Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Elections Canada moves to suppress free speech - wait, what?

Elections Canada has drawn a rather problematic line in the sand just two months before the Canadian federal election. It has ruled that any discussion or advertising by third parties of climate change may be deemed "partisan activity", and subject to various onerous and costly bureaucratic rules and requirements. This might seem surprising and faintly ridiculous to most people, but it appears to be a serious position taken by the independent election body.
Five out of the six main parties contesting the election agree - to greater or lesser degrees - that anthropogenic climate change is real and presents a pressing problem requiring urgent action. However, Maxime Bernier's People's Party of Canada, a new fringe hard-right political  party barely deserving of the description "main party", does not. Bernier is on record as saying things like, "The main reason for climate change is not human activity", "There is no climate change urgency in this country" and "CO2 is not 'pollution' ".
For this reason, Elections Canada argues, with some rather twisted logic, that any third party, like the charity Environmental Defense for example, that promotes climate change as real and/or an emergency could be considered partisan, i.e. anti-PPC. This would require them to register as a "third party" for the election, including all the various onerous and expensive requirements that this carries with it. It also might jeopardize a group's charitable tax status.
This is a rather ridiculous state of affairs. Climate change, and Canada's response to it, is a bona fide election issue in this election, especially given that some parties want to play it down and not take it too seriously and others want precisely the opposite. So, to hamstring the participation of outside pressure groups in this way, because of the unsupported views of one minor fringe party, is itself tantamount to partisan election interference - even suppression of free speech - if you ask me.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

What do the Hong Kong protesters want now?

If you thought that the Hong Kong protesters had achieved what they wanted, and are not sure why they are still protesting, then you are not alone.
The initial mass demonstrations were in sponteneous opposition to Carrie Lam's administration's plans to allow extradition of Hong Kongers to mainland China for trial in the Communist Party-controlled Chinese courts, which was widely seen as an erosion of the "one country, two systems" policy and of the civil rights of Hong Kong citizens. So large and so successful were these demonstrations that the administration backed down and suspended the extradition bill. So, that's it, right? Job done, back to work.
Not so, say the protesters. They want:

  • The complete withdrawal of the extradition bill, not just its (possibly temporary) suspension.
  • The resignation of chief executive Carrie Lam for even considering the bill.
  • The official withdrawal of the use of the word "riot" by the government in relation to the protests.
  • The unconditional release of all arrested protesters, and the dropping of all charges against them.
  • An independent inquiry into police behaviour during the protests.
  • The implementation of genuine universal suffrage in Hong Kong.

Now, you might think that some (even all) of these demands are fanciful and unlikely ever to be acceded to, and you may well be right. You might think that the protesters are pushing their luck, and that they should have stuck after their initial victory and crystallized their gains, and you mighte right there too. But the protestors obviously see this as their last best chance to rectify a whole bunch of grievances, while.they are still on a roll.
Me, I understsnd to where they are coming from, but I think they may have overstepped the mark in practical terms, and now risk bringing down the prodigous weight of China on their heads, and possibly even losing everything they have gained thus far. But maybe that's just me being a timid old fogey.

Bianca Andreescu's pleasing bedside manner

Watching the Rogers Cup women's tennis final the other day, we, like many others, were shocked when American veteran and favourite Serena William's had to pull out after just four games due to a nagging back injury. Her opponent, 19-year old Canadian rising star Bianca Andreescu, could have just sat back and relished being the first Canadian to win the award in 50 years. But no, she went straight over to her hero, threw her arms around her, and tried to console the sobbing superstar the best way she knew how.
There were enough microphones around the court to pick up Ms. Andreescu's bedside manner pretty clearly. I thought I must have misheard, but she definitely said, "I've watched you your whole career. You're a fucking beast!"
Not being familiar with the phrase, I was unsure whether this counted as a compliment, but my 24-year old daughter assured me it was, and added that it was just the most Toronto thing she could have said. It certainly raised a smile on the face of the distraught celebrity.
It was notable that, when interviewed about it later, Ms. Andreescu offered an expurgated version: "I just said, 'Girl, you're a freaking beast' ". Now, that's what I call classy, and not bad for a 19-year old on the spur of the moment.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Are blackface morris dancers rabid racist bigots?

It has been many years since I have seen English morris dancers perform, but my memory is of a bunch of quirky but harmless white dudes with bells on their ankles skipping around to folk music. I never saw any, but apparently there is also a long tradition of morris dancers painting themselves black for their perfomances (note that I deliberately avoided saying "performing in blackface", because that automatically confers a pejorative connotation, as though it is deliberately done with racist intentions aforethought).
Now, I have no reason to suspect that morris dancers are a thoughtless, racist bunch. They just have a much more developed respect for old English folk traditions than I do. But, of course, anything involving "blackface" automatically becomes a political hot potato. There have been heated academic debates over whether the tradition in question (a very minor and rare variant of what is anyway an obscure and uncommon pastime, let it be said) originally developed long before black people - and therefore racism - were even known in Britain, or whether this particular variant of an ancient artform was actually influenced by American minstrel shows, and even if it was does this then make it racist in intent or in effect.
Some researchers argue that the tradition arose from performers dressed as chimney sweeps or miners, or that they were agricultural workers disguising themselves to avoid recognition by their bosses. And then, of course, there is the argument, put forward in this article, that the historical of the tradition is entirely irrelevant, and that the practice should be banned anyway, just in case it causes offence. But do we know whether black people even find it offensive in the first place?
I am in no way advocating deliberate racist offensiveness, which I have lambasted many times in this very blog. But this seems to me to be just another example of bleeding heart liberals - and I count myself among them, for the most part - twisting themselves in knots over an issue that may not be that important in the scheme of things, and that may even be misplaced entirely.

