Friday, March 25, 2016

Why I Am Not a Feminist

Wikipedia defines Feminism as: "Feminism is a range of political movements, ideologies and social movements that share a common goal: to define, establish, and achieve equal political, economic, personal, and social rights for women. This includes seeking to establish equal opportunities for women in education and employment. Feminists typically advocate or support the rights and equality of women. ".

Sounds OK, right? Who wouldn't want equal rights and opportunities for both sexes? Initially, the "raw deal" that women have had over the centuries does appear unfair: no vote, often no opportunity to have a career and make as much money as a man, discrimination when women do so, etc. The problem, in my opinion (and I'm admittedly no expert), is that this is a simplistic and sexist point of view in the first place. Years ago I remember hearing a friend who majored in Women's Studies in university being asked the question: "Why is there no Men's Studies major?" Her answer was simply: "You can consider what has happened in the past few thousand years as Men's Studies. This particular friend was a strong feminist. It opened my eyes to the perspective of feminism: that women had been kept down by men throughout history, and that now it was time to turn that around. But is that actually true? I don't think there's any doubt that at times women have been oppressed by men, but is it a common theme in human history? I'm not so sure. Men and women, really male and female primates, have had different roles in family and in society through most of our history for obvious reasons. Maybe it's a generalization, but men have gathered the resources to supply the family or clan with necessities of life while women have nurtured the young and performed many of the necessities at home. Both are vital tasks to survival. Neither is more important than the other, and neither is more valuable than the other. Clearly in modern times, the large advances in technology that have allowed less intensive work on both of those fronts have opened up the possibility to blur the lines between the gender roles.

Fast forward to contemporary times. What I typically sense from most feminists is significant hostility towards men for these past roles, hostility towards men that there are still some differences in gender roles in society. More importantly, though, what I sense is hostility that not only is there not equality between the sexes, but hostility that women aren't more equal (to borrow from Orwell).

An example of what I mean is what occurred this week with the Jian Gomeshi trial in Toronto. There was wide spread outrage at the verdict when Gomeshi was found not guilty of sexual assault. The assumption, from what I could observe mostly from what I would define as feminists, was outrage that this rapist got off. Outrage that the judge was a biased old white man who let a violent women abuser go free. There are a couple of reasons I found that reaction distasteful. Firstly, it is clear that many people had already made up their mind about Gomeshi as soon as the accusations came out. He was guilty. Now there is a miscarriage of justice because we all know he is guilty, yet he was acquitted. Secondly, there was what I would term the blatant sexist view that women in this situation are always telling the truth and men are always lying. The reality of this particular trial is that three women accused a man of sexual assault. In court there was no physical evidence of the crimes, there was only witness testimony. Then in court the witnesses all lied under oath. I ponder what a guilty verdict would mean for society, and particularly for men: that any man could be accused of assault, have the witness lie while under oath in court, and then be found guilty. Frightening. Imagine for a second if the genders were reversed. Would there be the outrage at an acquittal? To me, the outrage is representative of the feminist anger and hostility not that men and women don't have equal rights and opportunities, but anger that women aren't in control of men entirely.

The reason I am not a feminist is that I support equal rights and opportunity for men and women.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Canaries in the Coal Mine

Much has been written about this year's U.S. presidential election, and much more will be written before November. Most of what I read about it is repetitive and predictable - the obsession with Trump, the inevitability of Clinton, the party establishments versus the unconventional candidates. But, all of that is merely window dressing on the main issue, which is the state of the country itself. American presidential elections are disappointing at the best of times. Rarely do you see a candidate emerge who would actually be the best possible president for the country. The system encourages sociopathic corporate sellouts to run. And, apart from rhetoric, little changes with the elections regardless of which party currently holds the White House. There is the usual divisiveness and anger from each side and the claim that, if only their candidate could be elected and unimpeded by an uncooperative partisan congress, then American could be "great again" (whatever that means is of course widely variable depending on the party). The entire four year presidential election cycle is the very definition of insanity: "Doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results." 

