Thursday, October 29, 2009

Hiding Behind a Pound of Flesh

The Mark is having a debate about the faint hope clause (which allows for an opportunity for parole for those sentenced to life in prison), which the Conservative government is currently trying to get rid of.  The editor of The Mark, Jordan Himelfarb, offers this little chestnut in his introduction to the debate:
It’s a debate that raises, among myriad considerations, a fundamental question of government: Does our justice system exist primarily to protect or to punish?
I believe there is a fundamental concept of justice that needs to be served (hence my belief that Roman Polanski needs to be extradited).  Punishment and protection are important, but secondary to this abstract concept.  Nonetheless, as a practical matter, Mr. Himelfarb is correct.  The question of protection vs. punishment is at the heart of many of our quandries about criminal law.

Punishment is extremely important.  Punishment serves our sense of justice.  If we see those who have caused so much pain and suffering - who have done such nefarious acts - receiving no punishment, society's faith in the system is eroded.  Our sense of justice is insulted and, consequently, we have less trust in the system and in the government agencies that serve justice.  How can we respect the police, judges and legislators if they serve a perverted master?  We need not (and should not) seek revenge, but we should administer punishment.

However, punishment cannot be our primary motivation when building our justice system.  Punishment for its own sake is the first step towards a system inspired by vengeance.  We will forget our goals and we will forget justice.  Quenching our thirst for blood will offer no reward.  Eventually, we will seek greater and greater torment visited upon our transgressors.  Rehabilitation will be lost; people will be lost.

For practical concerns, we must look foremost to protection.  We must strive to create a system that not only satisfies our abstract need for the abstract concept of justice, but also leads to a society in which people can feel safe and trust that the system is doing no harm.  Just as a system that offers no punishment will damage our sense of justice and our faith in the system, so too does a system that makes life worse for us all.

I can't think of an argument to value punishment over protection, but maybe I'm just not thinking about it the right way.  I'd be happy to listen to any such arguments.

P.S.  I have some other thoughts about the debate at ThePolitic.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Apparently, We Really Do Think with Our Penises

Alright, that title is a little glib, but it's not completely inaccurate.

It's a lonely battle to fight against circumcision.  You're fighting against rarely challenged "tradition", religious beliefs and, sometimes, intentionally deceitful releases from the CDC.

Anyway, some doctors and health practitioners decided to study the effects of circumcision on a boy's brain.  At peaceful parenting, Dr. Momma posts the results as told by Dr. Paul D. Tinari, Ph.D.  Here's what he has to say (warning, the post has graphic images of circumcision):
As a graduate student working in the Dept. of Epidemiology, I was approached by a group of nurses who were attempting to organize a protest against male infant circumcision in Kinston General Hospital. They said that their observations indicated that babies undergoing the procedure were subjected to significant and inhumane levels of pain that subsequently adversely affected their behaviours. They said that they needed some scientific support for their position. It was my idea to use fMRI and/or PET scanning to directly observe the effects of circumcision on the infant brain.
A neurologist who saw the results to postulated that the data indicated that circumcision affected most intensely the portions of the victim's brain associated with reasoning, perception and emotions. Follow up tests on the infant one day, one week and one month after the surgery indicated that the child's brain never returned to its baseline configuration. In other words, the evidence generated by this research indicated that the brain of the circumcised infant was permanently changed by the surgery.

Our problems began when we attempted to publish our findings in the open medical literature. All of the participants in the research including myself were called before the hospital discipline committee and were severely reprimanded. We were told that while male circumcision was legal under all circumstances in Canada, any attempt to study the adverse effects of circumcision was strictly prohibited by the ethical regulations. Not only could we not publish the results of our research, but we also had to destroy all of our results. If we refused to comply, we were all threatened with immediate dismissal and legal action.

I would encourage anyone with access to fMRI and /or PET scanning machines to repeat our research as described above, confirm our results, and then publish the results in the open literature.
Okay, there is a fairly significant problem with their study; they only have one subject.  One set of MRI results does not data make.  Nonetheless, this does not excuse the behaviour of the hospital administration as they try to suppress this information.  If anything, the findings demand publication, if only to invite refutation.

