The fall of Conrad Black

Conrad Black wrote an entertaining commentary last week in The National Post titled, “The shabby, shallow world of the militant atheist.” You can imagine the reaction. So he’s back this week with, “A reply to my atheist critics — they protest too much.”

What I find most surprising is his arguments are chock-full of fallacies. I have no doubt that Black is a smart man, if somewhat pompous and didactic, which is why his latest missives take me by such surprise. I can see these fallacies, just off the top of my head: appeal to authority, appeal to consequences, appeal to the stone, appeal to widespread belief, argumentum ad hominem, fallacy of composition, judgmental language, suppressed evidence, unwarranted assumption … and no end of proof by verbosity. Indeed, from end to end Black seems to just hammer his message home, and if you take the entire message as a whole, it’s hard to argue. The problem is that if you think about each assertion he makes, they fall like a long line of dominoes.

I found myself writing a message to Mr. Black because his argument is such an utter mess. But then, I saw what could explain it all:

From: Rick Pali <rpali@alienshore.com>
To: cbletters@gmail.com
Subject: What?!
Date: March 28, 2015 at 8:29:27 PM EDT

Mr. Black,

You wrote: “The atheists’ domination of our centres of learning and information is a great vulnerability in the West: it creates acute resentment and dissent among the more religiously tolerant majority, separates learning and information from the greatest pillar of our civilization’s historic development, invites contempt from violently sectarian societies, especially Islamists, and is repugnant to the entire concept of freedom of thought and expression that our universities and free press are supposed to be defending.”

So among all of the religions, races, and nationalities in our multicultural society, atheism alone is such trouble? Even with this tolerant majority? If atheism is so wanting, as you put it, one must wonder what the religious majority is so resentful about. And feeling free not to believe in a supernatural being is repugnant to freedom of thought? Surely Mr. Black, you can do better than this.

I can’t help but believe you’re just having a lark and enjoying stirring the pot because the number of fallacies you’ve employed in your two articles is more surprising than your conclusion! I can see you winking at us, between the lines.

I expected no reply. Why would I? In his second piece, Black expressed his position clearly:

I have always believed that with religion, as with sex, people should inform themselves and decide their own preferences and precepts, be discreet about them, and respect the practices of others unless they are sociopathic or insane.

Given this thought, one would wonder why he wrote those two articles in The National Post. The only explanation I can see is that he’s trying to get a rise out of his readers.

Then I received his reply.

From: Conrad Black <cmb@blackam.net>
To: “rpali@alienshore.com” <rpali@alienshore.com>
Date: March 29, 2015 at 1:58:09 AM EDT
Subject: FW: What?!

What on earth are you babbling about? Give it a rest; you’re overwrought. CB

Well, he sent me a message, but there is no reply (at all). I wonder why he bothered. Either my conclusion is correct and he won’t admit it, or he simply has no reply because his argument is nothing but a lot of hand-waving.

I’m surprised Black got into this mess at all. One can’t prove the supernatural, yet he rushed in and tried. If he hadn’t replied to me, I would have been certain I knew his true motive. But given the reply, I can’t help but believe he’s lost his edge.

Posted in big questions, celebrities, me, religion | 3 Responses

Spammers. Silly spammers.

Be glad most marketing isn’t done by spammers. I mean, so much marketing is strained or downright idiotic, but not to the level of spam.

I received an e-mail message yesterday from someone named ‘Hemorrhoids.’ That’s a problem right there. Hardly inviting. It got a magnitude worse with the subject line, which read, “Is your hemorrhoid hanging out?” Christ on a cracker, there’s one message I deleted unopened, and faster than you can imagine.

And still, some dingbats must be buying. If no one bought from these shills, they wouldn’t spend money sending these messages. But they do because someone does. It boggles my mind.

I doubt any of you are among these dingbats or I’d tell you to cut it out.

Posted in idiocy, marketing | Leave a comment

Flip-flopping politicians

The first and main concern is the privacy issue… since the information is to be shared by different levels of government and different governmental bodies. There is a risk that privacy can be compromised. The more information is transferred and shared, the greater the risk of security of the information.

The government assures us that it will ensure the privacy rights of Canadians are respected. However, we all know that no system is foolproof, especially a brand new one.

Stephen Harper,
Reform Party MP,
October 22, 1996

Nearly twenty years ago, that was Stephen Harper, then a Reform Party MP warning against the privacy implications of an electronic voter registry and the fear that information sharing within government raised significant privacy concerns. Today, there is a very different Stephen Harper, who as Prime Minister is fast-tracking a bill that eviscerates privacy protections within the public sector and is even blocking the Privacy Commissioner of Canada from appearing as a witness at the committee studying the bill.

