Sunday, March 29, 2009

About Condoms

The silliness continues on the so called condom controversy with a Facebook group claiming 60,000 people will send a condom to the pope as a sign of protest over his earlier comments suggesting that merely increasing condom distribution to Africa would not solve the problem of AIDS, but may risk aggravating the problem. The pope said:

I would say that this problem of AIDS cannot be overcome with advertising slogans. If the soul is lacking, if Africans do not help one another, the scourge cannot be resolved by distributing condoms; quite the contrary, we risk worsening the problem. The solution can only come through a twofold commitment: firstly, the humanization of sexuality, in other words a spiritual and human renewal bringing a new way of behaving towards one another; and secondly, true friendship, above all with those who are suffering, a readiness - even through personal sacrifice - to be present with those who suffer. And these are the factors that help and bring visible progress.
This whole kerfuffle seems overblown. For one thing a lot gets lost in translation. If you follow the link to the Pope's comments you can see the original question was in French, but the Pope responded in Italian, more than likely because he thought that nuance and clarity were important. However, in the English speaking media I've seen many various paraphrases of his remarks in quotations. Many of these paraphrases are significantly more blunt than His Holiness' actual comments.

Second, strictly speaking the pope is correct. The World Health Organization claims that used properly (a pretty open ended caveat) condoms are 90% effective at preventing HIV transmission. Abstinence or being faithful to an uninfected partner are 100% effective. So the question of which method of preventing the spread of disease cannot be in doubt.

Of course, if someone is going to have sex with an infected partner their best to use a condom. Pope Benedict never said anything contrary to this. It's useful to take a look at Church teaching. The church teaches that married couples should give themselves fully to one another and accept children lovingly from God. Condoms are viewed as contrary to this teaching because you are placing the couples are not 'giving themselves fully' or being open to children. The Church also teaches that sex outside of marriage is sinful, extramarital sex isn't any more or less sinful with a condom it's just sinful.

Then there's the question of whether condoms promote promiscuity. I think this is an open question that people should recognize is debatable. When I think of the question, I remember frosh week at university. There were condoms in the frosh kits and they were handed out at every concert or pub event. Back then their heavy promotion and distribution definitely seemed to send the message that we were expected to be having (a lot) of sex. So I'd say there are situations where condom distribution can encourage promiscuity and therefore 'risk worsening the problem' of disease.

The sharp criticism of the pope in the mainstream media is inaccurate and misplaced.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Anti-Stimulus

As I was driving in to work this morning I heard about the Ontario Government's plan to combine the provincial sales tax PST with the national Goods and Services Tax (GST) to form a Harmonized Sales Tax (HST). I also heard how businesses were welcoming the news for the supposed efficiency of the single tax. The thing is the new tax will cover everything the GST covered at a rate of 13%. Currently the tax rate is 5% GST and 8% PST so at first blush it seems fair. The problem is that the GST applies to far more things people buy than the PST most notably services and new home sales. So by keeping the provincial rate the same but taxing way more things the net effect is a massive tax grab that every person in the province will feel.

One big in my face example is home renovations. The federal government announced a 15% tax credit on home renovations that will refund up to $1350 on a $10,000 home renovation. The last time I had work done in my house, the contractor charged 5% GST. Under the new HST the 8% tax increase on a $20,000 (which doesn't go far) home renovation would amount to $1600 - more than offsetting the fiscal stimulus announced in the federal budget.

I'm frustrated - one level of government gives the other takes away. For the record - the Conservative government gave and the Liberal government took away.


I Would Gladly Work for This Guy

By now there's a good chance you've seen the letter of resignation that AIG executive Jake DeSantis that was published in the New York Times. I think the letter is a work of art, it explains underlines the humanity of the employees of the bank. It demonstrates that people are people and entitled to respect. It demonstrates how legitimately frustrated and insulted employees will be when they are accused of wrong doing or denied what has been promised to them. I can see how those people who worked hard for the company and are not responsible for the company's losses would be furious about being publicly demonized by congressmen, state attorneys general and the US president himself. The letter is worth quoting extensively. I'm particularly impressed by how Mr. DeSantis stands up for his staff. He's a model for us all:

It is with deep regret that I submit my notice of resignation from A.I.G. Financial Products. I hope you take the time to read this entire letter. Before describing the details of my decision, I want to offer some context:

I am proud of everything I have done for the commodity and equity divisions of A.I.G.-F.P. I was in no way involved in — or responsible for — the credit default swap transactions that have hamstrung A.I.G. Nor were more than a handful of the 400 current employees of A.I.G.-F.P. Most of those responsible have left the company and have conspicuously escaped the public outrage. . .

