Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Say "No" to Political Parties

I hear from a number of my fellow Canadians that, surely, ours is the freer of the two when compared to the United States of America. How could one argue otherwise, when they have only two parties to choose from, and we have so many? Surely, nobody could disagree that adding choice to the democratic process increases the freedom felt by those who are ruled by the results of the vote, and you need look for no further confirmation  than that which is found in the disdain with which we discuss countries with single-party elections. The more parties, the better.

I disagree. I think there should be fewer political parties, not more. A lot fewer, actually.

A political party is, for all intents and purposes, a coalition of persons who share political ideologies and use their combined headcount to their advantage by applying the principles of majority rule in order to attain positions of power. In that regard, a political party must garner popular support among the electorate, which is done by campaigning on a party platform. As a general truism, a member of the electorate may expect one NDP candidate to be replaceable by another, politically-identical candidate - republican for republican, liberal for liberal, so on and so forth.

A party must, therefore, rely on this platform in order to garner votes. It is possible, even, to compensate for gross flaws in ideology by adopting popular positions. For example, the Republican Party in the States has, as a factor of its positions on marriage and so forth, a distinct anti-homosexuality bias, however understated. Yet support in the LGBT community for the Republican Party persists, due to the party having popular positions on other issues such as defence. This is true in one way or another of almost all political parties, and is a natural function of another truism: no two people will ever find themselves in total agreement on every matter.

What you end up with is the acceptance of bad/unformed/unpopular ideas on the shoulder of ideas that are, or at least seem, more robust, more elegant, and more accurate.

This is why I suggest the abolition of political parties.  While it would be further ideal to replace representative democracies with pure democracies on the strength of modern telecommunication, that is an issue for an entirely different diatribe. Simply decentralize candidate selection and voting. Let communities decide, on the strength of a person's individual merits and ideas, who would best represent them in the political arena.

Monday, February 27, 2012

How YOU Can Solve Problems... No Effort Edition

Distributed Computing is the practice of breaking up large computing tasks and, well, distributing them across several computers. More specifically, it refers to programs where master projects use code such as BOINC (Berkeley Link) to distribute those tasks across hundreds of thousands or, potentially, millions of computer CPUs, GPUs, and, in some cases, PS3 game consoles, in order to make possible operations that used to require dedicated supercomputers for a fraction of the cost. This works because, while your day-to-day operations might be very taxing to your computer (chances are they aren't), your computer actually spends a lot of time idling, unless you are judicious about shutting it off when you aren't sitting in front of it. When you are idling, you're typically only using about 1% of your CPU's total processing power. Distributed computing programs take advantage of that idle time by performing (with your permission, obviously) operations on your CPU during your down time.

System requirements are going to vary from project to project, but for the average computer, it's not a bad way to be idling, if you're going to leave it idling. Hell, if you're anything like my, your processor is functionally idling most of the time anyway: the occasional very large excel file might cause a bump, but apart from gaming, my system runs pretty flatly at about 5% of capacity, even when I'm using it. Burning just as much power, mind you, but wasting it. If I were to tap into that unused processing potential, all of those billions of calculations-per-second could contribute to solving problems for real people. I've seen everything from using your processing power to help animators do 2D and 3D rendering, to performing analysis of chess games, to helping cull SETI data to look for extraterestrial life.

Some of this stuff has serious applications in molecular biology and, by extension, medicine. I strongly suggest all my readers look into it and see if they can find even one project they are willing to let use some of the calculations they were just throwing away anyway. Whether you want to look at it as an act of charity, an increase in energy efficiency, or Living In The Future is entirely up to you.

Me? I'm going to be running Milkyway@home, Orbit@home, and Folding@home. Processing power permitting, of course.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

What's the Ideal Community look like?

I'm asking you all right now: What's the ideal community look like to you? Who's in charge? How's it run? Hit me below in the comments.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Christian Socialism, Solidarity, and the word "Catholic"

Three days into Lent and I'm starting to remember what it's for after all. I was going to post a fantastic image of one of Cam's rosaries, but I decided not to, for, you see, I believe in intellectual property - you get the Divine Mercy, instead... it's my favourite chaplet, when I'm in a chaplet sort of mood. But that, you see, is entirely beside the point.

