Grant Rants

How much do you know about science? Take the quiz!

- March 18th, 2014

Greetings heathens, zealots, web denizens and the rest of you!

So we have two brilliant of episodes of Cosmos in the can, and I am completely blown away. The last episode on evolution and how life develops was amazing. This is every bit as good as I had hoped and a worthy sequel to Carl Sagan’s original.

The next episode airs on Sunday night, so as a bit of fun while we wait, hop over to the Christian Science Monitor which has a very good “Are you scientifically literate?” quiz.

I scored 84 %. Didn’t do so well with some of the chemistry questions, but then chemistry was never my strongest subject.testscore1

Give it a try, report your score here and don’t forget to watch Cosmos!

Cosmos returns!!!

- March 6th, 2014

Greetings heathens, zealots, web denizens and the rest of you!

The new Cosmos is FINALLY here!

In 1980 the late, great, scientist Carl Sagan broadcast Cosmos: A Personal Journey on PBS. In the 13 part series, Sagan took viewers through the evolution of human knowledge, from our primitive ignorance to our tentative steps into the inky black of space. And he showed us how much more we have to yet to learn about the universe we live in and the planet we call home.

The series, and its companion book, changed forever how I looked at the world. Even as a kid, the spectacular scope of the universe, the bewildering kaleidoscope of what is actually out there in the space, captured my imagination and never let go. My passion and interest in science all stems from that TV series and that book.

We’re about to be treated to something just as awesome again. Astronomer Neil Degrasse Tyson  – who was profoundly influenced by Sagan in his own career – is leading new version of the series. Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey starts Sunday on FOX.

I have high hopes for this series.

Hold onto your hats!

I get feedback: Creationists don’t like me edition

- February 27th, 2014

Greetings heathens, zealots, web denizens and the rest of you!

So in my recent column about the location of the new south Niagara hospital, I pointed out that denying some basic facts about the hospital is like denying the facts about evolution:

“To deny these facts is like denying evolution. Sure, you can do it, but you end up looking like a loon. Just ask Ken Ham.”

Well, as is always the case when I bring up the big E word, creationists go bananas, including one Harry Huizer of 
St. Catharines, whose response attempts to point out how evolution is really just a matter of opinion. Just to show how far creationists play in a world without facts, I think it worth responding to the points Harry makes.

“Grant LaFleche spoiled his article on the proposed south Niagara hospital with his insult to those denying evolution. To say they end up looking like loons is disrespectful and unwarranted. As an atheist, Grant doesn’t have much choice but to believe in the theory of evolution and we have to be respectful of his opinion.”

Harry goes right off the rails out of the gate here.

First, there is nothing to compel anyone to be respectful of anyone else’s opinion. Everyone is allowed to have an opinion and express it freely. That is what free speech is. But that doesn’t mean we have to respect the content of those opinions, or even be nice about them. This is particularly true about religion, where believers will regularly try to make the case that my disagreeing with them, by holding up their beliefs to scrutiny and even ridicule goes too far because, well, they believe it so. The honesty of their belief, they argue, should protect the content of those beliefs from being questioned or mocked.

I believe H.L. Mecken put it best when he said “We must respect the other fellow’s religion, but only in the sense and to the extent that we respect his theory that his wife is beautiful and his children smart.”

Creationist do end up looking like loons because they deny the facts to such an extreme degree they end up looking like people who live in a fantasy world. Just consider at the recent debate between science educator Bill Nye and creationist guru Ken Ham. Ham ended up looking like someone who lives life by jumping into bed and pulling the blankets over his head. The only “facts” he accepts are the ones  he reads in his bible by flashlight. But this doesn’t stop people like Harry from offering up extraordinarily strange arguments.

“However here are a few “facts” that Grant and others should know: The fossil evidence from thousands of years ago shows not a trace of evolution. Animals and man seem to have suddenly appeared. The origin of life is the Achille’s heel of evolution since scientists have shown that the chances of assembling even one living cell is virtually impossible.”

Ugh. I don’t know what is worse about the creationism crowd, that they know nothing about probabilities, that they know nothing about biology and its related fields of science, or that they flaunt their ignorance as though its a badge of honour.

The fossil evidence is one of the best sources of evidence about evolution. It has become so detailed that scientists looking to tract the path of the evolution of a particular species can predict where they should find fossils that demonstrate the evolution of a particular trait. This is how Canadian scientists were able to find Tiktaalik, a critter that helps us understand how creatures that lived in the water evolved into those that lived on land. Because of the fossil record, the scientists knew where on the planet and in what layers of rock the fossils should be found. If those fossils were never found, you would have a serious challenge to the theory.

