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January 03, 2021 21:16 +0000  |  Economy Employment Free Software Health Politics Software 0

This year sucked. That line is probably enough to remember the nightmare that is 2020 when I'm (hopefully) looking back on this post in 10 years, but as it's my tradition to go into depth on the past year at the start of a new one, let's go a bit deeper into the why this year sucked so much.

The Pandemic

This was the year that the COVID-19 pandemic took off. Lockdowns all over the world started around March and for the more civilised countries (New Zealand, Taiwan, a few others) that was the end of it. The rest of the world however could not get our shit together.

From the talks of "natural herd immunity" to the politicising of the virus and its prevention as a left-wing conspiracy, nearly every country failed to do the right thing in the most calamitous way possible.

It's left the people with a sense of reason exhausted. I mean, we have experts in this field. Those experts told us what we needed to do to stem the spread. Our leaders overwhelmingly did not heed that advice and chose instead to let 1.8 million people die (so far).

Even while mass graves were being dug in New York, leaders in nearly every nation were refusing to even close the schools. Here in the UK, (home of the famous "take it on the chin" comment by our fearless leader) we had policies that actually encouraged people to eat out at local pubs, and no mask mandate. Now the UK wears the dubious distinction of being the source of a much more virulent strain of the virus. Other countries have closed their borders to us, but nearly all continue with anti-science policy that inevitably leads to more death.

Vaccine Development

There's some good news though: 3 promising vaccines have made their way through a (very rushed) development & testing process to be cleared for emergency use in Europe and North America (and presumably elsewhere). The roll out has (unsurprisingly) been a mess here in the UK, and now there's talk of actually mixing-and-matching the vaccines which sounds insane to me, but again, unsurprising given the kind of leadership this country has.

From my (admittedly ignorant) read of the science behind this though, I'm currently on-board with getting a vaccine (or a "jab" as they call it here) when it's made available to me. As I understand the risks of so-called "Long COVID" vs. the nature of an mRNA vaccine, it's still a smart move in my mind.

Radicalised

Was 2020 a “bad year” or are we simply approaching the inevitable conclusion of living under an economic system that is fundamentally incompatible with human dignity and happiness?

Throughout all of this, I've become more "radicalised". My contempt for capitalism is more palpable, and I'm angrier every day.

All of this, all of this is a direct result of capitalism. From the Chinese government refusing to crack down on wild/exotic animal wet markets, to the world's pandering to their carelessness, to their covering up of the outbreak until it was too late, to the world's reluctance to close the borders, to anti-science policies in nearly every nation treating the working public like expendable peasants. All of it is driven by capitalism:

China

We've continued to trade with China and support their economy because it's profitable for the rest of us. It doesn't matter that they commit genocide or are among the worst polluters on the planet. We pretend that this is only their problem when logically we know that it isn't. The same is true for their public health regulations.

We knew that China's public health policy was a breeding ground for pandemics. We've seen it before. But isolating them? Punishing them for being a threat to world health? That would affect our profits.

And so we did nothing and China acted exactly as everyone knew they would.

Management once the pandemic started

The science was clear on all of this:

  • Close the borders
  • Close the schools, the churches, the markets, and the malls
  • Limit travel
  • Limit the spread by keeping people at home
  • Track and trace infected cases

But we all had rent and mortgages to pay. Around 300 million of us (the Americans) couldn't even have medical care if they were unemployed. How could anyone possibly do the right thing and follow the science?

Our governments could have stepped in. They could have put a moratorium on rent and mortgages. They could have mandated the expansion of grocery store delivery networks and required that no one be permitted to go to work if that work is not directly involved in a key industry like the food supply, public health, utilities, or the military.

The right thing would have been to do this for just a month or two and get a handle on the virus. Limit its spread and understand its behaviour. It could have been financed through a wealth tax or some other fiscal tool levied against those profiting from the pandemic.

We didn't do this though, because capitalism demands that we all go to work doing jobs that don't really matter so that the very rich few continue to accumulate wealth. It's a given that millions will die, but it's also understood we're all replaceable.

Disaster Capitalism

All of this is what Naomi Klein calls "disaster capitalism": the idea that disasters are leveraged (if not also created) by people who profit from them.

There are absolutely winners in all of this: Amazon and Tesco for example both posted record profits while exploiting their workforce. As The Guardian pointed out:

Bezos has accumulated so much added wealth over the last nine months that he could give every Amazon employee $105,000 and still be as rich as he was before the pandemic.

None of this is to say that there's some sort of illuminati cadre of rich assholes running the world. Only that the world is as it is because these sorts of people profit from it the way things are rather than how we all know they should be.

We don't need 2¢ USB sticks from China or next-day delivery of slippers from Amazon. We need a universal basic income, nationalised health care, and a government that understands the economy as a system of land, water, and people rather than currency.

This pandemic has happened entirely because we have prioritised personal wealth over humanity.

It's not just a bad year

Towards the end of the year, it became fashionable to refer to how we'll all be glad that 2020 is over, because somehow everything was going to be better in 2021. Nothing has changed though, and so even if the vaccine is rolled out smoothly and the pandemic subsides, all of this — in one form or another — will happen again because that is what this system was designed to do.

The worst is yet to come. Next up we're looking down the barrel of a crippling depression and the appallingly inevitable climate catastrophe. The skies above California literally turned red this year, and yet that nation still has no salient climate plan. The world community has done little more than talk about how we should probably do something, but fossil fuels are still subsidised by nearly every industrialised nation.

There's a reason you feel like things have only been getting worse: they have. Disaster capitalism is as much about profiting off of disaster as it is about demoralising the peasantry and keeping us fearful. We've been "holding on" for so long, hoping for things to get better when they absolutely will only get worse so long as we live under this system.

In Other World News

Despite the pandemic, there were a lot of things that happened worth noting that happened this year:

Black Lives Matter

George Floyd was murdered by a police officer and the country, the world was (finally) enraged. From what I've been hearing, very little has come of the rage though, as the pandemic has made mobilisations difficult. Still, calls for defunding or abolishing the police are finally being taken seriously, so that's a start.

Trump

Trump made it through all four years and got clobbered in an attempt at re-election. I maintain that if this pandemic hadn't happened, he would have won a second term (I have that little faith in the US), but with more than 350,000 dead so far and millions losing their jobs, there was no way he was going to win in a fair fight.

The question then was how much would the Republicans have to cheat to win this one, and they did their best: everything from gerrymandering, to restricting access to voting places, to sabotaging the postal system. None of it was enough to give Trump a win, though it may well have been enough to hold onto the Senate. We'll know in a few days with the Georgia run-off vote.

Oh, and there's widespread claims that the election was somehow fraudulent, and that Trump was actually the winner. This has led to Trump-devotees holding (maskless, of course) rallies calling for the arrest of Joe Biden.

And one more thing: Q-Anon is a thing now. There's a lot of overlap between these nuts and the nuts claiming that Trump actually won.

My Life, Directly

In comparison to any of the above, my life doesn't exactly feel significant, but this is my blog, so I'm going to cover that too.

Lockdown

The (limited) lockdown we had here in the UK was rough. I was just holding onto my sanity, being able to send my 1 year old away to the child minder during the work-week, but when that was all cancelled, Christina and I became full-time babysitters while also being full-time employees.

We "managed" this by working in shifts. I would work 4 hours while Christina looked after Anna, then I'd take care of Anna for four hours while Christina worked. When Anna napped midday, we'd both work, and when dinner came around, one of us would cook while the other took care of the kid, then she'd go down and both of us would go back to work 'till 11 or midnight at which point we'd go to sleep only to repeat this... for the entire month.

I won't complain though. It was hard, but at least we remained employed through the fortune of having remote-friendly work. I know that a lot of people in this country were looking down the barrel of no income and substantial rent to pay, so I know that we've been very fortunate.

Our childminder was freaking out when she heard the news that she couldn't keep her doors open, since no kids meant that her income was suddenly reduced to £0. Christina and I decided however that so long as our employment situation didn't change, we would continue to pay her as if Anna was in full attendance as usual.

Fear

The worst part of this though — at least for me — as been the looming fear. Yes the odds of death are low, but they're still very high compared to almost anything you would choose to do on a daily basis. On top of that, the long-term health effects of COVID-19 are almost entirely unknown. There are reports of cramps and migraines lasting months, and permanent heart damage, so this isn't something anyone wants to get.

My parents are both very high-risk, and yet they continue to have regular visits with my brother who flies all over Canada for work. It doesn't help that my brother's attitude toward COVID is more dismissive than anything else.

