Monday, October 30, 2023

New Kardashian bra is genius

This is what the world needs right now: the "perky" new Kardashian-owned SKIMS Nipple Bra, a full-cup silhouette bra with added built-in nipples, so that "no matter how hot it is, you'll always look cold".

Thanks, Kim Karshashian. Finger on the political pulse, as always.

The fog of war now has a new, technological dimension

It was probably to be expected, but that ol' AI has already played an outsized role in the Israel-Hamas conflict.

Artificial intelligence is starting to affect the news we see and read to a substantial extent, and sometimes in rather unexpected ways. AI-generated images and deep-faked videos are doing the rounds of social media sites. Some are more obvious than others, but many are even slipping though the net of available detection tools.

Even more hard to manage, there are plenty of pictures and video footage out there that is actually authentic (verified by major networks or internet companies or initiatives like the Coalition for Content Provenance and Authenticity and other AI specialists and disinformation researchers), but that is being questioned by political activists and factions for their own purposes, to deliberately muddy the waters or to bolster their own propaganda efforts. 

The mere possibility that AI fakes are circulating is enough to cause people to dismiss genuine images and video, to poison the well, so to speak. This is particularly the case on the less reliable platforms like X (Twitter), Truth Social, Telegram and Reddit, where several political figures and media outlets have been accused of using AI-created content to manipulate public opinion, even when they actually haven't. 

It's an easy way to score cheap political points, and we are almost at the stage where such claims are unfalsifiable. A study by the New York Times showed that deepfake detection tools are at best spotty, with some real photos being identified as inauthentic, and some obvious AI creations labelled as authentic.

The Coalition for Content Provenance and Authenticity (a rather awkward moniker) and Google believe the only way forward is the identification of the source and history of media files, although even watermarks can be faked or removed nowadays. 

And you know it's just going to get worse. What a world we live in!

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Can Canada afford to continue current levels of immigration?

A long article in the Globe and Mail about Canada's immigration policy is food for thought. I am never going to agree with author Konrad Yakabuski's political stance, based on prior experience, but he has some interesting points to make.

It has - quite suddenly, it seems to me - become acceptable in Canada to talk about immigration being too high. The country has always had a pretty liberal view of immigration, and immigration as a policy has always been a popular one. To say that the country  was built on the backs of immigrants is even truer here than in many other countries that may claim that. But the question remains: how much is too much?

Most of those who are arguing that immigration under Justin Trudeau's Liberal government has got out of hand still believe that we need some immigration, just that the recent levels are unsustainable. And, for the first time in generations, a majority of the population is starting to agree. While a Nanos poll conducted in October 2022 concluded that 69% of Canadians supported the then current levels of immigration, a similar poll in September 2023 showed a huge turnaround with more than half of Canadians believing that current immigration projections are too high. Separately, Environics polls also show a dramatic increase in Canadian who think that immigration is too high, from 27% last year to 44% this year.

Now, the main reason for this turnaround is not so much anti-immigrant sentiment and xenophobia than it is the nationwide housing and housing affordability crisis, and the general insecurity brought about by high inflation and economic uncertainty. But many see high immigration as a large part of the reason behind this uncertainty. 

In fact, it's probably just a small part of it. A failure to invest in machinery and technology and a general productivity deficit are probably more to blame, combined with external factors like wars in Ukraine and the Middle East, and an aggressive geopolitical stance by China. Our productivity is just not growing fast enough to sustain our standard of living. But, in times of uncertainty, immigration is an easy target to blame. 

And it is a fact that, although Canada's GDP has been rising in this era of record immigration, GDP per capita has been falling, and we have not been keeping pace with other developed counties with less ambitious immigration policies. The OECD recently ranked Canada dead last among its 38 advanced country members in terms of its potential GDP per capita growth by 2030.

All that being said, immigration, even if we need it to compensate for falling birth rates and an ageing population, does seem to be poorly managed at the moment. The  Comprehensive Ranking System, the points system used for decades to identify promising immigrants to Canada based on language ability, education, skills, job experience, etc, has been degraded of late, and often all but ignored (a score of 75 out of a possible 1,200 now suffices in some cases, rather than the 400-500 levels traditionally required). 

And any consideration of our "absorptive capacity" - the ability of the country to accommodate an influx of new Canadians from the point of view of infrastructure, labour markets, housing, education, etc - also seems to have been unlinked from immigration policy since the 1990s, despite being a central plank of governments since the immigration boom after the 2nd World War

It is certainly hard to see how the Century Initiative - the push to increase Canada's population to 100 million by 2100 - could be a practical proposition. With a population newly arrived at 40 million just this year, the country already seems to be creaking at the seams. Although we have plenty of space, new immigrants do not want to live in no-name towns in the middle of the Prairies or Northern Ontario; they want to live in Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal, where the potential good jobs are. The more I think it it, the more the prospect of a Toronto with a population of 33 million (as projected by the Century Initiative) is hard to imagine. Indeed, it's hard to see what the point of such a massive population would be, although current immigration levels put us on track for just such a population.

In addition to the immigration of permanent residents, we seem to have lost complete control over the growth in the number of temporary residents entering the country as low-wage workers and students (this has surged by 46% in the last year alone), and over how many of them remain in the country after their temporary visas expire. Statistics Canada is in the process of revising its methodology for counting temporary residents, and the government has recently announced plans to better control the numbers of overseas students (controversial plans, it must be said) in an attempt to address the housing shortage.

Some researchers have even thrown doubt over the ability of immigration  to slow the ageing of our population. There may be a short term advantage, but immigrants age too and eventually retire. They also tend to bring their spouses and, later, their ageing parents and other family members, under a rather liberal family reunification program. Once again, family reunification is a commendable goal, but it also has a knock-on effect that may have been unanticipated.

I'm all for "doing the right thing" and taking in large numbers of refugees from the more war-torn areas of the world. I'm also conscious that the Liberals may be going all out on immigration while they are in a position to do so, because they can see a time coming soon when a much less open government is in power. But there is a risk that, in trying to do too much too fast on immigration, it causes a backlash. And we seem to be seeing the start of just that. 

Saturday, October 28, 2023

How useful is a land acknowledgement?

There's am anecdote in the paper about Indigenous playright Cliff Cardinal being asked to do a land acknowledgement before the performance of one of his plays, to which he responded,"I hate land acknowledgements - I find them so goddamn patronizing. I'm afraid that people of money and privilege hear a land acknowledgement, nod solemnly in approval, and then wait patiently for their show to begin." 

He apparently then waffled on for 90 more minutes about the emptiness of land acknowledgements, and people never did get to see the play. Maybe some patrons found this fascinating, but I for one would have been well and truly pissed off, and probably asked for my money back.

Anyway, the point is: Indigenous land acknowledgements are contentious, not least among Indigenous people

If you've been to any kind of event any time in the last 10 or 15 years, you will almost certainly have sat through one. But these days you also get them on websites, as part of email signatures, before business meetings and council sessions, in movie theatres, law courts, before sports events, and in many other places.