We’ve been able to track the evolution of birds from dinosaurs, and the evolution of feathers in the fossil record. We can watch the evolution of human beings from our primate ancestors. There is no “sudden appearance” of “man and animals.” Rather we see their development over long periods of time through small changes. Harry is just ignorant of what the fossil record shows.

And of course, evidence is not limited to just the fossil record. Genetics has proved to be a powerful tool to understanding evolution. And like all scientific theories, evolution makes specific predictions that can be tested, such as the theory’s explanation of why we have one fewer pair of chromosomes than chimps:

Finally there is this bit about the origin of life being “impossible.” No, we do not know everything about how life arose on this planet. But we are learning more and more all the time and the picture is increasingly looking like it all beings with simple chemistry. Once you have something that can self replicate, you have something for natural selection to work on. Just because we do not understand something, does not automatically make a religious explanation suddenly valid scientifically. When we do not know something, we do not know it. QED.

Of course, what Harry completely misses is that the theory of evolution is NOT about how life got started. It explains how the variety of life we see now developed. The precise details of the absolute origin of life as we know it is outside the theory’s scope. But science gets closer to understanding that mystery all the time.

Consider the alternative Harry presents here: a sky god with no origin, that always existed, magically created the world, made a man out of dirt and a woman out of a rib and from these two magical people, the entire population of human begins arose. (Apparently inbreeding wasn’t a problem for Adam and Eve’s children.)

Where is the evidence for any of that, Harry?

Oh and one final point. Harry is trying to say evolution didn’t happen because the odds of life arising from chemistry (the development of a single living cell as he put it) are “virtually impossible.” He does not know the difference between “improbable” and “impossible.”

Consider poker for a moment. The odds of getting a royal flush is something around 650,000 to one. Not good odds at all. And yet, players do get dealt royal flushes all the time despite the odds being “virtually impossible.” Long odds are not the issue here. What matters is what happened and what we know happened, regardless of how improbably it may seem, is that life developed on this planet by the process of evolution.

“Many prominent scientists have come to the conclusion that there is an intelligent designer behind all creation.”

Actually, no, Harry. This is an outright falsehood. Because of the overwhelming amount of evidence for evolution, scientists support it as the best explanation we have for life. Those who do not accept evolution are neither “prominent” and have produced no scientific work that support the outright religious idea of “intelligent design,” which is little more than creationism dressed up in a lab coat. It’s religion in drag.

To claim otherwise is like saying “many important scientists have come to the conclusion that gravity isn’t real and concluded that the sun goes around the earth.” Sure you can say that, but that doesn’t make it true.

Intelligent design by the way, is a complete discredited idea that was cooked up by a bunch of American creationists who were looking for a way to get around a Supreme Court ruling that forbade creationism from being taught in public school classrooms. There is no scientific work to support it, no peer reviewed work, no theory to be tested. Just an idea that says “god did it.” It was part of a strategy to teach creationism without explicitly mentioning god, who is replaced by the phrase “intelligent designer.” It is frankly a more pitiful attempt at political camouflage than the Progressive Conservative’s recent effort to hang onto right to work policy ideas without actually using the phrase “right to work.”

The organization that was behind the entire intelligent design thing is a group called the Discovery Institute, which operated on a premise that became known as the Wedge Strategy, which stated that if they could overthrow evolution as the primary paradigm in biology, they could introduce the idea of an intelligent designer, and eventually sway people to believe in Christian creationism.

The entire ID thing was exposed a few years ago in Dover, Pennsylvania during a trial where the history, methods and truth behind the Discovery Institute and ID was brought to light. Here is a very good documentary about it:

Which brings us to Harry’s last point:

“Michael Denton, a molecular biologist says it best: “Evolutionary theory is still, as it was in Darwin’s time, a highly speculative hypothesis entirely without factual support.” I think Grant needs to study all the facts before making his comments and conclusions.”

Yah, so Michael Denton works for, you guessed it, the Discovery Institute. They produce a lot of books, but no scientific work. Harry thinks he has made a point by telling us that Denton is a molecular biologist. His creds mean nothing if his conclusions are unscientific and discredited.

Better luck next time Harry.

I get feedback: Stop mocking Creationism edition

- February 24th, 2014

Greetings heathens, zealots, web denizens and the rest of you!

