Friday, August 01, 2008

"Casualties" Down in Iraq

We're being told now that Casualties are Dropping in Iraq.

Rest assured, first of all, that we're only talking about American and coalition forces. (Is there anyone left in that coalition?) No need to discuss all of the Iraqis fleeing, starving and dying. We didn't talk about them when Clinton and Blair were starving them with sanctions, sewage and dirty water so we definitely don't need to talk about them now.

But there they have a graph which purports to show that Americans are dying less and less each month in Iraq and, we are to assume, therefore things are getting better. We're winning. Yay!

Not quite. Let's take a moment and pretend that someone had handed this to us as a study, something entitled, "Trends in Violence in Iraq Indicate Success", or some such thing. Then we'd have to examine the methodology of the whole thing.

1. Is it true that we're actually on a downward trend? It certainly looks like it from the way the G&M has snipped out the last year of data. But suppose we look at the data from October 2004 to September 2005. Would we not see the same apparent "trend" only to watch it disappear in noise a month later? Human eyes and brains are terrible for seeing patterns where none exist. The same phenomenon leads millions of people to believe in psychics and mediums the world over.

2. Is it true that reducing the casualties on the invading side of the war actually means that life is getting better for the occupied people? I don't see how this is true. Maybe the Americans finally started buying good armour for their soldiers and their vehicles. A better graph might depict how many Iraqis are being killed by occupying soldiers.

3. Are there other, artificial factors which might lead to this occurrence? For instance, there's an American presidential election coming up. Is it possible that, just as past presidents have opened up the strategic oil reserve in order to lower gas prices and win reelection, the president might also order reduced patrolling in order to lower the casualty rate and provide his successor with better debating ground? I don't see any evidence of this, but I know that Bush and McCain aren't above this sort of thing and I'd hardly expect any evidence.

No, this is a flawed, feel-good piece of nonsense that fails to analyze properly all of the factors that might have contributed to whatever effect it is that is actually seen.

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Thursday, July 31, 2008

Warren on Evolution

If you've ever suffered from low blood pressure or a total lack of annoyance in your life, I invite you to read the collected works of David Warren. He's a man who wields his ignorance like a club and the Ottawa Citizen is proud to give him a lifetime supply of clubs.

He makes frequent, ignorant tirades on the subject of evolution. Here is the latest.

He first goes off on a completely information free rant about the fact that a biologist wants to stop using the term "Darwinism" to discuss evolution. Warren then declares that "genes" would utterly "wipe Darwinism" from biology.

The reason that the term Darwinism is a misnomer is because so much more is known about evolution than was in Charles Darwin's time. While Darwin understood natural selection - basically by comparing the effects of breeders intentionally selecting animals for mating purposes to the selective power of nature - he didn't understand neutral drift, kin selection, probably some eusocial behaviour and a whole host of other mechanisms of evolution. Neutral drift, in fact, is known to be a stronger factor than natural selection.

That's why "Darwinism" is such a misnomer.

And genes wouldn't "wipe Darwinism" from biology. The genetic similarities between similar organisms are one of the most important pieces of evidence demonstrating that evolution has happened. With those genetic similarities, we don't even need the fossil record to demonstrate that evolution has happened. It's obvious from the hierarchical arrangement of genes in similar species.

Warren goes on:
... the whole idea of The Origin of Species -- that new species could emerge from the gradual accumulation of small random mutations “selected” by an impersonal nature for their survival value alone -- remains to this day utterly undemonstrable.

Really, David? You've looked in to this deeply have you? Would you mind defining a biological species for us so we could see that you know what you're saying? I suppose the fossil record and genetic similarities between humans and chimpanzees aren't a good example of speciation? I googled "example speciation" and found these in a matter of seconds. I guess that's "utterly undemonstrable" in David Warren's book, but maybe the Google is too complicated.

But let's get down to the meat of David Warren's rant. What is he really, really worried about?
“Darwinism” survives not as a science, but as an ideal: to eliminate God from any consideration of how nature works.

Ah yes. The old "Science is a giant god-hating conspiracy" nonsense.

