Monday, May 31, 2010

Quote of the Day

Yesterday's fiasco could and should have been prevented. This flotilla should have been allowed to pass and the blockade should be brought to an end.

This should have happened a long time ago. In four years Hamas has not weakened and Gilad Shalit was not released. There was not even a sign of a gain.

And what have we instead? A country that is quickly becoming completely isolated. This is a place that turns away intellectuals, shoots peace activists, cuts off Gaza and now finds itself in an international blockade. Once more yesterday it seemed, and not for the first time, that Israel is increasingly breaking away from the mother ship, and losing touch with the world - which does not accept its actions and does not understand its motives. - Gideon Levy in Haaretz

First they came for Healthcare... it's the education system's turn.

The government is giving Alberta's education system a dose of health-care medicine; fiscal starvation now, to be followed at some distant point by a gush of relief funding.

This destructive pattern laid waste to health care and could be every bit as dangerous for education. The emerging parallels are eerie and unmistakable.

Health care was deliberately underfunded for years. Most of the old health regions (seven of nine in the later stages of the provincial strategy) were forced to run deficits.

The Tories then demonized the regions, softening up the public for their replacement by the single superboard.

By then, of course, health care was truly in crisis, with ever more crowding, waiting and cursing.

Finally the government supplied a mammoth dose of funding to wipe off the deficit while happily taking the credit for solving the very problems it created.

Which brings us, with trembling heart, to education.

Look out, education. Exactly the same thing is happening to you -- except relief funding is a long way off.

The malign incompetence of this government would mean their end in any other province. In heavily gerrymandered, terminally complacent Alberta, they are betting they can get away with it forever.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

The Poster Child for Outing

Roy Ashburn, the California legislator who came out in March after years of operating as a "family values" Republican, is now speaking out in favor of gay rights.

Ashburn spoke on the state senate floor yesterday about a bill that could affect gay marriage, should it become legal in the state again.

"On a personal note, before I speak to the bill, I would not have been speaking on a measure dealing with sexual orientation ever, prior to the events that have transpired in my life over the last three months," Ashburn said, according to the Sacramento Bee.

"However, I am no longer willing or able to remain silent on issues that affect sexual orientation, the rights of individuals and so I'm doing something that is quite different and foreign to me."

In March, Ashburn was arrested for drunken driving. After a torrent of rumors that Ashburn -- a staunch family-values Republican who never voted in favor of gay rights -- had been at a gay club before his arrest, he came out as a gay man.

"I'm finding my way," he told a local news station after yesterday's vote.

He said he voted against gay rights in the past in order to keep his sexuality under wraps.

"I'm not proud of it," he said. He even spoke out in favor of repealing Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

If some scared celebrity wants to stay in the closet that should be respected, but politicians or religious leaders who hide in the closet and throw rocks at those out of it should be fair game. Ashburn is the perfect example of why.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Israel offered nukes to Apartheid South Africa

Secret South African documents reveal that Israel offered to sell nuclear warheads to the apartheid regime, providing the first official documentary evidence of the state's possession of nuclear weapons.

The "top secret" minutes of meetings between senior officials from the two countries in 1975 show that South Africa's defence minister, PW Botha, asked for the warheads and Shimon Peres, then Israel's defence minister and now its president, responded by offering them "in three sizes". The two men also signed a broad-ranging agreement governing military ties between the two countries that included a clause declaring that "the very existence of this agreement" was to remain secret.
So today 'Apartheid' is a word so foul, so condemnatory that it is never acceptable to use it in relation to Israel's treatment of Palestinians no matter how increasingly applicable it becomes, but at the height - or the depths - of the South African Apartheid government, Israel was offering them nuclear weapons and a military pact.

Certainly sounds like a sympathy born from shared approaches to living side by side with a dispossessed and rigidly controlled 'other'.

Plus, yet another nail in the strictly unofficial policy of deliberate ambiguity about Israel's nuclear arsenal, an open secret that makes attacks on Iran for allegedly seeking nuclear weapons intensely hypocritical.

We are abjured to treat such a possibility with - preferably unreasoning - horror, but could they be any more irresponsible than the state that offered them to the white supremacist government of Apartheid era South Africa?

Saturday, May 22, 2010

How you Like Me Now?

Tasty, funky Soul from The Heavy. Playing Calgary on June 18th.

Muzzling Pride

Facing threats against their funding, the Toronto Gay Pride Parade banned Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, seven year veterans of the Parade from attending.

