Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Socialist Universe

Over at Pharyngula right now, PZ has recruited the Pharyngular Hive Mind to help come up with answers to creationist claims during a debate. Being as I'm a metaphor junkie, this one from commenter James really struck my fancy:
Capitalism works through a disparate group of businessmen, each acting in their own interest. There is no central plan, each businessman tries out different ideas, the successful businesses grow and thrive, the bad ideas result in businesses. The result is development and growth.

Communism doesn't accept that this is plausible and instead beleive that a system as complex as a modern economy must be planned ie designed by a single authority. Communist economies are inevitably less successful than capitalist ones by any standard you care to employ.

When dealing witht he Christian Right this may have some persuasive power. After all if you beleive in free market capitalism you have to beleive in emergent complexity, whether you realise it or not.

Of course, everyone but the hardest-core Randroids will admit that every capitalist society can and should, like the universe, function within a system of constraints, which is to say socialism of a greater or lesser degree. If pure Communism is a "command economy," and laissez-faire capitalism is an "at-will economy," then you could phrase the happy medium as a "suggest economy." As Richard Dawkins put it, "Life is the result of the non-random replication of randomly varying replicators." The fixed rules which govern the functioning of these myriad and random replicators are exactly and precisely analogous to the sort of regulatory constraints you find in a working capitalist society -- occupational health and safety laws, tax codes, environmental regulations, service levies, the availability of resources and infrastructure (everything from sanitation and electricity to the labour pool and client base); all of these things are the non-random governing principles in which the myriad and random complexity of the marketplace function. Which also explains why some species of businesses thrive in certain environments, and the same species of business will die (go out of business) in others.

Without a functioning system of constraints creating an orderly and healthy system in which business can grow and thrive, what you wind up with (that is to say, pure laisssez-faire capitalism) looks an awful lot like, oh, say, Somalia for the last decade or so. If you really want to live like that, be my guest, but include me out.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Call for Papers: An Informal Survey

I realise the plural of anecdote is not data, but since I'm active in the area anyway, and I'm a member of an organisation out in the Big Blue Room devoted to helping people with disabilities achieve employment equity, I'm interested in collecting stories from people with disabilities on employment-related topics. I am particularly interested in the following subjects:

  • Disabled-owned businesses and entrepreneurs, including the reasons why disabled people might start their own businesses;
  • The financial ramifications of disability from a personal perspective;
  • Encounters with employment discrimination;
  • Occupational steering (pressure to choose one career over another) based on disability;

    but any topics are really welcome.

    Obligatory Disclaimer: I am mostly collecting these anecdotes/statistics/narratives for my own use, but if I find good, relevant information in them, and response is sufficient, I may turn the responses into a paper or article for presentation or publication. I will contact anyone whose material I am interested in using prior to using it to get their permission, and I will remove all identifying information unless the respondent chooses to have me leave it in.

    If you are interested in participating, please e-mail your thoughts to me at interroblog at gmail dot com. If you would like to share your thoughts with the Internationale's readers, please post a comment too.

    Thanks in advance.
  • Saturday, December 23, 2006

    The Engines of Assimilation

    It seems like almost everyone's talking about Rep. Virgil Goode (rhymes with "screwed") and his comments about Keith Ellison. Apparently Rep. Goode doesn't believe there are any American-born Muslims, which must come as quite a shock to Keith Ellison, who was born in Detroit. (Granted, Detroit is further north than Windsor, Ontario, but you still have to cross a national border to get there from here.)

    His and the rest of the right-wing nutter crowd are insisting on conflating the existence of a Muslim Representative with the immigration discussion, such as it is, since there doesn't seem to be a lot of discussion, just right-wing freaks getting worked up. Who wins in the battle of the right-wing freaks, the militia-nut nitwits and white supremacists, or the cheap-labour conservatives? I'll give you two guesses, and the first one doesn't count.

