Saturday, July 29, 2006

Fun With FReepers Redux

It was just too tempting, and I had to see what would happen.

About a year back I wrote about my experiences trying to engage in friendly banter on Free Republic. Those who are familiar with the site are well aware that they have a very low tolerance for people who disagree with their general "conservative" principles, and would rather see genocidal messages of the right posted than even the most reasoned and moderate liberal arguments. I don't often go there these days, but I was curious to see how they would be reacting to a totally non-political topic - Floyd Lanids's positive test.

First off there were the predictable lines like, "Of course Landis tested high in testosterone. The French don't have much." That was funny, but after about the dozenth different commenter posted basically the same joke, it got a bit old. Not to mention the fact that millions of women would probably beg to differ, but that's a discussion for another day. Once they got down to serious discussion on topic, it was pretty much as monolithic as one would expect from Free Republic. They all seem to think that the French are somehow out to get Landis or, at the very least, they buy his story that his high testosterone level is natural - despite the fact that it only showed itself to be naturally high on one particular day. (You can go to Free Republic and do a search under "Landis" if you want to read some of their nonsense.)

What's shocking is that these good ol' guilty-before-proof, hang-'em-without-any-appeals, law & order types were so willing to give Landis the benefit of the doubt. I can't blame them for that, because everyone deserves the presumption of innocence, but it seems so out of character for these folks. I don't think they were sticking up for defendants' rights when it came to O.J. Simpson or Scott Peterson or the prisoners in Guantanemo Bay. And experience teaches us that athletes who test positive always proclaim their innocence, but are usually full of shit. (Maybe they should test the B sample for shit instead of testosterone to confirm.) That being said, the Free Republic loyalists seem convinced that this is all a scam perpetrated by "the French" to discredit another American Tour de France champion like they tried to do with Lance Armstrong. There are a lot of problems with that hypothesis. First of all, the International Cycling Union is not just French. Secondly, unlike with Armstrong where there is just speculation and fuzziness regarding results of a test six years after the fact, they have an actual positive test from Landis. So "the French" aren't in the business of planting evidence on American cyclists - I don't recall Mark Fuhrman moving there (speaking of Simpson.)

So it turned into a flag-waving bunker in which the world was out to get successful Americans. I got myself a new login and posted two comments. The first one mentioned the fact that plenty of other riders weren't even allowed to start the race without ever testing positive, and a few of them have even been cleared since then. I also mentioned the name Michelle Smith (Irish gold medal winning swimmer) as an example of a non-American who constantly dogged drug suspicions without ever testing positive, so this wasn't a question of being out to get Americans. My other comment posed this question: If Oscar Perreiro had finished ahead of Landis and tested positive for testosterone, would you be defending him with the same vigour or gleefully proclaiming Landis as the champion?

Those were perfectly reasonable posts, don't you think? This is a non-political subject, and I don't think either side of the issue is partisan in any way. However, the FReepers seem to believe that to speak out against Landis is to speak out against America. I wasn't even speaking against him, just bringing up hypotheticals and illustrations. But I was guilty of questioning FReeper wisdom and, as we've all heard, you're either with them or against them. My comments were deleted, and my posting privileges revoked.

That's all I need to say. I report, you decide.

Thursday, July 27, 2006

A Black Cloud

I came across this article that every Canadian should be aware of:

U.S. doing better than Canada in cutting toxic pollution, says NAFTA report

While it might be buried down near the bottom of the news of the day, to me it sticks out like a sore thumb. So much for our being more environmentally enlightened than our neighbours to the south.

U.S. manufacturing facilities cut their releases of toxics by 21 per cent between 1998 and 2003, while Canadian manufacturers cut releases by 10 per cent.

This might be the most damning blemish on the sorry legacy of the Chretien/Martin Liberal government. Although they talked a good game about the environment and the importance of Kyoto and other pollution-reducing measures, they fiddled whilst Rome choked. And the situation won't likely improve under the Conservative government.

