Sunday, December 20, 2009

There and Here

An interesting confluence of news stories today, combined with the varying reactions to them. In the UK, Gareth Thomas, a rugby great now in the declining years of a wonderful career, has finally come out of the closet and publicly admitted that he is gay (although I note here that teammates and coaches have known this for some time).

In Canada, MP Scott Brison, who is the first ever gay MP to marry his partner, sent out a Christmas card with a photo of him, his husband, and their dog.

The troglodytes are out because of this, but surprisingly few of them are British rugby fans. In fact, according to the Globe & Mail, the "overwhelming number of hateful and homophobic remarks" caused them to disable commenting on the online article. All because Brison has the temerity to be standing in a field with his husband, Maxime St. Pierre.

Good on the Brits on this one, but there is one other aspect of this story that stands out for me. The key word? Moderation. For some reason, the people at the Globe seem unable to manage their commenters, and even if people wish to say something positive or interesting (even if negative), in this article they don't have that option. Whereas at the Guardian website, comments that are deemed to break the rules are removed by the moderator. No muss, no fuss. We're still told the idiots posted something, but needn't be bothered with putting up with the BS.

Good for the Globe for recognizing there was a problem. Bad for the Globe for not recognizing that there are better ways to deal with this. And shame on all the bigoted assholes who will always be so shit-scared of anyone who is different than them that they feel the need to insult and threaten.

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Thursday, December 17, 2009

Explaining the Tree Ring Data "Trick"

PZ Meyers points out an article by a fellow scientist who points out what was meant in those hacked emails and what the meaning of the word "trick" is in that context. It is definitely worth the read, and handily disposes of complaints about why tree rings are not showing the temperature changes that the science shows.

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Saturday, December 12, 2009

Our Own Problems Along the Border

I don't pretend that my voice is going to be anywhere near loud enough to drown out all the noise that's arising from the border arrest and apparent assault of my friend Peter Watts (and here we pause so you can read the two things that Peter has written about it, Boing Boing's entry, John Scalzi's entry, and the post at Making Light, all of which have garnered a fair amount of attention, in our own little subset of fields, at least).

There have been many good things to come out of this, most of all the solidarity for Peter that has resulted in money being raised to help with his sure-to-be-hefty legal fees. And that's important, for sure.

Could I say anything else about what happened to Peter? I could, but if you follow the links you'll see two comments by me on Scalzi's blog (one of them quoted at Making Light), and one, shorter one, at Making Light.

No, what I need to say has more to do with the stampede that may do real harm to Peter's chances to get out of this with his hide and his record intact. One commenter at Whatever, Dora P, has announced that she is planning a possible protest caravan. On Facebook there is now an "Against the arrest and beating of Peter Watts" page, because, I guess, we need to rule out those who are "for" it (although my tongue in cheek moment might fail here because there are people out there who are quick to blame Peter). And everywhere there are comments and other blog posts where people are venting as much fury and rage against the border patrol as they possibly can.

The more noise is made, the more likely it is that the prosecutor will push to take this to court. Much as I remember the way things worked when people would protest against the Tory government in Alberta back in the day, any attempt to embarrass those in authority would result in a digging in of the heels and a severe pushback. The prosecutor has to work with the border guards at Port Huron, and therefore he or she needs to stay in their good graces (and, I imagine, vice versa). These people work together all the time, and build that working relationship on trust. When someone screws up, the automatic reaction will likely be to get their back, and if others are out there working hard to show them up, the wagons circle even tighter.

This is by no means a way of saying that they are right in what they do. It just is. Now, if we're a little less forceful for the time being, then perhaps Peter has a chance of this all being dismissed. But if he goes to trial, then he has a chance to speak to what was done to him in an open court of law, and we can hope that the proper checks and balances, coupled with the money we've helped raise to pay for a good lawyer, will serve to bring to light of day the wrongs that have happened.

And then we can reach out, make calls, write letters, stand up. What happened can't stand, I know that. But right now the best possible result is the short-term one, in which Peter avoids being sent to jail for that mandatory two year term. Everything else, as important as it is, needs to be set back for the time being.