Michael Geist
Why The Anti-Terrorism Bill is Really an Anti-Privacy Bill: Bill C-51′s Evisceration of Privacy Protection,”
March 12, 2015

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Wisdom from the Reach

When a wolf descends upon your flocks, all you gain by killing him is a short respite, for other wolves will come. If instead you feed the wolf and tame him and turn his pups into your guard dogs, they will protect the flocks when the pack comes ravening.

King Garth IX, of the Reach.
George R.R. Martin, The World of Ice & Fire, 2014

You’ve got to hand it to Garth IX … he knows how to make lemonade from the lemons!

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Welcome to the sidelines

My MP … he’s something else. In case you haven’t been following along, my Parliamentary representative is Rob Nicholson. He was Minister of National Defence until recently, when the Prime Minister assigned him the Minister of Foreign Affairs portfolio. I cringe at the thought that he’s our face to other nations, but I suppose he was given this portfolio because he’s well behaved. All that I’ve seen leads me to believe that he’s an empty shirt as my MP, and while that’s far from ideal for the person in charge of foreign affairs, I suppose it’s better than a bull in a china shop. I’m trying to see the bright side.

Last week, he tweeted something I found astonishing:

It sounds like a call to arms given that the folks in ISIL aren’t the talkative types. Still, I don’t know what the man’s thinking so I asked in reply.

You can guess what happened. Exactly nothing. So Monday, I wrote to him directly, via e-mail. Receiving no answer, I wrote again today reminding him that I’m waiting for a reply. I also suggested that I thought this would be an easy question. Surely the Minister wouldn’t post such a thing without at least having a course of action in mind.

I’d hate to think it was merely the Twitter equivalent of a sound-bite that he expects will be quickly forgotten.

Posted in news, politics, propaganda, silliness | Leave a comment

Accessing the government via the Internet

If you know me, you know I like the Internet. I recall saying that I’d rather have my water cut off than lose access to the Internet. It’s just so convenient. The Internet, I mean.

With tax time coming, my mother’s been gathering all her paperwork. There’s some information regarding her property taxes that she couldn’t find so I went online and asked how I might get this information. The City of Niagara Falls web site offers the usual web forms that allow you to send questions to various city departments.

As I arrived at the form, I noticed that the city web site redirected me to a different top-level domain. I had left niagarafalls.ca and found myself at cityofniagarafalls.wufoo.com. This concerned me. The privacy policy states,

The City of Niagara Falls takes every precaution to protect your personal information on the internet. This privacy statement applies to interactions with the City of Niagara Falls web server. It does not apply to any other web site.

This is certainly fair. They can’t control how other sites use any information, but when the city redirects me to a different site without telling me, for the purpose of my writing to them, washing their hands of responsibility is recklessly irresponsible. I consider myself fairly Internet-savvy but how many others who wrote to the city noted the redirection to Wufoo? How many understand the privacy implications? Goodness, how many realize that they shouldn’t send any personal information via an unencrypted web site?

Further on in the privacy policy, they touch upon this without going nearly far enough.

Communications through this web site to the City are not deemed private and may be routed throughout the corporation.

It’s true that most internet communications should be treated as less than private, but Wufoo is a web form service located in Ireland. Telling me that what I write “may be routed through the corporation” gives me no indication that my information will leave the city, much less the country.

Canada has privacy laws, and I expect the city to safeguard my personal information pursuant to those laws. Sending me to a foreign site to communicate with them tosses those laws out the window, and they somehow fail to think it is important to mention any of this on the comment page itself.

The city’s IT staff should know that most people who will use the site may not have an understanding of all the issues involved in sending their information using the web. At an absolute minimum, the comments pages should be hosted locally. I feel strongly that those same pages should be SSL encrypted as well. Anything else is the equivalent, in this case, of sending your question to city hall on a postcard, via Europe and the United States.

Posted in consequences, consumer life, Internet, me, privacy | Leave a comment

Stalagmite icicle

20150222-182108 5D3 4M6C3237.CR2: 5D Mk.III, EF 17-40mm 1:4L @ 36mm, 1/100, f/5.6, 400 ISOI was out in the yard yesterday, digging my way through the snow to the shed. I happened to look back along the side of the house and saw a very curious formation of ice that stopped me in my tracks.

What I saw simply didn’t compute. It was a pillar of ice just over 1 metre tall and nearly 10 centimetres wide, standing on its own, beside the house.

