In a struggle to be happy and free

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I always did like Michael Caine.

Now I like him even more.

Rest in peace, Stephen Hawking

Stephen William Hawking, 1942‑2018.

I remember my first brush with Stephen Hawking’s work. It was a special Scientific American volume that included his 1977 paper, “The Quantum Mechanics of Black Holes,” detailing his how black holes can emit radiation and evaporate away, given enough time. The book is my sister’s, and I don’t remember when I first read it. I am certain that I didn’t understand most of it at the time but what I did understand made a life-long impression on me. It’s a fascinating article.

As an aside, I never did give the book back to my sister and I still have it. Sorry Sis.

Through the years, Hawking revealed more of the universe to humanity and made it understandable to the non-physicist. I firmly believe the pursuit of knowledge and pushing back the boundaries of ignorance is among the noblest of professions.

Hawking was a giant among those in that profession and we’re less without him.

Photo courtesy of NASA.

Ghomeshi on trial

I’m still flummoxed about the whole Jian Ghomeshi trial. Not about the facts, but more about my feelings regarding the case and how it unfolded.

Initially, I thought the defense would be crushed. I heard interviews with some of the accusers and they sounded credible. There was enough in common with their stories to make them easily believable. Once the trial started, a number of things came out that hadn’t been mentioned in the interviews. Like the day after Ghomeshi aledgedly assaulted her, Lucy DeCoutere sent him an e‑mail message that said,

I want to fuck your brains out. Tonight.1

That doesn’t sound good at all. Weeks later, she sent him flowers with a note that said, “I love your hands.” In an interview, she explained these messages,

I wasn’t even thinking about after because I didn’t think it mattered — because it shouldn’t matter. Now I understand that it matters because it measures your memory. I didn’t know my memory was on trial.2

This makes no sense to me. If you remember all the stuff that helps your case and forget everything that damages it, you think it doesn’t matter? Further, what you remember defines your experience as you tell your story in court. Of course it matters!

Is it any wonder the judge found the witnesses for the prosecution unreliable and even deceptive?

The CBC wrote of the judge:

And while he acknowledged that victims of abuse may rely on one another for support, he said the 5 000 messages exchanged between DeCoutere and another complainant sounded like they could be plotting to ruin the former broadcaster.

“While this anger and this animus may simply reflect the legitimate feelings of victims of abuse, it also raises the need for the court to proceed with caution,” he said. “Ms. DeCoutere and S.D. considered themselves to be a ‘team’ and the goal was to bring down Mr. Ghomeshi.“3

This is when the trial was over for me. I recall that there was even discussion among commentators about the possibility of collusion charges, though that didn’t happen. Regardless, when two witnesses exchange such an incredible volume of e‑mail about the case and state they’re going to get Ghomeshi, the goal of the legal action is no longer to get to the truth of what happened. And as such, it really has no place in a courtroom. It was really no surprise to me that the judge found plenty of reasons to doubt the witnesses and therefore find Ghomeshi not guilty of the charges.

After the verdict, supporters of the witnesses held a rally in front of the Toronto Police headquarters. Linda Redgrave, one of the witnesses, spoke to the assembled crowd:

I’m glad it’s over, but it’s really not over. It’s now time to keep these conversations going and to stop the way that these sexual assaults are tried. It’s barbaric, it’s antiquated, it needs to change and it needs to stop.4

While I understand her emotions and anger, let’s not overstate things. What’s barbaric and antiquated is the treatment rape victims suffer in some parts of the world when not only is the victim blamed, but she’s punished by stoning or killed by family members.

Further, our justice system is balanced to make conviction difficult. I’ve heard it said many times, both in regards to this trial and more generally, that Canadian jurisprudence is set up with the thought that it’s far better to let a guilty person go free than to put an innocent person in jail. I can’t help but support this relative weighting of the required evidence. People lie and innocent people have been accused of crimes. I have no problem with the mechanics of sexual assault cases being changed to protect the victim, but the standards of evidence must remain as they are. I don’t want to live in a society where only an accusation is enough to send the accused to jail. In my opinion, that would approach barbarism.

This event also makes it clear to me that we’ve got a long way to go in terms of treating women the same way we treat men. I watched an interview with Ghomeshi’s lawyer, Marie Henein, and she stated that she’s received no end of criticism and even hate-mail about this event. The real eye-opener to me was the claim that she betrayed all women when she won Ghomeshi’s case. What does this mean? A woman shouldn’t defend a sexual assault case? Textbook sexist. Or that Ghomeshi doesn’t deserve his day in court? Well, that would only be the case if he were guilty, which we don’t know until he has his day in court.

