Friday, December 22, 2006

Ye Gods, I've Been Linked!

Welcome, those of you who have arrived here from in the last couple of days. I'm sure there is much here that will make you think I am completely insane.

I'm afraid, however, that there will never be any Langley news, analysis or snarky commentary. I keep the blog seperate from my job as a reporter, so it's international, national or provincial, but not local issues that come up here.

Also, I spend a lot of time thinking out loud about weird, alternative political systems. And dinosaurs.

So again I say, welcome, and enjoy your time here at the Iguanodon.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Trustees, guns and money

Sharon Gregson, New Democratic Party member, COPE Vancouver school trustee and gun enthusiast, has been getting a bit of attention over the past few days.

I suppose that's only to be expected when you loudly announce that women need concealed guns to protect themselves. The NDP is widely (and only somewhat inaccurately) seen as the most anti-gun of all the major parties. And Gregson hasn't just spoken out on this, she's gone and gotten herself a concealed weapons permit in the United States, bought a couple of handguns, including a Colt .45, and taken up target shooting. Gregson says she wants to start a debate.
"I don't think we should be embarrassed or ashamed of the fact that we're legal gun owners who enjoy a sport and want to talk about protection issues particularly if they apply to women."

Her opponents - who were political friends of hers until a few days ago - are taking a different line.
"There is no evidence whatsoever that arming women makes them safer," Cukier said. "In fact, the evidence is quite the contrary, that more guns results in more deaths and injuries."

But Gregson said she's not advocating that women run out and buy guns.

"What I'm advocating for is, at least, a discussion in Canada about where we want to be in the long term around guns, so that we are formulating our public policy based on research and experience, not on an automatic knee-jerk reaction that guns are bad."

Cukier argues that discussion isn't necessary.

"I don't think we need to have a wider debate about carrying concealed weapons and handguns for self protection. It runs contrary to Canadian traditions and it certainly runs contrary to Canadian law."

Eccchhh, evidence and research. Everyone wants more of that, thinking it will back up their own position. I have my doubts that it will, and not just because there's so much bad research out there. Look at John Lott and his much-criticized research methods, his bizarre "Two per cent" assertion and his fake Usenet persona to boost his own side.

I like to think of this as the Switzerland vs. Somlia issue. Switzerland and Somalia both have lots of guns. One is a miserable, war-ravaged country where warlords killed one another until they achieved a kind of nasty detente, and got thrown out by fundamentalist Islamic judges. And that was an improvement for most people. Switzerland also has lots of guns, and is a peaceful, prosperous and boring place. The difference isn't just in the number of guns. It's in the level of prosperity, culture, history, geography and a host of other factors. You can't just magically either take guns away and make people peaceful, or give them lots of guns and, um, make them peaceful, as folks like Lott have suggested.

The most disturbing thing about this Gregson-inspired debate for me is that it seems to be about the bogeyman of the random rapist. I know that women are randomly attacked and raped, on the streets, in their homes, places of work, and schools. But first, how often will they be able to get a gun quickly enough to defend themselves? I have no doubt that if all women were armed, some rapists would be shot in the head. But I also have no doubt that some accidental deaths would result, and that some women would see the guns turned on them.

It also does nothing to deal with domestic violence against women, in which the vast majority of victims find themselves complicit in covering up their abuser's crimes.

The problem is not primarily that women are defenceless. There will always be people who are defenceless, whether because they are children, elderly, disabled or simply unwilling to carry a gun.

The problem is primarily that there are men who prey on women. The gun debate is about a symptom, not the cure.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Tommy Douglas, Enemy of the State

The news that CCF/NDP leader Tommy Douglas was a target of RCMP spying for 30 years doesn't really come as a shock to me. The RCMP, then and now, has its own idea of what makes someone a good citizen and what makes someone dangerous. And those ideas aren't necessarily under the control of the government, or the courts, or the general public. If Douglas were alive today, he and Maher Arar would have a lot to talk about.

As someone who was raised by a Saskatchewan-born, farm-raised NDP supporter, I'm always going to have a certain affection for Tommy Douglas. Universal health care is probably the best thing a government can do for people. The fact that Douglas's programs were seen by the police of the day as essentially a communist plot looks pretty strange from a modern perspective.

The other question this brings up is, who are the RCMP watching today? We know that activists like Jaggi Singh have been under intense scrutiny at times, (Singh has been practically kidnapped by cops to keep him from attending protests) but what other public figures are the target of spying?

If you've ever said anything weird on a blog, there might be a file on you.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Maher Arar, what's he got to cry about?

Hi y'all! I'm professionally folksy US Ambassador to Canada David Wilkins, and I'm taking over this here anti-American blog today thanks to a little help from the good folks at the NSA.

Now I know some of you are as mad as a skunk who's lost his stink about this here Maher Arar fella. I'm sure y'all recall how he was flyin' back to Canada from overseas and he got yanked off his plane in New York, extradited to Syria. And our brave intelligence officials may have stamped "Al Qaeda agent, enemy of Syria" on his forehead along the way.