It was directly under the furnace exhaust, and surely that was no co-incidence. Once my mind started working again after being blown, I thought perhaps the furnace exhaust cooled as it exited the house, and the moisture in the warm air condensed onto the inside of the cold pipe. It finally dripped to the ground and gradually created the ice stalagmite you see here.

My nephew, who has forgotten more about HVAC systems than I’ll every know, confirmed my suspicion. He told me that he’s seen this kind of thing before and it was no doubt caused by the cold weather we’re having.

Before the last few years, I haven’t lived in a house in more than fifteen years, and for the decade before that, I lived in other people’s houses as a border, so I’ve never really needed to know things that homeowners know. This may be old-hat to you, but it’s new to me!

Posted in me, weather | Leave a comment

A tale of two water bottles

You may recall that I gave up Coke as 2008 started. I made it almost two months with no Coke, other than what I found in the odd Long Island Iced-Tea. I managed the prohibition for nearly two months before I found that my whole reason for doing it wasn’t working out.

I decided to give it another try, though for different reasons. Sometime in December, I heard on Quirks and Quarks that a study indicated a correlation between consuming sugar-sweetened carbonated beverages and shortened telomeres. The study is titled, Soda and Cell Aging: Associations Between Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Consumption and Leukocyte Telomere Length in Healthy Adults From the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys. How’s that for a mouth-full?

The conclusion as expressed in the study abstract sums up the reasons for my alarm:

Regular consumption of sugar-sweetened sodas might influence metabolic disease development through accelerated cell aging.

See? That’s alarming! I hadn’t considered metabolic disease, but accelerated cell aging is reason enough for action. Even if it isn’t as bad as it sounds, it is a good excuse to make some changes in my diet.

I unpacked my Brita and washed it. I didn’t install a filter because we’ve got a reverse-osmosis filter in the house. I filled the pitcher with filtered water and stored it in the refrigerator so I’d always have ready access to cold water. It worked well, except the water warms up quickly once removed from the refrigerator and warm water isn’t a lot of fun to drink. The result is that I didn’t drink as much. I tried filling the glass of water with ice, but this caused a mess because of the condensation on the outside of the glass. I know, it’s a first-world problem, but I needed to drink more, and I wanted the fluid to be water so I needed a solution.

My mother was having an unrelated problem with thirst during the night. She’d wake up during the night absolutely parched. She tried keeping a glass of water on the nightstand, but it didn’t work. The cat would get curious, stick her head into the glass, and often knock it over. In thinking about it, I figured a water bottle stop the cat. Having the water chilled would be even nicer so I tracked down durable insulated water bottles and bought her a nice stainless steel model from Amazon. It was just $20. After filling it with ice and water, it still has ice 12 hours later and although the ice is gone, it’s noticeably cool after 24 hours. It even has an ‘ice dam’ that prevents you from swallowing ice as you drink from the bottle. Problem solved!

0204_bottleIt occurred to me that a water bottle might solve my problem as well. Mom’s small 13 oz (385 ml) bottle wouldn’t do for me so I searched high and low, and the largest insulated stainless steel water bottle I could find was a 20 oz (591 ml) Klean Kanteen bottle from Amazon.ca. At the time it was only available in blue, though now they offer four options, including the brushed stainless finish I wanted!

Despite the colour, it’s perfect! I hadn’t planned to swear off Coke completely, but dramatically reduce my intake. With the water bottle, this has been simplicity itself. My goal was to limit myself to perhaps an average of one can of Coke per day. There has been the odd day during which I had two (and one day I had three), but there were also many days I forgot Coke entirely. That’s right, I forgot. If you know me, you might think I would have to sustain a head injury for this to happen.

As I found when I tried to quit Coke entirely, I replaced those calories by eating more. I do try to drink more water when I get hungry, but that’s of only limited success. Last time I tried to quit Coke to lose weight. This time I simply want to cut down. If you want to bring costs into it, the bottle wasn’t inexpensive at $30, but I’ve certainly saved more than that already. I’m nearing the point at which I gave up last time and I simply don’t see myself giving up again. Why would I when I don’t really miss the stuff? Allowing myself to have some, albeit a dramatically reduced amount, makes the reduction far easier to manage. I’d even dare say this could become my new normal.

I’ll report back in month or two.

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Image courtesy of Amazon.ca

Posted in food and drink, me | Leave a comment

CBC News is a joke

On The Sunday Edition this morning, host Michael Enright sat down with Stéphane Dion, the Liberal critic for Canadian Heritage, to discuss the Liberal vision for the CBC. What struck me is Enright’s introduction to the story. He brought up the dilemma of how the CBC should report on itself.