They have been used among Indigenous nations since time immemorial, but they started becoming common in settler society in about 2010, at least among the more politically correct organizations. They went mainstream in 2015, after the Truth and Reconciliation Commission's report and calls to action, and particularly after the National Inquiry into Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls of 2016-9.

And they do serve a purpose, as this article, among many others, argues. They are an act of reconciliation and decolonization, at least to some degree, and they can make people think about their relationship with First Nations, the Métis and the Inuit while doing everyday things, at least to some degree.

But, because they are so ubiquitous, and because we are all so used to them - remember the FIRST time you heard one? - they lack the impact they once had, and have become somewhat performative, tokenized and ritualized, an empty exercise in checkmark-ticking and brownie point-scoring. I have experienced some quite imaginative versions of late, as organizations desperately try to keep them interesting and engaging (although often this just makes them long).

Increasingly, Indigenous commentators are questioning their value, Mr. Cardinal being just one, perhaps extreme, case in point (or maybe his was just an extreme example of an attempt to make them interesting and engaging). 

Some see them as a bare minimum but insufficient on their own. Some get annoyed if pronunciations are botched, or complain that some acknowledgements mention the name of the same nation multiple times under different names. Some see it as a performative sop, and a claim to be doing something without having to do something. Some say that if a person has to read it, they are not thinking it or feeling it. Some say that the very use of the phrase "I acknowledge" is all wrong in the first place. Some say that to give an acknowldgement in the past tense is just another tool of continued colonialism. Some say that there is no point is acknowledging anything if there is no intention of giving the land back.

Certainly, you can't please all the people all the time. But are land acknowledgements pleasing ANY people? I think so, but any pleasing is borderline, and maybe it is just a matter of time until land acknowledgememts are all but useless. What will we do then?

Canada's innovation deficit

There is a long centre-page article in the Globe and Mail today about innovation, and how Canada is not doing it.

I don't intend to go into the details of it all, but I was admittedly taken aback by a couple of the graphs that show Canada's expenditure on research and development (R&D) compared to our economic "peers" (or maybe we should say "aspirational peers"), which show us languishing way down below the likes of USA, South Korea, Japan, EU, and indeed the whole of the OECD, whether on a percentage-of-GDP or per capita basis.

Just one point to note: this cannot be pinned onto Justin Trudeau (Take note, Mr. Poilievre) - it has been happening at least under the last few governments, of different colours and ideologies.

Another rather alarming statistic in the article, from Statistics Canada no less: fewer than 2% of Canadian businesses incorporate R&D into their business strategies. I'm not sure quite how they can actually measure that, but if it's true, then it's a damning victory of short-term profit-based thinking over long-term planning.

Buffy Sainte-Marie the latest Indigenous hero to be torn down

Yet another prominent Canadian First Nations personality is under suspicion of being less Indigenous than they say, a Pretendian not an Indian. This time, it's the turn of national icon, Buffy Sainte-Marie.

This particular hatchet job, so to speak, does not come at the hands of some uppity Indigenous researcher or activist intent on racial purity or identity politics; this is a result of a CBC investigative journalist piece on The Fifth Estate.

I'm not going to go into the details, other than to say that the Piapot First Nation in Saskatchewan is resolute in standing by her - and that should be the end of the story, shouldn't it? "She spent time in her community", says the band's acting chief. But others do not want to let it go, incensed that she should claim to have been a victim of the Sixties Scoop when she might not have been.

Why are these people intent on tearing down every successful First Nations personality they can? Shouldn't they be doing everything they can to protect them, to build them up, to celebrate them? Why did CBC ever think it was a good avenue to explore? Is it about ratings, profile? Who really cares if she was born in Massachussetts? That her name is actually Beverly Santamaria? She has been a staunch defender and advocate for Canadian Indigenous people for many decades, and that must count for something.

Indigenous people don't have that many icons or successful role models they can look up. Can we not leave them the ones they do have. Grey Owl, Joseph Boyden, Michelle LatimerVianne Timmons, Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond, and now Buffy Sainte-Marie? It's one thing saying things like, "The truth will set you free", but sometimes an inconvenient truth may be better uncovered, or at least ignored, in the interests of the common good.

UN votes for a ceasefire in Gaza

An interesting vote just happened in the United Nations General Assembly. On a vote for a ceasefire in Gaza, as opposed to a temporary "humanitarian pause". 120 countries voted "for" and only 14 "against". The rest (45) abstained.


I should probably be more careful in my sources. The Messenger has now changed their article to read "humanitarian truce" rather than "ceasefire". The actual UN resolution calls for a vote on an "immediate, durable and sustained humanitarian truce". This is rather confusing language, somewhere between the generally-recognized designations of "ceasefire" and "humanitarian pause".

The Messenger gets a Mostly Factual review on Media Bias/Fact Check, which is probably not good enough. Although, to be fair, they did at least change the wording in the body of the article, even if not in the headline. And Israel's response to it still talks about a ceasefire: "We reject outright the UN General Assembly despicable call for a ceasefire".

It's interesting to see just who voted "against". There was Israel, of course, and there was the USA, which supports everything that Israel does, no questions asked (as I have investigated previously). Other than that, it's a rather motley collection of small states of little or no account, mainly from Eastern Europe and the deepest Pacific Ocean: Austria, Croatia, Czechia, Fiji, Guatemala, Hungary, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Nauru, Papua New Guinea, Paraguay, and Tonga.

Canada abstained, which is maybe a surprise, given Justin Trudeau's pro-Israel rhetoric and Canada's tendency to move in lockstep with the US. (A Canadian-led attempt at adding in an amendment to the vote to condemn the "deliberate cruelty" of Hamas' initials attacks, to "unequivocally reject and condemn the attacks", and to call for the "immediate and unconditional" safe release of all hostages, was roundly defeated.) Australia, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Sweden, the UK, and Ukraine also abstained, along with some other less influential states.

Everyone else voted for a ceasefire, including most of the Middle East (predictably), most of Africa, but also China, France, and a surprising number of other European countries. Here is the full list:

Friday, October 27, 2023

Watering down carbon pricing in Atlantic Canada leaves a bad smell

The federal Liberal government has walked back parts of its carbon pricing inititative, one of the main planks in its climate policy. It's a relatively minor walk-back in the scheme of things, but it still muddies the waters on what was a relatively clear and commendable policy, and it lays the government open to allegations of regional favouritism. 

For a period of three years, it is pausing carbon pricing on home heating oil, one of the dirtiest fuels in use (and therefore incurring a higher carbon price than other fuels), and one much more widely used in Atlantic Canada than anywhere else. It is also increasing the quarterly carbon pricing rebates for these households, and making it easier and cheaper (essentially free for families making at or below the median income) for them to switch to more environmentally-friendly electric heat pumps.