    It reminds me of an experience I had years ago at the fair, when I ran into a table full of weirdos trying to push an initiative to get a bill tabled in Parliament to make English the official language of Ontario. How that would work exactly I'm even less sure than I was years ago, because Canada is officially bilingual, English and French, and I'm not really sure the provinces can override that, even if they (I'm talking to you, Ralph Klein) wanted to.

    These guys (and I remember them as being all guys) were trying to get me to sign their petition or something, and I said I didn't care whether Ontario was officially bilingual, and they said something like, "But you speak English, you should care!" and I said, "Mais, je parle francais aussi!" and they said, "You could still sign our petition. I said, "If anything, I'd like to see places handle more languages," and they razzed me a bit.

    That's the thing I don't like about Quebec's French-only laws, is that it cuts out the possibility of businesses and services officially catering to a second language market. As anyone who's ever spent any time at all in Montreal knows, there is a large native English-speaking population there (mostly in Westmount and some of the historically Anglo suburbs), as well as lots of other languages. Toronto, I think, has done a bang-up job of accommodating what may be the richest linguistic diversity in the world -- 150 languages and counting. You can get information on the Toronto Transit Commission system in a staggering number of languages. That attitude is even starting to seep through here in Whitebreadville -- I was in the hospital on Thursday night, and they have interpreter service for about 20 different languages available.

    If I ever run into those English-only guys again, I'm going to start talking about that. And then I'll say, "Mais, je parle francais aussi. Y hablo espanol tambien. Toh chotto nihongo o hanashimasu. V'ani gam medaberet ktzat Ivrit...English Only?! Are you nuts?!"

    Sunday, December 17, 2006

    Props to Jeffraham Prestonian!!

    As part of my ongoing service to build the reputations of my friends in the blogosphere, I'd like to introduce you all to fellow Eschatonian and all-round nice guy Jeffraham Prestonian. Jeffraham, as we like to call him, is best known for his adorable pictures of his wonderful cat (who reminds me a lot of my cat, Nero!), but who is also a not-so-stealth tech whiz and budding entrepreneur.

    As most of you may know, I'm a technical writer, which sort of puts me in Midgaard, halfway between the tech gods, and halfway between the poor schlubs who only get to use the software. As a technical writer, what I mostly do is author help files (I try to author good ones, so if you see a really bad one, don't blame me; I probably didn't have anything to do with it), but I've also written some procedural documents and course content (I really like doing that!). So Jeffraham and I had an interesting conversation about tech stuff, ranging from interface design to useability issues, to old hardware we had known and loved. Apparently we both have a soft spot for old library computers.

    He also helped me learn (or taught me) how to batch-convert files from one file format to another. That was cool. I turned yea many hundred BMP (Windows bitmap) files into PNG files. Turns out my crotchety cantankerous help authoring tool doesn't play well with PNGs, but it is useful to know anyhow.

    The Pitch Part: Jeffraham is starting a tech-support business called CurlyTech (after his adorable cat). He offers a great tech support special:

    My friends, this man gives good tech support, even after he's had a few beers. Not only that, but he's personable, fun to talk to, and nice to listen to. Check him out!

    Saturday, December 16, 2006

    Rage, Rhetoric, and the Tiny Minority

    There's a discussion going on at Feministe about a rather atrocious article which appeared in the San Francisco Chronicle about a terribly punk rawk woman (now in her 30s, as I am a terribly punk rock woman in her 30s) who really resents the fact that her best friend has completely changed since having a baby.

    Fair enough. Somewhere along the line, in the comments, the discussion morphed to talking about the way the dedicated childfree, usually the really militant ones (much in the sense that there are militant atheists or anti-feminists or anything) use a particular derrogatory vocabulary to talk about people who have children and don't parent. For those of you not familiar with the insider vernacular (and, keep in mind, it is an insider vernacular), they tend to refer to these people as "breeders," and the male versions as "duhs" and the female versions as "moos." (Contrary to the folks at Feministe, I don't actually think there's any intentional sexism going on there, since I can see the parallel construction between "duh" and "moo.") They also tend to refer to babies as "crotchfruit" and other slightly unsavoury epithets, and they generally refer to specific examples of same as "Twitney" or "Bratley," or other variations on a theme.

