Thursday, May 26, 2005

More Shenanigans!

This isn’t the first time the religious idiots have sought to impede progress by imposing their “morals” on the general population. I read recently that an HPV vaccine (an STD that causes genital warts and raises the instance of reproductive cancer) that prevents 90% of all infections, is being fought by the religious right.

Bridget Maher of the Family Research Council says “Giving the HPV vaccine to young women could be potentially harmful, because they may see it as a license to engage in premarital sex.”

So what the religious right is saying to you is this…if you have premarital sex and offend our beliefs we want you to die horribly of cancer. Nice eh? So much for turning the other cheek. Who do these people think they are? Since when do they get a say in whether a life saving vaccine gets issued or not? If they are successful here then what is next? Fighting the release of the next AIDS vaccine because it will be potentially harmful because people, gays and straights, will see it as a license to engage in deliciously decadent premarital sex? Bridget Maher and the Family Research Council hate homosexuals (Bridget has a few anti-gay books out) and they’ve already demonstrated they hate sex, so you can bet your bottom dollar that they are going to fight other STD-related vaccines. Because they care about your soul. Riiight. What they really care about is keeping consequences associated with the one thing that should be free in life, your orgasm. They want a price to be paid for having sex, and will not be satisfied until no one is having it, except for holy procreation of course…and only procreation. No wonder Satan is winning, bible thumpers are a bunch of boring do-nothing, know-nothing stiffs (and the not the kind that you get in your pants.)

"Abstinence is the best way to prevent HPV," says Bridget Maher.

Yeah, tell it to your teenage kids.

If any of you remember what it was like being a teenager then you’ll also remember that abstinence was only practiced by those too ugly or too lame to get laid. Seriously, it isn’t an option. I’d rather my kids knew about sex ed (something the religious right has also seen fit to try to take out of the classroom) and knew about condoms and birth control so they could make an educated choice rather then coming to me and saying I’m going to be a grandpa and they haven’t even graduated high school yet. Or having to make the hard grown up choice as to whether to have an abortion all because I failed as a parent to tell them about BC (since the schools can’t do it).

If you think your kid is going to remain a virgin of his/her own free will then you are living in LaLa land. You are doing your child a disservice as a parent by preaching abstinence at them or handing them a bible pamphlet. Be a grown up and have a talk about the birds and the bees with your kids! Don’t leave it up to the religious right to make your decisions for you and your kids, they have a history of making the wrongs ones then not cleaning up their mess.

The Religious Right and their Damnable Meddling.

So I got into it with a conservative on the message boards today about the use of embryonic stem cells in medical research. The conservative was of the view that the research was not only unethical but unnecessary as well. He said that there were more viable applications for adult stem cell research (ASCR) than there were for embryonic stem cell research (ESCR). He was right but for the wrong reasons.

I’ll provide some background on the controversy. ASC can be culled from an adult host without any harm. ESC can be harvested from embryos as their name suggests. Harvesting ESC from embryos destroys the embryo. Naturally ESCR has come under fire from anti-abortion advocates as they argue that these embryos, like the fetus are potential human beings and should be afforded the same rights as any human being. The reason ESC are sought after is because, unlike ASC, they have the capacity to differentiate into any and all tissue types. ASC are limited to a few different tissue types.

What the conservative failed to take into account when commenting on the apparent uselessness of ESCR is the fact that when Bush Jr. clamped down on research in 2001, he restricted an entire nation of scientists to only ten stem cell lines. The official political number was 60 cell lines, but in reality many of those cell lines were contaminated with animal cells (the use of mouse feeder cells to keep the stem cells going for example) and not appropriate for human research. Average wait times for access to the NIH maintained stem cells was 6-9 months. No wonder the research was at a standstill. So for the last 4 years a stem cell scientist had one of two options, wait patiently for the NIH to get back to him, or privately fund his own stem cell line (which was not prohibited). A third option has become available and more and more American scientists are taking advantage of it and that is to leave the country altogether and go to a country that has less or no restrictions. Some of the recent big breakthroughs for example have come from South Korea.