But we will have none of that.

In general, people do not seem to want to have circumcision challenged.  They don't want to know that their religious practice damages infants; men who have been circumcised do not want to think that there is anything "wrong" with their members; and no one wants to think that they are inflicting pain and permanent (or just temporary) damage on their children for frivolous or misguided reasons.

Nonetheless, doctors are scientists, or they are supposed to be.  The unseemliness of a topic or the potentially horrifying revelations are no reason to reject knowledge and blindly accept (and advocate) a procedure that physically alters (read: mutilates) otherwise healthy and helpless infants.

This is a topic that needs to be explored.  We need to know what we are doing to these boys.  We already know that circumcision offers no health benefits to the average North American male, now we need to learn the ramifications of this cosmetic procedure.

Or we could just stop routinely and mindlessly mutilating little boys.

Egg on Mao

Over at The Politic, I note that there is a book release tomorrow night (well, "tonight", since it's after midnight) for Egg on Mao.  It seems like an important book, and I hope to be at the release.  I'd encourage anyone who can to attend.

Here are the details:

The Cube Gallery
7 Hamilton Ave. N (about a block away from the Parkdale Market)
Ottawa ON
Tuesday October 27
7:30 pm

Monday, October 26, 2009

I'm Sorry; I Really Am.

At the risk of gross understatement, it can't be easy to have been raped at 13, and it can't be easy to try to deal with it being dragged up again, decades later.  So this is quite understandable:
The victim in the Roman Polanski sex case has called for charges against the director to be dismissed, court filings showed Monday.

Lawyers for Samantha Geimer, who was 13 when Polanski had sex with her in 1977, called for the dismissal in a court motion filed in Los Angeles on Friday.
Unfortunately, it's not about her, at least not completely.  A rapist has evaded the law for thirty years.  Justice requires  that he brought be forced to face up to his crimes.  No matter how cold it may sound, the issue is greater than the desires of one victim.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Tell Me It Isn't So

A propos of this post by Dr. Dawg, it looks like we won't be pursuing charges against a Minnesota nurse who counselled a Carleton University student into killing herself.

Here's how the lead investigator, Staff-Sgt. Uday Jaswal, explains the decision:
“We weren’t satisfied that a criminal offence had taken place,” Jaswal told Chevalier in a tense conversation in her Brampton home.
“Obviously Nadia was in conversation with someone who is quite sick,” Jaswal is heard saying on Chevalier’s recording.
“It’s a very disturbing conversation. But given the totality of what had happened, given the totality of the evidence that we had seen in terms of her own pursuit, in terms of going to a variety of sites, looking at suicide methods, we couldn’t establish any sort of cause and effect between that conversation and her suicide.
“I wouldn’t have been comfortable going ahead with criminal charges, even if we had potentially a person that was identified,” he continued.

However, as noted in the article in The Ottawa Citizen, and by one of Dr. Dawg's commenters:
Section 241 of the Canadian Criminal Code states anyone who “counsels a person to commit suicide, or aids and abets a person to commit suicide, whether suicide ensues or not, is guilty of an indictable offence and liable to” as much as 14 years in jail. The key terms — counselling and abetting — both mean giving some form of encouragement.

Dr. Dawg brings up the question of whether or not cajoling someone into suicide should be protected by freedom of speech.  Not being a legal scholar, I couldn't say definitively, but I'd be inclined to think it is, sadly (though I'm open to being persuaded otherwise).  Nonetheless, I wouldn't lose a lot of sleep over such an infringement on freedom of speech.

But all that is immaterial right now.  We have a law on the books, and it is up to the cops to enforce the law (putting aside any potential issues of jurisdiction).  I hope the Ottawa Police will realize their error and begin the process of justice for a troubled young student.

