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Posts Tagged ‘Harper government’

RFT Rant – Ep 239 – Book Burning and Harper’s war on science

Posted by Don McLenaghen on January 20, 2014

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This week my rant is about yet another front on Harper’s war on science. 7 of 9 of our world-famous Department of Fisheries and Oceans [DFO] libraries were closed in the autumn of 2013. This was ostensibly to reduce cost. The government pledged to digitize the contents of these libraries to ensure no intellectual property was lost.

In the modern information age, buildings holding books with information does seem a tad out dated. Digitalizing information not only makes it easier to store, allows more to be stored but also makes it more accessible. In theory.

If this were where the story ended, you my loyal readers may ask what’s the rant?

Well, it is coming to light that only a fraction of the contents of these libraries have been electronically copied. It seems that only 1 in 20 books were converted. Some have been transferred to other libraries, most were given away for free to anyone who walked in and took them from the shelves and a large number are or were burnt or sent to landfills. I have yet to confirm the book burning but it does add a touch of historical resonance.

The government claimed the libraries were not used but based this conclusion on the number of people who asked for help. Let us remember these are largely academic resources used by people who know their way around a library…not likely to need much help. I suspect is was the only measure they could find that seemed low enough to support their political agenda.

Okay…that was a little partisan and I want to make a clarification. Much of this rant is centered on a report from the Tyee…a center-left publication and based on interviews with scientist working for or with the DFO. I have collaborated the central themes, closure and dispersal of books, but I have yet to be able to confirm it in its entirety. That said, Harper’s government has a history of this kind of stuff, so I am willing to give the report the benefit of the doubt.

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The report stated that a number of the scientist interviewed could not understand why the libraries were being closed at all. The cost savings would only be in the order of $400,000 a year in a budget of almost $2 billion. And that, to quote “Most saw in the actions a political agenda by the Harper government to reduce the role of government in Canadian society, as well as the use of scientific evidence in making policy.”

One interviewee explained how the system works. The library itself is not actually run by DFO but by Information Management and Technology Services (IMTS). This takeover occurred in 2009.

IMTS operates under a corporate business model. Under this model, one sector of government sells its services to another sector of government with the objective of providing the least amount of service for the largest possible service fee. This would seem to be a very bad business model for running a government department that has the prime objective of long-term public good — giving the public the best return possible on their tax dollar across all sectors of government through working co-operatively.

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Getting back to the Harper agenda, in isolation this would be conjecture and perhaps conspiracy thinking, but couple that with the fact that the government has shut down a number of research groups related to this content, most infamously the Experimental Lakes Area, the Hazardous Materials Information Review Commission and the DFO’s entire contaminates research program. There has also be much reduced funding for the Freshwater Institute and the Centre for Offshore Oil, Gas and Energy Research.

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To bring it home, the last one, also known as COOGER, is the group that would do research into things like offshore oil spills and environmental impact of oil shipping…you know, that thing that they are planning to do in Northern BC to ship Alberta oil to the Asia…Northern Gateway…the one where they promise a ‘quote’ world class response to any oil spill. Hard to have any kind of response when you cut the funding to one of the main research entities focused on that oil-spill issue.

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And those works that are transferred to other libraries, access becomes much more difficult. Scientist or the public will no longer be able to walk into a local DFO library, scan the shelves for a pertinent book and grab it. No, now they will have to know what they want ahead of time, make an inter-library loan…time and effort many will not likely go to thus making scientific research that much more difficult.

To quote acclaimed Dalhousie University biologist Jeff Hutchings…”It is always unnerving from a research and scientist perspective to watch a government undermine basic research. There are many materials online but just as many books and materials that are not. The idea that you can send an email to Ottawa and get a book somewhere down the road is a myth. The idea that all requests will be honored also won’t happen.”

He goes on to say “From a science and research perspective these closures will have no positive impact on the quality of research but they will have a negative impact. Losing libraries is not a neutral act.”

Hutchings saw the library closures fitting a larger pattern of “fear and insecurity” within the Harper government, “about how to deal with science and knowledge.”

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He sees a pattern, the closing of research groups, cutting of funding for environmental research, the muzzling of scientists which we have talked about many times before here on Radio Free Thinker. The near abandonment of climate change research and although Harper is not as bad as Australia’s new Prime Minister who in a 2010 rally stated “The climate change argument is absolute crap, however the politics are tough for us because 80 per cent of people believe climate change is a real and present danger”.

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Harper said last year that “Canada applauds the decision by Prime Minister Abbott to introduce legislation to repeal Australia’s carbon tax,”

Australian business are also lobbying the government to loosen or at least not tighten greenhouse gas regulations to ensure maximum fossil fuel extraction…they have dirty coal, we have tar sands. In this they both state that nothing major needs to be done. Harper is just ensuring there is NOT the science to contradict his policies.

