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Thomas Paine

To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead.

Friday, September 14, 2012

14 September - Surfing Notes

English: Collage of the Franco-Prussian warEnglish: Collage of the Franco-Prussian war (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Robert Heinlein, L. Sprague de Camp, and Isaac...Robert Heinlein, L. Sprague de Camp, and Isaac Asimov, Philadelphia Navy Yard, 1944. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Midshipman Heinlein, from the 1929 U.S. Naval ...Midshipman Heinlein, from the 1929 U.S. Naval Academy yearbook (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Robert A. Heinlein, with Ginny Heinlein Robert...Robert A. Heinlein, with Ginny Heinlein Robert and Ginny Heinlein in Tahiti 1980 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

May 12, 2009

Writer's choice 206: Russell Blackford

Russell writes about Robert A. Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land.

A full account of Stranger's peculiar coherence would explicate Mike's roles as a kind of antithetical or pagan Jesus, bringing salvation through self-perfection, rather than through submission to an external God. In the worldview of the book, God is whatever has life, or perhaps whatever has life and understanding. Heinlein insists that we all have the responsibility to act as creators of our own lives and values, rather than expecting any metaphysical force or being to do it for us.
Stranger, therefore, is a neo-gospel that depicts Mike as a very different kind of Christ figure. He is also shown as Prometheus, who defied the gods to bring technological power (fire)* to mankind. When he talks about Mike to their friends, Jubal employs other images, such as the Little Mermaid, who left her natural element to live a life of both gain and suffering. Jubal himself resembles Socrates, rather than Jesus, both in his lengthy philosophical dialogues with other characters and in his attraction to death by poison: 'a cup of cheer from the hand of a friend'. Thus, the two supremely wise figures of the book, Mike and Jubal, are patterned on the greatest martyrs of antiquity, who more or less founded the Christian and Greek traditions of thought.

* To be taxed to the UN   :(  

bastard logic

Home of the Oxford Comma ("from our cold, dead hands!")

Has Centralization of Power to the PMO Put Canadian Democracy on Life Support?

In the early 1970s, the Trudeau government adopted a new generation of governance tools to make it more effective in the modern-day world. The approach involved rigorous new management practices, and the formation of complex plans — “strategies” — which the prime minister would push forward, using the power of his office.

What wasn’t clear at the time was that execution of these strategies also called for more Executive control over the system. As this came to light, it set in motion a decades-long centralizing trend during which succesive PMOs clawed ever more power away from Parliament.
While opposition parties condemned Trudeau, Mulroney, Chretien and Harper for weakening democracy by weakening Parliament, these leaders saw increasing centralization as the unavoidable cost of getting things done. And, all things being equal, perhaps they were right.
Unfortunately, the story doesn’t end there. Indeed, a whole new chapter may be opening. There is growing evidence of a ripple effect that is now reaching other parts of the body politic. If so, centralization may be having a far more profound impact on our system of government than anyone realized.
Falling voter turnout, especially among youth, is a striking example. Elections give citizens a legitimate and orderly way to challenge and change governments. Without them, our democracy would quickly revert to some form of authoritarian rule.
( Pretty good example of why Canada does not need the Patriot Act. The PM just acts as dictator without any further need for formalities....or even being fairly elected. And we can't even claim the excuse of computerized Diebold voting. Robocalls divert the electorate away from the polls in advance of any need to fabricate a count.)
Why don’t the ones who are protesting tuition hikes in Quebec, or those in the Occupy movement, take their concerns to the ballot box? Don’t they realize that their protests are calling into question the legitimacy of our democratically elected governments?
Yes, they realize this. That is exactly the point. They are taking to the streets because they don’t believe the political system works. They don’t believe it creates real accountability. Once elected, they think a government is essentially free to do what it wants, so they see no point in voting.
Take Bill C-38. When replying to charges that it was a Trojan horse, the Harper government argued that it had to get these measures passed quickly to support the economic recovery. In other words, democracy was deemed less important than effective governance.
It is one thing for opposition parties to accuse the government of being undemocratic. It is another when people take to the streets to do so. It is profoundly disturbing when a whole generation no longer sees a point in voting–or at least it should be.
The lesson here is simple: too much centralization undermines legitimacy. The more scope a government thinks it has to act unilaterally in the name of effectiveness, the less legitimacy those actions will have.

These Are Not Your Father’s Tories. Seriously.

