Sunday, October 14, 2012

A little respect for downtown residents - please!

I needed to go to Toronto today, and had to cross King Street in Waterloo at the start of my trip. But there was a run of some sort going down King, and cars weren't allowed to cross. I tried two intersections before I found one that even had a possibility of crossing, but even then the cop directing traffic only let a car through when there were no runners nearby. It took forever.

Waterloo talks the big talk about getting people to move downtown and create density nodes and all that, but then there is no respect for downtown residents. Any sort of traffic obstruction is okay on Sundays because businesses are closed. But hello! We live here, and we need to get around on Sunday too.

What would happen if you put a marathon through a suburb, blocking people from getting out of their neighbourhoods in their cars? Or past the big box stores or in the mall parking lot? We'll never know because nobody would ever do it. But downtown seems fair game for any kind of disruption. It sucks.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Bullying, anti-bullying, and anti-anti-bullying

A couple of days ago a 15-year old Canadian girl committed suicide after a long bout of internet bullying that followed her even when she switched schools. Prior to hanging herself she drank bleach and cut herself. The RCMP are investigating online activity before the teen's death to see if any criminal charges should be laid. But the online activity after she died seems to have become even more vicious and frenzied.

The predominant online reaction to her death is sympathetic, of course, but there is also a huge presence of unsympathetic responses. Many people have even posted nasty jokes and jeers on the Facebook page that was created to honor her, "RIP Amanda Todd".

In addition to jokes and jeers in text form, dozens of people have taken the time to make homemade posters that put captions on pictures of her. Here is the text of some of these posters, preserving case and errors, that I've divided into categories.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Lance Armstrong, Doping, and Testicular Cancer

The reason we have to stand up against performance-enhancing drugs is not because it's cheating. It's not to protect the people who bet on sports. The idea of protecting gamblers over competitors is heinous; it's the Hunger Games.

The reason we have to stop performance-enhancing drugs is that if any athletes do it then they all have to do it (or they might as well stay home). It's not fair to athletes to force them to take drugs, shoot up their own blood, or do anything else that could harm their health.

In the old days we saw elite athletes on steroids die of heart attacks in their twenties. We don't know what harm the current drugs do. Could they have caused Lance Armstrong's testicular cancer? There's a chance they did.

I don't blame Lance Armstrong for cheating. As the US Anti-Doping Agency found, it was "not possible to compete at the highest level without them" during the time he was competing. Lance Armstrong is not the problem, the system is. If we react to each scandal by blaming the athlete, we won't stop the scourge that's endangering our young athletes.

Wednesday, October 03, 2012

The Pros and Cons of Iran Getting the Bomb

There seem to be a lot of people running around with their hair on fire, lamenting that Iran will get nuclear weapons and Israel will become a smoking hole. The history of nuclear weapons suggests otherwise. Nuking Israel would be suicide for Iran, as Israel (and the US) would retaliate in kind. There is no reason to think that Iran is suicidal. There is no cause for fear that it would behave differently from the other nuclear countries.

The main effect of an Iranian nuclear program would be that Israel would no longer be the sole nuclear power in the middle east. This could be a good thing. Creating a more balanced power structure could actually help Israel's relations with its neighbors.

I have some concerns, and I don't know how valid they are.

One: In the past, Iran has expressed some hegemonic tendencies. Its backing of Syria's suzerainty over Lebanon is a concern. However, Iran is primarily Shia Muslim, and the only other countries where Shia is the largest religious group are Iraq, Azerbaijan, and Bahrain. Shia is a minority in Syria but the government is Shia. Does this limit Iran's sphere of influence, or sphere of interest? Is there a real interest in this Shia, non-Arab country to take over Arab, Sunni states?

Two: Iran's close relationship with North Korea. However, does Iran really want to be involved with North Korea, or has it become so isolated and threatened that it's making the only ally it can?

Low Expectations are Justin's Friend

The Globe published a rather odd little article today: "Former MP Mulroney: Underestimate Justin Trudeau at Your Peril". Some of the online commenters interpreted Mulroney's statements as support for Trudeau.

As I was reading the article, I took exception to this sentence: "The 40-year-old politician is already a polarizing figure for the party, simultaneously inspiring a rockstar-like idolization and criticism that he lacks the political acumen required to take the party forward." My thought was: What bunk. I know a lot of people who admire Justin Trudeau, but I don't know anyone who idolizes him, and he's not that inexperienced...

Then it hit me.

Mulroney is bang on the money in doing the one thing to thwart Justin.

If people see Justin Trudeau as a pretty boy / charmer / son of a famous man / dilettante, then expectations for his performance will be lowered, which is exactly what he needs to get a good footing as party leader.

With Dion and Ignatieff, our expectations were so high that nobody could meet them. We wanted Instant Success - we wanted them to win in their first election - we suffered agonies when they made missteps. If the Liberal party is going to climb back up, we have to break that habit; give our leader time to grow.

During the 2000 US presidential election campaign, George Bush performed very badly, but he got away with it because he exceeded the very low expectations people had of him. During his debates with Al Gore, the commentators would say that while Gore did much better than Bush, Bush did better than expected - and they'd call the outcome a tie.

Low expectations are a powerful tool. Let's not be quick to dismiss them.