Participants in Toronto’s Gay Pride parade this year won’t be able to march under the banner Queers Against Israeli Apartheid.

Pride Toronto’s Board of Directors voted Friday to ban the term from all Pride-related events, Councillor Kyle Rae confirmed.

No one from Pride Toronto would comment Friday, although they said a news conference will be held Tuesday.

The group Queers Against Israeli Apartheid, which has marched in Toronto’s annual Pride parade for the past several years, has angered people who feel the name is discriminatory, anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli.

The group, for its part, insists it’s none of those things, but merely critical of the policies of the state of Israel. Pride Toronto’s move is essentially censorship, they say.

Mr. Rae, a long-time champion of gay rights in the city and an opponent of the group’s participation in the parade, said he got an e-mail Friday afternoon from one of Pride Toronto’s board members, telling him “the Pride committee has voted to ban the use of the term Israeli apartheid at all Pride-related events.”

The city has expressed concern over the apartheid name and the consternation it has caused; a motion put forward by councillor and mayoral candidate Giorgio Mammoliti – going before executive committee June 14 – would pull Pride Toronto’s funding if the group didn’t “invoke the City of Toronto’s anti-discrimination policies” and reject Queers Against Israeli Apartheid’s application to participate in this year’s parade.

So a term used commonly in the discourse within Israel, used just recently by their current Defense Minister and former Prime Minister Ehud Barak is now essentially forbidden in Canada.

UPDATE: See Dawg. Those justifying this blatant censorship of criticism of a state's actions argue that Ehud Barak was saying Apartheid may be the future of Israel if things don't change from their current trend line, not the condition currently. That is a matter of legitimate debate, but as an argument for why Barak could use the word but it's still illegitimate for critics of Israel's actions to use it.... pathetic.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Liberty in the UK

Regular readers can probably guess that were I a citizen of the UK I would identify as a Labour supporter. I am, essentially a Social Democrat after all. But that's on the economic/social safety net axis of the political compass. On the political axis I'm basically a lefty libertarian and that part of my political make up stood up and cheered at some of the reforms proposed by the Tory/Lib Dem coalition yesterday:

The Britain of today is watched constantly by CCTV cameras, is preparing for a national ID card, slaps a "crown copyright" on most government data, and can now censor websites and eventually boot people off the Internet.

According to the new Liberal Democrat/Tory coalition government, that's all about to change. The coalition today released its unified policy statement (PDF), and for techies and privacy advocates, there's lots to like.

  • We will scrap the ID card scheme, the National Identity register and the ContactPoint database, and halt the next generation of biometric passports.
  • We will outlaw the fingerprinting of children at school without parental permission.
  • We will adopt the protections of the Scottish model for the DNA database.
  • We will review libel laws to protect freedom of speech.
  • We will further regulate CCTV.
  • We will end the storage of internet and e-mail records without good reason.
  • We will create a level playing field for open-source software and will enable large ICT projects to be split into smaller components.
  • We will create a new "right to data" so that government-held datasets can be requested and used by the public, and then published on a regular basis.
  • We will introduce measures to ensure the rapid roll-out of superfast broadband across the country. We will ensure that BT and other infrastructure providers allow the use of their assets to deliver such broadband, and we will seek to introduce superfast broadband in remote areas at the same time as in more populated areas. If necessary, we will consider using the part of the TV license fee that is supporting the digital switchover to fund broadband in areas that the market alone will not reach.
In the few hundred yards around the home of 1984 author George Orwell, there are literally hundreds of CCTV cameras both public and private. Private citizens in the UK can be compelled to provide DNA samples without criminal charges brought against them, teens who get into any kind of trouble can be slapped with ASBOs, antisocial behavior orders, basically a juvenile equivalent of dangerous offender status and lose big chunks of their civil rights.

The authoritarian, borderline totalitarian impulses in New Labour, combined with calculated, pandering appeals to people's worst fears, class suspicions and harsh reactionary criminal justice views have led to some seriously disturbing excesses. I'll applaud anybody, even the mixed bag of neoliberals in the Lib Dem/Tory coalition, who reverse some of them.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Rand Paul...

...just thinks we don't understand the subtle philosophical point he's trying to make and doesn't get that we understand perfectly his theory that it is illegitimate for the state to tell a business that they can't refuse to serve black people and our response is "Yeah, we get it, fuck you."

