Thursday, October 30, 2014

Dangerous Precedents in the Ghomeshi Scandal.


The stories trickling out about CBC's Jian Ghomeshi's alleged pattern of abuse toward women are  deeply disturbing. They paint a picture of a troubled sexual scavenger whose actions involving a teddy bear appear objectively, demented. For many Canadians, it is as though a favourite cousin or uncle has been accused of living a secret life as a predator. The role of the CBC is as a kind of cultural glue for our increasingly diverse and disparate national identity, and these stories are casting a pall over the narrative of a national family.

As more women come out of the woodwork to accuse him, it makes defending him as an individual impossible. But while this issue is unfolding, it must be witnessed and recognized that Canada's press institutions have so far handled the matter reprehensibly - and the consequences of their actions (not Ghomeshi's) may be the source of lasting harm to the country.

Christie Blatchford pointed out in a recent column that if a woman makes a formal complaint to police about sexual assault, a publication ban on their identity is almost guaranteed. Even for women who did not know this detail (or men, I didn't) a lawyer would certainly have advised them of this.

Even when we may be sympathetic to the women about the legal system's treatment of plaintiffs in sexual assault cases, it is a fact that the women who allege abuse by Ghomeshi have recourse to civil remedies.

It is critical to observe that not one of the increasing number of them had chosen to do so, and to note this for a very specific reason.

Instead of choosing to exercise their legal rights, some of them resorted to a whisper campaign that ultimately led to the firing of Ghomeshi. Even if the whispers are true, and Ghomeshi is as awful as they say - the CBC, the Star and to a lesser extent the national dailies in their infinite cant, have set the ugly precedent of legitimizing the tactic of addressing grievances through a whisper campaign. 

When we hold up legitimate plaintiffs as powerless victims so that the public may engage in its own hysterical catharsis, we engage in the most despicable form of mob justice. When we reward people with fame for abandoning civil recourse and instead, donning the tear soaked kerchief of victimhood, we empower and give voice to the cynical political opportunists who leverage the crisis for their own (authoritarian) agendas.

We also squelch debate, because victimhood is not an individual interest or a rational position. It is an internal, personalized identity of which criticism is forbidden - under penalty of public shaming, threats, shunning, and general defamation.

By publishing anonymous allegations, knowing full well that there were alternatives available to the plaintiffs, what the CBC and the Star have done is provide formal recognition and legitimacy to the utterly toxic and practically illegal (via defamation, libel, etc) practice of destroying someones reputation through malicious, unfalsifiable gossip. That it has been aimed at someone who looks like they may be guilty of some pretty awful stuff does not make it ok. In fact, it makes it all the more disturbing because the helpless victimhood narrative becomes a post-hoc justification for some pretty loathsome scheming. 

I do not dispute that the women coming forward now with allegations against Ghomeshi have sincere accusations, and are entitled to recourse within the law. What I disagree with is how the Toronto Star and the CBC have discredited themselves as public interest vehicles. By printing anonymous allegations, they have lent undue credibility to a vicious bullying tactic, and unleashed the golem of moral panic and public hysteria.

One does not have to defend Ghomeshi to feel utterly sickened by the wailing vanity parade of victimhood that Canada's press institutions have orchestrated, and to have legitimate fear for the future of a country whose guardians of truth have so completely debased themselves.


Monday, March 17, 2014

Women in Tech: It's Complicated


"Everything in the world is about sex except sex. Sex is about power." -- Oscar Wilde


There is a reason tech is a boys club, and it's not because girls are bad at math or science - or even that girls were discouraged from taking those subjects in school. It is not because men have conspired to keep women out, or that "brogrammer" culture is somehow "anti-woman."

The elephant in the chatroom is this: engineering is low-status work.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Royal Black Swan? A Question of Honours.


When the banks in Cyprus were poised to seize deposits from their customers to provide collateral for a bailout, in Greece, Ireland, Italy, Spain, likely Portugal, and disturbingly, Japan, the question of whether it would be the template for other national bailouts became the question on everyone's mind. 

It is one thing to seize deposits of hedge funds, oil and energy companies, agricultural and tourism firms - along with the funds held in the country by foreign investors - as they employ many citizens and there would no doubt be significant, if containable unrest in the event this occurred...

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Laser Guided Policy and the 80th Anniversary of EO 6102


To gold bugs, and more recently, American libertarians U.S. President FDR's executive order 6102 looms in their imaginations as one of the key examples of their government turning on the citizenry and illegally seizing their property.

Back in 1933, citizens were compensated for their forfeited gold at a fixed price of about $20/oz. The fine for  not turning it over to the state was the equivalent to about $175,000 today, in addition to the threat of 10 years imprisonment. Of course many Americans did not turn over their gold, and there are few if any reported cases of anyone actually going to prison over it.

Anonymous comment contributors to skeptic financial blogs (or fringe blogs, depending on your view) seem to think that the U.S. and certain European countries are preparing for a similar move. It's not unreasonable to hypothesize that personal gold confiscation could happen again. While it is unlikely that we will return to a gold backed currency in the west anytime soon, if ever. But if the Euro, the GBP, CAD or USD were suddenly devalued to pay off liabilities - at face value a scenario of gold confiscation through forcible "repurchasing" is not as paranoid as it might seem...

Monday, April 1, 2013

Japanese Dominoes


Given the predictions about imminent Japanese economic collapse, (recent estimates from Kyle Bass including a %60 currency devaluation and %70 stock index devaluation), what countries have exposure to restructurings of Japanese international businesses?

The answer may not be which countries, but rather, which municipalities, states and provinces.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Bitcoin liquidity revisited - Save Bernankestan


Recently I wrote about how the viability of bitcoin was limited by the risk of total, sudden liquidity collapse . The argument can be summarized as saying that without institutions whose business is transacted in it, bitcoin suffers from a bootstrapping problem whereby a crack in the crypto scheme would create an instant wave of counterfeit and debasement. Since there is no entity to restore trust in the currency with a guarantee, e.g. no central bank or government to offer a sovereign guarantee, a crack would make bitcoin illiquid and worthless. 

I said that bitcoin would only ever be useful on the black market, since without legitimacy from legal institutions, the only commodity of last resort it may ever be readily exchanged for will be drugs or other contraband.  

Circumstances have changed since I argued that point, as a number of online gambling sites are beginning to take in and pay out bets in bitcoin. It is a game changer since, more than blackmarket commodities, now bitcoins may be traded for _risk_.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Trillion Dollar #DIV/0!


This whole thing about the "trillion dollar coin" brings up an interesting problem. To rehash it, it's that the U.S. Treasury may use an unintended consequence of an obscure earmark amendment to stamp a platinum coin denominated as $1-trillion dollars, and deposit it with the Federal Reserve as collateral for new loans, which the government can then use to pay its bills.  It is an accounting hack, (the programmers equivalent to the side effect of a function) and one that even an eminent NYTimes economist believes should technically work.

This of course begs the question in regard to what one means by "technically" and "work," but hey, he's got a Nobel Prize in Economics so I'm sure he knows what he's talking about. To a point, anyway...