Interesting stuff 2016-12-16

Because there’s just so much darned interesting stuff, here’s the second one this week…

So I find the alleged Russia-Trump-election espionage idea fascinating. For the sake of argument, let’s assume it’s true. I would not condone bringing privately held correspondence to the public, unless there was some specific public interest in doing so (for instance, people were privately planning a terror attack or something). So I don’t support what was done.

But it’s too late for that. As with much in the election, I didn’t follow this too closely, but from what I saw, not much in the email was really all that damning. Sure, some of the stuff would get some people’s knickers in a knot, but this isn’t nearly as bad (in my opinion) as having a private email server with national secrets on it.

On the flip side, Trump certainly had his share of embarrassing revelations, like his massive bankruptcy. It would seem, to me, that revelation would have been more likely to impact the public opinion than these emails. So if Russia was trying to sway the election, at most what it was effectively doing was leveling the playing field. Trump had a major private embarrassment about him revealed, now Clinton had one too.

And at the end of the day, all that the revelations accomplished was to show people a side of Clinton that her PR managers probably would have preferred to keep secret. They saw the true Clinton. All campaign long they were seeing the true Trump – he certainly didn’t seem eager to soften his obviously rough edges – so this, if anything, also leveled the playing field because the Clinton behind the mask was finally revealed.

In short, if Russia truly was trying to influence the election, this was an odd was of doing it. I’m skeptical these leaks really had much of an impact on the outcome.

Here’s a not-surprising thought; watching copious amounts of child porn might lead to mental health issues. An RCMP officer is suing because of the PTSD associated with working in the sex offenses unit. The details are in the article, but the question I want to ask is, “if the officer is experiencing PTSD because he had to watch child porn as part of his job, what about those people who watch it because they want to?”

Perhaps child porn more broadly leads to mental health issues? If child porn does that, what about regular-old porn?

I’m actually working on a book right now that looks into these issues, and many other related issues, so I have some idea of what the research says. I’ll give you a hint; it ain’t pretty.

Because I love charts and number, here are 75 charts Canadians should watch in 2017. There’s some really informative stuff in there. Housing bubbles. Unemployment rates. Investment challenges. It’s not all positive, but it’s all numeric.

The “burden of federal debt” was particularly interesting.

I’ve been giving some thought, lately, to our longstanding assumptions about economic growth; where it comes from, how fast things grow, and what would happen if the growth stagnated. I haven’t yet put it all together into a coherent thought, but here’s an article that touches on that subject.

The short version of the article is that growth has slowed down considerably in recent decades, and we have good reason to believe it isn’t going to speed up any time soon. My question, “is that a bad thing?” If so, why?

So scientists may have found a way to test kids at age three to get a sense as to whether the kids are going to have troubled lives.

All were given a 45-minute test aged three to gauge intelligence, language and motor skills, and were assessed for their levels of tolerance, restlessness, impulsiveness and social disadvantage.

After 35 years, the researchers found one fifth of the group was responsible for 81 per cent of the group’s overall criminal convictions, three quarters of its drug prescriptions, two thirds of welfare benefit payments and more than half of nights in hospital.

That raises an interesting question; what do we do with that information? It seems clear to me that the most desirable course of action is to recognize that the kids are at risk and develop strategies to minimize the risk. In short, the adults in their lives need to recognize the reality of their situation and respond accordingly.

“Being able to predict which children will struggle is an opportunity to intervene in their lives very early to attempt to change their trajectories for everyone’s benefit and could bring big returns on investment for government.”

So we need to act. For the sake of the children!

Which is interesting because of the research I’ve been doing for my next book (alluded to above). It turns out that the sexual choices of adults have far reaching and very significant consequences for children, even if those children are not their own! Are adults willing to put limits on their own sexual freedom, for the sake of the kids? We seem willing to have a conversation about helping these three-year-olds turn out well, but what if that requires sacrifice on our part? What if part of the equation of our children’s future success involves sexual choices we make many years before we even have children at all?

Which raises another question; just how far are we willing to go – in terms of self-sacrifice – for the sake of kids?

I’m all in favour of telling people about Jesus, but this is clearly not the right approach. How does the media always manage to find folks like this?

So, about the Canadian Senate. It turns out they are might want to shift the dynamics of power in Ottawa.

A Senate committee is objecting to government legislation they say doesn’t go far enough in removing gender-based discrimination from Canada’s Indian Act — yet another move signalling that a more-independent Senate is willing to use its power.

The government is requesting an extension on a court deadline — just like the Senate asked them to Tuesday — but it still wants to pass the bill as it stands now.

[My emphasis]

But if you read the above paragraphs closely you’ll notice a total of three players; the Courts, Parliament (aka, the “government”) and the Senate. And when we talk about the Senate “using its power” relative to whom do you think their power is measured? The Parliament, obviously. It could not be relative to the courts because the Senate was kindly “requesting” an extension from the Court. That’s hardly indicative of muscle flexing.

