Do women have rights. It’s a simple question and the answer must be yes.

People who want blastocysts, embryos, and fetuses to have ‘rights’ create an unreasonable dilemma.

Either women have rights, or you can require them to carry a child.
Either women can choose to terminate a pregnancy or they do not have a right to security of their person. There is no way around this.

No matter how deeply you feel about the life of an unborn child there is no practical way for it to have rights that supersede or restrict those of the mother.

No matter how distressing you find this reality there is no moral choice that assigns rights to a pregnancy where that would deprive the host of her rights as an independent human being, which blastocysts, embryos and fetuses are not.

No matter how impractical a method of birth control abortion is, disenfranchising pregnant women, and therefore by extension, sooner or later most women, is a repugnant option.

This is why it is intolerable for a political party to advance members who take an anti-abortion stance or who advocate any measure that would tend to limit women’s access to reproductive health services. It is simply not acceptable that any person in a position of authority could stand behind a policy that inevitably and so negatively diminishes women’s hard-won legal personhood and still moderate gains in equality.

But the distress and hand-wringing is entirely unnecessary. Ask, “Do women have rights.” It’s a simple question, with a simple answer that must be, “yes.”

Socialist

Every so often, someone buys a shitty backpack, catches a ride to the end of some logging road, heads off into the “wilderness” with high hopes, and ends up leaving their broken corpse somewhere inaccessible for future generations to find.

No one can survive alone outside the community of people. Our species has been specializing in interdependence for hundreds of thousands of years. To survive and prosper each one of us needs the fellowship and cooperation of our community.

This allows individuals to specialize in, for instance, plumbing. You can become an excellent plumber because you can rely on bakers to bake, firefighters to extinguish fire, dentists to cause you periodic discomfort and etc. That way they can also become excellent specialists because they can rely on you to be great at plumbing for them.

And everyone cooperates. They may superficially resent or disparage this, but everyone needs help in order to move house, to hold a ladder, to let them do a lane change.

This is what society is made of. Everything about everyone’s survival and prosperity is based in social cooperation and mutual support.

Survivalist libertarian nut-job vloggers do not ride a bicycle strapped to a generator for 10 hours to make the electricity to charge their cellphone to record their latest every-one-for-themselves podcast. Not any more than they maintain a unique personal GPS satellite system so they can find their car after.

Almost every aspect of everyone’s life is intricately entwined with the efforts and good will of the members of their society. Where this breaks down, death follows.

Which is why it makes me so angry to listen to ranters deride socialism, for socialism in its fundamentals is just this cooperation and specialization of everyone, for everyone, that no one is apart from unless they are face down in a ravine waiting to die.

No matter what humans do within society we are all socialists. Humans are social animals. It is our one true strength and the source of all our adaptation. If you cannot understand this you are either eligible for the gold medal in self delusion or are alone, cold, wet and unlikely to make it til morning.

YouTube Advertising

Like most people my age, I grew up watching lots and lots of TV, with 4 minutes of commercials every 15. As soon as cable came along anyone who could afford it left those commercials behind. When commercials followed viewers to cable they found other ways to watch content without.

Commercials are almost universally insulting, stupid and irritating. Once you have stopped watching them, you are going to have a strong WTF reaction when you are waylaid by some inane barking bullshit trying to get you to buy junk you do not need.

I stopped watching television, after about 40 years of being used to it, because if I have to watch commercials, I have other things to do.

Honestly, no matter how grim another task is, for instance cleaning the toilet, it is more interesting than almost any commercial.

So, YouTube has found a way around AdBlock Plus. It is interrupting videos to show me commercials for new-agey supplements, woo for geriatric dogs, cereal etal. And I cannot be asked to sit through that shit.

I have given up video, to which I had been long indoctrinated, before to avoid the indignity of advertising. If this keeps up, I sure can find other things to do than sit through some flaky charlatan barking about cleanses and herbal supplements.

Is YouTube committing suicide? I guess we will see.

Freedom from Religious Persecution

Today I saw a person praying openly and at considerable length, and I was reminded of what freedom of religion is.

I was reminded because prescribed ritual behaviour makes me quite uncomfortable. However religious freedom, freedom from religious persecution actually, means that my discomfort was my problem, not his.

Centuries of monotheists persecuting people of different faiths necessitated that secular societies advanced the principal that you should not attack anyone just because they do not conform to your views on religion.

So while I sat their and the praying continued I was not only aware of my irrelevant discomfort, but of the climate in the room as people whispered and pointed and checked to see if, in an historic context, there was something intolerant they needed to do about the “other.”

I remember IRA bombings in the news. I am belatedly aware that there are conservative senators in Canada who think the cultural genocide of my country’s first nations was not so bad if some of the victims were successfully indoctrinated to Christianity.

