Don’t forget that today is election day. And it may be one of the most important elections ever, because for the first time we have a chance to change the entire system.

Yes, I’m talking about the referendum on whether to switch to a Mixed-Member Proportional system. I can’t bein to count the number of times I’ve heard people say “Well, I’d like to vote for _____ [party they actually support], but of course they don’t have a chance of getting in, so I’ll probably vote for _____ [party they don't especially like but consider the lesser of two or three evils] so that I don’t waste my vote.” Hell, I’ve said it myself.

Proportional representation, which they have in some for other in most European countries and some others, would mean that parties would have seats in parliament in proportion to how many people actually voted for them, rather than just how many ridings they got a majority in. So parties like the Green Party, who consistently get a pretty significant percentage of votes even with the current system, under which voting for them effectively amounts to flushing your vote down the toilet, could actually get seats. And think how many more people might vote for them if they knew their vote would actually count. Parties like the NDP, who get a handful of seats but mostly place second or third in most ridings, would also do better under this system.

The only party that would do worse would be whichever one actually won any given election, because power would be more spread out and less of a winner-take-all situation. They’d actually have to learn how to negotiate and compromise and work with other people.

The “mixed member” part of the proposed system means that we would still have representatives of geographical ridings like we do now, but there would be additional MPPs to make up the balance and ensure that parliament actually reflected the way people voted.

So…

  • If you’ve ever voted Green, or even considered it…
  • If you’ve ever found yourself resorting to “strategic voting”, where you vote not for who you really want but for the least awful party that you think has a chance of winning…
  • If you’d like to see more co-operation and less arrogance and complacency in politics…
  • If you’d like to see a provincial parliament that reflects the way people actually voted…

Please consider voting yes on the MMP referendum!

No, the proposed system isn’t perfect. But voting for it is at least a start — it gives us something to work with, and gives the powers that be a signal that we at least want some kind of change. If it’s voted down, they’ll take that as a sign that everything is fine the way it is, and we’ll probably never have a chance at any kind of electoral reform again.

So rather than nitpicking it to death as a lot of people seem to have been doing lately, let’s at least choose change and get things moving! Because if we say no to it now, there isn’t likely to be another chance. Ever.

More Info:

Perusing one of my favourite blogs, Deep Sea News, I just came across the web site Filter For Good, which purports to be a public education resource on the environmental and health risks of the bottled water industry. That’s all very well, except that it’s not actually any sort of a grassroots group, it’s a joint project by Brita and Nalgene, makers of the ubiquitous water-filtering pitchers we all have in our fridges, and the spiffy clear-plastic reusable water bottles that a lot of people I know used to carry, respectively.

Why “used to carry”? Well, after Ecopledge launched their Detox Nalgene campaign to try and stop Nalgene from using polycarbonate plastic, which leaches the known endocrine disruptor Bisphenol-A, most people using permanent water bottles decided to opt for less toxic alternatives, like Sigg and Kleen Kanteen.

So people who take that site’s advice and ditch their bottled water habit for a Brita filter and a Nalgene bottle may be going from bad to worse, or at least from bad to another kind of bad. In that light, the Filter for Good campaign starts to look less like public education and more like corporate greenwashing, designed to try and detract attention from Nalgene’s own unimpressive environmental health record.

So… That got me wondering a little about Brita. Exactly what are their pitchers made out of, and how safe are they? Sounds like the jury’s still out on that to some degree. Thankfully, they don’t appear to be made from polycarbonate, but according to Debra Lynn Dadd, the company says they’re made from styrene acrilonytrile and styrene methyl metacrylate, which are not exactly guaranteed safe either. At least some styrenes also leach nasty things into water.

National Geographic’s Green Guide says that the specific compounds used in the Brita pitchers have been tested for styrene leaching and found safe, though they also emphasize that you need to find out what exactly is in your local tap water, and make sure any filter you plan on using actually removes those specific things, because most filters only remove certain contaminants, not everything, so no one type of filter is a cure-all. This article from the Natural Resources Defence Council has more detail.

So… Looks like Brita filters/pitchers are probably not too bad, but I’m still going to keep an eye open for news on styrenes, and maybe look into various other types of filters too.

Parents tricked by Baby Einstein

According to a study recently published in the Journal of Pediatrics, the latest crop of baby educational videos, like Baby Einstein and Brainy Baby, not only don’t help kids learn but actually slow their learning. Every hour spent watching TV or videos — of any kind, even education ones — resulted in the babies (aged 8-16 months) understanding an average of 6-8 words less than non-video-watching babies. Beyond that age, the videos didn’t seem to hurt, but didn’t help either.

Reading to the kids or telling them stories, on the other hand, did help.

. . .

I’ve been meaning to start adding some parenting resources to this site, now that (as those of you who know me in person know) my wife and I have a baby. They’ll probably go in the Calyx section since that has the most connection to relationships and that sort of thing. Kind of ironic that stuff pertaining to kids ends up in the only section with an age warning, though. Maybe I need to rethink the site’s structure a little…

Study: Female sharks fertilize own eggs – Yahoo News

Lesbian hammerhead shark moms! Well, all right, maybe not lesbian. But there is a baby hammerhead with three moms and no dad in a Nebraska zoo, apparently conceived parthenogenetically.