Personally I've had breathing concerns for years ever since I contracted pertussis in my late teens. Every time I've had a bad flu since then, there have been moments where the coughing and seizing locks up my whole respiratory system and I literally can't breathe. In those moments, I'm taken back to that year where whooping cough was destroying my lungs and I think that maybe this time will be the last... and then it subsides.

...and that's the flu.

I may talk a big game about the macro-level implications of this thing, but I'm honestly — personally — worried.

Christina is less concerned (which doesn't help with my own fears). She's frustrated by the way this year has likely stunted Anna's social development, how we see our friends so rarely (always outside, at a "safe" social distance), and she remains (rightly) concerned about the way the vaccines have been rushed through, and how public health is once again being politicised: you're either happy to give your 2 year-old a vaccine that's never been tested on 2-year-olds being rolled out by a government with a demonstrated lack of interest in public health, or you're an idiot anti-vaxxer who hates Britian.

There's a lot of stress to go around.

Goodbye Workfinder, Hello MoneyMover (again)

On the corporate front, I said goodbye to Founders4Schools/Workfinder back in November, and while I'll miss a lot of the people there, I won't miss working there for a variety of reasons.

For the last 2 months of 2020, I went back to MoneyMover to help move some of their codebase forward. I'd been helping to keep things running in my off-hours for the last 2 years, but there were a lot of things that needed more dedicated attention, so I agreed to come back for a short stint to help out. It's a great place to work, so I've really enjoyed being able to work with with everyone again.

Later this month, I'll be moving onto my next full-time job, this time with LimeJump. That move warrants an entirely separate post though, so I hope to get to that soon.

Majel

Finally, the best news (for me anyway) this year was the "launching" of my latest side project, Majel. I won't be announcing it to the nerd world for a few days still, but I'm really happy with how it's turned out.

Majel is a front-end for Mycroft, an OpenSource Alexa replacement. Imagine being able to "install" Alexa on your laptop or a Raspberry Pi and know that it does what you want without eavesdropping on your conversations. Mycroft even sells dedicated devices that do the same thing (just like an Echo), again, all Freely licensed so you can extend it in any way you like.

Majel is one such extension, my add-on to the Mycroft system that allows you to control a web browser with voice commands. Sure, maybe Alexa can control a "smart" TV and play shows from Amazon Prime, but it's unlikely that Amazon will also let Alexa control Netflix, let alone a local library stored in something like Kodi.

So I wrote Majel to do just that. You can say stuff like:

Play The West Wing

and it'll look at your local library and play those files if you have them (remembering where you left off of course). If you don't have them, it'll ask Netflix & Amazon who has the show and then play it with the service that does.

It also does stuff like:

Youtube baby shark

Where it'll look up "baby shark" on Youtube and play the first search result, full-screen and on a loop. Anna was thrilled.

Finally, it plugs into my Firefox bookmarks to do handy things like:

Search my bookmarks for chicken

Where it'll draw up a touch-friendly web page full of chicken recipes from my curated collection.

It's all licensed under the AGPL and regardless of whether or not there's much interest in it, I'll likely continue to develop on it. I want to be able to tell it to do basic web stuff, like do a Google/DuckDuckGo search for something or pull up a Wikipedia page on an arbitrary topic. I also want to get it to a point where I can say:

Call the parents

and have it start a video call, but that'll likely require working with something like PyGUI, so it may be a while before I can figure that out.

Anyway, I'm really happy with it, and it represents the culmination of roughly a year's work, squeezed into my off hours after Anna's gone to bed and when I'm not already expected to do some off-hours contracting. I'm hoping it'll show the Mycroft project a way toward making these digital assistants a more visual experience, but even if it flops, I'm still happy to have it running on my old Surface Pro 3 in the kitchen.

November 01, 2020 20:19 +0000  |  Politics 0

Politics is a regional thing, and since the people reading this blog are most likely not UK residents, I'm gong to provide a little background before I talk about what's going on in my own head.

The Background

The UK is a rather right-wing country. In fact, before I left the Netherlands, my Canadian friend said:

"You'll regret it. The UK is the America of Europe."

I can't think of a more appropriate analogy. Since Thatcher this country has leaned heavily to the right, hollowing out human rights and labour rights, rolling back or curtailing health, environment, and safety regulations, and (especially recently) drumming up the xenophobia. It didn't matter who was in charge: it was Labour after all who plunged this country into an illegal war that killed millions of people.

That was sort of the problem really. When your politics are dominated by 2 parties and both parties espouse right-wing ideals, there's simply no way to move the country in any other direction.

That was until 2015 when Jeremy Corbyn won in a landslide.

Corbyn is a proper socialist. He has been campaigning for "crazy" things like publicly-owned rail networks and power generation, stronger unions, more funding for public health, and support for queer rights for his entire career. The man campaigned against racism and denounced apartheid in South Africa, even going so far as to be arrested in a 1984 demonstration agaisnt it.

Given all of this, you can imagine what the heart attacks were like for the establishment in this country when we won the leadership of the Official Opposition in 2015.

What followed was a long series of relentless attacks on Corbyn and Labour in general from 2015 until he was replaced as leader last year. This country collectively lost its mind.

From the BBC literally painting him as a communist, to The Times referring to his "Maoist Bicycle", to the Sun and the Mail equating him with Muslim terrorists, the media has been especially irresponsible and vile.

The worst part of all of this was the horrible campaign from within his own party, to sabotage Labour's chances in the 2019 election by breaking lines of communication, redirecting resources to right-wingers in the party, and deliberately doing nothing on the job for months. This is in addition to the numerous Labour members (and sitting MPs that undermined the party's goals in the lead up to two elections.

To my knowledge, none of those members have been ejected from the party to date.

...but Corbyn was kicked out this week.

Antisemitism

If ever there was a campaign against racism terribly misdirected, this was it. Labour -- like all political parties in this country and elsewhere -- has racists in it. Some of those people hate Muslims, some hate Jews, some hate LGBTQ+ people, and some, like the leader of the Conservative Party, have a documented history of all four. Most parties have a way of dealing with them. If you're a Canadian Conservative, you tell them to shut up and try not to get noticed. If you're a Canadian Liberal, you elect them to the leadership and pretend that a few cases of blackface are no big deal 'cause he's "woke" now. If you're a British Conservative, you elect them party leader and watch while he appoints all of his xenophobic friends into positions of power, and if you're the UK Labour party, you file the complaints through a long and plodding system to hopefully get these assholes kicked out.

Guess which party leader had a massive nation-wide campaign about how he was an antisemite?

The media over here lost its mind over this insane story. That somehow, with the Conservative leader's uncontested public record of racism/sexism/homophobia and straight-up antisemitism, it was the Labour leader who was the problem: the same guy who has never waivered on his position on racism. Somehow, there was a conspiracy within the Labour Party that was so egregious that Jews across the country were fearful for their lives should the Labour Party succeed in 2019.

The Report

So after years of attacking Corbyn and the party both from within and without, and after he was replaced by a more conservative leader, the Equality and Human Rights Commission published a report citing that there were 23 instances of "inappropriate involvement" by Corbyn's staff in antisemitism complaints. Corbyn responded that the team had "acted to speed up, not hinder the process", that he didn't accept the EHRC's findings, and that the scale of antisemitism within Labour had been "dramatically overstated for political reasons". This apparently was enough evidence for his suspension from the party.

My Own Membership

I joined Labour initially to vote for Corbyn as leader because I, like many members of the party am someone that strongly believes that socialism is the right step forward. Obviously, this opinion is in the minority in this country though. I don't know how so many were tricked into thinking that people like Theresa May (xenophobe who tried to kill the Human Rights Act and presided over Grenfell) and Boris Johnson (liar, homophobe, racist, elitist kleptocrat) are the right choice for a country where 21% live below the povery line, but that's the norm here. The British public (perhaps because they're routinely guided by the toxic media) simply won't tolerate a socialist in politics. I can forgive that though. People are allowed to be stupid.

What I can't accept is my own membership in a Labour party that demonstrably doesn't support socialist principles. A party with factions within it that act to sabotage its own chances for fear that they might actually win on a socialist platform. Until now, I'd hoped that there was still cause to back Labour, even with the new "centrist" leader, but it's clear at this point that they're "cleaning house" in the hopes that they can win the next election by simply being the "Not Conservative Party". It's a winning strategy really, but I don't care to be part of a group that wouldn't have Jeremy Corbyn as a member, let alone one who would happily retain Tony Blair and the myriad of traitors who tried to kill the party from within.

Fuck those guys. I'm out.