Infamously Harper abandoned the Kyoto Protocols which called for a 6% reduction of CO2 based on 1990 numbers and pulled out of his arse a 17% reduction based on 2005. That translates into a level over 20% higher…assuming my math is correct…higher than 1990 levels.

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All these things indicate that the Harper government strongly regards environmental science as a threat to unfettered resource exploitation.

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A recent Sunday editorial in the New York Times said “This is more than an attack on academic freedom. It is an attempt to guarantee public ignorance,”

“It is also designed to make sure that nothing gets in the way of the northern resource rush — the feverish effort to mine the earth and the ocean with little regard for environmental consequences.”

One last note, a number of interviewed scientists spoke anonymously because they feared that their funding or other government support could be hurt if their names were connected with the concerns they were eager to share.

Remember our reporting on loyalty oaths to the government and not to the nation? Here you see it come home to roost.

Thanks to our electoral system we cannot stop Harper’s dismantling of the government…of sciences, but we sure as hell can raise a stink about it…make sure everyone knows what he is doing.

The sadist part of my research into this is the absence of coverage by the mainstream media. Even the CBC barely covered the story of the closures let alone the impacts and follow up on trashing government funded research.

As Harper’s arrogance grows, his disrespect for Canada and Canadians…beyond the business class and moneyed elites… has become blatant and stark. But cracks are showing and if and when criminal charges are laid regarding the Duffy Scandal, mayhaps the mighty Harper maybe kicked out by his own party.

Regardless, never forget…2015!

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RFT Ep 235 – Pseudo-scientist Take-down Edition

Posted by Don McLenaghen on December 4, 2013

Download the episode here! 

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Don’s Rant is about the Harper Governments silence about  how the American Home Land Security seem have complete access to Canadian private medical records. Is this a sign of weakness, incompetence, arrogance or is the Harper Government breaking the law by willingly sharing this information.

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Find out more:

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We discuss an exchange between Jerry Coyne and Deepak Chopra at The New Republic. Coyne does a great take-down of Pseudo-scientist paranoia, a irrelevant rebuttal by Deepak and Coynes take-down of Deepak’s rebuttal.

Find out more:

 

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Best of RFT – the 200s

Posted by Don McLenaghen on July 30, 2013

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This week a recasting our some of our best bits from episodes past:

  • Librarians and loyalties,
  • Panda Politics,
  • Suing for information
  • The Parliamentary Budget Office – pillar of democracy

Download the episode here!

Librarians and loyalties

Ottawa,fonction publique,Mix & Remix,pastiche,Elizabeth II,Stephen HarperDon reviews changes to the Code of Conduct for Library and Archives of Canada. The insistence of a ‘duty of loyalty’ to the government as opposed to the nation of Canada strikes as tones of totalitarianism. In the light of many other policies, decisions and legislation  one can not help but get the feeling Harper things HE is the nation, civil servants can’t be trusted and the less the people know the better for the government.

Find out more:

Panda Politics

547676_584686418216612_1260358425_nPandas has been an intricate part of Chinese diplomacy for centuries. Since the 1970′s the People Republic has used them to open the doors to the non-communist world.

Two of the bi-coloured fur balls are not in Canada; what does it mean, why did we get them and what did we give up? Could our Prime Minster spend his time doing something more important than pimping Pandas?

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The Parliamentary Budget Office – pillar of democracy

Direction,budget,ParlementCanada’s first Parliamentary Budget Officer has recently stepped down. It is likely that his office will be “wound down” because it proved to be too embarrassing for the Harper Government even though it was the Conservative Governments own creation. We discuss what it did, why it did it and  why you should care.

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Suing for information.

101007InformationcWe discuss the efforts of Canada’s Information Commissioner, Suzanne Legault to investigating whether the Harper government is living up to the law of the land. Legault is currently suing the DOD over a 1100 day extension on a 30 day Access to Information Request which she claims is deliberately obstructive and violating the principles of the Access to Information act.

We talk about how the Harper government has systematically restricted our access to information and the people who make it. As well as the push back by Legault as well as Democracy Watch and U of Vic’s Environmental Law Clinic.

Find out more:

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Attack on political advocacy

Posted by Don McLenaghen on May 23, 2012

The Harper government is attempting to pressure environmental groups to stop bothering Conservative donors like Big Oil. May be a bit too pointed? However, one of the aspects of government…particularly politicians…politicians are people…well, people can be vindictive.

The recently successful though partly thwarted mobilization of environmental groups to stop both the Keystone Pipeline to the US and the Northern Gateway Pipeline across northern BC has made our government a bit…well….bitchy.