In an interesting bout of synchronicity, this comes just as I’ve lately been rediscovering Shriekback, a band one of my housemates back in the 80s used to love and play incessantly. And my two favourite songs of theirs are “Hammerheads” — relevance rather obvious! — and “Nemesis”, which rhymes the title word with, yes, “parthenogenesis”.

Here’s an interesting article that recently appeared in the Toronto Star: Two parents are better than one

Apparently Canada’s Conservative government has been suppressing a report that shows that kids of same-sex parents turn out just as well – and in some ways slightly better – than kids of straight parents! It was commissioned by the previous government, and when the Conservatives came to power, they basically sat on it until the study’s author forced its release via the Access to Information Act.

It does say kids of single parents, gay or straight, have a few more problems, though. But I’d be interested I knowing whether the study distinguished between planned children of single parents, and children of couples who’d broken up. If not, it could be that what they took for the negative effect of single parents is more the negative effect of fighting parents.

The Electronic Freedom Foundation recently posted an interesting article about the recording industry’s attacks on Internet radio by trying to jack up royalties to the point where no independent broadcaster is likely to be able to afford them. Apparently, it’s going to cost a minimum of $500 a year to operate any kind of Internet radio station, even if you’re doing it as a hobby and not making any money from it.

Like we needed any more evidence that organizations like the RIAA are more concerned with consoldiating corporate control of music than with “protecting artists” as they claim… Internet radio stations are one of the main ways alternative and independent artists who don’t get played on mainstream radio can get exposure, and most of the people who air that kind of music aren’t doing it for a living, and can’t afford to pay that kind of money for the privilege of promoting these artists.

Thankfully, people are organizing to try and fight this… The EFF article above has info about it, and online radio service Live 365 also has some useful information posted.

. . .

In other music-related news, I’m going to start a music reviews section in the Studio. It’s something I’ve been thinking of doing for a while, and having just received a promo CD from a band called The Bewitched (who I discovered via Sepiachord) has pushed it more to the forefront of my mind.

So that will probably be the first CD I review there, but if any other artists happen to feel like sending review copies of anything my way, that would be cool. It should probably go without saying given the nature of this site, but I’ll be focussing on music that’s fairly off the beaten track in one way or another…

Forums are down again. I put them back up yesterday after upgrading to the newest version of phpBB, which is supposed to contain all kinds of security upgrade. And just now, I checked my e-mail and discovered that someone was sending out spam under the guise of an admin message from the forums. I checked the headers to see if it had actually come from the board, and it looked like it did — and from under my username at that.

I checked the board itself, and someone had completely deleted the Calyx and Commons forums, lumped all the others into the Et Cetera category, and created four new forums of their own.

So, admin password is changed (again), and the board is disabled until I can do some more investigating.

I am also seriously considering just switching to a different forum program entirely… I am getting really sick of dealing with non-stop security headaches with phpBB.

I restored the forum database from one of the numerous backups my host keeps (another reason to love them — it turns out they keep multiple backups going back as far as 10 months, and you can actually restore them yourself from the web panel!), and all appears well now.

However, I’m keeping the forums disabled for the next few days just because I still need to install the phpBB security upgrade, and I know that’s going to take a little while, and I don’t want an instant replay in the meantime.

Hopefully I’ll have the forums upgraded and back up by Monday.

Some kind and thoughtful individual hacked the forums, so they are temporarily disabled while I see if my host has a recent backup of the database they run on, or if I have to go through it with fine-toothed comb and repair all the damage from scratch.

Note to self: Next time phpBB puts out a security upgrade, install the damn thing right away. Even though phpBB’s lack of a module/plug-in system like WordPress and, well, nearly everything else has means that every feature you want to add has to be done by modifying the actual code, thus making upgrades a tremendous pain in the ass.

Note to self the second: There is a command called “Backup Database” in the admin. Use it once in a while, damn it.

Note to self the third: Maybe I should find a different forum script, which has a better way of allowing modifications than requiring endless PHP code editing…. Oh well. Trying to convert the entire site over to Drupal anyway, so I guess that will take care of itself.

Health Canada is doing a public consultation on the possible formation of a federal mental health commission. There is a one-page survey available on their web site that you can fill in with your specific concerns about mental health issues in Canada and what you feel their priorities should be. And it’s not just multiple choice, so you have plenty of space to fill in your own views however you want. The deadline is Jan 25/07.

Thanks to Adult ADD Strengths for the link!

Well now, this is kind of cool: TheStar.com – Victoria’s Secret going green

Apparently, after a campaign by ForestEthics, Victoria’s Secret yanked a $100-million-a-year contract for the paper for their catalogues away from the company that was cutting in old-growth caribou habitat, and is now only accepting bids from companies that log sustainably.