Between the season and getting mired back in politics, I've spent a lot of time trying to figure out how I think communities should run. While national and international politics is fantastically fun stuff, there's a tendency to forget to think about things in the form of people. Since people are most directly affected by the policies of their community, the governance of a community is perhaps the purest form. Ergo, that's what I've been thinking about.

Communities are organizations, however loose they might seem, and organizational behaviour is actually one of my fields of formal study with the College. A lot of it is common sense. Some of it sounds suspiciously familiar. Some of it even seems like chapters out of a communist manifesto, if that manifesto was written by socially-responsible capitalists instead.

The people who surround you become like a family, even if they aren't really your relatives. Like any family, a community is going to have its smooth and rough patches, whether that community is an office building, a neighbourhood, or the entire municipality. Interpersonal interaction, and the way you treat other people, is as important in government as it is in any other field.

One of the best thinkers on the subject I've ever heard was probably one you've all heard of as well... Jesus Christ.

“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,  bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.  If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them.  Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
    “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:27-36, NSV)

For one thing, pretty much this entire passage is speaking directly to me. I'm pretty bad at controlling my anger, which is the stuff of family legend, and rivalled only by that of a few (mostly fictional) people. I'm not violent, I'm just notoriously cranky. It's embarrassing and inappropriate and I hate it... and it's chiefly rooted in feelings of embarrassment. The other cheek, as it were.

More importantly, though, and perhaps more relevantly, it has applications to the community. Turning the other cheek and not raising your temper, caring for those who need it, and generally behaving as mild-mannered as possible is the path to relative office or community harmony. The whole of the gospels are peppered with verses instructing much the same. How it is nobler to give to the poor than to accrue wealth, and so on.

Christ was a Socialist. Maybe the First Socialist.  Certainly the best socialist, though he wouldn't have called himself that, and certainly nobody else would actually say that he was merely a socialist leader either. The fact of the matter is that socialism simply fits many of the criteria for Christ's just society. It is a solidarity of the community, a togetherness. The abandonment of rivalries and idealistic division in order to focus on the things that really matter. Universality. Catholicism.

That's the meaning of that particular word, by the way. Universal. I don't believe that people should be divided from one another. I especially don't believe that Christians should be. I don't really care if a person is Catholic, United Church, Baptist, Lutheran, Orthodox, Anglican, or any other shade of Christian... you're just Christian.

"The one, holy, apostolic Church."

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Lent Arrives: Spiritual Spring Returns.

It's Lent, and tradition dictates that it's time to give things up (or pick things up), in a general spirit of trying to, well, improve the spirit. It's a catholic thing, originally, but the tradition has been adopted by a number of other Christian denominations, and even out in the secular world. The origin is found in Christ's life, in his time in the desert, which is why the Lenten season is 40 days. The idea is to... well, actually, I don't really know the teaching. The idea seems to be spiritual self-improvement, and that's just's a fantastic motivation so far as I'm concerned.

What gets given up varies from person to person. Me, I'm planning on making just three shifts: no more overly salty, fatty foods and no more wastefully hot baths that don't serve a practical purpose - and no more anger.

I'm not really that angry any more, compared to how angry I used to be. But it's time to set it aside. Learn not to repeat various people's mistakes, including my own. I'm going to have help. And I'm looking forward to the challenge.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

What do Potatoes have to do with Wheat?

Public Domain Image
Nutrition was required learning when I was studying the culinary arts, and it was actually a course I did fairly well in, and had a bit of an interest in. I'm a big proponent of the idea of nutritious food being more than the steam from the carrots and a lick of the salt-cube. (Undergrads Reference, for those who haven't seen the show).

There was one thing, though, that always bugged me about nutrition, and for a while I was starting to wonder how a bunch of comparatively uneducated tradespeople had bested governmental nutrition panels... and then I remembered that government committees have no place in science.

Below the jump, I'm going to go on for a bit about nutrients, and then I'm going to explain why I have it in for potatoes.

Looking and Being Good (And Lent, Surprisingly!)