In January, Natural Resources Minister Joe Oliver issued a public letter – diatribe, more like – denouncing “environmental and other radical groups” who “hijack” regulatory bodies and “use funding from foreign special interest groups to undermine Canada’s national economic interest.”

As part of the new budget they are trying to limit ‘foreign’ interference in Canadian politics by ramping up a crackdown on charities that do “too much” political advocacy.

According to Canada’s charity laws, a charity can only dedicate 10% of its resources to political advocacy. There are exceptions made for ‘exceptional’ events and I quote “For example, an environmental conservation charity may decide to mobilize public support in favour of an international environmental treaty by taking out a full-page advertisement in a national newspaper (thereby devoting more than 10% of its total resources that year to political activities) because it reasonably considers that ratifying the treaty would help the charity achieve its goals.”

This budget includes an additional $8,000,000 for Revenue Canada to ensure charities are being only 10% political. A lot of this money is to perform audits which not only cost the taxpayer money to perform but is also a burden on the charity which must pay for its end of the audit. I don’t think I would mind this so much if it did not seem like such cheap politics.

But then again, maybe it is not cheap politics but political opportunism. The public know this is petty but not part of some grand scheme to weaken our regulator defences? Or is it?

They are eliminating the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, originally established in the 1990s to advise the prime minister, which regularly produced reports that challenged the business and environmental policies of the government, particularly regarding climate change.

Couple this with that absence of federal criticism or even acknowledgment of the millions of dollars corporations are spending to promote their industries…corporations that are almost exclusively foreign owned. When our government goes to treaty talks we have taken up the habit of bringing along industry lobbyist. Most notably during the recent talks to limit the arms trade to troubled regions of the world; we brought a gun lobbyist. Coincidently we also took the stand that selling ‘hunting and sporting’ guns should be unregulated. No foreign influence I am sure.

Add to these the new budget  eviscerated the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act as well as it looks like the majority of job cuts due to spending cuts in the budget are targeting scientists who study thinks like the effects of pollutants on the environment.

So, again why should we as skeptics care?

We often will accuse ‘less skeptic’ types of creating boogeymen where this is none. That there is no great conspiracy to take over the world, pollute our water or kill our children.

To make this claim though, we must have a relative confidence in our regulatory system and the machinery of democracy. If the only people allowed to talk in our democracy are the mega-corps…the only ones providing funding to research…we no longer have the certainty that there may not actually be something in the water. We may not be certain that our politicians are, mostly, working for us. We may not be certain that when the government says “this is safe” or “there is no risk to the environment” that we can trust them or even that they need worry about being truthful.

If the machinery for the public to question government…to challenge the power of the corporations…if that machinery is reduced or lost, we all lose. The changes being made to attack environmental groups will not help skepticism but merely fuel a new generation of conspiracy minded fanatics…and sadly we may not be able to honestly say they are wrong.

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Radio Freethinker Episode 167 – Global Austerity Edition

Posted by Don McLenaghen on May 22, 2012

This week:

Space X launch,
Dangers of overselling vaccination ,
- Canada’s endangered scientist,
- Austerity: does it work (Part 1 of 3 interview with Seth Klein).

Download the episode here!

Topics:
Space X Launch

Space X successfully launched the Falcon 1 rocket carrying the Dragon cargo capsule to restock the International Space Station. 

Find out more:

Dangers of overselling vaccination

New research shows that overselling vaccination causes people to be less likely to get their children vaccinated.

Find out more:

Canada’s endangered scientist

We discuss the Harper governments budget cuts and the extreme harm they are having on Canada’s scientific community and research. We focus on the Experimental Lakes Area.

Find out more:

Austerity: does it work

Don’s sits down with Seth Klein in the Radio Free Thinker virtual studio and discusses austerity: what it is, does it work and is our governments following the austerity bandwagon.

Seth Klein is director of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives for BC.

Find out more:

Skeptical Highlights:

2012 Best Illusion of the Year Contest

The contest is a celebration of the ingenuity and creativity of the world’s premier visual illusion research community. Visual illusions are those perceptual experiences that do not match the physical reality. Our perception of the outside world is generated indirectly by brain mechanisms, and so all visual perception is illusory to some extent. The study of visual illusions is therefore of critical importance to the understanding of the basic mechanisms of sensory perception, as well as to cure many diseases of the visual system. The visual illusion community includes visual scientists, ophthalmologists, neurologists, and visual artists that use a variety of methods to help discover the neural underpinnings of visual illusory perception.

Illusions of note:

Floating Star – Where when you look at a static image of a ‘blotty’ star on a blotty background, the star appears to be moving.

TBA – When you look at two moving dots directly they move in straight lines but when you look at them with your peripheral vision, they appear to be moving an arch.