So a reader who goes by the handle “Niagara George” didn’t like my most recent Grant Rant because he didn’t like the mockery of creationists it contained.

This is particularly weird because it contained no mockery of creationists. The piece was about the lack of political action on important issues, particularly the improvement of science education. Still, I have mocked creationists and creationism in the past.

Niagara George doesn’t like this and wants me to stop.

So will I stop mocking creationists?

No.

Wednesday facepalm: Anonymous commenting and mental health edition

- January 29th, 2014

Greetings heathens, zealots, web denizens and the rest of you!

So yesterday I wrote an op-ed urging candidates in the provincial byelection, and the party leaders, to step up and make mental health a serious political issue. It has been ignored for far far too long.

By way of a reply, one of my least favorite internet trolls who goes by the handle “truththorold” had this to say about the mental health:

truthorold • 15 hours ago −
Everyone has it within them self to cure any “mental heath” issue. This should not be the focus of some government waste of money. If people just kept busy they wouldn’t have time to sit around feeling sorry for themselves.

I am not going to be kind about this. This is perhaps the most ignorant comment to a story on the Standard’s website I have ever read, and that says a lot given the penchant for many, including some local politicians, to hide behind nicknames and say awful things to people, often those having a hard time, that they would never, ever say in person.

Claiming that mental health issues can be “healed” by “keeping busy” or “believing in yourself” or thinking happy thoughts and sprinkling a little pixie dust is about as wrong as looking at brick and claiming it to be a puppy.

And I know trying to explain this to those who think mental health problems are a sham is like trying to explain the Matrix trilogy to a house plant. Still, I am going to give it a go.

It is simply and totally untrue that mental health issues can be cured by “keeping busy” or “being positive.” Yes, a better attitude can help just about everyone, and having a job or a hobby can help keep your mind engaged which is important.

But when we are talking about mental health issues were are not talking about being in a bad mood, or having a bad day. When we talk about mental illness what we are really talking about is brain illness. It is a problem with the brain, in much the same way that heart disease is a problem with the heart. (Yah, yah, I am sure someone is going to try and raise a mind-brain duality objection, but increasingly we are learning that our states of mind are actually just states of brain and the old notion of the mind being something distinct from the brain doesn’t have evidence to support it.)

Treating the brain is very difficult. There is so much we do not know about it, about how it works, about how it can be healed when damaged. Although we tend to think of mental health in terms of  popular metaphysical ideas of the “mind” in fact we are talking about physical problems with a physical organ: the brain.

Sometimes, this brain illness can be temporary. Some people who suffer from depression can be treated with therapy, medication and making changes in their lives. Some can recover completely, others can reach a state where they can manage it and live a normal life. Experts say one in five Canadians will suffer from some kind of mental health problem in their lives and depression is among the most common.

In other cases, however, such a relatively simple solution does not exist. Take something like borderline personality disorder by way of a for instance.  Very difficult to diagnose, harder to treat and is hideously complicated and often becomes wrapped up in addiction issues. Or schizophrenia. Or bipolar disorder. Or a host of others.

These conditions are not the result of being a negative person or having a bad attitude or not being kept busy. These are conditions of the brain, and treating them means dealing with changes in brain chemistry. In other words, they are REAL, truththorold whomever you may be. The only one who needs an attitude adjustment is you. And if you refuse to face the facts and insist on perpetuating a myth, then drop the shield of your internet nickname use your real name and stand up and be counted with the rest of us.

Tim Hudak’s explanation doesn’t clear the fog on his jobs policy

- January 19th, 2014

Greetings heathens, zealots, web denizens and the rest of you!

So last week, I wrote a column that was critical of the so-called “million-jobs-plan” rolled out by Tory leader Tim Hudak, undoubtedly as part of the strategy for the current by-elections underway. I wasn’t impressed and you can read it here.

Hudak offered a rebuttal of sorts which we published in The Standard, and you can read it here.

I was all set to dig into the NDP’s pie in the sky ideas for health care in Niagara when Hudak’s op-ed was sent to us. And unfortunately, Hudak did not clear away the fog of his plan. To my eyes he actually made it denser. So the NDP get a break for a moment and let’s look again at Hudak’s job plan.