The folly of this sad tale is that the pro-birth regiments have politicized this science and would rather see people suffer and die than allow the march of progress. Scientists aren’t advocating that we rip the stem cells from young pregnant mother’s wombs, because if they were I would say HELL NO! I’m against that! But no, the scientists are just asking to allow people the choice of donating their extra embryos left over from IVF, embryos that will eventually have to be destroyed anyway (unless a bunch of pro-birth women are willing to line up and offer up their uteri).

The pro-birthers are dogged in their belief that an embryo is a person. Let time I checked an embryo has the potential to be a person, but we don’t grant rights to “virtual” people, or “almost” people. A clump of cells that have neither nerves, nor neurons doesn’t really qualify. Arguing on behalf of a fetus in the 2nd trimester I could see (if not necessarily agree with), but 100 cells? I shed more than a 100 cells each time I take a crap.

Thursday, May 19, 2005

The Pink Menace

Love or hate it, it is all over the media.

The fair and balanced state of Texas has just recently banned the fostering of children by gay couples. The sunny positive state of Florida has strong anti-gay adoption laws. It is all done under the guise of protecting the children and defending the institution of marriage. Just what are we protecting them from?

Let’s address some of the misgivings of those that are opposed to homosexuals having any rights, be it for marriage or for establishing a semblance of a family through the fostering or adoption of children.

Gay marriage threatens the tradition of marriage.

How does gay couples getting married accomplish that exactly? To any who read this that are married, is your marriage going to be less of a marriage because Linda and Lisa decide they want to pursue a monogamous commitment to each other? Or that Jack and John want to hang up their dancing shoes because nothing else is more real to them than their relationship to one another? The fact that gay couples are getting married does not diminish the importance of your own marriage nor does it diminish the institution of marriage. People, gay or straight, are getting married for the same reasons, to demonstrate a commitment to each other that goes beyond words.

And as far as respect for the tradition of marriage goes, far more damage has been done to the institution by the heterosexuals it is purportedly supposed to serve. Anyone remember the 55 hr. marriage? Or how does the 50% divorce rate grab ya?

Marriage is between a man and a woman.

The bible would certainly imply this, but the debate that is raging in the US and Canada is not about religious marriage but rather secular marriage. I, for one, would not support forcing churches to carry out gay ceremonies or even forcing them to accept gay parishioners or clergy. Simply because why would you want to be part of a faith that says that something is wrong with you? So back to secular marriage, the reason why there is such a debate to begin with is because it is not defined in law that marriage is between “a man and a woman”, indeed it is a legal contract that can be entered into by consenting adults. Basically there is a fight going on in the US on a state-by-state basis that is trying to enshrine those words in the State Constitutions thereby barring any same sex unions.

Gay marriage is against the Bible.

Indeed the bible seems pretty clear on this. At least the Old Testament is. Jesus didn’t have very much to say on the subject. If you are a good Christian then you should abide by those rules. The dandy thing about the US is there is supposed to be a separation of Church and State, meaning that if you are going to establish laws then they have to be based on sound legal reasoning and not religious belief. Preventing gay marriage because it offends your religion is not reason enough to have a law against it. Another thing about the crafting of laws is that you can’t make a law that unfairly targets a person or an identifiable group of people; all laws should apply to everyone equally. I’ll speak more about this later.

Marriage is for procreation and gay people can’t procreate.


This is a popular legal argument to ban gay marriage. The only problem with this is that if you are going to use a “procreation test” for each marriage then sterile people couldn’t get married, neither could people past their child bearing years, nor the people that voluntarily decide not to have children. Gay couple’s have the same options as straight couples (all state laws aside) when it comes to adoption, or even in vitro fertilization.

Gay couples lead to gay kids.

This school of thought has been used to ban gay couples from adopting or fostering children. It is absurd on the face of it when you must recognize that gay people initially had to be born of straight parents. As for gay people molesting children, there is no more likelihood that a gay person will molest a child than would a straight person. Indeed, because homosexuality is a minority behaviour then the chances of finding a gay person who also molests children is smaller then finding a straight person who also molests children.

Homosexual activists are wrongly comparing their fight for civil rights to the struggle of blacks or women.

This statement is made in reference to the fact that laws cannot be crafted to target an identifiable group of persons. Both blacks and women are identifiable from birth, but gays, they argue, are not. This derives from the debate over whether homosexuality is a choice or not. Recent articles about gay men reacting to male pheromones much like straight women have surfaced in the media. Other articles refer to the relative sizes of the hippocampus in the brain of gay males being similar to the sizes of straight females.

