Bullet Points for a Tuesday Evening

  • It’s rare that I blog in the evening, much less that I assemble a list of bullet points in the evening, but I haven’t had a moment to slow down today.
  • The economy may be slowing down, but business is heating up at work. We’ve had several really solid sales days. If we could keep that up — by getting the salesmen to actually be on the road selling things! — we’d be rolling in it. Part of our current success is several new contracts with Bombardier and Heroux Devtek. Our tooling is knocking them dead. Though not literally, I hope.
  • Listening to Bloc Party’s Silent Alarm is an exercise in noticing they used to be fun and interesting to listen to but are no longer fun or interesting. Several big producers and big albums later and they’re just well-coordinated noise. Remember “Positive Tension”? Great song.
  • Nathan was playing a Collective Soul song at work today. It reminded me of a more innocent time, when the Mix 99.9 played actual music, and I was dating Laura #1. Not a particularly great time in my life, but still, a more innocent time. I drove a blue Saturn! (Was it blue?) It had those seatbelts that automatically sealed you into your seat but annoyingly required the lap belt to be done up manually. In any case, the point of this point is: Collective Soul sucks. They always have, and they always will. They aren’t innovative. They’re bland. They aren’t interesting. They’re stale. If you like them, that’s fine; just don’t expect me to share your excitement.
  • How I Met Your Mother is in the download queue! Yes!
  • It strikes me that morality is, after all, innate. A priori. Arts and Letters is right on that count.
  • Part of me wants the US government to bail out the banks. Another part of me wants the US government to nuke the banks from space. I’m torn.
  • Cats can really smell up a place real quick. Especially younger cats.
  • I’m reading “Dune” again right now. It’s a lot more interesting than I remember. But it’s still ruined by its surrounding novels, the prequels especially but also the sequels. Neither Herbert’s continuing vision or his son’s diving into its past have added anything to “Dune” but taken much away. It should be the only book in the canon.
  • I got something like 4 hours of sleep last night. I rather hope some of my friends’ sleep problems aren’t catching or anything like that.
  • People using the laptop on the toilet really freaks me out. What if, right now, you were talking to someone and you had no idea they were sitting on the can? That’s uncool!
  • I’m making a main course for a thing our church does. It’s called “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” and it’s a basically a way for people to meet other people they might not know. It’s pretty much awesome, but I haven’t the foggiest clue what to make for it. Do you people have any good recipes I should make? Keep in mind I can do multiple dishes!

The trials of owning cats.

Laura and I have three cats. We can’t have children right now — or are actively preventing it, I should say, using methods uniformly more effective than those I have seen lead to some interesting child-rearing experiences — so we have cats instead.

I love our cats in an abstract way. They’re not people. They’re more like objects. They definitely have minds of their own, and do things that make even children seem logical and tame by comparison.

Nothing, however, prepared me for today. Today was The Great Dashboard Caper.

Laura was taking our second cat, Qubit — named after the quantum bit; and yes, she decodes 128-bit SSL in her spare time, if it’s covered in gravy — to the vet to have her claws yanked out and her uterus disposed of. Laura was carrying her in the usual cardboard carrying case, the same one we’ve had since we had the cats. Little did she know that Qubit had gnawed her way through the cardboard, planning an elaborate escape from the vet, an escape that eventually led to her wedging herself up in the car, behind the glove compartment, so far up that we could barely touch her when we reached in to see if she was still alive.

All attempts to extricate her failed. She seemed absolutely stuck. She didn’t want food, she didn’t want treats, and she most certainly seemed not to want her female bits tossed in the trash.

Ten hours later I was home from work, Qubit still stuck behind the glove compartment. I decided to do the inevitable and remove the glove compartment. Now, General Motors, in their infinite wisdom, decided to make our entire dashboard out of one gigantic piece of molded plastic, held in place with alternating Torx bolts and regular hex screws. I headed to Home Depot to buy some Torx drivers — I’ve never had to take a car apart before, you see — and an adjustable wrench.