    I understand this phenomenon. This isn't, I think, about sexism (which seems to be the lens most of the feminist crowd uses to look at it); this is exactly analogous to the rhetoric of any marginalised group that has a lot of anger and hostility towards the dominant group.

    In this case, the dominant group is so dominant, we have to deal with people who genuinely believe human beings really have no other purpose other than to reproduce themselves, which is the classic definition of a natalist. Me, I'm the kind of person who, when confronted with the question "What is the meaning/purpose of [grand abstract ideal]?" likes to answer "Why do you assume that [grand abstract ideal] has an intrinsic meaning/purpose?"

    I've seen this over and over again, mostly because I've been in-group enough in a number of self-vernacularising groups to have absorbed a lot of insider terminology. Atheists do it -- they talk about the "Invisible Sky Fairy" and have all kinds of other shorthand to refer to themselves and the religious. Geeks do it -- they talk about "lusers" and use acronyms like PEBKAC (Problem Exists Between Keyboard And Chair) and like to talk about "ID10T (pronounced "eye-dee-ten-tee") errors" and so on. I've also seen IT people by the hundreds refer to their obnoxious officemates as "cow orkers." (If you want a good look at how brutal and cutting geek-speak can be, take a look at the main glossary page of The New Hacker's Dictionary, AKA "The Jargon File.") Science fiction fans do it -- they refer to themselves as "fen" and anything that isn't SF as "mainstream." The Society For Creative Anachronism has so much insider jargon (and a set of internally differing insider cultures! Cultures, plural!) that it takes a couple of years of determined effort to acculturate, and they even offer classes in how.

    The main difference between most of these in-groups and the subset of people who self-identify as childfree is that nobody much gives a damn if you're really into computers. They're not going to actively evangelise you to become an accountant. Very few people care if you're sitting at home reading The Demolished Man instead of Anna Karenina or Paradise Lost or even the latest pick on Oprah's Book Club. People might think you're weird if they find out that your hobby is dressing up in funny clothes on weekends and hitting people with duct-tape covered sticks, but they're unlikely to tell you that your funny-clothes-wearin', forsoothly-speakin', Pennsic-War-goin' self is a) unfulfilled, b) selfish, c) going to Hell, d) thwarting some grand human purpose, e) immature.

    All of which you may reasonably expect should you declare that you do. not. ever. want. to. have. children. end. of. story. In some ways, it's very analogous with being an atheist, particularly in the United States (where I am not, thank my lack of god). People will literally try to evangelise you, insist that you'll change your mind (shades of "you just need to open your heart and Christ will find you"!) once you meet the right person, constant questions for those of us in publicly-acknowledged relationships ("So, when are you and So-and-so having kids?"), and, perish forbid, interrogation by the Pregnancy Police -- such as the well-meaning, paternalistic medical professionals who won't give a nulliparous woman under, say, 35 a tubal ligation (I have not had this problem, either, but I suspect it's because I'm Canadian), or the neurologist who informed this woman (who already has a child) that he wouldn't put her on drugs that would better control her epilepsy and stop her catastrophic weight loss because "You're a newlywed. You'll want a baby."

    With all of that going on, it's rather easy to see that some of us could get a little hostile, even to the point of referring to members of the dominant group -- while talking to members of our own in-group -- with derrogatory terms, and expressing some extremely hostile wish-fulfillment fantasies (such as being able to opt out of paying taxes for schools, which I personally don't support out of self-interest -- a well-educated, stable population means less crime and downstream social costs, thanks; I'll chip in to that while it's still cheap!). Someone on another blog suggested that a lot of the inflammatory rhetoric was exactly that, spleen-venting in a safe space, and that once people had gotten over their initial hostility, they tended to drift out of that space and become more well-adjusted.