This inspired me to write a comment on the Sunday Edition web site:

I’m surprised you’d even ask about the dilemma of how the CBC should cover itself. Having been a longtime CBC News watcher/listener, I’ve seen it first-hand. The answer is to cover the CBC only to distance itself from any problematic people (Jian Ghomeshi) or ignore the real stories entirely (Rex Murphy, Peter Mansbridge, and Amanda Lang). More than anything, the CBC’s reaction to the Lang affair is what ended my nearly thirty-year reliance on the CBC as my primary news source. CBC News, as an organization, has forgotten its purpose and cannot be trusted to uphold basic journalistic integrity.

A couple of years back, the CBC reported that the Royal Bank brought in foreign workers to do jobs that Canadians could have done. Canadaland reported that Amanda Lang unsuccessfully tried to get the story scuttled. Later, Lang wrote an opinion piece for the Globe and Mail about how the story was a non-issue. She did this entirely of her own volition, and broke CBC News rules in the process. Then, she had Royal Bank CEO Gord Nixon on her show for a softball interview. What really blew my mind is that while she reported on the Royal Bank, she was in a serious relationship with W. Geoffrey Beattie, who also is the chair of the Royal Bank’s Risk Committee, on their human resources committee, and member of the Royal Bank board.

Once this story broke, how did the CBC handle it? By circling the wagons. CBC Head of Public Affairs Chuck Thompson told CanadaLand,

Amanda did declare her relationship with Geoff Beattie to her executive producer (Robert Lack) and he has the appropriate processes in place.

What were these appropriate processes? We have no idea. I’d suggest that there are no appropriate processes for this situation. She should have not been involved in the reporting of the story, period. Her working to influence the story tells me she doesn’t have any idea what journalist integrity means.

You’ll recall Gordon Hewart’s famous words about justice,

justice should not only be done, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done

I’d suggest the same is true for conflicts of interest. Not only must there be no conflict of interest, but there must not be even the perception of any conflict of interest. Putting some alleged backroom control into place isn’t nearly enough. Reporting the news is entirely about trust. Every time I see Amanda Lang reporting the news, I am reminded that the CBC is not worthy of my trust.

It saddens me because I genuinely like the CBC, but also for all the other reporters and worker who strive to do the right thing. They’ve been betrayed by management and some of their co-workers.

What really closed the book on my trust in the CBC was the response Jennifer McGuire, General Manager and Editor in Chief of CBC News, posted about this mess. In part, she said,

It is unfortunate that our internal processes are fodder for external debate by people who have their own agendas.

Can you believe the cluelessness? She’s running a publicly funded organization and calls it unfortunate that taxpayers are learning about what their tax dollars are funding. Further, the business of news organizations is to do exactly this sort of thing! I suspect she thinks it’s unfortunate Lang was caught rather than it being unfortunate we learned about their internal processes.

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Sunday Edition image © CBC

Posted in big questions, consequences, news, television | Leave a comment

Thank you, angry Buick man

I’m grateful to all of those people out in the world who brighten my day, whether they know it or not. Today it was an angry man in a dark Buick.

I was driving my mother home from an appointment. As we neared home, I stopped at a red light a block away from the point at which we’d turn off the last major street before delving into our neighbourhood. Mom was talking about the local pizza place on that last block and how we should order from them again. The place came under new ownership some five years ago and pies suffered because of whatever changes the new owners made. She thought that perhaps they’ve learned their lesson and the only way we’d find out is by trying. The light turned green as she mentioned that they don’t send out flyers anymore so she had no idea what the current prices are. I pointed out that the prices were on the window, which wasn’t much use as we couldn’t read it from the road.

As you might imagine, I was driving a bit slower than normal as I cast the odd glance toward the pizza place. Two doors down, I signalled, braked, and began my left turn into the neighbourhood. Wanting to maintain my situational awareness, I looked around the car, predominantly toward the left. I noticed that the car behind me was following very closely. I glanced at the driver-door mirror just in time to see the driver stick his arm out the window and give me the finger.

What did I do? What most anyone else would. I burst into laughter. So thank you, angry Buick driver, for brightening my day with your assholeishness! I drove perhaps 5 km/h under the limit for 60 metres and I’ve committed a sin so bad that this angry man feels the need to open his window (it was –8ºC at the time) and give me the finger when he must know it’s exceedingly unlikely that I’d even see him?

Yes, I did happen to see him, but it’s so ridiculous that I found it hilarious. It may get me into trouble some day, but when I see that another driver is visibly upset with me for what really amounts to nothing, I can’t help but laugh.

Thank you again, angry Buick man!

Posted in funny, me, silliness, travel | Leave a comment