Most recently, during the dismantling of A.I.G.-F.P., I was an integral player in the pending sale of its well-regarded commodity index business to UBS. As you know, business unit sales like this are crucial to A.I.G.’s effort to repay the American taxpayer. The profitability of the businesses with which I was associated clearly supported my compensation. I never received any pay resulting from the credit default swaps that are now losing so much money. I did, however, like many others here, lose a significant portion of my life savings in the form of deferred compensation invested in the capital of A.I.G.-F.P. because of those losses. In this way I have personally suffered from this controversial activity — directly as well as indirectly with the rest of the taxpayers. . .

But you also are aware that most of the employees of your financial products unit had nothing to do with the large losses. And I am disappointed and frustrated over your lack of support for us. I and many others in the unit feel betrayed that you failed to stand up for us in the face of untrue and unfair accusations from certain members of Congress last Wednesday and from the press over our retention payments, and that you didn’t defend us against the baseless and reckless comments made by the attorneys general of New York and Connecticut.

My guess is that in October, when you learned of these retention contracts, you realized that the employees of the financial products unit needed some incentive to stay and that the contracts, being both ethical and useful, should be left to stand. That’s probably why A.I.G. management assured us on three occasions during that month that the company would “live up to its commitment” to honor the contract guarantees. . .

I think your initial decision to honor the contracts was both ethical and financially astute, but it seems to have been politically unwise. . .

You’ve now asked the current employees of A.I.G.-F.P. to repay these earnings. As you can imagine, there has been a tremendous amount of serious thought and heated discussion about how we should respond to this breach of trust. As most of us have done nothing wrong, guilt is not a motivation to surrender our earnings. We have worked 12 long months under these contracts and now deserve to be paid as promised. None of us should be cheated of our payments any more than a plumber should be cheated after he has fixed the pipes but a careless electrician causes a fire that burns down the house.

Many of the employees have, in the past six months, turned down job offers from more stable employers, based on A.I.G.’s assurances that the contracts would be honored. They are now angry about having been misled by A.I.G.’s promises and are not inclined to return the money as a favor to you. . .

I’m not sure how you will greet my resignation, but at least Attorney General Blumenthal should be relieved that I’ll leave under my own power and will not need to be “shoved out the door.”

Definitely read the letter yourself. It looks to me like it's written by an honourable man who is sick and tired of having his and his colleagues' names run through the mud and having no support from company leadership. I sympathize.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Undecided BUT

I still haven't given much thought to the Ontario PC leadership race. I'm still kind of enjoying the departure of John Tory. Because I haven't given much thought to the race, I remain undecided. BUT, news that Mike Harris, and Common Sense Revolution architects Tom Long and Leslie Noble are all supporting Tim Hudak has definitely got my attention. This is not because I just want to follow the crowd or that I think we need a Mike Harris II but because this is a sign that Conservatives are once again welcome in the Ontario PC party.

The Globe and Mail asserted that "there appeared to be a high degree of public fatigue with the polarizing style of the Mike Harris and Ernie Eves governments," when John Tory was elected. Maybe, but Eves and Harris should not be included in the same sentence. Despite his record as Mike Harris' Finance Minister, Ernie Eves was a red tory that led the party to a quick defeat. John Tory was a red tory that led the party to back to back humiliating defeats. I don't remember the Bill Davis era that people talk about when the Conservatives ruled the province for 40 years until the early 80s - from what I've seen Conservatives get elected when they run on a conservative platform.

I'm going to give Tim Hudak a good look partly because of these high profile blue conservative endorsements, and because the day after Tory resigned friends of mine from the Niagara region spoke very highly of Hudak. I'm looking for a true blue Conservative who recognizes the importance of the members' opinions and who won't try to sideline social conservatives. Purely based on what other people are saying, I'm starting to feel optimistic that Tim might be up to the job.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Nothing Extraordinary - One Man's Call to the Priesthood

Last Sunday Michal Bebjak, a second year seminarian in our diocese, gave a talk on his call to the priesthood and his decision to enter seminary. Michal was a regular guy going to university for engineering when he stumbled on a club for catholics. The club was about as organized as most campus clubs (i.e. not at all) but he kept coming back and one of his friends invited him to go to a weekend retreat. It was there one of the priests first asked Michal if he'd ever thought of becoming a priest. Michal said, "sure but never seriously," and the seed was planted.

