Saturday, February 28, 2009


This kind of idiocy always makes me crazy. In a nutshell, it's claimed that the Dow Jones drops under Democratic governments in the US and goes up under Republican governments. And this is supposed to be the Democrats' fault: they are bad in government because the Dow goes down.

Let's assume, for the moment, that the numbers are accurate and that this is a fair measure of whether a government is good or not. But notice what's done here -- what's always done in these sorts of arguments. The individual people who made choices that drove the Dow down are let entirely off the hook. As if they are helpless automata, incapable of making and being held responsible for their own choices. In this particular argument, the assumption cuts both ways. When Republicans are in charge, they are the source of Dow success, not the careful choices of other people (investors and so on). Similarly, when Democrats are in charge, they are the source of Dow decline, not the mistaken choices of other people.

In this argument, and many others like it, the fact that an economy is no more -- and no less -- than the choices of individual people (and collectives of individual people, of course; don't mean to ignore them) is ignored, which serves to alienate people from their own responsibility. You want to know why the Dow's going down? Because a lot of individual people are choosing to save themselves rather than try to help everyone else out. Insofar as that's bad -- making no assumption as to whether it is, or why if it is -- then these people should be blamed. Not the government.

(And, again, it's just weird to see the way this assumption is wielded against people's success as well as their failures: success is similarly not due to wisdom or care or responsible conduct, but due to the careful guidance of a paternal government.)

Is this for real?

If this is true, it's a monumentally stupid idea.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Friday metal-blogging.

In Flames, "Only for the Weak"

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Sometimes I really hate being right.

Shockingly, amazingly, York has now terminated at least twenty limited-term appointments from the faculty of arts, and plans to replace them with CUPE 3903 per-course contract lecturers. (Story here.) I note that, if CUPE 3903's proposals for contract lecturers had made it into a collective agreement, this sort of move would not have been cost-effective, and so would not have happened.

I suppose, though, that these limited-term professors have no one to blame but themselves for their obvious scholarly inadequacy.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Oh, lord.

Jason Kenney -- you know the one -- has criticized the CUPE Ontario Israel motion. No, seriously.

Has he ever not been an idiot?

Amusing myself.

Over here, we see some hilariously bad arguments against the recent CUPE motion. Three points. First, the blogger assumes that moral beliefs are absolute and universal. Maybe if you're Immanuel Kant, but most others would dispute that characterization. It's also entirely irrelevant to his argument, such as it is. I found the claim entertaining, though.

Second, he makes the tired old "but what about all these other people who are doing bad stuff, too!" argument. By that logic, no one could ever condemn anything, as there's always going to be something they've left out. Not to mention that it's an instance of a tu quoque fallacy.

Third, there's an appeal to the union's "mandated purpose", "to further the opportunities for its employees, and work to create a better working environment". I'm not sure where that "purpose" is "mandated", but let's assume it is. How does it follow from that that CUPE can't pass this motion? I suppose the claim is that it's a non sequitur: that is, there's no connection between the "mandated purpose" and the motion. But that's clearly false; Israelis do business in Canada, and Israelis will come into contact with CUPE members. So, the better way to read this, I think, is that there's too little connection. That might be true, but isn't it up to CUPE members to decide how closely or distantly connected some motion or other needs to be in order to pass? If it isn't, then where is the line? Could CUPE have passed a similar motion against Nazi Germany (a deliberately extreme example)? Against the US during the Dubya years? Again, where's the line supposed to be?

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Well, since the Toronto Star endorsed Andrea Horwath... clearly follows that Dippers should not elect her party leader.

Indeed, I'm not sure why the Horwath campaign is touting this endorsement as anything significant. To call it "tepid" would be an insult to lukewarm tea. They trash Hampton as "too confrontational" -- seriously, Howard Hampton? -- and "too northern" -- whatever that means (can we call McGuinty and Tory "too southern", then?). They list three candidates that they'd rather have in the race, only one of whom they give reason to believe is actually in the party. And they say "none" of the four candidates are inspiring (again, whatever that means).

Gilles Bisson is dismissed as, again, "too northern". I have to wonder, really, whether this is some sort of anti-francophone bias, or possibly anti-rural; it's really inexplicable otherwise. Bisson is articulate, clever, and has clearly thought about what needs to be done to push the ONDP forward. Michael Prue supposedly questioned the party's decision to delay passage of the York U bill, which, as far as I can tell, is a flat lie: Prue wanted the government to defend the need for the bill, and said he would support it if that defense was forthcoming (shocking news: it wasn't). Other than that, he's called "hackneyed" -- because of his campaign slogan. What are they going to criticize next, his voice? His haircut? Peter Tabuns is called a one-issue candidate, with a heavy focus on energy policy -- which is grossly unfair, as all four are pushing environmental issues, as is typical for the NDP.

