Justice Roberts steps up

Courts are and should be loathe to take up legislation. They aren’t particularly suited to it and it adds to the workload.

I especially like that the essence of the financial penalty for those that did not buy was a tax, regardless of how it might be characterized.

Judges should be looking at substance, not semantics. They shouldn’t be stretching for an interpretation according to which legislation should fail. Legislation should not be struck down on word choice that does not affect substance. Legislation shouldn’t be a game of “Simon says”.

Obama didn’t spring the health care changes as a surprise, he campaigned on it and it’s part of his mandate. So if people don’t like it they can go seek their own mandate to change it. That’s how it’s done.

Whether the arrangement is just or not, I would have to do a lot more study and probably have to see how it was implemented to see if the legislation operated justly or not.

But constitutions are not designed to remedy all injustice, nor should they be. There has to be broad scope for legislative branches to act in the public interest without involving the constitution, and on those occasions when a law turns out not to be in the public interest, that should not necessarily turn the issue into a constitutional issue.

For an illustration of this issue, here is paragraph 1 from Canada’s charter of rights:

“1. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms guarantees the rights and freedoms set out in it subject only to such reasonable limits prescribed by law as can be demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society.”

What people sometimes don’t understand is that the real meaning of this paragraph is that the government can enact laws which are demonstrably unjustifiable in a free and democratic society, provided that none of the enumerated rights are violated. Everything else constitutionally is fair game.

While I don’t think that the Canadian charter goes nearly far enough to protect rights, it is what it is. And it isn’t what it isn’t.

The American constitution is a bit more complicated but the same idea holds true. It is what it is and it isn’t what it isn’t. That something which arguably ought to be protected isn’t, is irrelevent. It isn’t designed to be a panacea, a means to rid the country of everything that is arguably disagreeable. Even if a policy is clearly wrong, if it is only wrong, that should not open the door to judges becoming legislators.

I was skeptical when Roberts was first appointed and cringed when he was vaulted almost immediately to chief justice but he is showing in retrospect that he was in fact an appropriate choice, able to put his presumed political views to the side.


“United States of Europe” not a good idea

First of all, I think that a more complete European Union would be more like the Canada of Europe than a United States of Europe.

It would be a lot like Canada with 17 feuding Quebecs.

Canada has had trouble staying together, notwithstanding that the western provinces have been providing enormous net subsidies to Quebec and the other eastern provinces for as long as anybody can remember.

It is possible for a party to form a government in Canada with hardly any representation from entire regions.

For instance, the last Liberal government in the 1980s had I think 2 seats in all of the provinces east of Ontario.

The steady flow of money east with little influence or accountability in the west gave rise to major frustration.

The four maritime provinces east of Quebec have often had an unhealthy dependence on seasonal work. Not too many years ago, it used to be possible for workers to be employed for a few months, then spend the rest of the year on government employment insurance, notwithstanding that they had chosen to only work in areas such as fishing where they would be unemployed the rest of the year.

That bit of silliness was cured 10-15 years ago but it rankled many of the folks out west.

Quebec are the drama queens of confederation. They scare off business by being too crazy and insisting on things like labelling schemes to promote french which mean that anybody wanting to do business there needs to come up with different packaging.

Most governments, the present Harper government excepted, have indulged Quebec’s diva behaviour because whomever Quebec voted for usually formed the government.

Notwithstanding that Quebec is coddled, many Quebecers aspire to separate, under the illusion that all of their life’s problems will be solved if they form a breakaway banana republic.

Considering that Quebec would also stop receiving enormous subsidies if it left, maybe some time on its own would do the province some good. Give it some perspective.

Canada has relatively few conflicting factions.

Europe is far more diverse.

The countries in the monetary union have around 335 million people.

Of those, 82 million are Germans and 65 million French. Austria, the Netherlands, Luxemberg and Belgium would probably have interests tied to these two and bring in around another 37 million people. That’s 184 million people, over half the eurozone.

One scenario is that France and Germany could become like Canada’s Ontario and Quebec.

In Canada, the elections are usually fought over those provinces. Traditionally the Liberal party would write off western Canada and the Conservatives would offer enough scraps to get seats in the west, and the reverse would be true with the four Atlantic provinces.

If there were Europe-wide parties, it would still tend to degenerate into parties being associated with regional interests.

Separatist movements would begin very quickly and would be more likely to be extreme nationalists.

If inequalities are institutionalized, with different regions having different minimum wages and other standards imposed on them from the core, I can see a “united Europe” being far more conflicted than Canada ever was.