And, as we have seen previously, the Court also exercises significant power relative to Parliament. So the Court is clearly on top, and now the Senate has seen how the Court pushes Parliament around and wants a piece of the action. By the time the dust settles I suspect the Court will be at the top, Senate just below them – making requests of the Court, and demands of Parliament – and Parliament will have drawn the short straw.

So the irony in all of this is that the only democratically elected party in this trio is the party that appears to be increasingly at the mercy of the two other unelected parties. Which means, by definition, that the Canadian public is ultimately at the mercy of two unelected parties; two groups of people who have no material accountability to the people for whom they presume to make unilateral decisions.

The Courts clearly won the king-of-the-hill contest because they are calling the shots. This is why the Senate is politely asking, hat in hand, for an extension. As with the assisted suicide debacle,

We have been rushed to do this bill.

The Senate is sometimes referred to as the chamber of sober second thought. Considering how much utterly arbitrary pressure the Courts apply to both Senate and Parliament, perhaps they are the chamber of “rush quickly so nobody has the opportunity to seriously question whether we actually have the right to exercise the power we act as though we have.”

A Quebec woman made some public claims about Islam, was sued by a Muslim school, and the courts cleared her of wrongdoing. Two observations.

First, as the article says, this is a victory for free speech. Agreed. She was not encouraging people to attack Muslims, telling Muslims to “go home” or anything like that; at least not according to the article. What she was saying – broadly speaking – is that the values taught at the Islamic school do not line up with Quebec’s values.

“The school’s societal model is not the Quebec societal model. It is not Quebec values,”

This kind of discussion is perfectly fair game.

Second, I’m glad to see people starting to wake up to the reality that communities have values, and these values are important. Whether we agree with Quebec’s militant secularism or not, it is clearly an extremely secular province, and extremely religiously devout people will not necessarily fit in. Not that they should be cast out, but if you want to move to Quebec you need to recognize that you are moving to a place that, for the most part, is not particularly open to the concept of a spiritual dimension to life, at least not in any kind of “formalized religion” sense.

Although I have never lived in a Muslim nation, I have been told that those who are militantly secular might not feel particularly “at home” there either. Some cultures are more welcoming than others, but that is their prerogative; they don’t have to be. And it would seem Quebec is only marginally more welcoming of religion in general than many Muslim countries are welcoming of any viewpoint other than Islam.

This is the nature of culture, like it or not. If you move there you have no right to object when people are clearly acting in accordance with the local culture.

That’s not to say you cannot try to change culture – every culture has something about it that could use at least a little tweaking – but gradually changing it from within is one thing; vocally objecting to it is kind of useless.

Here are two news stories that I think are related, but many other people seem to keep them separate.

The government is slowly opening the door to legalized marijuana.

… and …

This Fentanyl crisis is getting worse.

Does nobody else think these are related? And does nobody else think maybe this push to legalize marijuana might not be the best idea? The recommendations around legalizing marijuana are replete with implicit affirmations that marijuana is quite a risky substance. Even if it is not technically a gateway drug to worse things, like Fentanyl, clearly it belongs in the same category. It is not in the same category as, say, pepper or soda pop. With legalized marijuana and “safe” injection sites the barriers to mind-altering substances is rapidly being lowered.

Which, of course, will only make our children safer…

And two more news stories that appear to be related.

Calgary businessman Shawn Baldwin to challenge Nenshi for mayoral seat

The story reads,

The belief that city hall has no role in creating local private-sector jobs is a myth that’s ripe for breaking, said the creator of employment firms and Hire10.

… and the second story …

Nenshi says city has limited means to help struggling businesses

I don’t always see things the way Nenshi does, but I have to side with him on this one. It’s not as though the city’s hands are completely tied and there’s just no way government can do anything to meaningfully help struggling businesses – clearly that’s not the case – but I’m glad to see politicians starting to admit that the role of government is limited. There are things government can do, absolutely, but there are many things it might like to do but simply cannot. Or, at least it cannot do them effectively. It would cause more harm than good.

So if Mr. Baldwin wants the government to “create jobs” (as though it has some magic wand that the private sector lacks) then he’s got some explaining to do.

However, he does have some ideas that are well worth considering,

Constant property and business tax hikes are another frustration and drag on the economy, he said.

This year’s freeze on taxes isn’t enough — they should be reduced, he added.

Cutting red tape and lowering expenses for business startups, while finding a way to allow budding entrepreneurs affordable access to office space emptied by oilpatch layoffs, should be explored, he said.

Will he beat Nenshi? That’s unlikely given Calgary’s history of never firing the incumbent, but time will tell. Stranger things have happened in politics lately.