Who’s behind robocalls that misled Canadian lefties from voting? Conservative supporter Pierre Poutine!

You’ve got to be kidding me. It’s almost like self-parody.

Court documents show a cellphone in the robocalls affair was registered to Pierre Poutine of Separatist Street in Joliette, Que.

Elections Canada’s chief investigator says the clearly fake name was likely used to cover the tracks of whoever was behind the misleading and harassing phone calls to voters in Guelph, Ont., during the last federal election campaign.

Voters in Guelph reported getting calls from a phone number with a 450 area code directing them to the wrong polling station. Elections Canada investigator Al Mathews obtained phone records showing the number behind the Guelph calls was the same one registered to “Pierre Poutine.”

[Read more...]

America’s 2012 election: vote for Canada

Meet the Canada Party. They offer an alternative to the ridiculous offerings the Republican Party has on display, and the “guy who gave a drunk Congress the keys to the country”.

Seriously, it’s the best choice for all of us, even if our present Prime Minister is a Muppet version of George W. Bush. I mean, just look at your other options.

Gay couple cage, beat adopted son to death in Chicago

Note to people coming from NJ.com: THIS POST CONTAINS HEAVY SARCASM. Read everything past the last blockquote. Jesus fuck, some people are dense.

Two incredible and incredibly synchronous events came across my feed reader today, events that may change my mind about a lot of things that I’ve blogged about in the past. This may be a relatively difficult post to get through, but bear with me.

It was recently discovered that thirteen-year-old Christian Choate was beaten to death in Chicago after years of physical and mental abuse by his (I presume adopted) parents, Riley Choate and Kimball Kubina. The gay couple removed Christian from school claiming to then home-school him, but instead kept him locked in the bathroom most of the time. They eventually upgraded his accomodations, locking him in a dog cage bought from a neighbor during the last year of Christian’s short life after Christian had made an escape attempt from the bathroom prison and was found and retrieved at the local drug store.

Even more disturbing than the simple fact of his incarceration were the home-schooling subjects Kubina gave to Christian to complete:

Kubina wrote topics on top of some of the pages including, “Why do you want to play with your peter? Why do you still want to see your mom? Why can’t you let the past go? What does it mean to be part of a family?” DCS records state.

Thankfully, this horrible mental abuse lasted only as long as it did before one of Riley’s blows mercifully ended Christian’s tortured existence. The family then buried Christian in a shallow grave, covered the grave with concrete, then moved to Kentucky where Christian’s disappearance would go unnoticed and his body undiscovered for two years. This is a brutal example of exactly how inhumane gay people can be, and it’s a sad testament to the state of families today if couples like this can get the license to adopt and destroy the lives of young children.

Meanwhile, in New York, gay marriage is now legal after a vote in a Republican state senate that can only be described as historic.

When New York’s state Senate passed the bill, 33-to-29, cheers of “U.S.A.! U.S.A.!” erupted in the chamber. The historic vote followed an 80-to-63 vote in the state Assembly last week (the fourth time the lower house had passed a marriage equality bill) — and more than a week of parliamentary maneuvers by conservatives and Republicans to keep the bill from coming to a vote. In the end, the Senate passed the bill into law despite a Republican majority and despite the G.O.P. making gains in the 2008 election. Although gay marriage has yet to win a single statewide referendum, its legislative success in New York on Friday shows that it is quickly advancing in nearly every other way, from legal victories in California courts and throughout the federal judiciary to an increasingly enthusiastic ally in the White House.

I can’t help but think of all the damaged lives that will result if these inherently chaotic and depraved gay people continue making inroads — first they get marriage, then they get discrimination-free adoption, then they can kill all the babies that us breeders couldn’t care for in a disturbing display of social Darwinism. This truly is a slippery slope.

Thankfully, there are organizations like the National Organization of Marriage to defend sanity in this upside-down world. They’re pledging to devote $2 million to overturn this legalization of child-murder gay marriage “to make sure Republicans get this message loud and clear: Voting for gay marriage has consequences.” NOM operates in defense of traditional Christian values like marriage being only for men and women, who are then free to breed as stipulated by the Bible: “Go forth and multiply.” Since there’s no prerequisite for heterosexuals to have children, there’s nothing stopping them from having healthy, happy Christian children in this crazy world — so long as organizations like NOM exist to defend marriage’s inherent heterosexuality.

At least there’s some small glimmer of hope in this ridiculously backward world. Riley and Kimball were both charged:

Riley Choate and Kimberly Kubina have been charged with murder, battery, neglect of a dependent, confinement, obstruction of justice, moving a body from a death scene and failure to notify authorities of a dead body. They have both pleaded not guilty.