All the science aside we could analyze the situation with common sense.

Why would anyone choose to adopt a lifestyle that would:

1. Get their ass kicked on a regular basis.
2. Make them hate themselves.
3. Get them cast out of their church and God’s love.
4. Get disowned by their family and friends.
5. See that they never have the same rights with their partner of 20 years that straight couples get after day 1 of marriage.
6. Have people constantly tell them that they’re going to hell.
7. Have the same people tell them that they’ll pray for their sins.

That’s just for starters. Basically it is your choice to become a pariah in your own society? Who would willingly choose that? Which leads me to another question.

When was the last time you choose to be straight? Do you wake up in the morning and think to yourself, “Yeah I’m really attracted to the opposite sex today! Yesterday was a fluke. I blame the beer.” Do you? I’ll tell you how often I think about it. Zero. Surprised? Don’t be. No one invests time in thinking about his or her orientation; it is just there, like the nose on your face.

Asking a gay person to be straight is like asking a straight person to be gay, you could force them to do it, but they wouldn’t like it and they wouldn’t be happy. You don’t have to like gay people or approve of their lifestyle but you should be big enough to treat them with the respect that any human being deserves. They should be able to get married and adopt or foster kids and have a chance at a family life that every straight person has a right to.

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Electoral Reform in BC

Tomorrow (or today as it is late) BC will ponder not only what Premier to vote for but to vote on perhaps adopting a new voting system. Currently we have the first-past-the-post system, that is very "to the winner, the spoils" in nature. The new system on the table is called STV or Single Transferable Vote. In a nutshell, after redrawing some constituencies you will have a choice between several MLA's in your riding, and you can vote for only one, but the neat thing is you can rank the MLA's by preference, so if your 1st choice wins the minimum necessary votes to be elected then the excess votes are allocated to your second choice. In thery no vote goes to waste and the elected MLA's reflect more closely the popular vote. So if your party has 30% popularity among the people, you will most like get 30% of the MLA's.

I received an e-mail telling me that some economists do not think that STV is a good thing. The one thing that never fails to amuse me is that economists and accountants, as good as they are with numbers, money and statistical models on how to make money, they miss the human element in the equation. So I wrote a reply and decided to make it a blog article as well.

This is what the Vancouver Board of Trade had to say about STV.

Board recommends "No" vote on STV

May 12, 2005

Dear member,

On Election Day, May 17, you will be asked to vote in a referendum on a new electoral process called Single Transferable Vote (STV).

The Board of Trade has studied the implications of STV as a voting process, and while The Board does support electoral reform, it does not support STV for the following reasons:

1. If STV had been used to elect our MLAs, in the last 35 years there would have been only one majority government.
2. Minority governments tend to be short lived, which would mean more frequent elections, leading politicians to be shortsighted in an attempt to get re-elected.
3. Constant coalition governments could threaten sound economic policy in our province.
4. The number of constituencies in the province would be drastically reduced, and the size of rural ridings would be doubled, resulting in less effective local representation.
5. In large city ridings there would be numerous MLAs, and the number of names on election ballots would be enormous.
6. The most worrisome issue is that under a STV system, a party with minority representation can end up wielding most of the power.

For example, Germany, over the past six decades, has been governed by a series of coalition governments. Generally, neither of the two largest parties in Germany receives a majority of the votes, so they must attract a smaller party to achieve a majority in their federal assembly in order to form a government. In turn, that smaller party is in a position to dictate the terms of the alliance, thereby thwarting the democratic process.

The current situation in Ottawa, where the Liberals are negotiating agreements with a smaller party in order to maintain government, is a good illustration of what would happen under the STV system.

To keep our economy strong, British Columbia needs strong leadership, especially in government, where economic policy is formed. If B.C. moves to the STV voting process it will compromise the ability of the government, from any party, to effectively lead this province.

On May 17, The Board of Trade recommends a "No" vote to STV.

Sincerely,

Graeme Stamp
Chairman

http://www.boardoftrade.com/vbot_page.asp?pageid=1648

This is my reply to the fat cats who obviously didn't give this enough thought.

A point-by-point rebuttal:

1.A minority government in itself is not a negative point.

