Archive for August, 2010|Monthly archive page

On My Views Of The Future

I think this may go a number of places and be interesting to try to tag when the time comes. I have a myriad of things running through my mind today, none of any real coherence but perhaps interesting fodder for the odd person who stumbles upon this blog. Let’s see what happens with it.

While I’m not a whinging hippie granola eater I am a fairly environmentally conscious person in many ways – I actually do try to make choices in my life that are sustainable – or at least more sustainable among other options. At the same time, I am a middle class North American and like the rest of us I live well beyond reasonable means. I can admit that. I enjoy a standard of living that most people on this planet not only do not, but cannot, because there simply aren’t the resources to allow it to happen.

There are numerous interesting writings on the topic of sustainability that I’ve read, and being interested in history I have always been fascinated by the fates of fallen civilizations. It was because of this that my friend loaned me Jared Diamond’s book Collapse, which talks about the factors in the collapsing of various civilizations. Diamond is cautiously optimistic in his writing at the end of the book, though I think it might be at least partially attributable to the grim outlook one is forced to consider.

Among the civilizations discussed are the Greenland Norse, the Maya, Easter Islanders, and various Polynesian societies, and a group of five factors in collapses are identified – most of which concern use of resources, or availability thereof. These are real crises to consider.

The rather pessimistic (some might even say nihilistic) side of me is inclined to believe that no matter what choices we make we are still basically doomed to a collapse. There are so many reasons to think so, sadly.

It makes me think of the scene in The Matrix when Agent Smith is describing his contempt for humanity and its similarity to virii for consuming all available resources and moving on. It is a sadly true statement in most cases.

I remember learning about Malthus in high school, probably in math class when we learned about exponential growth. His observation is that while the carrying capacity of the earth grows geometrically population grows logarithmically (or exponentially, or whatever it is), meaning we outstrip our ability to provide food for ourselves rapidly.

And food is but one resource.

We seem to have an uncanny ability to misuse other resources like freshwater, without which food production becomes rather difficult too.

When I lived in the Toronto area I was always rather staggered by the endless surge of growth in suburban sprawl, much of which was being built over some of the most fertile soils in Canada, land which is best suited to growing food. When I was a kid what was around much of where I lived was farms – mainly growing corn and some wheat, barley, and so on, also fruits and vegetables. The last time I was back there, the farmland was all sprawl, all tiny houses packed on tiny lots, full of commuters. And this is an expanding trend.

We are consuming non-renewable resources are unsustainable rates and not even really managing renewable ones now – things like soil fertility and erosion control are also huge problems that we are only now beginning to get a handle on and what’s fascinating is the role that played in many civilizations in Diamond’s book.

Then there’s the economy and the state of affairs of the middle class especially. I’ve been mystified by this for a long time, and have a privileged position from my day job of seeing what the financial position of the average middle
class family is. It’s terrifying.

Even when I was a kid – not long ago – I grew up in the 1980s and I am just coming up on 31 years old now – it seemed like the idea of a two-income household wasn’t a necessity. It was entirely possible for a couple to raise a family on the man of the house’s salary. When I was a kid not many of my friends’ mothers worked anything like a full time job. Many worked part-time, including my mother, but only to an extent that it didn’t interfere gravely with looking after my sister and I. I didn’t know anyone well who was in any sort of “daycare” that I can think of – the whole concept was pretty foreign to me.

Today however that seems an impossibility. Having two incomes seems a necessity to be able to enjoy the kind of quality of life we grew up with. I have friends with kids who spend so much money on childcare that I actually fail to see why they bother to both work – one parent could stop working and look after the kids and the resulting pay cut it seems wouldn’t be huge. The idea of working just to pay for the childcare necessary to be able to work seems just idiotic.

I made the decision long ago I would be “child-free”. I have never had any interest whatsoever in having children, and despite the claims of some that “that will change”, it has never wavered and I am confident it never will either. I may eventually wind up eating crow but I find that prospect unlikely indeed.

I smirk and feel old when I look at teenagers and young people today and wonder if I was that ignorant and idle when I was their age – if I acted as stupidly as so many of them. I guess I may have and that of me my elders may too have thought if that is the future of our species, we are doomed.