Erm.

KimBERLY?

Now why did I read that as Kimball?

Carry on, those of you who came expecting Christians to stand up against the real villains in this world. Nothing to see here.

Dr. Craig Venter writes Hello World program

I’m a few days late with this, but still, this one’s a big win for science. And… the implications are staggering.

Dr. Craig Venter’s team has created life from non-living chemicals.

Life from non-life, and as close to “ex nihilo” as you can get without having to first create matter.

The team put four bottles of chemicals — specifically, cytosine, thymine, guanine and adenine — on a synthesizer and ran their script to build a life form. That’s C, T, G, and A. DNA from scratch. Only this time with an intervening designer. Meaning, no longer do we have to wait millions of years for creatures to evolve naturally — we can write them ourselves, once we’ve figured out all the intricacies of the code. We’re reverse-engineering the life source code engine of this universe. This is a Pandora’s Box that, like many other major achievements, could either save us or kill us all.

Craig Venter, the pioneering US geneticist behind the experiment, said the achievement heralds the dawn of a new era in which new life is made to benefit humanity, starting with bacteria that churn out biofuels, soak up carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and even manufacture vaccines.
[...]
The new organism is based on an existing bacterium that causes mastitis in goats, but at its core is an entirely synthetic genome that was constructed from chemicals in the laboratory.
[...]
“We were ecstatic when the cells booted up with all the watermarks in place,” Dr Venter told the Guardian. “It’s a living species now, part of our planet’s inventory of life.”

And if it worked perfectly, like computer code, we might be able to fully flesh out and document the entirety of the language before attempting to write something more complex than the simple self-replicator Dr. Venter’s team has made. However, because this is based on chemical processes which do not always work exactly right every single time due to the minute variances that can occur at the microscopic level, mutations can happen. And like every microscopic organism, it’s well possible that these artificially created life forms could become the next Bubonic Plague. That’s not to say it’s LIKELY though, because any microorganism capable of killing its host in short order is not long for this world anyway before natural selection kicks in and kills it for being too successful by eating up all its viable hosts. This is a good thing. A bad thing, though, is that once we know more about rewriting microorganisms, we could be entering the sci-fi realm of designer viruses and accidental multi-species plagues.

With pretty much every new technology, though, there’s an end-of-the-world scenario that could be played out if we’re not careful. The trick is in learning how to protect this information from falling into “evil” hands, meaning no government in any country ever should ever be allowed to pursue research into it. Any weaponized application of synthetic life could spell an apocalypse that would be difficult, if not impossible, to combat.

However critics, including some religious groups, condemned the work, with one organisation warning that artificial organisms could escape into the wild and cause environmental havoc or be turned into biological weapons. Others said Venter was playing God.

“Playing God” simply means “proving that God’s role, if there ever was one in this universe, is within the reach of mankind.” It means that God did things mechanistically, and so can we.

The Politics of the Null Hypothesis

If you’ve been in the blogosphere as long as I have, you’ll know that certain arguments about science stem not from the science itself, but from a desire to affect political change despite the science based on one’s own personal biases. In the case of IQ and race, much of the “controversy” appears to come from people who really, really want intelligence to be race-related, so as to give themselves cover for racism, latent or otherwise. Notwithstanding the potentially hairy idea that IQ is even a proper proxy for “intelligence”, people will argue for a genetic link for certain aspects of humanity based only on the most tenuous of lines of evidence, ignoring gigantic confounds like motivation or affluence. Why? For no other reason than because they’ve already decided this must be the case. It’s a rampant case of selection bias, with a helping of argumentum ad ignorantium on the side, suggesting that because we don’t know the cause of a particular trait, it must therefore be genetic.

The ineffable Stephanie Zvan has written up a guest post on Scientific American (!!!) about this very topic, and about the politics at play in a number of genetic-intelligence proponents’ arguments.

Nothing about the field of IQ studies is free of political influence. It’s naive to believe that any kind of research on a purported measure of individual merit could be politics-free in a self-proclaimed meritocracy with wide inequalities. Binet’s original work was meant to determine which children should have access to additional educational resources. IQ scores are used occasionally to sort out “inappropriate” candidates for various jobs, including those whose IQs are too high for a role. IQ as a proxy for merit is used to argue that a group does or does not face discrimination in educational or career opportunities. This is all terribly political.

The question isn’t whether there are politics surrounding this issue or where. They’re everywhere. The question is where does the politics get in the way of the science? Again, the answers don’t favor Pinker’s view of a fatwa against genetic explanations of individual differences.

