Monday, January 08, 2007

Random, the First.

According to this, McDonald's UK is going to start buying its coffee from a certified "ethically sourced" producer. They are also apparently doing the same for fish, eggs, milk, and beef. This seems, on balance, to be a good thing, in that McDonald's prior policies have pretty clearly contributed to environmental degradation, labour abuses, etc, etc. I wonder, though, if the US or Canadian arms will follow suit?

It has been suggested to me, though, that the mechanism in question is a bad one for actually helping out poorer farmers. The idea is to pay farmers a premium for their coffee. Fine. But isn't there a supply and demand problem here? That is, higher price is usually taken to signal higher demand, and thus to generate greater supply. Yet generating greater supply decreases price. So, by tacking on a premium, doesn't it follow that the price will actually drop?

There's not a lot of atheists in America, but they seem to be pissing a lot of people off. For example, this article. I'm not 100% clear on what the basis point of it is, though. There's some typical whining about "intemperate" rhetoric and "intolerance" -- which is always amusing when it comes as an attempted defense of religion. (Seriously, do people even read their own holy writ?) There's some oddly-tangential discussion of what look like some rather fringy atheist groups. And then there's the typical weak-kneed appeal for "religious tolerance".

What the religious don't get, though, is that they don't deserve tolerance as long as they continue to sincerely believe that atheists are somehow less worthy than they are. That's ground zero, the most basic premise. We all deserve a certain kind of equal concern and respect, before the law, within society, and between each other. If religion were just a set of wacky beliefs in invisible creatures, no one would waste much time trying to kick it down. The problem, though, is that religion does much more than this. It's not atheists who have a cartoonish, exaggerated picture of religion. It's the religious who have a blinkered conception of what their own "kind" is like.

Here's a philosophy question: does randomness imply free will? The answer, of course, is no: pure determinism or random indeterminism both deny the possibility of free will, but in different ways. The former denies that there are any real choices, the latter denies that choices have any effect. So, I suppose, in a very narrow sense, you've got more free will in the latter case: it's possible, but impotent. Whether or not we actually have free will does seem to depend on whether or not we, as agents, have some causal influence in the surrounding world.

Look! Canada has dishonest right-wing "think tanks" too!

There's been ink and... whatever blogs use... expended discussing the case of Ashley, a severely disabled girl whose growth was deliberately stunted (through medical intervention) so that her parents could continue to care for her. Lindsay Beyerstein at Majikthise discusses the ethics of it here, and her biases are evident. The discussion is broadly consequentialist: again and again we are expected to believe that this is for Ashley's benefit. I would be surprised, though, if many who opposed this intervention particularly cared about what benefitted Ashley and what didn't. The salient issue is surely deontological: that is, if Ashley is a person, is this something that affronts her dignity? If she isn't a person, then we'd apply the same rules to her that would apply to animals. And those indeed may be consequentialist. But by ducking the main issue, this argument basically falls flat on its face.

It's also interesting to note that both this argument, and the one linked within the post, are really buying themselves serious trouble against deontological concerns: both talk about Ashley as if she were a person. It's not clear that a human that severely disabled even qualifies as a person, though. And, if she doesn't, then deontologists might agree with the consequentialist-styled argument. But, by presuming that she is one, the arguments are very open to the critique that they are simply missing the point.

This blows my mind. Apparently, a group of Cuban dignitaries, in Norway for a tourism fair, were not allowed to stay at a hotel owned by the US Hilton hotel chain, because Hilton supports the US blockade of Cuba. The Norwegian company that Hilton owns is now being sued, and the Norwegian Foreign Ministry insists that Norwegian law rules in Norway, not US law.

The part that blows my mind is not that the hotel refused to rent a room to the Cubans. Hotels are a business like any other; if they don't want someone's money, they don't have to take it. What I find unbelievable is that the hotel was stupid enough to blame this decision on the US blockade of Cuba. How dumb to you have to be to not realize that a Norwegian company, operating in Norway, run locally by Norwegians, must follow Norwegian laws?

The Jurist gives a useful snippet analyzing Canada's recent job performance numbers, which look pretty good until you actually look at them. Canada is, once again, following the apparently general trend towards temporary, part-time, contract, casual or self-created work over long-term, stable, full-time employment. "Flexibility" is a fine goal, I suppose, but why don't workers get an option any more?

On a related note, here is a recent article on the pathetic 25 cent increase to Ontario's minimum wage. The justification for such a paltry increase is that any more would hurt businesses and reduce jobs. But, really, isn't this just evading the significant question, namely why are businesses' interests being put above those of people who cannot survive even by working full-time hours? And why are the government's economic and development policies so poor that the choices are either hurt business or watch hard-working people nearly starve?

Oh, look. Apparently, Saddam Hussein is now being co-opted as a martyr. I have little to say about this. It was obvious it would happen, to anyone sane, and it did happen. The management of Iraq is so hopelessly disconnected from the actualities in the region at this point that there's really little need for any further comment. It's not going to get any better, in actuality, and no one's going to do any better, in managing.

Toronto's transit problems continue. The system is unquestionably being pushed to the brink. There has been, in the past year, at least two major incidents involving GO Transit which have stranded tens of thousands of commuters downtown, with no easy alternate way to get home. It is patently absurd that the largest city in Canada, larger than many major US cities, has such a piss-poor public transit system. And yet there appears to be no political will to make the obvious moves: build more subways in the city, extend the subway into the surrounding regions, build dedicated track for GO trains, and build dedicated busways for regional bus routes in and out of the core. Yes, these take money, but failing to do them is costing money and even more. It's beyond time to fix the problem.

Andrew Wakefield, who supposedly established a link between the MMR vaccine and autism, has been exposed as on the take. See here and here for the grim details, but the basic point is that Wakefield's work coincided with a decrease in vaccination and a significant increase in incidence of the diseases. And Wakefield did it because he was paid to. Even if his data are legitimate, this throws such a cloud of suspicion over his results that he cannot be considered a valid source for the alleged vaccine/autism link. This whole vaccine/autism "movement" stinks of opportunistic, ambulance-chasing civil litigators. They know no shame.

No comments: