Occupy Movement – Revolution of process

2011.10.16

You, me…WE ARE THE 99%; like it or not you are more like us and will never be one of them (or as likely to be struck by lightning).  This is not a revolution to change policies; it is a revolution to change the process.

I have just returned from the Occupy Howe Street event. I have been surprised how the market media has been handling the whole “Occupy” movement. There have been a number of analogies to the ‘Arab spring’ hitting our own shores. Many of the commentators are struggling to understand what it is the protesters want. Unlike the ‘Astroturf’ Tea Party, there is not central structure, no simple message…or so the pundits say.

What they fail to see is this moment is not about resolving any single grievance. Some are against the FEDS…others corporations…some BIG oil…this is not a movement about issues but about process. It is a movement that is taking to the parks…the streets…to every city in the world…it is taking the message that the system is broken, democracy is broken and we are mad as hell and we are NOT going to take it anymore.

In the past politicians would find an issue the people cared about and then formed policy around that. They may or may not believe in the issue (after all politics has long been a job and not a calling) and would put a left/right or center spin on it. The primary point is the politicians would get their marching orders from the people. They would have to convince people the issues they cared about would be solved by that party’s solution.

Now our democracy has been high-jacked by consumerism and the moneyed elites.

Now a small cabal of lobbyist – who’s intent is to protect the wealth and privilege of the 1% – create policy…create law, and through the lubricant of political contributions get our politicians to adopt these prefab policies.

Political contributions have become the mechanism for this abduction of our democracy. Contribution that comes in the form of dollars – direct campaign contributions, material support – use of private facilities for fund raising or personal trips,  or manipulation of mainstream media – through corporate control of the editorial content of highly concentrated media or the evisceration of the CBC (I think it no small coincidence that popular control of politics parallels the decline of the CBC…a decline directly caused by the concerted efforts of consecutive governments to defund the once pride of our nation).

Having been purchased, it has now become the job of the politicians to sell the people on these prefab policies…using the same political contributions to at first distract, and then devalue and ultimately disenfranchise the people. It is much easier to govern a disinterested and impotent populous than an engaged empowered one.

So our politicians evade on the BIG issues…the important policies and instead distract us by micro-target issues to ‘key’ demographics to win timely support…we worry about gun registries, military in the arctic, apologies for past wrongs… and while we focus the small important issues we no longer see the elephant in the room that the core policies politicians actually enact while in government are against the very interests of society…the interest of the 99%.

Recently we had elections in nearly half of the provinces/territories. The common feature of these is near record low turnout. Federal elections in the 60s had over ¾ of the people vote, now its little better than 1 in 2 voting. Historic lows in ‘democratic’ participation with less than 1/2 of Ontario voters bothering to show …bothering to help shape their government…bothering to care about their communities.

Why?

It is not that they do not see or feel a crumbling infrastructure, roads in need of repair…increased user fees for health care…decreased government services…increased fees for driver’s licences/passports…reductions in employment insurance …increased tuition…decreased research spending…increased costs for you and me while decreased investment in our country.  Governments bailout corporate greed (70$ billion to support bad bank investments[1]) and corporate incompetence (GM, Chrysler) while letting the rest of us suffer (EI reductions, Education funding gap). Pundits say that we need first-past-the-post (winner take all) voting system to ensure politicians are accountable to their constituents; yet what we see is a disregard (or apathy) about the needs and wished of the people they are supposed to represent. Party discipline to ensure political patronage…political power…their jobs…become supreme…partisan loyalty run amok!

While Rome burns, our elected officials continually increase the cost of being a citizen. There are increases in transit fees…there are GUARDS at Skytrain to ensure no one sneaks a free ride.

Free ride!!!

A new ‘fare-turn-stall’ system is to be implemented into our mass transit system at a cost of $170 million to prevent $7 million loss due to working people not getting a ticket. Work it out; it will take 24 years for the system to pay for itself…assuming it works perfectly. London has a system like this but must spend millions year to pay for guards to prevent people ‘hopping over’ the turn stalls. The only one to profit from this is the corporation installing it, the only one to lose are you and me who use the system and the only ones who don’t care are the politicians who have kept their donors happy – do that and the electorate will follow.

Free rides!!!

What about the free ride defense minister McKay enjoyed from his private camping trip[2]…a ride provided by an air-to-sea rescue helicopter costing you and me thousands of dollars. It has come to light this is not an exception but standard practice. The politician gets perks while real people must live the letter of the law.

Why don’t people vote?