So, why pick Andrea Horwath? She's young, from southern Ontario, and female. Seriously. That's their reasoning.

Why is the Horwath campaign proud of this "endorsement"?

Oh, come on.

So, CUPE Ontario passed a motion calling for various kinds of "sanctions" against Israel (see here). Here's what the Toronto Star reports the motion says:
It calls on the union to develop an education campaign on what it calls Israel's "apartheid" practices, such as building a wall around Palestinian territory and invading the Gaza Strip in December; asks the union to back an international campaign of sanctions and boycotts against the country and asks the national union to start researching Canadian connections to Israel's occupation of the Palestinian territories.

So, basically, advertising, a boycott, and some further research. Pretty innocuous, really. But, then there's this:
"Our fear and our concern is that there could be violence against Jewish workers," said Meir Weinstein, national director of the Jewish Defence League of Canada. "Wherever there are calls for a boycott of Israel and the Jewish state, there is violence against Jews."
Seriously. Advertising, a boycott, and research will lead to violence against Jews, says the JDL national director.

I wonder if, in his view, there is any such thing as legitimate criticism or action against Israel. If he's not okay with advertising, a boycott, and research, what would he be okay with?

(Oh, and, before anyone brings it up: the part of the motion CUPE Ontario prez Sid Ryan was calling for, i.e., a ban on Israeli academics from Canadian university campuses, either didn't pass or wasn't even debated. In either case, it's no part of this motion.)

Friday, February 20, 2009

Friday metal-blogging.

Gojira, "All the Tears"

Thursday, February 19, 2009


I believe it's from Digg, but this made me laugh.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


I might actually have a dissertation chapter drafted by week's end. Go me.

Five more to go after that....

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Bonus long weekend metal-blogging.

I had no idea a video existed for this song. Arch Enemy, "Bury Me An Angel".

Friday, February 13, 2009


With Canadian content, no less. Strapping Young Lad, "Love?"

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Attention Yorkies.

I know at least a few York students read this blog. Since this hasn't been well-publicized yet, I thought I should post it here:
In response to requests from students for greater flexibility in the way that courses may be completed following the strike, and during the current economic instability, the University is offering students the ability to drop Fall term and Full Year courses and transfer their tuition fees paid to the 2009/2010 academic year. Students may drop a Fall term course (term "F") or a full year (term "Y") course and may apply the tuition fees to courses taught in Winter 2009, Summer 2009 or Fall/Winter 2009/2010.

This arrangement will be available only up until April 30, 2010. Tuition fees may be applied on students' accounts towards next year's fees.

Tuition fees of all courses to be taken under the F and Y course tuition credit option must be paid by March 1, 2009 to take advantage of this option.

Students wishing to withdraw from an F term course must apply for this option by March 10, 2009. Students wishing to withdraw from a Y term course must apply by April 3, 2009. The completed application form should be directed to Ms Joanne Duklas, University Registrar, via fax at 416-736-5444 or through the Registrarial Services drop box in the Bennett Centre for Student Services.

Students on OSAP should speak with an adviser in Student Client Services in the Bennett Centre prior to dropping courses in order to ensure taking up this option will not affect their current status or put them into an overpayment status.

The application and further information regarding this opportunity will be posted at by the end of this week.

Yours truly,

Robert Tiffin
Vice-President Students
York University

Saturday, February 07, 2009

This is sort of cool.

SSHRC and other research funding cuts by Lib/Con grand coalition.

Two press releases that deserve wide reading.

From the Canadian Association of University Teachers here:
Shortchanged & Restricted:
Granting Councils Are Budget Losers

Many in Canada’s academic research community are ringing alarm bells over this year’s federal budget, warning that inadequate funding and increased government oversight will make it more difficult to attract and retain researchers.

While Finance Minister Jim Flaherty touted the budget as an economic action plan that included a new two-year, $2 billion infrastructure fund for univer­sities and colleges, CAUT’s executive director James Turk said he was mystified by the budget’s failure to increase funding for Canada’s three research granting agencies.

“There’s probably no better investment in the long-term economic and social well-being of Canadians than an investment in people and ideas,” said Turk. “That’s why it’s so bewildering the government is actually taking money away from the three agencies.”

He noted that buried inside the bud­get is a mention that the government had identified “strategic review savings” within the granting councils in overlaps of programs that will result in a decrease
in funding of close to $148 million over the next three years.

Some of the savings — $87.5 million — will be returned to the granting agen­cies not for research but to temporarily expand the Graduate Scholarships Pro­gram. The balance will be reallocated to the infrastructure fund and to upgrade Arctic research facilities.

