Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Tipping points and climate confusion

What is a “tipping point”?

Malcolm Gladwell wrote a best-selling book with that title. He says it is the point at which something takes off and becomes a runaway phenomenon whose growth is exponential. He gives examples of everything from Paul Revere’s famous ride, to the spread of STDs, to the popularity of Hush Puppies.

I suspect Harry Potter would fit that category. It started out as a book that was rejected by every publisher in the U.K. but one. Eventually, people began talking about it and news of it spread. That is how I first heard about it, a friend raved about it over lunch. By the time I got around to reading it, everybody was into it.

That brings us to the use of the expression tipping point in the climate change debate.

James Hansen, the leading Chicken Little in the global warm-mongering camp, uses the term quite often. He says it is the point at which climate changes cannot be controlled by man, that nature’s feedback mechanisms take off and become like a shark feeding frenzy.

Think about that statement for a minute. It implies that we can manage climate. Not that there is any historical precedent for such a conceit. In fact, it is probably the most monumentally foolish idea of the 21st century.

We can have an impact on the climate, for sure, but we cannot manage something we barely understand.

For about 800,000 years the CO2 level has been about 280 ppm, sometimes a little higher, sometimes a little lower, but that is the order of magnitude. In the past century it has climbed to around 380 ppm; hence the alarm. It is generally agreed amongst the Hansenites that most of the cause of this climb in CO2 is related to the release of carbon into the atmosphere by humans. The real debate is that not all scientists buy into the idea that CO2 is the main driver of climate change.

To add further confusion, there is now a contradiction around the concept of tipping point that needs clarification if one wants to persist in claiming CO2 as the key.

Hansen claims that the maximum CO2 level that would preserve the status quo is 350 ppm. He says that at 380+ ppm we have already past the tipping point, and points to high Arctic and glacier ice melting as proof. This means that even if we substantially reduce our carbon contribution it is too late, nature is now in a runaway mode to much higher global temperatures that will see all the ice melt and the oceans rise. He also claims that 450 ppm is probably the maximum safe level.

However, in a just released study, a team of scientists from the U.K. and the U.S. have determined that declining CO2 in the atmosphere led to ice forming over the continent of Antarctica about 34 million years ago, a continent that had previously experienced a tropical climate. On its face, that result would not seem to contradict anything James Hansen says; except when you start talking about tipping points.

The new CO2 study determined that 34 million years ago the CO2 level dipped to 760 ppm. This was considered the tipping point for ice formation.

So which is the real tipping point: 350+ ppm when ice melts or 760 ppm when ice forms?

And what about the claim that CO2 levels are unsafe after 450 ppm? All kinds of new life forms emerged on other continents in an atmosphere of 760+ ppm.

This is far from a “settled science”.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Paying for injustice

There is a very sad column in today’s Toronto Sun by prominent criminal lawyer, Edward Greenspan. He is singing a song I call “The Defence Lawyer Blues”. It is a popular refrain amongst criminal lawyers.

The lyrics dwell on how misunderstood they are by the public and the politicians, how necessary they are, how underappreciated they are, and how underpaid. Most of his lament is about the payment part.

He is complaining that legal aid programs that were started by the government years ago, to ensure that the poor had the taxpayer to pick up their legal tabs and could hire good, expensive lawyers, are now not paying enough money to make it worth a lawyer’s time to take on such clients. He is concerned that the refusal by criminal lawyers to defend accused criminals will lead to unfairness, which might, by some, be equated with injustice.

He mentioned that lawyers are boycotting the defence of gang members in the recent police sweeps.

Now you may remember some of those sweeps, the ones where the cops took down the gang members, dragging them out of their Lexus’s, cracking the crystals on their Rolex watches, and breaking their solid gold bling necklaces, emptying the trunks of hundreds of thousands of dollars in drugs and guns.

I had no idea until I read this column that those guys were qualified for legal aid.