The Flashed Face Distortion Effect – When you are looking at two images of faces with a small space between them. You are to focus on the central point while the images on each side are exchanged with other faces. All the images are normal people…however the effect is ‘horrific’.

2012 Best Illusion of the Year Contest

In Search of a Better World: The Utopian Imagination

Another Philosphers’ Cafe forum where Tiffany Werth of SFU asks if what we imagine can shape what is possible.

When: May 23 at 7pm

Where: Waves coffee shop at 900 Howe

Cost: Free

Canadian Copyright Law for Composers

MusicBC’s Bob D’Eith will give a workshop on navigating Canadian copyright laws.

When: May 25 from 2-4pm

Where: CMC BC Creative Hub – 837 Davie

Cost: Free

E-volving Democracy: Online Voting Public Dialogue

This is the first in the “E-volving Democracy” dialogue series highlighting current issues related to technology, democracy, and the theory and practice of collective decision-making.  This event is designed for anyone who wants to make change happen – including democracy and social justice activists, open source coders and hackers, philosophers and academics, facilitators, convenors and skeptics.

The session will include a panel discussion featuring Andrew MacLeod (legislative reporter, The Tyee); Steve Wolfman (Computer Science, SFU) and Fathima Cadre (UBC Law and anti-online voting advocate). In small group discussions, participants will identify and prioritize conditions they believe a proposed online voting system would have to satisfy before it could be used in good conscience in a public election.

When: May 26 from 2-5pm

Where: The Hive Vancouver – 128 W. Hastings

Cost: by donation

slutTALK: The (Un)Conference

In-depth conversations about rape culture, victim-blaming, and sexual stigma. Speakers will include representatives from Women Against Violence Against Women, the B.C. Coalition of People with Disabilities, and the F Word Media Collective.

When: May 26 from 1-4pm

Where: WISE Hall – 1882 Adanac

Cost: by donation


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Starving CBC to death

Posted by Don McLenaghen on May 20, 2012

The new budget announced by the Harper government will hit Canadians in several ways thanks to the new word of the day “Austerity”.  Austerity has failed in Ireland, failed in England, failed in Greece, Spain and Portugal…so it seems we will try it here because? Well, our government must technically be insane, based on the definition that if you try something that has been done again and again with the same result but you assume you will get a different outcome well you might be a redne…er insane.

Seth Klein of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives stated it best “None of these spending cuts are actually necessary.  A balanced budget could be achieved just one year later than Flaherty’s target, without inflicting any of the damage.”

BUT I will suspend my usual rant about whether we should be stimulating an economy during a recession…something all but the most ideologue Friedman-ittes recommend…no, I would like to look at what was cut and its potential impact on the skeptical community.

First, it is no secret that Harper personally and the conservative movement in general has always considered a corporate-independent source of news unacceptable or at least uncomfortable. To this aim, Harper has (and to be fair Paul Martin as Liberal finance minister and leader before him) constantly attempted to undermine the financial base of the CBC.

The CBC has gone from a completely publicly funded institution whose primary aim was to provide an independent source of news and promotion of the uniquely Canadian culture to an emaciated version of its goals.

As funding for the CBC was cut, the CBC has become more and more dependent on corporate advertising. It is not coincidental that as politicians have attempted to starve the CBC out of existence its ability to be both effective and independent of its advertisers has diminished.

In a line made famous by Grover Norquist I will paraphrase what has been attempted. They wish to shrink the CBC to a size they can drown it in the bathtub.

http://www.journaldemontreal.com/2012/04/09/caricature-10-avril-2012-2The worst effect this has on the CBC is not only the reduced funding but the unpredictability of such funding. Prior to the election Minister of Canadian Heritage James Moore stated that “We have said that we will maintain or increase support for the CBC. That is our platform and we have said that before and we will commit to that”.

Of course now that they no longer have deal with being a minority in parliament, this majority government doesn’t care. Harper’s group has shown time and again they don’t give a damn what the people want…what is best for Canada…their main, (dare I say) only concern is promoting their own agenda.

So, why should we care? I did say I would be taking a skeptical view of this issue. Well as Ethan has mentioned many times on the show before, his favorite CBC show…I suspect maybe one of his top 10 favorite show currently on, is Marketplace. Market place has taken some very tough stands that annoy corporations.

Now, as the CBC becomes more dependent on advertisers there will be pressure put upon shows like the CBC now airs to not ‘agitate’ its funding base. It is common operating practice for CTV and Global which has no show like Market Place or the Nature of Things…they know who pays the bills and jump to that master.