Not only does David Warren need some education (or access to google) on the theory of evolution, he also needs to learn about "science". Science is about finding naturalistic explanations to questions. If Newton, Kepler, Rutherford, Curie and a host of others had simply said that gravity and atoms behaved that way because God wanted them to, we would hardly be where we are today. Any scientist who stops part way through his research and declares a line where "God did it" is simply guilty of intellectual cowardice. The goal of science is to understand.

David Warren would have us cease in our undertaking to understand the universe. He would declare that certain topics are off limits. He would demand that the intelligent design movement and the creationists be allowed to do their own research and teach their beliefs to children.

The problem is that those ID proponents and creationists (I will not call them scientists) have no science. They have no theory. They point at a thing that scientific research has understood and another thing that science has not yet understood and shout, "God did it!" and demand the right to teach this to children. They have no evidence beyond their own beliefs and a few books of misquotes of real scientists.
“There is order in the universe.” The reader, or any scientist, may accept or reject this assertion, which is consistent only with the religious point of view.

Really? Only the religious can find order in the universe? How perverse. The entire foundation of science is finding repeatable results to repeatable experiments. For example, when Miller and Urey did their experiments with the chemicals of the Earth's primordial oceans - when they found that striking these chemicals with electricity produced amino acids - they were not initially believed. Other repeated these experiments to demonstrate whether or not they had been done properly. It turns out they were.

If the universe does not have order, how could science ever hope to work?
For the [Darwinist] is constantly confronting examples of order, that he must be at pains to explain away.

Now we plumb the true depths of how thoroughly the writer misunderstands science. The whole target of the scientific endeavour, whether in astronomy, biology, physics, chemistry or any other pursuit, is to unravel the order of the universe. Scientists don't try to hide the fact that the universe has order. They try to understand that order so that it can be manipulated. And here Warren pretends that this is some kind of curse.

This is a man who, by his own admission, simply doesn't like the idea of things happening without his deity being involved. It offends his sensibilities. So when the subject comes off, he spouts off without knowledge or research, without an understanding of evolution of science, and declares himself correct by his own lack of evidence.

It's only sad that he's given a platform for this behaviour and so is given a chance to reinforce similar ignorance and beliefs in others.

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Wednesday, July 30, 2008

McKay and the Pipeline: First They Ignore You

"First they ignore you,
Then they laugh at you,
Then they fight you,
Then you win." - Mohandas Ghandi

When we started this war against a nation that had never attacked us, and had only dubious connections to a force that had attacked one of our allies (most of the 9/11 hijackers came from Saudi Arabia which is also the source of most of their funding), we were told that it was for democracy and freedom and little girls going to school and rainbows and ponies.

Many of us were skeptical. Many of us pointed to repeated attempts by the U.S. government and multinational companies to build oil and natural gas pipelines from the north of Afghanistan, through the country and down to Pakistan and the Arabian Sea.

Recently, CTV published a graph showing that Canadian soldiers were doing a great amount of their dying where a pipeline was proposed to go from Turkmenistan, through Kandahar and on to Pakistan. Apparently this was sufficient that Canada's Defence Minister couldn't sit still. So it was important to say something.
Defence Minister Peter MacKay insisted Wednesday that Canadian troops are not in Afghanistan to guard a new natural gas pipeline being built through the southern part of the country.

He said fears that Canadian troops may end up paying a hefty price to protect the U.S.-backed project from insurgents are unfounded.

Unfounded, huh? Our soldiers dying along the pipeline route and you want to laugh off our fears as unfounded.

But even then, MacKay is forced to add:
“We're going to try and prevent chaos. If the Taliban are attacking certain places in the country or certain projects, then yes we will play a role.”

So, in conclusion, we can safely say that should the Taliban (for some unknown reason) decide to attack the oil pipeline running through their territory (would they even dare?) then, yes, Canadian soldiers would be fighting and dying to protect an oil pipeline.

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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Khadr: Abused Child

It's never popular to refer to religion as child abuse. And it's impossible to make a blanket statement that all religion is child abuse. There are children who are raised in a healthy way which involves religion.

Omar Khadr was not such a child. He was sent off to Afghanistan by his parents and encouraged to take part in jihad. This is child abuse, just as any fundamentalist child rearing is child abuse. I don't care if you're a Mormon or a Muslim teaching that 14 year old girls should be married off to 50 year old men. It's child abuse and your religion doesn't protect you from the charge or the conviction.