For outsiders such as myself, it is easy to look at the candidates, especially the more clown-like ones such as Cruz and Trump, and dismiss them as buffoons who shouldn't be running for office. But, like mold that creeps into the damp corners of a bathroom, strange and idiotic politicians will inevitably emerge to match whatever strange and idiotic desires voters have. People like to blame the politicians and roll their eyes at the latest personification of insanity that the parties offer up, but really they just represent the desires of the electorate. 

So far this election is different in both the level of weirdness in the candidates but also in the longevity of the perhaps the weirdest of candidates, Trump. There have been ridiculous candidates before, but they have typically faded early in favour of more predictable and established candidates. I propose that the shift this year is representative of a shift in the electorate. A shift away from issues to entertainment. Entertainment has always been part of politics, particularly in America, but this year it entertainment seems to be dominating. Watching Trump give a speech, one is struck by his inability to speak clearly to any particular issue, and by the entertainment he offers those tuning in. Since Roman times and before, entertainment as politics is a bad sign. A sign that the issues facing the country are so dire that the people have given up hope of them being solved. One can't help but wonder if deep inside most Americans recognize that the problem of terrorism (or at least the perception of the problem, since it really isn't a significant problem at all) will ever go away. The issue of American engagement in wars in the Middle East is perhaps something Americans are beginning to realize will never end. The fragility of the economy is not something likely to turn around anytime soon, regardless of who is in the Oval Office. So, perhaps Americans are subconsciously giving up hope for solutions to these problems and are instead turning to politicians to be entertained and pacified. 

If so, this is a very dire sign for America. It is a sign that America is beyond hope in returning to any sort of economic or global greatness, at least of the sort that many Americans seem to yearn for. In short, it is a sign that the American Empire is in its final throes. The self-serving buffoons running for president this year, while odious and slimy, are nothing more than a representation of that shift. They are the canaries in the coal mine, indicating that the possibility of any real political solutions is beyond hope.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Trudeau the Sociopath?

In Canada we are facing a federal election in October. The election campaign is in full swing. Leaders for each of the three main federal parties (Conservative, Liberal, and New Democratic) are traversing the country, holding daily news conferences in which they dribble out promises of millions of dollars spending on various special interests. In addition, Elizabeth May, leader of the Green Party, is campaigning. But, with no chance of forming government, her campaign has less of a smarmy feel to it. Her comments are much more true to the party's beliefs, rather than aimed at trying to swing some group of voters as the other leaders appear to do.

I am not impressed with the political leaders in Canada. I find that the whole federal political process is becoming more and more polarized. I dream of a political scene where parties can offer opposing positions on issues, but can make their position clear. And in which parties feel no need to constantly muddle their opponents' points of view. I wish they would just boldly state their point of view and let the voters decide if they agree. The whole process is becoming decidedly sociopathic.

I watched Peter Mansbridge's interview with Liberal leader Justin Trudeau the other day. I generally avoid TV and any form of video coverage of the election campaign. I'd rather read about it. However, I decided to watch this interview since Trudeau's party could potentially form government (albeit a minority one), and because I have heard enough of both the Conservative leader Stephen Harper and NDP leader Thomas Mulcair to have a pretty decent idea of what I think of them. Trudeau, though, I am more or less ignorant of. I know he is wildly popular among some Canadians. As a relatively young, relatively new face on the federal political scene, he also comes from a family with deep connections to the Canadian political scene, his father having been probably Canada's most famous, and certainly its most intellectual, prime minister for about 14 years between 1968 and 1984. I have heard all of the arguments against Trudeau - that he is too young and inexperienced, that he is just a pretty face, that he feels he is entitled to the job of prime minister, that he doesn't really stand for anything, etc. I had generally dismissed those as more attack ad style comments that don't really mean anything. So, I was surprised by my feelings as I sat watching Justin Trudeau being interviewed by Peter Mansbridge. To me he came across as smug, unable to really answer a question (even more so than a normal politician), unable to really articulate his party's position on what they would do in power, and, as the interview progressed, I felt that I had no other term than sociopath to best describe his communication. If a sociopath is someone who can communicate in a charming way, convince people they are normal but are actually all in it for themselves, tell people what they think they want to hear rather than speaking plainly and honestly, constantly sell people an image or product that doesn't actually have any substance to it, then in my opinion Trudeau fit the bill perfectly.

