Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Tesla should just stick to what it does best

Tesla Inc, as a company, is going through a bit of a bad patch at the moment, but this is mainly a result of its obsession with automated driver assistance technology (AutoPilot), not of its development of an ultra-efficient, ground-breaking electric car.
Tesla's share price took another dive yesterday as the US National Transportation Safety Board confirmed that its AutoPilot system was responsible for three recent accidents. Yes, investors are also worried about the cash the company is burning as it continues to hone its product, but safety worries are going to outweigh all other considerations when it comes to cars.
The thing is, Tesla's products are already fine as they are, and it really doesn't need to add excessive design features by including an AutoPilot feature. This is a fancy-schmancy refinement that only a few people really want. What the world needs is a top quality reliable electric car that can serve as a role model for the evolution of the industry. So, my advice? Don't try to be everything to everybody, just do what you do best.

Monday, May 20, 2019

Bird deaths due to olive harvesting a bigger problem than wind turbines

If you are worried about bird deaths due to wind turbines, maybe you should be more worried about the significantly higher bird deaths due to the European olive harvest.
A report in Nature estimates around 2 million birds a year die in the olive harvest in Spain and Portugal alone (figures for other major olive producers like France, Italy, Greece, Turkey, etc, are not available). The issue arises from the suction machinery used to harvest the olives, particularly from October to January, which coincides with the major migration patterns of songbirds like warblers, thrushes, wagtails and finches. The harvesting is carried out at night, supposedly because night-harvested olives taste better, which also happens to be when the birds are asleep in the olive trees.
Should we be worried about bird deaths due to wind turbines? Possibly, although nothing like to the extent Donald Trump claims. Should we be worried about bird deaths due to olives? Oh, yeah.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

Conrad Black's pardon by Trump is absolutely NOT an exoneration

One of Canada's most embarrassing products, Conrad Black, has been pardoned and  "exonerated" by his buddy and one-time business crony (in the days when Black actually had a business), Donald Trump.
Black was convicted by twelve good men and true in the American courts back in 2007 of fraud and obstruction of justice, and served over three years in a Florida jail, even though he has consistently averred his innocence.
Since then, Lord Black of Crossharbour, as he is also known since renouncing his Canadian citizenship to become a British Lord in 2001, has had his 1990 Order of Canada rescinded, and seen his business empire shatter, and has been renting a house he once owned in the tony Bridal Path neighbourhood of Toronto.
Black has also consistently praised Donald Trump as a great businessman and politician, and even wrote a hefty and glowing tome on the man, while Trump has returned the compliments in spades, commending Black's "tremendous contributions to business, as well as to political and historical thought".
So, it is perhaps no surprise that Trump has issued Black with a pardon - the President tends to issue pardons to people he likes rather than to the most deserving. Of course, Black insists that his personal relationship with Trump was nothing to do with his pardon.
What really rankles about all this, though, is Black's claim that Trump's pardon completely exonerates and vindicates him: "This completes the complete destruction of the spurious prosecution of me. It's a complete final decision of not guilty. That is finally a fully just verdict." Now, Black is clearly an intelligent, or at least very well-educated, guy, and he knows that is just not true, and that a word from Donald Trump does not completely outweigh an extensive trial by jury and judicial review. He must know that, even legally, what he says is not true. The US Department of Justice is very clear on this, specifying that a presidential pardon is nothing more than an expression of the President's forgiveness, usually offered to an offender who has accepted responsibility for a crime and exhibited good behaviour. "It does not change the fact of conviction, imply innocence, or remove civil disabilities that apply to the convicted person as a result of the criminal conviction", the DoJ states in black and white.
Well, one thing the pardon does grant Black is access to the United States, once denied him by his conviction. So, we can but hope that he moves permanently to the USA. I'm sure he'd be much happier there.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Quebec's proposed ban on religious symbols impossible to interpret

It's interesting to think about just how many ways Quebec's Bill 21 could go wrong. I don't mean in terms of turning the Bill into law - François Legault's right-wing Coalition Avenir Québec government seems intent on pushing it through, and they have the vote power in parliament. I mean in terms of policing, enforcing and interpreting the law.
Bill 21 is Quebec's attempt at enforcing secularism in public life, by banning the wearing of religious symbols by public employees (which includes teachers, police officers, court employees, etc). M. Legault insists that this is a "moderate" position to take, and that there a "consensus" in Quebec on the issue (the continuing protests against the Bill suggest otherwise)
Now, I've been an atheist for decades and am all in favour of a secular state, but I'm still not convinced that this is a sensible path (rabbit hole?) for the Quebec government to go down. I can see it proving a major headache for the government for very little positive value, as well as being a significant step down the slippery slope towards discrimination.
For one thing, the Bill does not bother to define what it means by "religious symbol". The usual examples quoted are Muslim hijabs (head coverings of various kinds), Sikh turbans, and the Jewish kippa or yarmulke.
So, a headscarf worn by a Muslim woman would be illegal, but a similar one worn by a Christian or atheist would not? And surely a beard sported by a devout Muslim man is just as much a religious statement as a hijab or burqa (the bill would allow the beard on the grounds that it is "part of the body", which seems a little arbitrary). The same would presumably apply to those weird payots, or curly sidelocks, worn by some Jewish men. But, then, what about a wig worn by a devout Jewish woman?
A Jew wearing a Star of David symbol, would presumably fall foul of the law, as would the Muslim Hamsa or Hand of Fatima, although some would see these as religious symbols, while others would see them as cultural artefacts or merely good luck charms. Similarly, a crucifix or even just a simple cross might be seen as a religious symbol for a born-again Christian or someone of traditional Italian descent, but not when worn as bling on the chest of a rapper.
The identification of religious symbols is a subjective and arbitrary process, and who will be in charge of determining whether this line in the sand has been crossed? Ultimately, the courts, I suppose, so Quebec needs to brace itself for a whole load of expensive and time-consuming court cases over this (really pretty unimportant, in the scheme of things) issue, which only actually applies to a tiny minority of individuals. Is this really the hill that the province of Quebec has chosen to die on?