I can’t think of a better person to take on a nuanced meta-analysis of this argument, especially given that it appears every bit as cyclical as say the accommodationism debate, the gender debate, the nuclear power debate, et cetera, et cetera. Given how entrenched the players are in this argument, and how much influence they wield in scientific fields, it’s terribly sad to see their arguments go unanswered. I’m grateful that Stephanie stepped up, and I can only hope her popularity snowballs from there.

There’s a damn good reason I’ve dubbed her “Our Lady of Perpetual Win“. And it’s not because she has an adorable nose.

(But she does, by the by.)

Election projections for your riding; who to vote for to simply beat Cons

Canada’s election at the moment looks like a choice between another Conservative minority, or a Conservative majority government, unless everyone were to suddenly vote Liberal strategically. In Canada, one can gain a majority government (e.g., enough seats to mean your party basically wins every parliamentary motion) with a mere 35% of the popular vote with our current political breakdown. That means that with a minority government, it’s well possible that at least 65% of the country disagrees with the party in power. In the case of Conservatives vs. Everyone Else, that is assuredly true. The Conservative Party of Canada, since being created in a coalition between the Progressive Conservatives and the Reform TeaParty a few years ago, makes up the entirety of the right half of the political spectrum. The Liberals, NDP, Bloc and Greens all make up the left, with the only outlier that could possibly be called right-wing being the Bloc, whose prime motivating reason for existence is secession of Quebec from the rest of the country.

So we have a political climate today wherein the Right has unified into a coalition for the purpose of leading our country off a cliff (or more accurately, siphoning money from the pockets of the average Canadian and directly into the pockets of big businesses, as though Reaganomics ever worked for anyone!), and the only way to kick them out is to form some sort of coalition on the left. Well, the only way short of strategic voting, which really hurts when you don’t particularly like one of the alternatives.

If you’re willing to suck it up and swallow your pride in order to vote strategically for the sole purpose of tossing the bums out, and just need to know which party to vote for in your riding, here’s an excellent tool, wherein you can find out what the current projections are for your specific riding and therefore decide whether to vote strategically for the Libs, NDP or Bloc, depending.

Sorry, my loyal Green readers… they’re simply not competitive anyplace at the moment, even in Vancouver where they’re running double-digit candidates. However, if you want to vote for the competitive challenger in your riding, you can ask someone in a less competitive riding to vote for your first choice via PairVote.ca — that way your party doesn’t technically lose your vote, and you still get to make a difference in the more competitive race.

Or you could, you know, vote Conservative if you really want to. Or if you’re unmotivated, you can just let the Conservative in your riding win. You know, if you happen to think that the problem with Health Care is that we have TOO MUCH of it. Or that the economy would benefit most from CEOs pays increasing while normal folks’ wages stagnate. Or if you think they’re all just going to pull the same bullshit nonsense that the Conservatives actually have as party planks, and the other parties actively oppose. Whatever. It’s up to you, of course. I merely reserve the right to hate you for not doing whatever you can to stop the avowed party of privilege.

Vote, please. Your vote could very well mean the difference between us ending up with the same nonsense we’re already living in a Conservative minority, or much worse in a Conservative majority.

It’s incredibly easy to make an informed vote May 2nd.

In case you’re unaware, we’re having an election up here in the Great White North. Pretty well everyone I’ve talked to around these parts, however, doesn’t seem to care enough to actually vote. Or, alternately, they feel that they aren’t informed enough to make a proper decision. The funny thing is, with the internet, it’s never been easier — elections are no longer about whose commercials to trust, or worse, whose name you see most often on roadside signs.

If you’re like me, and you like being able to download a document and search for key words and phrases (e.g., science, climate change, agriculture, or taxes), the major political parties have all released platform documents for this election cycle, roughly ordered from right (small-C conservative) to left (small-L liberal):

Conservative Party of Canada (CPC)
Bloc Quebecois
Liberal Party
New Democratic Party (NDP)
Green Party

Or, you could take a visual “word cloud” tour of the platforms to see what words are mentioned the most in each. That’s an extraordinarily quick way to tour the parties’ priorities.

Something you might notice is that all these PDFs are English. That’s my preferred language, and the language I blog in, though the party websites have French versions of each if you care to seek them out.

If you’re not interested in slogging through several 200-page PDF files to search for specific topics (though, honestly, Ctrl-F in your PDF reader does NOT take that long to do!), you can always take a political quiz developed in and a mainstay of Europe’s electoral process, hosted at the CBC. It’s a very brief but surprisingly thorough overview of the parties’ platforms and, for a complete political novice, as long as you answer honestly, you’ll get an accurate assessment of the party that will most closely represent your political beliefs. It’s a damn sight better than not voting, or blindly voting for whomever someone suggests you vote for out of their own loyalties.