So, you can see where the government was going with this - to encourage fuel oil users to switch to heat pumps - but what a mixed message it sends! Wouldn't it be better to encourage low-carbon heat pumps while punishing heavy carbon-emitters, rather than rewarding them? Isn't that the whole point of an escalating carbon tax? Environmental groups are incensed at this watering down of a key climate program. They see this as the first step on a slippery slope towards more exemptions.

As it coincides with a bunch of polls out of Atlantic Canada showing the Liberals suffering politically in the wake of the imposition of the carbon tax there, and as the wily Pierre Poilievre has been sniffing around the region in recent months looking to capitalize, this has a very bad look for the Liberals.

And anyway, rewarding people for using the dirtiest fuels possible can't possibly be a good move, whatever the theory behind it may be. The whole idea behind a carbon tax is that the polluter pays, and the bigger the polluter the more they pay. I'm fine with subsidized heat pumps, but encouraging fuel oil use? No thank you.


And now - go figure! - other Conservative premiers are demanding relief from the carbon tax. Who saw that coming? And of course, never one to miss a trick, Pierre Poilievre. Trudeau has made a rod for his own back, and, frankly, I don't have a lot of sympathy.

It's when it reaches the biting point and starts to hurt that a carbon tax actually becomes effective, and starts to change people's attitudes and behaviours. Trudeau's actions have thrown all that away, and just raised resentment instead. He has possibly just sounded the death knell of the whole carbon tax experiment.

In the process, he has set one region of Canada against another, threatening what little is left of our national unity too, AND opened the door to the raging bull that is Pierre Poilievre at the next election (or even before). A revolt within the Liberal caucus itself may be brewing, and it has prompted former Liberal Environment Minister Catherine McKenna to publicly call the government out and to suggest that they actually reverse this ill-advised carbon tax exemption while there is still time (a tough and embarrassing call, but better than living with the alternative). Ex-Bank of Canada governor and potential future Liberal leader (here's hoping!) Mark Carney has also strongly criticized the decision.

All in all, this was Trudeau's single worst decision, among many. His credibility is now toast. Good job.

Justice Moreau's appointment to the Supreme Court was a slam dunk

The appointment of Justice Mary Moreau to Canada's Supreme Court came as no surprise.

Convention dictates that the outgoing judge, Albertan Russell Brown, be replaced by another judge from the same region of Canada. Throw in a requirement of bilingualism - so, an experienced French-English bilingual judge from Alberta - and, guess what, Justice Mireau was that person!

Maine massacre in perspective

The horrendous gun killing of at least 18 people in Lewiston, Maine, this week was the 565th mass killing in the USA this year (defined as the killing of 4 or more people) according to the Gun Violence Archive. That's about 2 a day.

'Nuff said.

Hockey player's suspension seems mysterious (and hypocritical)

I have now read two articles and listened to a radio report about Ottawa Senators' forward Shane Pinto's suspension for sports wagering activities, and I still don't really understand what the guy did that was so egregious that it would make him grovel so, apologizing to "the National Hockey League, the Ottawa Senators, my teammates, the fans and city of Ottawa, and most importantly my family".

His 41-game suspension was for "activities related to sports wagering". And yet, the NHL specifically issued a statement saying that it found no evidence that Pinto made any bets in its games. The NHL' s collective bargaining agreement states that "Gambling on any NHL Game is prohibited", but he does not appear to have contravened that particular rule. So ... what did he do?

I can only conclude that he made bets on other games, unrelated to hockey. Sports betting is now completely legal in Canada, a relatively recent change in the law that I have already argued was ill-advised. So, the guy was suspended for the season for doing something that was quite legal, in his own time?

Sports gambling is now intrinsically wrapped up with professional hockey (and most other professional sports), with stars like Connor McDavid, Austin Matthews and the Great One himself regularly appearing in its advertising campaigns. The Senators have Bet99 and Betway as helmet sponsors for God's sake!

Before they go suspending young, impressionable players, shouldn't they get their own house in order, and stop sending mixed messages?

Thursday, October 26, 2023

Guterres incurs the wrath of Israel

I hate to be all anti-Israel, because I get the distinct impression from almost all the Western politicians I hear that that is not politically correct these days. I think I am perhaps doubly critical of Israel just because everyone around me seems so undiscriminatingly uncritical of it. That's just how I roll.

Anyway, I was struck by the Israeli reaction to UN chief António Guterres, who I actually think is doing a pretty good job of remaining objective and non-aligned throughout this horrible conflict. The Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen was in full outrage mode - although that is pretty much his default mode - after Guterres made the comment that Hamas' attacks "did not happen in a vacuum", as was Israel's Ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan. Both guys were absolutely apoplectic that anyone should have the audacity to suggest that Israel might have acted in anything other than an exemplary fashion at some point over the last 75 years.

As Guterres noted, "The Palestinian people have been subjected to 56 years of suffocating occupation. They have seen their land steadily devoured by settlements and plagued by violence; their economy stifled; their people displaced and their homes demolished. Their hopes for a political solution to their plight have been vanishing." That's known as telling it like it is, even if most politicians don't have the stomach for that.

It was however greeted by responses like, "You, Mr. Secretary-General, have lost all morality and impartiality. Because, when you say those terrible words, that these heinous attacks did not happen in a vacuum, you are tolerating terrorism, and by tolerating terrorism, you are justifying terrorism." Further, "This is a pure blood libel. [Is that a thing?] ... The Secretary-General must resign ... There is no justification to the existence of this building [the United Nations]."

Guterres did, however, in his original speech, temper his comments with, "But the grievances of the Palestinian people cannot justify the appalling attacks by Hamas ... Nothing can justify the deliberate killing, injuring and kidnapping of civilians, or the launching of rockets against civillian targets." Pretty clear, and once again telling it like it is. But the Israeli commentators chose not to register that part of the speech. Guterres repeated these parts in his rebuttal the next day, for the benefit of those with selective hearing.

So, was the Secretary-General being anti-Israel? Antisemitic even? Hardly. Both Israelis and Palestinians are genetically semitic, for one thing; they are essentially one people divided by religion. But, in making an attempt to be even-handed in a fraught situation, Guterres has incurred the not-insignificant wrath of an Israeli political machine well-versed in self-protection, evasion, and the craft of geopolitics.

This whole Israel-Palestine conflict has placed free speech in a glaring spotlight. There have been so many instances of contrary opinions (esssentially, any words of support for Palestine) being summarily shut down, or even shot down, from unions to students to stores to politicians to company CEOs being forced to resign. It's not a good look. Not good at all.

Snow crab die-off hard to fathom

I initially misread reports of missing snow crabs in Alaska's waters. I thought it said that 20 million of the crabs had just disappeared between 2018 and 2021, and I thought "Ooh, that's a lot!" On closer inspection, though, it turns out that 10 billion snow crabs have just disappeared.

That's more crabs of a specific species in a specific area than the whole population of humanity across the whole world! Who knew there were so many crabs out there?