I used to know a young man, 19 years of age, who was a runner for one these gangs. He was a small time dope distributor, dealing mainly in marijuana which he purchased from gang members and resold. He carried a gun and had been shot at a couple of times. He was small fry, but he cleared $12,000 a month, tax free. Eventually, the police caught him when a snitch fingered him in return for lesser charges. He got legal aid and 3 years of detention, which might well have been longer had he not had a legal aid lawyer in his corner. Personally, I think he should have been in longer.

I mention this, because I own a mortgaged home, a modest, two-bedroom bungalow, a beater of a car and I live on a pension that does not pay $12,000 a month either before or after taxes. I am considered to be a member of the “middle class” and therefore ineligible to obtain legal aid. If I want a lawyer, I have to pay for it, even if it might mean selling my home, or incurring crushing debt that I will never be able to repay. And when my young acquaintance got a lawyer, I had to pay for him as well, through my taxes.

Why is Mr. Greenspan not shedding crocodile tears on my behalf?

He says most of the legal aid money goes to family law.

That is very interesting because recently I have had some personal experience with the Family Court on behalf of one of my children who is fighting a custody battle.

My child is a single employed mother working 6 days a week, and making about $31,000 a year, before taxes. She cannot get legal aid because she is considered middle class. However, the father of the child, who is able-bodied and has been in the work force (I use that term loosely) for 14 years, and has held a job for only 6 months in all that time (in PC terms, he is motivationally-challenged) is getting legal aid for a lawyer, and so far has been fairly successful in screwing her over through the court.

I notice whenever I go to the courthouse and read the rosters in front of the court chambers that about 95% of the litigants are unrepresented by lawyers. That is because they cannot get legal aid, and like me and my daughter they cannot afford to hire the family law equivalent of Mr. Greenspan.

As we all know until now there has always been one law for the rich and one for the poor. That is because they are the only ones who can afford lawyers. But, if Greenspan is correct, it now appears the poor are joining the ranks of the middle class and they will soon find out how it feels to be denied justice in our society because of a lack of money.

Let’s all welcome the poor to our part of town. The one distinguishing feature of it is that it is lawyer-free. Not to be confused with free lawyers which is the neighbourhood they used to occupy.

My prescription for legal aid?

I would do away with it in the Family Court since very few of these actions are being fought with lawyers anyway. Lawyers do not really help in family problems because lawyers see themselves as gladiators. Would we think of solving family disputes by distributing handguns to the husband and wife? A lawyer is the legal equivalent of a handgun. Family disputes should be dealt with by a triage of counselling, mediation and arbitration (binding if necessary).

In the criminal system we should bring in a public defender department as they have in some of the American states. Such a system has flaws, of course, and may even cost more money, but the key thing is that the state is responsible for both the prosecution and the defence and the government runs a political risk if it pays to much attention to one side over the other.

This is the problem faced by Mr. Greenspan. He has no political clout because he is seen (fairly or unfairly) as a self-interested private lawyer representing a sleazy element in our society. A public defender system would have a chief mandarin as a champion to ensure that there is adequate funding, and such a person cannot easily be ignored by the government. The provincial Ombudsman should also have a role in overseeing it. And it would open the possibility that it could be made available to the middle class.

The rich will always be there to hire Mr. Greenspan, so he will not lack for a decent income.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Fun and games in identifying fallacies

An e-mail arrived yesterday in response to my posting of July of this year in which I commented on the female journalist in Sudan who was facing prosecution for wearing trousers in public, the penalty for which is up to 40 lashes.

This is what my reader, whose nom de plume is Anonymous, had to say:

40 lashes for wearing pants is not Islam. Don't confuse the countries culture with the religion. Islam is practiced in many different countries. In Saudi Arabia, its illegal for women to drive (which I agree is fucking stupid) but it has nothing to with Islam...no where in the Quran does it say that women cant (sic) drive cars (that's absolutely ridiculous) but it happens. In turkey, Syria, and Lebanon women have the choice to cover or not to cover. People are people wherever you are; there are good people and there are bad people.

Apparently, I am the one who does not understand.