Believe me, you can skip whatever show you’re watching now — it’ll be in reruns soon enough. Or do it during a commercial while you’re watching the hockey game. You’re sure to be pelted with political advertisements anyway — might as well figure out which ones you like based on what they’re actually about, not what they say about each other!

You should already have your voter registration cards, if you’ve registered during a previous election cycle. If you haven’t, you can register at the polls, just bring appropriate ID. From Elections Canada:

Early Voting Opportunities for Electors

OTTAWA, Thursday, April 14, 2011

  • The federal election takes place on May 2, 2011, and Elections Canada offers electors many different ways and times to vote. With the potential for flooding in some parts of the country this spring, electors in certain communities may wish to plan ahead and vote early.
  • If you believe that election day will not be a convenient time for you to vote, you can vote early:
    • at advance polls on April 22 (Friday), April 23 (Saturday) or April 25 (Monday)
    • by mail or in person at any local Elections Canada office by special ballot anytime before election day (you need to be registered before 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, April 26); to find the location of your local Elections Canada office, check our Web site or call 1-800-463-6868
  • To vote, you must be on the list of electors for the 41st general election. Any eligible elector not yet on the list can provide authorized identification and register prior to voting at advance polls, by special ballot or on election day.
  • More information is available at www.elections.ca in the “How do I vote – what are my options?” section or by calling 1-800-463-6868.

“We recognize that some Canadians may be unsure of whether voting on election day will be possible for them. It may be easier for some electors to plan ahead and cast their ballot early. Elections Canada wants to ensure that all electors are aware of their options when it comes to deciding when and how they will vote,” says Chief Electoral Officer of Canada Marc Mayrand.

Vote. Shape your world.

Elections Canada is an independent body set up by Parliament.

Information:
Elections Canada Media Relations
1-877-877-9515
or at www.elections.ca

I know it might seem like a chore. But maintaining a functional democracy is a privilege, one that some other countries don’t enjoy. If you’d prefer living in a dictatorship, where you don’t have to worry about politics, then by all means move to Sudan or Libya. There you’ll just have to watch out for government men coming after you.

And of course, since I’m a blogger and I’m biased, I’d be remiss if I avoided opining. I won’t tell you who I’m voting for, but I can tell you for sure who and what I’m voting against. And I can tell you why I’ll never vote for the traditional recipient of “protest votes”.

Baby penguin being tickled.

If ever there was a video deserving of going viral, this is it.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4K3MXY5ITxQ
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GnxGZ9jeuP8

(Yes, I should be working on a post about the election. I know.)

Looks like the one I posted wasn’t the original. Everyone! Update your links to this one instead!

I <3 ticklish penguin.

Update: Its name is Cookie! Awwwww!

Huckabee wishes Americans were converted to Christianity at gunpoint

How else can you interpret this “joke” about David Barton’s communicating about religion? And this from a crowd that’s convinced — CONVINCED — that educating children about science is, in effect, indoctrination.

Stephanie Zvan comments extensively on the matter. And this Huckabee character is one of your more serious contenders for President!

“In politics, as in religion, it is equally absurd to aim at making proselytes by fire and sword. Heresies in either can rarely be cured by persecution.”
some guy who never amounted to anything important in his life

Hmm. There’s an election coming up. I oughtta ignore American politics for a bit and focus on Canadian politics, given how short our election cycles are, huh?

Supermoon: what it is, and what it definitely isn’t

Look up in the sky! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! No, it’s a SUPERMOOOOOOON!!

I have written at some length about the moon, with its wobble called libration, and how its elliptical orbit means that it varies in its distance to us between roughly 360,000km and 406,000km. That’s a difference of ~46,000km, or about ten percent of its distance at apogee. Apogee is what you call the moon’s furthest point in its orbit, and perigee the closest. As the moon orbits us about once a month (thus the lunar cycle), that means that during a predicted perigee, the moon is about two weeks away from apogee.

The moon orbits us at an inclination of about 5 degrees to the solar plane — it is for that reason that we do not see a total lunar eclipse somewhere on the planet once a month, but rather only on those months where the moon is roughly aligned with the plane of the Earth’s orbit around the sun. That means we get to see the sun illuminating the moon most of the time; its phase indicates where in the rotation it is, and what face is pointed toward the sun. A supermoon is when the full moon phase happens to coincide with the perigee — meaning the moon is not only at its visibly largest point, it’s also got the full face illuminated.