Tommy Douglas, the father of Medicare, had a good parable about the democratic land of Mouse-ville. Every four years they would hold an election to vote in a new government…every year the mice were offered cheese by the black cats…every year the mice voted for a black cat government. The government was fair and just and confronted important issues of the day…such as speed limits for mice; regulations to ensure paw-sized entrance on mice homes. Well, as you can bet, the mice were appalled by this and come next election they voted out the black cats…and voted in the white cats. This continued until one day a little mouse quested why government had to be run by cats? Why not elect mice?

(My addition to Tommy’s story)
When one mouse tried to run, he was told it could cost more money than 1000 mice made in a year…that he would have to rely on cat owned media to present his platform…and that the first-past-the-scratch-post voting system mean he had get more votes than all the other competing cats. The mouse saw why few (if any) mice were ever elected; it was not the issues that prevented the mice from having a voice it was the system. The next day, the mouse began a movement…Occupy Mouse-ville.

So we have an election and we kick out one set of politicians only to have another set do the thing…remember they are all at the mercy of the 1% to get elected. Our first past the post system simply ensures those at the front of the line, the 1% and their lobbyist; always elect someone who can work within the system…their system. Elections have become a way for corporations…the 1%…to ensure the loyalty of their political puppets – “mess with my lobbyist and I will throw my support behind your opposition; they will not be so uppity; they will know their place”.

We no longer have a democracy, it has been stolen and replaced by the ghost of democracy past  or the image of democracy but lacking it’s substance…it’s power…it’s meaning!

The system does not understand what the Occupy movement is…they cannot see it because it has not existed before. We have taken to the streets…we have taken to the internet…we have taken it into our hearts that the system as it is will not address our needs, our concerns, our existence as free people. It is no longer in the hands of the politicians (who fear us and use state power to harass and suppress us) where the people go. Our demands may be many but our message is a singular one – THIS IS OUR SOCIETY AND THE TIME HAS COME FOR US TO TAKE CONTROL AGAIN! Stand in our way if you must, but know WE ARE THE 99%, if might makes right, we are the righteous!

Some for all the people, not all for some!


A cry for statehood…Palestine UN gambit

2011.09.21

In the next week or two The Palestinian government is going to approach the UN to vote on the status of Palestine…is it a nation state or not. The initial target is to be the Security Council which must recommend any likely candidate for state membership to the General Assembly; the Assembly itself cannot extend membership to the UN. If the council approves then Palestine becomes a member state of the UN and as such gains the rights and privileges that imbues.

There are several classes of membership to the UN. The most known is member-state…that is a recognized independent nation that is accepted as a member of the UN. In order to become a member-state, a candidate must be recommended by a 9 of the 15 members of the Security Council, then the General Assembly votes, if they candidate gets a two thirds majority, they become a member state. However, there are other lesser classes of membership.

There is a “non-member permanent observer state”…a nation that can observe and speak to the UN but does not get a vote. There are also non-member observer entities…of which the Palestinian Authority is an example. There are also observer organization, such as the EU,  other intergovernmental organization such as InterPol or NGO’s like the Red Cross.

Palestinians are experiencing extreme pressure from the US, NOT to ask for this vote and stated they will veto their request. The US, and Israel, state that the only way for Palestine to gain statehood is through negotiation with Israel.

The Palestinians rebut by pointing out that over 40yrs of occupation, the continued expansion of Jewish settlements in land that will, in theory, compose Palestine and innumerable failed negotiation have shown that Israel does not what Palestine to become a independent state…that the only option now left open is to have the UN recognize the de facto state of Palestine and with the legal rights and moral capital this status would grant the occupied lands, negotiations can proceed between equals…can proceed to successful resolution. One right of member states is to have a ‘defined territory’, something negotiations have yet to achieve.

As I already stated, the Palestinians will fail to gain full statehood via the Security Council because of the US veto, however the Palestinians then plan to ask the General Assembly to vote on Palestinian statehood. This resolution is likely to succeed however this will not grant Palestine membership to the UN but only grant it “non-member permanent observer state”’; a status currently enjoyed by the Vatican. Palestine already has “non-member permanent observer” status as an ENTITY not a nation along with a number of other non-state entries such as the EU.

Cool illusion

2011.08.01

Never think you are seeing an objective reality…its all in the mind!

RFT – Keeping us honest

2011.02.22

Corrections:

Last week we made a couple of errors. In an ongoing effort to ensure we are true to our principles; this week we shall correct ourselves and our accidentally miss-informed listeners.