“In the United States, the Obama ad­ministration recognizes that investments in research contribute to economic renewal rather than add to the national and global deficit and is proposing al­most $7 billion in new academic research funding as part of its stimulus package,” Turk said. “Our government’s failure to make a decision in supporting research and development initiatives will increase the likelihood that Canada will lose some of its top researchers.”

The government is also attaching new strings to the research funding it’s offering. The temporary graduate scholarships awarded by SSHRC have to be focused on business-related degrees and the Canada Foundation for Innovation, which will receive $150 million in the current fiscal year and up to $600 mil­lion in future years, will be required to develop a new strategic plan in collabora­tion with the Ministry of Industry with all future CFI projects assessed based on priorities identified by the Minister.

“These are very disturbing developments that threaten to politicize aca­demic research,” says Turk. “Funding de­cisions should be made on their me­rit by the research community, not by politicians.”

The budget also provides $50 million to the Institute for Quantum Computing at the University of Waterloo and $110 million over three years to the Canadian Space Agency.

The new infrastructure funding of $2 billion announced in the budget is intended to “repair, retrofit and expand facilities at post-secondary institutions.” Project proposals will be managed by Industry Canada with preference given to projects that improve the quality of university research and development, and colleges’ ability to deliver skills training.

CAUT president Penni Stewart is concerned that there are serious flaws in the program because of requirements that institutions raise at least half of the funding through other sources.

“Provincial governments are facing serious fiscal restraints, and in light of the current economic downturn, it is going to be a challenge for universities and colleges to leverage support from the private sector,” she said. “In short, there is no guarantee the money will actually be spent.”

Stewart also said the budget failed to address the most important needs for the post-secondary education community. Among them, she said, is trans­fers to provinces for core operating funding
for universities and colleges, more funding for academic research and funding for student financial assistance.

“Overall the budget will not adequ­ately stimulate the Canadian economy, will do little for the most vulnerable and will fail to meet the needs of Ca­nada’s vital post-secondary education sector,” she said.

From the Canadian Federation of Students Graduate Student Caucus (no link as yet):
For immediate release
Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Federal budget fails research community

OTTAWA—By cutting funding to the research granting agencies, the federal government has betrayed the research community and damaged the ability of Canadian universities to undertake innovative research. Losses to the base budgets of granting councils more than offset the gains made by the Canada Foundation for Innovation and graduate students under the Canada Graduate Scholarships.

“For university researchers, this is the worst federal budget in more than a decade,” said Graham Cox, Chairperson of the National Graduate Student Caucus. “It boggles the mind that Minister Flaherty can imagine a prosperous Canada with less innovative university research.”

The federal budget announces $148M in cuts to the granting councils over the next three years. In addition to cuts to core research funding, the budget shifts funding to graduate scholarships asymmetrically across disciplines. Graduate students in the social sciences and humanities, who comprise approximately 50% of all graduate students, will not benefit from the scholarship increase unless they are business students.

In addition to measures designed to ease the financial burden faced by American students, the U.S. stimulus package proposed by President Barak Obama includes a $3 billion investment in the National Science Foundation, $3.5 billion for the National Institutes of Health and $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts. In total, President Obama is recommending increasing research funding in the U.S. by $12.5 billion.

“In light of the university research renaissance in the United States and elsewhere, it is clear Canada needs to prioritise graduate student funding to keep pace,” said Cox. “But this government has chosen to interfere in the grant selection process and ignore advice from researchers.”

The National Graduate Caucus of the Canadian Federation of Students represents over 60 000 graduate students.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Friday metal-blogging.

As opposed to cat-blogging. Blood Stain Child, "Freedom".

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Still fighting York U's asshole president.

This might be fun, or might be a bust. I'll keep an eye out:
The following motion was passed by a majority of members at the February 4 general membership meeting:

Be it Resolved,

that the general membership recommends that the two CUPE senators submit the following motion in writing in time for consideration by the Senate executive meeting on February 10th, and if such a motion is accepted, that they move and second this motion at the Senate meeting on February 26:

Be it Resolved,

In light of President Shoukri’s failure to recognize that the educational issues that led to the longest strike in English-Canadian university history are issues that CUPE Local 3903 has communicated to the York community since November 6th, 2008, the first day of the 85-day strike, and his failure to lead a much-needed open public dialogue on these system-wide issues and to direct the York bargaining team to return to the bargaining table to reach a negotiated settlement in good faith, as is their duty under Ontario Labour Relations Law – even after 63% of CUPE members voted “No” in a forced ratification vote to the Employer’s last offer and after premier McGuinty asked him to return to the bargaining table – this Senate has lost confidence in this president and is of the opinion that he failed to protect the democratic right to collective bargaining, abandoned principles of academic integrity and fairness, and betrayed the community’s core values of quality, accessible higher education and social justice.