Finally, I gave up. There was no way I was going to do it. So I took the car to Canadian Tire and they took out the airbag, revealing… balled-up cat. I performed the cattectomy the only way I knew how: By pulling really, really hard. She finally popped out of the hatch only to immediately dig her claws deep into my forearms. I crammed her into the new plastic case Laura had bought, and left to get myself some scotch.

She’s currently running around the house, a little jazzed from all the excitement, but seemingly in good spirits.

Now… she back to peeing in our plants. Way to go!

Sarah Palin

Those of you who know me know I don’t talk about politics much. That doesn’t mean I’m not interested, of course, and nothing interests me more than US politics. Mostly because Canada — my birth nation — sits right on top of the States and when they jump, we usually feel the impact.

I’m a little late to the game on Sarah Palin, yes. I’d like to get a word in edgewise anyhow.

I like Sarah Palin. I know I’m not supposed to, as a Canadian, like a Republican vice presidential candidate, especially one who so vocally opposes a lot of the values I hold dear. Still, I like her. She does, however, scare me.

She’s probably a great person. She looks like she’d be a lot of fun to be around. She seems to be vivacious and spunky, and if you’ve ever met my wife you’ll see I like to be around those kinds of people.

Yet for all the things I like about her personally — for all the things about her personality I admire — I can’t help but be scared by her. The policies she represents, the sort of religious Republican right-wing agenda she embodies, and the stunning lack of knowledge she displays all roll together to make me extremely leery of what she would do as a vice president.

Vice presidents for the longest time did absolutely nothing. They sat around and waited for the President to die. They were the guy in the wings who reads novels while the main actors perform the play. That era is clearly past, with the Vice President — along with the First Lady, should she be so inclined — filling a much more activist role. That is to say, VPs are the bully pulpit to the President’s political manoeuvrings. Vice Presidents use their position to nudge policy their way, even though their role in the Executive Branch is ill-defined and essentially powerless. Recent Vice Presidents, such as Dick Cheney, have had a great influence on the direction the government takes. They are spokespeople for their various causes, and have a great platform from which to raise awareness and money for whatever they put their minds to.

Sarah Palin looks ill-equipped to properly serve this function. Even if she were informed about issues other than oil and bridges to nowhere much, her agenda would probably be too right wing even for me.

Bear in mind that a hundred years ago I would have probably been a Republican. I’m pro-life — I despise abortion, but also execution and euthanasia — I hate big government, and I believe that history bears out the free market as the best solution for quite a few problems. Yet in the USA, the Democratic party seems to be the one leading, from FDR on, the charge for innovative policy that actually helps people. The Republicans have become a sort of big-government, military-industrial party, completely separated from their roots while every once in a while appointing or choosing or electing a politician who harkens back to the good old days, back when neo-Conservatism wasn’t more than a loosely grouped glimmer in that back of Leo Strauss’s head.

This person is Sarah Palin. She has been chosen as a Vice Presidential candidate in a stunningly crass bit of political cunning, at once appealing the Republican base — mixed up Christians who have somehow integrated politics and religion, much to the diminishing of Christ — and making the party seem fresh and young, despite being anything of the kind.

She is the veneer on the reality of the Republican party as it stands today. It’s a party speaking out of both sides of its mouth. Sarah Palin is pro-life. This is good. Yet the Republican party has said that it wants “the debate” about abortion to continue, which is to say that they would very much like for everyone to keep talking and no-one to do much about it. She is anti-homosexual. This is good, or bad depending on what you take that term to mean. Yet the parade — pardon the pun — of gay rights marches on unabated in the United States, and the Republican party wishes nothing more than to stop that march. Yet legislating lifestyle and denying genetics is just the sort of thing one might expect from Big Government. Or Big Brother, if you’re particularly pessimistic. Sarah Palin is pro-gun, despite the avalanche of evidence that guns are harmful to society at large. Sarah Palin is pro-oil, willing to spoil the last great reserve of American wildlife to drill for it, willing to sacrifice anything at any cost to feed the American oil habit. She shows no interests in alternatives, even though drilling can only satisfy this craving for so long. Drilling for more oil a a thumb in a dam full of holes. Sarah Palin is, in the last analysis, critically lacking in knowledge about things — the Bush Doctrine being a recent example — that even I, a humble Canadian, can elucidate with almost embarrassing ease. She is not a crash-course away from being knowledgeable. She is fully unprepared to fill any bully pulpit whatsoever.