L-R: Little Bro, Nana, Me, and Weekend Bro
 at a very fine local establishment
There was a line that got thrown around quite often in the fourth season of The West Wing that was a pretty fun little maxim I'd never heard before, but I've been hearing much more often since. "It's high time we spent a little less time looking good and a little more time being good."

It's a good maxim, or, at least, as good as one any is. It speaks to that whole hypocrisy thing we're all obsessed with. We revile the thing that says or appears one way, and then acts another. It also speaks to something of a truism about the human animal: we all like to look, act, and sound a little better than we really are - sometimes even to the point of deluding ourselves. You've heard the spiel, I'm sure. You have one in your head right now; we all do. It sounds something like:

I'm a fantastic academic and a good, hard worker. I keep my house clean. I'm not a trouble maker. I have a very well-adjusted attitude. I never, ever waste time.
None of these things are true, necessarily, and a lot of us spend a lot at these things we think we look like, but know we can't look up to, and it's a stressor. I have a reputation for high academic standing, which people infer from the clear blue sky, as near as I can tell, because my grades have always been more-or-less par. I have good days, and bad, and when I'm studying hard and applying myself, I certainly break the curve... not that anything's marked on a curve, these days. There's a lot of pressure to look professional, and sometimes, you just buy your own con.

There's a principle in organizational behaviour/educational theory that people do things for the sake of the reward. It's a pretty base way of looking at things, but it's accurate enough. I study physics, astronomy, and chemistry on the side because I feel accomplished for it. I study ethics and religion because I hope it will make me a better person, and answer some of those nagging questions. I work because I hope to get paid. I study because I hope to get paid more. And so on.

There's a part of you that wants the challenge to be its own reward. A part of you that says "I shall do this thing, because it will feel good to do it", and that part of you is often right. Cleaning the house is like that for me. When it's good and clean, I like it that way. I'm more relaxed. I can focus more on other things that matter, like eating right and getting work done. But most things aren't like that. Most things aren't even worth the reward that seems to go with it. Sometimes, you gotta get yourself a treat to prove you could do something. Others, you just can't be bothered.

I think there's an extent toward which Lent is driven by the same principle. We give things up to get the reward, and a lot of the time, people use Lent as a second shot at their New Year's Resolution. "I'll quit smoking" sounds a lot like "I won't smoke during lent".

Me, I don't normally observe lent. I didn't last year, and I don't think I will this year, though I've been thinking about it. I'm a bad catholic, occasional fits of ultra-orthodox thought notwithstanding. The concept of giving up chocolate and meat for a little over a month as a general penance seems two-faced, when I don't spend most of the rest of the year feeling penitential. Last year, I tried to observe, for a while. Gave up things I already wasn't supposed to be doing.

But, while it was working... I felt better. And that's the lesson. Sometimes, the task really is its own reward. You just have to pick the ones that count. One year, I jokingly gave up beef for lent (until recently, I hardly ever ate red meat). I might try to focus on the positive-action "sacrifices" this year. The things you do, rather than the things you don't. Sure, some bad habits are worth kicking. Sometimes, though, it's better to pick up a new one. Who cares if I still have days when I can't focus, if my house is tidy, the boss is happy, and the grades are good? Just me, really.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Quebec Religious Ethics Classes Constitutional: Supreme Court of Canada

Students in Quebec public schools take courses in Religions and Ethics that include study of numerous world religions. A couple challenged the law, claiming that the class infringed on their religious rights with regards to their children, which they wanted to use to restrict their child's own religious freedom to whatever their household faith was. The Supreme Court ruled against on Friday, saying that the course did not pose an impairment to the right to freedom of religion.

In writing the descision, Chief Justice McLachlin wrote:
Although the sincerity of a person’s belief that a religious practice must be observed is relevant to whether the person’s right to freedom of religion is at issue, an infringement of this right cannot be established without objective proof of an interference with the observance of that practice.  It is not enough for a person to say that his or her rights have been infringed.  The person must prove the infringement on a balance of probabilities. ...    L and J have not proven that the ERC Program infringed their freedom of religion, or consequently, that the school board’s refusal to exempt their children from the ERC course violated their constitutional right.  They have also shown no error that would justify setting aside the trial judge’s conclusion that the school board’s decision was not made at the dictate of a third party. Decision Text at
Essentially, the argument was that exposure to new/different religions did not constitute a restriction on religious freedom. One of the appellants offered the CBC a statement.