It seems that the snow crabs have not just moved somewhere else, due to the changing climate or whatever. They have actually died off, due to that self-same changing climate, the largest mortality collapse known to the species.

This is just another of those unseen, under-reported climate catastrophes. It's getting hard to wrap one's mind around the enormity of what's happening.

Wednesday, October 25, 2023

Fall ladybug infestation?

If you've seen a puzzling number of ladybugs around recently, you might like to know that these are not just regular ladybugs confused by the unseasonably warm weather recently. These are Asian lady beetles.

They are an invasive species, slightly larger than the local natives, ranging in colour from yellow to dark reddish orange. They can emit a foul-smelling odour and stain surfaces with a yellow secretion when disturbed, and they can bite hard enough to break human skin. So, not your regular cute, harmless ladybugs.

They were actually deliberately introduced to North America, to control aphids and other crop-eating insects, back in the 1970s, when people did daft things like that on a regular basis. Since then, they have become one of the most prevalent species in Canada. 

In particular, you may see them in large numbers at this time of year, as they mass together in search of somewhere warm to ride out the winter, which is also why they may seem determined to get into our houses.

I'm not saying you should go out and squash as many as you can. But you might want to discourage them from taking up residence indoors. 

Does a review of Middle Eastern history help us?

I'm almost loath to do it, but maybe this is the time to do a historical review of the region known as Palestine/Israel. Not because it is going to solve any problems, but mainly because I am tired of listening to my wife's personal trainer waxing lyrical about how the Palestinian Arabs have no right to the land, because they were just brought in for cheap labour during the British Palestine Mandate in the early 20th century. I'm not sure where she gets her information, but that didn't sound right to me. There again she also says it's their own fault that Gaza is overpopulated, because they should just stop having so many babies...

So, where to start. Wikipedia is a trove of information on Palestine and its history, but there are just so many invasions, overlords and exoduses, one after the other, just so much detail, that it's just bewildering and overwhelming. Kind of like reading the Book of Genesis, and expecting to make some sense and perspective of it.

I found a more compact, manageable summary on, of all places, the Australian Institute of International Affairs' Australian Outlook website, which leads with that very question: Where to start? Or, as they put it: "Israel" and "Palestine": Where should history begin, and should it matter? (For what it's worth, the article answers that question in the negative, arguing that the history is so contested and open to interpretation that "the only way forward for Jewish Israelis and Palestinian Arabs is to cease looking backwards".)

The first known mention of something called Israel was in the 13th century BCE, when Egyptian rulers put down a rebellion in the area then known as Canaan. (Genetically, both the Jews and Arabs of the region are identical, both descended from the original Canaanites.) A few centuries later, there seems to have been two kingdoms in the area, one called Israel, and a smaller, weaker kingdom in the south called Judea (the original source of the word Jew).

Then, in 722 BCE, the powerful Assyrian empire, based in modern-day Iraq, invaded and took control of the region, and that was the end of ancient Israel as a geographical entity, until it was re-established after the 2nd World War.

In the 6th century BCE, the kingdom of Judea was also overthrown, this time by the Babylonians (also from modern-day Iraq). This is the Babylonian Exile or Captivity mentioned in the Bible. But the region continued to be the centre of Jewish culture until 135 CE, when the Roman Emperor Hadrian expelled the Jews following a disastrous Jewish uprising. This was effectively the end of Jewish existence in the Middle East, although Jewish traditions carried on in the diaspora in various parts of Europe. The region around Jerusalem was then rolled into the larger entity called Syria-Palestina (the name Palestina being a Romanization of Philistines, the age-old enemies of the Israelites).

The now predominantly Arab population of the region of Palestine continued there for the next 18 centuries or so. More and more Arab peoples settled there after the Islamic conquests of the 7th century CE but, with a brief interregnum of Crusader control in the 12th and 13th century, the area has been Arab and under Muslim control for some 12 centuries.

The Zionism movement arose in the second half of the 19th century, as Jew-hatred mounted in Europe and Csarist Russia, the first time the idea of a Jewish homeland had surfaced in millennia. By this time, the land was under Turkish Ottoman control, a small part of the Ottoman province of Greater Syria, although the Muslim Arab population remained the same as ever. When Ottoman rule finished after the 1st World War, the land fell under British rule, known as Mandatory Palestine, or the Palestine Mandate, which began in 1923.

During this period, the Zionists under David Ben Gurion started to encourage Jews to move into Palestine, in order to solidify Jewish claims of statehood there. But it was not until after the 2nd World War (and the Nazi Holocaust) that "Independent Arab and Jewish states" were proposed for the region by the United Nations. Israel immediately accepted the proposal, but the Palestinian Arabs, who felt they were being pushed out of their ancestral homeland, took up arms instead. Unfortunately, in the war that ensued, the Palestinians lost 78% of their initial UN allotment (known as al-Nakva, the Catastrophe).

Since then, life in what is left of Palestine has been a series of on-again-off-again wars, Israeli domination and effective occupation, particularly since the 1967 Six-Day War, not to mention illegal Jewish settlements on Palestinian land, pro-Israeli censorship of social media, etc. The original "two-state solution" envisaged by the UN has never come to fruition, even if three-quarters of UN members now (since independence was declared in 1988) recognize Palestine as a state. 

Things only became more complicated when the radical Iran-financed Hamas took over control of the small Gaza Strip enclave of Palestine in 2007, leaving the West Bank under the more moderate Fatah (formerly the Palestinian National Liberation Movement) leadership.

And that, bear in mind, is a grossly simplified summary of the history of Palestine. It's complicated, as they say. Although, Israel as an entity technically predates Palestine, it was not the Israel of today. And Arab Pastinians have lived in the region for most of the last two millennia, so where do you start the history? 

From a justice and equity perspective, both Israel and Palestine have a legitimate claim to the land, so some kind of two-state solution would seem to be the only ultimate answer. But most Arabs and most Israelis seem resistant to such a solution. There is, as was once said of Europe, too much history crammed into too little geography. The result? Political stalemate and incessant wars, of which the current Gaza conflagration is just the latest (although probably not the last).

Saturday, October 21, 2023

Israel is guilty of war crimes too

Both US President Joe Biden and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau are managing to keep up the orthodoxy that Israel has every right to bombard and invade Gaza however they see fit ("Israel has the right to defend itself in accordance with international law"). The word "cease-fire" gets nary a mention, officially verboten.

What they are not articulating, though, is the fact that Israel's response is already contravening international law in a big way. A committee of experts has issued a report for the United Nations (specifically for its Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights), unequivocally concluding that both Hamas (for its initial rocket attacks on Israel, and for the taking of hostages) and Israel (for its indiscriminate military attacks on Gaza in response, and its apparently targeted attacks on journalists and media workers, not to mention its 16 years of illegal blockade) are committing war crimes.