1) In a recent episode we referred to a constitutional challenge to Canada’s polygamy laws launched by the cLDS (church of Latter Day Saints). Opps! The challenge was launched by members of a LDS sect – FcLDS (Fundamentalist church of Latter Day Saints).

2) In a recent episode about Land Claims we made several references to a past governor in BC and signatory to several treaties (the Douglas Treaties) with first nations peoples. We called this governor Tommy Douglas (the socialist PM of Saskatchewan and father of Medicare) when the actual governor in question is JAMES Douglas, Governor of the Colony of Vancouver Island for 1851-1864.

3) In a recent episode about Julian Assuage we made several references to “feminist” Sweden and its ‘strong’ laws to protect women against abuse. According to Amnesty international, the Nordic countries (including Sweden) have a poor record on prosecuting men for rape of women. On paper the laws of Sweden are strong (and apply called “feminist”?) but in practice charges are seldom pursued or “plea bargained down”. The police, medical and legal system are reluctant to pursue cases that are not overtly violent and there is a cultural bias/stigma against women actually pressing charges. For more information on this check out the Amnesty international report “Case Closed: Rape & human rights in the Nordic countries”.

Our apologies for the original misspoke and thanks to our listeners for keeping us on track.

The inerrant word!

2011.02.08


New Catholic Bible deletes ‘booty’ and ‘holocaust’…the unerring word revised again. Just a short note about the pending publication of the new catholic bible – New American Bible Revised Edition – this Ash Wednesday or march 9th for the us atheist who may not be acquainted the catholic myth holidays. In this addition they are following the current trend we have documented in altering the text to reflect current sensibilities. Words like Booty have been replaced with ‘plunder” because there were fears readers may be confused with parts of the human anatomy to which this word makes colloquial reference. It also removed the word ‘holocaust’ because it was deemed a term to refer exclusively to the Jewish genocide on WWII.

Lost in translation

This is the fourth edition of the New American Bible, when coupled with the fact that the latest of hundreds, if not millions of translations of the ‘original’ Latin bible, which was itself the product of multiple revision and translations, The Latin bible was often based on Greek and/or Hebrew

Logica carens

and/or Aramaic bibles. Why am making such a point about this LONG line of revisions and translations? Historically, if less so today depending on where you live of course, people believed it the PERFECT and INERRANT word of god, to be followed to the letter…unto death be it oneself or others.

 

Polygamy – a many sided story

2010.12.20

Okay, I am an open-minded kinda guy. I think love and lust are not necessarily the same things; that people will form various kinds of unions and that if consenting and fulfilling no limitation should be applied. Now if you asked me if I believe that polygamy was good or bad, I probably would have said “do you mean the Mormon kind or the hippy kind”. You see, as a good atheist and a product of my society, Mormon polygamy was wrong on two counts 1) it was abusive to women and children and 2) it was religious dogma. The hippy kind (to date my imagery) was a union of equals to express both pleasure and non-conformity.

However, in doing some research for the show I discovered such simplistic (yes, I can be simplistic at times…sorry) views I held were both optimistic and not reflected in our legal system. First I should clarify some terms:

Polygamy: a marriage in which a spouse of either sex may have more than one mate at the same time

Polyandry: the practice or condition of having more than one husband at one time

Polygyny: the practice or condition of having more than one wife at one time

Now technically, the Mormon type would be strictly limited to polygyny. This issue came my attention because of a court case currently making its way through the BC legal system destined for the Supreme Court of Canada (SCC).

Recently an unsuccessful attempt to charge two Mormon men in Bountiful, BC with polygamy failed. This prompted the FLDS (Fundamentalist Church of Latter Day Saints, more commonly known as the Mormon Church) to mount a constitution challenge holding that the laws against polygamy are unconstitutional and should be struck down.

As I have talked about before with regards to free-speech, prostitution and other issues; in Canada our constitution allows for the limitation of fundamental rights provided they pass the “Oakes Test”. The Oaks test (from the SCC ruling on the Oaks case) holds that limitations must be minimal, pertinent and remedy proportional harms to society.

The law, section 293 of the Criminal Code, states that “any kind of conjugal union with more than one person at the same time whether or not it is by law recognized as a binding form of marriage” is guilty of an indictable offence. Further that anyone who “celebrates, assists or is a party to a rite, ceremony, contract or consent that purports to sanction a [polygamist] relationship” are likewise guilty of a indictable offence.