    I know that's sort of what happened to me. When I first found very hardcore childfree sites, compleat with inflammatory rhetoric, I read them and I felt quite validated -- hey! I'm not the only one with a missing mothering instinct! I'm not the only one who really genuinely dislikes children (rest assured, I'm an equal-opportunity opprobriumist; I'm just your basic misanthrope, really, so it's nothing personal). And yeah, I don't particularly think that babies are cute (they're not; they look like little old men with characterless faces), or baby animals are cute (meh -- I love cats, but have you seen a newborn kitten?! Urgh!). I also generally think that kids are evil little bastards and the only thing that separates kids from adults is a thin veneer of socialising we put on the adults to keep some of their intrinsic evil bastardness at bay (but yeah, adults are certainly capable of mind-blowing evil bastardness, far more than a kid could ever be capable of).

    Similarly to atheism, we have to deal with natalist propaganda. Hell, religious propaganda is so pervasive that in English, there's practically no way of discussing certain topics without using words that invoke frames of (Pauline Christian) dualism (the body/soul split) -- even if you do not believe in a soul, and you do not believe that the body and intellect are two different things, you pretty much cannot talk about certain things without using terminology that references dualism. Likewise, in terms of being childfree, you have to deal with a society where large parts of it consider that having kids is just something that you do, the expected thing. The dichotomy is very clear, and becomes more and more explictly stated the further right you go on the political spectrum: There are certain societal milestones you are expected to achieve -- you are supposed to leave the age of minority, become self-sustaining, pair off in a heterosexual, monogamous relationship, and breed. If you don't do that, you're some kind of social outlier. A freak. If you don't conform, for whatever reason, you're going to pay a price. In some circles, you don't really get an out, because the socio-cognitive landscape is such that you're born into a web of interconnecting social obligations, and once you become an adult, you're expected to step into your adult role, and there is very little tolerance or opportunity for deviance from convention allowed. People who don't conform to that life path are thereby "immature" and just prolonging their childhood to a socially-unacceptable degree.

    That dichotomy can make us kind of mad, since we don't see the other option as being any more worthy or valid than the one we've chosen. (If you don't believe that the purpose of existence is to reproduce yourself, that argument kind of falls down in a hurry.)

    I think that's probably true of a lot of these people who write in the above-described fashion. Like out-of-the-closet atheists, who are generally harassed and never given a moment's peace about their lack of religious beliefs and either proselytised or informed smugly that they just haven't seen the light yet, childfree people can often build up a huge reservoir of resentment for pretty much exactly the same reason. Being repeatedly informed that "You'll change your mind" or "You just haven't met the right man/woman yet" when your own mind and inclinations show absolutely no signs of changing (me, I'm on my 17th year of formally not changing my mind) is patronising, insulting, and yeah, it pisses us off.

    Never confuse pissed-off misanthropy for misogyny. It might look similar, but the root causes are pretty much entirely different.

    Tuesday, December 12, 2006

    Les Sept Mots Que Tu Ne Peut Pas Dire Sur Television

    There is an interesting article in today's Toronto Star talking about Francophone Quebeckers using English-language maledictions on the airwaves. Apparently in the Quebec French-language media, it's quite permissible to let off an f-bomb or seven, but you cannot say any of the traditional French-language naughty words.

    I listen to a fair amount of Radio-Canada (the French-language version of the CBC), in part because it's about the only domestic radio station that doesn't annoy me, and in part because it helps me improve my French. I haven't heard any English-lanaguage four-letter words on there (yet), but they probably sanitise it for the benefit of the Franco-Ontarien(ne) market.