There is more than the independence angle. The CBC will be shedding almost 700 jobs. These are the people who do the interviewing and investigations around the world…or who will not be soon. The CBC’s ability to be a source of international independent (that is independent of other agencies like FOX news or CNN) is being destroyed. Soon the CBC will be a re-tweeter of news from other agencies or worse. Lacking the manpower to produce news, they will rely on a practice common in the USA now (and I suspect on our corporate news channels) where corporate press-releases and faux-news videos are broadcast as real news simply to fill the space and cut down on cost.

The loss of jobs also means whole regions of this country will lose their CBC presence, notably the Maritimes this time, after the prairies were decimated in previous budget cuts. We are a large county and one of the things that bound us together…created a Canadian identity was the CBC. As more and more of our voices are silenced, regionalism will grow and Canada will cease to be a culture but merely a warehouse repository for American/Asian raw materials.

And of course, let’s not forget the support the CBC gives to the Canadian arts. Regional programing like This Hour Has 22 Minutes…the Red Green Show…artist like the Barenaked Ladies, OLP, Nickelback would likely have never been if it were not for the CBC.  Now most ‘young’ people don’t think of the CBC as a cultural incubator…when was the last “hit” show produced by the CBC?

This is part of the fallout; the cutting of the CBC has been occurring since the Mulroney years…to live up to its mandate of serving public interest, the CBC first strangled its child “the arts”…in the hopes of keeping the rest of the broadcast family alive. Kids today don’t think of the CBC as entertaining because that role has already been cut to irrelevance; now the Harper government wished to finish the job…and it may well succeed if we remain silent.

Part of the problem is unreliability of the funding. The CBC never knows what its budget will be year to year. The CBC MUST play politics to ensure, or more often limit loses to, its budget. We could adopt a funding scheme like they have in the UK for the BBC.

In the UK every household watching TV must pay a licence fee…about 230$ a year. Canada, does not have the cultural history of such a licence, but a simple guarantee of a certain percentage of tax revenues as little as 0.08% or even a surtax could suffice. This would allow the CBC to know what it could expect long into the future and plan expenditures and development accordingly. It would also free it from both playing politics and being a target of politicians.

Why should we as skeptics care? As skeptics we rely on factual information from a variety of reliable sources. As Canadians we take pride in our culture. This is why we should care…why we should remember when the time comes to elect a Canadian government.

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Radio Freethinker Episode 161 – Budget Busting Edition

Posted by Don McLenaghen on April 10, 2012

This week:

-       Largest feathered dinosaur discovered,

-       Donald Trump promoting the anti-vax movement,

-       Passover myths,

-       Cuts to the CBC and

-       How budget austerity hurts skepticism.

Download the episode here!

Topics:

Paleontologist get their feathers ruffled in a big way!

Ethan takes umbrage at a recent story about the discovery of the largest feathered dinosaur. We talk about how poor science reporting clouds people’s understanding of real science. We also talk about the where and what was discovered and it’s implications.

Find out more:

 

Trump trumpets anti-vaxism

We talk about the recent verbal diarrhea from professional celebrity Donald Trump where he parrots the bad “science” of the anti-vax movement. We briefly debunk his claims and talk about the added ethical responsibilities of celebrities to ensure they do not harm their followers/fans by what they say.

Find out more:

Passover myths

Don uses the current ‘holiday’ celebration to revisit some of the cultural myths of Passover. We talk about did slaves build the pyramids, where the Jews/Israelites enslaved as a people in Egypt and lastly was the bible god as sadistic to Pharaoh as popular culture (South Park) leads us to believe.

Find out more:

CBC helps promote skepticism

We talk about how the recent budget cuts to the CBC will affect the skeptical community. We also discuss how important it is to skepticism to have a independent news/educational station in Canada.

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How austerity in the Harper budget hurts skepticism

We talk about how the recent budget cuts to health, safety and regulatory agencies will affect the skeptical community. We also discuss how important it is to skepticism to have a government…and the agencies that make it up…we can trust. How in cutting funding to things like product/nutritional labeling enforcement makes it harder to have confidence in our food as well as providing fodder to “woo” conspiracy type.

Find out more:

Skeptical Highlights:

StatsCan making more data free and online.

In February, Statistics Canada made access to most of its data free, eliminating the previous charge of $3 plus HST for every series.

To let your inner geek or outer cynic free in the data head to CanSim were the data and a tutorial on how to use the site can be found.

 

Tracking food fraud

Now that the government has abdicated its responsibility to police food labeling, I found a site that may help. It’s a database created by the U.S. Pharmacopeial Convention (USP), a non-profit scientific organization that develops standards to help ensure the identity, quality and purity of food ingredients, dietary supplements and pharmaceuticals. The Food Chemicals Codex (FCC) compendium is a new database which provides baseline information to assist interested parties in assessing the risks of specific products. It includes a total of 1,305 records from scholars, media and the public. The vast majority though, 1,054, are from scholarly research.