He struggled with the idea for several months and then prayed that God would help him make his final decision. The next time he went to mass the gospel came from Matthew 9:35-38. In that passage Jesus says, "The harvest is plenty, but the labourers are few" as he is calling for people to spread the Word. That's a passage that's almost always quoted when we pray for more young people to enter the consecrated religious life. Michal said it was nothing extraordinary but he's feeling rewarded everyday about his decision to follow Jesus this way.

I thank God for choosing Michal and for allowing him to respond. The young man is caring and mild mannered and really seemed to love the people in the congregation even though he'd never met most of us. I don't think I captured it here, but I felt very encouraged and strengthened by his story and I could see that the rest of the congregation was too. I think the unspoken but powerful message was that we can all follow God and hear his direction for our lives, we don't need to be extraordinary.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Incredible Sheep Herding

This is 3 minutes well wasted:

If you've ate today thank a farmer . . . If you laughed today you can thank these farmers twice!

Goodyear Controversy Blows Over

I wish I could find an electronic copy of the original Globe and Mail story that started off the whole Gary Goodyear controversy. I've read a number of articles and the truth is I respect the comments that most scientists have made about the minister of science and innovation. I read the front page story in the print edition and I'll admit I got a little riled up. Since I can't find the article I'll rely on Jonathan Kay's summary in the National Post:

Canadians differ on whether a supernatural entity had a role in the creation of human life. In a 2007 Canadian Press-Decima Research poll, 26% of respondents said they believe in creationism, 29% picked evolution and 34% said they believe in some combination of the two.

But according to militant secularists -- given disgracefully prominent play by The Globe and Mail on the front page of yesterday's edition -- that's not good enough. They want everyone in society, or at least everyone leading this country, to dogmatically subscribe to the minority view that God had no role at all in human creation.

In the article -- entitled "Minister won't confirm belief in evolution: Researchers aghast that key figure in funding controversy invokes religion in science discussion" -- Globe science writer Anne McIlroy breathlessly reported that "Canada's Science
Minister [Gary Goodyear], the man at the centre of the controversy over federal funding cuts to researchers, won't say if he believes in evolution"; that "some have expressed concern that Mr. Goodyear ... is suspicious of science, perhaps because he is a creationist"; and that "Mr. Goodyear's evasive answers on evolution are unlikely to reassure the scientists who are skeptical about him."

What really gets to me is the inquisition style questioning and the quotes in the article from the extreme activists that were calling for blood and suggesting that anyone who could be labelled as a 'creationist' has no business dealing with science. It's just arrogant and wrong headed. Jonathon Kay calls it a witch hunt and that's about right.

Fortunately I'm sure this story will blow over as I mentioned most of the comments from scientists are far more balanced than those in the original Globe article.

Finally I just wanted to make a couple of clarifications about my last post:

I don't strictly agree with the assertion that a politicians beliefs are irrelevant. I'm fond of a quote attributed to St. Thomas More, "I believe when men forsake their own private conscience for the sake of their public duty they lead their country by short route to chaos." Beliefs matter. I maintain, however, that when he was answering a question that he perceived as hostile he was right to avoid it and that his beliefs are irrelevant to his fitness for the job.

Some commenters questioned my assertion that Gary Goodyear is 'clearly competent.' He did stay on message during the interview highlighting the Government's consistent funding of science and technology:
Far from being hostile, Goodyear argued that the Harper government has increased
funding for science in every budget, including committing $5.1 billion over three years in the most recent budget.
Sounds like he's on top of his ministry.

Very last thing - Lots of people commented on my last post. I really appreciate that and I read them all.