The report, which was published on 12 October (i.e. pretty early on in the war, just 5 days after Hamas' initial attacks) states, with regards to Israel, "Indiscriminately killing civilians in the context of hostilities, with no regard for the principles of distinction, precaution and proportionality, is a war crime".  It also adjudges, "this amounts to collective punishment" (collective punishment - a punishment imposed on a group for acts perpetrated by an individual member or subset of that group - is a war crime under the Geneva Convention).

Furthermore, the report continues, Israel's actions in completely cutting off essential supplies like food, water, power, fuel, etc, to the "human animals" in Gaza, are designed to precipitate a severe humanitarian crisis and an "inescapable risk of starvation". Such an act of "intentional starvation is a crime against humanity".

To be sure, the report also hauls Hamas over the coals: "This is absolutely prohibited under international law, and amounts to a war crime". And, later, "Taking hostages in the context of hostilities constitutes a war crime".

The Israeli Information Centre for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories (B'tselem) has also been outspoken about the illegality of Israel's actions, as has Médecins Sans Frontières

Biden and Trudeau, however, only seem to be focussing on one side of the events, intent on preserving the traditional Western doctrine that Israel, despite its many manifest offences over the decades, can do no wrong, and (as I have elucidated previously) because they are desperate not to be branded as antisemitic.

Since the UN report was issued, Israel has continued with its indiscriminate bombardment and its blockade of essential supplies to Gaza, and various specific atrocities have been reported. Let's see how long Biden and Trudeau can keep up their clearly partisan points of view.

An article in The Economist, published on 14 August, a couple of days after the UN report described above, makes the complexity and ambiguity of the legal position abundantly clear. The law of armed conflict (LOAC), aka international humanitarian law (IHL), does its best to lay out the rules that govern warfare, but there is still considerable scope for interpretation and uncertainty.

Article 51 of the United Nations charter says that states have the right of self-defence against armed attack (this is the line that Trudeau and Biden lean on so often), PROVIDED THAT the force they use is necessary and proportional (i.e. as much as is needed to address the threat, but no more). This is where things get tricky.

Several commentators (many with distinctly Jewish names, it must be said) argue that Hamas' attack was so egregious that Israel's bombing, invasion and occupation of Gaza is easy to justify legally (although that seems to me to misinterpret the meaning of "proportionality" in this context). Also, while sieges and blockades are not in themselves illegal, the "complete siege" that has been announced, and the terms in which it has been described, may not be. There is an outright prohibition on starving civilians, even if the goal of that starvation is to squeeze the Hamas military machine.

The legal aspects of Israel's forced evacuation of half of Gaza's population are also in some doubt. Temporary evacuation may be lawful, while a permanent displacement, with the intent of preventing return, is not. The International Committee of the Red Cross is clear in its condemnation of Israel's evacuation instructions - particularly given the existing humanitarian situation, Gaza's ruined infrastructure, and Israel's continued bombardment of fleeing refugees - as "not compatible with international humanitarian law".

Perhaps the main issue, though, is the intermingling of Hamas with the civilian population. Soldiers must distinguish between targeting combatants and military objects (fair game) and civilians and civilian objects (illegal). An attack that kills civilians, however many, may still be legal if it is necessary for some military purpose, and also proportional. Some argue that Israel is operating within this parameter, but some argue that "everything in Gaza, almost every building there, is a stronghold of Hamas", which seems disingenuous and opens up the prospect of "absolutely anything goes".

Also, the sheer scale of Israel's bombardment - about 1,000 bombs a day, within a tiny geographical area - suggests that the definition of military targets is being stretched to breaking point, and that their military value cannot possibly outweigh the foreseeable harm to civilians. An Israeli official admitted on state television that "the emphasis is on damage and not on accuracy".

Israel's ex-chief military advocate general (now THERE'S a title!) blusters: "This time it's going to be a war to the end. It's either us or them, because we know what they're going to do to us." This guy is not in charge right now, but it gives a good indication of how Israel's military is probably thinking.

It's really hard to beat the stock market

If you've ever wondered whether it's worth paying the big bucks to highly paid active investors and brokers, the answer is: almost certainly not.

It turns out it's really hard to beat the market. For example, over a 15-year period, only 6.5% of US stocks outperformed the S&P Dow Jones Index. Even closer to home, only 5.4% of Canadian stocks beat the S&P/TSX Composite Index over the past 10 years. Even Warren Buffet is advising people to stick with market index funds rather than pay through the nose for active investing advice.

When you consider that mutual funds (the cheapest way to access actively-managed funds) charge an average management expense ratio (MER) of about 1.5%, compared to an MER of about 0.25% on passive index funds, then you can see that it's probably not worthwhile to go the active investing route.

And, increasingly, people are realizing that. Over the past 10 years, US passive funds have increased by about 230%, while active funds have increased by just 30%. Canadian investors have been a fair bit slower on the uptake, with the market share of passive funds increasing from 10.4% to just 15.5% over the last ten years. This compares with a 45% market share in the USA, and 37% worldwide. A smaller change, to be sure, but a change nonetheless.

So, when your next-door neighbour tells you he has found a great broker who can consistently beat the market, or he has discovered an algorithm through Facebook that is going to make him a multi-millionaire, be very suspicious. 

Poilievre's master class in arrogance

You may well have seen Pierre Poilievre's apple-eating interview with a hapless Times Chronicle journalist. It has certainly gone viral, as the kids used to say. The right wing media has been lapping it up, both here and abroad, with the likes of Fox News, Real Clear Politics [sic] and the Daily Mail singing the praises of this unknown (to them) conservative who treats "lefty" and "woke" interviewers with the disdain they deserve.

Clearly,  the interviewer, from a small newspaper in British Columbia, was in way out of his depth. But the undisguised contempt and hauteur that Poilievre displayed, and that his supporters seem to love so much, is hard to watch. The opposition leader took the first couple of minutes seriously, but then seemed to snap and decide to take the poor guy for a ride, all the while crunching on that damned apple, without the common courtesy to stop eating while being interviewed. 

But maybe that was the point for Poilievre. His rhetorical talents are not in doubt, but his social media chops are rapidly improving (for better or worse). He clearly saw this as an opportunity to provide his base with a rallying point, a social media master class in aggressive Trump-style politics. "See how clever I am. See how I can shut down this woke journo with rapid-fire come-backs. See what a consummate politician I am, and how I can easily avoid having to answer awkward questions by circumlocutions and sophistry."

The phrase "dog-whistle politics" springs to mind, as he plays to his home crowd, entirely indifferent to the arrogant and unsympathic image he conveys to anyone else. It shows us a man completely self-possessed and confident of his own abilities and of his place in the world. This will appeal to conservatives of a certain type, but also to the less politically inclined who just like to see the establishment taken apart (the same demographic Trump appealed to in 2016, and still does today to sone extent).

To others, it was an abhorrent display of arrogance and scorn. But those people were never going to vote for him anyway. 