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Quote of the day

Laura Bush coming out for gay marriage! I guess if ur married to W for 30 yrs u know u don't have to be gay to have sex with an asshole. -

Posted from twitter Bill Maher

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Another Vicious Antisemite

I really believe that if Israel becomes more and more callous toward the right and dignity of non-Jews, it is naive to believe it will not become more callous to the rights and dignity of certain Jews. I think the two cannot be separated. Whether it’s the rights of gays and lesbians, or the rights of women who want to pray at the Kotel, or soldiers who want to speak out.
When we protect the right of Arab Israelis, we’re also protecting the rights of Jews against the government, and a Haredi population that I think at times is willing to use violence.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Sunday Linkblast - May 16

Thursday, May 13, 2010

No Sympathy

Being forced to treat all people equally if you represent the government? The horror... the horror.

REGINA — A Saskatchewan lawyer told the province's highest court Thursday that marriage commissioners who refuse to marry gay couples are the ones who are being "unfairly discriminated against."

The Saskatchewan Court of Appeal is set to rule on whether commissioners can be forced to perform same-sex marriages against their religious beliefs.

The provincial government referred the question to the court after a marriage commissioner refused to marry a gay couple in 2008, igniting a storm of controversy.

Dale Blenner-Hassett, the lawyer representing the Canadian Fellowship of Churches and Ministers, said same-sex couples have the right to get married, but commissioners should also have rights.

"We're dealing with some marriage commissioners that we believe have been unfairly discriminated against," he told the five appeal court judges.

The Saskatchewan Party government is asking the court to consider two versions of the proposed legislation — one exempting all marriage commissioners, and another exempting only those who were commissioners when gay marriage was legalized in 2004.

"It's up to the court to decide," said Justice Minister Don Morgan.

But if the court finds there are constitutional issues with both draft bills, the province would force all marriage commissioners to perform same-sex marriages, Morgan said.

NDP justice critic Frank Quennell said the proposed legislation would allow marriage commissioners to discriminate against other couples.

"Clearly, if the legislation was approved by the Court of Appeal and passed by the Government of Saskatchewan, marriage commissioners could refuse to provide marriages to interracial couples or couples whose religions are different . . . as long as they claimed a religious motivation," he told reporters. "I don't believe it's constitutional."(Emphasis added.)

Mr Quennell's argument is unassailable. To those shaking their heads and saying 'Nope, nope nope, not the same thing...' screw you, it's exactly the same thing.

This is an attempt at legalized bigotry, it is doomed to fail in the courts, again, and so represents the government of Saskatchewan spending hundreds of thousands of their taxpayer's dollars on a legal battle they know will fail, in order to cater to the most reactionary and intolerant elements of their own base.

Bottom Line: Marriage Commissioners are licensed representatives of the state. If you don't want to treat all couples equally and perform legal marriages get a different goddamn job!

For Profit Medicine Stifles Innovation

"Patient 5” was part of the first official experiment to see if DCA could fight cancer in humans. She took the compound in combination with conventional treatment – surgery, radiation and chemotherapy – and after 15 months her tumour had disappeared. She had no symptoms. Three others who took the drug also had their tumours shrink significantly or stop growing. In all, five patients with glioblastoma were given the drug – one man died three months into the trial.

Those results, released Wednesday, seem likely to fuel an increase in demand for DCA, despite the pleas of researchers and other experts that patients not take it until more studies are done. The DCA phenomenon is a sign of the Internet’s growing power to help patients circumvent traditional medical research on drugs, to run their own, unofficial clinical trials. This trend can lead to an increase in online scams, as well: On Tuesday, 22-year-old Hazim Gaber of Edmonton pleaded guilty in a Phoenix courtroom of selling a white powder he claimed was DCA to 65 people in the United States, Canada and several other countries. It was little more than corn starch.

One of the reasons some patients have turned to the Internet for DCA is that the drug has been around for years and can’t be patented. No pharmaceutical company was willing to invest the money required to bring it to market as a cancer treatment.

The University of Alberta researchers raised more than $200,000 for their experiment, resulting in the small sample size of five patients. As another facet of the experiment, lead scientist Evangelos Michelakis and his colleagues also injected the drug into pieces of brain tumour taken from 49 patients during surgery. They found the drug worked the same way in those human tumour cells as it had in earlier experiments on cancerous animal cells.

I've addressed this subject before, but it bears revisiting; proponents of private medicine and the profit motive as the best driver of innovation in medical science have a lousy case.