Nice to hear. Now if only they’d actually make clothes in a wider range of sizes…

Susie Bright just reviewed an interesting new book in her blog – Hello Cruel World: 101 Alternatives to Suicide for Teens, Freaks and Other Outlaws, by transsexual activist Kate Bornstein.

In this post, she interviews the author, and compliments her on including “ALL the naughty, politically incorrect, fucked-up, backwards, not-exactly-healthy ways that people DO keep living instead of dying.”

The book, she says, is “fair about every alternative, every pro and con. Drug binges, cutting, fasting, retail hysteria, and soulless fucking, etc. are not ‘great mental health’ — but sometimes if they’re the only thing you can do to keep ticking, then you bloody well do it. It also makes the more ‘wholesome’ alternatives look more credible, instead of patronizing.”

Bornstein says the book came out of her own struggles with suicidal feelings in the past: “I’ve had a lot of reasons to kill myself, and a lot of time to do it in, and I stayed alive by doing things that many consider to be immoral or illegal. I’m glad I did it, because I’ve really enjoyed writing this book.”

Just came across an interesting blog post:

Angry/negative people can be bad for your brain

This whole idea of “mirror neurons” has interesting implications for dealing with depression and anxiety, and in particular makes me wonder about the effects of the way the psychiatric system works — do people, essentially get crazier when they’re locked up with other crazy people? Even peer support groups might have a bit of a mixed effect, though in that case it might be offset by knowing that you’re not alone in whatever you’re dealing with.

I think this could also explain a lot of the bitterness and burnout that one often finds in activist communities.

The down side, of course, of a theory like this is that it makes it easy for self-centred people to cut off compassion for others on the basis that being around anyone who’s having a difficult time for one reason or another is going to psychologically harmful to them.

Maybe the trick is figuring out how to balance having a conscience, and empathy for others, with a reasonable level of self-protection.

For those who were at either of my two presentations at the 9th International Conference on Bisexuality, Gender, and Sexual Diversity (a.k.a. 9ICB), or who weren’t but are curious about what went on there, I’ve uploaded my notes:

www.wildideas.net/9icb/

I was on a panel on sex-positive spiritualities, along with Brian Walsh, Luigi Ferrer and Loraine Hutchins, and also did a workshop on creating online communities.

Well, it took a while (mainly due to a very busy work schedule), but the forums are fully working now. Or, to be more precise, I have a totally new, and this time working, set of forums.

The full geeky details, for those who want them:

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Well, apparently among the little glitches in the wake of the new design is one big glitch: people who try to register on the forums are being told they haven’t agreed to the terms of service, but they aren’t being given any opportunity to agree to them! So basically no one can register on the forums right now.

I’ve tried without success to sort this out, and now have a post in the Quicksilver support forums asking if anyone else there has run into this. Hopefully I’ll have it fixed soon — stay tuned. In the meantime, my apologies to anyone who’s tried to register and run into this.

The new design is up! And I’ve customized the design of this blog, the forums and the
FAQ to match (well, OK, the blog only sort of matches, but I like this theme a lot and it looks good with my title graphic, so what the hell…).

The web reviews are being really ornery — the script I’m using there works with something called “smarty templates” (I think they’re also used in Xoops), which choke and die if you attempt to embed any PHP in them. And yes, contrary to appearances — I know the pages all still say .html at the end outside of the areas like this one that use third-party scripts — the new design is heavily PHP based. I used an htaccess file to allow HTML files to interpret PHP so I wouldn’t have to break every incoming link into my site by changing the ending of the files to .php. So that part still looks really blah.

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It’s a Family-Values Affair : Radar Online

Some interesting commentary on recent sex scandals involving right-wing politicians in the US. Apparently, “family values” means that it’s not OK for queers to get married, but it’s OK to have cybersex with teenage boys, strangle your girlfriend, and coerce your wife into performing in homemade porn movies. It’s nice to know that moral standards are still high among the Christian right. :-)

When Bears Growl (Or how I become the subject of a Secret Service Investigation)

There’s a touch of irony in this story – an activist created a series of digital collages on the theme of “Bush and guns” to protest the US Secret Service harrassing an art gallery over an artwork featuring those images and the chilling effect it could have on political art, and ended up being harrassed by the Secret Service himself, and intimidated into deleting not only the collages but his online journal.

Not trying to criticize the activist in question for doing so – I think most people probably would have being equally frightened in his place – but it does say something about the pervasiveness of that very effect…

Is this really surprising?

TheStar.com – U.S. leads in mental illness
Poised to rank No. 1 in world: Study

25% meet criteria for diagnosis

RICK WEISS
SPECIAL TO THE STAR

A quarter of all Americans met the criteria for having a mental illness within the past year, and fully 25 per cent of those had a “serious” disorder that significantly disrupted their ability to function every day, says the largest and most detailed survey of the nation’s mental health.

Although parallel studies in 27 other countries are not yet complete, the new numbers suggest the U.S. is poised to rank No. 1 for mental illness globally, researchers said…

(registration required to read full story, but it’s free)

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