Note: According to the Senate Handbook, this is a hortative motion that expresses Senate opinion on matters lying outside its jurisdiction. The Chair, with the advice of the executive, is responsible for determining if the motion is in order. A ruling that that this motion is out of order will be reported to Senate along with a rationale for the ruling. But any such ruling is subject to challenge.

Score another one for the Liberal/Conservative coalition.

I hadn't noticed this:
"Insanity," claimed Albert Einstein, "is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. By that definition, the government's current budget plan for SSHRC scholarships is surely insane. Fully 100% of all new graduate funding in the social sciences is being restricted to "business-related degrees". Wait a minute. Wasn't it folks with business-related degrees who got us into this recession in the first place? Why support more of the same?
I suppose it's a good thing that I'm outside my eligibility for SSHRC doctoral funding, but, seriously, WTF? It's not enough that the Liberal/Conservative coalition doesn't want to fund genetic research, now they don't want to fund anyone in any social science or humanities discipline, unless they're in a "business-related degree"? These people really don't seem to get that the only thing that can build Canada's economy for the future is getting a more educated, and better-educated, citizenry, which includes providing decent funding for graduate studies. Otherwise, people are going to leave the country to get their degrees -- and probably not come back.


A creative economy in Ontario? The same Ontario that just legislated university educators back to work and wouldn't even talk about underfunding of post-secondary education? (I was watching the proceedings; the unwillingness and/or inability of the Liberals to defend their record here was just pathetic.) That Ontario? Yeah, right.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

The hostage metaphor.

I'm still pondering issues related to labour unions and freedom. But here's a half-thought that occurred to me during that pondering. Often, strikes are referred to as "taking someone hostage", where the "someone" can be a city (e.g., transit strike), a student population (e.g., teachers' strike) or some such. I have two problems with this metaphor.

First, it's offensive to genuine hostages. People who are taken hostage have no ability to control their own destinies and are frequently in danger of losing their lives. (Indeed, hostages are actually killed with frightening regularity.) Strikes rarely threaten anyone with death or serious physical harm. In cases where they might, essential services legislation is appropriate (so, police and physicians, for example). Furthermore, people who are affected by a strike often have options to alleviate their inconveniences. Students can withdraw from universities or occupy their time in non-academic ways (e.g., work or learning a new skill). Persons affected by transit strikes can use other transportation (e.g., taxis, bikes, carpooling, walking) or simply stay home.

The point is not that there are no harms associated with strikes; the point is that these harms fall far short of the level needed to justify using the metaphor of a hostage taking. And the use of the metaphor offends against those who truly have been taken hostage. If you like, this is parallel to the way overusing the Nazi metaphor (e.g., a "soup nazi") offends against those who suffered under the Nazi regime.

Second, it speaks to a certain level of narcissism on the part of the so-called hostages. Missing a few months of school or slipping and sliding through snow for a few months is really not that important. Yes, it's not fun. Yes, it means plans have to be changed. Yes, it means life becomes very inconvenient and unpleasant. These, and similar, are all true claims. But they don't matter that much.

I've lived through teachers' strikes, transit strikes (3 months-plus in Vancouver), TA strikes, even a physicians' strike (in BC), and, somehow, I have survived. I am well. My life plans continue more or less apace. Strikes are a problem that needs to be accommodated, not a crime against natural law or whatever the argument is supposed to be. (That the argument derived from the hostage metaphor is never made clear also speaks, I think, to its weakness.) Failing a university course is a problem that needs to be accommodated, not the end of the world; I've done it, I'm still here. Losing important documents and office equipment is a problem that needs to be accommodated; I've done that, too, and am still here.

The point is that no one has a right not to have bad things happen to them. They may, arguably, have a right not to have bad things done to them, but the effects of strikes are not done to any of the supposed hostages -- instead, they happen to such people. (As a way of catching the distinction: it's bad for a hundred people to die in a hurricane, but no one has a right not to die in a hurricane; it's monstrous for a hundred people to be killed by a single murderer, and a case can be made that everyone has a right not to be murdered. When something happens, we can judge it bad on the grounds that it produces bad consequences, but we speak nonsense if we call it wrong; for an action to be wrong it must be done by someone against us.) To elevate what happens to us to the level of what is done to us is to treat our sufferings as necessarily the fault of the world (or society), and thus is to claim that we are sufficiently important that the world (or society) should ensure that bad things don't happen to us. This is an obvious kind of narcissism or egotism: the world (or society) could be faulted for doing bad things to us, or for not giving us sufficient opportunities to prevent bad things from happening to us, but none of us is important enough that we have a right to be protected from having bad things happen to us.