So Many Conservatives

Well, we had us an election up here in Canada this week, and the Conservatives won. I cannot say that surprises me in the least. The general clamor of people was that if the Liberals won, the entire country would be forced to pay every cent of their money in taxes, and we would be forced to eat babies and drink our own pee. Of course, that’s ludicrous, but what does a Conservative victory really mean?

The Conservatives, unlike the previous electoral term, have a majority government. Majority governments are not really a good thing. They hold 167 seats, and the other parties put together hold 141. That means that, assuming party whip and loyal voting amongst the parliamentarians, any decisions that the Conservatives want to put through have to go through. Well, not really. They still have to get their laws approved by the Senate and not vetoed by the Governor General, so it isn’t like they have a death grip on all decisions put forward. However, it’s safe to say that they do have the ability to railroad Parliament.

What’s more, for the first time in Canadian history, we have the NDP (New Democratic Party — read: lefties) as the official opposition. The people on my bus felt that this was a huge step for the country, because the NDP are known for standing up to the Conservatives. Realistically, that doesn’t mean a thing. I believe that the NDP are an integral part of the Canadian government, reflecting the social conscience of the country, but it doesn’t matter if they are facing off against a majority government made up largely of very right wing thinkers.

Most people think the Conservatives are a very reasonable lot, but I fully disagree. It’s true that many of their actions of the past few years have been fairly non-threatening, but that was because they held a minority government and had to keep their bullying in check. They may have held the largest share of the seats, but their opponents, all strongly left-leaning, could band together for the purposes of overruling anything they attempted, so they could not go balls-out to push the world view they desire on the people. Those checks and balances are now gone.

The Conservative Party has a long (and recent, too) history of undervaluing and disrespecting the scientific community in Canada. That is a big concern to me. I am not a scientist in the classic sense, I am a computer scientist, and I do not have to worry about funding cuts in my job, but the approach that Harper’s government has taken does not instill confidence in this area. And make no mistake, science spending and research are extremely important to the future success of this country. We have a very real need to address scientific issues like climate change, and Harper’s response has not been inspirational.

It would be remiss to not mention that both Harper and the Conservatives are not all bad. They often get demonized by their opponents, and that is foolish. Not every decision made by the Conservatives has been negative by any stretch of the imagination.

The Conservatives are also the one party most likely (at least in my opinion) to blur the line between church and state. And that is a dangerous line to blur. Many of the Conservative Party members are devoted right wing Christians. It is highly likely that the next few years will see changes in policy towards such right wing Christian tender spots as abortion and homosexual marriage. That does not mean that I am saying they will ban the two topics by any stretch, but I would be surprised if we didn’t see changes on both.

Really, there are a large number of reasons to be concerned in our current situation. I believe that a majority government is almost never a good thing and a Conservative government (even a minority one)  is in many ways a threat to social spending, the poor, the non-Christian, and science. As well, an official opposition that cannot actually oppose the other party is a dire situation. And these are just the issues I most immediately see as being on the table; there are scores of others.

I am not saying that a Harper-led Conservative government is going to ruin everything, but I will say that there is the potential for a whole lot of bad to come of this. Fingers crossed.


I have no faith in an official opposition that cannot actually oppose.

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About biguglyjim

Like a caterpillar that spins a coccoon and emerges as a walrus with a mohawk, Big Ugly Jim has become something unexpected. Raised a fine young Christian boy in the city of Calgary, Alberta, Canada, Jim began to question his teachings, first evaluating the wisdom of other religions and eventually realizing that none of them seemed any more accurate than any other, and not a one of them made a lick of sense. Today, Big Ugly Jim is a musician, a Business Analyst with Large Oil Company Whose Name Is Not Important, a music promoter with the Calgary Beer Core, a writer of fiction and non-fiction, a prick, an atheist, a father, an ex-husband, a role model, a horrifying vision in a red speedo (or at least he would be, if ever that happened which IT WOULD NOT), an announcer, and soon to be an officiator of weddings. Also, he's nice and does dishes. Jim continues to live in Calgary, spreading his filthy doctrine of free, critical thinking and appreciation for music.