His conversation with Mansbridge was the exact opposite of my desire to see political leaders take a bold position and let voters decide. All of his answers were nebulous. It is clear that he knows Canadians are divided on many issues, so he spoke in a sort of code, hoping not to upset those that disagree with him more than he was hoping to win the support of those who might vote for him. I didn't need to see the whole interview to know that I can't vote for him and would be sorely disappointed if the Trudeau led Liberal Party won the election (unlikely as that looks at the moment). And this is coming from someone who, though I have never voted for the Liberal Party, I have supported their views and actions on many things.

Another sociopath in politics. Who would have thought?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Who Should I Vote For in 2015?

I must be the worst blogger in the history of the internet. I realize this is my first post in eight months. However, since no one is really reading my blog, I suppose it doesn't matter. Vicious cycle.

Canada faces a federal election this October (or sooner). Through a recent change in the election process, there is a fixed date for federal elections. In the past, of course, the election was called by the sitting government at a date more or less of their choosing, and it had to fall within the mandate period following the previous election. With the new system, the federal government can still call an early election if they think it is to their advantage (or technically they would be forced to if there was a vote of non-confidence in the House of Commons - though that is virtually impossible in a majority government situation). So, this year's federal election will be held on October 15th.

The Conservative Party of Canada earned their first majority government in 2011. This happened despite their earning only 39.6% of the votes. This 39% earned them 166 seats out of a total of 308, giving them the necessary 155 or greater to form a majority government. I am biased - I am not a conservative voter, despite my conservative fiscal leanings - but I think it is fair to say that a majority of Canadians are not represented by the current government. Roughly 60% of voters did not vote for the party that won, and of course there are many citizens who also did not vote. Many of them (minors, for example) are unable to vote. Such is the nature of parliamentary democracy. Once a party has majority rule, they can pretty much do whatever they want. Issues still need to be debated and voted on in the House of Commons, but since a bill passes with a majority vote, so long as the ruling party whips the vote they can ensure the passage of whatever bill or budget they want. For the term of their mandate, it is in many ways a dictatorship.

Any party that wins might govern this way, and in the 1990s the Liberal Party governed much the same way. They formed government with less than 50% of the votes, and with their majority in the House of Commons they pretty much did as they pleased.

The big difference with the current government is that the majority of voters (about 60%) all vote for parties that have much in common. The Liberal Party, the New Democratic Party (NDP), and the Green Party, moving more and more left of centre respectively, have much in common when compared to the Conservatives. Therefore the 60% who did not vote Conservative are probably more likely to be consistently disappointed with the government's decisions than if one of the other parties were in power.

To illustrate this point, I recently took a poll of how I should vote in the coming election. I found a webpage which allows you to fill in a number of responses to issues, and to attach a significance level to each question:

The poll then provides you with a breakdown of how you should vote, and how strongly your views align with each major party. The first time I did the poll, I was told that I was 98% in line with the Liberal Party. The next time I did it (answering much the same as far as I could remember), I was  98% lined up with the Greens:

What is interesting about the results, though, is that the Greens, Liberals, and NDP all line up 95% and above with how I feel about various important issues. The Conservatives line up only 21% with my views. There is a major outlier among the major political parties in Canada, and it is the governing party. According to this poll, I should be relatively content to vote Green, Liberal, or NDP. (Indeed I would say that I have yet to decide which of those parties I will vote for, if I decide to vote). The only way the Conservatives will win another majority government is if the 60% of voters who don't vote for them end up splitting their votes between the other parties. If everyone would hold their noses and vote for the Green, Liberal, or NDP candidate most likely to win in the particular riding, then the Conservatives would be reduced to an also-ran. Yes, this might mean that for many Canadians we would not see our first choice of party in power, but it might also mean that the party in power would side with us on 95% of the issues, rather than only 20% of the issues.