2.What the Vancouver Board of Trade fail to take under consideration is that if the system changes so do the underlying motivations of the politicians. This is a necessary adjustment.

Minority governments are short-lived today because the current system encourages a majority "winner-takes-all" government. There was a real benefit in trying to bring down a minority government because there was a real chance that the usurper's party could win a majority status. With STV the risks outweigh the benefits, as there is less of a guarantee that the usurper could get anything more than a minority him/herself. STV would offer more consistent minority governments and the politicians would have to adjust or suffer the consequences.

3. And a majority government couldn’t do the same? Look to the NDP years under Glen Clark.

4. How so? The constituency maps will be redrawn and a certain amount of amalgamation will occur, but the total number of seats available across the new constituencies will equal the number of seats across the old.

5. Define enormous. 100? 1000? Currently their are 79 constituencies for 79 seats. Under STV there could be as few as 18 constituencies. On average that is 4 seats per constituency. Let’s say that urban centers are actually allocated double that, so you’ve got eight MLA’s positions to fill. Let’s assume 3 people run per position that is 24 persons to decide from. Big, but not unmanageable. This is probably the only real negative I can see about STV and it is weak.

6. Isn’t that what happens with majority governments elected by a minority of the popular vote? 1996 the NDP were elected by 40% of the popular vote to get a majority government. Under STV a party with minority representation can hold some influence as a swing voter, but that is hardly the unequaled power of the current systems majority governments.

--"For example, Germany, over the past six decades it
has been governed by a series of coalition governments. Generally, neither of the two largest parties in Germany receives a majority of the votes, so they must
attract a smaller party to achieve a majority in their federal assembly in order to form a government. In turn, that smaller party is in a position to dictate the terms of the alliance, thereby thwarting the
democratic process."--

The democratic process is about everyone having an equal voice and making decision based on committee, not making decisions based on the whim of the ruling party. What the Germans have is what I like to call a “government that listens”, if only because it is forced to. Using their example, Germany has been doing well with minority governments for decades and I don't see their economy suffering because of it. Also I'd like to add, if parties co-operated more across the aisle there would not be a need to form coalitions where one small party weilds influence out of proportion to it's size. Less selfishness, less agenda setting, more stable governments.

--"The current situation in Ottawa, where the Liberals
are negotiating agreements with a smaller party in
order to maintain government, is a good illustration of what would happen under the STV system."--

Again comparing the federal situation in Ottawa under the first-past-the-post system and drawing the conclusion that the same will happen in BC under the STV system is erroneous as the selective pressures that drive both of these systems are very different.

--"To keep our economy strong, British Columbia needs
strong leadership,..."--

There is nothing to say that a minority government cannot provide strong leadership. In the end all the parties want generally the same thing, a strong and productive BC. Since when has it been to a leader’s detriment to hear out the opposition and seriously consider what they have to say? Can no good ideas arise from the opposition? An STV fueled minority government would be less adversarial and more advisor-arial.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

Outsourcing

From an MIS point of view you only outsource your low-skilled, low-tech jobs. This is done because of the idea that there is someone out there that can do what you are doing in-house a lot cheaper and more efficiently that you can yourself. It is a golden rule never to outsource your company’s core competencies, because in theory that is what makes your company unique and viable as a going concern. It is the area that you are supposed to be an expert in. If you could outsource your core competencies then you obviously aren’t much of a company with much to offer.

I don’t have a problem with outsourcing in general. It isn’t a bad idea as long as you outsource within your borders. Outsourcing overseas to markets like India and China does nothing but discriminate against local workers. I read the other day in the Globe and Mail that Dell just outsourced 2000 jobs to India. Great for Dell, great for the shareholders, greater still for management whose strike price for their options have finally been reached allowing them to cash in on thousands if not millions of dollars. It is, however, a shitty deal for the 2000 low-end, low-tech workers that have just lost their jobs and benefits because some CEO wants a fat Christmas bonus.

I’ve done some research on the positives of outsourcing and most sources cite that because corporations are allowed to “offshore” the low end jobs they can preserve and create more higher skilled higher paying jobs. The statistics seem to support this on its face. However, higher skilled, higher paying jobs means the workforce has to be even more educated to qualify for a position.

