Good politicians

I’ve added Chief Justice Roberts to the list of statesmen I admire. At the top of that list is MIchigan’s governor, Rick Snyder.

(Couldn’t let the month go by without a post.  Should have more to say soon, maybe.)

Posted in democracy

Evolution and Morality

A very large part of science, and philosophy in general, is speculation: Coming up with a hypothesis; proposing or refining a theory. Observation and experimentation to refute or confirm that speculation is what makes up the rest of the scientific method.

I’m not sure that the assertions in the TED talk below are accurate but they are thought provoking, and fit with my concern about demonizing opponents in a debate.

By way of Searching for Liberty in a post entitled Every Self-Described Liberal and Conservative Should Watch This.

For those who don’t use Adobe Flash, here’s a link to an mp4 version.

Posted in democracy, science

Apple and Chrysler

I’m a fan of Apple.  Even during that bad time when Steve Jobs was at Next, I kept buying Apple products, and was very satisfied with how they worked, even though I knew that there were Windows machines that were, back then, even better.

I never expected the company to become what it is today: The world’s largest and most successful multinational corporation; or to see a major debate about the assembly line workers who put together Apple’s products.

In January my friends started making comments about the working conditions at Apple’s manufacturing operations in China. I was told my new iPhone was made by exploited labourers in a totalitarian state. Same for my iPad and iMac and all those iPods I’d bought in the last few years.

Mostly they were reacting to stories in The New York Times that focused on Apple and its suppliers, particularly Foxconn, a Taiwanese firm that has a huge factory complex on the Chinese mainland.  They raised concerns about excessive overtime, accidents and a cluster of suicides.

As I read those stories my first reaction was to remember my own experiences back when I started working for Chrysler in Windsor.  The young Chinese workers of today are a lot like my fellow new hires in the 1970s.  We wanted to work as much overtime as we could, and pile up the earnings until we could move on to something more enjoyable and less physically demanding.  Few of us wanted to make a career of it.

Around the time I bought my house I was working at the engine plant, which was running three shifts around the clock. I’d put in an 8 hour shift and then stay or come back for an extra four hours of overtime. On Saturdays and Sundays I almost always worked double shifts. One Labour Day Weekend I worked three doubles in a row.

Like the Foxconn crew, we had our share of accidents. The worst was when a worker was cut in two by a supervisor backing a truck into a work bay. I paid a number of visits to the company hospital with cuts and bruises, and to have bits of metal removed from my eyes. The hospital and the in plant first aid stations were kept quite busy.

I don’t remember any suicides at work, but over the years it was not uncommon to hear of workers taking their lives, or drinking themselves to death, especially during long layoffs. When people died while working it was usually from heart attacks. There was one homicide, when the local union president was killed by a disgruntled worker.

There was an explosion at a Foxconn plant caused by the accumulation of aluminum dust. When I worked in crankshaft machining there was an oil mist in the air so thick it looked like a yellow fog. The coolant which ran through our lathes, soaking my coveralls, was eventually found to be carcinogenic. I developed tendonitis because lifting unfinished cranks with my arms, rather than use the provided hoist, allowed me to work faster. On midnights especially we’d like to get done early and catch a few hours of sleep in the changing room before shift change.

We thought we were lucky to be working for Chrysler, and not at one of the feeder plants where the pay was considerably less, the work more demanding, and safety even less of a priority.  Several of my friends lost fingers in stamping operations at those small shops.

It seems Foxconn too is a preferred workplace for Chinese factory workers, for the same reasons. Responding to the bad press Apple is telling its suppliers to raise pay, improve safety and, despite worker objections, cut back on excessive overtime.  Something similar occurred at Chrysler in the 1980s, largely through the efforts of the unions, although no doubt the scrutiny caused by the 1979 government bailout also played a role.  Around then the labour code was changed here in Ontario to make those double shifts illegal.

It is sad that Apple gave up on manufacturing in the US and Ireland. However China is where the entire industry has set up shop. Foxconn doesn’t just do Apple’s bidding. They have contracts with all the major computer and cell phone companies. And they are surrounded and supplied by hundreds of parts manufacturers that have also come to the area. You can’t buy a computing device that is not a product of that network.

According to the NYT Steve Jobs told Obama those American jobs are not coming back. I’m not sure he really said that (it was hearsay from a unidentified source.)  To the contrary in Isaacson’s biography (chapter 41) Jobs was described at that same meeting as urging the president to make the return of the work possible. Besides the usual business complaints about over regulation and high taxes, Jobs talked about the need for tens of thousands of specifically trained engineers to run the assembly plants.  The Chinese are doing this, the American schools are not.

China is a major market for Apple, potentially much bigger than any other. Apple manufacturing is going to stay there, assuming trade with China remains open.  I think though, there is a way to do some final assembly in North America as well, a way that might have implications for auto manufacturing too.  I’ll get to that in another post.

Posted in work | 1 Comment

Wildrose in Alberta?