January 20, 2020 19:08 +0000  |  Anna Climate Change Environment Grandma Lidia Politics 0

My father once said to me: "Life has a way of getting away from you. One day you blink, and 30 years have passed." I think that I'm finally starting to understand what he meant. 2019 doesn't really feel like a year I lived through so much as a year that was done to me. People I thought integral to my life disappeared suddenly, and a whole new human was added to my immediate family, all this while the world is literally on fire. Everything is changing and for my part, it feels like my role is more that of a passenger than driver.

Personal

2019 was a bumpy year for me personally.

Anna & me on Siros

Anna

My daughter was born in the early days of the year. She's now already a full-year old and what they say really is true: they grow up so fast. When we met, she was roughly the size of a small pumpkin, now she's a walking, talking (well, babbling), screaming, grabby mobile monster.

Parenthood is a crazy process: you're constantly monitoring a tiny creature to make sure that she doesn't kill herself reaching for a pen or eating plastic. I mean, we watched her lick a bar of soap, make a face, then lick it again as if she hadn't learnt her lesson the first time. This process of constant vigilance is... exhausting. There's really no other word for it. It's a good thing she's cute.

There's also not a lot of sleep in my day-to-day anymore.

Grandma Lidia

Grandma

Around when Anna reached the 4-month mark, she lost her great grandmother -- my last remaining grandparent. To be honest, I'm still pretty broken up about it -- still processing. Unlike my other grandparents, I wasn't prepared to lose Grandma Lidia and it still hurts to think about. I miss her every day, and the thought of returning home to visit my family feels eerily wrong without her there.

Professional

I really feel like my Free Software career has taken a big hit this past year. Whereas in 2018 I was releasing Aletheia and speaking at PyCon about it while handing-off Paperless to the broader community, 2019 has seen very little Free stuff from me. There were a couple bits worth mentioning though:

A jumping pizza!

Pizzaplace

It's a very simple server that lets you spin up branch deploys automatically by plugging into GitLab's WebHooks system and linking that to a docker-compose. It made development of some of our stuff at Workfinder a lot simpler, and I'm hoping we can make more use of it in 2020.

Aletheia Server

I realised that Aletheia has a lot of dependencies to get going -- too many perhaps for most to make use of it in any reasonable architecture. So with that in mind, I decided to hack together a dockerised microservice that does the signing & verification for you. This way, you could theoretically deploy Aletheia to a project simply by adding it to your running services rather than trying to integrate a 3rd-party module and all of the dependencies that come with.

The Aletheia logo The project works, but as I built it using FastAPI, getting the tests to play nice is proving problematic for a Django nerd like me. I'm hoping to have the kinks worked out in early 2020.

Workfinder: Last Man Standing

Most of the code I wrote in 2019 was for my full-time employer, but the face of the dev team changed a lot over the year. I started out working in of the Cambridge office with 3 other developers, and one-by-one they all left the company. Now I'm the only one in this town, with most of the rest of the company based out of London. Thankfully, the CEO has promised that she's not going to make me commute to London on a daily basis (honestly that just wouldn't happen), but it does mean that I don't have anyone to bounce ideas off of on a regular basis and that sucks.

On the plus side though, before he left, Richard and I wrote what I think might be some of my Best Code Ever: a system that handles multiple data sources of varying trustworthiness and merges it into a single derived model that performs even with tens of millions of records in the system. Now it's just a matter of getting that code into the main product...

Travel

It turns out that babies seriously cramp your travel plans. For the most part, Christina and I have been Cambridge-bound this past year. I'm hoping that once Anna reaches the age where we can hand her a phone and say: "shut up and watch Peppa Pig", we'll be able to consider then 9-hour flight to Vancouver.

Siros

The one trip we made was to Athens & Siros (Σιρος). Anna was just young enough that she wasn't bothered (too much) by the flight (even though it was RyanAir), and she slept through the majority of the trip. We spent a few days in Athens, and then continued onto Siros where we rented a little house with a pretty remarkable view of both the island and the sea.

We took Anna for her very first swim in the Agean, ate a lot of delicious food, and I came face-to-face with my paralysing fear of crickets & grasshoppers. The trip was lovely... except for that last part.

In-laws In-residence

Not long after the trip to Greece, Christina's parents came out to Cambridge to live with us for 2 months. The plan was that they would help ease Christina's transition back into the workforce, help Anna get used to her day care, and help out around the house as we all get used to having a baby around. Now I'm not going to come out and say that living with my in-laws for 2 months was super-fun and friction-free, but I really appreciated the help. Having someone around to talk to for advice, or to help with putting the kid to sleep when you're at the end of your tether is invaluable to say the least.

Parents visit

Not long after the in-laws left, my parents came for a few weeks, though their stay was interrupted by their own (apparently abysmal: screw you Norwegian Cruiselines) detour through the European North. It's always nice when my parents visit and I get to show them the life I'm helping to build, though this time around my mom was having a really hard time. Still, I think they enjoyed their trip, and they're talking about coming back for a visit before (in their words) they're too old to make the trip.

Politics

I got to vote in two national elections this year, though in both cases first-past-the-post ensured that my vote didn't really mean anything.

Canada

The Liberals squeaked out a minority government, campaigning on the idea that they gave a shit about climate change and a history of actions that prove that they don't. I suppose I could be happy that at least Canada didn't elect outright climate deniers, but like everything else they do, the Liberals are even more infuriating: they play up their green rhetoric, but demonstrably aren't willing to do what's necessary to combat the climate crisis. To my mind, they're just as bad as the Conservatives, just more duplicitous.

UK

The UK had its 3rd election in 5 years in a desperate attempt to get a strong majority that would lend some stability to their position in managing Brexit with the rest of the EU. Thanks to first-past-the-post, even though the majority of the country voted against the Conservatives, we all got a crushing Conservative majority. Jeremy Corbyn, the first political leader that's inspired me in the UK, and only the fourth politician to inspire me in my lifetime, somehow is being blamed for the failings of his own party-unfaithful, that of the Lib-Dems, and of the Greens, whose platform was objectively less-green than Labour's. The country's fourth estate is in shambles, and we're now on-track for a disasterous brexit: upwards of 5-years helmed by a government & prime minister with a record of xenophobia, homophobia, flat-out racism, climate denial, and Trump ass-kissing.

So yeah. This is where I live.

World

On the world stage, 2019 was a year of hope and horrors. Every week, you'd read a story about how the world is literally on fire, but you'd also hear about how lab-grown or plant-based "meat" was getting a foothold in the market, that coal and oil were losing share to renewables, and a little girl was sailing across the Atlantic to lecture our do-nothing leaders.

Greta Thunburg

More than inspiration, Thunburg has been a voice for my (and future) generation's rage:

"The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, I say: We will never forgive you."

- Greta Thunburg, address to the UN Climate Action Summit

Personally, I'm impressed with the futility: the people she was speaking to demonstrably have no interest in fixing this mess they and their parents have created. Some of them are even straight-up climate deniers. She's 17. This is the limit of her power and she's shaming them into action. They won't act of course, but at least she's now part of the historical record: the voice of a generation enraged by how the boomers have fucked us all.

The #TeamTrees logo

#TeamTrees

It may seem small, but I'm still elated with the results. The #TeamTrees campaign started by a bunch of YouTubers accomplished its goal of funding the planting of 20,000,000 trees. With the vast majority of donations in the area between $1 and $10, people all over the planet scratched together what they could to show our leaders that we're willing to step up and do what we can to save the world. Every donation streamed onto the site in real-time, but my favourite was from a bunch of 8th-graders who crowdfunded $1,111 from 200 of their classmates -- all to save the world they're going to inherit from a generation that's done everything it can to use everything up before they die.

A baby kangaroo, burned to death on a fence.  Credit: @earthfocus on Instagram

#AustraliaFires

It's not hyperbole anymore. The world is literally on fire. Australia, home to thousands of unique and fascinating species, has lost approximately one billion animals to the fires. The amount of CO₂ is being measured in the millions of tonnes, and this is just the beginning. When summer comes in the Northern Hemisphere, it's entirely likely that the forests in Canada, Europe, and Russia will see the same. If you think that any of this is going to change the minds of those with the power to fix it, think again. The Prime Minister of Australia is a climate denier. Australians elected a climate denier, even after decades of flooding was laying out the truth in front of them.

We are so. very. fucked.