I recall people I know commenting about court cases in the past, saying, “Why bother with a trial? We know he/she is guilty.” That kind of talk scares me. It’s a step away from a mob hanging someone, and history shows us where that road leads. Those deciding these cases need to leave emotion at the courthouse door.

  1. Sarah Boesveld, “Exclusive: Lucy DeCoutere on the Ghomeshi disaster,” Chatelaine.
  2. ibid
  3. CBC News, “Jian Ghomeshi trial’s not guilty decision triggers outrage, march to police headquarters,” CBC News.
  4. ibid

Sarah Palin, the science wannabe

Sarah Palin ripped into Bill Nye Thursday at a Washington event for a film to discredit climate scientists. According to The Hill, she claims he has no authority to say climate-change skeptics are wrong.

Bill Nye is as much a scientist as I am. He’s a kids’ show actor; he’s not a scientist1.

The only reason I can think she singled him out is that he’s one of the most recognizable science popularizers right now. He simplifies the science for the regular joe. If she was as much a scientist as he is, she wouldn’t be attacking him at all. She’s be going after the climate scientists directly. But she’s not.

Let’s take an abbreviated look at her claim. To simplify things, compare their education and first jobs:

Bill Nye earned a Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Cornell University, after which he worked at Boeing where he developed a hydraulic pressure resonance suppressor for the Boeing 7472.

Sarah Palin earned a bachelor’s degree in communications after attending five universities, after which she worked as a sportscaster for KTUU-TV and KTVA-TV in Anchorage and as a sports reporter for the Mat-Su Valley Frontiersman3.

So who will you believe when they talk science?

  1. Timothy Cama, The Hill, “Palin: Bill Nye ‘as much a scientist as I am’,” April 14, 2009
  2. Wikipedia, Bill Nye, retrieved April 15, 2016
  3. Wikipedia, Sarah Palin, retrieved April 15, 2016

Liberation, at last!

You know how you sometimes read the comments made about an article, and once in a blue moon, someone will crystallize your thoughts and write them in a way you wish you’d thought of? That happened to me this morning.

With Kaye West in the news again, after asking Mark Zuckerberg to invest $1 billion in “his ideas,” and then turning to Google’s Larry Page for a billion when Zuckerberg didn’t answer right away. He gave Tidal the exclusive rights to his new album to drive traffic there and is now mulling a lawsuit against The Pirate Bay after more than a million people decided to download the album for free rather than pay a monthly fee to have access to it. He also mentioned in a tweet that he’s rich and can buy furs and houses for his family the day after claiming he’s $53 million in debt, and solicited prayers for him to overcome. And among the lyrics in his new album are those in which he wrote he might still have sex with Taylor Swift because he made her famous. Dude’s had a week in fairy-world, all right!

After reading of this circus on Ars Technica1, one of the comments on the article resonated with me. User dfavro wrote:

Kanye West is the personification of my being generation-gapped. He’s the point I finally transitioned from “gets youth culture” to “get off my lawn”. I got Taylor Swift and her contemporaries. I got Jay‑Z, Lamar and such. I admit I really struggled with Drake, but I got there, sort of.

Kanye I don’t get at all. I’ve read the (glowing) music press about his work and I just don’t see the appeal. The lyrics aren’t great, the production is interesting, the actual sound is muddy and unpleasant. But dammit, if the press and the millennials don’t love the guy as an artist.

And I just don’t see it. It’s unpleasant at best and painfully bad at worst. With “No More Parties” I kept thinking that it must be a joke that I’m just not getting.

It’s either an “Emperor has no clothes” or I’m officially my parents.

Even ignoring Kanye’s acting like a child in an adult’s body, I don’t understand why he hasn’t already faded into obscurity. I suspect that the gossip mills have become popular enough to keep an artist in the spotlight despite their having long passed their ‘best before’ date. Just look at his wife. What did Kim Kardashian do? A sex tape. That’s it. It’s depressing. All I can do is my part to make sure I don’t personally support either of their continuing popularity with a single cent of my income. And this I certainly do!

Just when I found myself really down in the dumps, user Statistical found the silver lining:

The good new is once you finally accept you are no longer young and hip it is kinda liberating! You just do your own thing.

Isn’t that the truth? The older I get, the less I care what others think and it is more than a little liberating!

  1. Sebastian Anthony, “Kanye West reportedly considering legal action against Pirate Bay over Life of Pablo,” from Ars Technica, 2016-02-19.

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