    One interesting thing you'll notice is that the English-language maledictions used quite blithely in the French-language media are all obscenities, and the French words are all profanities. You can get away with saying "fuck" but not "tabernacle," "shit" but not "calique," "piss" but not "ciboire." (This promotes endless amusement among les native English-speaking bilangues: "To you, 'chalice,' 'tabernacle,' and 'ciborium' are dirty words?! What the tabernacle is a ciborium, anyway?!")*

    This is actually a divide that goes deeper than language. The mantra I've always heard is that Protestants (for a loose definition of "Protestant" that includes Anglicans) use obscenities, and Catholics use profanities. What do I mean by "obscenity" and "profanity"? They're not actually synonymous. The former is a malediction about a biological function (like most of our English-language four-letter words, that usually means it refers to sex or excretion), and the latter is a malediction that refers to something religious (like using "chalice" as a dirty word).

    It also represents an interesting bit of linguistic creep, which you don't see going too much in the other direction. I can't really think of anything where the French-language term is used ubiquitously in Anglophone Canada (although French-English crossovers are quite common in Quebec), but I can think of lots of terms that go the other way. (An interesting counter-example would be "courriel," the Quebec-standard term for e-mail, which has pretty much no traction anywhere else in the Francophone world, except for within the Academie Francaise. Go figure.)

    When Anglophone Canadians outside of Quebec start talking about going to "the dep" (from "depanneur," "corner/variety store") and eating PFK (it comes in a bucket and is made of breaded, fried pieces of bird), I'll figure we've achieved true linguistic cross-pollination. In the meantime, I'm just amused.

    Passe-moi le spruce beer, s'il te plait...


    * informs me that a "ciborium" is a "goblet-shaped vessel for holding eucharistic bread." I am going to assume "eucharistic bread" is a euphemism for "Communion wafers," but I'm not sure. Nope, I'm not one of these English-speaking Canadian Catholics, can you tell?!

    Saturday, December 09, 2006

    Economic Redline Ghetto Blues

    Are you a good customer, or are you a high-maintenance nuisance that's cutting into your service providers' bottom lines? If so, you can expect a growing number of them to decide they just don't want or need your business anymore, which could put you in a very precarious situation.

    For instance, suppose you're a businessperson trying to reestablish yourself in New Orleans. Unfortunately for you, St. Paul Travelers Cos. Inc., the largest commercial insurer in Louisiana, is pulling its operations out of New Orleans and area entirely. Rumour has that other insurers will follow suit in the NOLA area early next year, when the government-mandated period of Katrina-related insurance coverage lapses. Authorities in New Orleans are asking St. Paul Travelers Cos. Inc. to turn over most of its policies to the "Louisiana Citizens Property Insurance Corp. but to continue handling policies valued at more than $5 million rather than pulling out of South Louisiana commercial property markets completely." As of this writing, negotiations are ongoing. (Hat tip to First Draft for Katrina-related insurance articles.)

    If you think that's probably par for the course, what if you're a homeowner in New Jersey? Allstate has announced that it is pulling out of the home insurance market in New Jersey, over fears of massive payouts incurred should a hurricane hit the state. Is it only a matter of time before all areas on the southeast and eastern Atlantic coast of the US have similar problems? Anecdotal reports suggest that in coastal Texas, it's getting hard to buy or sell an existing home because of problems with water and mould damage claims.

    As the LA Times reports, companies like Risk Management Solutions, Inc. are using sophisticated data-mining techniques to first compile, and then slice and dice demographic information like some kind of actuarial Vegematic.
    RMS runs its disasters through your community — and sometimes right through your home — to see how you'd fare in a hurricane, hailstorm, earthquake, epidemic or terrorist attack. The firm sells its knowledge to insurance companies to help them decide whom to cover and how much to charge.

    Since Hurricane Katrina last year, those decisions have been running pretty much in one direction.

    Based in part on RMS' predictions, companies like Allstate Corp., the nation's second-largest property insurer, have gotten out of some lines of coverage altogether. It and other companies have spent the year dropping or paring back policies from Oregon to New York.

    Figures from state regulators show that more than 1 million homeowners nationwide have had to scramble to land new insurers or learn to live with weakened policies. Tens of millions are likely to face rate increases between 20% and more than 100%, according to regulators. And this may only be the beginning.