It's interesting to note how many other journalists are sympathetic to the plight of the unfortunate columnist in question, and are quick to see through Poilievre's oratorical technique to the contemptuous politicking and the question avoidance ("debate club fisticuffs", as one journalist described the performance) beneath. They, of course, have seen it all before, including frequently from Pierre Poilievre, who sometimes seems too clever for his own good (and for the good of the country that may end up saddled with him as leader).

The language of war

There is an interesting article by the Globe and Mail's Standards Editor in today's paper, discussing the rationale behind some of the language used by newspapers in their reporting of the Israel-Hamas war. (There is also a thoughtful article in The Conversation along the same lines.)

When emotions run high, language matters. When and whether to use the word "terrorist", either nakedly or in quotes is a big one. It is one thing to quote a politician using the word, or in attribution, but quite another thing to use word in general factual reporting (more latitude is allowable in opinion pieces, although I do wonder whether most readers are aware which articles are opinion pieces and which are not). 

It is a fine line to walk. Some readers very close to the issue may see the word "terrorist" in quotes and feel that this is hurtful, and an attempt to play down the brutality of the attacks to make a political point. Others will see its use in any capacity (in preference to less emotive vocabulary) as politically motivated. 

The paper's style guide suggests using phrases like "which Canada considers a terrorist organization", or "which is committed to the destruction of Israel", in an attempt to distance itself from overly emotive words and phrases, and to stick to hard facts. Other media outlets have different guidelines. This is not just being mealy-mouthed; it is an attempt to be objective and not to lead readers to jump to political conclusions. It is not an easy path.

"Killing", "attack" and "death" instead of "atrocity", "slaughter" or "genocide". The language of journalism may seem disingenuous, even devious, but you can see why it tries to avoid some of the more stirring, contentious or loaded phrasing. 

As the BBC's guidelines state, journalism's job is to "explain precisely what is happening 'on the ground' so our audiences can make their own judgement". I think most reputable media outlets do a pretty good job of that. Of course, what you consider to be "reputable" is a loaded political opinion in the first place...

Thursday, October 19, 2023

Why is America so pro-Israel?

As Israel continues to pound Gaza after Hamas' ill-advised unilateral strike, US President Joe Biden went scuttling over to Tel Aviv in a high-stakes mid-war state visit, where he reiterated the official dogma that America is, and will always be, Israel's best friend. 

He repeated the Israeli claims that the egregious bombing of a Gazan hospital was not carried out by Israel but by Islamic Jihad as though they were the plain unambiguous truth (which is far from clear as yet), and summarily overlooked a whole host of other Israeli atrocities in the short war so far. He positively gushed in promising yet more money and arms, and anything else Israel might want. Biden has made no secret that, along with much of the rest of the world, he has some serious reservations about Benjamin Netanyahu and his policies, and yet there he was, all smiles, promising undying friendship and scads of cash. 

This is standard fare for US-Israeli relations. Since the 1960s - arguably since Israel's very creation in 1948, but particularly since the 1967 Six Day War - America has courted this "special relationship". Since the Second World War, it has provided over $158 billion in unconditional aid to this small country, more than to any other nation, and provided it with the very best in military and technological products. It pays for about 16% of Israel's total military spending every year, and remains committed to maintaining Israel's qualitative military edge in the region. And, remember, Israel is not exactly a needy, have-not country; it is a high-income country with a thriving tech sector. Israel now sells military hardware BACK to America!

So, why is America so supportive of Israel, no matter what it does? From America's perspective, Israel represents a strategic stabilizing force in a fractious Middle East that the US needs to keep stable for its oil output, on which America is still surprisingly reliant. It is a friendly face among a generally hostile crowd, and a more-or-less-democratic state in a part of the world prone to authoritarian tendencies. 

They also see Israel as a countervailing force to Russian influence the region, a hold-over from the Cold War. As Biden himself said, back in 2013 when he was just a lowly Vice-President, "An independent Israel, secure in its own borders, recognized by the world, is in the practical strategic interests of the United States if America". 

So, America would like to see an "integrated, prosperous and secure Middle East", so that the oil markets stay calm, and it can turn its attention more to dealing with other problems like Russia and China. Well, I wonder how that's going?

There is another plank to the relationship, though: American support for Israel plays incredibly well back home, bolstered by an extremely well-funded pro-Israel lobby in Washington, like the politically-powerful American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and J Street among others, which donate millions of dollars to American political candidates. 

That public support has waned some in recent years, particularly among Democrats, who marginally supported Palestine over Israel for the first time in a (pre-war) March 2023 poll. But it is still an important influence on US policy, and it will be interesting to see how the current conflict affects that support. 

There are documented incidents in which American weapons were used in Israeli war crimes in Palestine, even before this latest war broke out, and there will almost certainly be many more before it ends. Americans may start to wonder whether the "special relationship" justifies its moral (and dollar) price. US support for Israel could deter other actors in the region - like Iran, Syria or Hezbollah in Lebanon - from escalating the conflict. But it could just as easily stir increased anti-US sentiment and resentment in the Middle East. And the world is, as always, watching.

New parliamentary Speaker tries to enforce rules on decorum

The recently-installed Liberal speaker of the House of Commons, Greg Fergus, annoyed Conservatives who were desperate to get to their favourite pastime of tearing strips off Justin Trudeau, when he interrupted Question Time to give a much-needed homily about decorum in Parliament.

It's ironic that his request for attention was rudely interrupted by - who else? - Pierre Poilievre, who kvetched that the Speaker could have made his point at any other time, rather that eating into the valuable Question Time time that he uses for his ad hominem attacks on the Prime Minister.

As usual, Poilievre missed the point. The point of Fergus's address was to denounce the "boorish and rude" heckling that goes on in Parliament. (If you've ever listened to recordings, you will know exactly what he means - quite frankly, it's embarrassing.) "Latitude in expressing one's point of view will be given", he intoned, "but questionable language and unnecessarily provocative statements will no longer be tolerated". Well, good luck with that, Mr. Fergus.

He also called out the increasing tendency towards parliamentary behaviour that is "unnecessarily personal, and designed to denigrate, bully, elicit an emotional reaction, or to attack the integrity of the person", as well as the growing propensity for shaming Members of Parliament by drawing attention to their absence (Poilievre does this all the time).

Kudos to Mr. Fergus for laying out the rules (which members should already know, but so often ignore) as he starts his tenure as Speaker. It will be interesting to see whether he can in fact hold offending members to account. No other speaker has managed to.

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

Quebec university tuition hike is self-defeating

The province of Quebec has made news again by drastically increasing out-of-province university tuition fees for the province's three English language universities, McGill, Concordia and Bishops 

Premier François Legault says this will help protect the French language by limiting the number of anglophones studying in Quebec. "It's nothing against anglophones", he assures us, "it's a question of equality for French universities". Equality? Right. Quebec's Minister of Higher Education says that it will "balance" the funding of the English and French universities in the province (in some way).