"My son is in fourth grade and he already asks questions about his own religion and I find it sad that it's happening at such a young age," said S.L., the mother who can only be identified by her initials, because of a publication ban.
 Personally, I don't grant her premise. Questioning your religion is the only way to increase your understanding of that religion, and, more importantly, to build your own spirituality. Doing something "because that's the way it's done" is not a valid motivation. For faith to be sincere, it must be hard-won, through experience and analysis. If I am not mistaken, a child at the fourth grade is old enough for confirmation and first eucharist. I believe we call that the age of reason, do we not?

Frankly, I think just about everyone on earth would benefit from exposure to new and different faiths. I'm sure others will disagree.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Some Housekeeping

100 Posts!
Blogger informs me that this is my 100th post, though I imagine a few half-started diatribes on nutrition that were never published are included in that count. In any event, 100 is an auspicious number and I felt it was time to do a little housekeeping, namely: Acknowledgements, Restated Goals/Policies, and Questions!

Chiefly, I'd like to acknowledge all of you, my readers. I won't deny that watching the hit-count climb is a motivator for me to keep doing what I'm doing, and I get a kick out of knowing which topics really set you guys off, because blogger plots readership on little line-charts and there's always a major spike when I've touched a nerve. Thank you.

I'd also like to thank a few individual people. There's my lovely partner, Katherine, for keeping me honest and smacking me upside the head (figuratively!) when I wander into the realm of patronizing my readership rather than actually saying what I believe. Kat's helped me through good times and bad, and I've come to think of her, among other things, as my second-brain: our late-night discussions of almost any topic always help me to clarify what I believe, and that's an invaluable service where I'm concerned.

And, you know, being the most awesome person on earth. There's Cam over at A Woman's Place, who has twice now provided my largest to-date readership bumps (for covering my coverage of R. v. Effert and, if I recall correctly, for directing attention to a diatribe I wrote about marijuana). Cam's blog is at times cute, at times informative, and almost always worth the ten minutes or so a day it takes to read.

Then, finally, there's Nathan Cullen, NDP Leadership hopefully who, full disclosure, I promoted in my previous post. When I linked the post to twitter, I included the Leadership Race hash-tag and his personally twitter link in the tweet, and so presumably he and a number of his readers have wandered onto the site. Enjoy, and I hope you stay!

Restated Goals
I'd like to take the time to make a slight adjustment to what it is we do here, and how we do it. As you can see above, the subtitle of this blog is "On Faith, Friends, and Function", but routine readers will note that I mostly talk about politics here. That in itself is only a small facet of what was intended, and what I actually do and think about in the run of a day. Ergo, I'll be speaking more generally.

I also want to increase what television would call "viewer participation". In doing so, I am removing comment moderation. Huzzah! Say whatever you want, honest.

So, I want to ask you all a few questions. What do you feel like reading about in the future? What have you liked and disliked so far? Where am I wrong, annoying, or mistaken? Let me know in the comments.

Analysis: NDP Leadership Candidates

Those of you among our frequent readership who are Canadian probably already know about the New Democratic Party. The NDP is Canada's official opposition party in the 41st Parliament, and their former leader, Jack Layton, died of cancer last year. The process of replacing their party leader has dragged on for months, but at least it has finally been whittled down to a manageable number of candidates.

The role of the official opposition is important, and leadership of that party equally so. While I'm not a member of the New Democratic Party, and therefore don't get a vote on their leadership, I still thought it would be helpful to provide a reasonably brief overview of the candidates for the position, so that the rest of you have an idea who to vote, hope, pray, or otherwise pull for.

Conservatives: Warrantless Internet Wiretaps "Necessary"

Vic Towes, Conservative MP for Provencher, and the Minister of Public Safety, says that we need a law allowing the police to track our internet usage without a warrant, saying that, without this legislation "child pornographers and organized crime will be allowed to flourish".