Accusing of us anti-americanism (as the right wing is wont to do), Flaggmann and his ilk go on about the child abuse of Omar Khadr.

That's right. He was abused as a child. He was raised in a dogmatic, thoughtlessly obedient household. He was taught not to come to his own conclusions and think skeptically about life, religion and war, but to submit to the will of the clerics (who claim to know the Will of God). Then at some young age, he was sent off to war. Here, if you aren't faint of heart, is a picture purporting to be of the boy holding a pair of severed hands. If that doesn't scream "abused child" to you, I don't what does. What sort of parent raises a child who gleefully hoists a pair of severed hands?

Then, after being abused as a child, he was alleged to have killed an American soldier in firefight. He was captured. Unlike Michael Coren and others, I found the video disturbing, but maybe it's like that cave on Dagobah. The only thing in there was the thing you brought with you. I brought a sense of compassion. Michael Coren brings an ignorance of international law regarding child soldiers.

I see a boy so screwed up by his child abused past and Gitmo-abused present that he wailed about not having eyes and feet. Michael Coren dismisses this as "absurd". Of course it's absurd. You'd say some pretty absurd things too, if you'd been tortured.

My point is this weird inconsistency in the right wing. They're actually acknowledging that the kid was abused throughout his life. Inconsistently, and without compassion, they're using this as an excuse to abuse him more. It's as if they're saying, "Well, his parents screwed him up. May as well declare him a lost cause and execute him."

If someone has a better explanation, or at least an alternate paraphrasing, for this logic, I'd be pleased to hear it.

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Monday, July 28, 2008

Wondering About Waiting Times?

Do you ever wonder why we have long waiting times in our hospitals?
Do you ever wait in the E.R. for four hours?
Do you have trouble getting a G.P.?
Is one of your children in a class of more than 30?
Did you or someone you know pay eight thousand a year or more for post-secondary education?

Why, in a nation of plenty, with the people determined to have good health care and good public education, do we have problems like these?

KPMG has the answer: Canada has the third lowest business taxes.

Third lowest. Lower than the United States. According to KPMG, we should push them even lower. Because the standard of living doesn't matter. Quality of education and health care don't matter. Nah. The free market and capitalism will float those boats, right?

No, the important thing is to have the lowest taxes. That is the greatest goal any nation can ever achieve. Oh, yes, the "Canadians are overtaxed" people are a bunch of kooks. They've been telling us for years, even decades that we're overtaxed and that we're a bunch of saps for going along with it. They never concerned themselves with the fact that we care more about services than tax rates. That's not their agenda.

These people, these economists, are wealthy - wealthy well beyond the means of ordinary Canadians. Their goal is to convince you that massive tax breaks for themselves (corporate taxes, stock option taxes and capital gains taxes) are somehow good for you as well. They get millions, you get a dollar and a half.

It's time to wake up and start calling them the liars and frauds they are.

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Finally, a Worthy Victim

If you've read a bit of Chomsky, you know what worthy and unworthy victims are. In short, a worthy victim (worthy of press coverage and government notice) is a victim being mistreated by an enemy. An unworthy victim is one being mistreated by an ally.

Omar Khadr has been tortured and abused by an ally, the government of the United States of America. Therefore, though there is some press coverage, the government will do nothing about it. The government will say that Khadr was in league with terrorists and that American justice must be allowed to run its course - even if the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled Guantanamo bay to be illegal.

Huseyin Celil, however, is a worthy victim. He's accused of terrorism in China. China is an human-rights abusing enemy and must be confronted. Consequently:
The Conservative government initially took a firm stance on Mr. Celil's case – senior government officials said they saw no evidence that Mr. Celil was involved in terrorism, and the Canadian's case was championed at the highest levels of government in Ottawa.

You can see how this works. Human rights abusing enemies must be confronted while human rights abusing allies must not.

You can see the similarity. Both are accused of terrorism. In both cases there is no evidence (Even if Khadr threw a grenade, it wouldn't be "terrorism"). In both cases they are Canadians. In both cases they are incarcerated in violation of international agreements.

But the Canadian government ignores Khadr as much as possible, pretending American justice will serve Canadian interests while even the U.S. Supreme Court is doubtful. And Celil? The government works to get him in the news, even when we're just talking about benefits for his wife.

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