Tuition fees for these universities will nearly double, from $9,000 to $17,000, for out-of-province students, while overseas students will pay at least $20,000. (For reference, in-province fees for Quebeckers are just $3,000.) This will seriously disincentivize the English universities, which are much more popular with out-of-province and overseas students, as well as much more successful and renowned. It is a tax on language pollution, but it will have much more far-reaching effects than just reducing demand for a few English language universities. The amounts of money involved aren't that large in the context of the provincial budget, but this is a matter of principle for Legault and the CAQ.

In his crusade to boost French in Quebec at the expense of English, Legault seems happy to throw the province's best universities under the proverbial bus. Student unions are calling the move discriminatory and elitist, and are considering more robust opposition. At the very least, it taints the universities' - and Montréal's, and the province in general's - international reputation. Bishop's, by far the smallest of the three, and the most reliant on out-of-province fees, may see its whole business model upended and its very existence may be imperilled, according to its principal.

But, for the CAQ, the French language is paramount, common sense be damned.

Why is the Rafah border crossing closed to Palestinians?

I've been trying to understand why Egypt is keeping the Rafah border crossing with Gaza closed, and the best explanations I have found are this one from the BBC, and this one from Time.

It's hard to believe, but there are only three ways out of the hell that is Gaza: the Erez and Kerem Shalom crossings in the north, which lead to Israel and almost certain death; and the Rafah crossing in the south, which leads to Egypt and a slightly lower certainty of death. Since Hamas took control of Gaza in 2007, Egypt has cooperated with Israel in enforce its blockade of the Palestinian enclave, partly because it feels it is also in its own strategic interests. Israel also restricts access to and from Gaza by air and by sea (not to mention that millions of tons of raw sewage ends up in the seas along Gaza's short coastline since its sanitation system broke down, so it is inadvisable to even try swimming away). Gazans have effectively been prisoners in their own land for decades.

Currently, Egypt is keeping the Rafah crossing closed, and thousands of desperate Palestinians are waiting on the Gaza side hoping to escape Israel's bombardment and the upcoming ground attacks. Meanwhile, there are reports of several Israeli air strikes on the trapped Palestinians waiting to leave. In theory, foreign passport-holders should be allowed to leave through Rafah, but in practice there are many hold-ups. 

On the Egyptian side of the border, hundreds of trucks carrying desperately needed aid are being held up, with many more arriving every day.

The official Egyptian line is that the crossing s technically open as far as they are concerned, and they are blaming the Israeli aerial bombardment for making the crossing too dangerous to allow aid convoys to cross. But the truth is that the Rafah crossing has never been very open, and Egypt has kept very tight restrictions on it for many years, to the extent that they actually seem to be bolstering Israel's blockade of Gaza.

Egypt may be another Muslim-majority country, but there is nevertheless no love lost with the Palestinians. For one thing, they worry that Palestinian insurgents may link up with Al Qaeda jihadists already operating in Egypt's North Sinai territory. 

But, probably more importantly, they just don't want into open up to a mass migration of Palestinians into Egypt, for which they would then bear responsibility for an indefinite period of time. Even less do they want to see a permanent resettlement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in their land. They certainly do not want to give the impression that Sinai may be considered an alternative country for Palestinians.

Negotiations are currently under way for a deal to open up the border crossing and allow safe passage for many thousands of beleaguered Palestinians (and to allow aid in to Gaza). But don't expect the Egyptians to make it easy.

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

The irony of dead Canadian birds

In an epic feat of irony and metaphor, Toronto Blue Jay's relief pitcher Eric Swanson published a photo of himself and his kid along with at least 17 dead Canada Geese that he shot recently.

Setting aside the grossness of involving a small child in a scene of such violence and atrocity, the irony of this scene of dead Canadian birds after an underwhelming season end by the much-vaunted Blue Jays team will not be lost on many a Toronto resident.

Saturday, October 14, 2023

If the dinsaurs were wiped out, why do we still have birds?

Well, here's something I have never thought about. Although it wasn't the case back in my childhood, it is pretty well known today that birds are closely related to dinosaurs, indeed that they are essentially modern-day dinos walking - and flying - among us. Recent, more careful, excavations of dinosaur remains, show quite clearly that many dinosaurs were feathered.

So, why weren't birds wiped out along with the dinosaurs 65-66 million years ago? Well, it's not the case that birds evolved AFTER the cataclysmic events of 65 million years ago. Neither did a few dinosaurs manage to survive and evolved into birds. 

In fact, birds were a sub-group of dinosaurs. In the same way as some dinos developed hugely long necks, and some developed amour-plating, some developed feathers and learned to fly. Birds were contemporaries of the lizard-like dinosaurs we usually think of, first showing up in the fossil record sone 150 million years ago in the Jurassic period. They flourished alongside T. Rex and Diplodocus, in another branch of the dinosaurs family tree. 

Some of the traits they developed - like feathers, warm blood, egg-laying, air sacs, seed-eating, and parental care - apparently allowed them to better weather the annihilation suffered by their saurian relatives after the ecosystem collapse caused by an asteroid strike (although very many species did NOT make it through). 

So, birds simply got lucky. And they are the dinosaurs that survive to this day.

Friday, October 13, 2023

Is there any way to justify Hamas' strike on Israel?

The rocket attacks by the hardline Hamas leadership of Palestine's Gaza Strip, and the subsequent all-out war declared by Israel in retaliation, has met with almost unanimous condemnation from every quarter of the civilized world. 

Very little of this response has been critical of Israel, partly because it was Iran-backed Hamas' first strike that initially set off the conflagration, and partly because most countries are absolutely paranoid about being branded as antisemitic, which (as I have observed before) the Netanyahu government is all too ready to weaponize whenever anyone criticizes the state of Israel in any way.

The few public statements in favour of Palestine and critical of Israel, such as by the odd trade union and the even odder politician, have been quickly closed down amid howls of outrage and indignation. Even a silence on the issue has been branded as tacit approval of Hamas' actions, which is kind of ridiculous. When Israeli atrocities start to outweigh Palestinian atrocities - and you just know that's going to happen; it arguably already has - will public criticism of Israel become acceptable even then? Hard to say.

But what if the Palestinian strike could be justified? Woah, you say, don't even go there! And I must confess, I am loath to. But let's just see what the justification might be, without making any judgements either way.

Hamas' own official justification for the strike is a bit lame, to tell you the truth. Hamas claims that the attack was provoked by Israeli "settlers" entering the al-Aqsa Mosque on Temple Mount in Jerusalem, a site sacred to both Jews and Muslims alike, in order to pray. Hamas claims this is an inexcusable desecration, and a vindication of their major incursion into Israel.

That said, Hamas and the Palestinians have plenty of other provocations and reasons to hate Israel, going back many decades. Israel has long blockaded Gaza, which has proved economically devastating. Poverty levels are horrendous, unemployment is at nearly 50%, and living conditions are abysmal in this tiny, overcrowded region. Gaza remains effectively under Israeli occupation, and has been described as an "open-air prison" by Human Rights Watch. Long before this conflict, the UN has warned that the area will soon become uninhabitable.  