I could go on. I won’t. I have a glass of scotch calling my name. Just let me say thing: I don’t dislike her as a person, but I disagree with her politics and thing she is a crass and irresponsible choice for a VP candidate. Biden, though I don’t particularly like his style, seems a much more wise and measured choice. The sort of choice one might expect from a man who seems to be fairly wise in his own right.

I love Americans.

I got a call a few minutes ago.

Me: Hello, [my company name], Dan speaking.
American (really fast): What sort of cutter grinding do you do?
Me: Just about any that can be done.
American: What kind of machines do you have?
Me (thinking how in the world this will help him): We 10 [machine name]s and…
American: I’m surveying your shop. I hope you don’t mind.
Me (thinking this a telemarketer or something): Sorry, where are you calling from?
American: [company name] about 18 miles across the border. I’m looking to get some cutters reground but maybe I’ll just call back next century. *click*
Me: WTF just happened?

This whole conversation took place in under a minute. It was perhaps the rudest phone call I’ve had in a few months. And of course it had to be an American. *sigh*

WSIB Claims… and You!

The Workplace Safely and Insurance Board is a good idea. I mean, it makes sense, right? You need someone to arbitrate claims and stick up for the injured worker.

Unfortunately it may look good on paper, but fails in the real world, where employees can launch specious and even outright malicious claims against you.

We’ve been victim of this before, here. Someone working at home wrenches their back, claims it happened at work — it makes sense to do this, as WSIB payments are usually higher than EI payments — and gets a decision in his favour. He then recovers at home while the company’s premiums rise because it is now a much more dangerous place in the WSIB’s mind. If it can be said to have one.

After all this is over, you are required by law to hire that person back or be fined. But this is of course bad for everyone involved. The employee gets their job back but is probably disliked by management and will probably be given every shit job in the place. He’ll be stuck emptying garbage and cleaning out behind the silo. The employer on the other hand gets back a person who intentionally defrauded them and the government of (probably) a large sum of money. He might do it again, so you have to be extra-careful around him.

I wonder if there’s a better way to do the WSIB than it is right now?

National Loss and Private Gain

The banking industry has, in the last year, lost something like a trillion dollars. A trillion dollars.

This is more money than the banking industry has earned. Ever. And they collectively lost it in a year.

That’s… horrific. But it underlines a bunch of problems with economics today. I’ll list a few of them:

  • The separation of commercial and consumer credit put in place after the Depression (remember that trifling episode in economics’ sordid history?) have been eroded. This means that high-risk consumer loans suddenly become feasible, and even desirable.
  • Economists and bankers trust models that look into the past to predict the future. Of course these models, no matter how elegant or sophisticated, can’t and don’t predict the future. The nature of the future they’re trying to predict doesn’t fit into a bell curve or a predictive model of any kind. Thus the blind lead the blind and we all suffer for it. This banking crisis seemingly came out of nowhere. The models didn’t predict it. The soothsayers were wrong, and horrendously so.
  • Losses in the banking industry are nationalised, but profits are privatised. This is to say that those people who caused this — from the mortgage brokers to the banking CEOs to the economists and their blind faith in radically faulty predictive models — are going to walk away virtually unscathed. These people, all conspiring without their knowledge to lose a trillion dollars, still have their commissions, still have their bonuses, still have their golden parachutes, and still get paid to build ever more beautiful and flawed predictive models. Losses, on the other hand, are under-written and subsidised by the Federal Reserve, and politicians hand out tax cuts and consumer incentives that the will only contribute further to a federal debt that’s already out of hand. The wrong people — you and I — are paying to avoid complete financial disaster and in the meantime subsidising those very people who cause the problem in the first place.