You see it more often today that even for a menial skilled job in a corporate office like for example a mailroom clerk (something that they have not found a way to outsource…yet) needs a university degree to even be considered for the position. Since when do you need a Bachelors in Physics to sort mail? The bar has been raised, so much so that corporate jobs are increasingly becoming beyond the reach of the average person.

Corporations don’t want to invest any time in their employees anymore. They only want to hire those that can hit the ground running. For example, I have a university degree and a good portion of my professional designation completed but I only qualify for an entry-level position. I have plenty of education but so does everyone else. I lack experience and that is what is hurting me. But at least I qualify for a job. Those that don’t have the education either because they couldn’t afford it or it wasn’t their forte are condemned to McJob’s (or the lucky few who get factory work, provided the plant isn’t “relocated” to Mexico to cut expenses).

The root of the problem is twofold. One is the inequality of the international labour laws and the economic conditions in foreign countries. A corporation can get away with paying an Indian worker 5$ US a day, because to the Indian worker it seems like a decent wage considering the economic realities of his country. A Chinese worker that has little say about his pay because the local labour laws are light years behind that of Canada or the US.

The second problem is the genius that decided to try to align the interests of management with the interests of the shareholders by making management’s wealth and rewards tied to the fortunes of the company by offering them option packages. All this does is force management to look for ways to make their company look pretty in the financial statements, so when they are released it misleads investors into thinking that they are an attractive investment and boost the share price by investing in herds. Management looks for short term boosts so they can cash out and to hell with the long-term. Who suffers in the short-term? The non-management employees, that’s who. Who is left holding the bag? The shareholders.

It is directly from the CEO playbook, a new CEO gets hired the first thing he/she does is looks for ways to cut expenses. The easiest expense to cut? Employees. Fire a few people and make the remaining people work harder and outsource “unnecessary” positions to countries you’ve never heard of. The result, expenses are down, profits are up, and the debt/equity ratio looks pretty. All this translates into the CEO appearing like he/she is earning their keep, stock rise, CEO cashes out, company enters into a crisis, CEO gets fired and the process starts all over again.

It is in management’s best interest to behave like this because there are no repercussions for this behaviour. CEO’s often sign on with a company with a handsome bonus and a clause in their contracts referred to as a “poison pill” or “golden parachute” which basically states no matter how badly they fuck the company and it’s shareholders, the company must pay a king’s ransom to fire them. It was originally conceived as a defense against hostile takeovers (which usually resulted in management getting fired en masse), but lately CEO’s have been employing it as a carte blanche to do what they will in the company. Seriously, when you are making tens of millions in one year after you exercise your options and have a poison pill clause, so what if you get fired the very next year? You just move on to your next executive position.

So what can be done to level the playing field? CEO’s should be paid a salary (and they should also be barred from sitting on their friends Board of Directors, but that is another mess), no options that are tied to the stock price. Pay a bonus instead. No more poison pills written into starting contracts. If they want some protection have vested clauses instead (clauses that become active after a period of time, to reflect their performance and dedication to the company).

About outsourcing to other countries…this is a tricky one. You could legislate that all outsourcing has to be down within the country, but then corporations would pick up and flee the country. Or you could legislate that the only countries that can be outsourced to are countries that meet a certain standard for economic robustness and labour protection, and ban imports from countries and corporations that maintain offices there that don’t meet these requirements. The only problem is the corporate lobbies own the political parties, which is why outsourcing became an option in the first place.

I remember when I was taking a course in Cost Accounting. They focused heavily on ethics as well as the technical aspects of accounting. One such question was if a machine came out that could replace an entire department how would I handle the transition of the employees in that department as the ranking cost accountant. I answered that if the time frame was long enough I would gradually phase in the new machine as people retired or moved to new jobs. If the time frame were tight I would try to place what individuals I could in other departments and offer to re-train the rest for some other position. Being an ethics question I was told that there was no “right or wrong”, but my answer was optimistic and somewhat na├»ve. I guess I’m in the wrong profession as my answer wasn’t really cost effective.

Corporations have to realize that they have a social responsibility to their employees and to their country of residence. They can’t be allowed to callously take away thousands of families means to support themselves and write theses people off. They may create more choices for people with high-level skills but those people are in a minority, the reality is they are taking choices away from poor and undereducated to have a chance at a decent standard of living.