As the CBC points out, the only mention of children or child predators is in the title. They also point out some of the effects of the bill (copy-pasted here for clarity/minimal distortion):
  • Require telecommunications and internet providers to give subscriber data to police, national security agencies and the Competition Bureau without a warrant, including names, phone numbers and IP addresses.
  • Force internet providers and other makers of technology to provide a "back door" to make communications accessible to police.
  • Allow police to get warrants to obtain information transmitted over the internet and data related to its transmission, including locations of individuals and transactions.
  • Allow courts to compel other parties to preserve electronic evidence.

Child Pornography is a heinous crime, sure, and organized crime has been a problem since there were laws to break. Ignoring the clear invasion of privacy this bill represents (the Competition Bureau? really?), this bill demonstrates a clear misunderstanding of how internet traffic works. Services like Tor would make it so that a user's browsing habits are revealed only if all of the proxies are on the same ISP, and I happen to know that Tor uses servers in multiple countries to do their proxy-hopping.

No need for this bill has been clearly demonstrated, nor do I think the Conservatives are ever likely to do so. I'm going to let this sink in for my readers for a few hours, while I work on my analysis of the NDP leadership candidates. For those of you playing the home game from abroad, don't be tempted to think that your fiscal conservativism will ally you with the Conservative Party. They aren't. Nor are they socially conservative. They're plain, militant reactionary.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Compromise is Aggression Now; Repub Rhetoric Puts Dems in Check

I know, I know, I'm a Canadian ranting about American Politics. I hope to have an analysis of the New Democratic Party Leadership Debates done sometime late-week.

If you haven't already heard that America's in the middle of a fight over birth control, I just told you. What you need to know is that a Health and Human Services directive was going to put employers on the hook for birth control coverage for the women that work for them, as part of their general health insurance.

What's new, and you probably didn't hear, was that the Obama Administration has actually backed down on that position last week. They announced that, while coverage was still going to be (for all intents and purposes) universal, employers at religious institutions and institutions with close ties to religion would no longer have to pay the cost, and that the difference would be picked up by insurance companies themselves. With even religious people divided fairly evenly down the middle, you'd think that this would be a laudable compromise. Nobody is forcing anybody to actually take the birth control, and nobody with a strong stance against it is going to have to pay. It makes yet one more personal choice actually personal, which is where medicine belongs.

So what's the problem? Republicans are framing it as the administrating 'ratcheting up' an agenda of 'religious persecution', which, to me anyway, triggers a bit of cognitive dissonance. The Dems looked at how much opposition they were getting, shrugged their shoulders, and compromised, like intelligent adults are expected to do.

It's more than just that, though. Mitch McConnell, Mitt Romney, and others are still trying to make this an issue of religious persecution, which this isn't about any more. Not now that religious employers aren't going to be required to pay for the extra coverage. What they really mean is that this policy is a violation of their own religious values. That's fine. You're allowed to make that argument. This is America, baby, home of the free, one nation under God and all the rest of that prose. If your Baptist, Mormon, or otherwise religious views have gotten a hammering from this, that's your right (and, some would argue, responsibility) to share. If you hold the view this law is still immoral, you are correct. Conversely, if you think birth control is all right and dandy, you are also correct. When you are incorrect is when you say that it is somehow 'sticking it to religion'. If anyone's getting it "stuck to", it's the insurance companies themselves.

They say a rose, by any other name, would smell as sweet. I say a rose is a rose.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Pillars of Creation, Time Travel, and Hangover Physics

This weekend is special for any a number of reasons. For one thing, it's the first time in forever I get to see my lovely, and it's the first time in about as long that I've woken up on a Sunday morning with a hangover and major craving for a nice, buttery roll.

It's also special, because this is the weekend I'm going to blow your mind, courtesy of help from Jesus Diaz of Gizmodo, who pointed my attention in the direction of a very special, very powerful demonstration, in real-time, of how Relativity works, and the implications of that discrepancy.

Hubble Telescope Image
This image to the right is of a feature called an Elephant Trunk, a formation of gas within a nebula. In this case, these are the poetically-named Pillars of Creation, located within the Eagle Nebula, and about 7000 light-years away from Earth, and us. That means this photograph is actually a form of time-travel, a snapshot of a 7000-year past state, a state that we are learning no longer exists.