2 fast 2 furious should be GOP scandal

Check this rare piece of investigative journalism out: http://features.blogs.fortune.cnn.com/2012/06/27/fast-and-furious-truth/

It looks like what is happening in Arizona is that Republicans, NRA and (other) criminals are colluding to ensure that nothing is done to stop the flow of guns to Mexico.

The only agent that “walked” a gun was Dodson, who did so without the authority of his superiors. He was the same one that turned whistleblower. Based on the article it appears that he trafficked weapons to a criminal organization and probably committed a crime.

Perhaps the most disturbing outcome is that the ATF’s leading suspects turn out to be FBI “informants”.

The FBI has a long questionable history of providing protection to the worst criminals under the guise that they are “informants” while helping take out their competition.

While the most egregious known case was Whitey Bulger, the bureau went down the wrong path at the outset with the appointment of Hoover. Hoover had some unclear association with Frank Costello and obstructed attempts to investigate the mafia for decades. I am all but certain that J. Edgar Hoover was mafia. When you consider that he had the opportunity to make like minded placements it needs to be investigated whether there is an ongoing legacy of that nature.

The problems with 2 fast 2 furious had nothing to do with the ATF apart from Dodson’s crew. The prosecutors who thought that, for instance, a man on food stamps who somehow bought $300,000 worth of guns hadn’t done anything wrong, need to be looked at.

The FBI backing the most serious bad guys again really needs to be looked at. I think that the whole agency needs to be investigated from the outside.

I’d nominate Voth to do that.

UFO silliness in the Baltic Sea


Some divers trolling for attention around Sweden have found some rock outcrop under the ocean that looks unusual and have turned this into a silly UFO hunt.

Unless there are UFOs made of solid rock it is already a dubious premise.

The lack of current volcanism in the area is irrelevant. In Finland for instance, there is an ancient bed of metamorphosed igneous rocks from eons ago: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Central_Lapland_Greenstone_Belt

As continents collided and a rift closed the activity ceased.

And then there is the point that if you dig down far enough anywhere you eventually reach igneous rock.

That it would be exposed at the bottom of a sea isn’t that surprising.

The rock may have magnetic qualities. Given that Sweden historically had a major trade in iron ore, the presence of some magnetic rocks is not entirely surprising.

I do however wonder if the alleged electrical interference has been overstated for theatrical effect.

Bear in mind that the people who found this are treasure hunters, not scientists per se. They were looking for some Hollywood outcome at the outset and if short of funding have an incentive to do anything to generate interest and possibly funding.

If mushroom shaped rocks are signs of ET, then I suppose ET has already landed in numerous places above the surface: https://www.google.ca/search?tbm=isch&hl=en&source=hp&biw=1138&bih=525&q=mushroom+rock&gbv=2&oq=mushroom+rock&aq=f&aqi=g6g-S4&aql=&gs_l=img.3..0l6j0i24l4.1219.8907.0.10063.…0.0.qerPXU9uZ6Y

It is in fact a common erosion feature.

I would also point out that, if the rock is not native, it may be a glacial deposit from one ice age or another.

It is possible given the changes in sea level over the millenia that at some point the rock was not far above sea level. The pounding of waves over time produces a characteristic mushroom shape when there is an igneous intrusion where the base is constantly hit by waves and the rest of the rock towers over it.

There is I suppose a hypothetical chance that the rock could be ejecta from a meteorite collision but that doesn’t match the facts as well.

The trail described could be from the rock being pushed by a glacier.

If one looks at the pictures of the thing, it looks odd but nothing like a spaceship.

Then there is the artist’s rendition, which looks conspicuously like the Millenium Falcon.

If the high tech equipment has problems near the rock, why not use low tech? Take pictures the old fashioned way.

Excusing the lack of closeups by electrical interference sounds like all the people that saw a sasquatch or the Lock Ness Monster but left the lens cap on.

This seems a lot like those cases where some bumpkins in the southern US make a hazy movie of a sick looking dog and claim that they’ve found a Chupacabra. Then the mainstream media actually play it.


A tough call in the Ontario mall collapse, but the right one


When you know that time is running out on getting to survivors underneath a bunch of rubble, and you know there are survivors, it must be really hard to just step away because the situation is unstable.

I think statistically though in those type of rescues you on average lose more rescuers than you rescue surviving victims.

It’s psychologically and perhaps politically impossible to walk away but you have to play the odds. It sounds like people got started before engineers had even done an evaluation. That was dangerous.

Considering that anybody putting up a building like that is going to have engineers spend many hours running the numbers before putting it up, you would expect that if all of a sudden various supports are taken out somebody is going to have to spend hours working out how the numbers have changed for the rest of the building, and maybe make some rough calculations about what happens if you start removing further supports or debris. Some of the debris may be stabilizing the structure and if you remove it, boom.