5 thoughts on “So Many Conservatives

  1. I noticed you said:”I am not a scientist in the classic sense, I am a computer scientist,
    and I do not have to worry about funding cuts in my job, but the
    approach that Harper’s government has taken does not instill confidence
    in this area.”Could you perhaps give me an informed opinion on how much confidence a computer scientist can draw from the following?”In other words, what CRU usually do. It will allow bad databases to pass unnoticed, and good databases to become bad, but I really don’t think people care enough to fix ‘em, and it’s the main reason the project is nearly a year late.”My question is: is that normal? I’ve had some people tell me yes, and some tell me no, but no definitive answer as yet.If I had written the above sentence and I saw data from that database appear in something like an IPCC report (e.g. AR4 WG1 fig 9.19), I think I’d have said something, but maybe I’m being Mr Picky. Do scientists generally have different quality standards? Why is it OK?Can you think of any reason why the anyone should say of the measure that inspired this “You can’t imagine what this has cost me”? That suggests the author might suspect that what he had done was… well, you know… wrong. It can’t be that, can it?

  2. I absolutely can give you an opinion on it, though I can’t claim to be properly informed. You are referring to climategate, and this appears to be an example of quote mining. I am not an expert in the systems that the CRU use, so I cannot truly comment on how accurate this statement is, nor on how the structure of the database in question can alter the particular data being reported.
    I implied in my post that computer science isn’t really science. That isn’t at all factual, but what passes for computer science in industry (the applied science of computing) is operating in a manner that more often than not is anything but scientific. If you treated chemicals the same way people treat software in industry, we would have massive safety issues.
    I don’t, as I said, know anything about how the CRU operates or what this data is being used for. Bad data happens in almost every database on earth. This can be caused by poor database design, it can be caused by stale information, it can be caused by software glitches, it can be caused by data corruption… the list is endless. When incorrect data results in misleading reports, that is a bad thing. However, incorrect data may not be sensitive enough to require fixing.
    When I taught college, I talked quite a bit about the idea that you never get the application right the first time. In fact, there really is no accurate point where “right” exists. The best we can do is come up with as right as possible given what we presently know and what functionality we require, and then iteratively refine it as time goes by to get things correct.
    As to the line, “it will allow bad databases to pass unnoticed, and good databases to become bad…”, this happens all the time in industry. We accept that some aspects of a data model may not be what we want them to be. We accept that some of our data may be incorrect. Provided that it is not data that we are drawing reports from or data that we are using to determine policy, then it is allowed to slide. 
    Without knowing the person who wrote this line or really understanding the context aside from having read sections of the Harry Read Me file, my initial impression is that this is a person who wants their database model to be perfect. Some of the data is using spurious numbers for identification purposes. His frustration is the same frustration we all feel when we are told that our database may have some troubles, but they aren’t causing any impact and either will be picked up in a later release or ignored. That happens all the time in industry.
    Now, as to what these numbers reflect, it sounds to me from what I briefly read like they are talking about primary key fields. I don’t know if you are a computer programmer or not, so I will assume you aren’t and explain that a primary key is a unique identifier for a record in a table. Your phone number is potentially not unique because other people could share it in the present and because people may have used it in the past, but your social insurance or social security number is a proper choice because nobody will ever have the same number.
    Primary keys are used for identifying unique rows and for relating information. It doesn’t matter what number you choose or how you got to it algorithmically. If the number is unique, it identifies the information. If I have a table that contains people information and I assign the number 639284920 to you, it doesn’t matter if that is your social insurance number, some mathematical construct based on random numbers multiplied by the ASCII values of your first name, or the next number in a sequence, that number now can be tied to you. If I have a table for work groups and want to specify that you belong to a given work group, all I need to do is insert that number and I can then relate the rest of your data.
    A randomized primary key is no threat to anyone. It still uniquely identifies the data in question, and can be used to isolate an individual record.
    So does this mean that climategate is real, and that the CRU are lying jerks who are serving up incorrect information? Not at all. What makes the database bad to the person in the email is at question. What is their background? What is their character type? Was this a legitimate warning that data corruption of important information is taking place, or was this a frustrated employee complaining about the fact that he wants his baby to be perfect, and his overseers have assessed the risk of the issue he brings up and found it not worth the effort to fix because it doesn’t impact the overall integrity of the system? Is the comment, then, sour grapes?
    I’ve complained many times in similar fashion about applications I have built and applications I have inherited. When the errors were the sort of thing that results in bad data interpretation, they get dealt with. When they don’t, they get ignored until the next version, or maybe just ignored in general.
  3. Thank you. I wasn’t sure if that was a yes or no. I got the impression that it was a “yes, this is normal, but it might not matter.” *Does* it matter? Is it important to know? Has anybody tried to find out, and reassure us on the point with an explanation? What would a sceptic say?   The data is apparently being used to support the conclusions of climate science, some of which are being used to steer the global economy, with life-changing consequences for billions. It is part of something more important than aircraft avionics, more important than nuclear reactor control code, more important than the space shuttle flight software. Does this particular database have a big impact on all that? I don’t know, but I suspect it is anyway not untypical of the whole, and what you say goes some way to confirming that. It passed muster at the IPCC.   The numbers in question are the identification codes for weather monitoring stations. The problem is that there is two sets of data in the database that purport to come from the exact same station, but which do not look anything like one another where they overlap. It means the data is either corrupted or mislabelled, the data from one location probably being transplanted to a completely different location, or is rainfall swapped with temperature, or something. We know there is a problem, but we do not know which record is correct. We do not know that there are no other cases left undetected because we happen to have no overlapping alternative records. It is as if the IRS database was to have one record under your social security number with your details, and another record with the exact same number but for a Mexican woman called ‘Bonita’ who works for a florist. The IRS cannot merge them, so it creates two records with faked social security numbers, both of them living at your address. Every other agency does the same, but invents different numbers. The database is full of thousands of people in your situation, but nobody knows, and nobody cares. We just make it up, and move on to the *next* crufty hack. We’re already a year late.   If it were done in *my* bit of industry, we would consider the appropriate response to be to leave *both* sets of mismatched data out of the database, to output a report listing all the records so excluded, which would be included with the product, to make an estimate based on the number of such mismatches of the number remaining undiscovered to be included in the published caveats, and to raise the issue publicly with the WMO (the governing body collating/managing this data) for them to investigate the source of the problems and try to fix them. Or I suppose we could just gin up some fake numbers to silently hide the problem, keep quiet and hope nobody notices. No, what am I saying?! I’d go to *jail* if I did that!   But I guess it depends on whether anyone thinks what you’re doing is really important.   Thanks anyway. Cheers.

