Category Archives: Politics

Debate Hashtag Fail

Last night’s leader’s debate made for some mildly entertaining background noise. Sources say Jack Layton was the winner, though I think that was just because he was able to modulate his voice to sound vaguely human. Gilles Duceppe is once again permanently surprised by everything. It’s the same old set of issues they should have been settling in parliament instead of having to get us out of bed to say anything about it. Harper’s a criminal. Ignatieff’s an immigrant. Jack wants all your money. Gilles wants all your money for Quebec. Where are we going exactly, as a country? What purpose does parliament have beyond maintaining the status quo? You can’t make healthcare more free than it is this second. Cold War’s over. Sub-prime mortgage has all but taken care of the US. We’ve already had the Winter Olympics and won Gold for Hockey. Why not do something crazy, like go to Mars, or make Canada carbon neutral? We have a country that can make all of our dreams come true, and we’re entrusting it to an aristocracy of middle managers.

There’s not much point to an election in my riding anyways. Abbotsford isn’t conservative stronghold so much as we elect our officials based on two factors: One, their advanced age. Two, their ability to fend off large predators. I’m serious, the other candidates in the riding are trying to get votes based on “issues” and “reason”. It’s kind of pathetic to watch. Abbotsford respects strength! No amount of kissing babies is going to change that. If Madeleine Hardin decides to drop a dead coyote over her podium or something, then we might have an interesting election.

Why the midterm election doesn’t matter

By all means, if you are American, you should vote today. It is your civic right and duty. It is a necessity, if Keith Olbermann is to be believed. A low voter turnout would definitely work in favor of the religious fanatics of the tea party and the villainous Koch brothers. But what do we think is going to happen after that little piece of paper drops through the ballot box? What’s going to change?

So much expectation is placed on our elected officials these days. We expect them to heal the sick, remove blight from the land, put a chicken in every pot, and a car in every garage. It’s outright lunacy to expect politicians to keep their promises when we want them to promise us the moon.

And what are the hot-button issues of this election? Healthcare? Gay Marriage? Marijuana? In Canada, we have things like gay marriage, universal healthcare, and a laissez-faire attitude to the use of marijuana. Our society hasn’t collapsed into a Marxist oligarchy, but it is by no means paradise either. These are just a few, key, niggling details to the idea of freedom in a representative democracy. Chances are you won’t be noticeably more free after these issues are sorted out than you are right now.

Change cannot come from politicians any more. Real change is going to come from you and me. So much social progress has been made in the past 40 years that we literally have more freedom than we know what to do with. We all now have the right to get an education or start a business, but how many of us are going to exercise that right? We can envision all the things we need to do to make our countries great, but who is going to make it happen? Who is going to care enough to make it work? The answer lies not in the names on the ballot, but in ourselves.

HST Rage

At first I was ambivalent about the HST. I didn’t know exactly what it was other than a combination of the GST and PST. I bought my house before the summer to avoid it. I thought the HST petition would be “fun”, that it would be nice to get a break from the Liberal party’s hegemony. There is something about taxes that inspires populist revolt. We feel the Boston tea party and the fall of the Bastille in our hearts whenever a politician dares to intimate that the government be somehow paid for the services it provides.It’s beginning to look like the HST petition was more of a referendum against our one-party legislature and Bill Vander Zalm’s return to politics than it was about helping the economy and making sure we had jobs.

This is not to say that the government is blameless. They completely botched the media coverage. They thought they could tack on an extra 7% to many goods and services without anyone noticing, when they should have been up front about the benefits from the start. Now, I’m not a tax lawyer, but from the research I’ve been able to gather, we need the HST for at least three reasons:

1) To reduce the cost of doing business in BC.

Under the PST system, BC businesses had to pay taxes on every input to their business. This includes heat, electricity, machinery, and computers. The HST eliminates these taxes and only needs to be paid on the end consumer product. This means more money for businesses so they can grow and invest in such grand things as HUMAN capital, which means better jobs for you and I. Even if you don’t have a job at this point, you could start your own business and have less costs to worry about.

2) To simplify the tax code for businesses.

Bringing in the HST and eliminating the PST takes out an entire level of bureaucracy for businesses. This frees up time and money they can use on other aspects of their services.

3) To keep tax revenue flowing from a rapidly aging population.

Like it or not, baby boomers are retiring, leaving a massive income tax revenue gap. An increased sales tax is a good way to make up the shortfall without increasing the burden on young people.