That’s the law; however the harms that are most often cited, that are ‘eased’ by this limitation of liberty, are child brides, forced marriage and spousal abuse (more often the abuse is seen as economic or psychological). If we look at this list though we can already remove the last one, because spousal abuse (sadly) is common in monogamous marriages. However, little evidence shows polygamist unions are innately more significantly abusive (although I am open to evidence showing my cursory investigation to be wrong).

Living in Vancouver with several strong Asian cultures with ‘traditions’ regarding arranged marriages, we are aware there is a disconnect between polygamy both forced marriage and child betrothed. In these arranged monogamous marriages often the betrothed are children and have little or no choice in the matter (in the worst of these cultures, violent punishment is exacted on reluctant participants) – that is there is no necessary connection between child brides or forced marriage and polygamy.

So, it seems that the harms that are supposedly addressed by this law, although real are not connected to polygamy. In applying the Oaks test we agree that there are harms that should be addressed however it seems to fail to show the pertinent connection between the harms and polygamy.

However, let’s continue our thought experiment. If we assumed that what we wanted to restrict was religious polygyny because it has been associated with substantial and pertinent harms, does the law restrict our freedoms in a minimal way. The law as stated is extremely broad. This law would include my hippy polygamist; in fact if you were gay living with several roommates in a ‘close’ relationship, you could be charged under this law. Further, if you went to a house warming for this common-law type relationship to celebrate their ‘union’, you could be charged.

The law as stated is EXTREMELY broad. There is a local group, VanPoly, which is working to have the law struck down because they fear they could be charged even though their relationships have nothing to do with the LDS, child brides or forced marriage.

So, why do we have these laws then when they seem overly broad and not really aimed at the social harms we have cited? In fact, when the anti-polygamy laws were first enacted the concept of spousal abuse was non-existent and child brides (at least mid-teens) was not uncommon in monogamous marriages.

Much has been made as to the religious turf war being the root of the North American experience. The Mormons, the new religious, had as a main tenant of their belief system polygamy since 1843. The US made polygamy illegal in 1863 and the Mormons moved west and north (to Utah and western Canada). In 1890, to gain statehood, Utah banned polygamy leading to a second wave of exodus. Canada also banned polygamy in 1890 and saw its one and only successful convictions in 1899, in fact Mormonism was explicitly used in the law until 1950s.

The criminalization of polygamy drives its participants to separate themselves from mainstream society and it is here that the harms arise. If your neighbor showed up one day with an 11 yr. girl and said it was his new wife you’d likely call the cops; if we suspect spousal abuse, as a society we are getting better at recognizing it and would come to the assistance of the abused. However when these actions take place in a ‘like-minded’ community isolated from the ‘masses’, this social safeguarding system breaks down and abuse can occur.

Do I think there is harm being done to the women and children of Bountiful, BC (and similar communes)…yes. Do I think this harm is originated in polygamy…no. I believe the root issue, the source of the abuse, is not multiple marriages but patriarchal authoritarian religion. With regards to the law AS IS, it fails the Oaks test both in the fact that the practice is not directly linked to the stated harms to be remedied (i.e. there is nothing innately abusive in polygamous relationships) and the level of minimal limitation of freedoms (i.e. even if we assumed LDS style polygyny were harmful, the law encompasses any type of polygamy including lesbians in a multi-partner relationship etc.).

On a last note, I is funny that our society seems to frown so strongly on parallel multiple marriages and yet has come to terms to serial multiple marriages; that is there are millions of people in the US and Canada who  have many spouses but not at the same time. If we look back a century or two, we see how that was seen as immoral and harmful to society. Why is it okay to have many spouses over time but not at one time?

The cost of tax cuts

2010.11.15

In the shadow of the elections victories of the Tea Party in the US election and the recent announcement of our own Campbell government here in BC to both cut income taxes while implementing a user fee for hospital stays, I thought it would be educational to take a sceptical look at taxes and in particular tax breaks.

Taxes have been a widely used tool by governments to punish ‘sin’ (in the form of alcohol and tobacco taxes) and to promote investment (in the form of tax holidays or credits like the capital gains tax). I am not going to get too partisan here. There are valid arguments on all sides about what are appropriate taxes and at what level those taxes should be – that is a discussion for a different day and perhaps a different show. What I would like to investigate here are two things: first that cutting taxes increases tax revenue (this was called Voodoo economics by G. Bush Sr., trickle-down economics by others but economist refer to this broadly as supply-side economics) and second that tax cuts are always good.