But there was a very interesting statement within the article:

[NAFTA Commission for Environmental Co-operation executive director William] Kennedy said U.S. pollution is generally subject to greater regulation while Canada relies more on voluntary actions by industry. "You have greater reductions when that control is there than when you don't."
The first sentence is counterintuitive based on what we believe about the two countries, but there it is. The second sentence is only counterintuitive to Milton Friedman and his disciples. It should be pointed out that this study covered the period from 1998 to 2003, when environmental policy put forward by the Clinton/Gore administration was mostly still in effect. It will be interesting to see what happens over the next five years after some relaxing of regulations by the current U.S. administration.

There are a couple of important things to be learned by this. First, we have more evidence that environmental improvements come about because of regulations, and not the corrections of the almighty free market. And secondly, standards can be put in place without destroying the economy. It remains to be seen if the facts will get in the way of a good Conservative "pro-business" platform. But with those myths put to bed, we can focus on the much larger issue - things are still bloody bad.

"The cocktail includes the smog-producing chemicals, but you've also got the carcinogens like lead and benzene, developmental toxins like mercury and lead, which are particularly worrisome because of their effects on children's health and their I.Q."
There's probably a joke in there about how this helps certain parties grab the next generation of voters, but this is serious business. When you add up the volume of pollutants here, and then consider all the places in the world where regulation is next to nil, you see that we are in big trouble if the tide doesn't turn.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Right Time, Wrong Place?

It's a very scary time in many parts of the world, but the focus right now is on the Middle East. The Israel-Hezbollah-Lebanon situation is getting the most attention, so much so that Iraq is being referred to in some circles as the "forgotten war". I'm not sure where that relegates the hostilities in Afghanistan and all of the other conflicts occurring now on our planet, but it's a sobering thought nonetheless.

Obviously, I take a special interest in what's going on in Israel. For my money, Israel has a right to defend itself from terrorist action and it's hard to fault them for carrying out this operation in Lebanon. If they did not do this, the populace would justifiably question how well they were being protected by their government and military. So I'm not going to say that they are wrong. But I think it's legitimate to ask whether this mission will achieve long term security from rocket attacks and other perils and, therefore, whether one can objectively justify the human cost.

This is not about moral equivalence. I think the Israelis and their leaders want to live in peace, whereas some of the other actors in that part of the world like Hamas and Hezbollah have no such interest. I think Israel is morally superior, and it is for that reason that I hold Israel to a higher standard than just saying "we're not as bad as they are."

I was speaking with my mother about the conflict the other day, and she said something that just isn't like her. When discussing how Hezbollah is really just fighting a proxy war for Iran and Syria to take the focus off Iran, my mom essentially expressed her desire to essentially wipe all of them out with nuclear weapons. Considering the despair of the situation and the seemingly endless prospects of eternal attacks on Israel from terrorists, that is a common emotional response. But even if that event did occur, would Israel actually achieve peace in the aftermath? Not likely. Even if your conscience allowed you to justify the means, you will still not have accomplished the desired end.

Ever since 9/11, we've been reminded again and again that the war on terror is unlike wars between sovereign nations, but Israel is executing the current operation as if it were at war with Lebanon. To their credit, they have tried to be measured and selective about their targets, but they are destroying civilian infrastructure that took years to build after civil war, and displacing hundreds of thousands of people, many of whom have no beef with them. I can't say I'm totally comfortable with that, especially since I'm not convinced that this is all going to work. I'm sorry if I'm mixing metaphors here, but I see it this way: throwing out the baby with the bathwater while the pipes are still leaking sewage into the tub. This might put a temporary halt to rocket attacks from Lebanon, but we've seen enough in the last few years to know that nothing and nobody in the realm of terrorism is unexpendable.