So, what is my point? I am not very certain. I am dismayed by the surge in public religiosity particularly among white Christian evangelicals in North America, which I can only put down to a failure in education. However what I am certain of is that the whiff of intolerance I experienced today is not a healthy response to anyone’s faith.

Sexual preference

A couple of weeks ago my mum, 98, asked me what made men gay. To which I answered nothing makes men gay.

Consider this. About half the people in the world prefer women, and about half prefer men. And most of the people who prefer women are men and most of the people who prefer men are women. If those two statements are true then it is inevitable that some people who prefer women are women and some people who prefer men are men. These are not even different sexual preferences. If I am attracted to the same person as a female friend, we are having the same sexual preference.

The problem we have as a society with sexual preference and almost any other LGBTQ2 issue is that we have created artificial communities through historic persecution and cultural prescriptivism. My grandparents would have told you that all men prefer women and, I suppose, no decent woman wanted anything other than to submit to one man. Both those assumptions, dictates really, were false; both products of narrow minds and ignorance.

When we talk about gender, it’s binaryness or spectruminess we are missing the point. These terministic screens we are constructing depend on the divisions we have inherited in our societies that are based in a worship of conformity. Primarily they are based in the repulsive human proclivity of defining criteria for damnation.

All that is really true is that there is variability. If humans are not statistically uniform as my Salvationist ancestors desperately wanted to make them, then gender identity variation is just as inevitable and unremarkable as the imperfect correlation between sex and sexual preference.

If intolerance, persecution and religious prescriptivism were to ebb away, the only time you would ever need concern yourself with another person’s gender identity or sexual preference would be if you were trying to get together with them.

Turning a light off.

Imagine if every time you did this, when you flipped a light switch off, the light stayed on and the switch asked, “Do you want to turn the light off?” requiring you to flip the switch a second time. No one would put up with that annoyance. It would be the most infuriating passive-aggressive bullshit ever. This is the kind of thing someone would implement to drive you mad.

But this strategy is commonplace in software interfaces. As an example, on a Mac the default setting for Empty Trash is to ask you if you want to empty the trash. Properly then the menu item should read, “Ask me if I want to empty the trash.” This is messed up.

You can, and should, change this particular default behavior. Putting items into the trash is a deliberate operation. The trash is not a storage location. No one would, or perhaps I should say should, ever put any file they want to keep, in the trash. And putting something in the trash and emptying the trash is already a two-step process. If you can mess that up, adding a paternalistic, “Are you sure?” dialogue is not going to help you?

And how is this useful interface design? Every time my workflow is interrupted to repeat an instruction this way, I immediately think something like, “Why would I have asked you to ‘Empty Trash’ if I did not want to?”

At the very least interfaces should allow you to disable such warnings whenever they come up. Some do, but making users repeat themselves seems to be a core strategy in interface design..

Command-shift-q opens a Log-Out dialogue on a Mac, and this is fine. However if I deliberately navigate to and choose ‘Log Out User Name’ in the menu, up pops the same dialogue, asking me if I want to do the thing I just told the machine to do.

In bizarre contrast, command-option-shift-q effectively pulls the plug on a mac shutting down unceremoniously without giving you the option to save anything. This cannot be disabled and can be very upsetting if you are working in a 3D app where command-option-shift-w is a thing.

These two examples represent diametrical strategies and are inexplicable as they occur in the same OS. On the one hand we have the passive aggressive insistence on making you repeat commands you could not have chosen accidentally. On the other hand is the impossibility of disabling a keyboard shortcut you could not possibly want to use, and could quite easily enter accidentally. These choices are both dreadful design. I would be ever so pleased if designers stopped putting such in software.

Road tolls are a solution to what?

You may think that road tolls are a good idea.

You may think that, as Toronto mayor John Tory asserts, those people coming into the city use the roads paid for by local property taxes. Those commuters should have to help pay for the roads they use.

You may understand that there are too many cars producing too many emissions and imagine that tolls will work as a deterrent. People will carpool or take transit to avoid the tolls.

You may have concluded that the City needs new revenue streams and that tolls are a necessary or desirable way of raising capital to fund infrastructure investment. Toll revenue can be used to pay for the Don Valley and the Gardener. And also that same money can be used to pay for expanded transit.

Superficially these seem reasonable.

First, please explain to me how commuters working in Toronto do not contribute to the economy of the city. While they do not pay Toronto property taxes if their homes are elsewhere, the fact that they spend their working lives at Toronto businesses means that the majority of their contribution to the economy is localized in Toronto. The City is the principal beneficiary of their labour.