First, Hudak didn’t really offer much of a defense of his plan by way of breaking down my criticism and showing us why I’m out to lunch. It’s a stump speech. He just stuck to the same talking points he used when he rolled the plan out. For the most part, my criticisms went unanswered, but he did throw a couple of new wrinkles worth looking at:

As an economist, former minister in three different economic portfolios and now the Ontario Progressive Conservative leader, I know the only way for the economy to produce more jobs with better take-home pay is for the government to create the right environment for job creation. That’s why I put forward fresh ideas in my Million Jobs Act.

Ok so…whoa, whoa, whoa. Waaaait. Hold the phone. What was that first part again?

As an economist, former minister in three different economic portfolios and now the Ontario Progressive Conservative leader….

Yah, that is what I thought he said. Tim Hudak is an economist? Since when?

Look, Hudak is a smart guy. No question about it. He does indeed have a masters degree in economics. You don’t get a masters degree in anything if you are a dumb dumb. And whatever else you think of Hudak and his policies, the man isn’t stupid. But the fact is he isn’t an economist. He has never has been an economist.

He got his degree in 1993. When he graduated, he was looking to become a policy advisor to a federal MP. In 1994 he was working for Walmart as a traveling manager. The next year, he became the rookie sensation of Ontario politics by wining a seat at Queen’s Park. He was mere 27 years old, and has been an MPP, devoting his career to public service, ever since, which is to his credit.

Although Hudak has yet to lead his party to win a general election, he has had an impressive political career. But he isn’t an economist. Never was.

By way of example, the CEO of the Niagara Health System has degrees in science and philosophy. But Kevin Smith isn’t a scientist and he’s not a philosopher and doesn’t claim to be. He is a hospital administrator. That he achieved to those degrees are to his credit, just as Hudak’s degrees are to his and they tell us something impressive about their intelligence.

But the claim that he is an economist when he has never worked as one, is a little hard to swallow. It is being done, I guess, to say “I am an expert. You can trust me.” But I am calling straight up shenanigans on that one.

So moving on:

I want to bring a little hope back to those who lost their jobs, to bring opportunity to the graduate looking out west for the life she wants.

I want to share with the people of this province a simple truth that I believe in my heart: Ontario can and will do better.

Naysayers have responded to my plan with slogans, instead of their own ideas. It doesn’t add up, they say, or that goal is too ambitious. They’ve even questioned the number of people out of work in Ontario by solely looking at the individuals classified as unemployed, which does not count the hundreds of thousands who have given up looking for work altogether.

Ah, so Hudak is doing a couple of things here. First, he is trying to make this an emotional issue, something I addressed in my last post. He believes in his heart Ontario can do better. Great. That doesn’t mean his plan adds up. It’s emotional jingoism. No questions or criticism about his plan can be legitimate. It is just the whining of “naysayers.” But doesn’t get us any closer to understanding how Hudak could create a million jobs.

The second thing he does is offer an explanation, albeit briefly, how he can claim there are at least a million Ontarians out of work. He’s been criticized on this count by myself and others because Stats Can data shows there are just south of 600,000 people looking for work. Hudak correctly says this number does not include those who have “given up” looking for work. How many people is that? No way to know. It is anyone’s guess. Another 100,000 people? Another 10,000  people? Seven people and a dog? One guess is as good as the other. It is a soft number and to present a figure of a million is just voodoo math. There is no way to know for sure.

But what it is is symmetrical. A million out of work. Hudak promises to create a million jobs. Do the math. A million minus a million. Between the lines Hudak is saying to every person in Ontario “I will find you a job.” The only catch is, we need to elect him twice.

No claim of wiping out unemployment can be taken seriously. Queen’s Park doesn’t have anywhere near the power or influence to do that.

Cynics cite the province’s past job-creation performance without realizing my goal of a million new jobs was once surpassed, between 1996 and 2003. Instead, they look at Ontario’s recent record and say that is the ballpark we’re now playing in.

Oh we’ve heard this a lot in the last week. But like a lot of claims here, it falls short.

Depending on who you talk to, around 750,000 to a million jobs were added to Ontario during part of the Mike Harris years. The Tory faithful, and Hudak, are saying this can be done again and attribute those jobs entirely to the Harris Progressive Conservative government. The problem is not just that it isn’t 1996 anymore. It is not just that Ontario recently lost some 40,000 jobs. It is that the economic climate of 1996 and 2014 are worlds apart.

We are still living with the impact of the global recession that began in 2008, five years after the period of job growth Hudak is talking about. In intervening years, we’ve seen the manufacturing sector nearly vanish from Ontario. It was running much much stronger in 1996. Just look at Niagara. Thousands of good paying manufacturing jobs are gone with no sign of returning.

In short, the global economic climate in 1996 was radically different than it is now. Comparing 1996 to 2014, as Hudak is doing, is not just comparing apples to oranges. At least there you are comparing two fruits. He is comparing an apple to Saturn.

I am not saying we cannot learn from the past, or adopt and adapt policies and ideas that worked before. But to straight up use the past as an analogue for the present the way Tory supporters are doesn’t work.

If Hudak had said “here is policy X, which I think contributed greatly to job growth in Ontario in the late 1990s. I think we can apply this policy to Ontario today by doing the following…,” he might make a great case for some degree of impressive job growth. Instead he just said, “The Tories did it before, we’ll do it again. QED.”

Sorry, Tim, that doesn’t fly.

Don’t take my word for it. Look at the analyses and advice already out there.

As one example, Boston Consulting estimates five million manufacturing jobs will be created in the U.S.

If Ontario attracted just 6% of those, we’d create 300,000 jobs.

Of all the points in Hudak’s job plan that I have been critical of, this is maybe where I think he has gone completely off the rails. This is just a terrible line of argument that really depends on Ontarians being ignorant of the world around them and to be baffled by impressive sounding numbers.

Lets say, for the sake of argument, that the Boston group’s projections are bang on. Five million manufacturing jobs in the U.S. Damned impressive, yes? So, what does that mean for Ontario?

Well, nothing actually.

It’s true, sometimes U.S. firms will subcontract to Canadian companies to make components for a larger product. We have several plants in Niagara that do this sort of work. It is very technical, specialized and specific work. It keeps people working in good paying jobs, although not anywhere near the numbers of jobs we saw at, say, GM in St. Catharines during its heyday. And it is also true that the provincial government can, by manipulating Ontario’s tax structures, make the province more attractive to foreign companies.

However, Hudak is throwing out a number — 6%, or 300,000 jobs — as though that figure means anything. It doesn’t. He cannot promise that 1% of those AMERICAN jobs will come to Canada, let alone Ontario. The United States has vastly more protectionist economic policies than we do, and given that the U.S. is facing the same kind of unemployment issues we are, why exactly would Washington create a climate to promote more American jobs being shipped overseas? That is already a massive political issue south of the 49th. Hudak has done nothing to explain why he figures any of those jobs would come here. He is just throwing out a hypothetical to rack up numbers to bring him closer to that magical one million jobs mark.

That 6% is just another guess. He could have said 10%. Or 2% It’s all just as meaningless. The hard and frustrating reality is that what the provincial government can do to impact the ebb and flow of the GLOBAL economy is limited. Queens Park can do some things, sure. But it is also at the mercy of what the federal government does, which is at the mercy of how the global economy is moving along, particularly the United States. These basic realities of 21st century economics are left unaddressed by Hudak. Consider, Ottawa recently signed new trade deals in Europe. Are there opportunities there for Ontario? Where does that fit into Hudak’s plans (or frankly the NDP or the Liberals) to attract foreign investment into Ontario? Are any of the parties talking about pressing Ottawa to change federal regulations that might negatively impact job growth or investment in Ontario? These are critical questions which cannot be answered in a few sound-bites and slogans. But to take any jobs plan from any party even a little bit seriously, they need to be addressed.

I am not saying job growth is impossible, or there is nothing Queen’s Park can do. But I am saying that I have yet to hear a plan that really makes any kind of sense. We wait to hear from the others parties, but for now the only offering on the table is the PC plan.

Just like the timing of the Liberal announcement of planning grant money for the new Niagara hospital cannot be removed from the current byelection, Hudak’s jobs plan was announced at a time that the party believed it would serve it best. Winning Niagara Falls back from the Liberals would be a big victory for the PCs. But the party now finds itself in a position of having to defend a plan that left more questions asked than answered, left journalists and analysts shaking their heads at statements and claims that seen a little dubious.

What we need from a guy as smart as Tim Hudak is not a campaign that promises to employ every last person who is out of work. We need leadership, a plan that address the awful economic reality Ontario is presently living through.

Faceplam Saturday: Hudak jobs plan just warm the heart edition

- January 18th, 2014

Greetings heathens, zealots, web denizens and the rest of you!

Oh my but the Tory faithful are upset with me this week!

Earlier this week, I wrote a column about PC leader Tim Hudak’s “one million jobs” economic plan. You can read it here, along with Hudak’s not-really-rebuttal here.

I’ll be getting to substance Hudak’s oped on the subject in my next blog entry, but for now I want to address a couple of more general comments from readers, party supporters and a gaggle of those modern day morlocks — a online commenters. So let  showdown begin!

1) Why are you picking on the Progressive Conservatives!? You must be on the payroll of the “Lie”berals, NDP, Karl Marx, the vampire people and the Illuminati.

There is a very strange pattern of behavior among online political party partisans. They assume that if you are critical of their party, you are automatically for the other side. As if everything is a zero sum game, and any opposition to an policy means you support the dark forces of evil – defined by the parties the person isn’t in support of, of course.

So I if I am critical of the Liberals or NDP, which I often have been, I am really a radical right winger bordering on being a Nazi. And if I am critical of the Tories, as one reader points out, I am a communist. But not just any communist, according one reader of the Rant, but some sort of KGB plant:

Fred Bracken:
If the Standard is conservative in nature why is Grant being allowed to write Marxist bologna like this piece?
There isn’t one person who works for the Standard that is not a communist and not one who doesn’t believe that BIG government is the solution to everybody’s problems.

Later, Fred insists I am a “card carrying” communist. Which is ridiculous. Communists work in a collective. We only have one card between all of us.

The reality is I favor no party. When I vote, I tend to chose the party has presented the best case to cope with the issues of the day — after I have mercilessly picked those plans apart for thruthiness. I often feel like I’m not voting for the best party, but the lesser of several evils. I find being a devotee to a single political party too much like religion. Candidates have to win my vote each and every time.

As for why did I pick on Hudak’s plan this week, and not say, the Liberals or the NDP? Well, Hudak was the one who decided (probably because of the Niagara Falls by-election) to release his jobs ideas now and made a very big deal about the whole thing. Hudak put his idea out there with press conferences and news releases to nearly every news organization in the province. So the party faithful cannot cry foul when the press seems particularly focused on Hudak at this point in time.

As the elections move on, I’ll be commenting on the other parties’ policies, which I am sure will provide no shortage of material to tear into. After 16 years in the business, I can tell you political parties never, ever fail to screw up in new and exciting ways.

Which brings me to my next point: part of the job of journalists is to critically examine what politicians are telling us! We do not exist to help the parties with their chosen narrative. When the voodoo math of any politician doesn’t ad up, you can bet we are going to say so.

2) You’re a defeatist! Tim Hudak is BOLD! He is a visionary! You are just Mr. Downer Downerpants! Your attitude is so crummy, Downie Downerson. You won’t even give this plan a chance. *pout*

*Ugh* We’re really into playing tennis without a net here.

One of the more mundane facts of our current political life is that when facing criticism, politicians and parties often retreat to the fuzzy world of emotions rather than the hard, and often unpleasant world of hard facts.

In this case, defenders of Hudak’s plan keep talking about how it makes us FEEL. If you criticize his positive plan – after all isn’t a million jobs a positive thing? – you are being a defeatist.

Take the following reactions to my column for instance:

Skidoo: You aren’t even willing to give anything a chance and you have a defeatist attitude. Bad combination Grant.

Dean Tester ‏‪@DeanTester‬
‪@GrantRants‬ I prefer a leader who sets lofty goals and plans to achieve them, over a leader with no goals, no plan, and a terrible record.

This was also the main theme of the actually articulate blog Crux of the Matter, who wrote:

“Talk about cynicism and pessimism!  What are the Ontario PCs supposed to do, just roll over and let the NDP and Liberal naysayers continue to ruin Ontario?”

Yup, because that is the only option, right? “Either we go with the plan my party is selling, or we go with the other guys who will surely destroy us.” There could not possibility be other choices beyond this schoolyard zero sum game. It’s either join us or join the gloomy naysayers!

It’s an old political trick that attempts to adopt the old “you’re with me or against me” routine. Much like when former Defense Minister Peter McKay once tried to shut down debate over the billions it would cost to buy new fighter jets by saying even ASKING about the planes in public would demoralize our troops and thus put their lives in danger in Afghanistan. I kid you not, that was his actual argument. I actually supported the idea of getting the F-35s, but by Zeus you need a moment to get some aspirin, after an argument like that.

So in this case the pro-Hudak crowd tries to paint their side as the only ones willing to actually do anything about a problem. They are bold! People of action! Everyone else are just lazy sloths living off the hog!

If you disagree with their plan, the only alternative is that you are Debbie Downer and just want to roll over and die and let things get worse. Because, you know, there can be no other way except the one their party says is golden.

More critically,  any criticism is declared illegitimate in favor of what amounts to nothing more than slogans. Facts aren’t really as important as the feel-good narrative.

Consider the following comments by Crux of the Matter:

“Look, no one can guarantee one million jobs. But, even if only 100,000 were created over a term, is that a bad thing? I mean, we are hemorrhaging jobs now. Is a million jobs act and plan such an impossibility? Pixie dust? Magical thinking? I mean, ask the person who is currently unemployed and I am sure they will tell you that trying to put government policies into place that would create the conditions for new full-time jobs is certainly not a stupid plan.”

Crux is trying to frame the issue as an emotional one. Since job creation is a good thing, and since claiming it is not is a hurtful thing to say to the unemployed, Hudak’s million job plan is great! As if the measure of  how realistic Hudak’s plan is can be found by asking someone if they like being jobless. That is a bit like saying deep fried butter sticks are good for  you because there are people who are starving.

Crux then tell us even if Hudak’s plan fall short by no less than 900,000 jobs (!!) his plan is still good!

This is the crux of the problem (see what I did there?) when people become beholden to political parties with a near religious fervor. Facts don’t matter anymore. Crux, like Hudak, is trying to appeal to the heart, going so far as to say even if the policy is an abject failure – which is what missing your target by 90% would be. —  it doesn’t matter. Because it’s bold. Because it feels good and all actiony.

But this isn’t about what feels good. It is not about being defeatist. It is comparing a political plan against the hard wall of reality. Hudak’s plan has been widely panned in the Ontario media because it raises so many eyebrows. Major parts of it just level you scratching your head.

The response party of the Tory party faithful has been largely slogans and jingoism, rather than any sort of detailed explanation about how Hudak’s plan could actually work. It has been about blaming “the lame-stream media”, as if Hudak and his party are not mainstream but mavericks out on the fringes.

This is a question of facts and evidence, not about what can be said to make us feel good when facing difficult times.

Vaccines, religion and hurt feelings

- November 25th, 2013

Greetings heathens, zealots, web denizens and the rest of you!

So apparently it’s still not cool to write bad things about religion.  Even when what is said is totally accurate.

The feedback to last week’s Grant Rant about the spread of measles in Canada due to members of a Dutch Reformed Christian community that spurns vaccines has generated some passionate, if sometimes confused response.

The first response by some was, believe or not, to suggest there is no such thing as Dutch Reformed Christianity at all and I was engaging in a bit of…well I guess Dutch-baiting might be the polite way to put it. It’s a line of reasoning that is a bit like standing in Rome and saying the Vatican is just a chippy van.

More serious were replies from Dutch Reformed believers themselves. Only one person would straight up admit that there are a) some Dutch Reformed believers who do not vaccinate, although they tend to be in the minority of the community and are largely shunned from the rest and b) vaccines are good.

But even they struck the same tone as the rest of those who have written to me: which is to say that “picking” on the Dutch Reformed community isn’t fair. A few said I was making outrageous claims out the Dutch Reformed community when I point out that some Dutch Reformers from the Netherlands who do not vaccinate came to visit their brothers and sisters of the faith in Canada, who also do not vaccinate, and ended up causing two outbreaks (one in BC and the other in Alberta.)

Now, it is true to say that lots of Dutch Reformed Christians get their vaccines just like most Canadians. But like all sects of Christianity, Dutch Reformed Christianity isn’t some monolithic entity with mindless drones for followers. Like all sects of Christianity, it has schisms and sub groups which generally fall under the umbrella of “Dutch Reformed.” One of these groups – the one in Holland with members that visited Canada – are directly responsible for the outbreaks in this country.

It is not picking on Dutch Reformed believers to point out the facts. Measles is a highly contagious and potentially lethal disease. It can kill and disfigure children. Any community of people who refuses the measles vaccine will become a vector for spreading the disease. That is a fact of life. Like gravity. Public health experts, whose job it is investigate outbreaks for reasons that should be obvious, have traced the outbreaks in Canada to visiting Dutch Reformed believers from Holland. This is not “picking” on Dutch Reformed believers. It is not a “claim”. It is a matter of undeniable fact.

We’ve seen this before. Niagara suffered a whooping cough outbreak thanks to members of a Low-German speaking Mennonite community in Guelph who refuse to vaccinate for the same reasons as the Dutch Reformed believers – they think it is contrary to the will of their chosen sky deity. Those Mennonites visited friends and family in Niagara, who were also vaccinated, and spread the disease locally.