I shall address the former first. For those of us who had access to an US media source (or those who can remember any recent political campaign) every politician was promising to cut taxes; when asked how they would pay for these tax cuts, they would either respond by saying tax cuts cost nothing or they said they will reduce spending…when asked what spending, they would say something like “that fat in the system” or “improved efficiencies” – IE they would not cut anything. For example they often say they will cut “ear-marks’, but this only accounts for $3 billion out of a budget of $3.6+ trillion (with a deficit of $1.7 trillion)…or 0.08% of budget (0.17%  of deficit).

It seems popular among voters across the political spectrum. However, the recent dual announcements of our local government show the reality of the situation. Campbell announces a popular across the board tax cut of 15%. This applies to rich and poor alike (although not equally, but again that’s a different show*). This equates to a loss of over half a billion dollars a year. That is money the government will not have to provide services…like hospital beds. The government also recently announced a user fee on hospital rooms amounting to over $200 a week. Who is going to make up for the loss in tax revenues? The sick.

Environics Poll 2007

Now don’t get me wrong, maybe we are all happy with that, but most people when asked the question do they want to cut public spending (especially healthcare), they say no…in fact it is one of the few areas people show an innate socialist tendency.

Just to put the two into perspective, the median family will save about $350 a year in taxes.  The average hospital stay for an individual is 3-10 days (depending largely on age)…that’s a fee cost of $87 to $290 (and for those of you who say “well most people will not be in hospital that long” just remember that makes the fee even more onerous because it WILL effect most those who are suffering most and likely least like to afford it).

Okay, my math may be a little dodgy (mainly due to the lack of accurate numbers for ‘average hospital’ stay or the myriad of different income/fee/taxes an individual will pay) but the point should still be obvious. The hospital fee was not to pay for the tax cut but add in the added cost of medical insurance premiums[1], camping fees[2], transit fees[3], licence fees[4], tuition[5] and so on you will get there. (for those of us old enough, we remember when ‘user fee’ was a dirty word and the fees that did exist were token…not any more).

Cost of Bush's tax cuts

The point I am getting at, is if we want social services we have to pay for them as a society. That means when someone yells “tax cuts” remember they are also saying “cut services”. Maybe something you are comfortable with…maybe not but that is the reality of it. I was going to go on to talk about the wisdom of providing robust social services but that would be straying perhaps outside the bound of a sceptic podcast so we shall stop here and address the second point.

Many have claimed, largely Republicans and Monetarists, that cutting taxes increases tax revenue. On the surface this sounds paradoxical; however there is a shred of logic to be found. The idea, goes that if you cut taxes, those who have more money will invest in the economy, the economy grows, from this larger tax base you collect more absolute dollars even though the rate is lower. The idea works in reverse as well; increasing the tax rate will cause a contraction of the economy and a reduction in absolute dollars.

Often the example of the Reagan Revolution is used to prove this point…i.e. that it works in practice. However this is a flawed claim. As many modern economists have shown[6], including noble prize winner Paul Klugmen, the Reagan tax cuts did not improve the US economy and actually made government finances worse.

It is true the US economy grew fast from 1983-89 however this is in contrast to the miasma of the severe recession of 81-2. Capitalist markets are cyclical, and this was not an unusual recovery. Private savings, something supply-side economics assumes from the masses to provide the capital for investment, continues to decline throughout the decade (7.8->4.8%). Meaning, the money for the recovery, as it was, came from spending savings and increasing personal debt. Finally, this trend is echoed in the US budget; when Reagan came to office the US debt as a % of GDP was 32.5%, when Bush Sr. left it was 66.1%. Clinton, who raised taxes, brought the rate down to 56.4%. The same happened in Canada, when we increased taxes in the 90’s and went from the ‘basket-case’ nation to arguably the country with the most stable finances.

Lastly, the multiplier effect. Not all tax cuts are equal. Tax cuts cost money; those who claim that it is not should ‘not’ collect their next pay-check and see if it costs them money. So, the current desire of governments everywhere is stimulus. When the government (or anyone really) spends money it has what is called, a multiplier effect on the economy; that is for every “Y” dollars spent it generates Y*x (or Y’) in the economy. So, if I give you a dollar and you burn it, which generates no activity in the economy, in fact it removes the dollar from circulation so has a negative multiplier effect. Now most people will spend it or ‘invest’ it (be it real investments or just in your bank account) and they have a positive effect; that is they generate more than a dollars worth of economic activity. The best way to think about this is if you spend the dollar, the merchant sells more, can now hire a new employee, and we will in turn make more dollars and spend them; the new employee generates the new value. An economist could spin a better story, but I think you get the gist of it – the one dollar generates more than a dollar of economic activity.