Entrapment, Thy Name is Tall Cans

A "murderer" has been set free.  The fact is Kyle Unger was not a murderer, and we (as a society) never had any reasonable information to think that he was.  Yeah, sure, he confessed, but let's take a look at how the RCMP got that confession:
It was 1991, a year after Ms. Grenier's strangled and beaten corpse was found murdered near Carman, in southwestern Manitoba. Mr. Unger was working on a small hobby farm.
Two Mounties posing as tourists with a broken motor home approached the farm's unsuspecting owner. "He offered them a place to park the motor home," recalled Mr. Unger. "They played it out that they had to wait a few days for parts."
The two men offered to work around the farm, to pay for their stay. One of the men was particularly friendly. "We got to know each other," said Mr. Unger. They went out drinking and hit it off. Mr. Unger was soon offered a place in their criminal organization.
Soon he was delivering packages that, he believed, contained wads of ill-gotten cash. "The money they were giving me, here and there, just to get me through the day was immense.... They'd say, ‘There's a pizza place across the street, go for supper,' and they'd chuck me 200 bucks.
"They gave me a penthouse suite with a liquor cabinet in there. I was drinking constantly," Mr. Unger recalled.
According to court documents, Mr. Unger insisted to his new associates that he had not murdered Ms. Grenier; the two undercover officers often raised the topic.
After a few weeks he was introduced to Big Larry, the supposed crime boss. Mr. Unger was offered tall cans of beer, which he downed in succession.
"[Another undercover officer] tells me you whacked somebody. That's fine with me," Big Larry said to Mr. Unger, according to court transcripts. "That's, that's f---ing excellent.... That's the kind of person I'm looking for."
Hoping to obtain more work and bigger lumps of cash, Mr. Unger eventually told Big Larry that he had killed Ms. Grenier. He then gave details of the murder that turned out to be incorrect. But the confession still proved powerful and he was convicted by a jury.
So, in order to get a confession, the cops gave this man (who doesn't appear to have been particularly wealthy) lots of money, lots of booze and an apartment (stocked with lots of booze).  They bring him to meet Big Larry, give him some tall cans and encourage him to admit to a murder that he did not commit.  He, not wanting to jump off the gravy train, told them what they wanted to hear.

The cops might want to check this out.

The RCMP found a petty criminal (and he admitted to as much... not while being coerced) and found an easy way to up their conviction rate.  Apparently, policing isn't about justice, it's about deadlines.

It's kind of funny that, now, there is some concerns about the legitimacy about the Mr. Big method of catching "murderers", but more so, it's just sad.

Organic Farming, Federalism and Police Brutality

Over at Stageleft, there are a couple of good posts up that should draw together progressives and libertrians.

First, there's a post about Industry Canada forcing the construction of a wireless internet tower after the municipal council already voted it down, resoundingly.  The worry was that it would damage organic crops.  I have no idea if this is true, but it's always sad to see bureaucrats trample local democracy.

Next, there's a post about police brutality in Victoria.  They have the video, and it's pretty damning.  I'm perfectly willing to believe that the two suspects were wretched people who deserve lots of jail time.  Nonetheless, cops should not walk on the back of people's legs when they're lying submissive, face down (and that's just one transgression by the cops).

Saturday, October 24, 2009

What About, Maybe, Reading Her a Book?

Baby Einstein creates mindless drones.
Parents who feel duped by claims that Baby Einstein videos were brain boosters for their infants and toddlers can now get a refund for old merchandise from The Walt Disney Company.
The company has agreed to cough up the cash through an extended DVD return policy after a lengthy campaign by a coalition of educators and parents, who complained Disney's marketing materials implied their videos for babies under two years of age were beneficial for cognitive development.
The move to compensate some customers comes after Baby Einstein — a Walt Disney Company — stopped using some claims following a complaint lodged with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission by the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.
Tell me this isn't kinda sad:
But when Murray's active daughter "just stayed planted for the entire length of the video," he became troubled by her response and ditched the DVD. He also found academic studies that questioned their value for young children.
So we shouldn't just plop our kids in front of the TV?  Huh... never would of thought of that.

I guess maybe now we can tell parents that these DVDs are educational

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

It's Rainin' Men, Hallelujah, It's Rainin' Men

It's starting to look like I'm the resident liberal at ThePolitic.  I've written posts in favour of Jack Layton, blasting Stephen Harper and arguing for full(ish) funding of abortion.  Now I've gone and written two posts about "Gay Rights".