Astrologers have consistently through the ages attempted to link supermoons with natural disasters. Because the Sun, Earth and Moon are all in a sorta-kinda-straight line, and the moon is SOOOO MUCH CLOSER TO US THAN NORMAL, naturally this must mean there’s a lot of possibility that the moon is going to cause calamity on our planet. This makes sense, if you believe the heavenly bodies exert any more influence on the planet than the evidence shows them to exert. The problem with this line of thinking is, if you claim an effect and give a window, and the window’s large enough that statistically, it’s very likely something within the range you’re claiming will happen, then selection bias will do the rest of your work for you. Because you’ve primed people to watch for natural disasters, when they happen, SURPRISE, suddenly that means you were right!

To wit:

On March 19, Earth’s satellite will be at its closest point to our planet in 18 years — a mere 356,577 kilometers away. The event — also called a lunar perigee — was dubbed a “supermoon” by astrologer Richard Nolle back in the 1970s. The term is used to describe a new or full moon at 90% or more of its closest orbit to Earth. Next week, it will be at 100%.

Nolle is responsible for coining the upcoming event, and he’s also responsible for the latest buzz sweeping the Internet about how the supermoon will affect the planet. On his website Astropro, Nolle warns Earth’s inhabitants to prepare themselves during the “supermoon risk window,” which ranges from March 16 – 22. During this time, Nolle claims there will be an increase in supreme tidal surges, magnitude 5 or higher earthquakes, and even volcanic activity.

I’m amazed that Fox News got most of the science right in this, excepting contradicting his quote — there’s a closest perigee every year, where perigee and apogee actually fluctuate year after year, and this “closest point in eighteen years” only means “one or two percent closer than normal”, and anyway, it’s still further away than its closest recorded perigee of 356,375km on Jan. 4, 1912. The only earthquake noted on that day (given humankind’s lower population density) was a 5.5. I’ll tell you later why that’s unimpressive. Still, they deserve credit for siding with the astronomer that says there’s no risk, and that the only major effect of this alignment is the increased risk of moonquakes — which only affects you if you live on the moon. My problem with this article is that the astrologer is given any kind of credence at all. There’s no reason for that. The fact is, there’s absolutely no reason to consult an astrologer about any nonsense that they themselves proffer without evidence and continue to cling to, despite evidence to the contrary. They should not be consulted pretty much ever, when you have a credulous people willing to attribute natural disasters to anything but nature.

The reason I say this, is because people are blaming the impending supermoon for the Japanese earthquake last week.

Seriously.

The supermoon event occurs on March 19th. The astrologer in question painted a “danger window” around that date of March 16th through March 22nd, predicting “supreme tidal surges” (like predicting the sun will rise — the moon affects tides, and having the moon and sun at opposite sides of us actually does create really high and low tides!), “volcanic activity” (what counts? Tiny amounts of ejecta happen from most volcanoes every few months!), and “earthquakes above 5.0 magnitude.”

It’s this last one that people are blaming the Japanese quake on. Never mind that a) the quake happened on March 11th, when the moon was roughly at a 75 degree angle to us compared to the sun — e.g., at not quite half phase — and b) it was about 400,000km away, since apogee happened on March 6th.

Also, according to these statistics, there are 1319 earthquakes every year that fall between 5.0 and 5.9. That means there will be, on average, (1319 / 365) * 8 = 28.9 earthquakes that fall within that range, somewhere on Earth during the eight days given for the supermoon “danger window”.

That’s not even counting the earthquakes that surpass that level. Again, according to the site, there’s on average 134 6.0-6.9 magnitude earthquakes per year, and 15 7.0-7.9′s, and one 8.0+ per year. That means statistically, (134/365) * 8 = 2.9 earthquakes that measure between 6.0 and 6.9 during that window. It also means 0.32 7.0-7.9′s, or a 32% chance of a whopper. And though the 8.9 earthquake that just happened in Japan probably relieved a lot of the tectonic stress of the rest of the plates, there’s still a 2% chance that an 8.0+ would happen during that eight day window.

And since nobody will remember this astrologer’s predictions if they’re wrong, selection bias means he’s making an excellent bet by predicting 5.0+ quakes.

The Earth is not in any kind of danger, having a perigee fall on the same night as a full moon. Think about it for half a second, and you’ll realize that the rotational differences that mean such “supermoons” are possible on the “every several years” order of magnitude, means the month prior and following a supermoon must needs have a very close proximity between perigee and full moon. And it means that on off years, the perigee and full moon might be off by a day or two. Why wouldn’t those types of syncronicities cause increased earthquake activity, if this astrologer is giving us a “danger window” of eight days?

Nonsense, top to bottom. Or apogee to perigee.