Relative stimulus effect

Having given the background, how do tax cuts fair as stimulus[7]? In general, every dollar of tax cuts generates $1.30 of economic activity compared to a dollar spent on increasing UI benefits would generate $1.62 or increasing food stamps generates $1.74. There is also the issue of WHO to give the cut to. Lower income people spend (out of necessity) every penny they make so a cut in their taxes (thanks to HST we ALL pay taxes even the poorest) will generate the most activity but they latterly also have the least money (the bottom 50% of household control about 3% of Canadian wealth). As you move to the other extreme, the very wealthy often ‘invest’ most of their tax cuts (earning more than they need), so less activity generated but because they make more money a big bang (the top 10% own around 58.2% of the nation’s wealth[8] in the USA its 1% owning 35%). However, in a global world, it is most likely their investments will be ‘trans-national’ or outside ‘our’ economy and thus lost completely to the system – complete fizzle.

Society, of course, is not only extremes but a lopsided slope of ‘everything-in-between’ (note percentages of wealth ownership mentioned earlier) otherwise it would be easy to define tax policy; the trick is to determine both purpose (stimulate consumption, promote manufacturing, decrease inflation) and effectiveness. History has given us lessons to learn from and one a sceptical economist should be able to apply.

 


 

[8] http://www.wsws.org/articles/2007/jun2007/cana-j20.shtml

* By this i mean 15% of $100k = $18k while 15% of roughly the median income, $50k = $7.5k. So, the tax applies the same but the benefit is very unequal.

I miss my Mummy…the Egypt kind

2010.10.31

I discovered a study about the relative rarity of cancer in ‘ancient’ societies. It was focused on physical evidence from Egypt (mummies and bones) and a review of ‘medical’ text from Egypt, Greece and Rome. I did a review of the article and was going to present it on our Oct 19th show. My take at the time was that it was a measured and well done study. It was forthright in its methodology, made reference to limitations in its assumptions, was limited in its claims and provided a plausible mechanism to explain their results.

As often happened the SGU (Skeptics Guide to the Universe) will a few days later duplicate some of our segments, as they did on this one. I was STUNNED at how wrong they got it. It sounded to me like they only read the media spin (which often spins in the wrong direction) and did not actual read the study. As a good skeptic, I did not want to assume something with checking out the ‘source’ material…as I did with the original study. So I checked out Steve Novella’s blog Neurologica.

Neurologica did not focus on the study (something I do have issues with) but on the extensive interview one of the researched gave on the University of Manchester website. I then checked out the interview and was stunned. It seemed one of the authors of the study did not read their own study. So, it turns out the SGU did get it wrong…kinda…and at least one of the authors of the study(Dr. David) got it very wrong – I still think the study is good. Why?

Straw Man – the SGU got it totally wrong when they stated in the podcast that the study stated that there was NO cancer in the ancient world. This, sadly, coloured the rest of their conversation and led them to disprove something not actually claimed by the study (although to add confusion something claimed by Dr. David). Actually the study pointed out a number of cases where there was physical evidence for cancer and more notably used ancient ‘medical’ text to show that cancer was known and treated (poorly) although rarely cured. The text stated that ‘medicine’ was ineffective and that the most common treatment was surgery or cauterizing the tumour.

The issue with longevity – First, Steve misread (shall I be generous?) and stated the study only involved mummies between 25-50yrs that is wrong. What the study said was the life expectancy was 40-50 for the wealthy and 25-30 for the poor. Actual age of the specimens was rarely mentioned. The SGU and the study noted that there was an issue comparing cancer rates of a population that had a life expectancy of 25-50yr to one that has an expectancy of 70-80yrs. The study addressed this by pointing out that a number of conditions have been diagnosed such atherosclerosis, Paget’s disease of bone and arthritis. Further, comparisons of ‘child’ or ‘early onset’ cancers could be reasonable compared. The SGU rightfully points out that the biggest childhood cancers, leukemia, leaves little to no ‘archaeological evidence’. However Osteosarcoma, one of the top ten childhood cancers is a bone cancer leaving notable evidence. Steve inaccurate states that “there does not appear to be any child mummies in their study”. However the study does make explicit reference to Chilean child mummies. The SGU also seems to imply that NO cancers occur between childhoods and ‘old age’, this is not true.

