Monthly Archives: November 2012

Green byelection blues

Alas, the Green Party didn’t pick any seats up in the Nov 26 Canadian federal by-elections.  While their strong showings probably count as a real moral victory, I imagine at this stage they’d prefer amoral, real victories.  ;)  As it turns out, Parliament’s composition is unchanged, “while my green heart gently weeps”.  Despite donating to the Official Opposition (whomever it’s been) since 2008, I have a soft spot for the plucky upstarts.

Chris Turner got 25% of the vote in the Calgary Centre riding; which, according to a Globe & Mail commentary from Canadian polling blog threehundredeight, could mean that he pulled a lot of the “Red Tory” voters.  Since probably only 1-2% of Canadians are dues-paying members of political parties (see p16 of this report), some of this blog’s other readers might not be up to speed, so I’ll attempt to summarize for their sake.  :)

After years in the political wilderness first as an Opposition member and then as a lobbyist, current PM Stephen Harper succeeded in uniting far-right-wing (by Canadian standards) Alliance party with right-wing (by Canadian standards) Progressive Conservative party.  And promptly positioned the new Conservative Party considerably to the right of the old Progressive Conservatives.

In the recent provincial elections in Alberta, the federal Conservatives openly supported the far-right (by Canadian standards) Wildrose Party, infuriating many Albertans who vote Conservative federally, but vote Progressive Conservative, provincially.  These folks are called “Red Tories” because they’re on the progressive side of the conservative spectrum, and globally, red tends to be the colour of progressive parties, and blue is the colour of conservative parties.

The main exception is the US, where the red party — the Republicans — are the conservatives.  (And wow, are they ever!)  This is because they actually used to be the progressives, and the Democrats used to be the conservatives, with a hammerlock on the white vote in the southern US.  This all changed in the 1960’s when the Democratic Party embraced the Civil Rights movement.  The Republicans went after the white southerner vote, which is why the US has a progressive (by American standards) “Blue” Party and a conservative (by any standard) “Red” Party.

But back to Alberta, these so-called “Red Tories” appear to have defected en masse to the Green Party in this byelection, in displeasure at the Conservatives’ “as-right-wing-as-the-Wildrose-Party” candidate.

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Norquist knee-capped by Koch-backed “Shift Disturbers”

<hat tip to Jack C for the titular prhase!>

Well, it looks like Grover Norquist’s support for a carbon tax shift last Monday (Nov 12) lasted as long as a mayfly.  By the time Tuesday (Nov 13) rolled around, he was back to opposing it, and likening government to a tapeworm.

I suppose it’s a brave thing to say, considering that the highly-trained, armed professional soldiers of the US military (a wholly-owned subsidiary of the US government) probably don’t like being likened to intestinal parasites.

Norquist has infamously said he’s wanted to shrink government small enough that it could be drowned in a bathtub, like a kitten.  So I suppose his move to tapeworms represents progress of some sort.

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Newsflash: Canadian PM’s American Idol supports Stephane Dion-esque carbon tax shift

Note: for non-Canadian readers (or, indeed for Canadian readers who don’t follow politics) Stephane Dion was the milquetoast who led the Liberal Party of Canada to its then-worst-ever federal election result in 2008.  He ran on a campaign of a carbon tax shift (“The Green Shift“), for which the Conservative Party mocked and savaged him.

We’ll get to Stephen Harper and his erstwhile idol after the jump, but a bit of background discussion is necessary to provide a proper context…

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Mitt’s bad day (wasn’t nearly as bad as the dinosaurs’)

As expected by everyone outside the American right-wing echo chamber, Obama handily defeated Romney in the US election.  In the weeks leading up to the election, pollster Nate Silver (who posts at the New York Times) came under such ferocious criticism from Fox News & friends, for purportedly “skewing” his results to inflate predictions in Obama’s favour, that you’d think he was a climate scientist!  That wasn’t just my left-leaning impression, either.  David Frum — former George W. Bush speechwriter David “Axis of Evil” Frum — tweeted to that effect!

As it turns out, it was the American right which was diddling the numbers in their favour, much as they do with climate data as it arrives.  (This is known as the “down the up escalator” technique.)

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It’s been interesting following the chatter this election cycle, as people wondered whether Obama could win the white vote; whether half-white and already-once-elected incumbent President Obama, could win the white vote.  (As it turns out, Romney got a higher percentage.  It was pretty obvious he would, given the data from the 2008 Obama-McCain election.  Obama got 50% of the white vote outside the American South, but only 30% of the white vote in the American South.  That doesn’t look suspicious at all…!)

Perhaps Chris Rock’s outreach efforts to white voters helped Obama carry the day.  (He left it to the Jay-Z fan club to rally the home crowd.)  :)

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Things really went grim for Mitt when some investigative reporting showed that while Solyndra-type failures represented 8% of government energy-startup-company investments, when Romney headed Bain Capital a full 22% of its investments went under.  (Admittedly, Bain’s specialty was the business equivalent of organ harvesting.)  I guess that’s why people say government shouldn’t pick winners and losers — when they do, they make the private sector look bad.  ;)  There’s some highly enjoyable Daily Show coverage here (it’s about 2 minutes in).

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Of course, as bad as Tuesday was for Mitt, on the “bad days” scale, it was pretty mild.  Consider the dinosaurs.  One of today’s leading theories — based on extensive computer modelling — suggests their extinction happened in one day.

While the dinos may have been in a bit of a decline for several million years prior  (an “evolutionary recession”, perhaps?) the 15-km-wide asteroid that hit them is thought to have hit land, with the heat causing continental-scale forest fires.  A huge plume of debris is then thought to have entered low orbit, spreading across the world’s skies before falling back to earth several hours later.  And like all space objects re-entering the atmosphere, the friction of re-entry caused it to burn up, giving off tremendous heat.

The calculation is that this would have been the equivalent of putting the planet in a pizza oven for several hours.  Land surface temperatures would have risen far, far above boiling around the world, and the top few inches of ocean water could have been vaporized.

The boiling temperatures would have killed off any dinosaurs not already affected by the forest fires; and taken out most of the terrestrial plants, too.  Mammals are thought to’ve survived because our long-ago mouse-like ancestors lived in underground burrows and were able to escape the heat.  Birds also survived because their common ancestor also used  underground burrows.  (Hmm… maybe those hobbits are onto something.  :)  )

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By this theory, the sea life extinction would’ve happened in the subsequent years, as sulfur-aerosol dust clouds dimmed the sun and reduced photosynthesis.  Then as the aerosols fell to earth, they’d’ve turned into sulfuric and sulfurous acids (H2SO4 or H2SO3) which would’ve acidified the oceans, killing off shell-based creatures and hitting the food chain for a double whammy.

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Next update soon.  I gotta start looking at basement suites.  ;)

When billionaires brawl… (some US election thoughts)

So, the US elects its next President (or re-elects its current one) today.  One hopes that our southern cousins avoid the fiascos of 2000 and 2004.

As all but the young recall, the 2000 Gore vs. Bush US election hinged on Florida, where George Bush’s brother Jeb was governor.  Before the election, Republican operatives had conducted a voter purge to illegally remove thousands of people from the voters’ lists — conveniently, people who overwhelmingly tended to vote Democratic.  After the election, a Supreme Court voted 5-4 that rejected votes shouldn’t be re-examined and where appropriate, added to the tallies.  Two judges on the majority had been appointed by Bush’s father, George HW Bush, who chose not to recuse themselves from the judgement.

The voter purge, incidentally, was a feature story by the investigative journalist (and Canadian!) Greg Palast in December 2000 in the online magazine Salon, and was televised in early 2001… on the BBC.  It never aired in America.

In the 2004 Kerry vs. Bush election, Ohio went Republican after condemnable measures by the Republican state government to suppress voting in Kerry-leaning districts.  (Astonishingly, the state even limited the access of international observers.)  It couldn’t’ve hurt that the private-sector companies which owned and operated the voting machines, were Republican as well.  To quote from the blistering Harper’s story, None Dare Call it Stolen:

In Butler County the Democratic candidate for State Supreme Court took in 5,347 more votes than Kerry did. In Cuyahoga County ten Cleveland precincts “reported an incredibly high number of votes for third party candidates who have historically received only a handful of votes from these urban areas”—mystery votes that would mostly otherwise have gone to Kerry. In Franklin County, Bush received nearly 4,000 extra votes from one computer, and, in Miami County, just over 13,000 votes appeared in Bush’s column after all precincts had reported. In Perry County the number of Bush votes somehow exceeded the number of registered voters, leading to voter turnout rates as high as 124 percent. Youngstown, perhaps to make up the difference, reported negative 25 million votes.

Yes, the roughly 60,000 voters in Youngstown, Ohio cast roughly four hundred negative ballots, each.  When a mandatory hand recount of 3% of Ohio’s precincts showed discrepancies between the manual totals and the computer-generated ones, by law full recount should’ve been performed, but one wasn’t.