The logic of weakening the protection of endangered species

I was trying to understand the logic of the Trump administration's deliberate weakening of the USA's laws on endangered species. The changes include allowing the economic cost of protection to be taken onto account (previously specifically denied on the grounds of possible political interference in decisions), ending blanket protections for threatened (as opposed to endangered) species, and a stipulation that climate change not be considered a reason for a species' endangered status.
Why would anyone make protecting threatened and endangered species more difficult and less effective? Sure, not all endangered species are cute and cuddly, but to do anything that increases the likelihood of a whole species dying out seems just bizarre and indefensible to me.
But it turns out that I was just not thinking on the same wavelength as those folks in the White House. The Trumpian logic is that any kind of environmental regulation makes it more difficult for businesses - particularly oil, gas and coal producers - to make profits, and so must be eliminated, or at the very least hamstrung. If a few species go by the wayside in the process, then so be it; there are plenty more. It's kind of the same logic that underlies conservative opposition to action against climate change: if it costs money without any immediate, tangible economic benefit, then it is to be opposed.
This was not a logic that even occurred to me, basically because I don't think of wildlife and the environment in those kinds of economic cost-benefit terms. That said, I'm not sure I feel any better for knowing the reasoning behind such a crass, ignoble and mercenary measure.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

US redefines antisemitism in its own interests

The State Department of the USA has a guideline definition of antisemitism accompanied by several examples for additional clarity. A few days ago it added a further clarification example in direct and undisguised response to a recent motion by one of the so-called "Squad" of radical Democratic representatives.
A few weeks ago, Democratic representative Ilhan Omar introduced a resolution, co-sponsored by Rashida Tlaib and John Lewis, supporting the right to boycott Israel known as BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanction), a movement that looks to end international support for Israel's illegal occupation of parts of Palestine and its oppression of the Palestinian people. As part of her motion, she compared the BDS movement to previous boycotts of Nazi Germany, among others. In the end, an opposing Republican motion rejecting the BDS campaign was overwhelmingly passed by a large majority from both sides of the house.
Note that Ms. Tlaib did not actually compare Israel with Nazi Germany, but that is how many outraged pro-Israel member of Congress are portraying it. In response, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has added an additional example to the official State Department definition of antisemitism which says that "drawing comparisons of contemporary Israel policy to that of the Nazis" is another example of antisemitism (you can see the State Department definition and the full list of examples here).

  1. Personally, I see this as a conflation of the state of Israel with Jews as a race or a religious group. I'm not convinced that this example actually has anything to do with discrimination against the semitic race (although, as I have argued before, the whole idea of a semitic "race" is problematic anyway).

Saturday, August 10, 2019

British power blackout NOT caused by over-reliance on renewables

I notice that some of the less reliable and trustworthy British media outlets (yes, Daily Mail, I'm looking at you) are blaming yesterday's hour-long power outage on Britain's increased reliance on renewable energy, and particularly on wind power.
However, the National Grid Electricity System Operator has issued a statement specifically denying that: "The events we saw yesterday really have nothing to do with changes in wind speed or the variability of wind". That's pretty clear.
The National Grid is blaming the blackout on the extremely rare event of two large power stations going out of commission, for unrelated reasons, within minutes of each other. One was a gas-fired power station, and the other was an offshore wind farm. And note that the wind farm did not stop generating because of too much, or too little, wind either - the turbines continued turning but the transmission link to the grid was disrupted for as yet unknown reasons. The grid system did operate to compensate for the power station losses, as it should, but it was not able to make up for the loss of two such large generators.
The Daily Mail, though, managed to find an "expert" willing to assert that the real problem was Britain's over-reliance on renewables, and the inherent inflexibility of generating sources like wind power.
The moral of the story is: be careful who you get the story from. Not everyone tells you the whole objective truth, at least not if they think they can sell more papers or online ad space by taking a particular political viewpoint and making the story fit that line of thought.

Can you trust cannabis stocks? I can't

If, like me, you thought that the ineluctable rise of cannabis stocks was a bubble or a scam or some other variety of fantasy, you likely now have more evidence for your case.
CannTrust Holdings Inc, one of the biggest players in Canada's "legal" pot market, have been reeling recently from various allegations of wrongdoing, including providing inaccurate information to regulators and growing cannabis without government approval. The board has fired its CEO and asked the Chairman to resign, and the Ontario Securities Commission had announced a joint investigation with the RCMP into the company's operations. Yesterday, auditors KPMG withdrew its report on CannTrust's 2018 and first quarter 2019 financial results, and issued the bald statement that the audited results can't be relied on to be accurate.
All pretty damning, you would think (not to mention embarrassing for KPMG). And how did the market respond? After a minor dip, CannTrust stocks ended the day UP 40.8%! As a Globe article laconically commented, "It was not immediately clear what prompted the surge". I'll say!