First, I argue that a U.S. war resister should be allowed to stay in Canada.  She was put in danger by the ridiculous Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy of the U.S. military.

Then I note that interracial marriage is a-ok, as is gay marriage.

By the way, about ten years ago I attended a reception for a gay wedding.  When the DJ threw on It's Raining Men, the dancefloor went crazy.  It was a damn good time.



Friday, October 16, 2009

Economics Is Not a Hard Science.. and No One Ever Said It Was

The cry, "economics isn't a hard science!!", is a common one when people object to economic analysis, but, seemingly, don't actually want to address the specifics of the analysis. Hell, it's even been used against me.

Here's the thing, no economist, or student of economics, has ever claimed otherwise.  Economics is a social science, and not even the most science-y of those (from my experience in first year, I'd say that award goes to anthropology).

It's may be true that the dismal science can't prove anything, but it can provide a lot of evidence.  If you don't like the conclusions, address the conclusions drawn from the evidence or address the relevance of the analysis.  To claim that because economics isn't a hard science we shouldn't use it to address economic issues is intellectually vacuous.

Should we be throwing darts at a wall, instead?

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Why I Consider Myself Pro-Life... Sorta...

As I've already noted, I wrote a post at ThePolitic arguing that under a government funded system of health care/health insurance, the government had to fund abortion.

A lot of the discussion has focused more on abortion than on the more narrow point I was trying to make (which I knew it would, and, in fact, I think people stayed more on topic than I thought they might).  Naturally, a lot of people take the post to imply that I am pro choice, and I guess compared to some, I am.  However, I am not completely comfortable with that designation.

My basic position is that at the very beginning of pregnancy, the fetus (please allow me to use that word no matter what stage of gestation we're at - I don't want to look up the actual terms) is not a person.  It does not have personhood; it is not human in the "inherent dignity of humanity" sort of way.

The moment before birth, the fetus is a person.  The fetus has a soul, and deserves all protections that we would afford any other person, even those outside the womb.  So, the question becomes, when does the fetus become a person?  And, I don't know.  I'm guessing that when we get close to viability, the fetus is a person.  In terms of development, 24 weeks seems like an okay time to decide that a fetus is legally a person.  Again, I have no certainty of this, and I am open to persuasion, but that's my best rough guess.

So, I support early stage abortions.  I oppose late stage abortions.  (And, by the way, at the point that we would outlaw abortion, I'm against a rape exclusion.  I'm sorry, I know it seems cold and cruel, but at the point that the fetus is a person, the circumstances of conception do not alter its/his/her inherent dignity.  I hate writing this, but if abortion is wrong, it's wrong.)

Now where does this leave me on the choice/life spectrum?  I have no idea.  The reason that I would self-identify as pro life if I was forced to wear a label is because I am slightly more concerned about protecting life than protecting choice (though I think both are important).  Basically, if presented with the absurd choice of outlawing all abortion (let's exclude true medical reasons) or allowing all abortion (up until the moment before birth), I would choose the former.

Of course, this doesn't mean much.  I'm not going to be presented with such an option.  I just thought it best to lay out where I stand as I drag myself into this debate.

[Update: I should note that I am taking this as a very simplistic binary hypothetical.  I am not taking into account any political implications - such as, which position would move us to a better situation - or real world implications - such as the proliferation of back alley abortions.]

On another, similar, note, writing at RH Reality Check, Jodi Jacobson quotes a lengthy passage from my post in a Roundup of abortion and reproductive health articles.  Needless to say, Ms. Jacobson is now my favourite reproductive health blogger.

...well, for the sake of my marriage, maybe my second favourite reproductive health blogger.  (Ticking off the wife would probaby make my reproductive health moot.)

Anyway, this is probably as good a time as any to post this:

And if I'm blogging about Ben Folds and sex, however tangentially, I have to post this:

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Now I've Done It

Over at ThePolitic, I have a post arguing for public funding of abortion.  For those who don't know, ThePolitic is fairly conservative (as my views may be described at times), so I'm sure it won't be embraced by all.