At some point capitalism is going to be replaced by socialism. The erratic and ever changing value of money, and an honest day’s labour, will finally become so infuriating we will replace our exchange and accounting systems with one based more directly on time spent working. Along with that the ownership of wealth will move from private stockholders and governments to a democracy of producers and consumers.

But that’s decades, maybe centuries, in the future. Right now the working classes are not impressed by what’s already gone on in the name of socialism, from the crimes against humanity of the communists in the east to the arrogant and tragic miscalculations of the state bureuacrats in the west.

Which brings me to libertarianism, the most recent movement to challenge the established liberal, conservative and socialist ideologies. It’s really a hodge podge of all three, and yet its current popularity is based on a dissatisfaction with those political progenitors.

I’m hoping change come peacefully, democratically, without violent revolutions. Reform is a process of exhausting the possibilities of the existing system before moving on to something completely new. So I am watching and supporting the libertarians, for a while, to see if they can stablize the economy and save us from the totalitarian impulses of the left and right.

Here in Canada there is a remarkable development on the libertarian front, the Wildrose party of Alberta. It’s a Canadian Tea Party. Looks like they might win next week’s provincial election.

If they scare the hell out of you, which they do for most of my friends, I recommend reading this op-ed from Michael Den Tandt in the Postmedia news.

Not much to fear in a Wildrose victory in Alberta

Then if you want to give in and enjoy a moment of optimism, watch this video on Youtube, a bio of the party’s leader.

Meet Danielle Smith

Just remember you can never trust a documentary, especially one with a musical soundtrack. That goes double of course, for political ads.

The movie says little about policy or even the campaign. What I like is the silence on social conservatism, even though many of her supporters and party members fall into that camp. As in the US, the social conservatives are coming to terms with their minority status, and joining with the libertarians to defend a space for their way of life. They’ve given up forcing it on the rest of us.

As Den Tandt says:

But here’s the thing: As in Quebec following the Layton wave, these are to be true citizen legislators. How can that not be healthy, warts and all? Moreover, Smith herself is something new: Libertarian, fiscally conservative, socially liberal and, obviously, a woman. As such she has the capacity to fuse political strains that previously have been separate. Will it be a mash-up at times? Yes. But that doesn’t make it bad, necessarily.

I think political parties are nearing the end of their usefulness. But until there is a viable replacement I’m going to vote for the one that I think is most likely to address today’s problems with some success. If I were in Alberta, I suspect I might be giving Wildrose the go ahead next week.


Update: Much to everyone’s surprise, especially the pollsters, Wildrose didn’t win enough seats to form a government, getting 34% of the vote to the PCs 44%. The ruling conservatives dropped 5 seats to a still confortable majority with 61. Danielle Smith lead her party to official opposition status, going from 4 MPs to 17. The Liberals won 5, the NDP 4.

Alberta General Election Results, 2012

So what happened? Possibly a combination of fear and/or caution.

Huge gaffe a window on Wildrose libertarianism

They may have been some strategic voting from supporters of the two smaller parties, mostly the liberals, switching to the PCs because they were so frightened by the possibility of a Wildrose victory.

In the larger “civil war” between the two conservative parties it looks like 5 to 8 percent switched back to the older party in the last few days, out of concern that so many inexperienced candidates were leading in the polls.

From my perspective it’s nice to see party loyalty being sacrificed for the perceived greater good of the province.  And I suspect Smith is somewhat relieved to have some time to settle in as a newly elected MP herself, as well as leader of the opposition.

Update II:  More optimism from Den Tandt (He’s a Pollyanna, just like me.)

Progressive values stretch from coast to coast

Posted in democracy

Ideas on Coal

“Demon Coal” a two part radio programme on Ideas, from the CBC, starts tonight at 9 pm. It was produced by my friend, Max Allen, and examines the consequences, here in Ontario and elsewhere, of shutting down all of our coal fired power plants.

Judith Curry, of Climate Etc., is one of the interviewees. She has a post about her participation here.

In 2012, we find ourselves in a position where the IPCC consensus is being challenged, particularly on how the climate might vary during the 21st century. The key scientific issue being debated is the relative magnitude of the human impact on climate, compared to natural variability. With regards to dangerous climate change: there is the growing realization that we have just begun to scratch the surface in terms of understanding the benefits and dangers of climate change in the context regional vulnerabilities. And finally, the precautionary principle has led us to focus on policies where the negative economic impacts of the proposed energy policies are arguably worse than what the policies are intended to prevent.

Update:  The podcast is already available, for free, on iTunes.

Demon Coal, part 1

Posted in democracy, science

The Corruption of Science

If partisanship has had a corrupting influence on democratic government, it has been a disaster in the realm of science, and especially so where the two domains intersect.

By partisanship I’m not talking about advocacy or devotion to a cause, but collusion. Today’s post is about climate change, but the problem exists throughout the sciences and academia. In even the most obscure fields there is dirty politics, ruining careers and misdirecting lines of inquiry.