Light travels at an absolute and known constant speed through, which is the maximum speed for the universe. This speed is actually so well known that it is considered to be a fundamental physical constant and is normally expressed with the mathematical constant, c, in place of the actually number, which is on the order of ten-millions of metres per second. A key implication of that law is that information (in its precise physical sense) cannot be transmitted faster than light either.

A star, 6000 light-years from us, and about 1000 light years from the Pillars of Creation superstructure, was recently noticed to have "gone nova", exploding as a supernova, which is, for all intents and purposes, the largest of explosions in our universe. The explosion is expected to reach and destroy the Pillars' structure, something we'll see a thousand years or so from now. Which means, in 1000 years, the pillars of creation will have been destroyed.

Here's the thing, now: the light that shows them being destroyed will reach earth 1000 years from now. That light had to travel 7000 light-years to get here, which means, in actuality, that the pillars were destroyed 7000 years before... or 6000 years ago. We discovered the pillars with the Hubble Space Telescope, sometime between 1990 and now... so we discovered them about 5900 years or so after they were destroyed.

Though their majesty would be lost to real-time viewing in future generations, images of the Pillars of Creation will not be their only legacy. It is the current understanding of astronomical theory that the pressure of such blasts, moving through nebulae, helps to induce the dust and gasses to coalesce into stars and planets, beginning the cycle anew. For what might well be the first time in human history, we'll have an opportunity to watch, over hundreds and thousands of years, as that happens.

I love living in the future.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

US Circuit Court: Prop. 8 Unconstitutional

Coming in last night on the heels of news of Rick Santorum's Political Upset in three non-binding caucuses in the US was news that a US Circuit Court has overthrown California Prop. 8 as being unconstitutional. The ban on gay marriage remains in effect pending an appeal, presumably to the United States Supreme Court. The ruling was predicated not on religious freedoms but on the concept that the gay marriage ban is a form of discrimination.

I'm not a homosexual, and to my way of thinking, that's not likely to change at any time in the near future. I'm well aware that many Christian organization (as well as other religious groups) protest that gay marriage is a violation of the sanctity of marriage. In fairness, though, at least from a catholic perspective, so is being married by a justice of the peace. So is divorce. So are quickie-marriages on the Los Vegas strip. Marriage has a sanctity about it dependant entirely on the feelings of the married.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Importing Issues: Abortion Debate Comes to Canada

A Conservative Party MP from Kitchener, Ontario, Mr. Stephen Woodworth, has called for a committee to be empanelled, in order to decide on the rather modern question of when, during gestation or afterwards, human life begins, citing dissatisfaction with our current legal definition, imported via our British roots, of life beginning at birth. Not surprisingly, and against statements from the Prime Minister's Office telling us that the situation is otherwise, most reporters and commentators are seeing this as the first step toward reopening legal debate on Abortion, and, less surprisingly, Mister Woodworth plays for the vehemently pro-life team, being a devout Catholic and all (he formerly served on a Catholic private school's Board of Directors). Canada, of course, removed all legal barriers to abortion in 1988, though the practice is still regulated by the Canadian Medical Association, whose position is that the law does not need reform.

My commentary is below the jump.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Beauty IS Complexity: Creation and Creating

We live on the third planet orbiting a star on
an outer arm of a spiral arm galaxy,
like this one. (Photo: NASA)
I realize that most reasonable Christians, or indeed people of any faith, aren't part of the young-earth creationism movement, or the anti-science crowd, for that matter. But a lot of people, Christian, Agnostic, Atheist, or otherwise, have trouble with responding to the following question.
How do you look at the complexity and beauty of our world and the things that live within it, and not see it as the work of an intelligent, creative designer?
As a public service, I'm going to answer that question as best I can, and go on a bit of a rant in the process.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Santorum: Make Medicine Cheaper ... with Markets

I was roughly THIS unimpressed when I saw the clip.
If you haven't already gathered, I watch The Rachel Maddow Show as a podcast, so I'm usually a day or two behind. Beyond filling the time, it's a decent way to keep my fingers on the pulse of American politics, which the CBC refuses to cover... along with most everything else. Yesterday, I was watching her video for February 2nd (which I missed, understandably), and she opened with news about the National Prayer Breakfast.