Although Israel has made fewer illegal settlements in Gaza than in the West Bank, there have still been some attempts to wrest back parts of this tiny little beleaguered enclave. Israel under Netanyahu has turned a blind eye to settler violence in Gaza, as it has in the West Bank, such as the brutal rampage through the Palestinian town of Huwara in February while Israel Defence Forces looked on with equanimity. 

This constant tit-for-tat needling and provocation by Israel must be galling indeed for the Palestinians, and you can see why they might want to up the ante, partly in retaliation, but partly to shift the way the world sees Israel-Palestine relationships, and to send a message to those Arab countries that are making nice with Israel through the Trump-brokered Abraham Accord agreements.

So, maybe there is a strong case for Palestinian anger. But, while Hamas' egregious actions of last week may be understandable to some extent, that does not make them morally defensible. A pre-emptive strike that kills 1,200 Israeli civilians (more recently revealed as closer to 1,400) is hard - no, impossible - to justify or condone, and now the Palestinian people find themselves the target of a raging Israel full of righteous indignation. Thousands more innocents will die as a result of this action, and very few looking on will find themselves looking at Palestine and Hamas more kindly than before.

Israel's much stronger military will wreak much more havoc on Gaza than Hamas ever could. Hamas could never actually wipe out Israel, as they say they have ambitions to do, but Israel could well obliterate Gaza if they had a mind to. With its borders effectively already sealed, Gazan Palestinians have nowhere to go, and hundreds of thousands are already displaced. By all accounts, Israel is planning on cutting off all food, power, medicines, water and fuel to Gaza in a "complete siege", which will make the region even more uninhabitable than it already is (and may amount to genocide and a war crime). It is point-blank refusing diplomatic exhortations to avoid harming civilians, or even to establish safe corridors for refugees.

The whole thing is an ugly and futile exercise on both sides. As Israel prepares for a ground invasion and calls for over a million Palestinians to vacate the region with just 24 hours notice, Hamas leadership may be reflecting on whether their action isn't backfiring badly on the people and the enclave as a whole. Many Israelis believe that Palestinians would be better wiped off the map, just as strongly as Hamas believes that Israel should be decimated. Israel will happily take this opportunity presented it to eliminate the Palestinian thorn in its side.

Most of what is happening is indefensible by normal moral standards. Frankly, if you really want to blame someone or something, then you can lay the blame squarely on religion.

Thursday, October 12, 2023

Not all joint statements need to include Canada

Some Canadians, mainly those of the Conservative persuasion, are trying their best to paint a joint statement by the USA, Britain, France, Germany and Italy on the Israel-Hamas conflict as a major slight to Canada, and proof positive of Canada's continued slide into irrelevance. Pierre Poilievre, of course, is blaming it specifically on Justin Trudeau, but then Poilievre blames everything on Trudeau, no matter how improbable, and it is kind of hard to take anything he says seriously any more. 

So, yes, these five countries make up most of the G7 group of influential industrialized nations, which also includes Japan and, for whatever reason, Canada. In terms of GDP, Canada is (just) in the top ten in the world, as are the other members of the G7, although actually below the likes of China, India and Brazil (which are not in the G7, probably because they have chosen to group together under the BRICS label). 

But the US, Britain, Germany, France and Italy are also members of the more informal, lesser-known grouping known as The Quint, which just happens to contain most members of the G7, minus Japan and Canada. The US, Britain and France are all "nuclear weapon states", while Germany and Italy are part of the nuclear weapons sharing program within NATO. 

Whatever the impetus for the establishment of the Quint grouping, there is nothing nefarious or slighting about the fact that Canada is not a member of it. The group is at liberty to make whatever joint statements it likes without having to involve Canada (or Japan). 

There is another informal group called The Quad (technically, the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue), which consists of the United States, India, Japan and Australia. Canada is not a member of that either (but then, neither is France, Germany, etc). 

Then, there is the Aukus defence pact (Australia, UK and USA), and there were those who tried to make big deal of Canada's absence from that group too, although it turns out that the Aukus group was established very specifically to enable Australia to build nuclear-propelled submarines, something that Canada is not in the market for. It is not a club or a defence pact or anything of that sort.

There is also the Five Eyes intelligence alliance, and, yes, Canada IS a member of that. Do you think that France and Germany lose sleep over their exclusion from it? Probably not.

So, there is a plethora of these informal international groupings. Some are more important than than others. Some are exclusive, some are mutually exclusive, some overlap like mad Venn diagrams. Canada does not have to be part of all of them, nor is it ever likely to be, there is nothing to say that Canada has to be a member of every tin-pot international grouping that arises. Neither is it the case that we have to be involved in every little thing that the US and the UK gets involved in.

And just because a statement is made without Canada's signature on it does not mean that the country has suddenly become totally irrelevant or an international laughing stock (we have other ways of ensuring that...) Although it sometimes might seem like it, Mr. Trudeau does not direct every little thing that happens in the country. He has a cabinet and a caucus and a whole civil service behind him.

And, if it really needs to be explained to a certain Mr. Poilievre, whatever Canada does or doesn't do does not necessarily have to be laid at the doorstep of the current Prime Minister. After all, Canada was not a member of The Quint under Conservative Prime Minister Harper either. But then, petty point-scoring and disingenuous misinformation is Poilievre's stock-in-trade, isn't it?

Thursday, October 05, 2023

Beware, VAIDS is coming (actually, no it's not)

I can't say I have come across it myself, not being in the right social media bubble, but apparently there is an article doing the rounds of the right-wing fringe theory circuit claiming that "74% of triple-vaccinated now have VAIDS" (vaccine-induced immunodeficiency syndrome), and that the Canadian government has even "admitted" it.

If you happen to frequent sites like The People's Voice and The Exposé, you might have come across this claim which is being widely disseminated by the anti-vaccine conspiracy theory crowd. Unfortunately, it is complete bunk on a variety of different fronts.

Firstly, and perhaps most importantly, there is no such thing as "VAIDS": it is a spurious condition made up by the American pseudo-scientific ultra-right-wing group, America's Frontline Doctors.

Secondly, the claim rests on a deliberate misinterpretation of official statistics, and a conflation of "vaccine effectiveness", which does tend to reduce over time, and something the article calls "immune system performance". Yes, the effectiveness of a vaccine does wane over time (this is well-known, and it is why we get boosters), but that is nothing to do with the long-term effectiveness of a person's overall immune system, which is absolutely not compromised by receiving vaccines.

And finally, this is not even a new claim. These same purveyors of misinformation tried the same ploy back in March 2022, when it suggested that "the triple vaccinated have developed AIDS and are now 5.1x more likely to die of Covid-19 than the unvaccinated".

It was not true then, and it is equally untrue now.