating drugs similarly to how we regulate alcohol and tobacco products now is important.

Repealing Bill C-51 is key to restoring some of our key freedoms, and the NDP will do that.  C-51 was passed in a haze of nationalism and misplaced fear of terrorism and it takes away privacy and due process from Canadians to fight a mythical foe.  We wouldn't give up our freedoms to fight television sets that tip over by accident or moose wandering onto the road, and both of those are an order of magnitude more threatening than terrorism.  C-51 needs to die, and the NDP will do that.

Canada is 95% immigrants, and our country is doing well.  There is every reason to think both from this obvious statement and every bit of research that has been conducted about immigration to developed nations that bringing in refugees and immigrants makes Canada stronger.  New people to our country tend to work hard and do so at the most difficult and brutal jobs.  They didn't cross half of the world because they were lazy and looking to sit around - the types of people that make that transition are by and large people who want something better and will bust their asses to make it happen.  The NDP is going to bring in more refugees from Syria which is both good from a humanitarian and growth standpoint, and they will also make it easier for us to accept more immigrants from all corners of the world.

Thomas Mulcair and the NDP have a plan to lower spending on pointless, sometimes counterproductive things like the drug war and the military and direct that spending to things like daycare and health.  They want to stop the racist terrorism fearmongering and the policies it has spawned that take away our freedoms and work to make Canada worse off.  The Canada I want to live in is one that gives people great freedom of expression, religion, and consumption, welcomes people of all types into our borders (which helps the people that are already here!) and makes sure that our voting system brings in the leaders that the people want.  The NDP want that Canada too, so you should vote for them to give them the chance to make that happen.

Friday, October 9, 2015

Fixing what ain't broke

Canada is under attack from a nefarious villain.  You know this villain, and its name is Niqab.  It is light, and scarfy, and a tremendous danger to Canadians.

Or so Stephen Harper wants us to believe.

Now he is insisting that he will push forward legislation to ban the niqab for those employed in the public service.  He won't ban crosses, or kippahs, because people who wear those vote for him.  No, he is bound and determined that niqabs be banned because by doing this he can whip up support among the openly xenophobic and racist members of society.

No one is complaining about the oppression of having to talk to someone in federal service who wears a niqab.  Hell, no one is even really sure who in the federal public service might be wearing a niqab, if anyone.  But this is a problem that must be solved, and the fact that it isn't a problem shouldn't stop us.

Let us, for a moment, step aside from these distraction tactics and look at the big picture.  Harper's government has been found in contempt of Parliament.  He has tried to eliminate fact based decision making by muzzling scientists and removing the long form census.  Our economy is in recession, our debt has skyrocketed under his leadership, and his government has been wracked with scandals revealing disgusting levels of corruption.

If you are big on the economy, Harper is a disaster.  If you are big on accountability, Harper is a disaster.  If you are big on honesty and transparency, Harper is a disaster.  Same goes for the environment and Canada's international image.

There is literally no reason to vote Conservative aside from liking their racist rhetoric.  So while I definitely recommend you vote NDP, I can say for sure that one way or the other we need to vote the bums out.  Even if it means installing Trudeau, the lesser of two evils.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Breaking it down

The Conservatives have decided that Canada needs a hotline to report "Barbaric cultural practices".  The ostensible idea here is to let people call in to report their neighbours to the government for doing things that are awful, particularly things that threaten women and children.  That explanation does have a nice ring to it, but unfortunately it is complete bullshit.  Let me break it down:

If a thing is illegal, you can call the police.  We don't need a separate hotline.

If a thing is legal but it should be illegal, we should amend our laws, not have a pointless hotline.

If a thing is legal and should be, we don't need a hotline.

There is no circumstance where a hotline of this nature is useful in any way.  Useful, that is, for protecting women and children.  There is one use, and that is to convince racist white people to vote Conservative so they can call in to complain about people of colour doing things they don't like.

My suspicion is that this hotline is purely an election ploy and will be quietly scrapped as soon as it has served its purpose.  Maintaining a separate law enforcement branch just to field complaints about people of colour is insane from any standpoint, but using it to leverage anti Muslim sentiment is working for the Conservatives.  Which is just another reason this election is truly sad.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015


I just read an article entitled The Prison Problem.  It discusses the issue with mass incarceration in the US and the reasons for it.  The main thrust of the article is that the various explanations tossed around for the huge increase in the prison population don't adequately explain it.  This article and some of the replies to it illustrate the difficulties in having such a discussion even when the people involved might well agree with one another on many or even most points.

Clearly the war on drugs is a factor in prison populations.  However, we can't simply assume that we could end the war on drugs, pardon all drug offenders who don't have other convictions, and empty out the prisons.  That would only reduce the prison population 20%.  Now 20% is a massive 300,000 people and releasing them would make a ton of sense but that wouldn't bring the prison population in the US anywhere near in line with the rest of the world.  They need more like an *80%* decrease to comfortably blend with the mass of other large, developed nations.