Causes of Cancer – as is stated earlier, The SGU is not totally off based with their attack. Professor Rosalie David, one of the study’s authors, in an interview on the University of Manchester website, shows a complete lack of understanding of her own study or (as i think the SGU suspects) plans to use the study to make tangential claims. She did state that “There is nothing in the natural environment that can cause cancer” something explicitly contradicted in her own study which stated that “Carcinogenic Environmental factors have been linked to up to 75% of human cancers” meaning that 25% are not linked and that’s assuming all carcinogenic environmental factors are ‘man-made’ which is not true either. For example, Bangladesh is plagues with high concentrations of arsenic in their water due to natural deposits. She weakens here own conclusions by stating that with regards to the ancient cancers “we are not sure what caused them”. The study also points out that “Various malignancies have been reported in non-human primates”; I am unsure how she connects these to ‘modern industrialization’.

One the SGU side, they seem to deny that ‘modern life’, with the dramatic increase in ‘man-induced’ environmental carcinogenic, could possible result in more cancers now than then. We know that chemical pollutions, nuclear bomb testing (in its day) and other factors have caused increase risk of cancer that just did not exist even 300 yrs. ago. Its equivalent to saying (and I am being perhaps too strong here) that electrocutions are about the same now as in ancient times. I think I understand why they are reacting so strongly to this, there are a number of people who claim everything in the ancient days was better or that this proved WiFi causes cancer – that’s nuts. However, I think they have overreacted (at least to the underlying article).

Lack of evidence – Steve says it is “an inherently weak form of evidence on which to base conclusions”. That is valid sometimes but not always. For example, if we had the hypothesis cancer was non-temporally correlated (ie cancer rates have changed little over history) then one would expect a similar number of cases on ancient times as now…that the fact there are dramatically fewer then than now is evidence for a change in prevalence. In fact I would have to ask Steve what evidence would he accept to show that something was worse now than then or visa-versa? I think, in this case, he got this completely wrong. I think, the worst criticism of the study I could find was the lack of numbers. There are a lot of mummies in the world, but it is not directly stated how many are represented in this meta-analysis nor is there any statistical correlation. Bone cancers, for example, are relatively common in children but that still only amounts to 5-10 per million per year. So, if 1000 mummies, we would expect < 1 case…their claim is weakest on the numbers. I would also like to have seen a graduation of evidence. Jumping from ancient Egypt to modern society seems large. If their hypothesis is true, one would expect a gradual increase in cancer rates over time with an explosion in modern times (statistically speaking).

So, I am left a little flat. I think the study was good. However, I think at least one of the authors comments made overstated some claims of the study, contradicted their own study and made comments that were demonstrably false. I think, if the SGU (and more to the point Steve’s entry on Neurologica) was based on the study then they also did a hash of it. However, if you ignore the study and focus on what the authors stated about it and the media spin, their criticisms are more accurate. Irrespective, I liked the study and hated the inaccurate spin that followed it both by the author, the media and the SGU. Better luck next time.

Original article:

http://www.nature.com/nrc/journal/v10/n10/full/nrc2914.html

Interview with Dr. David:

http://www.manchester.ac.uk/aboutus/news/display/?id=6243

Neurologica Blog:

http://theness.com/neurologicablog/?p=2402

For Profit politics – US Healthcare

2010.10.10

A Facebook friend posted this video about the ‘secrecy’ used to pass health care. Watch and read my take on it….

 

The enemy of my enemy is NOT necessarily my friend!

1) Obama is not a leftist, socialist nor very progressive…so no surprise the american “for profit” system of government wins the day and the Healthcare reform did little for ‘main street’ and a jackpot for ‘wall street’
2) The reason it had to go to reconciliation was because of the Republicans…THEY have not given a millimeter (0.04″ for the Yanks). The reason those on the left complained about the bill because it was a (pre-tea party) Republican bill.
3) The Republicans DID have a say, both in committee and, notable, in the VOTES in the Senate and House, where they had several amendments passed. A process used more often by Bush (GW) than any other Prez in history.
4) You think it would have been better with McCain & Palin? Both having proven they are more pro-corporate and anti-‘main-street’ than any Dem.(note how they, Tea Party/Rep are against gov. spending on healthcare but pro spending on military and Big-Agri subsidies). Sadly, there is no better choice.
Take away? A two-party, for profit (thanks to the Supreme Court) political system will ALWAYS screw the people and promote the corporate class. There needs to be a REAL grass-roots movement to elect progressives to the states, governors, house and senate…then after electoral reform, the rest will follow.