    Of course, the insurance industry is very quick to put the blame right on the victims:
    Allstate Chief Executive Edward M. Liddy made a similar point in a San Francisco speech a few months earlier, saying, "The risks keep rising because … people continue to flock to places that are exposed to catastrophe. Population in earthquake-prone and coastal areas is growing faster than the rest of the country, and the increase is by a wide margin."
    The LA Times points out that the facts don't seem to support that argument, stating that "[c]ensus figures, for example, show that the population of coastal and earthquake counties grew at an annual average rate of 1.56% between 1980 and last year. But they show that the U.S. population overall grew at a reasonably close pace of 1.24%. Other growth measures show a similar pattern."

    Surely I'm not alone in thinking the recent epidemic of insurance-industry victim-blaming and responsibility-abrogating (shared responsibility is what risk pools are for) is related to other disturbing trends in the services sector, such as ING Direct's "firing" its customers. According to Bank Technology News, quoting ING CEO Arkadi Kuhlmann, "the company 'weeds out' up to five percent of its customers each month, for violations like asking for statements via mail, contacting the call-center too often or demanding a better deal because they have a large sum of money to deposit." This seems similar to redlining, except made using individual statistics rather than aggregates based on geography or income. There has already been a lot of attention given to the problems of banking access in low-income neigbourhoods, leading to the proliferation of cheque-cashers and payday lenders, which are oftentimes no better than legal loansharks.

    The Anecdote Part: When I mentioned to a friend that I was planning on writing on this topic, he said, "Be sure to mention the trouble I've had with Verizon." My friend had a calling plan to Canada so he could call me, and the people at Verizon switched it off without notifying him or getting his authorisation (a practice that could be quaintly described as "slamming and cramming"). Verizon now claims he owes them $3000 for long-distance calls to Canada. This most recent go-round he's had with Verizon is actually the second or third time they've tried this on him. The first time, they demanded $5000, but he got the issue resolved in his favour. Apparently he gets this extra-special treatment because he's a high-demand customer who lives in a bad neighbourhood in New York, is low-income, and has a name that might lead people to assume he's black (even though he isn't).

    I've experienced something similar personally. Years ago, when I was undergoing my first bout with being socially assisted in the jolly old Province of Ontario, my bank* instituted a (very short-lived) policy requiring anyone who wished to cash or deposit a welfare cheque to present ID along with their bank card or passbook. I wasn't about to let that sit, because I've known for many years that low-income people often have trouble coming up with ID, which is yet another way we get screwed out of access to things even lower-middle-class people take for granted. Fortunately, I had my driver's license with me at the time. I said, "So, what do you do if the person doesn't have ID." The teller said, "We tell them to go to their home branch [the branch at which the account was originally opened]." I said, "So, what happens if the person's home branch is in another city? That sounds like discrimination to me." The teller said, "I'll write up a memo and have someone review the policy," and that was the last I heard of it.

    Now, if banks and other service providers can hassle and screw over a couple of old attitudinal punk rockers -- with a Master's degree and a patent and a couple major publications respectively, what chance has some uneducated schlub who's had the grind of poverty condition them into passivity against that kind of bullshit? A snowball's chance in Hell, as we say up here in the microclimate.

    I worry about that kind of thing, too. When I told the same friend about the ING customer-firing deal (which, incidentally, memo to ING people, has convinced me not to get an ING savings account and to make sure others don't), he said, "Considering that I'm speaking on an unsecured VOIP line, this is all a hypothetical... (long pause) ...but that kind of thing makes me want to firebomb the motherfuckers. That's the kind of thing that creates violent Marxist revolutionaries." I should further point out that my friend is not exactly the fabled bomb-throwing anarchist type (and certainly not the very real bomb-throwing reactionary type); he's a guy with actually fairly solid Establishment credentials who used to self-identify as a Libertarian, though he's been drifting further left for as long as I've known him.