 

Debating euthanasia

CFI Vancouver presents Dying With Dignity debate – featuring Wanda Morrisd

Executive Director of the Dying With Dignity foundation and in opposition to the notion of dying with dignity Dr. Will Johnston, Chair of the Euthanasia Prevention Coalition, BC.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

7pm at Fletcher Theatre at Harbour Centre, Simon Fraser University

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Radio Freethinker Episode 158 – Citing Canada Edition

Posted by Don McLenaghen on March 20, 2012

This week  Selling Canadian Science, NASA sued by ‘Intelligent’ Design, St. Patrick’s day and Don’s interview with Tony Sobrado – Part 2(of 3), conspiracy theories as political ideology.

Download the episode here!

Topics:

Harper Government plan to make NRC more business friendly!

Two part talk, first it turns out in raw science Canada punched well above its weight class. Although only producing about 1/10 the papers in science as the USA or UK, our papers are cited more. We have the most influential scientist in the world based on citations…and that is everything in the world of academia.
On this topic, word has come out from Ottawa about an ongoing effort to transform the National Research Council’s directions. The NRC is a government agency that funds the majority of research in Canada. The Harper government would like to see the agency focus less on “blue sky” projects and develop a ‘concierge’ or “1-800 number” service for businesses. We take a short and balance look at how this could affect our place in the science community.

Find out more:

CFI newly “Elected” board of directors

We review the new members and the slow but steady move towards democratic governance and CFI.

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NASA Sued by “Intelligent” Design

NASA is facing a lawsuit by David Coppedge. Coppedge claims religious discrimination and wrongful dismissal when he was laid off during recent NASA budget cuts. We examine his claim and its implications for NASA, the work place and the possibility of legally imposing ‘intelligent’ design.

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St. Patrick’s Day Debate?

We have an interesting discussion about the origins of St. Patrick’s Day and should we as atheist celebrate a Catholic Feast Day? Ethan also questions if the holiday as we now have perpetuating ‘racist’ stereotypes of the Irish.

 

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Tony Sobrado interview Part 2 – Conspiracy theory as political ideology

This week we start a three part series with Tony Sobrado. Tony Sabrado Tony is a research analyst and social scientist currently based in London. Author of the soon to be published book “Who rules the world: An analysis to conspiracy theory”. He also contributes to the Huffington Post.

Part 2 – We define what a conspiracy is, the sociological history of conspiracy theory and the frame-work Tony has developed to help analyse conspiracy theories from a social/political science perspective.

Learn more about Tony Sobrado:

Skeptical Highlights:

It’s Wrong to Wreck the World: Climate Change and the Moral Obligation to the Future

Kathleen Dean Moore, co-founder of the Spring Creek Project for Ideas, Nature, and the Written Word and professor of Philosophy at Oregon State University, will talk on the importance of viewing climate change as a moral crisis and taking a moral response towards the issue.
<From the poster>
“In our generation, as Thomas Berry writes, we have done to the Earth what no previous generation has done, because they lacked the technological power, and what no future generation will be able to do, because the planet will never again be so beautiful or abundant. In the process, we have degraded, and perhaps changed forever, the great systems that sustain our lives. This is a scientific and technological crisis, assuredly.  But it is fundamentally a moral crisis, and it calls for a moral response. Why has climate-change science elicited such stunning indifference?  What calls us to act? How can we respond to the crisis in ways that honor duties of compassion, justice, and respect for human rights?  How can we discuss these values across differences?  How do we live, when we truly understand that we live in complete dependence on an Earth that is interconnected, interdependent, finite, resilient, and heart-breakingly beautiful?”

When: Wed. Mar. 21, 7pm,
Location: Alma VanDusen Room, Vancouver Public Library
Cost: Free
SFU Continuing Studies in Science and Environment Lecture Series

Seeing the Strings: Capitalism and You

Our aim is to initiate meaningful deliberation in Vancouver around how capitalism operates, and its reliance on both visible and invisible forms of domination and exploitation in order to function.

Each event will be split into three equally important components that will work to build both personal and community-wide understanding of the topics.
First, a discussion will explore the themes of the event within a historical and theoretical context. This will create a system-wide explanation or “big picture,” demonstrating not only what the specific form of oppression addressed is, but also how it operates within capitalism.
Then, a second speaker will explore the topic in a historically present context, using examples from living communities to reveal the connections between past and present, theory and practice.
The third component of the night will be a participatory workshop, with strong facilitation, involving all attendees. There will be small group discussions with small or large group movement activities that will enable individuals to explore how the topic at hand functions in their own life, to learn about the experiences of others, and to see that oppression functions systemically, affecting everyone in different ways.