In a way, Israel and its allies are weaselling a bit here. If they believe that the Lebanese government is complicit in the strength of Hezbollah in that country, then Israel should openly declare war on Lebanon. If not, then instead of bombing Lebanese infrastructure in order to halt supplies to Hezbollah, they should attack the supply lines at their source in Syria and/or Iran, and their allies in the West should step up and help them. But Israel decided to be halfway bold by fighting the easier fight, and its allies (including Canada and the U.S.) chose to practice strength through passivity. They are acting like the arresting officer who allows the rape victim's husband a few minutes in a locked room with the cuffed assailant.

To be clear again, I do not fault Israel for taking the fight to Hezbollah. It was a necessary thing to do. But with the way in which it is being fought, I suspect that Israeli citizens will not feel much safer a year from now, and the people in Lebanon will be wondering what the point was.

Monday, July 24, 2006

So, As I Was Saying...

Hello again. It has been a good long while since I've posted in this space, although it seems like just six months ago. I feel kind of bad about not keeping up with my blogging, especially because I have a good handful of readers who have missed my drivel. After all, a day without Jaymeister's Jabberings is like a day without gnats. But I have returned to provide all of the pithy wisdom you'd expect to find here. (Then again, I've been doing that for the last six months as well.)

I guess I should explain my absence from actively blogging. At first it was mostly an issue of time. I moved into a new condominium, and the time spent on preparing for that was taken from the time I could use to write my blog and surf around for inspiration. Since moving into my condo, I've taken advantage of the fact that I have gym equipment and a swimming pool on the premises, so that takes up a chunk of my time on almost a daily basis. I also have a longer commute into work which cuts an additional 40-60 minutes out of my day, depending on traffic. Finally, I have made a concerted effort to get more sleep, since I would often stay up way too late to finish blogging. What all of this amounts to is that I can't devote the necessary time to do a daily blog in the way that I did before.

But there is more to it than that. As I have mentioned in this space before, I sometimes get discouraged by what I see in the blogosphere. The ideological/partisan battles that are being fought are more nasty and illogical than ever. But I was already in that bath and accustomed to the temperature. After getting away from reading blogs for the better part of two months, it was like trying to step back into a hot bath - very unpleasant and repellent. I was disgusted with political blogs, both Left and Right. I was sick of people being so certain of things, and so intolerant of other ideas even when presented in good faith. It seems that winning the argument is more important than finding the truth. The only thing that kept me from being permanently turned off was the ironic humour I saw in people exhibiting the same faults that they had called out on their ideological adversaries. What sticks in my craw the most is that political bloggers are completely devoid of two things - self-examination, and self-effacement. (But an ignoramus like me really shouldn't say things like that.)

Eventually I was able to stomach blogs enough to read them semi-regularly, and occasionally post a comment here or there as my alter ego Drago. But I made the determination not to get into a pissing match with anybody - i.e. if somebody either responds to me disrespectfully, or responds to their own straw man rather than what I actually posted, I just ignore them and let them stew. Actually, most of the comments I've posted have been about pointing out this type of thing rather than the topics themselves. Now that I am back to being an active blogger I will resume posting as Jaymeister.

The biggest issue for me now is what to do with this little corner of the virtual ether. For one thing, my posts won't likely be as frequent as before, but they will be regular, so you can return to checking this space every day and being disappointed when a new post appears. But then there's the matter of content. Having looked back on some of my earlier entries, it is clear that I'm guilty at times of trying to score points rather than advance truth. I think I've made an effort to be intellectually honest, but I can see occasions where that has slipped. So I would be a hypocrite to continue blogging as I have in the past. Therefore, I will attempt to limit my political links to items of a "positive" nature; that is, items that advocate an idea or position rather than attempting to discredit a differing idea or position, or take down an individual or group. (From a logical point of view, tearing the other guy down does nothing to build you up.) I will also get around to altering my sidebar links accordingly. That will be my tiny contribution in the name of civility. But for non-political content, all bets are off. That means Dr. Phil and Neil Diamond are fair game. Thank you for reading.