Au contraire, dear reader.

Your comment is full of fallacies. Let me pick through them for you.

The Fallacy of the Literal Translation

In judging Islam, according to this view, one has to pay strict attention to the actual words in the Koran. If it doesn’t specifically mention trousers then laws regarding the wearing of trousers fall into the category of a secular culture, not religion.

I have perused the Koran and I cannot find anything about high jacking airplanes and flying them into buildings, therefore, in accordance with the Literal Translation Fallacy, I must conclude that it is Saudi Arabian and Egyptian culture that drove those young men to do this.

The basic falseness with this proposition is that Islam purports to govern every single aspect of a Muslim’s life. There is no room for secular activity in a Muslim-governed society that cannot be found to have a basis in Islam. Fortunately, for Islam, there is a default position, as explained by a local prominent imam: if Islam does not specifically forbid something then it is allowed.

This brings us to this recent news item:

Egypt’s top Islamic authority defended women’s rights to wear trousers in public following a high profile court case in neighboring Sudan were women were flogged for dressing in pants, the local press reported Wednesday.

Grand Mufti Ali Gomaa said in response to a question during a public lecture that trousers covering women’s bodies are permitted, though they should be loose and not see through. He specified that “stretch” pants were in particular unacceptable.

Gomaa described the question as “strange and weird” and smiled as he responded. He is the top religious authority of Egypt and appointed by the government.

Sudan caused a stir when it flogged 10 women for wearing trousers. One woman, Lubna Hussein contested penalty and was let off with a fine for public indecency in a trial that garnered international attention.

Ever since her arrest in July, the 43-year-old Hussein used her case to draw attention to Sudan’s indecency law, which allows flogging as a punishment for any acts or clothing that is seen as offending morals. The law follows a strict interpretation of Islamic laws. Human rights campaigners criticize the law as vague.

Egypt also has vaguely worded indecency laws that can be widely applied, but women are given quite a bit of leeway in their attire. Unlike Sudan, no moral police is entrusted with implementing the law.

While the vast majority of Egyptian women wear headscarves and loose flowing robes, Western style dress, including trousers, is also quite common.
Odd that this cleric did not simply say that Islam has nothing to do with trousers and it is Sudanese culture that creates this problem. That would have been an easy out for him, but to do so would be to admit that there is some aspect of life in Sudan where the writ of Islam does not run. We can’t have that.

The Fallacy of Culture

Whenever honour killings occur in the West we are always treated to this one; it is culture not religion.

When we talk about culture in this context we mean social and legal customs pertinent to a certain political/geographic area. We pretend that culture is something divorced from religion, a kind of parallel universe that operates on its own rules.

This is not a tenable argument. When you are dealing with societies that have fallen under the influence of the Abrahamic religions for centuries their culture cannot be separated from the religious notions of morality as defined and refined by those religions. All our ideas of justice, compassion, mercy, equality, fairness, etc. find their roots in the religions that have dominated us since the Bronze Age. Here we refer to it as the Christian-Judeo tradition. Elsewhere it is simply called Islam.

And while our tradition leaves room for secular activity that may not have religious sanction or approval, Islam does not. Note that the law pertaining to the Sudanese woman is considered a morality issue.

Islam is very clear about the second class citizenship of women. They are subservient to men. They are not equal in the eyes of Allah. So it is a natural outcome that Islamic males would pass secular laws dictating how women should dress and disport themselves in public.

The Evil People Fallacy

According to this one, religion is all good and it is only evil people who cause problems. This is a fallacy that has been embraced equally by U.S. President Barack Obama and former U.S. President, George W. Bush, so it should not be surprising to find it has some currency with Anonymous.

Let’s see if we can apply this one to German National Socialism. Nazism was a good doctrine that was perverted by an evil man named Adolph Hitler. Hmmmm. No, that won’t fly. National Socialism which was rooted in racism and was an evil doctrine from the beginning. An argument could be made that it perverted many young minds to perform acts of evil that they might not have been otherwise inclined to commit.