XR

I did however draw some hope & inspiration from one group though: Extinction Rebellion. They're the next step I've been expecting for a while now. When diplomacy fails, the next step is violence. Now to be clear: to my knowledge, XR hasn't taken any violent action against any people, but their actions against the machine that's destroying the planet are most definitely violent. They obstruct traffic, shut down transit infrastructure, and effectively cripple economies. They're the living embodiment of Mario Savio's words:

“There's a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can't take part. You can't even passively take part. And you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you've got to make it stop. And you've got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it that unless you're free, the machine will be prevented from working at all.”

-- Mario Savio

Those destroying the planet don't care about people, animals, or even breatheable air. They do however care a great deal about profits. XR is hitting them where it hurts: they're fucking with capitalism and this is just the beginning. As people get more desperate, I expect XR to play a bigger role.

Leaders that Get It

I've also been inspired by some of the leaders we're seeing gain traction like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Bernie Sanders. They're both the right people with the principled positions to guide the US through to doing the right thing by the climate and their people. My only concern is that of timing: AOC is too young to run for president, and the Democrats still have it in their head that a milquetoast "moderate" like Biden is their best bet at beating Trump. If Bernie doesn't win the Democratic primary, it's entirely likely that Trump will take the White House again, and if that happens, the US will be entirely lost to us with regard to its impact on the climate. We can't wait another four years for them to get their act together.

There's also The Green New Deal for Europe, which was released in 2019, and appears to have heavily influenced the European Green New Deal -- ramping up to be official EU policy. If the EU can get this right, they can dictate terms to the big polluters like India, China, and the US. They might actually save us all.

Maybe I'm still a little too hopeful.

Conclusion

So that's it for 2019. With the exception of Anna's birth, I don't feel particularly good about this year, but I have hope -- not you know, a lot, but some. Maybe 2020 will be the magical year that Trump is deposed, that all of Johnson's bluster about Brexit turns out to be smoke & mirrors for the softest of Brexits, that the EU finally starts to throw around its weight on the environmental file, that Canada's Liberals are forced to do the Right Thing through alliances with the NDP & Greens.

And maybe Anna will learn enough words to actually tell me why she's screaming at 0400h.

A guy can dream.

December 13, 2019 11:58 +0000  |  Politics United Kingdom 0

I don't think I can express how very disappointed I am in the results from last night. I'm not surprised, but I'm still terribly disappointed. Somehow, part of me thought that the British public wouldn't be so easily manipulated, that somehow they'd see through the long, long list of lies from the Conservatives and through the palpable bias of both the privately and publicly-owned media. But they didn't, and now... well the country is pretty fucked.

For the Uninitiated

The UK just had its third general election in 5 years: another attempt by a Conservative government to shore up support in the House so it can do what it wants -- namely Brexit -- without interference from other parties or factions within its own ranks.

  • Boris Johnson purged the Conservative party of anyone who would oppose his Brexit plan before calling the election and then ran on a single platform: "get Brexit done".
  • The Labour party, headed by Jeremy Corbyn ran on a multi-faceted platform of restoring the services the Conservatives have been destroying over the last decade, starting a "green industrial revolution" and doing a "people's vote" on Brexit.
  • The Liberal Democrats ran mostly against Corbyn and said they'd simply revoke Article 50 if they won a majority (the odds of which are in the range of pigs flying).
  • The Green party too said they'd revoke, but also had a pretty good Green New Deal in their platform.
  • The Brexit Party said they'd do an immediate "Hard Brexit"
  • The Scottish Nationalists... well they're separatist socialists. You do the math ;-)

From the start, the Conservatives were expected to win it. Corbyn's popularity was in the toilet, while Johnson's was soaring -- especially in the rural areas. The Lib-dems were generally considered irrelevant and/or a spoiler under FPTP, and the SNP was expected to dominate Scotland. The actual result was a dominating victory for the Conservatives, a historic loss for Labour, and the resignation of leaders from both Labour and the Lib-Dems. The Conservatives now have free reign to do everything they want, including exciting things like shredding the human rights act and undermining the NHS.

The Lie of Getting Brexit Done

If you'd watched any of the debates (to which Johnson bothered to attend), seen any of his scripted interviews, or just listened to his speeches in the House of Commons, you'd be familiar with Johnson's mantra: get Brexit done. For anyone living here, it's a very appealing thought. Everyone: leavers & remainers are tired of Brexit. We all know that there's more pressing issues to deal with (though we disagree on what those issues are), and yet every day, every broadcast, every paper, every social media post is about this one topic.

So when Johnson says "get Brexit done", it resonates with everyone, and it would seem that most Britons were unable to draw the conclusion that this line, like nearly everything that comes out of Johnson's mouth, is a lie.

The Conservatives have won with a dominating victory, and yet no one who knows anything about the realities of Brexit will tell you it's all over on January 31st when the UK executes the withdrawal agreement with the EU. We're still years, possibly even decades away from getting Brexit done.

The withdrawal agreement is simply an agreement on how things will work between the UK and the EU until they can actually leave the single market. In other words, The UK will definitely be in the single market (including the four freedoms) until December 2020, at which point they will have to have a trade deal negotiated or ask for an extension. For perspective, Canada's free trade agreement with the EU started negotiations in 2009, was agreed in 2016, and is still not in force. The UK has a much more complex relationship with the EU, and its population & economy is much larger. Brexit may not be "done" until 2045.

In the mean time, the withdrawal agreement drives a wedge between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK (introducing a customs border in the Irish sea after the transition period), and it's very likely that Scotland will have another (likely, successful) referendum to leave the UK and join the EU as an independent state. By the time Brexit is "done", it might jut be an agreement between England & Wales and the EU.

Complicity of the Media, and the End of the BBC

The Fourth Estate has entirely failed the UK. Too many journalists have been replaced with lazy hacks who do little more than copy/paste what candidates say without bothering to fact-check. Outright lies are published on the front page of papers, or debated as if they have any grounding in reality on evening "news" broadcasts. Audio clips are edited, videos are doctored, and all of it presented to the public by organisations into which so many have invested their trust.

Most appalling of all of these is the BBC. Here's a short list of just some of the terrible shit they did over the last few months to bias the public toward the ruling government:

A lot of this goes back to 2016 when the Conservatives changed the rules around how the BBC's board was appointed. Basically the BBC hasn't been "arms-length" for three years and it's glaringly obvious in their journalism. As a Canadian and strong supporter of the CBC, I think this should be a cautionary tale for any country with a public broadcaster. There must be a firewall between the state and the public broadcaster, because it's a short jump to state broadcaster if you aren't careful.

The Brexit Party Propping up of the Conservatives

When the election was called, there was a chance -- a chance that the Conservatives might lose. The Brexit Party had been hacked together to fight another election and it looked like they might split the otherwise conservative vote in some key constituencies. However, on November 11th, they announced that they would not run any candidates in any constituency won by the Conservatives in the last election, essentially allowing the Conservatives to turn their attention to seats they hadn't yet won. They took an additional 47 seats this time around, while the Brexit party was happy to just take votes from Labour and Lib-Dems in the remaining seats, guaranteeing those Conservative wins.

Corbyn

Perhaps the most upsetting/frustrating part of all of this is how this has played out for Jeremy Corbyn. Here was a man with a history of fighting for civil rights and opposing apartheid & fascism, and the press has routinely been calling him a racist and a fascist. Three Jewish newspapers even ran a joint front-page editorial urging people not to vote for him claiming 87% of Jews thought he was an antisemite and that half of the Jews in the country would strongly consider leaving out of fear if he were to become Prime Minister.

The trigger for all of this? Corbyn, and a number of other Labour MPs have made public statements critical of Israel and its treatment of the Palestinians. Apparently, saying that you shouldn't open fire on unarmed civilians and children means you hate Jews.

The fact is that Corbyn was the first (of hopefully many) proper left-wing Labour leaders, and the people with money -- the people who own various newspaper chains -- don't like it when political leaders start suggesting that we raise taxes on the rich to take care of the poor. Ever since Corbyn stepped into the leadership role, the party has been tearing itself apart trying to get rid of him and the other actual socialists. Members spent years publicly denouncing Corbyn as "unelectable" rather than working together to remove the Conservatives. You know what makes your party unelectable? Your own members attacking your leader for being unelectable! While the Conservatives were literally falling apart, Labour was too far up its own ass to do anything about it. By the time it came to actually running a campaign, Labour members had already inflicted so much damage, that the media needed only repeat the lies as if they were true.

Corbyn was a socialist leading the socialist party on a progressive, green, socialist platform, and the establishment could not tolerate it. They piled lie upon lie onto the front page until only those actually paying attention could see what was actually going on. The result: a strong majority for a Conservative government headed by a man who has a documented (but curiously little-reported) history of sexist, racist, and homophobic statements.