Moreover these people do pay property taxes where they live, often amounts similar to those paid by Torontonians on much higher valued properties in areas with much more robust services. That they should subsidize another municipality additionally is tyrannical.

This attitude is emblematic of the worst kind of us-and-them regionalism. It is petty. Moreover as a principal it means that when tens of thousands of Toronto property tax payers head out to cottage country, they should have to pay a toll to use each regional and municipal road they did not pay for in their property tax.

Now, consider commuters. I live in Ajax. I could not be better connected to Union Station and Danforth/Main by GO. Inevitably if I am going to either I take transit because that is the most practical option by a long shot. This is absolutely not true of most of the Toronto area. People driving into Toronto are mostly not doing so because they want to. They, like myself, likely live where they do because they could not possibly afford to live closer to downtown.

Most commuters who drive in on the DVP in particular are going somewhere they could not reasonably or practically go to by transit. My wife at one point considered a job that would have been quite near the Bloor GO. Can you get there from the east in the morning? No you cannot.

When I started driving gas was 22¢/L. Gas prices five and six times that have not changed when or where I have to go and the impracticality of doing so, except in specific cases, without driving. Increased cost in the form of tolls will not accomplish this either.

You cannot make anything better by making something else worse. Ideally anyone in Ontario should be able to go out their front door on foot and get anywhere else in Ontario in a reasonable time frame at a reasonable price on transit. The only way you get there from here is to consistently improve and expand transit. As part, or more often as the entirety of a transit strategy, making alternatives to transit more difficult or more costly without providing a realistic and practical transit alternative is doing nothing useful.

And finally, revenue. How is Toronto to pay for the roads that were downloaded onto it? How is the City to fund transit expansion? For transit expansion is desperately needed.

To justify the need for more transit I will just make this argument. Some time ago 20% of trips into or within Toronto were via transit. Lets say you then wanted to reduce automobile use from 80% of trips to 60% of trips, which would still leave cars the principal method of getting around. It is basic math that to increase transit trips from 20% to 40% you are likely to need twice as much transit. So, that would cost ballpark twice as much in investment.

So, are tolls going to pay for that? The 2016 TTC expenses were $1,749,274,000.00. The Gardiner/DVP tolls are projected to bring in $200,000,000.00. That is about 11% of the TTC budget and does not include funding the roads… So, no, this is not a revenue solution.

But Toronto needs a revenue solution. This is not the only area of spending where the city is not keeping up. So why does the City not have enough money? Transfer payments from the Province are not what they should be. The provincial and federal governments are underfunded. Why is that? Why is not enough money trickling down to municipalities?

Part of that can be found in Steven Harper’s firewall letter. It was his explicit purpose in going to Ottawa to impoverish and thereby diminish the government in Ottawa. But this is not only his doing. Canadian’s high-income tax rates are much lower now than they were in the 1980’s. There has been a relentless campaign to relieve the wealthy of their tax obligations. This includes far better ways for the wealthy to shelter their incomes from tax. And corporate income tax rates are at century lows. Formerly the CIT was around 40%. Today it is about 22%.

The richest Canadians and the corporations they control hold the biggest share of the country’s wealth and we keep decreasing how much of that is taxed and at what rate.

Governments do not have a spending problem. We need to double and treble transit infrastructure investment for instance. Governments have a revenue problem. And that problem has been deliberately caused by lowering income taxes for the wealthy and their corporate interests.

So what about tolls then? What are they for? What are any user fees for? This is how we put the cost of tax cuts onto the people least able to pay. Tolls exist to fund tax cuts for high-income people and corporations.

If that is what you want, lower taxes for the 1%, by all means be in favour of tolls.

copyright died

I am not certain what the benefit is for society to go on supporting copyright the way it has been going. Copyright, and patent law, now collectively intellectual property rights, have gone badly wrong.

The legal instruments that originally protected peoples’ right to profit from their work, as an incentive to innovation were a great idea. My career was based on copyright, allowing me to sell and license the work I did. For many years, customers normally paid for a single-use of my artwork. If they wanted to reuse my work they needed to pay again for another use. If another customer wanted to use my work, I was free to profit from my right. That way I could earn a living.

Then contracts began to include boilerplate that meant, instead of paying for the right to use my artwork, customers were buying all the rights, transferred without limitation from me to them. As a contract stipulation such a provision undermined my right to profit from my work, or for that matter to use it at all. It has been more than a decade since I retained the ownership of any of my creative work. At the same time, the companies, mainly publishers, who purchased my work, enjoy intellectual property rights on work they never created.

Had I retained the copyright, it would have expired some decades after my death. However since in seven decades there will be no record of who originally created the work and owned the copyright, or when they died, it is hard to see how the corporation’s rights will ever expire.