    This is the stuff of which massive social instability is made. The more people who get left behind, locked out, and otherwise excluded from even the most commonplace trappings of "respectable" society (like having a bank account or being able to buy their own homes), the more people start to feel like even making it to the middle class (let alone getting rich) is a pipe dream, the more social problems there will be. Chris Clarke at Creek Running North points out that even in his most radical days of protest, all their organisation's "demonstrations and leaflets and such all had to include a demand for jobs. We demanded jobs and an end to draft registration, we demanded jobs and that the US end its aid to the murderous regime in Guatemala, we demanded that the Klan not hold a rally in Niagara Square and by the way we demand jobs." He says the point was that
    What people want when they want jobs, I thought, is three-fold. People want to feel economically secure: they want to be able to eat and stay warm and have some privacy and see the doctor and buy a new jacket every once in a while. People want to feel useful, like what they do with their lives makes a difference to something outside of themselves, whether it’s curing cancer or making a really good hamburger. People want to not be bored, to divert themselves by talking to colleagues, by honing skills, by doing something that holds their interest.
    Those kinds of feelings provide an investment in the machinery of society; without that feeling of investment amongst most people, society will suffer. The rich might be able to insulate themselves in their gated communities for a while, but they also don't generally like massive social upheaval, either (which was one of the reasons the New Deal was even as successful as it was -- lesson to modern neoconservatives).

    Of course, there's the pro-business case to be made that alternate means of service delivery will arise to meet the needs of those who aren't being served, but I would direct the arguer's attention to the history of private fire brigades and the Rural Electrification Administration. In that hypothetical situation, assuming alternate service providers do come into existence, what's to stop a larger organisation from doing what Microsoft was famous for doing -- buying up the service provider and shutting it down, on the grounds that it presents a threat to the larger organisation's potential move into that sector? (The irony is further compounded, at least in the case of Microsoft, when one realises that in many cases, they never did move aggressively into those sectors after acquiring and EOLing the smaller company's software.)

    I just don't think there's any way to put a gloss on this at all. It is. A. Bad. Thing. End of story. Is it time to consider dechartering corporations yet?


    *My bank, which shall remain nameless, because they knocked it off promptly. Score one for the good guys.

    Wednesday, December 06, 2006

    Today: Free Emergency Contraception Day!

    (h/t Zenturbo and FilkerTom.)

    According to their press release, today, December 6, 2006, is "Free EC Day" at participating US Planned Parenthood locations.

    Call 1-800-230-PLAN to find the Planned Parenthood location nearest you. Zenturbo informs me that she knows for sure that the location in Ann Arbor, MI is participating.

    Update: A list of participating Planned Parenthoods is here.

    Reprise: For those of you who might have missed the scoop, our favourite biologist, PZ Myers of Pharyngula, gives us the lowdown on emergency contraception.

    In short, he says:
    It is a form of birth control that tells the woman's ovaries to hold off on releasing any eggs for a short while. It's called emergency contraception, because it is used by a woman who has, for whatever reason (rape, a broken condom, misplaced enthusiasm, second thoughts, anything) had unwanted sperm in her reproductive tract, and she wants to make sure that this isn't the moment her ovaries happen to pop a follicle.

    Plan B is not an abortion.

    Plan B doesn't help if one is already pregnant, and it doesn't affect any implanted zygotes. Pregnant women produce progesterone naturally.

    Plan B gives women the ability to control, to a limited extent, when they will expel a gamete. In purely reproductive terms, it's a bit like a male's ability to control when he will ejaculate, or expel his gametes. That's it. No fertilized zygotes are involved, so that level of the birth control debate isn't even relevant. It's simple, responsible, and safe. You'd have to be insane to object to Plan B.

    As I've already said, emergency contraception is handy to have around. It has a fairly long shelf life, and can be kept on hand in a cool dark place for emergencies, either your own, or your friends'.

    Getting EC for free from your local Planned Parenthood certainly beats having to make a trip up here and then ponying up a week's grocery money for some peace of mind. Go take them up on the offer.