Conclusion and What it Means for Us

As the saying goes, the turkeys have voted for chirstmas and this country deserves everything it has coming to it. For those living in the UK, we're likely to see more poverty, more cuts to public services, and of course, the 10+ years of Brexit negotiations. For those on the outside, this country won't be an ally in the fight against climate change, likely joining with the US to subvert any progress we might make on it.

For my multicultural family, this means that Britain has demonstrated it doesn't want us here. It's now a question of what kind of work Christina can find elsewhere in the EU and whether I'll be able to find something near there as well. Our future is now up in the air. We're still trying to work out how we're going to deal with this, but I think it's fair to say there's no future for us in this place.

October 28, 2019 22:51 +0000  |  Politics United Kingdom 0

Stephen popped up on Twitter today asking about Brexit again:

Another delay?? I thought there was a new deal.

I took a few minutes to write out a somewhat lengthy response, and after I was finished, realised it probably made more sense as a blog post so... Here it is, my ranting update about the state of all things Brexit here in the UK:


There was a deal, but it was a bad deal (actually it was pretty much the same as the previous deal, but this time it came from BORIS, so it's "new")

Basically Brexit is a mess because democracy:

  • Half the country wants to remain
  • Half the House wants to remain, though the representations don't correlate directly

The Brexiters all have a different definition of what "leave" means:

  • The disaster capitalist maniacs want an exit from all EU-related treaties at all costs immediately. They make up about 20-30% of the House and have roughly that same support among the public -- again, not correlating by constituency.
  • The other "leave" MPs want to leave with a deal but the nature of that deal differs from MP to MP.
  • "Brexit means Brexit" means fuck-all, yet this has been the Conservative position for 3 years.

You may have seen a meme going around, where the UK wants a unicorn, and the EU says "those don't exist, but you can have a pony" -- that's basically the best explanation out there.

The UK wants to leave, but not tear apart Ireland, which is impossible, because a core component of the Good Friday Agreement was that there be no barrier dividing Ireland.

They also want to leave, but have a free trade deal with the EU. The nature of that deal again varies from MP to MP, but mostly they want a deal that lets them freely export to the EU without customs checks and without being a member of the common market... also, they want to be able to sign their own trade deals with other countries. That'll never happen because the EU can't let the UK be a vector for importing uncontrolled goods into the union.

So basically the only deal that could possibly be arranged with the EU is the one that May worked out a couple years ago, and that Boris has re-branded as his deal. This deal doesn't go far enough for the disaster capitalists, and it doesn't keep us in the EU, so it can't be supported by remainers either. As a result, the deal can't pass without another referendum on it.

SO that leads us to the next stage.

Labour has said that they want a referendum on whatever deal is struck between the EU and the UK. The nature of that referendum question might very well dictate the future of this whole mess. It'll likely fall along one of two lines:

  1. Boris/May's deal
  2. No-deal exit

(or)

  1. Boris/May's deal
  2. No-deal exit
  3. Remain

At the moment, it looks like the disaster capitalists are working hard to re-frame "no deal" as "getting Brexit done" -- which is a lie of course. Exiting without a deal simply guarantees that the very next day negotiations start with the UK trying to hammer out a deal from outside the union. Only now it has violence in Ireland, and food & medicine shortages to deal with as well.

This may all be an attempt to get ahead of a referendum choice where people, tired of all of this politicking, vote "just exit already" out of ignorance, thus fucking the country and nicely making it their own faults while the disaster capitalists move to Malta.

Oh, and there's lots of talk of another election. The hope being that each party can get a majority to do what it wants. Boris is a disaster capitalist, so he wants to exit without a deal. Corbyn has stated that he wants a new referendum with remain on the ballot, and the Liberal Democrats say that they won't bother with a referendum and would just revoke Article 50.

The truth though is that a majority for any party is very unilkely. The Conservative vote is split by the Brexit Party which also wants an immediate exit, and the media here has been whipping up fear of Corbyn since he took the job. The Lib-dems are very unlikely to take a majority, but are unwilling to prop up Corbyn's Labour -- even on this one issue alone.

Everything is fucked. So we do the only thing we can do: kick the can down the road and hope that somehow, the British public will see past the tabloids and decades of underfunding education & social safety nets that would have helped them to not be fucking idiots when it comes to their most important political and economic partnership.

I don't have a lot of faith, but thankfully, the EU is patient... for the moment anyway.

August 04, 2019 22:59 +0100  |  Hate Internet Politics Terrorism 0

I want to pose a moral question, but one for which I don't have a concrete answer. Maybe I'm just working this out in my head, and maybe you can share your own opinions to help flesh out the subject, I don't know. I just want to get this down on "paper".

The US suffered two mass-shootings in the last two days. On the whole, this isn't really news. That country is has had 248 mass shootings just this year. The question about why this is so common in the US when compared to most other civilised nations isn't something I'm going to cover here. That subject gets plenty of dialogue, and I think the answer is pretty well defined.

Instead I want to talk about this tweet and my subsequent response to it. Here's the background for those not up on what a Cloudflare is:

Running a website for a Very Large Audience is a complicated process. You can't simply put your site on shared hosting for $5 or even $500 per month and expect your site to stay online. With popularity comes traffic, and that traffic can come from all over the world, sometimes all at once. On top of that, if your site is controversial, or even just a fun target for people who don't like you very much, your site can be inundated with traffic from bots, choking it to death and running up your bandwidth bills.

To get around this, companies like Cloudflare exist. They supply the infrastructure that your popular site relies on to weather storms of popularity, caching layers to reduce the strain on your server, and protection from would-be attackers. On the whole, the services they provide are critical to the web as it is today.

The thing about Cloudflare though, is that they're rather good at what they do. So good in fact that their services underpin a Very Large Number of websites on the internet. They're so big in fact, with so few serious competitors, that you might think of them more as a utility than a private company. Your favourite news site probably uses them, video game companies, libraries, software companies, you name it, Cloudflare is probably handling their traffic. They host a lot of the web... including a lot of the shadier parts of it.

Yeah we're talking about Nazis.

Hate sites are a perfect client for a company like Cloudflare: they have few resources (so they can't afford a massive array of servers) and are a likely target for attack (because they're Nazis). One might even say that without support from Cloudflare (or one of its few competitors), these sites simply couldn't serve their hateful audience.

So when a tragedy like this one happens, and we see that the murderers are being celebrated on the website that helped radicalise them, an obvious question must be asked: What kind of company would support that?

Truth be told, Cloudflare has the power to knock these sites off the web. All they have to do is withhold their services and wait for a bot army to shut it down. Indeed, that's exactly what they did when their CEO Mattew Prince unilaterally pulled Cloudflare's support for a particular Nazi site (no I won't mention it here) after the protest and murder in Charlottesville, Virginia. The site went down alright, and had to scramble for a replacement -- which they found eventually, but not of Cloudflare's calibre.

So now we have these mass shootings to contend with. There's another site out there full of hate that promotes violence, and now Cloudflare is being asked: "Why can't you just kick these assholes off the web like you did those other assholes?"

As of this writing, the site is still up & running, but I'm really not sure what to expect from their end on this one. The problem is that this is really a question of what the function of internet infrastructure should be: do we want an internet of neutral networks over which we can share our ideas, or do we want that conversation mediated by the companies that facilitate that exchange?

With Charlottesville, Cloudflare set a dangerous precedent. More than a benign piece of infrastructure, they were now making decisions about the nature of the content that made use of their system. Matthew Prince, their CEO remarked at the time on the fragile ground he and his company were treading.

Now, were it entirely up to me, I would want some editorial control over what my company supports in the world. I would have a whole department dedicated to making sure that our clients conform to the moral compass of the company -- but maybe that's a reason why I shouldn't be in charge of a company that's a de-facto piece of internet infrastructure.

The trouble for me is Cloudlfare's size and the critical role it plays in simply keeping the internet running. Cloudflare is so fundamental to how the internet functions that asking (or expecting) them to make a value judgement on the existence of one site is tantamount to trusting their CEO with the nature of our primary means of communication.

This is not a slippery slope argument. They're already feeling pressure from the music industry to monitor web traffic for content that infringes copyright. Cloudflare is an excellent vector for anyone wanting to remove anything from the web because they're so ubiquitous.

I'm still not sure. I want Cloudflare to kick 8chan off its platform. I'd like them to kick a lot of their more controversial clients off their services -- but that's my moral judgement. No one elected me (or Matthew Prince for that matter) -- why should either of us get to decide what does and doesn't get to be on the internet? What if Matthew would rather not serve PornHub or PlannedParenthood?