When: Fri. Mar. 23, 7pm,
Location: Alma VanDusen Room, Vancouver Public Library
Cost: By donation, no one turned away for lack of funds
Vancouver Media Co-op

University of Lethbridge new chair in Alt-Med

It was recently announced that the University of Lethbridge has received funds and is creating a chair of Complementary and Alternative Health Care.

This is more of a low-light than highlight but something to keep our eyes on. Recent moves in Canada, Australian and the USA by proponents of Alt-Med are intended to bring legitimacy by association where actually achieving scientific success as failed them.

Droog gift establishes Chair in alternative health care

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Editorial – Caterpillar, lock-outs and who defends Canadians?

Posted by Don McLenaghen on February 5, 2012

Okay, so there are many things that I find disturbing and upsetting about the just announced decision of Caterpillar to shut down the Electro-Motive Diesel, Inc. plant in London. I could do an appropriate anti-corporate rant about how corporations see people…cities…society as meat for the grinder of profits. I could point out the underhanded and deliberate way Caterpillar uses its global position to undermine labour…to strip people of their ability to collectively bargain by creating production in different counties then pitting labour in those regions against each other to create the lowest possible standard of living…regardless, of the inequality of wealth created. It is obscene that a corporation like Caterpillar, which is experiencing record profits[1], feels no need to share its prosperity with those whose hands made the products that enriched the company but instead plans to strip them of what dignity they have remaining.

No, what I wish to bring to the attention of Canadians is our government…well, I say ours but I find that caricature farcical. One would expect that a body, such as government or union, would work to help its people…to ensure the prosperity, integrity and dignity of its members. The union has tried to stand up for its workers but as labour laws are, there is little they can do when confronted by a corporation that demands its work force take a 50% drop in pay or they will leave the country…”oh and by the way, leaving was our intention from the start”.

In October 2010 Caterpillar bought Electro-Motive[2] that same month it began ‘building’ an assembly plant in Indiana[3] which went online Oct 2011 ostensibly because of “Buy America” provisions imposed by US lawmakers. It is important to note though that Indiana is one the US states that have passed “Right to Work” legislation[4]; laws intended to prevent unions from organizing in their state. The plant in London, for those not in the know, is one of four facilities operated by Electro-Motive around the world; although one, a maintenance plant (immune from “Buy America”), was opened in 2010 in Mexico and the other in Indiana. Caterpillar experienced a record increase in profits of 82%[5]…but did this only on an increase sale of 52%; where did the rest of the increased profit come from? Well one possible location is the workers. The average wage in the closed Canadian plant was $32-$45/hr[6] and those of the new Indiana plant – $12-$18/hr[7]…that helps the shareholders, the CEO ($10.5 million in pay last year)[8] & board members…but those who actually do the work – F@ All.

Losing unions hurts us all

Okay, I have taken a bit of a sidetrack here. It is important to know some of the detail…that this is more than just a business decision; it is an attack on Canada and the Canadian worker. Although my views on capitalism should be well known to my readers this is how the system is set up. To push back on the power of the corporation the worker has only one option – collective power. Collective power has two main manifestations; unions which are prevented to organize globally, effectively because of draconian restrictions on the movement of labour, while capital flows freely (and recklessly) across borders. This is not the first time Caterpillar has used its global reach for union busting.

The other locus of collective power is the government. It was the Harper government that gave Electro-Motive a 5 million dollar tax break[9] to ‘save jobs’, fat lot of good that did. The conservative mantra (north and south of the border) state that give the 1%…the corporations tax breaks they will invest, employ and create better communities. This is, as a rule with few exceptions, a fallacy when applied to multinationals. Why don’t they learn!

What can the government do now? Well, then labour was ‘acting up’, Harper could not move fast enough to pass back-to-work legislation. “To save jobs and help the economy”. In this case he could seize the assets of the London plant…nationalize it (or at least collectivize it). This is not as radical or ‘petty’ as it may at first sound. Caterpillar did not resolve the continuing labour dispute; it just walked out. The government has a right and a duty to step in and ensure the community and the workers are protected and compensated. There are obligations a corporation takes on when it sets up shop; it is the role of the government to ensure those obligations are satisfied.

Second, this is an act of economic warfare.  As we are all well aware of these days, corporations have in many ways become de facto states. Caterpillar took hostage a group of Canadian workers and then economically executed them…as a warning to any other union or worker in Canada, if the company says take a 50% pay cut, you do it or will kill your livelihood! It would not be the first time a government in Canada has stepped-in to protect its populous from predatory corporations[10]. Former Premier Danny Williams did this Abitibi-Bowater in Newfoundland[11] when it threatened the people of the province[12].  The Harper government did not even have the business intelligence to ensure that when Canadian taxpayers gifted Electro-Motive with 5 Million dollars, strings would be attached to ensure the plant while profitable (and no one has argued it is not) would remain open with job security and integrity intact.