Gary Goodyear is Right

Under attack for suspicion of being a Christian and a creationist. Gary Goodyear has responded:
"My personal beliefs are not important," he said, after speaking to the Economic Club of Canada on the government's vision on research and development. "What is important is that this government is doing the right thing for science and technology to support scientists."
He's absolutely right. Despite the flurry of criticism from media and some scientific circles, I'm certain Goodyear will survive this 'crisis' because he's focused on the task at hand and clearly a competent cabinet minister. I hope to have more to say on this later.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Blood Donor Questions

I've always enjoyed giving blood. It just makes me feel good to give something of myself that's truly valuable and it usually only takes an hour. The staff and volunteers usually treat you like royalty. But the best part is the screening process. I still blush sometimes when they ask the crazy questions about sex with Africans and money or drugs for sex. Last night I saw a new question that made me laugh out loud. I wonder what the other donors thought.
Have you in your past or present job taken care of or handled monkeys or their
bodily fluid?
Hmmm . . . not yet anyway.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Happy St. Patrick's Day

Unfortunately I won't be able to celebrate too much being a Tuesday and all. Hopefully I'll get a chance to read this short history of St. Patrick.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Bill Clinton's Disturbing Ignorance on Embryos

I came across this video on Friday via the Corner and Jill Stanek. Here Bill Clinton claims that President Obama's decision to fund embryonic stem cell research is "Pro Life" because the embryos scientists will use have not been fertilized. I can't quite believe this statement. You don't need to be a scientist to know that by definition all embryos have been fertilized - this is like grade 8 health class. If fertilization never happened there would be no embryo, just an unfertilized ovum (egg) and there would be no issue. BUT these embryos have been fertilized AND have 100% of their genetic potential. In fact, if the embryos were successfully implanted into a host mother they would be born in about 9 months. That's how in vitro fertilization IVF works.

So, Why would Bill Clinton make such a statement? A lot of the commentary that I've read right now finds this video humorous from a kind of ironic way I guess. I find it extremely disturbing that a man who was President of the United States for 8 years and had to make life or death decisions on this issue would either (a) simply not know what he's talking about or (b) have been able to go through enough mental gymnastics that he can convince himself of a 'fact' that we know is not true.

Transcript by Jill Stanek.

Gupta: Let's talk about something you talked a lot about in the early part of your presidency, stem cells. There was an order today providing federal money for embryonic stem cell research. First of all, let me just ask you, as someone who studied this, is this going to always be as divisive an issue as it is now? Is this going to be the abortion of the next generation? Or are people going to come around?

Clinton: I think - the answer is I think that we'll work it through. If - particularly if it's done right. If it's obvious that we're not taking embryos that can - that under any conceivable scenario would be used for a process that would allow them to be fertilized and become little babies, and I think if it's obvious that we're not talking about some science fiction cloning of human beings, then I think the American people will support this....

Gupta: Any reservations?

Clinton: I don't know that I have any reservations, but I was - he has apparently decided to leave to the relevant professional committees the definition of which frozen embryos are basically going to be discarded, because they're not going to be fertilized. I believe the American people believe it's a pro-life decision to use an embryo that's frozen and never going to be fertilized for embryonic stem cell research....

But those committees need to be really careful to make sure if they don't want a big
storm to be stirred up here, that any of the embryos that are used clearly have been placed beyond the pale of being fertilized before their use. There are a large number of embryos that we know are never going to be fertilized, where the people who are in control of them have made that clear. The research ought to be confined to those....

But there are values involved that we all ought to feel free to discuss in all scientific research. And that is the one thing that I think these committees need to make it clear that they're not going to fool with any embryos where there's any possibility, even if it's somewhat remote, that they could be fertilized and become human beings.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Negative Ads Are More Effective Than We Think

According to a Globe and Mail poll 65% of respondents said personal attacks on politicians only influence their view of the person making the attack. 18% said it influenced both their view of the attacker and the politician being attacked. Surprisingly only 2% of people said it influenced their view of the person being targeted exclusively.

I can't believe these results. Last year's 'Not a Leader' advertisements targeting Stephane Dion were brutally effective. I can't think of any Canadian who wouldn't say that Dion was ineffective and lacking leadership skills. Sure he was partly responsible for this, but I don't believe the image would have stuck if the Tories hadn't first defined him with those advertisements.

I'll agree that my sense of fair play kicks in the first time I see a negative ad or hear someone make an attack. If I perceive it as unfair, I will hold it against the aggressor. But if we hear the message it will still sink in and consciously or not we'll be on the look out for new information that supports or contradicts the charge.