In the end, a lot of this discussion leads back to one of the critical failures of the internet and globalisation in general: no one is in charge. The internet is global, but at best, the only government anyone can appeal to to make collective decisions like this is that of the company's host country, and in a global society, that just isn't good enough. We've already seen the effects of the US's sex-negative culture on the web. Entrusting the American government with the future of global communication is decidedly a Bad Idea, but there's literally no alternative.

And so, here we are with another tragedy bolstered by hateful people on a hateful website and private infrastructure companies operating blindly on whatever they think will get them into the least amount of trouble. It's a terrible system, but I don't see a way out.

June 08, 2019 19:10 +0100  |  Canada Politics 0

I had someone come to me recently asking about Maxime Bernier's new "People's Party of Canada", and after spending a solid few hours writing the response email, I want to share it here as well. Besides, there's an election coming up.

This person presented both an interview with the Sun, and their party policy as reason to consider the PPC the next best thing in Canadian politics.

I decided to politely (but thoroughly) disagree.

Here's my problem with Bernier and his PPC: they're effectively a smiling mask over something very ugly, attempting to legitimise a position that's culturally toxic, a slippery slope bending toward hate and fear.

I know, that's a stark claim, so allow me to back it up. Before I get into why I think they're terrible though, let's start with the stuff I think they've got right.

The Good

Supply Management

It's a boneheaded idea and it's costing Canadians money every day. Effectively we've taken a few select Canadian industries out of the global economy and chosen to shelter them from the realities of the market and consumer demand. To my mind there's no excuse for this. It necessarily makes them complacent and drives up the costs for people at home. As far as I know, the PPC is the only party talking about it. Indeed, I understand that it's this issue more than anything that got Bernier kicked from the Conservative caucus.

It's a dumb policy, and it should die -- if for no other reason than the fact that it hinders trade negotiations with other countries. The recent CETA agreement (EU free trade deal) had a big problem with this one. Jen Gerson has a fantastic column on this in the Guardian if you're interested, where she talks about how our dairy industry has soured (see what I did there?) relations with the US for years.

It should be noted though, that the biggest drivers behind supply-side management are rural farmers, the same demographic the PPC is courting all over their platform so... I'm not sure what anyone can honestly expect here.

Corporate Welfare

Corporate welfare is a serious problem and has been as far back as I've read into Canadian history. Generally speaking, it's bad policy because it makes business dependent on a hand-out, and even after an industry is performing well, it generally continues to receive those government benefits for fear of job losses being tied to the removal of said benefits.

Specifically though, (and convenient that Bernier doesn't appear very vocal on this point), there's a whole whack of oil, gas, car, and aerospace companies on the government teat. Not on that list of top 25 corporate welfare recipients: a single green energy company.

So it's all fine and good to be opposed to corporate welfare, but again, the PPC is courting a demographic that's widely dependent on said welfare, all the while I hear people speaking for the party claiming that the real problem is subsidy for green energy.

End Barriers to Trade Between Provinces

It's dumb, and this is a popular idea -- even between the leading parties. I don't know a lot about the reasons behind why this exists, but I'm willing to bet that it's the provinces themselves behind these barriers rather than any limitations imposed federally. So, while I agree it's a good idea, I'm not convinced that a federal party can be the one to fix it.

"Principles"

He talks a good game about principles, and I'd like to believe him. Indeed, one of the perks of being a new party is that you don't have a record to run against, but rather an idea of who you would be. I like the idea of a man and a party that want to run on unpopular ideas (I tend to vote Green after all). It's the ideas that should win out, and not one's willingness to pander to all sides.

So let's have a look at some of those ideas.

The Bad

The Interview

"Unity is our Strength"

Famously, Bernier ranted about "diversity vs. unity" on Twitter in one of the greatest dog whistles of his career to date. At the root of his argument is that Canada is a country built by the French & English (conveniently ignoring the millions of immigrants who helped build the infrastructure, fought for the country, and died for it, but whatever) and that somehow these two groups have exclusive rights to unique Canadian values like rule of law, equality, and freedom of speech.

What's fascinating about these sorts of statements is that they at once bolster how you feel about who you are, and your country, while simultaneously insinuating that "the other" is somehow too foreign to possibly understand why you would think things like the rule of law are worth having. The reality however is that the vast majority of immigrants come to Canada from countries that have all of these things, and that those who weren't lucky enough to grow up in a country with them are coming to Canada because of them. He is painting a picture of an "evil other" that exists at worst, only on the fringes, but makes it sound like a serious threat.

The word for this is Nationalism which, in Europe at least, is mostly a dirty word because they know where that road leads.

The reality is that Canadians have more to fear from other Canadians of so-called "European decent". Historically it's been white people blowing up more stuff and killing more people in Canada than people of any other background. Have a look here for some details if you like. Note also that historically police in Canada have been slow to label violent attacks against civilians as "terrorism" when the instigator is white. Notably, Toronto's Incel van attack isn't listed among the incidents of terrorism in Canada.

The part that really gets to me though is this suggestion that unity is somehow better than diversity. This statement is objectively false. In every conceivable situation, unity is terribly weak in the face of a diverse system:

  • In biology, a diverse microbiome helps you fight off disease.
  • In ecology, diversity improves resistance & longevity while a unified ecosystem is so fragile that it must be artificially protected.
  • A unified economy is susceptible to market forces, while a diverse one can weather any storm.
  • Even metallurgy recognises this: alloys are infinitely stronger than homogeneous metals.

It's just wrong on its face -- that is, unless you're playing to an audience you've already convinced to be afraid of different people. Where exactly does this line between "us" and "them" get drawn? What happens when you find yourself on the wrong side of this line? History is full of answers, and none of them are good.

Bernier is a man who in one breath tells a story about him chastising a woman for referring to herself as "Chinese Canadian" and in the very next sentence refers to himself as a "French Canadian". He is tone-deaf to his own biases on one hand, and dog whistling to racists on the other.

Have a look at their immigration platform with the above in mind. Note the boogeyman they've created there, suggesting that somehow the UN is helping "the immigrants" change the cultural character of the country. There is zero evidence for this claim, but people like this don't need evidence when they have a story.

Climate Change

The man laughed at the mention of the topic. As far as I'm concerned, that alone is enough to discount his opinion on anything, but I like to be thorough.

In his words, the PPC will have no action on climate change at the federal level. Any parent of a child who will have to grow up in this world should be enraged by this. For 50 years we've been peddled this lie that the individual is responsible for their own impact on the earth, while we allowed governments and corporations to literally get away with murder to keep their profit margins up.

Here's what we know:

  1. Climate change is real
  2. It's driven by human action
  3. Just 100 companies are responsible for 71% of global emissions
  4. Corporations don't respond to individual action.
  5. They do respond to government policy.

Given that we know the above to be true, any party that would state that the federal government has no business sticking its nose into climate policy must be rejected immediately. This isn't political opinion, it's science. The PPC has an official policy of inaction on the single most critical problem of our generation.

Even if they were to win only a few seats, holding the balance of power would be enough to derail any climate policy by any government, making our country further complicit in making the world uninhabitable for the next generation.

It's easy to feel powerless on the issue of climate change. It's hard to try to find any sense of power when you're faced with massive economic forces bent on doing the wrong thing when it comes to climate, but this is absolutely your opportunity.

Any party without a strong climate policy must be soundly rejected. If you want to lend your vote to the PPC because "they have good policies" you are personally acting to defeat our best hope at combatting climate change.

One last note on this file though, given that the PPC is all about principles and all. It's interesting that they're opposed to having a climate policy at a federal level, but Bernier was happy to say that he'd push to get Trans Mountain (and other pipelines) built. In this, he's basically said that he's willing to leverage the federal government to further damage the planet, but will actively oppose any action to fix it.

He is reprehensible.

Foreign Aid

He wants to drastically reduce foreign aid. There's only 2 possible reasons for any politician to support this:

  1. He thinks it'll win votes
  2. He's an idiot

Study after study tells us the same thing: the money that goes into foreign aid inevitably leads to more and better economic development for Canada. I've seen numbers as high as a 10:1 ratio in terms of payback.

Here's how it works, using Bernier's colourful "build roads in Africa" line (note it's always "the shithole countries" that he'll refer to when talking about undesireables):

  1. Canada sends money to Kenya to help in the construction of roads, wells, and schools.
  2. That money goes to Canadian organisations that either do the work themselves or have relations with organisations already there.
  3. The work gets done, the local economy improves.
  4. That newly growing economy now has (a) a means to buy Canadian goods, and (b) relations with Canadian organisations to facilitate that exchange. They may also allow for expansion of Canadian business into their area for resource exploitation.