I am incensed at Caterpillar for what it has done. We can however ask and ask again why our government…the HARPER government sits back and insists that tax cuts for corporation help workers in the face of the obvious rebuttal of that as witnessed by Electro-Motive. Why he is so eager to stand up for corporations when unions attempt redress of grievances by instantly issuing back-to-work legislation. Why he has been absent when a foreign corporation takes economic hostages…almost 500 people have lost well-paying jobs not to mention the ripple effect in the community of London. If he is OUR Prime Minister…if it is OUR Government, why does it stand by in silence and do nothing?

Let your voice be heard…

http://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/inside-politics-blog/2012/02/power-politics-ballot-box-question-3.html


[1] “Caterpillar Inc. reported a 58 percent rise in quarterly earnings that blew away Wall Street expectations”
http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/01/26/us-caterpillar-idUSTRE80P0VW20120126?type=companyNews

[12] Of course the absence of the Ontario government is just as sad, however, they have not been as ideologically tied to the manta of “tax breaks improved corporate investment leads to more jobs” that Harper et al has chanted.

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Canada’s Nuclear Highway

Posted by Don McLenaghen on December 30, 2011

Recently there has been much buzz in the media about the ‘revelation’ that Canada is sending its nuclear waste to the USA and NOT informing the public about the when-&-where of it all. Now, as most know by now I am no fan of the current  Harper government. One of my biggest issues with government (any government) is its secrecy and inability to enforce basic regulations on industry. You would think then I would have a problem with this news; well surprisingly I don’t really. Why? Let me explain.

Currently we do nothing (but store) the ‘waste’. Our storage, like most of the plants in the world is ‘temporary’; temporary storage…a cooling off period of about a decade (i.e. the point where when exposed to air it would not spontaneously combust), then placed in various forms of concrete like boxes where it awaits a final home. Currently there is no real long term storage plans for our waste. In fact one of the larger expenses of a power plant is to maintain these storage facilities indefinitely with their costs to protect the environment, maintaining infrastructure and providing anti-terrorist security.

We could develop reactors that use this material in breeder reactors which would effectively reduce the waste to nothing (yes, I mean nothing relatively still there will be waste). This is done in France, Japan, Russia and the US. It is also done in India and Pakistan but largely to produce nuclear weapons not to reduce nuclear waste; so this is not a perfect solution globally but would work here. However, thanks to Fukushima, it is unlikely a nuclear power plant, breeder or otherwise, will be built in Canada this century.

As implied above, our waste could be used to make nuclear weapons via reprocessing. Thus, some could argue we are helping the US make nuclear bombs…of course this is a straw man of sorts because the USA has more nuclear waste of its own creation that it needs not more from us. They want our waste for fears that “terrorist” will attack Chalk River and carry off a kilo or so for a dirty bomb or worse.

Now, it does make sense from a Canadian perspective to let the Americans worry about what to do with all that waste. They DID (although currently don’t) have a plan to store all their waste at Yucca Mountain. In a cynical sense, it is better they spend their money trying to store it than we spend ours.

Of course things are never simple. As I mentioned the US does not currently have a plan for long term storage…well at least a place. We in Canada do have a plan; the Nuclear Waste Management Organization has a plan called Adaptive Phased Management to deal with our waste long term. However (from my research) our plan lacks a home as well.

Lastly, the secrecy around the transportation of the waste does warrant some comment. We live in a democracy where citizens are expected to be informed…especially about hazards that can have a life-threating impact on their life – I think this qualifies. That said, this is no ordinary risk like hazardous chemicals. There is the added risk of an ‘on purpose’ accident.  I don’t think “terrorism” is a credible threat at storage facilities; they seem to have adequate security features (arguable I agree, but so far so good).  I don’t think we needed to move it for fears of “al Qaeda” attacks regardless of how much the Americans lie awake at night worrying about that.

However, an attack en-route (more likely from environmentalist than ‘terrorist’) is very likely. It has happened in France and Germany (nothing worse than delays but could have been worse). So keeping the shipments a secret does not seem unreasonable in spite of the fact it does seem ‘undemocratic’ and more of ‘government keeping secrets from the public’. I do think that the details should be kept under wraps. We already knew (and should have known) beforehand the shipments would be made because they were part of a publicly available ‘trade’ agreement between the US and Canada. Our government should also inform us afterword about the shipment with a complete report about potential risks and the actual ‘outcome’ (i.e. were there any radioactive leaks) of the transportation.

Thoughts?

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