The biggest driver of real innovation in medical science isn't big pharm. Drug companies spend most of their budget chasing new erection or baldness pills, promoting the drugs they already produce and laboring to make tiny, meaningless molecular changes to existing compounds to make old drugs patentable again. The biggest financial backer for real medical research, not just in North America but in the whole world is the public sector via the National Institute of Health in the US which spends in the range of 30 billion dollars a year on pure research.

Meanwhile, drug companies refuse to research drugs that have been around long enough to lose patent protection no matter how promising new research shows they can be, in fact they will even suppress research into cheap drugs that would compete with their own expensive alternatives that don't work as well. When a cancer drug in incredibly small and cheap quantities was found to be an extremely effective macular degeneration treatment - in effect a cure for blindness - the drug company sought to outlaw its use for that treatment so they could split off the active compound, slap a new label on it and increase its price a hundred times.

How many people will die of brain tumors that could have been effectively treated, possibly even cured if drug companies didn't put profits before lives?

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Jeffrey Simpson's Contempt for Democracy

Jeffrey Simpson's remarkably pompous and disingenuous column in the Mop and Pail today has already been overtaken by events, but it's still worth a quick severe beating about the face and neck anyway.

Simpson is DEEPLY OFFENDED by the spectacle of the Lib Dems, who won only 9% of the seats in Britain's parliament having the major role they've had in selecting the UKs new government.

To be clear, he's not offended by the fact that the party that got 23% of the vote got only 9% of the seats - he's absolutely fine with that, and only gets around to a throwaway reference to that fact in paragraph 8. No, he's incensed that after narrowly winning the most seats in parliament there could possibly be any obstruction to the Conservatives triumphant victory march into office. That they will have to horse-trade and negotiate and at least present the opportunity for a more representative voting system in the UK in order to take office is to Simpson a disgrace.

Never mind that the Conservatives won the most seats with barely 36% of the vote and everybody else voted center left to socialist - sound familiar? - giving that overwhelming majority of voters a center left to socialist coalition government would be deeply undemocratic... somehow, and would increase the odds that a more representative democracy would become a permanent fixture of UK politics.

As this would mean that a largely center left population would probably never vote in another unrepresentative Conservative majority it is a very bad thing in Simpson's eyes. Actually making the British political system, and the Canadian one for that matter as he drags us into his hissy fit about halfway through, more representative and responsive to the views of the majority is in Simpson's view, sleazy, undemocratic, distasteful deal-making.

A more perfect example of elitist disdain for the common herd would be hard to find.

Monday, May 10, 2010

UK Labour/Lib-Dem coalition increasingly likely

Gordon Brown presented a timetable for his own departure from the stage today, acknowledging that whatever coalition or minority government emerges he won't be heading it - at least for very long. Labour has offered the Lib-Dems the adoption of alternate vote PR without any more consultation, study or even a referendum. The Tories in response offer to hold a referendum on PR, but note that they will campaign against it - while holding office.

Today Nick Clegg said:
Over the past four days we have been working flat-out to deliver an agreement that can provide stable government that can last. The talks with the Conservatives have been very constructive and I am grateful to David Cameron and his team for the effort they have put in. But so far we have been unable to agree a comprehensive partnership agreement for a full parliament.
We need a government that lasts, which is why we believe, in the light of the state of talks with the Conservative party, the only responsible thing to do is to open discussions with the Labour party to secure a stable partnership agreement. We will of course continue our discussions with the Conservative party to see if we can find a way to a full agreement.
Gordon Brown has taken a difficult personal decision in the national interest. And I think without prejudice to the talks that will now happen between Labour and the Liberal Democrats, Gordon Brown's decision is an important element which could help ensure a smooth transition to the stable government that everyone deserves.
Which can be read as a fairly broad hint that the pro-forma negotiations with the Tories are drawing to a close and the UK is heading for a Labour/Lib Dem coalition.

The only factor left that might make things come out differently is whether Labour calculates that government is a poisoned chalice with hard spending cut decisions looming on the near horizon and they'd be better off letting the Conservatives stick their hand in the meat-grinder and wait for the inevitable opportunities that will arise to topple an unstable Conservative government and swoop in to 'save the day'.

Labour held their losses to a lower number then most observers expected and may be thinking that with Gordon Brown out of the way a rematch in a year or so might come out differently.