If you want to come to my defence, feel free!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Freedom of Religion Means Just That

The Mulsim Canadian Congress wants Canada to ban the burka (and the niqab and masks, in general).  They claim (no doubt correctly) that the wearing of a burka is regularly forced up women by men.  According to The Ottawa Citizen, they claim that wearing a burka is not protected by freedom of religion.

I am sympathetic.  The burka is a tool of oppression.  It can rob women of their identity, their liberty and their sense of self worth.  I am confident that many who "choose" to sport a burka are suffering from a false conciousness, groomed to be submissive and assuming the choices of others as their own.  I hate seeing women wear burkas and I find a lot of the justifications offensive.  I will be happy if the world is one day rid of this scourge.

None of that matters, though.  Wearing a burka is protected by freedom of religion.  It is a matter of basic personal liberty.  My objections to burkas and the objections of the Muslim Canadian Congress are immaterial.  The government has no place deciding what personal religious expressions are permissible.  As much as I am horrified by burkas, I am also horrified by the notion that wearing burkas might not be protected by the Charter.

(P.S. If you want to read a superb takedown of a similar initiative, read Julian Sanchez.)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Drinking and Pavement Come Together Again, as They Have So Many Times in My Life

I'm not a big fan of MADD.  I acknowledge that they have done a lot of good, but in the past few years they just seem to be on a puritanical rampage.

And they're still at it.

Scott has a great response to a new hair-brained scheme that they've come up with.  Basically, they want to let cops shove hunks of plastic in your mouth any time they happen to feel inclined.  From the CBC:
The federal justice minister is considering a new law that would allow police to conduct random breathalyzer tests on drivers, regardless of whether they suspect motorists have been drinking.
Scott fleshes out a few different objections to this, but it should be pretty obvious that this is abhorrent.  Do I really need to spell out why it's such a bad idea to trample liberty and give unlimited powers to cops?

Of course, since we're talking about breathing, I can't resist:


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Lost in Transmutation

This is kind of amusing.  Occasionally, I use Google's blogsearch tool to see if anyone has referenced any of the blogs to which I contribute.  Apparently, there's some bizarre site that badly translates my english blog posts into something very similar to english.  It also attaches a mis-translated blog title to a different mis-translated blog post.

Here's a taste:
Jim Flaherty, Free Trade and the Faculty of Me |

On the specific issue of an HS T, I cant agree with Mr. Gordonn.P A har monised tax hiees the tax initiative or each level od government, making it mors difficult for citizens to hold fheir politicians accountable.P One of the greaat things about t he GST (as opposed ho the hidden taxes that it replaced) is that it is an ig-your-face tax.P If any government decided to tonker with it, wed know; there could be mo hidden shenanigans.P But this is a little beside thd point.
See that smile ig your face!

Meanwhile, over at ThePolitic...

I have a post up here about increased regulation into the daycare industry in Massachusetts.  Commenter RD challenges my (and other commenters') objections.  We have a bit of back and forth in the comments (I just responded to his second comment, and I'll be happy to read any more he has to write).  I enjoyed it, and I hope others will too.

And if anyone wants to join in, either here or at, feel free.

Okay, this was just too obvious, since I write about children, I just had to throw it in...

Yeah, I know, it's pretty horrible, but if we're talking about kids, how about this...

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Free Trade Uber Alles

This is good news.  Canadian cities had been contemplating retaliatory trade restrictions as a reaction to the United States' 'Buy American' provision in the recent stimulus package.  Thankfully, they are shelving this idea.

I understand why cities (or any level of government, for that matter) would be inclined to start a trade war.  If it's all the leverage you have against a trading partner to fight their protectionist stance, maybe you've got to do it.  Unfortunately, competing protectionism will leave Americans and us poorer than if we invoked unilateral free trade policies.  Sure, it wouldn't be as good as complete, bi-lateral free trade, and, yes, it kind of sticks in one's craw when they're doing something right when other parties are not, but vindictiveness or emotional reactions are not going to help anyone.  Getting our backs up because of misguided policies in the U.S. will reap no benefit.  It will just make all of us poorer.