Reappropriating Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day began in America in 1870 when Julia Ward Howe wrote the Mother’s Day Proclamation. Written in response to the American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War, her proclamation called on women to use their position as mothers to influence society in fighting for an end to all wars. She called for women to stand up against the unjust violence of war through their roles as wife and mother, to protest the futility of their sons killing other mothers’ sons.

 “We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies, Our husbands will not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause. Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy, and patience. We, the women of one country, will be too tender of those of another country To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”

[Read the remainder of Howe's quote here]

The F-35 boondoggle in context: This “is oppressive, dictatorial regime-building that would do any petro-state proud”

The curtain has been well and truly whipped away from the PM’s self-promoting deceptions and he is revealed for what he is: a power-tripper on a mission to give Canada an extreme makeover that only the super-rich and the semi-comatose could endorse. And he is doing it with virtually no debate, creating something of a new phenomenon in Canadian politics; sole-source public policy.
We have Peter MacKay to thank for the official revelation — belated though it was. The minister of defensiveness has finally dished after weeks of embarrassing prevarications. It turns out the whole Harper cabinet was in on the F-35 whopper, an exercise that both the Parliamentary Budget Officer and the Auditor General saw for what it was — a studied deception.
The U.S. Government Accountability Office had an even better description of the same process stateside. The Pentagon’s top weapons’ purchaser, Frank Kendall, said the plan to buy the F-35 was “acquisitions malpractice.” In this country, two sets of books were produced – one containing the real scoop, the other the “communications” version for the Great Unwashed. It turns out interim Liberal leader Bob Rae was dead right — the PM and cabinet knew they were lying to Canadians about the true costs of the F-35 during an election and Stephen Harper is ultimately accountable.
This is not “strong, stable government” a la Harper’s PR mantra. It is oppressive, dictatorial regime-building that would do any petro-state proud.
It is also the de-confederation of the country and the death spiral of independent information bearers. The war machine is more important than the social safety net. Canada can apparently have $45 billion jets and $800,000 military fly-overs, but must rein in the Old Age Supplement and cut food inspectors. The PM can blow $45,000 in public money on a baseball junket (why on earth was Harper’s official photographer along for the ride?), but 19,000 public servants must lose their jobs. And if these institutional thugs lose a seat in an election they lust after, there’s a plan B – gerrymander the riding, as they may well do in Saanich-Gulf Islands, where Green Party leader Elizabeth May knocked off former cabinet sock-puppet Gary Lunn.
As for parliament, what’s parliament? Something to ignore, shutter, or the favored option, to geld.

Breaking it Down: Industrial Capitalism vs. Financial Capitalism (or, Why We’re F*cked)

Michael Hudson asks: “In light of the enormous productivity gains since the end of World War II – and especially since 1980 – why isn’t everyone rich and enjoying the leisure economy that was promised?”
The answer (per Hudson) is painfully obvious, but bears repeating (ad infinitum):
What was applauded as a post-industrial economy has turned into a financialized economy. The reason you have to work so much harder than before, even when wages rise, is to carry your debt overhead. You’re unable to buy the goods you produce because you need to pay your bankers. And the only way that you can barely maintain your living standards is to borrow even more. This means having to pay back even more in years to come.
That is the Eurozone plan in a nutshell for its economic future. It is a financial plan that is replacing industrial capitalism – with finance capitalism.
Industrial capitalism was based on increasing production and expanding markets. Industrialists were supposed to use their profits to build more factories, buy more machinery and hire more labor. But this is not what happens under finance capitalism. Banks lend out their receipt of interest, fees and penalties (which now yield credit card companies as much as interest) in new loans.
The problem is that income used to pay debts cannot simultaneously be used to buy the goods and services that labor produces. So when wages and living standards do not rise, how are producers to sell – unless they find new markets abroad? The gains have been siphoned off by finance. And the financial dynamic ends up in austerity.
And to make matters worse, it is not the fat that is cut. The fat is the financial sector. What is cut is the bone: the industrial sector.