It doesn't always work out exactly like this and the system isn't perfect, but this isn't charity. Foreign aid is a smart, long-term means of developing your own economy.

There's also the fact that in a global civilisation (and economy), improving the health and economy of others counter-intuitively improves your own quality of life. Watch this video for a great break down on this subject. Bernier is pandering here, either out of political savvy or economic naïveté. In either case, his argument is terrible.

Policy

That was my reaction to his interview with The Sun, and it overlaps with a lot of what I have to say about their platform, but I also went through their platform for a few choice responses:

Equalisation is Unfair

Equalisation is what keeps Canada together. It's the basis for any country (or economic union) with diverse backgrounds. As economies fluctuate through recession and market forces, it's equalisation payments that keep whole swaths of the Canadian public from being plunged into poverty. We help the other now, because tomorrow we may need their help. This is how you build a union -- even the Americans get this. The fact that the PPC doesn't is not a reason to support them.

Get Ottawa out of Health Care

The PPC are unabashedly right-wing, free market capitalists. All of their economic policy speaks to this and their characterisation of Medicare as "abysmal" is exactly what I'd expect.

You have to read between the lines on this one: they want to "get Ottawa out of health care" and delegate powers to the provinces. However, health care is already in provincial jurisdiction and has been ever since the Canada Health Act was signed in 1984. They explicitly say that the problem is that the provinces have grown dependent on funding from the federal government for health services -- but of course they are, health care is expensive and the provinces don't have the sources of funding that the federal government does. To delegate the financial responsibility to the provinces is to download responsibilities (via the CHA) to the provinces without giving them the means to do the job.

What they're really saying here is that they intend to de-fund Medicare to the point where anyone with means will be willing to pay. I refer to it as "Health care for the poors" and it's what's happened to the NHS here in the UK. Health care is done on a shoestring budget, funded by political bodies incapable of doing better, while the rich fund the services for themselves through private insurance.

Frankly, I don't see it as being possible under the Canada Health Act, but if you starve the provinces long enough, you might manage to convince Canadians that Medicare isn't worth fighting for -- and of course that's the goal.

Both of my parents got serious medical treatments in the last year, and it's a certainty that they never would have been able to afford it without the federal government subsidising their ability to be alive. So no, these people can fuck right off with this kind of bullshit.

Privatise Canada Post

This is just annoying, and it's brought up all the time with these types. Somehow, privatising something will always fix it, like letting someone take a profit out of something is the way to make it more cost efficient. It's shortsighed at best, and just dumb policy at worst.

Private companies care about profits, not political ends. That's why finding a private courier to deliver a package to far flung communities in northern Québéc is damned near impossible. Canada Post was founded to bring Canadians together, so that anyone in the country could send a letter or parcel to anyone else in the country -- a political goal meant to facilitate community and an inter-dependent economy. Private companies exist to make a profit, and aren't concerned with political goals, so to suggest that we privatise Canada Post is to say that they don't believe in that political goal, that somehow rural Canadians aren't deserving of access to the same privileges as the rest of us.

While they're at it, maybe they should privatise the police and the fire departments. I'm sure some efficiencies can be found in seeing what happens when only people who can afford to pay out of pocket can get basic services.

Abolish Capital Gains Tax & Cutting the Federal Income Tax to 15%

They say that in the US, the poor support the right-wing because they don't see themselves a "poor", but as "temporarily embarrassed millionaires". This (along with xenophobia) is at the root of support for parties like the PPC.

The thing about taxes is that you have to think about them as a question of national policy as opposed to your personal pocket book. I know that that's not how they want to you think about it, but consider for a moment the size of the bank accounts of the people wanting you to think this way and you begin to see my point.

Say for example that you, as a person of modest means, own a (portion of) your house, and take home a median salary. The suggestion that a party would "put money back into your pocket" by cutting capital gains taxes and lowering the income tax is appealing because it would inflate your paycheque and make selling your house more profitable.

But that's thinking too small. Enlarge the picture to think about the national level and things get a lot more interesting.

In Canada, like most of the world, the vast majority of wealth is held by a few Very Rich People. There is of course a spectrum, and modest-means-you is probably somewhere in the middle, but have a look at what "middle" means in the context of this income chart:

While you may take home 2 or 3 times what the people on the poorer side of the spectrum do, the people on the rich end are wiping their ass with enough cash to buy every house on your street. CEOs in Canada make more money in their first hour of work than most of Canada's poorest earn all year.

In a just society, we try to even things out a bit by levying higher taxes on the rich than on the poor. This means that the super rich are taxed in the area of 50% or even 75% in some countries. If you make $10million a year, you only get to keep $2.5million -- it's still a mountain more than most Canadians ever see, and those taxes go to fund things like health care, roads, and education -- things most of us couldn't afford to pay for on our own.

With this picture in mind, while lowering federal taxes to 15% may mean a small bump to you, it's an epic win for the rich. More importantly though, it's a death blow to social services. Without that $7.5million from that one rich guy, your unemployment cheque has to be a lot lower, veterans affairs offices have to close, and schools get fewer teachers. These are services you can't afford to cover personally, even with that bump from the lower tax rate.

High taxes on the rich are about fairness to everyone, and while there's definitely room to consider moving the tax brackets around to support the low and middle class, calling for a 15% flat tax amounts to robbery of the commons by the rich.

Finally

The danger of populists is that they campaign not on facts, but on a story. To paraphrase a favourite US "president":

We have serious problems to solve, and we need serious people to solve them. And whatever your particular problem is, I promise you Maxime Bernier is not the least bit interested in solving it. He is interested in two things, and two things only: Making you afraid of it, and telling you who's to blame for it. That's how you win elections.

Bernier is painting a picture of a Canada under siege by lawless immigrant terrorists, pointing to them (in the absence of any serious evidence) as the true threat while ignoring the realities of failed fiscal policy and climate change. His economic platform is phrased to appeal to the poor and middle-class, but will overwhelmingly benefit the rich and cut the social safety nets that keep the rest of us alive.

He and his party are at best a convenient way to guarantee another Liberal party victory through our borken electoral system. At worst, they're the vanguard for the tumour that is nationalism and even fascism in Canada.

Already you see the racists and yellow jackets lining up to support him -- ask yourself what these people see in him. I promise you it's not a conscious reflection on economic policy. They're responding to that dog whistle.


Update: The party has since removed the entire section on immigration from their website -- read into that what you will. The link I provide here has now been updated to reference the last available copy before it was taken offline thanks to Archive.org's Wayback machine.

November 16, 2016 18:59 +0000  |  Politics The United States 2

The outcome of the US presidential election was easily predicted. I say this because I was sure Trump would win as far back as May of this year. There seems to be a great many people still entirely surprised by the outcome though, so I thought I'd write down my reasoning.

There were two primary factors in Trump's taking of the White House. I'll deal with the minor reason first.

Sexism

It's still easier for most people to vote for a black man than it is for a white woman. The reasons for this are long and horrible, but this reality hasn't changed much in the last few thousand years. A woman may have a better chance now of winning an election, but sexism continues to stack the deck against every female candidate in most of the world.

It's a real problem, but I don't think it's nearly enough to explain why Clinton lost in an election that was the Left's for the taking.

The Establishment

Trump didn't win this election, Clinton lost it because she couldn't convince people to show up. Take a look at this chart showing the voter turnout over the last few elections (credit to dinoignacio via reddit). Trump rode the coattails of the Republican base who vote red regardless of the candidate, but the Left barely represented, begging the question: why not?

To answer this you need only look at the Bernie Sanders campaign. Here was a candidate who called for an end to money in politics, real socialised medicine, a focus on the environment, and on returning industry to the country. His focus on the future appealed to young people, his record on social policy encouraged the base, and his rhetoric on taking care of people hit hardest resonated with everyone who has been hurting over the last few years.

That last group is what matters because that last group is HUGE.

The truth is that in most Western nations, the US included, austerity and the right-wing have been at war with the working class for decades. In countries without an adequate social safety net (like the US), it's entirely common to have a household with two working parents and two children, and still not have enough to make ends meet. For those families just squeaking by, they live in fear of one of them losing their job, at which point they are literally homeless.

These people are angry, and they're scared, and the best that the Left could drum up was a woman whose dynastic name practically begs the spectre of corruption and hereditary rule. Clinton is the embodiment of "politics as usual" handed to a nation of people desperate for change.