How much do political attacks influence us? I'm not sure, but based on the polling data - it's a safe bet they influence us more than we know.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Angry at Obama

I hope Mr. Hopey-Changey changes soon. The Economist magazine, which endorsed Obama in the election, has an excellent article about the frustration people are feeling with the new President. This is the best paragraph:
But above all, people are angry that Mr Obama led them down the garden path. Bipartisanship? He is proposing one of the most liberal budgets in decades. Abolishing earmarks? The budget contains 8,570 of them. Honesty? The finance, property and insurance industries (all getting huge bail-outs) were the largest source of campaign contributions to Mr Obama after lawyers. Transcending racism? Eric Holder, the attorney-general, has accused Americans of being cowards when it comes to discussing race.
Today brought more typical news from the president: He delivered sharp criticism of 'earmarks' saying that some "have been used as a vehicle for waste, fraud and abuse. Projects have been inserted at the eleventh hour, without review, and sometimes without merit, in order to satisfy the political or personal agendas of a given legislator, rather than the public interest." As a result, he promises to introduce strict guidelines for their future use. That would be commendable except:

His remarks came the day after the Senate passed a $410 billion spending bill that included nearly 9,000 earmarks, which are projects designed to benefit individual legislators' districts. . .

Obama said that while he would sign the bill, which funds the government for the remainder of the current fiscal year, future earmarks should "have a legitimate and worthy public purpose."

His actions speak louder than his words. By signing a massive, wasteful spending bill he's demonstrating he has no interest in protecting taxpayers' money but rather pushing through his big-government agenda.

No wonder people are angry.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Amazing Shadow Puppets!

This is great - and only 2 minutes.

H/T: stinkyluvin

Obama May Not Have What it Takes - Newsweek Reports

Newsweek isn't ready to pass judgement on President Obama yet, but they are reporting that he's coming under heavy criticism from all sides as opinion leaders question his competence.

Obama may be mistaking motion for progress, calling signals for a game plan. A busy, industrious overachiever, he likes to check off boxes on a long to-do list. A genial, amenable guy, he likes to appeal to every constituency, or at least not write off any. A beau ideal of Harvard Law, he can't wait to tackle extra-credit answers on the exam.

But there is only one question on this great test of American fate: can he lead us away from plunging into another Depression?

. . . [concerns inclue:]

* The $787 billion stimulus, gargantuan as it was, was in fact too small and not aimed clearly enough at only immediate job-creation.

* The $275 billion home-mortgage-refinancing plan, assembled by Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner, is too complex and indirect.

* The president gave up the moral high ground on spending not so much with the "stim" but with the $400 billion supplemental spending bill, larded as it was with 9,000 earmarks.

* The administration is throwing good money after bad in at least two cases—the sinkhole that is Citigroup (there are many healthy banks) and General Motors (they deserve what they get).

* The failure to call for genuine sacrifice on the part of all Americans, despite the rhetorical claim that everyone would have to "give up" something.

* A willingness to give too much leeway to Congress to handle crucial details, from the stim to the vague promise to "reform" medical care without stating what costs could be cut.

* A 2010 budget that tries to do far too much, with way too rosy predictions on future revenues and growth of the economy. This led those who fear we are about to go over Niagara Falls to deride Obama as a paddler who'd rather redesign the canoe.

* A treasury secretary who has been ridiculed on "Saturday Night Live" and compared to Doogie Howser, Barney Fife and Macaulay Culkin in "Home Alone"—and those are the nice ones.

* A seeming paralysis in the face of the banking crisis: unwilling to nationalize banks, yet unable to figure out how to handle toxic assets in another way—by, say, setting up a "bad bank" catch basin.

* A seeming reluctance to seek punishing prosecutions of the malefactors of the last 15 years—and even considering a plea bargain for Bernie Madoff, the poster thief who stole from charities and Nobel laureates and all the grandparents of Boca. Yes, prosecutors are in charge, but the president is entitled—some would say required—to demand harsh justice.

* The president, known for his eloquence and attention to detail, seemingly unwilling or unable to patiently, carefully explain how the world works—or more important, how it failed. Using FDR's fireside chats as a model, Obama needs to explain the banking system in laymen's terms. An ongoing seminar would be great.