It’s been a bad year for global warming alarmists, and while I no longer find their arguments convincing, they deserve better than the behaviour of some of their prominent leaders and organizations.

Dr. Peter Gleick is the most recent screw-up. He’s a scientist well regarded in his field, water management, and also a strident opponent of the skeptics of catastrophic manmade global warming.

He admitted last week to deceiving the Heartland Institute, a skeptic think tank, in order to receive internal documents about their funding and programs. He then anonymously sent out those computer files to bloggers and journalists who are friends of the alarmist movement. They loudly proclaimed that here at last was evidence the fossil fuel industry was funding the deniers of climate change. Now they were to have their revenge for the leaks of the climate-gate emails from the University of East Anglia.

Generally the leak was unsurprising.  Heartland is not that big an operation, compared to some of the larger environmental organizations on the opposite side of the global warming issue.  Both sides get some funding from rich people and the fossil fuel industry.

There was one document that did appear to paint Heartland in an unflattering light, describing its strategy and plans. It looked like a fake and immediately raised suspicions that Gleick was the leaker. Heartlands says it’s not theirs, while claiming ownership of the others. It was unsigned, scanned from a plain piece of paper and its metadata indicates it was produced on the west coast, where Heartland is not located. Heartland says they have a paperless office and indeed the other documents were clearly computer generated in their origins. The author must have also had access to the Heartland docs, as some of that information is repeated, but there were some mistakes too, indicating an unfamiliarity and carelessness in describing Heartland’s budget.  The language and rhetorical style is so similar to Gleick’s writing that he was an obvious suspect.

Gleick hasn’t admitted to the forgery, only to using bad judgement in posing as a director of Heartland when he requested the confidential material. That in itself may constitute a crime, wire fraud.

Gleick was the chair of the American Geophysical Union’s task force on Scientific Ethics.

Judith Curry at Climate Etc. asks the question, “How can we reconcile Gleick’s possibly criminal behavior with his essays and testimony on scientific integrity?”

Her answer:

Gleick’s ‘integrity’ seems to have nothing to do with scientific integrity, but rather loyalty to and consistency with what I have called the UNFCCC/IPCC ideology…

It is fine for people (and scientists) [to] have political ideologies.  The problem comes in when you use politics to defend your science, and you use science to demand policies.

Gleick’s unethical action with respect to integrity has been to push fealty to the UNFCCC/IPCC ideology under the guise of promoting integrity and ethics in science.

Or, as Megan McArdle at The Atlantic put it:

After you have convinced people that you fervently believe your cause to be more important than telling the truth, you’ve lost the power to convince them of anything else.

Update:  Lying and deception can be justified, says climate change ethics expert.

Curious field, climate change ethics.

Posted in science | 1 Comment

The State of the Presidency: Obama v1.3

I enjoyed watching President Obama’s state of the union speech last week. I watched it again the next day with a poli sci student who had to write a paper about it. When I went looking for a copy of the text, I found that the White House has also posted an augmented version on YouTube. I checked that out for a few minutes, but didn’t need to see all the powerpoint.

I was surprised that Obama seemed much less partisan than expected. Partway through the live presentation I texted a friend that the president had joined the Tea Party, promising no more bailouts. Afterwards several commentators did indeed agree that the president had used some of the language and issues of the libertarian right in a pitch aimed at independent voters. On the other hand he also raised the fairness issue on taxes, an Occupy Wall Street meme.

Reading the text, and sampling the many pundits who weighed in with their reviews, the speech was more partisan than it sounded. It is an election year after all. He’s going to run against a do nothing Congress. So he made a lot of proposals that are unlikely to be acted upon until after the vote in November.

I don’t have a big problem with partisanship, when the word is defined as bias in favour of a particular cause. Nor do I despise politicians, as long as they support democracy and behave ethically. I do think however, that the party system in the United States has had a corrupting influence on their elections, legislation and government.

Obama has been in campaign mode since last fall, and the Republicans the same. That’s a whole year with important issues being kicked down the road.

I’m hoping Obama gets re-elected. McCain was the better candidate in 2008, but the winner did okay, given the mess the economy was in. He would have done even better if the Republicans had controlled Congress those first two years. His health care bill would have been more carefully written and he would have had some cover when the stimulus failed to produce the jobs he said it would. While I thought Obama was too inexperienced before, now he’s the incumbent, and the only people more qualified are too old or ineligible to run again.

As this New Yorker article indicates, Obama wants to be non-partisan, or at least bipartisan.  I’d like to see what he could accomplish without worrying about re-election. If he squeaks back in, he and Republican budget chair Paul Ryan could take on the deficit and medicare, and force cooperation on the leaders of both parties.

Perhaps an unrealistic fantasy I admit. But that’s what I was dreaming last Tuesday evening.  Maybe Obama was too.

Posted in democracy | 1 Comment