Likewise Islam has some poisonous ideas in the bosom of its texts that inspire some people to carry out evil acts; i.e., that is, evil as we define it.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Three cheers for the Right Honourable Stephen Harper

It is not often I find something coming out of my country that makes me want to stand up and cheer, but our Prime Minister, Stephen Harper’s, principled decision to boycott the appearance of the Iranian President, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, before the United Nations’ General Assembly is one of those occasions. I could not say it better than Harper said in this video today.

Monday, September 21, 2009

What's this war for?

In a recent column by Tarek Fatah in The National Post, he says we have lost the war in Afghanistan, we should acknowledge defeat and we should bring home our troops now before any more of them are killed.

I don’t agree with him.

I normally have a lot of time for Fatah. He is one of a handful of Muslims who calls for the reform of the religion. For his efforts, he and his family have been threatened with death by other Muslims.

Fatah is the author of Chasing a Mirage: The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State, a book that has been reasonably well-received by the public and was a runner-up in the 2009 Donner Prize for the best books on Canadian public policy. The book discredits the notion of a world-wide Caliphate from an historical perspective.

However, this column is the most defeatist I have ever read. If he had written this kind of thing in 1942 about the war with the Axis Powers, he probably would have been locked up for sedition.

Fatah says:

We have lost the war. The Islamist jihadis have won it. We must acknowledge defeat and bring our troops home.

In a war between those who desire death and those who treasure their RRSPs and IRAs, the outcome is predictable. Canadian soldiers are professional, but mission-less armies have never fared well on the battlefield. American soldiers, who enlist primarily with the objective of obtaining a college degree, will never be able to defeat their counterparts, who view their freshman year as starting in paradise on the banks of rivers of milk and honey surrounded by 72 virgins.

This is hyperbole, of course, because there are many Americans who did not enlist for a free ride into college, but to avenge 9/11 and to do what the American military exists to do; i.e., keep the country secure.

We are told that we are involved in an “asymmetrical” war and that different strategies and tactics need to be employed if we are to “win” it. Asymmetrical is just a fancy name for guerrilla warfare and guerilla wars have been won; the British in South Africa, Kenya and Malaya, as examples. The more recent one is the defeat of the Tamil Tigers by the government of Sri Lanka.

However, those conflicts were carried out in confined geographical territories, where the combatants on the other side did not have easy access to outside material support, or had little room to maneuver, and where the victorious party could effectively bottle them up in less and less defendable territory.

The problem with the war against radical Islam is that it recruits its “soldiers” from everywhere, including our own country, and it can supply them from a bottomless armory of small arms and explosives, available mainly through the helpful manufacturing and distribution by the very governments who send their armies to fight these zealots.

So, just as the military needs to think differently about how it combats non-state agents of a death cult, we, the people, need to consider redefining what we mean by defeat and victory. Sometimes a victory is merely keeping somebody at bay.

Did we experience a victory over the Soviet Union like we did over Germany and Japan? Clearly not. But we defeated it just the same. We contained its expansion and it eventually imploded.

That is how we need to think about victory with respect to radical Islam. Keep it off balance, bottle it up, interdict it wherever it appears, and discredit it at all times. As long as Islam lives, the death cult will never go away, but it can be contained and its harmful effects minimized.

I agree with Fatah that we should bring home the troops, but only when our commitment to Afghanistan ends in 2011. The Islamists will crow about it, but we accomplished what we set out to do which was to disrupt al Qaeda and chase away the Taliban government.

In the future, we should not set ourselves lofty goals of bringing democracy to these backwater Islamic states. We should just interfere enough to derail any emerging threats and then let them sort out their own messes. The strategy is containment and successful containment is a victory. Had we identified this goal early on, we would have withdrawn from Afghanistan long ago and not found ourselves in the current quagmire of endless warfare.