You just can't call a kid Psalm West

Psalm West is officially the newest sibling to Chicago West, Saint West and (cringe!) North West.
Kim Kardashian and Kanye West's child-naming system lurches from the quirky to the just plain weird. You can just imagine them, high on something or other, brainstorming baby names, with nary a thought for what the kid might have to go through as a consequence.
If this is what their naming looks like, I hate to think how the rest of their parenting is. Neither of them seems like the maternal/paternal type. I feel sorry for any child of a celebrity marriage. I feel particularly sorry for the Wild West Bunch.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

Another iffy sexual assault acquittal

Ontario's ageing and predominantly male judiciary is still showing signs that it does not quite understand sexual assault and harassment. The latest travesty come courtesy of Ontario Superior Court Justice Thomas Carey (yes, let's name names here), who shockingly acquitted ex-violin teacher Claude Eric Trachy of all 51 counts of sexual interference, sexual exploitation, sexual assault and indecent assault.
The charges date back to the 1970s, 80s and 90s, when Trachy would have been in his 30s or 40s, and his students were teens and preteens in the Chatham, Ontario area. He instructed many of these young girls to take their shirts and bras off, ostensibly so that he could measure them to better fit them for chin and shoulder rests for their instruments. In some cases, he did this two dozen times to the same girls over a period of two years, using the same justification. As part of this "measuring", he would touch their breasts and nipples with his hands and a ruler, on at least one occasion rubbing a girl's nipple between forefinger and thumb. Sometimes, he insisted the girls play the violin with their chests exposed. Sometimes, he even even made plastic moulds or casts of their chests. And in case you were wondering, no this is not a recognized procedure for violin teachers. Notably, he did not measure male students in the same way, nor his own daughter (for which we can only be thankful, I suppose).
Sounds like a pretty cut-and-dried case, no? But Justice Carey acquitted Trachy of all charges, arguing that Trachy was "motivated to innovate in the area of violin supports", and that he was not convinced that Trachy touched the girls' breasts for any sexual purpose. Say, what?
Some of the victims have since gone to the Ontario Court of Appeals to call for a revised verdict or a new trial, although it is not yet clear when this might happen.
I don't know. Is there any middle ground here, any doubt about what really happened? How many more times will these kinds of patently wrong judgements occur? And people wonder why women don't want to take sexual assault cases to court...

Who knew that old Eurovision Song Contest thing was still going?

Well, who knew it, the Eurovision Song Contest is still a thing. My memories of Eurovision date from Britain in the 1960s and 1970s, when it was generally looked on as a bit of a joke and an embarrassment. With winning songs with titles like Boom Bang-a-Bang and Ding-a-Dong, I was never totally sure whether it was serious undertaking or some kind of camp subversive conspiracy.
But I'm told it has gone through quite a renaissance, and it is now the most-watched music show in the world, boasting an audience of some 200 million, as well as being considered a bastion of inclusivity and gender rights. It's also a forum for singers and bands from obscure places like Moldova, San Marino, Azerbaijan and Latvia to get major international airplay (and don't get me started on why a "Eurovision" contest includes countries like Azerbaijan, Israel and, of all places, Australia!)
From what I can see from the above-mentioned BBC article, the songs are still pretty middle-of-the-raod and forgettable, but the contest is most definitely alive and kicking, and is regularly the scene of international political scandals. And that can't be a bad thing, can it?

And you thought a ban on abortions was illegal in the USA?

Well, it had to happen at some point during the Trump administration, although the President himself has been uncharacteristically careful to ensure that it is Republican-majority states that are doing the heavy lifting, and not the feds.
Alabama (surprise, surprise) becomes the latest state to pass a bill banning abortion. "But that's illegal, isn't it?", you say. Well, yes, but then, that's the point. Alabama's Senate voted in the bill by a margin of 25-6 (for the record, all 25 were middle-aged white guys) in full knowledge that such a ban is illegal. A proposed amendment to allow abortion in cases of rape or incest was also voted down, albeit by a reduced margin of 21-11, leaving cases where the mother's life is at risk as the only cases where abortion would be allowed.
The point of the Alabama vote is to force the issue before the Supreme Court, in the hopes of reversing the 1973 ruling in Roe v Wade, which is the legal ruling currently disallowing abortion bans. Since Donald Trump's conservative appointments to the Supreme Court, the hope of some is that the Court is now sufficiently Republican and conservative to overturn Roe v Wade, although in a similar test earlier this year, the Supreme Court nevertheless narrowly voted to reject a similar attempt by Louisiana to ban abortions in that state, and several other states, including Kentucky, Mississippi, Ohio and Georgia, have also passed this kind of "heartbeat bill".
And, however this one turns out, we won't have heard the last of it: some 16 states, mainly in the Republican heartland of the South and Midwest, are currently in the process of bringing in anti-abortion legislation.