An Attack on Libby

2010.06.21

Recently a local MP, Libby Davis, was attacked by Stephen Harper and Bob Rea for comment she made at a rally held in Vancouver on June 5th in support of the Gaza Flotilla. Where she express condemnation of both the Blockage itself and the Israel Defence Force’s handling of the incident that resulted in nine dead and .

I first heard about this in an article on the CBC website. It sounded bad for Libby. I did some research, as any good skeptic should, and found on YouTube both a 5 min clip of the interview with Libby and a 50 second edited clip.

Out of context comments:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MWChzB0wSp0&feature=related

Comments in context:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=utXDAha_vGg&feature=related

From what was written in the CBC article and the comments of both Harper and Rea, it seemed Libby was an ‘anti- Semite’ who wished to wipe Israel from the face of the earth. I then watched the 50 second edited clip (which only had about 20 seconds of Libby speaking) and the ‘commentary’ provided by the obviously pro-Israeli blogger and Libby looked even more horrible.  Then I listened to the full 5 minute interview and suddenly what was said did not sound so ‘anti-Semitic’ or as outlandish.

So let’s take another look at political scepticism.

The heart of the controversy lies in a statement Libby makes about the “Israeli occupation” starting in 1948. As portrayed in the bias edited Clip and implied by the CBC write up, she seems to be denying the right the existence of the state of Israel.  Israel was created in 1948 by a UN Resolution, a resolution that also was supposed to create the state of Palestine. Sadly for Israel, it was attacked by its neighbours in 1948. In the 1948 War, Israel occupied large section of the land that was supposed to be Palestine. It is also interesting to note, that the remaining land that was to become Palestine was occupied by Jordan and Egypt, thus aborting the actual creation of the state of Palestine in 1948.

In this context, it is valid to hold the idea that Israel has been occupying Palestinian land since 1948 and not deny the state of Israel’s existence. FURTHER to say land is occupied does not mean those occupying must ‘pack up and leave’ but it is a useful distinction so as to ensure that compensation is made to those who ‘lost their land’. Estimates vary widely but anywhere from 500, 000 to a million Palestinian were dislocated from their UN mandates land in 1948. I would make a parallel with Canada. Our native population see Canada as ‘occupied’ territory but only the most radical would want to ‘ship us all back to where we came from’.  The more practical use the term to ensure proper restitution is made for the damages suffered by the dispossession of land.  This is a valid position to hold with regards to Israel and land it seized in the 1948 war and that thus Israeli occupation could be said to have begun in 1948. We may disagree on interpretation but we should acknowledge the facts.

There is another aspect of this I find funny. In the long interview she is asked about Boycott Divestment and Sanctions or better known as BDS. This is an attempt by those who believe the Israel is akin to an apartheid state and wish to use the same tactics used to abolish apartheid in South Africa on Israel. For our sake it is simply a boycott on Israeli companies and companies the deal with Israel to apply pressure on Israel to ‘correct its ways’.

She says that on Parliament Hill people are “afraid to speak out on this issue”. She then goes on to say that more information and debate is need. There is the implication that there is an overly strong Israeli lobby that has managed to squash any criticism of Israel on Parliament Hill and equate criticism of Israel as anti-Semitism or worse.  Then to prove her point, there is this massive over reaction to her comments. Libby’s official response, and let us remember she is a politician, was to state she was talking outside he knowledge comfort level and got the dates wrong – which is also very possible for in the interview you here her repeatedly saying that she does not know the historical details and that it is up to the Israelis and Palestinians to achieve their own solutions to the problems in the region. She only wanted to Palestinians to know they had support and that Canadians needed to be better informed of both sides of the issue. Something she sees lacking.

Lastly, I would like to pull the ‘free speech card’. What she said in the interview, was not hate speech. She repeatedly stated a peaceful solution was needed; solution ‘born in Israel/Palestine’ solution. The fact that days after her appearance at the rally and this interview she is being asked to resign from parliament by the Prime Minister of Canada should send a chill down anyone’s back who believes in free speech. In my lecture on Free Speech, I pointed out that speech is not only limited or even mostly limited by law; social pressure does more to both stifle free speech and fair debate in our society than anything else.

I do not ask you to support Libby’s views or statements but I do hope you will acknowledge they are valid even if you don’t agree and let’s try and stop the witch hunts that some extremist types start when someone tries to peel away propaganda from facts and commentary from reality.


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