Bush’s margin of victory in Ohio was 100,000, for a 51% to 49% advantage in the vote totals — which may or may not have been bigger than the effect of the manipulations outlined above.  We’ll never know whether Bush would’ve won the state without performance-enhancing help, but the Simpsons’ Mr. Burns commented a few years ago that at least Bush won the second time around… unless people found the missing ballot boxes.

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Fortunately, Obama seems to have a big enough lead in 2012 that these kinds of electoral chicanery crimes won’t change the outcome — though one can’t fault Mitt Romney for trying.  He’s got close ties to Hart InterCivic, which provides voting machines for Ohio.  Fortunately for the optics of the situation, Hart only counts a small percentage of Ohio’s total votes.  Organized voter-intimidation and -disenfranchisement tactics will probably have a bigger effect, but again not big enough to remove Obama’s apparent lead.

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Lana Wachowski, Joe Simpson and our evolving social mores

The recent release of Cloud Atlas, piqued my interest in writing some thoughts about sexual identity.  As has been fairly well publicized leading to the movie’s opening, Lana Wachowski (born Larry) underwent a gender transition (“sex change”) a few years ago; and from all accounts, seems the happier for it.

The even-more-recent allegations that Joe Simpson (Jessica and Ashlee Simpson’s father) came out to his family as gay, mean I’m going to scratch that itch, even if it might mean this blog gets permanently filtered for “sexual content”.

So, first off, congratulations to these two for being able to affirm their identities; one hopes that they didn’t endure too much suffering before taking a big leap of faith and entrusting in their friends’ and family’s acceptance and love.  And if anyone didn’t accept them for acknowledging who they happened to have been all along, well, jeers to those folks.

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Animals’ sexual diversity has been exhaustively documented, and it’s no surprise that humans are like our distant kin.  To summarize in a sentence, one’s equipment comes at conception (depending on whether one has a Y-chromosome), but one’s inclinations come several weeks later, as hormones shape foetal development.

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If I remember correctly from years-ago readings in mythology, the pride community (homosexuals, transgender folks, and the like) dominate the religious ranks in some so-called “primitive” religious traditions: they are the shamans, the witch doctors, the priests, and so forth.   These societies have belief structures that these holy people are special, because most people are “only male” or “only female”, but the gods gave the holy people both male and female powers.  We might see these social mores as positive, and affirming of the diversity of the human experience.

This tendency may not be unique to “primitive” religious traditions, either.  If you were  gay in medieval Europe and didn’t want to fake your way through a lifelong marriage, there was only one place you could go to avoid suspicion: the clergy.  (I’m including monasteries and convents in this category.)  So overrepresentation of the pride community may not just be a feature of “primitive” religions.  Mind you, while primitive shamans celebrated their god-given identities, their counterparts in world religions would have suffered deep and unhealthy repression — and would probably have adopted a militantly homophobic tone, to throw suspicion off themselves!

Our own era is littered with cases of such “gay homophobes” so uncomfortable with themselves, that they verbally attacked their non-straight peers, perhaps to avoid being detected themselves (e.g. see here).  One of the most notorious was George W. Bush loyalist Ken Mehlman, who, naturally, opposed same-sex marriage until he came out.  He’s widely believed to have helped or masterminded a plan to jam the phone lines of a Democratic Party get-out-the-vote operation in 2002, to prevent them from reaching New Hampshire voters, enabling the Republican candidate (John “Colin Powell only endorsed Obama because he’s black” Sununu) to win a narrow victory.

[Addendum: as noted in the comments, Mehlman is now proving quite an ally for gender equality now, perhaps making up for lost time.  And for this, he should be commended at least as energetically as he should be criticized for his past transgressions against his community.  As much as I’d like to think I’d’ve done things more uprightly than him if I’d been in his place, I’m not in his place — and it’s dangerous to let oneself get seduced into a sense of self-righteousness.]

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If religious homophobia is perpetuated by troubled gay authorities who are trying to cover up their own sexuality, we might wonder whether this was a feature of the original religious teachings, or whether this was a later addition.

A famous later-addition many people will be familiar with, is the notion of Original Sin, which doesn’t appear in the Christian scriptures, was first conceived by Iraeneus in the 2nd century, was finally popularized by St. Augustine about four centuries after Jesus’ death, and finally confirmed as Christian doctrine in the year 529.  Sorry, make that Western Christian doctrine.  While it may be a central tenet to Catholics and Protestants, the idea is as alien to Eastern Orthodox Christians as it is to Jews, and as it would have been to the first few centuries of Christian converts.

So, let’s go down the rabbit-hole, shall we?

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