I think that maybe Canada needs to look at some kind of disaster response team, maybe one at either end of the country, that has appropriate machinery and their go-bags already aboard an aircraft, good to go with 30 minutes or less notice.

Another good idea would be to start a process of scanning as many building plans, including engineering computations, into a national database as possible. That shouldn’t cost a great deal but it would likely save a lot of time in an emergency.

If a disaster response team has to wake up somebody in the planning department at city hall and then sift through paper and figure out who the architect is and wake that person up (assuming they aren’t building something in Dubai), it could be one or two days or more depending on the organization of a municipality to get important engineering information.

If it is already in a database and you have appropriate critical incident response organization you could have an engineer already looking at something like a mall collapse within ten minutes and making some preliminary evaluations based on pictures witnesses are taking on their cell phones.

Look at this as a dry run for British Columbia and for Washington State.

Almost every other major fault in the Pacific Ring of Fire subduction zones has already gone off in the past 8 years and BC and Washington are overdue for a big one.


Six of the top 13 earthquakes since 1900 have come in the past 8 years, after 39 years without a big one. The big ones seem to come in clusters. That’s the data.

We hear a lot about the San Andreas fault but if a thousand mile section of the west coast from British Columbia to northern California suddenly shifts ten feet up that will be ten times as exciting as anything the San Andreas fault is capable of.

One mall collapse seems to have resulted in a somewhat muddled and perhaps dangerously confused rescue effort, without any other distracting chaos.

In saying that I’m not finding fault. It is hard to say how you will react to something that never happens. People whose practical experience lies elsewhere are in a position to have to figure things out on the fly and I’m sure they are doing their best.

But the tragedy may ultimately save lives because it has become clear that we aren’t ready.

Another family of 5


Anybody else noticed that there seem to be an awful lot of massacres of families of exactly five people in the US recently? It’s starting to seriously creep me out.

Oregon in May, San Fransisco in March, another in Arizona in May, Ilinois in December, Georgia in February, Florida in May, Virginia in December, Alabama in January, and those are just the ones with ready links.

Of course smaller incidents are less likely to be reported but the rise is worrying.

The most recent in Arizona has to make you wonder. If the guy is intending to off himself as well, what was the intended point of destroying all of the forensic evidence with a fire?


Corporate big brother


What should a corporation do if somebody sets up a site where everybody comes to post links to content, some of which is illegally in breach of copyright?

Thank him. Find ways to steer the traffic to his site. It will dramatically reduce the research and investigation needed to find and shut down the questionable links.

I would point out that many networks will post at least some of their programs online, presumably with the express purpose that they be watched.

It is not realistic for someone operating a site to not just click on every link but also research whether or not the material is a licenced version.

I’m not going to completely pre-judge the issue in that I can imagine a site being set up in a way that would promote or take extra steps to facilitate criminal activity and that might trigger some kind of conspiracy charge.

By extra steps I mean, any site where a link can be posted can be used for a criminal purpose and that mere fact should not open anybody with such a site to unlimited absolute liability.

Absolute liability is really a spectre here. “Absolute liability” means that there is no defence, even that you were not negligent or reckless and had no wrongful intent.

How does Amazon know that none of the third party books being sold on their site aren’t unauthorized reprints?

It can’t possibly know that, and given the sheer volume of material, it would seem highly unlikely that none of that is going on.

How about Ebay?

Should Amazon and Ebay be required to inspect everything that goes through their sites?

The case of Richard O’Dwyer should be concern not just for individuals but also for existing corporations.

There is also an old and occasionally questionable principle that if you see an offense occuring you are not required to intervene.

The direction things are taking is such that if you have an internet site you are instantly deputized and have a duty to police it. You become an agent of the state. You are either a cop or a criminal, with no middle ground.

Along the same lines we should be very concerned about the shutdown of FOREIGN online gambling sites by the US, which seized their domains.

That was a brazen attempt to protect vested US interests under the rationale that gambling is laudable in Vegas and Atlantic City and on Indian reservations and with state lotteries but is criminal anywhere else.

That willingness to break net neutrality to make competing with US economic interests an international crime suggests to me that we need to start developing alternative “internets” over which the US has no say or control.

I hope that there will be corporate concern at the direction that policing of the internet is taking, in these and other cases. Amazon and Ebay in particular ought to be concerned, as they operate on the general premise that most people and businesses are acting in good faith. Their business models would not work if they had to be the thought police as well.