The Real Bev Oda Scandal: Politicizing (& Corporatizing) Canadian Foreign Aid

Don Cayo:
[A]nalysis by Fraser Reilly-King, a policy analyst at the non-profit Canadian Council for International Co-operation, shows substantial cuts to foreign aid in last month’s federal budget are aimed mainly at the same kind of underprivileged countries [that were removed from CIDA's priority list in 2009] - the poorest places in the world. And funds for the better-off political darlings are mostly protected.
Reilly-King’s figures project, starting next year, a winnowing-away of funds for inter-national assistance from an all-time peak of $5 billion this year to $4.6 billion in 2014-15. Over the same period, the share of Gross National Income that Canada spends on aid will shrink to 0.25 per cent from 0.34 per cent, which is less than half the never-attained target set by former prime minister Lester Pearson in 1969.
Wait — it gets better:
The cuts will be felt by 13 cur-rent recipients, he says, eight of them in Africa. One of the countries to be cut off completely is China, a fully justified – if not overdue – move given its rapid economic expansion. But the others to lose out completely include Cambodia and Nepal, which are making progress but were late in catching the Asian prosperity wave, as well as dirt-poor Zambia, Rwanda, Zimbabwe and Niger.
Yet Ukraine – which has been a priority country for years only because of strong lobbying by Canadians of Ukrainian descent – and fast-rising, upper-middle-income Peru and Colombia are unaffected.
Other countries to duck the axe are Bangladesh, which is very poor, and Vietnam and Indonesia, which are both making rapid progress on their own. Reilly-King points out all the unaffected countries are high on the Harper government’s list of places where it wants to see stronger trade ties.
There’s brazen, and brazen – Oda, proud Harpercon that she is, certainly earns the italicization (and then some):
In an interview with my Post- media colleague Elizabeth Payne earlier this year, Oda candidly conceded that she didn’t separate at all Canadian trade and foreign policy goals from our aid policy.
She also confirmed that CIDA, which has been moving away from its well-established, long-term partnerships with trusted and respected NGOs in the field, is moving more and more to partnerships with private sector partners in the mining and agricultural sectors.
Shorter Bev Oda: Let them eat little cakes — ooh, and freshen up my OJ while you’re at it!


Deja Vu All Over Again (And Again, And Again, And…) 

April 26

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before, Canuckistan:
Stephen Harper is leaving the door open once again to extending Canada’s military participation in the costly Afghanistan war.
When the Official Opposition NDP pressed the Prime Minister on Wednesday about reports the United States has asked Canada to stay in Afghanistan beyond 2014, Mr. Harper said the government would “examine all options.”

As our new Leader of the Official Opposition aptly noted during Question Period yesterday, Canadians “want this mission to end. It was supposed to end in 2006. It was supposed to end in 2009. It was supposed to end in 2011. It is supposed to end in 2014. When will it finally end?””
Oh, and that last excerpted bit I highlighted, where the PM denies reports that Uncle Sam is trying to keep Canada in the Great Game for another Friedman or three? Methinks Mr. Harper is being a little coy. Mealsothinks that it’s a damn good thing Afghanistan is (for now, anyway) almost completely under the Campaign 2012 Village radar.
Because, considering the collective combat exhaustion of the USian polity, the last thing the Obama team needs are ill-timed reports that it’s secretly planning to continue America’s excellent (and highly unpopular) imperial Central Asian misadventure past it’s latest expiration date.
( They don't call it the Long War for nothing.
First Anglo-Sikh War - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Once again, Gough's exhausted army faced defeat and disaster, but Tej Singh ... The British consented to this and on 16 December 1846, the Treaty of Bhyroval provided for the ...
 1842 retreat from Kabul - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
At the start of the retreat, Elphinstone's army consisted of one British infantry battalion ... just before his death, he wrote a striking ballad about the disaster. See ...
The Myth of British Defeat in First Afghan War
At Mudki the main British army survived just because the ... All these disasters from 1804 till 1849 certainly had ... using comparatively new regiments raised in 1846 ...
http://human-nature-life.blogspot.com/2012/09/the-myth-of-british-defeat-in-firs... )