* Obama is no socialist, but critics argue that now is not the time for costly, upfront spending on social engineering in health care, energy or education.

That's quite a list. Unfortunately it's probably generous and nowhere near complete.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Wrong and Unnecessary

Barack Obama's decision to allow federal funding of embryonic stem sell research is simply wrong. The procedure destroys a human embryo days after it has been conceived. If given the chance that embryo would grow into a baby and then a healthy individual like anyone else. There really could never be any justification for killing any human being even in the earliest stages of development for the sake of medical research. The thing that makes this change so audacious is that it is completely unnecessary. The normally left wing New York Times explains that scientists have already moved on from this technology finding more fruitful results from 'adult' stem cells which can be taken from a newborn baby's umbilical cord or from a fully grown patients' own bone marrow:

However, the president’s support of embryonic stem cell research comes at a time when many advances have been made with other sorts of stem cells. The Japanese biologist Shinya Yamanaka found in 2007 that adult cells could be reprogrammed to an embryonic state with surprising ease. This technology “may eventually eclipse the embryonic stem cell lines for therapeutic as well as diagnostics applications,” Dr. Kriegstein said. For researchers, reprogramming an adult cell can be much more convenient, and there have never been any restrictions on working with adult stem cells.

For therapy, far off as that is, treating patients with their own cells would avoid the problem of immune rejection. Members of Congress and advocates for fighting diseases have long spoken of human embryonic stem cell research as if it were a sure avenue to quick cures for intractable afflictions. Scientists have not publicly objected to such high-flown hopes, which have helped fuel new sources of grant money like the $3 billion initiative in California for stem cell research.

In private, however, many researchers have projected much more modest goals for embryonic stem cells. Their chief interest is to derive embryonic stem cell lines from patients with specific diseases, and by tracking the cells in the test tube to develop basic knowledge about how the disease develops.

Despite an F.D.A.-approved safety test of embryonic stem cells in spinal cord injury that the Geron Corporation began in January, many scientists believe that putting stem-cell-derived tissues into patients lies a long way off. Embryonic stem cells have their drawbacks. They cause tumors, and the adult cells derived from them may be rejected by the patient’s immune system. Furthermore, whatever disease process caused the patients’ tissue cells to die is likely to kill introduced cells as well. All these problems may be solvable, but so far none have been solved.

There is very little promise with this embryonic stem cells. Using those cells kills a newly conceived human being. There are tremendous and proven benefits using 'adult' stem cells.

Still, Obama turned on his characteristic charm and paraded around a bunch of jubilant activists including a paralyzed former football player who said, "Now I know I will walk again!" Gee sir, I am sorry for your condition, but try reading the article above. Your faith in this technology is totally misplaced.

Speaking of faith; Obama declared "as a person of faith, I believe we are called to care for each other and to work to ease human suffering." Give me a break. He wants to kill real human beings to potentially ease some undefined suffering. This type of moral equivalency makes me sick - especially when it's completely unfounded. This change in the law will not ease any human suffering any time soon.

I miss President Bush.

Goodbye John

Finally! John Tory has stepped down as leader of the Ontario PC party. His unglamorous end was typical of his leadership. Tory must have known it was the end when he lost a by-election in a safe conservative seat Thursday. Instead of resigning that night, he had to hold on one more day and wait until 2:00 PM Friday to resign. It's just like last year when he took hours after the leadership review vote to decide whether he was going to stay on.

Tory's comments demonstrated just how little he got it. When he said, "I hope the new leader is blessed with greater success on [the unity] file," it sounds like the problem is with the party. The problem was exclusively with him. He was a left wing red tory that tried to take the party to a place it wasn't meant to go. When he lost an important election badly, he should've resigned. When he barely garnered 2/3 support of Conservative delegates at last year's convention, he should've resigned. When he didn't find anyone to step aside to allow him to run before the end of the year, he should've resigned. The only reason there was a 'unity issue' in the party was because of the broad disappointment in his leadership.

His comments about the last election also showed an extreme lack of depth. In talking about his controversial plan to extend public funding to religious schools he said, "I've certainly learned that religion and politics is a volatile mix that is best avoided." Not necessarily John. What should be avoided is thrusting a controversial new policy on your party without first getting buy in from the members or the caucus. What should also be avoided is being clearly insincere about supporting the policy, and then flip-flopping on it during the last week of the election campaign. When you do that people who oppose the policy have to vote against you in case you bring it in, and people who support the policy have to vote against you because you've already betrayed them.