Even those who accept the facts rather than retreating into wish thinking, still think I should not be pointing out that Dutch Reformed believers are the source of these current outbreaks. Their faith is deep and sincere, they say. They believe the Bible to be true and the law of their god to be for the good of the world. They don’t like their religion being referred to as mythology because they believe it the true facts of the universe.

I just don’t care.

It doesn’t matter how honestly or deeply they believe, or how nice they are. Those responsible for spreading a potentially fatal illness in Canada should be held to account. We should not hide the facts because it makes others who share the religion of those responsible feel uncomfortable.

We should protect freedom of religion and speech with our dying breaths. But freedom comes with responsibility to our fellow citizens, even those with whom disagree. And part of that responsibility is not doing things that will result in the harm of others.

It seems to me that those who are upset that Dutch Reformed Christians are being called to account for spreading measles are more worried about their faith than the well being of others. They are unconcerned with the suffering some of their brothers and sisters in faith are causing.

It seems to me that those members of the Dutch Reformed community who do vaccinate and accept science and evidence, should spend less time complaining that their faith is getting bad press, and more time talking to their fellow believers who are spreading measles.

The Tuesday Facepalm: Hannah Montana in hot pants edition

- August 27th, 2013

Greetings heathens, zealots, web denizens and the rest of you!

Ok people. Enough is enough. You parents groups and bloggers and tweeters…ENOUGH!

If you believe you were seriously “harmed” or “traumatized” or “injured” or the innocence of children was “stolen” or whatever other term of horror you want to use to describe seeing the Miley Cyrus thing on the VMAs the other night….please, PUL-EEZ seek professional help. Because you are suffering from extreme first world problemitis.

And stop sending me emails about it. STOP. IT. I don’t care. And neither should you. It doesn’t matter. AT ALL. Traumatized and harmed are the thousands people gassed by Syria, not those watching the VMAs. GAH!

And don’t even try to give me this “Oh but she represents Disney, and was a light for children everywhere because, you know, Disney.” Shut up. Walt Disney was kind of a racist schmuck.  There are just greater tragedies in life than a former child star dancing in hot pants. Perspective people. Perspective!

And by Odin’s Unseeing Eye, please, please PLEASE, stop with the self important blog entries titled “A letter to Miley Cyrus” or “A letter to my future yet to be born daughter about Miley Cyrus” or “Miley Cyrus ruined my daughters childhood worse than anything in the history of forever” whatever. She isn’t going to read it. Chances are, you didn’t watch the VMAs but read about it on CNN when CNN put this “story” as their top news item on their website Monday. (PS. CNN, you can suck it too.)

By way of a for instance, take this blog post which reposts a couple of other posts about Miley Cyrus. The author reposting the posts says these responses are “profound” and “haunting.” Sure, I suppose in the same way not finding a prize in the bottom of my box of Lucky Charms was haunting when I was five.

The first reposted posted ends with this melodramatic kicker: “Dear daughter, I am going to fight or die trying to keep you from becoming like the Miley Cyruses of the world.

Yup. That’s right. Buddy is willing to die to prevent his kid from becoming a uninteresting millionaire entertainer. Hot damn, he’s heroic. Good to know parents will still take a bullet for their kids.

The other reposted post is, well, basically it is Vogon poetry. You can read it if you want, but I would recommend wearing sunglasses or not looking directly at it so you can protect your brain.

Your precious hurt feelings and feigned outrage aren’t making the world a better place. In fact, in what is actually a delicious twist of irony, every time you post about how the gyrating Cyrus is bringing about the doom of civilization, you just bring more attention to what really was pretty bland and uninspired performance making, it a MUCH bigger deal than it is.

Madonna was doing this crap 25 years ago (and doing it way more colourfully) and society didn’t collapse and little girls didn’t turn into hookers en masse.

If there is a reason why I should care more about this than, say, the next time Gillette adds yet another blade to their razors, I haven’t heard it.

I’ve said it once and I will say it again: The stupid, it burns.

Welcome to the newsroom

- August 19th, 2013
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Columnist Doug Herod holds a piece of newsroom history.

Greetings heathens, zealots, web denizens and the rest of you!

Ever wonder what it’s like in the newsroom? Here is a video montage to give a feel for what it’s like every day.  Let us know what you think.

Personally, I think the devilishly handsome guy with the camera is kind of awesome.