The mortgage brokers, lenders, financial instrument sellers, predictive modellers, CEOs, risk assessment managers, and all those people who contributed to the current financial situation are not getting what they deserve. They are incentivised in the wrong direction. Risky decisions are paid for by the public, except for when the risk pays off, and then private interests benefit.

I know this should trickle down somehow, but how much wealth do we have to lose before we collectively realise something is wrong and stop bailing out the people that are causing the problem.

Maybe we should go back to public floggings. Some bankers and economist scared shitless would be a good thing right now.

Oh yeah.

Mississauga Library just emailed me that Anathem is ready to pick up.

I’ll be unreachable tonight. Awesome!

Abstinence (and Communism)

If my history books are right, the 1960s were a lot like today, except instead of civil liberties violations to protect us from terrorists, it was to protect us from communists. Of course, there’s a whole blog post (that I’m pretty certain I’ve already written) right there. My point isn’t civil liberties. It’s communism.

On of the great intellectual blows to communism — and I very much agree with this critique — is that communism requires too many people to change their natures in order to work. It’s much like asking an electron to behave like a proton so your model of the universe will work. If your physical or economic model doesn’t fit observable behaviours, the model is wrong, not the behaviours.

Communism always ultimately fails because people are selfish and people want power. So you have an entire population of demotivated people and a thin crust of dictators running the show.

Abstinence-only education fails, I think, for the same reason. Teenagers have sex. This is the behaviour history tells us to expect. No matter how spiritual the society, no matter how strict the rule set, teenagers have sex.

This is not to say abstinence is a bad thing. It’s a very good thing. Premarital sex is damaging, out of context, and no matter how it feels at the time, can produce a lot of hurt. Not to mention scripture speaks out against premarital sexual experiences on multiple occasions.

Yet even among those who know better, this is a problem. You can change from courtship to dating and back but it still happens. Perhaps the only way to prevent this is to arrange marriages, but I’m sure even then, teenagers will be having sex.

Should we be distributing condoms and birth control to twelve-year-olds? I don’t know. I don’t think so. That comes too close to condoning that behaviour.

Morality aside, the reality is that abstinence-only sex education as a model fails because it needs too many people to change too radically in order to work. It doesn’t work. It never has. It never will.

The question really becomes… what to do instead?

Abortion

I don’t think I’ve ever addressed this issue on my blog before. Let me fix that now.

Abortion is abhorrent. Especially late-term and partial-birth abortion. At that stage of pregnancy you can’t mistake it: This is a baby. It moves on its own. It has a brain, a heart, nerves, blood, and all the stuff of life.

Early term abortion is a bit different, depending on how early you’re talking. You can say that sperm plus egg equals human with a soul, but of course you can’t really build a convincing scriptural case from that. The only passages that really speak to the issue are poetic passages that approach it tangentially while speaking to something else. Again, not convincing.

Ironically for modern Christians, I think their case is built more on science than on scripture. I say this because — and this is a whole other post — modern Christians are become increasingly science-phobic as science attacks the creation poem found in Genesis 1.

We can see inside a womb like never before. We can view the stages of pregnancy with at least a certain amount of clarity.

In any case, we can say definitively that the life of the body is in the blood. One of the central narratives of the Jewish law is that blood is sacred. So we can say that a human child in the womb is alive (and thus has a soul) when it has blood in its veins. This is a crude rule of thumb, but it seems pretty solid.

Still, abortion is abhorrent and just plain wrong. But it’s also mind-boggling. In a world chock-full of devices and methods and medications to prevent pregnancy, how does someone still get pregnant by accident? You have to either be wilfully ignorant or be the victim of a cruel confluence of extremely unlikely events. (Watch Laura and I be the victims of a cruel confluence of events because I said that!) There should be no need for abortion these days. Women may have the right to choose a contraceptive, but they should not have the right to choose to kill a person. Women do not simply arbitrarily get to pick when they feel their baby is a human.

If you get pregnant and you don’t want to be pregnant, at least live with the consequences and give the child up for adoption or something like that.