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Sunday, December 06, 2009

Never Forget

Geneviève Bergeron, Hélène Colgan, Nathalie Croteau, Barbara Daigneault, Anne-Marie Edward, Maud Haviernick, Maryse Laganière, Maryse Leclair, Anne-Marie Lemay, Sonia Pelletier, Michèle Richard, Annie St-Arneault, Annie Turcotte, and Barbara Klucznik-Widajewicz.

Never forget those names.

Twenty years ago today, I was at home in Edmonton when the news came that there had been a shooting at a university in Montreal. In those days, 24 hour news was not so omnipresent, and so much of the information was slow to trickle out. The first thing I remember was news that most (and of course, as it sadly turned out, all) of the victims were women. For some reason, at the time I heard that there was still no confirmation that the school was L'Ecole Polytechnique.

I was home with my stepdaughter Zoe that day, and I also remember her being quite annoyed with me that I wouldn't let her out of my sight. Indeed, I spent a good part of the day wanting to hold onto her. The idea that she would one day grow into a young woman who might possible be targeted by some sick son of a bitch because of her gender absolutely appalled me. Yes, the tragedy was not anything we hadn't seen before, aside from the sheer frightening scale, and yes, I was in no way directly affected. But there's something about having a little girl, whether or not she is your flesh and blood, that can bring this sort of monstrous event much closer to home.

The other thing that hit me that day was that my little sister was a university student in Montreal. She was at McGill, of course, and eventually word did come out that the bastard (I refuse to use his name - already too many people remember his name and not those of the victims) had targeted female engineering students at Polytechnique. I recall the fear I felt, the worry that she would have been one of the targets, even though the rational part of me knew the odds were so extraordinarily long.

When the University of Alberta put up their memorial to the victims, Jo and I attended the ceremony (this was when we were dating), along with my sister Joy-Anne and our friend Randy Reichardt. On that day I was interviewed by a reporter from one of the local TV stations, wondering why I was there.

Let me clarify the way the question was phrased, so that you can ponder on it for a moment: the reporter (a woman) wanted to know why I was there because I was a man.

I note that the reporter was female only to point out just how clueless many people were in those days, no matter the gender. There were reports from some memorial services that men were not welcome, that women were taunting them and chasing them away. I can tell you that I never saw such a reaction at any of the memorial services I attended, even the one I went to the week of the massacre. It may have happened elsewhere, but idiot reporters asking dumb questions could only hope they would luck into an interview subject whose back would not get up too much and who would answer intelligently about loss and fear and admiration for those who picked themselves up and carried on. Whether or not that was me, I'm not objective enough to say, but I do know that it didn't seem to matter to anyone there - aside from the press - had a penis.

Since that day, I have learned that random violence can strike close, and that the odds may be long but someone will still lose. In 2007 my friend Michael Bishop lost his son Jamie in the shootings at Virginia Tech, one of 32 who were killed.

I hate that these hateful and horrible tragedies still happen. I know it's too much to hope that they will never happen again, but it's a hope I can't let go of. In the meantime, I will ask everyone who reads it to remember the victims, and I will hold the women in my life close to me today, in reality or virtually. The men and the boys, too, but today is especially for Zoe and Joy-Anne and Jo.

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Saturday, December 05, 2009

In Which I Take Stupidity to Task

A letter to the editor this past week extolled the virtues of young-Earth creationism and did its level best to convince us that evolution and "Darwinism" (a term I believe is mostly used to try to prove that it is nothing but a belief, even a religion) are wrong.

Not being granted a whole lot of space, I take what the letters column allows and give my answer. Yeah, it mostly amounts to sticking my tongue out, but there you go.

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Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Monbiot on Canada, Plus Answers for Doubters

I sit here watching George Monbiot on The Hour (Ooh! Money quote: "The moment those [leaked] emails were published, the sea ice stopped melting...") and think about his recent Guardian article, which is reproduced on his blog here. The basic gist is that Canada is now a corrupt petro-state, and Stephen Harper (following in the deep footsteps of the Liberals, I might add: I don't play favorites here) is a bully in the pockets of the oil barons.

As an added bonus, check out these "Seven Answers to Climate Contrarian Nonsense."

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