Friday, November 30, 2007

A question for the RCMP Commissioner

What exactly is the purpose of the RCMP going to Poland to look into Robert Dziekanski's "medical history as well as his criminal history in Poland." I can understand the need to investigate the first, indeed it is relevant to figuring out whether he died because of some precondition or because the officers electrocuted* him and then proceeded to kneel on his chest and throat, entirely contrary to the RCMP's own guidelines. But why the second? It must be because police officers can somehow smell a criminal and thus don't have to ask any questions before using lethal force. We know just need to confirm their intuitions.

A criminal history is entirely irrelevant to police action in this case. A man in distress was killed by the RCMP despite posing no lethal threat to them. Whether he was a criminal in Poland or not is irrelevant.

Let's just hope that when the RCMP officers get off the plane and try to clear customs in Warsaw that they don't smell like criminals to the officers there.

In other news related to the RCMP, apparently you can fear for your life even when you have a gun stuck in the nape of someone's neck. Strange.

* Can we stop using Taser as a verb? We have a suitable word already: electrocution.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The genetics of voter turnout

A little more than a year after this, Fowler and Dawes have released another working paper demonstrating a genetic component to the decision to vote. Rather than relying on twin studies, however, this time they have obtained genetic mappings from subjects in a multi-wave, long-term study of adolescents in the United States. The results are extremely interesting, especially because they identify two genes which play a role in the decision to vote, and because these genes interact with religiosity. This at least partially answers the question of why the religious are more likely to vote without relying on an argument about the skills gained through religious observance.

This, I should think, is the future of political science.

My favourite line, by the way, is "Genes are the institutions of the human body."

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Is Paul Pritchard a hero?

Hardly. Paul Pritchard, you probably know, is the 25 year old man who filmed Robert Dziekanski being electrocuted and then pinned on the chest and throat by the RCMP. He was one of many witnesses not only to Dziekanski's death, but also his confusion, delerium, panic, fear, breakdown, unravelling, distress, and helplessness.

Let me be entirely clear: Pritchard is a hero only because the RCMP killed someone in whose distress he was taking great pleasure and entertainment. Indeed, in an interview with CBC Radio, Pritchard said he thought he could use one man's distress for entertainment and perhaps some noteriety. Lucky for him, the RCMP proceeded to kill the man he merely mocked. Had they not, he would have been just another person uploading someone else's shame onto YouTube.

If you want to find a hero in this, it's Sima Ashrafinia, the only bystander with the courage and compassion to try to help Dziekanski. Let's not glorify Pritchard any more than we have. His 15 minutes were up as soon as the media obtained his tape.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

To William Elliott, An Open Letter

Dear Commissioner,

I understand you are concerned that "growing misperceptions are eroding the public's confidence in the RCMP." Une petit suggestion: I would be more concerned about proper perceptions. For example, that the RCMP actively covered-up its role in the extradition of a Canadian to face torture in Syria. Or, par example, that an RCMP officer recently got off shooting a captive citizen in the back of the head. Or, that four officers, in seeing a man in distress, thought the best course of action was not to ask those around what had happened, not to seek a translater, or not to take more than a minute to assess the situation, but rather to run him through with 50,000 volts of electricity. It strikes me that you might want to be concerned with these perceptions. Then move on to the misperceptions.


Sunday, November 18, 2007

Presidential Politics Get Nasty, but Maybe Not Enough

The Times Online has a nice summary story on the latest controversies in the presidential primaries. Despite the fact that the nominating conventions are still 8 or 9 months away, things are already getting nasty. Two things are going on. First, the Clinton folks are suggesting on background that they have some nasty business on Obama, but are refusing to share it. Who knows if they do. Either way it's hardball politics.

The second story is that in the last week someone was calling around Iowa doing some message testing on Mitt Romney, most of which turns on his Mormonism. The basic story is that some firm is calling households asking them, after 20 or so questions, whether they'd be more or less likely to vote for Romney for the nomination if they knew about some of the features of his relgion. Many, including Romney, have been mistakenly calling this is a "push poll". It's not. Push polls don't waste 20 questions before imparting negative information. They get right to it, because they are meant to reach several multiples more people than a poll which is message testing.

Nomenclature aside, what I think these stories are missing is a more central question. Namely, should voters be less likely to vote for Romney since he is a Mormon? Now, I for one don't really care if Romney follows the Mormon god or Zeus, but I would like him to answer the following question: Did he believe before 1978 that black males should be full participants in his church's sacrements? Because his Church certainly did not. No, they had to wait for a "revelation" before they realized that skin colour shouldn't preclude full participation. Religion is a private matter, perhaps, until it calls into question a politician's commitment to equal rights. So, let's take these questions out of polls and put them into a larger public space. I wonder which journalist will be the first to ask Romney when it dawned on him that his Church's doctrine was racist.

UPDATE: I guess this must be the reason why Romney doesn't want to talk about his religion. You don't want to give youth the idea that you could be an active leader in a church which had a fundamentally racist doctrine and then still become President.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Dear X Grad:

Nice Ring. Don't let the door get you on your way out.

Mount A is Number #1 again. As it always should be.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Harper in a Jam

Clearly, this promises to be a sticky situation for Harper. One can only hope he is able to preserve his spread in the polls in the face of this. Otherwise, questions may begin to be raised about whether he is lacking the royal jelly. In other words, he may be toast.