The thing with Doctor Maddow is that she's unusually anti-religion for someone with a D. Phil. from Oxford (though, admittedly, her studies were politics, not philosophy itself). So when she started on with the Prayer Breakfast being "creepy" and its connections to C-Street (which, admittedly, is actually kind of creepy), I sort of expected her to rail against the breakfast. I was thinking "Oh, My God, a liberal icon is about to implode on national television". I should have known better. She turned the topic around onto something that President Obama said during the breakfast about how faith informs his policy decisions - that his position on increasing taxation for the rich to pay for support of the poor is consistent with Christ's teaching on the rich-poor divide (see: Matthew 19), which is a position I agree with, and evidently she did too.

Rick Santorum is a Republican presidential hopeful who probably won't get the candidacy, both because: (a)in largely-protestant America, he's predicating his run on his supposedly strong Catholic faith, and (b)what happens when you google his surname. Of all the major republican candidates, he's the one who thumps his bible the loudest, despite apparently sharing a fundamental non-understanding of the text with the majority of the economic right.

At a campaign stop (is that the term? "Audience" seems almost more appropriate) Mr. Santorum was asked, by a small child (likely put up by his parents - the roping of children into politics is something I can't stand), if he can't "do something to make medicine cheaper" because people "can't afford it". Mr. Santorum's decision was exactly what you expect to hear from economically-right politicians: "The way you make medicine cheaper is with Markets".

I'm not an economist. I have grade average of 68% in about 4 credit-hours of Microeconomics, and no formal macroeconomics training. In full fairness, neither is Mister Santorum. His argument, that pharmaceutical companies in a free market would compete for the lowest price, is absurd. Pharmacy is not a high-margin industry in its current state. Research and Development budgets eat quite a bit out of the per-pill revenue. The expensive drugs aren't the well-established ones like painkillers or anti-depressants. These are the advanced multiple-sclerosis drugs, the cancer treatments, the complex HIV-suppressing multi-drug cocktails. The ones that don't quite work properly, and always need tuning. Tuning means higher overhead. Higher overhead means less room to lower prices. Which is what subsidies and quotas are for.

I say you can't have privatized medicine and affordable medicine at the same time. You don't have to nationalize the industry. You just have to regulate it. Keep things moving. Provide state subsidies for high-cost drugs. Cap it, if you have to. But the purpose of a country is to provide a net benefit for the people who live in it. That's the only reason why a state should collect taxes, after all: For the people, by the people, and all that.

The above photo isn't really my reaction to the video. It's a frame pulled from footage of a lecture, before I had time to turn my camera around and aim it at the lecturer.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Moralist Cheese: How Mycelium relates to Abortion

It is a commonly accepted piece of kitchen lore that sufficiently large pieces of cheese (such as import-export grade Parma) which have developed mold on the outer service can be safely skinned of that mold without infecting it. I don't know if there's any truth to that: microbiology training is fairly low in non-related fields at the community colleges in my part of the world. But I've seen it done, and when some of those massive wheels of cheese are worth more than your biweekly net wage, you'd do it in a New York minute. Single-shot waste in the multi-hundred dollar range generally tends to become the problem of the person who did the wasting, and there's not a cook alive who, faced with the choice of making his bill payments or spending a few minutes peeling a cheese, didn't peel the cheese.

The penalty for being a Fascist

The penalty, in a truly free and just society, for being a Fascist, is being known as a fascist. The penalty for being a racist is to be known as a racist. A number of people learned that the hard way this week when a coalition of well-intentioned crackers broke into the user databases of prominent internet hate groups and released lists of usernames and their real-world identities.

The CBC, always hungry for a story without real substance (to avoid reporting on C-32, which some have branded as Canadian SOPA), interviewed some of the victims of this terrible "invasion of privacy". One man actually complained about it while saying "I still hold my beliefs and I am proud to do so!"

So then, sir, you're proud to be a neo-nazi so long as nobody calls you on it? Good to know.