There is a movement afoot in Canada called ABC - Anything But Conservative. I can see their logic.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Scientific Knowledge

A while back, I wrote a guest post on Bruce Gerencser's blog The Way Forward in which I discussed what science is. Some interesting conversations and comments developed on that post (they are visible at the end of the guest post), which got me thinking a bit more about a common misunderstanding about science and its role in uncovering knowledge. I appreciate the comments others have made and the discussions that have ensued. I want to make it clear that I'm not out to win an argument with anyone about this topic, but as a scientist I do often see people misunderstanding science, and there is a deliberate battle against science going on in society at the moment because scientific advancement always challenges the agenda of those who are dogmatic, superstitious or bound to belief in a single book such as the Bible (in many ways this has always been the case - think Galileo).

So, the common misconception is a function of interpretation of the fact that science has not yet given us all knowledge. Science is a process of discovery, it leads to knowledge. Science is capable of leading to knowledge about all things that are knowable, though it does not always do this for two reasons: 1) sometimes the resources (money and technology) are not available to run the experiments; and 2) some things are inherently unknowable - some questions simply have no answer.

In either of these cases, but more commonly in the first case, many non-scientists are tempted to state this as a limitation of science, that science cannot provide all knowledge. Since there are gaps in knowledge, some people believe that those gaps represent things that science cannot tell us, and which other non-scientific methods of discovery can tell us. Often, these types of things that are claimed as outside the realm of science are spiritual or supernatural. While it is technically correct to state that science cannot uncover knowledge of the supernatural, that is only because there is no evidence of the supernatural. To this point, we would be wrong to assume that the supernatural exists, because there has never been any evidence to support it. But, to then claim that that is a shortcoming of science is a fundamental error. Science is not limited because it cannot explain the supernatural. The supernatural does not exist, therefore there is no knowledge of it to uncover. How do we know that the supernatural doesn't exist? Because there is no evidence for it, and there is evidence for everything that exists.

Along the same lines, it is often erroneously claimed that science cannot disprove the existence of God. This is a very common claim, and one which people make when they have some rudimentary understanding of how science works. Once you understand that science examines evidence and then draws conclusions, you are able to look at things for which there is no evidence and claim that science cannot disprove it. An example would be the claim that science cannot disprove the existence of an invisible deity. But that is very different than claiming that science cannot disprove the existence of a specific god, such as the Christian God. By extending that claim to a specific deity, the claim no longer holds true. The claims about the Christian God are well known and are described in detail in the Bible. All science has to do to disprove that particular god is to disprove some of the things that are claimed about him. For example, once science showed that the world didn't come into existence in six days, there was a massive piece of evidence against the Christian God. (Christians might then start to claim that the six days are only figurative, that they might represent a much longer period of time. But notice that this claim was only made after science had shown that the world was not made in six days, as a form of trying to make the old conclusion fit the new evidence). I attempt to tackle this issue in a previous post entitled "God is Indeed Dead: It is Scientifically Provable."

Saturday, June 7, 2014

A glimmer of hope

Much of the time I find myself less and less engaged on the internet. The internet was a great idea that has, like many great ideas, been hijacked by self-interested groups who only care about money (read: corporations). One can barely open the internet today without getting blasted with ads. It was not always this way - only a few years ago one could read email, visit news pages, look at blogs, etc. more or less advertisement-free. Corporations have recognized the huge potential of the internet in marketing (and especially individualized marketing - for which I blame Mark Zuckerberg). On many news webpages, the article one is reading typically occupies only 10 - 20% of the screen area, with the rest being ads. YouTube has gone from a great grassroots entertainment to an opportunity to blast ads at people. (I'm always left wondering - when YouTube gives people the option to skip the ad - who the hell doesn't skip it?).

Despite all of this, one aspect of the internet that I do appreciate is the ability for the individual to comment and engage. A generation ago you would sit down to a newspaper and have no idea how other readers reacted to the same news. Today you simply scroll down and read the comments - something I admit to doing more often than I actually read the typically shoddily written article (why are modern writers unable to construct paragraphs longer than two lines?).