At his core, Obama wasn't much different from Clinton in the ideals that capitalism somehow equals freedom, but importantly on the surface Obama was inspirational: the first black president, a Democrat who talks like a Kennedy. That man could have read the phone book to the public and the world would still have fallen in love with him.

But after eight years with him at the helm, the people are still scared and angry. They've barely survived a banking crisis that crippled the planet and saw not one rich white banker convicted. There are riots on the streets spurred by cops with military hardware murdering cvilians. They're still living paycheque to paycheque and the only explanation they're getting is from the Orange Beast on the right who is insisting that the immigrants are to blame for everything.

This was a hard sell, but the American people were ripe for a real shift in policy. So what did the Democratic party do? They sabotaged the Sanders campaign and assumed that fear of the damage Trump could do would be enough to get the plebs to vote blue.

The people are tired, angry, and scared. They want an end to corruption, to a government that doesn't understand or even hear their plight. They were told repeatedly by that establishment that a vote for Trump would be insane, that it would burn everything down. The trouble is, that's what the people want. The people want a revolution. They want to see muderous cops and "banksters" behind bars, they want an end to foreign wars, and they want coprorations out of politics.

This is a failure of the Left to give the people what they want. The left could have run an inspirational candidate, one who wanted the same thing 70% of Americans wanted. This was the opportunity to capture the White House, the Senate, Congress, and the Supreme Court for that revolutionary vision of the future.

But the Democrats wanted another Clinton.

That's why they got Trump.

October 06, 2015 18:02 +0100  |  Canada Democracy Environment Green Party NDP Politics 0

A dear friend asked me over Twitter today why I think she should vote Green and not NDP. I started with 140 characters, then switched to a direct message, and then I wanted formatting... So I wrote a blog post.

So Theresa, this is a short, but reasonably complete list of the reasons I couldn't bring myself to vote NDP this election. Which is a pity really. I'd like to live in a world where a party like the Greens didn't need to exist because the mainstream parties actually did the Right Thing.

...but they don't do the right thing, and they shouldn't be rewarded for that.

Environment

The Tar Sands

If there is one fact that should be obvious to anyone who claims to know anything about climate change, it's that the carbon reserves that we have in Northern Alberta need to stay in the ground. The NDP are against Keystone XL and Northern Gateway, but they do support Energy East. So, either the NDP don't believe the millions of scientists who have stated that this stuff has to stay in the ground, or they're pretending to support the oil sector in an effort to get votes.

Either way, the NDP position is suspect and speaks to either their scientific literacy or their authenticity. I'll let you decide which is more egregious.

Carbon Tax vs. Cap and Trade

The NDP has taken a cap/trade position (to the exclusion of a carbon tax) against the advice of every prominent environmentalist and economist. This is quite clearly done for political reasons, to separate themselves from the Liberals and Greens who favour a carbon tax.

This wouldn't be such a big deal if it weren't for the fact that every reputable environmentalist group will tell you that a carbon tax is the best way to affect the change needed, and that cap/trade is a market non-solution. In other words, the NDP is choosing its platform based on what it thinks will win them power over what is right for the country. You may sense a theme developing.

The Senate

Their position on the senate is untenable, impractical, and dishonest. Ignoring for the moment that almost all of the countries on the planet with a single governing house are what you and I might refer to as banana republics, an upper house is a crucial check on the power of the lower house, and in a parliamentary system like ours that vests so much power in the hands of a single person, the prime minister, this is a Very Bad Idea.

On top of that, abolition is quite impossible as it would require support for all of the provinces and every constitutional lawyer in the country will tell you that there's no way you'll ever get everyone on board with abolition.

No one is saying that the Senate shouldn't be reformed, but the NDP position of abolition is not good policy. Once again, they're writing policy based on what they think will play better with the public (abolition is much easier to grasp than reform), as opposed to what would be good for the country.

Proportional Representation

After the 2011 election, the NDP, who had been talking about electoral reform months earlier, suddenly came out in favour of first past the post. I distinctly remember listening to CBC's The House, where the NDP MP steadfastly supported FPTP with the typical platitudes of "it's worked for the country for so long" etc. etc. None of this is surprising since it was first-past-the-post that gave them that "orange wave" in Québec.

Then, just last year, they showed up late to the party on electoral reform and did a big blitz where they told everyone that if elected, they'd "make this Canada's last unfair election". Then, as they rose in the polls, all of that rhetoric evaporated, and now their issues page makes absolutely no mention of it.

The Consortium Debate

Thomas Mulcair started this campaign saying he'd gladly debate anywhere, any time, and he's finishing it having backed out of the one debate that was guaranteed to have the most viewers out of the entire Election.

You can't claim to want to lead the country if you're going to run away from debates with your opponents. It doesn't matter that Stephen Harper refused to participate. In fact, Mulcair's refusal simply puts him in bad company, with arguably Canada's worst Prime Minister in history.

The Consortium Debate could have been an opportunity to reach more than 10 million people (as opposed to the paltry 1.5 from the Maclean's Debate) and publicly shame Stephen Harper for abdicating his responsibility to the democratic process. Instead, through his actions, Mulcair legitimised Harper's position and drastically limited the level of political discourse in Canada.

This reason alone would be enough to keep me from the NDP.

Wrap Up

I want to make it clear that I still think that the NDP are better than the Liberals and Conservatives, but I also think that they've fallen far, far from their roots as the sensible socialist alternative. They've become a party of pragmatists, shifting their principles toward whatever they think will win them votes, and for me this is an unforgivable sin.

If you want to lead my country, I expect you to have ideals and principles underlying your positions, policy that's supported by those principles, and a leader that stands behind them. The CCF was that kind of party, Tommy Douglas, Elizabeth May and Jeremy Corbyn are that kind of leader, and voters can smell the stench of an impostor. They smell it on Thomas Mulcair, and they certainly smell it on Justin Trudeau.

I voted Green because they're still the party of principle out there. They take sometimes unpopular positions that are vested in principles as stated by the party members. I don't agree with all of these positions, but I can live with what I see as bad policy if it means that I can trust the party to follow through with everything they say they represent:

  • They called for a carbon tax more than a decade ago, when the science was in but the public was strongly against it. They've never wavered on this.
  • They've always opposed the tar sands because it's bad policy to support an industry that's trying to kill everyone on the planet.
  • They routinely call for order and respect in the House of Commons.
  • They support the reduction of powers of the Prime Minister, because we shouldn't be electing de-facto dictators, and for the increase in power of MPs so that they can do the work of local representation.
  • Their leader is an accomplished lawyer, parliamentarian and diplomat, dedicated to her role as MP and advocate for a safe environment.

I also think that their position on the senate is silly and impractical, and that their opposition to GMOs is anti-science and idiotic, but as it's clear that neither of these are priorities in the party, I'm unconcerned given their positions on real issues that actually matter.

When it comes time to vote in this election, who would you rather support, a party that stands by what it says, or a party that has demonstrated that their ideology and even their science will bend to pragmatism?

September 03, 2015 09:27 +0100  |  Canada Politics 3

The body of a child, washed up on a Turkish beach

I'm posting the image here for all to see. If this bothers you, good. This is exactly the sort of thing that should bother you. Your reaction proves that you are a good person, capable of empathy.

If you're anything like me, feelings of grief and sadness were followed, after some wallowing, by a deep sense of helplessness and anger. This image, and the issues behind it are terrible -- what can I do about it?

The honest answer is that I don't know. No one thing, no ten things I can think of doing would even begin to solve the problem of finding these people a safe place to live.

The problem at this juncture, from what I understand, is two-sided: political will on the receiving end, and in some cases (at least for that of Turkey), an unwillingness to be decent human beings when it comes to the treatment of refugees. In other words, the problem is political: people need to get out of Syria and the rest of us won't let them. Instead we're collectively sitting idly by while bodies wash up on beaches.

It seems to me that the solution to all of this is to remind everyone of our collective capacity for empathy. If our cowardly leaders won't move on this issue it can only be out of a lack of empathy, and they therefore should be replaced. This is why I'm posting this photo: because we need to be upset about this.

This is a solvable problem. The number of refugees coming out of Syria are great, but manageable: 7million. If Europe alone were to accept all of them tomorrow, this would represent a mere 2% increase in population, and there's no reason that Europe alone should have to bear the strain of such an influx. The United Nations has asked Canada to accept 10,000, and I can only assume that other countries have had similar numbers asked of them.

It's time to make our voices heard on this issue and step up to help. We're a human community after all and that is a dead child on a beach.