    Tuesday, December 05, 2006

    The Taliban and the Talking Points

    I think I have divined the contents of one of the recent blast-faxes from Authoritarian Right-Winger Central. Whenever anyone brings up the physical (never mind the rhetorical) excesses of the Christian authoritarian right here in North America, a right-wing troll automatically brings up the story of the Taliban executing an Afghani teacher for educating girls. In typical fashion, they misinterpret the story such that the teacher in question is drawn and quartered using motorcycles, a really macabre variation on what seems to be the actual events, where the regulators arrived on motorcycles and shot the teacher.

    The thrust of the argument, such as it is, seems to be that the Taliban are this terrible evil scourge, far worse than the extreme rightward Christianist fringe could ever dream of being, and it isn't fair to compare the two. (Also, by extension, that we all should be in Afghanistan, kicking Taliban ass and taking names, as if the other side -- which is mostly Talibani in their Friday clothes -- is any better.)

    They say this, because, well, you know, no extremist Christian would ever do anything that evil.

    I must've missed on the news when the Taliban blew up the Murrah Building in Oklahoma City, and bombed the Atlanta Centennial Olympic Park, committed bombings, arsons, and harassments beyond counting at women's health clinics and abortion providers, shot Dr. Barnett Slepian and shot at others, beat, tortured, and killed Matthew Sheppard for the heinous crime of being gay, mailed fake anthrax letters to Jon Stewart and Keith Olbermann, sent poisoned cookies to members of the US Supreme Court, were plotting to blow up Congress with a suitcase bomb, grotesquely murdered Charles and Annie Goldmark and their two sons because they mistakenly believed them to be Jewish, dropped a teenaged girl into a bonfire because they mistakenly believed her to be Jewish, left a horse's head in the swimming pool of a liberal city councillor in New York State, sent death threats and lists of poisonous herbs to a feminist blogger because she took emergency contraception (and expressed the desire to get an abortion if it didn't work), and had a long standoff with US authorities in Montana in 1996 where they were refusing to recognise US governmental authority over their land.

    ...oh, wait. You mean right-wing Christians did all of those things? You'd never know it, from the way the Bush Administration and most of the US media goes out of its way to avoid mentioning the most persistent kind of terrorism facing the US, the kind committed by homegrown, goodoleboy types gone bad.

    Once you get down into the depths of depraved religiously-motivated violence, the exact flavour stops mattering so much.

    Sunday, December 03, 2006

    Sweet Relief!

    The hand-picked NDP candidate in my riding placed fourth in a field of seven. She was beaten by, in order, the Liberal candidate, the Green candidate, and the CRAP candidate (cue Nelson Muntz-ish "Ha ha!").

    On top of that, Stephane Dion (no relation, I hope?) got voted in as the new Liberal party leader, beating out the odious (pro-Bush, pro-torture, pro-war) Michael Ignatieff, and the equally odious Bob Rae, who, having changed his party affiliation (probably for the exact reasons I mentioned in my last post, namely that the federal NDP has been buried), decided he wanted to make a mess of the entirety of Canada, not just Ontario.

    I think Dion is a good candidate. Not perfect, but good. He's a PhD, a professor, and an academic. We probably differ substantially on matters of economics, but at this point, I've kind of given up hope on finding a Canadian politician who doesn't think our carefully micromanaged, fiscal-conservative-wetdream economy is not only normal but desireable. I note he's been in the US doing think-tank wonkery, but at least he was at Brookings and not the AEI or Heritage. He's also a Quebec federalist, which should go a long way towards making him electable.

    He's also got a nice, bespectacled, academic mien that will look good on tv. Some people say his English isn't very good, but they said that about Jean Chretien, too, and he was Prime Minister for ten years.

    So. Not great, but good. At least now I don't have to lie awake sweating, wondering if I can deal with voting Liberal when I might be pushing that vile warmonger Ignatieff or that colossal upwards failure Bob Rae into 24 Sussex Drive.