Israel employs such a strategy with its neighbours. It fights them when necessary, inflicts a military beating, without complete conquest, and then goes back to the status quo. It is instructive that Lebanon’s belligerent Nasrallah declared war on Israel in 2006 in support of Hamas’s dustup with the Jewish state and got such a bloody nose from that encounter that he stayed well away from its re-run in 2008.

Although I disagree with Fatah about claiming a defeat and running home now, I do agree with this sentiment.

In the U. S., a bumbling President who knows the threat of Islamism and the Muslim Brotherhood ideology very well still bends over backwards and welcomes the bearers of this doctrine into his inner circle.

Imagine fighting the U. S. S. R. without confronting the ideology of Stalinism. Could we have won? Not a chance. Today we are fighting Islamist jihad-ism, yet neither Obama nor the British PM nor Harper or Ignatieff dare utter one word against the ideology that attacked us all on 9/11. So what is this war for?

We have to have a clearer idea of the enemy we are fighting and who our real friends and allies are in the Islamic world.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Why not China?

Every once in a while an otherwise fairly sensible journalist drops off the edge of the world and engages in drivel. Such was the case with Terence Corcoran writing a column in today’s National Post, entitled, “Warm, fuzzy dictatorship".

First, he engages in the Straw Man Fallacy, asking us to imagine a situation in which the Obama administration wants to invest in our oil patch through some U.S. government- controlled agency buying out Suncor Canada at a premium. Then, he knocks the straw man down by claiming there would be national outrage at Americans taking it over.

His main point is that the government of China is doing much the same thing and being welcomed with open arms. He attributes this imagined difference to Canadian knee-jerk anti-Americanism, because he thinks there is no good reason to be treating with a dictatorship and if we had our wits about us we would be able to separate the wheat from the chaff – the chaff being China.

It is certainly an argument, but, leaving aside the fantasy problem, it is not an especially persuasive one.

In the first place, Canada has already opened its resources arteries to American investment through NAFTA. If there was a horse in the barn to be protected, it long ago left the stable, never to return. Fortunately, we are rich enough, and America is apparently not hungry enough, so that we have excess capacity to sell to others. Why not China?

Secondly, we have traded resources with other dictatorships for years. Our foreign business dealings have never been based on other countries being mature democracies or being as pure as the driven snow on human rights. What compelling reason would there be during a major international economic meltdown to start drawing this Boy Scout line in the sand now?

Thirdly, it makes economic sense to have competitors for your resources. During Pierre Trudeau’s years the government tried to stimulate more trade with Europe, to no avail. Since then, it is the Pacific region that has become the greater economic zone, and China looks to be a good customer.

Fourthly, we are not discussing technology transfer here. We are talking about things that you dig out of the ground – Canadian ground. If there were an international crisis in which China was on the opposing side, we have physical control of the assets, so there is no national security issue.

Fifthly, it is not clear that the U.S. will remain our best customer for oil if all this global warming nonsense is translated into American-driven carbon penalties for shale oil. We need to diversify and China makes the most sense as an alternative customer.

Finally, I would not count on the outrage of Canadians. The majority of the citizens in this country are quite taken with the Obama mystique (not to their credit, in my opinion). They would not get worked up at such an Obama initiative any more than they thought the firing of the president of General Motors was anything extraordinary for him to do, and probably cheered him when he did it.

These are different times, Mr. Corcoran. Please try and keep up.

Monday, September 14, 2009

What did we learn?

I saw something the other day that highlighted a coincidence. The Dow Jones stood at exactly the same level on September 11, 2009 as it did on that day in 2001.

Oddly enough, I also was in the same place. I had been camping in Killarney Provincial Park in Northern Ontario and was driving home when I switched on the car radio to be startled by the live broadcasts from New York and Washington. Fortunately, this time my drive home from Killarney was uneventful.

That caused me to consider the events of that infamous day and what has transpired since.

It was said that it was a day that will change the world.

At a personal level, it caused me to get off my ass and to get concerned about religion generally and Islam in particular.