Lieutenant General Robert L. Van Antwerp graduated from the U.S. Military Academy in 1972. He completed Ranger, Airborne and Air Assault training, the Engineer Officer Basic Course and the Engineer Officer Advanced Course. He holds a Master of Science Degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Michigan and a Master of Business Administration Degree from Long Island University in New York. He is a Registered Professional Engineer. General Van Antwerp’s previous assignment was as Commanding General, U.S. Army Accessions Command and Deputy Commanding General for Initial Military Training at Fort Monroe, Virginia. The Army Accessions Command consists of U.S. Army Recruiting Command, Fort Knox, Kentucky; U.S. Army Cadet Command, Fort Monroe, Virginia; and the U.S. Army Training Center, Fort Jackson, South Carolina. Additionally, General Van Antwerp exercised Department of the Army directed executive agent authority over the Military Entrance Processing Command. Command assignments include the U.S. Army Maneuver Support Center and Fort Leonard Wood/Commandant, U.S. Army Engineer School; U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Los Angeles District during the Northridge Earthquake of 1994; the U.S. Army Division, South Atlantic, Atlanta, Georgia; and the 326th Engineer Battalion, 101st Airborne Division (Air Assault) during OPERATIONS DESERT SHIELD AND DESERT STORM in Saudi Arabia and Iraq. Other assignments include Chief of Staff, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; Assistant Chief of Staff for Installation Management, Washington, DC; Director, Office of Competitive Sourcing, Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army (Research, Development and Acquisition), Washington, DC; Executive Assistant to the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Washington, DC; Executive Office, Office of the Chief of Engineers, Washington, DC; Chief, Military Engineering and Construction Division, U.S. Army Western Command, Fort Shafter, Hawaii; Executive Officer, 84th Engineer Battalion, 45th General Support Group, Schofield Barracks, Hawaii; and Instructor, Department of Mechanics, U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York.

The Selfish Gene in The Guardian

PredictER News

News from Germany: Organ Transplantation and “Research Donations” – Round 2?

Celltex Under Fire by the FDA

A week ago the FDA released its 483 inspection report relating to Celltex Therapeutics Corporation’s practices banking and facilitating the administration of adult stem cells for therapeutic purposes.  News sources (here and here) and the Center for Genetics and Society published portions of its startling findings.  Celltex processes, multiplies, distributes, and facilitates the injections of mesenchymal cells derived from adipose tissue using technology licensed from RNL Bio based out of Seoul, South Korea.  Prominent physician Carl Elliot, MD, PhD and bioethicist Leigh Turner, PhD have both expressed public concern about Celltex’s seemingly flagrant circumvention of FDA regulatory standards, licensing partnership with a controversial corporation, and conflict of interest in the oversight of its operations.

Legislatures Race to Define Rights and Obligations Relating to Genetic Information: Avoiding Another Bearder

California is the latest state to take steps toward defining permissible uses and restrictions relating to obtaining, retaining, and sharing individuals’ genetic information.  Senator Alex Padilla recently introduced Senate Bill 1267, the Genetic Information Privacy Act, designed to protect individuals against surreptitious testing of their genetic material without consent.  SB 1267 is a comprehensive piece of legislation which would require a specific authorization to obtain, analyze, or disclose genetic information unless otherwise exempted or allowed by law (exemptions include activities such as newborn screening, duties of the medical examiner, using some types of data for research, and law enforcement uses).  The legislation also contains a civil penalty structure for violations and provides a private right of action for aggrieved individuals who suffer economic, bodily, or emotional harm proximately caused by such violations.  

Monday, April 16, 2012

Privacy and Security Considerations for Emerging Health Information Exchanges: Notes from Utah and New York

Earlier this month the Utah Department of Health issued a press release describing a cyber attack on its server, in which hackers removed information for approximately 780,000 individuals. According the Department of Health, the information contained personal records of individuals within the state, including Medicaid and Children’s Health Insurance Plan recipients.
Permutations of this scenario- whether hacking into a computer server, losing a USB key, or a stolen laptop- are all familiar news headlines announcing a security breach of individuals' health and personal information. Human error and human opportunism make it likely that we will continue to see such information breaches in the future, despite steps to mitigate potential security threats.
As states begin to develop legislation and promulgate rules to govern their electronic health information exchanges (HIE), they should carefully balance residual security and privacy risks with the potential promises of a functional HIE when determining policies relating to how a system enters an individual’s electronic health record (EHR) and what portion of the EHR the state enters into the HIE.
Last month, the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) issued a report, Protecting Patient Privacy: Strategies for Regulating Electronic Health Records Exchange, which articulated numerous privacy, security, and functional concerns with the state’s emerging HIE. Currently, New York employs a blanket consent procedure for record access and enrolls patients of participating providers into the state's regional health information organizations (RHIOs). 
Among numerous concerns, NYCLU’s Report highlights two distinct issues with this approach:
(1) New York does not provide a mechanism for patients to limit sharing stigmatizing sensitive information such as substance abuse records or mental health treatment if they consent to participate in the exchange; and
(2) Although physicians must obtain consent to view patient information in the exchange, participating providers enter patient medical information into the exchange without patient consent and patients cannot opt-out of the record locator system.
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