You fine folks have had yourselves a little commission of inquiry into this, and one of your judges said all that stuff about Maher Arar being a terrorist was a bunch of bunkum, no evidence for it whatsoever. (I think it's just real adorable how you've got your own judges and courts and such up here! Just like real ones!) So if this here Maher Arar was just an engineer with a couple of kids and a mortgage, why did he need to be repeatedly tortured and beaten across the soles of his feet with metal cables for nigh on a year?

I'll tell you why. Because we were right. He is a terrorist scoundrel, a sneaky, enemy-of-America with a diploma from Osama-U. And I don't need to tell you that the pep squad from that institution of higher learning wears dynamite belts! I know you're going to say that your Mounties have admitted to making up a lot of bunkum, and to making up some more to cover their serge-covered backsides. But they were still right, even if it was only by accident.

Yep, we've got information that Maher Arar is a nasty, bad man, and that's why he won't be allowed to enter the United States.

I'm sorry, what was that? I don't hear so good since I got kicked in the head by my best mule. You want to know what that evidence is? Well, I'll tell you, it's the finest evidence there is. I have not seen it, but I have read briefing reports written by people who spoke to the people who say they have it, and that is something you can take to the bank.

My real point is not whether there is or ain't any evidence, or who we beat at Gitmo until he implicated Arar, my real point is that we were right, and you were wrong. And that we won't tell you what we know or how we know it, 'cause there's only one place at the big kids' table.

So I ask Canadians to take heart, and breathe deep of the heady free air that washes across our borders and into your benighted land! The United States is the greatest country in the world, and such a great country could never arrange for the horrible torture of an innocent man without a damn good reason. And we've got one. Maybe I'll tell you what it is someday.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

O Brave New World, That Has Such Worker Safety Regulations In It!


Nearly five Canadians die every day in workplace-related deaths, an unacceptably high level, according to a study released on Tuesday.

The study, Five Deaths a Day: Workplace Fatalities in Canada, 1993-2005, says the number of workplace deaths is on the increase in Canada. In 2005, there were 1,097 workplace deaths in Canada, while in 2004, there were 958. In 1993, the total was 758.

"Canada can do much better," the study concludes.

No shit. Hey, let's do a fun thought experiment! We'll imagine that the death rate will be the highest in the poorest places, where people are most desperate for work. I wonder if that's true...

According to the study, Newfoundland in 2005 had the highest rate of workplace deaths of all 10 provinces, with 11.7 deaths per 100,000 workers, a rate that is nearly double the national average.

Hot damn, it is true!

The Centre for Study of Living Standards, an Ottawa-based non-profit organization that put together the study, looked at workplace fatalities from 1993 to 2005, analyzing the numbers by jurisdiction, gender, age group, industry, occupation, event, nature of injury and source of injury.

I would have liked to also know the difference between union and non-union shops, pay rates, and the average length of employment at sites with fatal accidents versus the national average. I'm guessing there might be a few correlations there, too.

The article goes on to state the obvious for a while, and then:

Andrew Sharpe, co-author of the study, said there is no question that the numbers of workplace deaths in Canada can be reduced through an increase in emphasis on worker safety.

"By definition, if you had a death, something went wrong — lack of proper equipment, or sometimes it's just freak accident. But the more awareness, the more there can be a reduction in the number of fatalities," he said.

You know, the people who get killed are usually aware of the problem that kills them. They're either too afraid to tell their boss, or they do tell him and he does nothing. The problem might be a power imbalance more than "awarness," Sharpe.

My favourite bit is at the end of the article.

The centre seeks to contribute to a better understanding of trends in and determinants of productivity, living standards and economic and social well-being.

Productivity doesn't have much to do with employee well being unless it drops below a variable threshold and their employer goes out of business. Rising productivity does not bring rising gains (the tide does not lift all boats as much) so why worry about it as the first portion of a living standard trinity?

Monday, December 11, 2006

Harper on Chemicals

Let's not be too hasty with the happy-pills, here. Yes, it's better than their pathetic clean-air efforts. And, anarchist principles aside, if the government is doing something I'd rather it was environmental than, say, giving more subsidies to oil and gas firms.

But the website for their plan is weak on short-term specifics. And the "public consultation promised could become a talk-shop for industry to argue for its favourite carcinogens.

Let's keep an eye on this one. Personally, I'd like the results of the seven-year chemical review turned over to the public in full, along with the right to sue any and all companies damaging personal health or the common environment.

That would mean corporations would either have to put warning labels on cancer-causing pajamas, ie "May cause Little Timmy to get the Big C" or they'd be liable for fraud and little Timmy's death.

If the damage extends beyond individual users, let us launch unlimited class action lawsuits.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

At least it wasn't Iggy

You know, months ago I thought to myself, Stephane Dion, he could be a good compromise candidate for the Liberals. He's got cabinet experience but without the extra baggage of the front runners.

And then I stopped thinking about that and decided that Bob Rae would win. So I don't get to say I told you so. Nuts.

The recent furor over Dion, and the talking heads babble about Dion vs. Harper has me wondering why people are willing to put so much faith in one man (always a man) to solve their problems. Like there's one magical guy out there, see, and he can fix everything! We just haven't found him yet.

This meme, the nastiest meme in representative democracy, must be stopped. I think I'll call it the Kennedy Disease.