I had been a comfortable, complacent atheist for decades and paid little heed to religious issues or controversies. Raised as a Protestant and church-attending until the age of 13, I knew my Bible as well as anybody who wasn’t obsessed with it, and did not bother to keep a copy of it. Indeed, there was not one book in my reasonably extensive personal library dealing with any matter concerning religion or non-religion.

Eight years on, I have a good thirty works on the subject and have both a Bible and a Koran. I regularly scan websites devoted to these issues, as well as reading or watching anything that crops up in the mainstream media.

I not only schooled myself in religious issues, I joined and promoted organizations devoted to spreading science, reason and secularism as a counter to religious deference that seems to permeate our North American societies. As well, I started this blog partly to convey my thoughts on these matters. So, I am not just a passive reader and TV sponge.

If you had asked me on September 10, 2001 to tell you what I know about Islam, I probably could have come up with about 6 things of the most general nature. Now I feel I have a very good handle on that pernicious creed.

At a country level, I think not much has changed in Canada. I correspond regularly with several Canadians and I get the impression they think radical Islam is all somebody else’s problem.

They are not concerned that home grown terrorists are being convicted in their own backyards, that the recently convicted plotters in the U.K. were planning on blowing up Canadian airplanes, or that imams are permitted to spread hatred in the mosques of Canada while critics of Islam are subject to prosecution by government agencies, or that there are signs of apparent honour killings of females.

If you raise the danger inherent in Islam, you are met with a torrent of statements of moral relativism about “state terrorism” on our side. We are the problem, not the religion, according to these folks. If only we behaved in some non-aggressive fashion, Neville Chamberlain-style, we would be left alone by the Islamists.

Mainstream journalists regularly employ the term “Islamophobia” as if it were a real mental/emotional condition and not a propaganda ploy which they have uncritically swallowed.

Left-leaning bloggers decry the raw deal Muslims get in this country from the authorities, naming less than 10 Muslims, out of 800,000 Muslim citizens, who have been subject to scrutiny in one fashion or another by the security apparatus of this country. One wonders whether the “at risk” Muslims of Darfur, Somalia or Iran would prefer Canada to their countries despite this leftist-manufactured “hostile” climate of persecution. Jews still maintain the top billing as the victims of most of the hate crimes.

At the international level, what baffles me is the inability of western officialdom to define exactly what they are dealing with. They spend their time being apologists for this “great” religion of Islam, assuring everybody that the problem is not the religion of peace; President Obama being just the latest politico to join in this parade.

During the 45 years of the Cold War I don’t recall the same reluctance to name communism as the evil doctrine which must be defeated and to which all our efforts were devoted.

There were apologists for the practitioners of communism, like Fidel Castro, of course, but nobody except fringe players ran around defending communism as a preferred political/economic model.

Now the reverse is true, almost nobody wants to say a bad thing about the ideology of Islam, but only bad things about some of its practitioners, like Osama bin Laden.

On balance, I guess the world has changed, but not for the better, I suspect.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Canadian Human Rights Commission maintains its 100% conviction record

There has been quite an outpouring in the media and the blogosphere regarding the recent decision of adjudicator, Athanasios Hadjis, in the Marc Lemire neo-Nazi case before the Canadian Human Rights tribunal.

In a convoluted and probably quite appealable decision -- his decision was based on issues not within his jurisdiction -- Mr. Hadjis let Lemire off the hook with respect to financial penalties that could be applied to him under the Canadian Human Rights Act.

However, he did this after first finding Mr. Lemire “guilty” of violating Section 13(1) of the Act (the hate speech offense) in respect of one of the several charges that had been levied against him.

Commentators who have called this a landmark case seemed to have overlooked the point that the CHRC regime still maintains its 100% conviction record.

But, it is remarkable for two outcomes: yet another HRC insider has gone rogue and the serial complainer, Mr. Richard Warman, failed to collect any dough for his hurt feelings.

What needs to happen in this country is a grassroots push to make the repeal of Section 13(1) an election issue for both the Liberals and the Conservatives, since there don’t seem to be any other good election issues justifying all this media chattering about forcing yet another national election.