  4. You would only go to jail if the information you were talking about in some way legally compromising. If, for example, I have an application that tracks information for a set of applications I have written and the database information is unreliable, it is up to me (or my supervisors) to determine if the unreliability is potentially dangerous. If it is, then I would have to fix it as quickly as possible. If it isn’t, I can simply assume that this information is not reliable until I have the time to fix it, if at all. I use this example because I have built and maintained an application that had exactly that issue. We incorporated the database information because there was no source of truth for databases at the time, but database outages had potential impacts on the applications I was maintaining, and I needed to know as well as I could what would get impacted by an outage. When we recognized that the information was incorrect (in this case, it was stale and almost impossible to guarantee that it would be maintained) we had a more reliable database to consult, and we chose to ignore this field. Nobody went to jail.The problem with this whole ClimateGate thing is that everything is purely speculative. Someone hacked their way into the email servers, illegally stole information, and is using it to claim that climate science is all lies. It is a smoke screen based on people NOT having the context to understand, and searching for words that justify their presupposed opinion.In answer to your questions, I have no proof that anyone did anything. It is entirely possible that they didn’t, but the massive dearth of professional experience I have says that these questions were asked and answered accordingly, that the person who’s email you are quoting probably was unhappy at the response, but that the information in question is not going to skew results.Assuming that one unhappy programmer’s email proves a massive conspiracy by the climate change scientists is like assuming that my comment above about the system I was in charge of proves that oil companies are lying to us. Whether or not oil companies are, my situation is unrelated. The massive weight of evidence is on the side of the scientists who argue that climate change is a significant and real threat. Any foolishness with emails won’t convince me otherwise unless it comes from valid sources and expresses reasonable doubt. This ClimateGate stuff is anything but reasonable doubt.

  5. Pingback: The Benefits Of Analysis | Meddling Kids

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