John Tory was out of his depth and its a good thing for the party that he's finally stepping aside.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Cool As a Cucumber

With the economic meltdown that's happening, is this study timely or what?

Believing in God might help religious people block anxiety when under stress, finds new research from the University of Toronto that looked at brain differences between believers and non-believers.

The studies, led by assistant psychology professor Michael Inzlicht, involved a small group of participants who answered questionnaires about their belief in God and their level of religious zeal.

The volunteers were then asked to perform a Stroop task -- a well-known psychological test that measures the reaction time while performing tasts such as identifying colours quickly. The subjects were hooked up to electrodes that measured activity in the area of the brain called the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), which is involved in emotion control and helps us to modify behaviour during an anxiety-producing event such as making a mistake.

Inzlicht's team found that those volunteers who considered themselves religious showed significantly less activity in the ACC compared to non-believers -- suggesting they were experiencing less anxiety during the test and when they made mistakes.

The stronger their religious zeal and the more they believed in God, the less their ACC fired in response to their own errors, the study found. "In fact, we did not find religious people made more errors -- they actually made significantly fewer errors, which was very interesting to us," Inzlicht told "We're not sure how to explain that yet."

I'm encouraged by this study. I know that I'm less stressed about most things than I would be if I didn't believe in God. There's just something reassuring in knowing that God loves us and he's in control. The big shocks in life are a lot easier to take when you can put them in an eternal perspective. This study suggests that even the little things in life like making a tiny error are easier to take too.

It was interesting reading the commentary around the story and the different takes from various news outlets. Funny how some of the atheists have outright rejected the study or just laughed at believers for being so committed to our delusions. There were plenty of references to Karl Marx' claim that religion is the opiate of the masses. However, one of the best comments was from a guy name Kris on CTV's message board:
"It may be that having this sense of meaning reduces their anxiety..."... or it may be that we were designed to operate optimally when we acknowledge the designer. Let's not overlook logical possibilities due to iconoclasm.
Well said.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Welcome Windfall

My retirement savings have fallen more than I care to admit, in fact, to be perfectly honest I don't know what they've done in the past 3 months because I usually just wait for the statements to come in the mail. My job is as uncertain as many others too, truth is 'uncertain' could be a tame word to describe it. Even so I'm optimistic and I'm certainly not going to withdraw from the economy or stop spending money because of the grim news.

Part of the reason I'm optimistic is because of the continued interest rate cuts like Tuesday's 0.5% interest rate cut. The Bank of Canada has now cut interest rates by 3% over the last year, and if I remember correctly most commercial banks cut their prime lending rates by 2.5% over the same period. That's $2,500 a year on a $100,000 mortgage - that's more than $200 a month - that's just plain good news for a borrower like me. Since my payments are the same every month that means my mortgage prinicipal is dropping faster than ever. Same goes for the line of credit.

The interest rate cuts are on top of the sharply lower gas prices, that are saving me almost 50% on each tank of gas. Plus there's the home renovation tax credit and there's always work that needs to be done around the house.

Finally even if I do end up unemployed, Canada's unemployment benefits will keep paying the mortgage and groceries and they can even fund going back to school.

I really hope all this economic turmoil ends soon but in the meantime I'm going to keep enjoying the low interest rates and low gas prices and I'm going to spend some of this windfall.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Are the Gloves About to Come Off?

The Conservatives are preparing attack ads according to the Canadian Press. The article notes, "The Harper government had been uncharacteristically tame toward the Liberal leader until last week, when MPs began taking shots at Ignatieff in the House of Commons."

This is probably good news. Michael Ignatieff has been given a free ride and he should be held to account. Canadians deserve to know a lot more about this guy if he wants to continue to act like an alternative to our Prime Minister. However, the Conservatives need to be careful, the attack ads can't be cheap attacks like, "He has scary eyebrows." Even if it is true they'll have to nail him on something more substantial. The interesting thing to me is that Ignatieff reminds me a lot of Harper so I'm looking forward to see how the Conservatives can make some mud stick to Ignatieff and still keep their guy clean.