UPDATE: Yup. Enough Labour MPs prefer going into opposition to making the necessary compromises to make a Labour/Lib Dem alliance work. On the plus side, Cameron, an already moderate Tory leader will be forced to hew closely to the center to keep the Lib Dems onside and in a year or two the Tories and Lib Dems will be stained by events while Labour will be waiting.

Even with an extremely unpopular leader, a public enraged by an expenses scandal and a left wing base still furious over Iraq, Labour held more seats then observers expected and after a dose of the Tories, the British public will remember why they loath them and Labour with a new leader will start looking good again. A coalition could have been good for both Labour and the Lib Dems and the Libs willingness to get into bed with the Tories will cost them a chunk of their base.

Friday, May 07, 2010

More human than human

So the next time some sub-literate blowhard starts dribbling to you about racial purity, white superiority and the evils of race mixing, you might want to mention to him that it turns out that the only pure members of the species homo sapiens sapiens on Earth are Africans.
Early humans mated with Neanderthals, and modern human DNA was changed forever by it. New genetic evidence, announced today, proves that most humans share 1-4% of their DNA with Neanderthals. Unless you're from Africa, in which case you're Neanderthal-free. A massive, multiyear study at the Max Planck Institute compared the genomes of three Neanderthal women (reconstructed from 38,000-year-old bones) with five humans from across the world - two from Africa, one from Europe, one from China, and one from Papua, New Guinea. The results show that humans and Neanderthals did interbreed, possibly as early as 100 thousand years ago when early humans were immigrating out of Africa into Europe and Asia. This immigration pattern also helps to explain why the two human genomes from Africa have no traces of Neanderthal in them. The African population never interbred with our hominid cousins.
All those Star Trek episodes that assume that we'll cheerfully start breeding with aliens as soon as we meet them might not have been too off the mark. We've already shacked up with the only other species we ever met.

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

UK: On hating Tories and voting strategically

So many elements of the British election are applicable to the Canadian experience it's astounding.

Oh sure, the NDP and the Liberals positions are somewhat reversed, both in power, perceived electability and some of the policies in the UK's Labour government and the Lib-Dem third Party, but otherwise, in angst about potential coalition government, in a dominant progressive party that has come adrift from progressive ideals and a right wing party that puts a kinder, gentler face on the same old class-war conservatism the parallels are positively eerie.

And Tories everywhere seem to generate the same kind of loathing.
I hate Tories. Not the people who vote for them. But the people they vote for. I make no great claims for that as a political position. But as an electoral category it is crucial. For I'm sure I'm not alone and it's pretty much the only thing keeping Labour going right now. It's certainly the only thing that could get me to the polls on Thursday.

I don't have a phobia about Tories. That would suggest an irrational response. I hate them for a reason. For lots of reasons, actually. For the miners, apartheid, Bobby Sands, Greenham Common, selling council houses, Section 28, lining the pockets of the rich and hammering the poor – to name but a few. I hate them because they hate people I care about. As a young man Cameron looked out on the social carnage of pit closures and mass unemployment, looked at Margaret Thatcher's government and thought, these are my people. When all the debating is done, that is really all I need to know.

But it's not rationality that drives my disdain, it's a negative tribalism. Tories, like Labour, exist only as a political and electoral category. I was raised in the Labour tribe. But over the last 15 years that tribe left me, or rather showed such disdain for me that I felt I had to leave. They did terrible things I did not want to be associated with. I grew to loathe them, too. But there was lament in my loathing. I wanted them to be better. I thought they could be better. I never had much time for the Liberals. By which I mean I never gave them much thought. I didn't want a new tribe, and somehow they never seemed tribal enough. I wanted my old tribe back. This isolation came with regret. Labour left me tribeless. The only way I could define myself electorally was by what I was not. And I am not a Tory.

I don't hate them because they're rich. I grew up among working-class people and now know a fair number of rich ones, too. I see no more inherent moral quality among those who have little money than those who have lots. The fact that Cameron went to Eton is irrelevant. He had no choice in the matter. I hate him because he supports the rich and wants people who go to Eton to enjoy even more breaks than they already have.

Philosophically this is an impotent rage. I also hate them because for a long time they kept winning, and were able to convince more people than we could by appealing to their most base instincts. Because they managed to change the country in a terrible way and reconfigure the political conversation so that some of the more outrageous things they did are now orthodox. The memory of them and the prospect of them make me want to retch.

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