That is the view nevertheless I cannot help but hold – that there are few generations left for us perhaps before our species manages to consume all the readily accessible resources and prosper out of existence as a civilization. It is then an interesting thought experiment to consider what will happen when cheap oil and gas are gone, when we realize we’ve landfilled so much of rare resources. In fact I wonder if in a few generations we will be mining in some form these dumping grounds to scavenge whatever might be extracted and reused.

I wonder what of this I’ll be around to see in the next 50 or 60 years that conceivably I will live given the best estimates we have – what the world I will leave will be like. I wonder how long we will be able to live the way we do now.

The interesting thing is that I’m calling this pessimism and it all sounds negative but I don’t feel bad in any way about it – it’s not depressing or anything, it is just the reality of our species.

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Mostly on the debate on the long gun registry…

In this post, I expect I will probably cover a few different things.   As usual it’ll be something of stream of consciousness anyhow, so I’ll probably ramble about a few things that are going on and are of interest to me, and we’ll just see where it goes.  It’s been an interesting little while in a lot of areas, so it’s not as though I have a shortage of things to weigh in on.  And I’ve got plenty of time since I’m up with the Missus waiting for The Tudors to come on, and she’s watching cooking shows.  Not exactly something that’s going to hold my interest.

I’m actually going to probably talk more about things going on in Canada, which should really make more sense, but since I seem to talk more about my outside opinions on American politics it may put some folks off.  Again, we’ll see how this turns out.

Canadian politics in general haven’t been that inspired lately, but I’m starting to get a higher than normal level of annoyance with a lot of things that have come out into the light lately.  I’ve not been any sort of avid fan of the current Government of Canada given that it consists of religious wingnuts, social conservative nutters, and so on.  We’ve been lucky for the fact that it’s been a minority government and therefore is kept basically in check by not having enough votes to push any of their more fringe ideas.  They’ve stayed in power primarily because the opposition has failed to present any sort of credible, decent opposition.  The Liberal leader, Michael Ignatieff, seems to have been effectively cast as being totally out of touch with ordinary Canadians.  And I’m not really even convinced that it’s because of some brilliant Conservative Party character assassination – his problem of perception is more of his effort.

That being said, there’s lots of things that are going to come back to haunt the Conservatives, I think.  At least, they could, if spun properly by the opposition.  There seems to be a strong effort to manage messages to the point that it looks like government meddling, as in the case of the RCMP officer in charge of the Canadian Firearms Program who was a huge advocate of the long gun registry who was shuffled off to French language training as the debate has heated up… not exactly good looking.  And they’ve done stuff like this in other cases.  It bears the hallmark of government meddling, not exactly a hallmark of the sort of “small government” that conservatives might normally be expected to advocate for.

So I’ll start with the Long Gun Registry.   I’ve posted about it before, though I can’t be bothered to go back to link posts… so I’ll work out my position as it is now, let’s just see.  As far as the concept goes, I’ve never really understood what the long gun registry was really going to accomplish.  A big spreadsheet of rifles and shotguns doesn’t seem to have much potential to stop crimes, at least not amongst other options.  It strikes me that there are better ways to spend the money.  Now, that being said, the money has been spent – or pissed away, depending on how you look at it, so I accept that there are not any substantial savings to be realized from the scrapping of the program under Candace Hoeppner’s private member’s bill that we really all know is a government bill that is being put out as a PMB to make it harder for opposition parties to whip their votes.

In most cases, the cops I know, so-called “front-line cops”, see little or no value in the registry concept.  Most of the hits recorded on the registry used to justify the existence seem to come from hits generated automatically by CPIC inquiries.  It doesn’t really impact how they do their jobs, and for the most part, any cop who would rely on such a database to determine their approach to a situation, where illegal firearms are not not recorded and the registry is believed to be riddled with errors, is an idiot.

As I see it, my concerns relate to the possibility of the information being compromised, providing would-be thieves with a “shopping list” or vindictive cops with an ability to abuse civil liberties (and if you want to say this won’t happen, talk to the people in Toronto who had cops show up to seize their rifles while they were in legal limbo sorting out their paperwork).  This has to be balanced against the utility of the system, and I’m not totally clear on that.   That said, though, if cutting down on useless bureaucracy is the aim, I think there might be some merit in looking at scrapping the unbelievably useless Authorization To Transport concept for restricted firearms, which is utterly pointless bureaucratic busywork.  This doesn’t seem to have been explored much.