My work is of no great cultural value, however it is important to note that since the USA increased the limit on copyright from 50 to 70 years, it is nearing two decades since any part of contemporary culture has entered the public domain there. This is stifling to cultural innovation. And the US government is keen to export its copyright law to as many other countries as possible. This is a key provision of the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

As for patent law, current interpretations of what is patentable and what is covered are responsible for all the non-imaginary problems associated with GMOs as well as the grave ills proliferating in the pharmaceutical industry.

We need to fix the broken parts of intellectual property law. It should not be possible for all copyright to end up on the ledgers of corporations. It should not be possible for patent law to make indentured servants of farmers. However if we cannot reset the rules protect innovation and motivate individuals as they were originally intended, then perhaps we would be better off scrapping what we have now and starting again.

Why Zoos

Recently I saw a wonderful video, “Potoka Giraffe Runs at Brookfield Zoo.” The weather at their zoo had improved enough that the giraffes could be safely let out of the barn into their yard, and Potoka was galloping about with pure joy.

Yet many of the comments on the video were extremely negative, declaiming that captivity was cruel and captive animals should be set free to live in an idyllic Lion-Kingesque wilderland. I do not think that these commenters were mostly haters or trolls.

I completely understand where this ideological impulse comes from. As a child I visited the Buffalo Zoo several times. The exhibits there were mostly cement boxes with cage fronts where, for instance, tigers lay uncomfortably on display for hours. It was difficult to see how the lives of those animals could be anything but miserable.

There are probably many zoos around the world with similar conditions today. I would not like to google ‘worst zoo.’ However for decades now, developed-world zoos have been running with rather more noble and beneficial objectives than displaying sullen wildlife. Zoos serve several important functions.

Zoos are hubs for intensive research. They are the bases for many important conservation projects that breed and release threatened species repopulating ecologically depleted areas. They serve as safe harbours for individuals who for one reason or another cannot live in the wild. And perhaps most importantly they expose increasingly urbanized people to wildlife and provide populations with educational resources.

It is possible today to live your life entirely disconnected from anything outside urbanity. This impairs people’s ability to have a sensible proportionate understanding of many important issues in conservation, ecological management or environmental issues. It helps people to feel outrage when a Cooper’s Hawk preys on House Finches at their bird feeder. It helps climate-change deniers and industrialists ignore habitat loss.

Zoos have the potential to mitigate ignorance of the natural world and help people make better decisions. But they cannot do that without funding and they cannot get funding without broad public support.

When the Toronto Zoo opened, it was a model of enlightened design. But over the years it has become less so. A big part of this is a loss of funding. Funding cuts are enabled by both public apathy and a failure to understand the value and importance of Zoos.

And while wildlife stands to suffer considerable harm from such an ideology, in the long run, failure to invest in conservation organizations that do something more than role-play publicity stunts, will impoverish us all.

What is undemocratic about ISDS and the TPP?

To explain this I am first going to discuss another undemocratic instrument, the Ontario Municipal Board. The OMB is a court that developers have access to when they want to contest municipal planning decisions and regulation. The OMB is unelected and unaccountable. Its decisions are final.

Developers use the OMB both as a threat to encourage municipal governments to act in the interests of developers and as a tool to set aside municipal decisions they are unhappy with. So while “Ontario Municipal Board” might sound like it serves municipalities in some way, what it does in fact is administratively overrule the democratic processes in Ontario municipalities.

By way of example, Ajax has a municipal plan that was a result of a good deal of research and, well, planning. But those plans were based on the public interest and adopted by a democratic government. They do not take into account what might temporarily be the most profitable for a particular developer. So developers take the town to the OMB to have democracy overruled. And even if they do not succeed, they put the town to what might often be considered insupportable expense.

ISDS provides a much more horrifying example of this kind of court. At least the OMB operates under the Ontario government. Parliament could redefine or abolish the OMB if it found it necessary. TPP member states would never have such recourse with respect to ISDS. Litigation is expensive; punitive decisions burdensome. And no state has any recourse except to pay and pay, or make undemocratic decisions that represent extraterritorial corporate interests, not those of the public.

Liberal MP David Lametti, who obviously supports the TPP and CETA, says that ISDS is “part of the democratic process…and frankly it’s a healthy part of the process, if it forces governments to reflect on what they do and what they think they should do.”

This is a terrifying prospect. That Lametti thinks it reasonable that governments trying to act in the public interest should reflect on what punishments they might face in doing so is appalling. Moreover that Lametti does not understand democracy to be government acting exclusively in the best interest of its citizens without prejudice from private or corporate interests fills me with dread.