We should have known that, but they never bothered to tell us. Why should they, given how we reacted when we found out we’d be paying an extra quarter on our egg mcmuffins? The problem is that all political parties see themselves as immutable, flawless institutions, not a bunch of human beings in suits trying to make decisions.

If the HST does what it’s supposed to do and we all have more income because of it, who cares if we pay a little more sales tax? I think to complain about it gives the government a little too much credit. It’s up to us to make real changes in government. The HST is but one idea to make the province a better place and keep our government from spending money it doesn’t have. If we don’t have a better idea to take its place, all this petition is doing is tying up our supreme court and generating a little schadenfreude for bitter Liberal opponents who couldn’t organize a piss-up in a brewery, much less form a government.

Immigration

A Thai ship believed to carry 490 Sri Lankan Tamils arrived in Esquimalt Harbour in Victoria, B.C. August  13, 2010.

Whether we liked it or not, the Tamil refugee ship docked in Victoria, and  the 490 passengers made it safely into the hands of the BC correctional system. Handling that many people at once isn’t such a problem for our border and immigration services. They see about 30,000 refugee claimants a year. It still made a lot of people think good and hard about how (and if) our immigration system works.

It’s clear that there are people-smugglers are involved in this, but I don’t believe that the Tamil refugees had many options other than that tramp freighter. While I haven’t met anyone trying to immigrate to Canada, my friend Tarra had to go through the US system to be with her husband in Seattle. It was expensive and a bureaucratic pain in the ass, but I imagine it was preferable to spending three months in a crowded ship with a suspect toilet. Sri Lanka doesn’t exactly have the best human rights record, and these are members of an ethnic group that just lost a major civil war. When the Tamils in Toronto speak to the media, they often hide their faces so that their relatives back home won’t get harassed by the authorities. It doesn’t sound like they could just go to the Canadian consulate in downtown Colombo and start the immigration process.

I think the government is doing exactly what it needs to do: investigate the refugees on a case by case basis, and prosecute any snakeheads or terrorists that they find. Liberal MP Keith Martin suggested that we set up refugee camps abroad so that we can undercut the people smugglers and put them out of business. Personally, I don’t think you should need more than a clean criminal record and an A on your TOEFL to get into this country.  We have so much room. Canada’s so depopulated it’s like we’re doing a dress rehearsal for the rapture or something. Immigrants also create jobs by using government and commercial services. Our sales taxes ensure that they provide revenue for the rest of us. Taking refugees also undermines repressive regimes that we don’t like, but don’t have the money to topple militarily. It’s easy to get angry when we see the government devoting time and money to people who aren’t citizens, but if we’re committed to human rights and democracy, I can think of no better way to put our money where our mouth is.

Abstinence Gaming

Researchers at the University of Florida are working on an  video game that attempts to educate pre-teen Latina girls on how to resist peer pressure to have sex. Players will don motion capture suits to interact with the characters on the screen to practice proper social responses. Now, forget for a moment that it’s abstinence education. Forget that it’s the result of a $434,000 government grant. What we have here is a group of adults who have completely misunderstood children and video games.

The most obvious flaw in this project is the graphics. How is this game supposed to engage anyone if we’re scraping the bottom of the uncanny valley with these character designs? It seems like the researchers believe that realism is the most important aspect of engaging people through video games. Most best selling video games often feature cartoon avatars, or at the very least highly stylized human avatars. There is an entire genre of school simulation games like the Persona series that are based on simpler technology and would be way more entertaining and effective than this awkward monstrosity.

The game also seems to treat decision making as if it were some kind of pavlovian response. There are way more factors going into a child’s decision to use drugs or have sex than remembering to “just say no”. No matter how realistic the graphics might be, it’s much harder to model factors like the involvement of a parent, the availability of birth control, or the feelings you’ll have to manage when it’s a childhood friend applying the peer pressure. If you can express those concepts, your game might become entertaining, but then it’ll run the risk of being accused of glorification. Some parents think that just learning about a bad behaviour in an engaging way constitutes glorification. It’s a risk that educators run into more often than they should.

Dealing with peer pressure is an important part of being a child. The more education you have about peer pressure, the better equipped you’ll be to make good choices. However, if we design that education based only on adult assumptions about children and concepts adults are comfortable with,  all you’ll be left with is a half million dollars worth of creepy CGI corpse-children.