The comments sections always entertain, and educate on my fellow citizens' points of view. Many times they comments are rooted in ignorance of whatever topic the article covers. Articles about global warming or evolution seem to bring out most ignorance in this regard. But, one thing that gives me hope against the global political-corporatist machine, is the seeming increase in comments that are fed up with politicians being in bed with corporations. Let's face it, their not just in bed, they are performing some pretty acrobatic and kinky sexual acts with each other. However, there seems to be an increasing awareness in the population that this is happening. Whether people are willing to do anything about it remains to be seen, but I do take hope. For example, in an article this week pointing out that Canada has lost a significant number of jobs in the past month, the overwhelming majority of comments focused on the ridiculous notion that governments create jobs. Their mantra of "jobs, jobs, jobs" at election time was always pathetic and ridiculous, now it seems that many are seeing it for what it is.

The other example that gives me hope is the very common comments this week in response to the mass shooting of police officers in Moncton, New Brunswick. Most of the comments were encouraging news outlets to refuse to print the perpetrators name and to only name the victims in the hope that refusing to glorify the perpetrators of such heinous crimes might reduce the number of copycat events. I whole-heartedly agree with this point of view, but it was very nice to see it dominate my fellow citizens comments this week.

Dare I admit to not being a cynic today? Maybe it's the sunny weather.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

The Free Market Illusion

This morning on CBC news, there is an article by regular American correspondent Neil MacDonald about the subsidies to American farmers. I have long disliked the fake free market surrounding farming. Farmers form a relatively strong lobby amongst North American politics, and they tend to get their voice heard with greater volume than other larger groups (such as farm product consumers!) do. Even without the out-right cash payments Neil illustrates, farmers get massive amounts of support in fuel subsidies, tax relief, and other goodies that take them out of the challenging free market that any other small business owner leaps into. I suspect a lot of farmers would tell you a story about how hard it is to make end meet, but take a drive past almost any farm in Canada and you'll see the most expensive trucks on the road (I'm not talking about the farm's work trucks, I'm talking about the top of the line up duelly long-box that drives to church on Sundays), and some of the biggest and fanciest houses in middle-class Canada. Farmers don't like having this sort of thing pointed out to them partly, I think, because of a culture of entitlement. Many farmers seem to think it is their inherent right to be a farmer and to be able to earn a living at it. If I more competitive farmer produces a better product cheaper than they do, they don't seem to grasp the free market concept that other businesses do: you're going to go out of business if you can't compete.

This post is not a rant against farming. I know that many farmers work long hard hours all alone. I know they get dirty, and I know they put an essential product in the market place. I'm not blaming farmers for the state of the system. I'm blaming, once again, politicians. As Neil MacDonald points out, government, especially in the United States, throws trillions of dollars at farming in a sort of ongoing great social experiment. With the advent of the global market place and free-trade agreements, government has had to simply increase the amount of money so that American farmers can remain "competitive" in a larger market place. Here is the cold harsh reality of a globalized free-trade agreement: if an American corn grower can't compete with one in another country, then they should go out of business. In a globalized economy, there is no inherent right to stay in business when someone on the other side of the world can produce the same thing more cheaply. Of course, voters want it both ways: they want to be able to buy cheap stuff from China, but they still want the rest of the world to buy their expensive food and autos. What is government forced to do? Subsidize, subsidize, subsidize. That way, American producers keep the illusion that they are productive and competitive.

A few numbers from the article by Neil MacDonald:

- between 1995 and 2012, the U.S. government has paid its cotton producers $32.9 billion
- America paid Brazilian cotton growers $147 million a year keep quiet let the Americans keep subsidizing their cotton grower
-Congress just passed a massive farm bill that will spend $1 trillion over 10 years ($100 billion per year - of the equivalent of  Russia's entire defense bill each year)

This is anything but a free market. And, worst of all, this is just one example. Don't even get me started on the oil industry in Canada. Talk about an unfair advantage to the richest part of the private sector. I'm not necessarily a fan of an entirely free market, or of a globalized market. I don't think either are the best scenario for the average citizen. I think that in the past two decades, corporations have found a new way of lobbying government to enrich themselves by fantastic amounts of money. This includes the free-trade agreements and globalized market place combined with huge government subsidies and, worse, bail-outs in the case of corporate losses.