The whole thing just seems like a political circus going off the rails, and if the opposition plays it right they may well be able to score some points, particularly amongst the vast ignorant city folk who ultimately seem to chart the course of the country.

Musings About The Not Quite Ground Zero Not Quite Mosque

While anyone likely to stumble upon my humble offerings in this blog will likely know that I’m generally an antitheist, the “debate” happening around Cordoba House, a proposed Muslim “community centre” in Lower Manhattan, is driving me slightly around the bend.

The problem in my view is the abject stupidity of the arguments, which to me is not really a surprise given the general inability of social conservatives (read: Christian extremist wingnuts) to argue their way out of really anything.

Now to be fair, I’m building my own arguments around a set of assumptions based on what I have read about the project, and as per my (non-existent) editorial policy, I welcome anyone to call me on anything demonstrably false or incorrect.

I am the sort of person who feels quite happy when I see a church up for sale and about to be turned into some sort of eccentric residence because I opine very strongly that the last thing anyone needs in their life is the silly myths of any currently common religion. Notwithstanding that opinion, I do however uphold the basic idea enshrined in the Constitutions or founding documents of any truly free society or country that all people have the freedom to believe whatever they want, no matter how abjectly stupid I may consider it. Further to that I’ve got a pretty strong belief in freedom of assembly, freedom of expression, and free enterprise. All of these things tie into the subject at hand.

As I understand it, the proponents of Cordoba House already own the property in question and have for some time. The controversy seems to have arisen when some group found out what they wanted to do with it an launched a quixotic attempt to have the building declared a heritage property.

It has been stirred up mainly because of a variety of the usual right wing nutters who have moved it to the actual “Ground Zero” – I didn’t fall for this ruse having actually been there. That was, I’ll add, quite an experience. It also, from the sounds of things, isn’t exactly a mosque, but the brainchild of a moderate imam who wants to build links with the community by building the space to be inviting to other faiths to foster dialogue and friendly relations. Even the hardened antitheist in me can understand that there is value in this approach.

The arguments laid against the Cordoba House project lay bare the xenophobic tinge of the American right that starts with their equating the actions of a small number of extremists with an entire religion. I will not hesitate to say that I find much of the ideas of Islam disgusting and abhorrent, even with the benefit of understanding the context of many of the ideas behind Shariah which were specific to a specific time period in history in a specific region.

I also, however, know the few Muslims embrace such ideas in the modern era, adept as most people are to suiting their particular set of beliefs and myths to the context in which they live. I understand why many of them (and many non-Muslims, I suspect) cheered when the USA got its nose severely bloodied by the atrocity of the 9/11 attacks, and yet know that I’ve met and talked with many Muslims who realized that those attacks were not made by Islam, not consonant with Islam, not in any way sanctionable or excusable thereby.

At the end of the day their are millions of adherents of Islam in America and the overwhelming majority thereof share the same ideals as their neighbours of whatever faith – tolerance, humanity, love of their homeland, a desire for peace in their time and for their children to grow up in. These are the people behind the Cordoba House project, not the insane extremists of Al Qaeda.

The debate however reflects to me the great character flaw Americans have in dealing with their enemies, real or perceived. When you have the opportunity to engage those you might see as an enemy, you may actually disarm the threat to you by doing so. The American failure to get rid of Hugo Chavez or Fidel Castro or Mahmoud Ahmedinejad strikes me as an excellent illustration of this idea. By being standoffish toward these tyrants, the US provides them with an enemy to point at for domestic consumption, to say, “you’re lucky to have my to keep Uncle Sam at bay”. Without the ability to unite their subjects against such a common enemy what do these tyrants have? Nothing.

Cordoba House isn’t a monument to the “success” of 9/11. It in fact probably has little or no connection to that day – but it stands to serve instead as a monument to the tolerance that was supposed to have defined the nascent United States of America when the Constitution and Bill of Rights were crafted. Its completion will reflect the exercise of a number of the fundamental freedoms I mentioned above, as well. Most importantly, it will deny to extremists one more opportunity to point at the oppression of the USA against their faith.

I have noticed lately that the right relies on hollow and fallacious arguments out of a lack of ability to posit an actual workable argument, and on this matter no exception applies. All arguments I have seen against the plan basically amount to senseless appeals to emotion that have no meat whatsoever. For that reason one I can find no reason to oppose the project.