Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Transparency: what it is, what it's good for..

                 In physics and optics, transparency refers to the property of a substance to transmit light (or some other form of energy). Since information encoding requires energy, one could say that transparency refers to the capacity of a "channel" to transmit information. These physical and technical uses of the term can be applied symbolically to human and institutional behaviors. We say, for example, that a man's behavior is "transparent" if we feel he is guileless - honest, that he has nothing to hide, that he is "telling it like it is", that "what you see is what you get"..

                  Transparency, in this metaphorical sense, is essential, we believe, to the functionning of any democracy worthy of the name. Information must flow freely from lower levels of social / command hierarchies to the top, and from the top to the bottom. Exceptions, of course, have always been allowed for "State Secrets", especially in times of war: one does not want one's invasion plans to fall into the hands of the enemy; we want to catch him off balance. This is why it has been remarked that "truth is the first casualty of war".

                   But why, exactly, is transparency so important to the functionning of democracies? If one takes the term literally, democracy means rule by the common people:

                    Taken at face value, the answer is simple! Rulers, in order to rule competently, require information. For the people to rule competently, it, too, requires "unbiased", "objective" information. "Transparent" channels of information provide the required objectivity and lack of bias: they do not distort, alter or color the information that flows through them.

                     It should be obvious - I hope - that terms such as "objectivity" and "unbiased" are to be taken in the sense of goals or objectives which we should aim for and that different people, with different perspectives and agendas, will legitimately argue over whether or not a given piece of information is indeed "objective". Such divergences do not render the goal of transparency impossible; they merely stress the need for an open consensus on what terms like "objectivity" and "bias" mean in a given socio-historic context. Transparency is a difficult, subtle, self-referential ("recursive") term, included in its own definition (the "chicken or egg" conundrum). Defining - and implementing! - transparency would appear to require a minimum of goodwill and respect for honest opposition - the existence of a vital "civil society" open to debate and the expression of various opinions and views.

                      With the spread of modern means of communication and mind control and the consequences of untoward consequences of action by major players (nuclear reactor manufacturers, governments..), transparency is now, at the dawn of the 21st century, more important than ever. Various groups are now coalescing, focusing on the various ways to implement or safeguard governmental transparency:

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Law prof takes Feds to court over Kyoto pullout

          Québec law professor Daniel Turp has taken the Harper government to court over their decision to withdraw from the Kyoto Greenhouse Gas Emissions Regulation Accord.

           In the following 12 min French language podcast Prof Turp explains all.

               In essence, Prof Turp declared that the Harper government is acting illegally on several fronts. First, it's unilateral withdrawal is itself illegal by international law. Second, in a democracy the government represents the will of the people. The Canadian people, in general, and the people of the Province of Québec, in particular, supported the Accord and its implementation. Turp holds that, at the very least, the government is required to consult with the people via its representatives (Parliament) before engaging in any unilateral action contrary to the stated will of the Canadian (and Québécois) people.

               Turp then analyzed the possible reasons for the government's decidedly non-transparent actions on the greenhouse gas emissions file. The Harper government is, in effect, non-transparent in it's legislative and policy orientations. The Haper government is guilty of acting according to a "hidden" - non-stated - agenda: maximizing the short and medium term profit of the extractive industry sector (petroleum, minerals, forestry products, energy..). Such an "agenda"' Turp believes, would lead them to oppose - or reduce - environmental regulations and funding to organizations and ministries involved with protecting the environment or developing alternative energy sources. Alternative (non-fossil) energy production, don't forget, reduces global demand for extractive industries like coal, oil and natural gas. Turp is undoubtedly speculating at this point but, retrospectively, many of the government's more puzzling orientations make sense when viewed from the perspective of such a putative "agenda". For example, note the curious "mantric" use of the word "economy" in all the Feds' discussions about the "recovery" from the current "economic recession". All that SEEMS to count is the "economy": "It's the economy, stupid!" Meanwhile, the public, brainwashed from continual repetition of the mantra, day and night, on the media, concurs. (The brainwashing has worked..) But nowhere do we find the least recognition that our REAL problems are essentially ecological in nature - the physical interactions of humanity with the supporting planetary ecosystem and the non-renewable resource base. No recognition that the BASE, the physical / energetic foundation of ANY "economy" (human, animal, plant..) is the living planetary ecosystem, the inorganic non-renewable resource base and the global energy flows that sustain these systems.

                   Be that as it may, five universities - English and French speaking - have implicated themselves in Turp's supreme court challenge to the Harper government.

                    Prof Turp has also denounced the Harper government's robotic lockstep imitation of American environmental and foreign policy stances. Thus while Europe - even Africa and Asia! - begin to take environmental protection and alternative energy sources seriously, Canada increasingly falls in step with reactionary American, pro-corporate business policies. Canada and the US both, for example, went out of their ways to deliberately sabotage the Kyoto Accords and, later, their implementation. This stance, Turp argues, is functionally "undemocratic" since it does not represent the will of the majority of Canadians or Québécois.
printemps primavera spring

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

In praise of folly: budget cuts cost more than saving

         This is folly, of course: budget cuts for ideological reasons that end up costing more than they saved! Yet the Harper government may have arrived at this point of absurdity. Except that there is now a moral issue concerned: human lives may be put at risk so that Harper can grandstand to his populist - reactionary hardcore.. which is starting to get a bit scary.. this is no longer "just" a question of political buffoonery but of human safety and wellbeing.

            When Newfoundland fisher Shang Rideout's father took ill at sea, he called the Coast Guard. Unfortunately, Harper's budget-cutters had previously passed and, in the interest of "saving money",  medical emergency calls formerly handled by a regional (Atlantic Canada) company are now handled by CIRM Roma, an ITALIAN company. As might be expected, this resulted in a few hiccups: ideological budget cutters, like all ideologues, are not at all interested in practical details like efficiency, competence, relevance, safety or even - curiously!- cost. The person handling Rideout's call could hardly understand English, for starters. They did not know where Newfoundland was or with what country it is affiliated, either. Definitely not a good start for a medical emergency.. not..

              A former employee of an axed Marine Rescue Sub-centre, Merv Wiseman said "We thought we would see things fall through the cracks. We just didn't think it would happen this quickly." "Just didn't think it would happen so quickly"! Indeed, Mr Wiseman, life is barrel of surprises with the Harperite ideologues, ain't it now? LOL, what NEXT??

              Frustrated with the lack of communication or useful medical assistance, Rideout decided to return to shore to seek medical assistance for his father, a trip that took 10 hours. A similar emergency six years ago happened to the Rideout crew. Then a medical chopper was sent out to ferry the sick person ashore. Fortunately, this time, the patient survived the 10 hour trip by boat. (Lucky for him)