The author David Brooks gets a lot of flak in the comments for pointing this out even though Brooks doesn't come out as supporting the war on drugs in any way - he is just making it clear that you can't chalk everything up to this one factor.  Unfortunately that sort of thing gets people riled up even if he isn't disagreeing with them.  The US imprisons about as many people per capita for non violent drug crimes as many other nations imprison for ALL crimes.  That has to stop... but doing so won't suddenly end the prison population problem and pretending it would is counterproductive because it blocks discussion of other important issues.

Brooks also talks about mandatory minimum sentences, and this is where he goes wrong.  He says that since average sentence length hasn't increased over the era where mandatory minimums were in place, obviously mandatory minimums haven't done much.  That is ridiculous because mandatory minimums change all kinds of things about the system.  They encourage people to plea bargain even when innocent or when they should be getting a much lighter sentence.  They force the judicial system to hand out longer than appropriate sentences.  If the average sentence length is the same, then it is far more likely that without mandatory minimums sentence length would have dropped, overall convictions would go down, and the prison population would be drastically less.  Estimating how much of an impact this has had, however, is really hard.

Lastly Brooks talks about how there are issues with prosecutors pushing for harsher sentences and more convictions, which I would believe but don't know a lot about, and also mental institutions being emptied and the people therein ending up in prison, which I know is a real problem.

Unfortunately when you write an article about highly politicized things like drug policy, prison sentencing, and mental health you are going to end up in a quagmire of anger no matter how reasoned you try to be.  Even tacking on an addendum of "but doing this won't solve X problem completely" brings out the rage in people who want to see this being done.  Reading these articles and particularly the arguments in the comments really makes it clear how elections end up being about building walls across entire national borders and a handful of women wearing scarves - it is nearly impossible to talk about real issues in a nuanced manner without running afoul of people who you don't actually disagree with.

I am not putting Brooks on a pedestal here, keep in mind, nor trashing him too badly.  He wrote an article whose central message is that the prison population problem is complicated and cannot be explained by one or even two simple factors - it is a result of many things and they should all be considered.  That central thesis is certainly true.  He got some things right and got wildly misunderstood... but he also got some things wrong, and because this is the internet he got wildly misunderstood about those too just to make everything super confusing.

I struggle with this whole thing with my writing on a regular basis.  If I write too quickly, with too little thought and research, I get called out for being wrong.  Sometimes I am wrong, and sometimes I am just misunderstood.  But taking the time to write and research well, and putting enough down on the page that everything is extremely unambiguous, is a big project for both me and those reading it.  So much easier to just yell about Mexicans and Muslims and terrorism and call it a day.  Sadly, that also appears to be the thing that works to get you elected to high office too.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Be afraid

This election is bothering me.  The Conservative ad style is certainly part of that, but the thing that gets me is not that their ads so obviously appeal to racism and irrational fear, but that people so clearly fall for it.  It isn't even subtle - the last Conservative ad I saw was a picture on Facebook of a fighter jet in flight asking "Do you want your government to protect you from terrorism?"  Fighter jets are basically worthless in protecting us from terrorism and even if fighter jets were doing something useful against terrorism, terrorism is one of the smallest and least significant threats I can name.

Television sets falling on people and killing them is a far greater safety concern than terrorism.  Bathtub falls, being killed by moose, and food poisoning are all more dangerous than terrorism to Canadians.

All of which makes it clear that ads suggesting that the Conservatives are going to be the best party to protect us from terrorism are ridiculous.  Who cares who is the best on terrorism?  Far more important to be the party against television sets!

The niqab thing is just as bad.  A handful of women who have revealed their faces to secure their identities want to wear a veil during a public ceremony.  Or, you know, do the ceremony in a private space with only women around.  Either way, it is entirely irrelevant.  There is no threat of people somehow sneaking in the back door this way (they have to have been here long enough to qualify for citizenship!) so the only reason for this debate is to stir up xenophobia and racism to get people to vote Conservative.

The niqab debate is a tiny, niche issue, which appropriately would be addressed by a minor bureaucrat putting an addendum on a procedure noting an exception to custom.  Which will be used once a year.  The idea that the government ought to be hugely concerned about this is ridiculous.

And yet, the public is all about this stuff.  Conservative support is surging, and not because of the economy where Harper has a terrible record, or transparency where his government is awful, or indeed anything else of substance at all.  They are surging on racism, and ridiculous fear based on even more racism.

That is the sad thing here.  Not that a bunch of politicians are trying to make us vote for them on the basis of racism and fear... but that it appears to be a good strategy.

Canada, please be better than this.