aspiration to wealth as a character flaw

Excellent op-ed article in the Globe & Mail today:

When Wealth Became A Character Flaw

I find this particularly apposite, since I had an interesting exchange over the bridge table the other night. I've been playing bridge with the same group of women for more than 30 years. We've all moved in & out of careers over that period, some in & out of relationships too.

Last week, we had a spare who, let's say, is one of the privileged few who have never had to work for a living. Or do anything productive apart from producing children. A worthy occupation no doubt, but one that doesn't tend to broaden the perspective in & of itself? And one that all too many women must do in addition to a day job, so please forgive me for my obvious bias in the case of the privileged few.

The conversation turned to the economy, as it often does these days. And of course the claw-back of the bonuses for the Arrogant, Incompetent & Greedy bastards who have been instrumental in engineering the current recession.

I ventured the opinion that "nobody is worth more than $250K a year" and was immediately pounced on by the said privileged darling, whose husband is one of the moneyed classes. A real-estate magnate, no less. What surprised me was that a couple of others in the group chimed in with her. Now, nobody in our group is in that bracket, not by half or better. It's a good lesson in how people value themselves. I suspect that a great many people tolerate the inequities in income because they aspire to be one of the 1% themselves. More or less what is pointed up as a conclusion in the above article.

As for me, I remain more of an egalitarian thinker. Lately out of fashion, but I hope to see a resurgence!


changing the subject

Having vented my spleen in a couple of posts about politics, it's time to talk about something else.

Nearest and dearest to my heart is books. My partner accuses me of living in a library, and complains that there will soon not be room for him in the house. Of course, he exaggerates.
I've been working my way through my Terry Pratchett "Discworld" collection lately. Read them all when they first came out, laughed myself sick, and kept them for a future re-read. Having recently retired from my day job, and getting into the swing of a more relaxed lifestyle, I decided that it was time to drag them out again & see if they were as delightful as the first time around.

So far, so good! I've renewed my acquaintance with all my favourites: Vimes, Vetinari, Granny Weatherwax, Susan Sto Helit, Sergeant Angua, Death (and of course, the Death of Rats), Hex the thinking machine, Foul Old Ron (bugrit! millenium hand & shrimp!), Gaspode the wonder dog, Rincewind and THE LUGGAGE. To name but a few. And the hilarious footnotes.

If you've never encountered Pratchett, I recommend him unreservedly. He sends up absolutely everything, and does it with intelligence, panache, and great writing. We don't know how much longer he can keep it going, either, since he was recently diagnosed with early stage Alzheimers, but he's published a long shelf-full so far & still going strong.

You can start at the beginning with "The Colour of Magic" (which starts a sort of internal series) & slog your way through in order of publication, or you can start with one of the one-offs like "Pyramids", or get into one of the other series with "Mort", or "Wyrd Sisters" or "Guards, Guards!" They all weave together sooner or later.

Good reading!

attempted hijacking of science by religion?

More disturbing news on the Canadian political scene. Not surprising, but disturbing.

The current Conservative-Reform-Alliance-Party's Science Minister has interpreted a question on science (specifically, evolutionary science) as a challenge to his religious beliefs, refusing to answer a question on his views on evolution on the basis that he is a "Christian". Yes, Canada has a religious right-wing, too.

This is a person in a position to grant or withhold funding from research that somehow challenges his beliefs, most likely with the lame excuse of his party's favourite position, that it "isn't commercially viable", totally ignoring the need for fundamental research as a foundation for applied science. We have been plagued by years by such bottom-line feeders, and for every big announcement of funding for suitably "applied" research there are generally 10 hidden cuts to the fundamentals. Science-based departments have seen their research funding cut to ribbons, and way too much either cancelled or privatized. Sure, not all of the cuts are attributable to religious or even merely conservative politicians, but there are worrying trends in the type of research that is being quietly axed. It goes along with the dark age mentality the current bunch of clowns has on the environment.

I find this trend objectionable on several grounds, as a scientist, as a secular humanist, as a thinking citizen, and as a taxpayer. Time we separated religion from politics, once and for all. There is no good reason why a person's religion or lack thereof should have anything to do with their public function.

Our Science Minister, Mr. Goodyear, could do well to take the following quotes to heart:

Nothing must be held sacred. Question everything. God is not great, Jesus is not your lord, you are not disciples of any charismatic prophet. You are all human beings who must make your way through your life by thinking and learning, and you have the job of advancing humanity's knowledge by winnowing out the errors of past generations and finding deeper understanding of reality. You will not find wisdom in rituals and sacraments and dogma, which build only self-satisfied ignorance, but you can find truth by looking at your world with fresh eyes and a questioning mind. P.Z. Myers

In science it often happens that scientists say, 'You know that's a really good argument; my position is mistaken,' and then they would actually change their minds and you never hear that old view from them again. They really do it. It doesn't happen as often as it should, because scientists are human and change is sometimes painful. But it happens every day. I cannot recall the last time something like that happened in politics or religion. Carl Sagan


women's rights & why we need to keep fighting for them

I’ll get straight to the point here: Politicians are sneaky. Case in point? Bill C-10, the Budget Implemenatation Act, passed by Canadian Parliament & Senate last week. While hyped as the needed economic stimulus package, to the tune of 100 pages of legislation and $18 billion, it also contained a few gems dreamed up by the powers that be, including another 430 pages including:

  • Public Service Equitable Compensation Act (of which more later);
  • Navigable Waters Protection Act such that environmental assessments for new projects could be waived and access to navigable waters denied owing to their being diverted, blocked, or simply allowed to silt up;
  • Investment Canada Act such that restrictions on outright offshore acquisitions of Canadian companies & essential resources are substantially weakened;

  • Competition Act such that the price discrimination and predatory pricing provisions are “decriminalized”.

While many of these obviously benefit the current regime’s oil-patch buddies, the attack on human rights via the cynically-named Public Service Equitable Compensation Act is more insidious. It effectively absolves the Canadian federal public service from doing anything at all about compensating women equally to men, and throws up road-blocks in the way of unions assisting women to prove the existence of pay inequity, as well as individual complaints. Plus, it over-rides the Canadian Human Rights Act when applied to federal public servants in the matter of equal rights regardless of gender. This kind of anti-feminist, overtly paternalistic activity worries me even more than the anti-environmental, rampant capitalism demonstrated by other parts of the same legislation. Our political process and cultural framework are being Americanized without our consent, and we are being dragged into a neo-feudal world. Give ‘em a millimetre, they’ll take a light year…