Tags: #democracy, #ssm, ireland, marriage, mural, no, referendum, yes
Note: the below blogpost pertains to the upcoming Irish constitutional referendum.
Tags: #democracy, #marref, #samesexmarriage, #ssm
The Irish electorate will be going to the polls on May 22nd to vote in a referendum. The motion that is being put before the people is if the constitution should be amended by removing the definition of a family as a union between a man and a woman (I seem to have to add that this is not a verbatim reflection of the constitution but merely the widely accepted interpretation). By removing this definition from the constitution it will be possible to define a marriage as a union between a man and a woman, a man and a man, a woman and a woman and if you want to drag it into extremis it could be a union between anything and anything.
But that’s not what this blog-post is about. I for one think that a referendum is a good thing, as long as it’s an informed one. Let the electorate decide and whatever the majority desires will be passed into law. Or into the constitution in this case. Such is the way of democracy.
There is a fly in the ointment though. Or actually there is a whole swarm of blue-bottles. See the thing is that in order for democracy to work the electorate should be able to inform themselves and to speak freely and discuss the issues at hand. There should be no fear for repercussion for having a different or unpopular opinion and informed debate should not only be possible, it should be stimulated and safe-guarded.
However this is not the case. At the moment in Ireland a case of genital warts would make one more popular than opposing the above described constitutional amendment. Those favouring traditional marriage are shouted down in debates, insulted, labelled as “homophobes” and threatened with violence. But that’s still not enough. No, repeated calls can be heard during debates, in the press and in/on (social) media for supporters of traditional marriage to be silenced. It’s a clear case of “dissent will not be tolerated”. Rather than engaging in robust debate the same-sex marriage storm-troopers insist that any different opinion is ground to dust under the heel of their jackboots. Ad hominem attacks are preferred over arguments and some really unsavoury methods are used. Comments are made along the line that certain prominent traditional marriage supporters should “just die”. Other rabid lefties have started profiling traditional marriage supporters, their families and their professional activities and sharing this information amongst their cronies. It’s a highly questionable method and one that only requires one single mentally unhinged person who thinks that this constant vilification is enough justification to take direct action.
What’s interesting is that if you return the profiling favour you will notice that same-sex marriage storm-troopers all have very similar profiles. They support abortion, euthanasia, Palestine, higher taxes, are pro vaccination (and quite a lot of them are soccer fans for some reason). But the over-arching trend is that these people are all prototypical statist. They all believe that the state should determine what the greater good is and that everyone should subject themselves to this. This is a profoundly un-intellectual and un-democratic way of reasoning. After all dissent leads to debate and a frank and honest exchange of thought, ideas and opinions lies at the base of some of the greatest progress made by mankind.
Which brings me to my next point; history has proven that this type of legislation will lead directly to the end of freedom of speech and expression. I am going to use Canada as an example as that country legislated for this type of same-sex marriage in 2002. So we will have a period of over 10 years to see what the effects were. Removing the definition describing marriage as a union between a man and a woman from the constitution not only makes it possible for same-sex couples to marry, it by effect makes a marriage between a heterosexual and a homosexual couple equal.
A corollary is that anyone who rejects the new orthodoxy must be acting on the basis of bigotry and animus toward gays and lesbians. Any statement of disagreement with same-sex civil marriage is thus considered a straightforward manifestation of hatred toward a minority sexual group. Any reasoned explanation (for example, those that were offered in legal arguments that same-sex marriage is incompatible with a conception of marriage that responds to the needs of the children of the marriage for stability, fidelity, and permanence—what is sometimes called the conjugal conception of marriage), is dismissed right away as mere pretext. (Justice LaForme in Halpern v. Canada (AG), 2002 CanLII 49633 (On SC), paras. 242-43)
Once you classify something as bigotry and hatred its only a logical next step to ban it and take legal action against those who display it. Two groups will be hit hardest by this; those employed by the state and those who on religious or conscientious grounds object to partake, service or host ceremonies involving same-sex marriage. Those groups have been hit with sanctions, dismissal and legal action. In short resistance will be futile. However there is hope, in certain states in the US laws have recently been passed allowing people the freedom to do as described above on religious or conscientious grounds. Reactionists have called these laws “homophobic” but nothing less is true. The laws make no reference to anyone’s sexuality and equally give people the right to refuse to do business with someone they find offensive, rude or smelling badly. A similar law is currently being debated by the Northern Ireland government. Here in Ireland deputy Mattie McGrath brought the issue of such a law up in the Dial only last week.
The above only touches on the area of acting in objection to equalising same-sex marriage to traditional marriage. There is also the issue of simply voicing such an opinion. Remember freedom of expression is the bedrock of democracy. To explain my point I’ll quote from an article on the “Public Discourse” website by Bradley Miller;
Much speech that was permitted before same-sex marriage now carries risks. Many of those who have persisted in voicing their dissent have been subjected to investigations by human rights commissions and (in some cases) proceedings before human rights tribunals. Those who are poor, poorly educated, and without institutional affiliation have been particularly easy targets—anti-discrimination laws are not always applied evenly. Some have been ordered to pay fines, make apologies, and undertake never to speak publicly on such matters again. Targets have included individuals writing letters to the editors of local newspapers, and ministers of small congregations of Christians. A Catholic bishop faced two complaints—both eventually withdrawn—prompted by comments he made in a pastoral letter about marriage.
Reviewing courts have begun to rein in the commissions and tribunals (particularly since some ill-advised proceedings against Mark Steyn andMaclean’s magazine in 2009), and restore a more capacious view of freedom of speech. And in response to the public outcry following the Steyn/Maclean’saffair, the Parliament of Canada recently revoked the Canadian Human Rights Commission’s statutory jurisdiction to pursue “hate speech.”
Teachers are particularly at risk for disciplinary action, for even if they only make public statements criticizing same-sex marriage outside the classroom, they are still deemed to create a hostile environment for gay and lesbian students. Other workplaces and voluntary associations have adopted similar policies as a result of their having internalized this new orthodoxy that disagreement with same-sex marriage is illegal discrimination that must not be tolerated.
So there is factual proof that once such laws are passed equalising same-sex marriage to traditional marriage that acting or even speaking out in disagreement will no longer be tolerated and will have serious consequences. Couple this to the fact that the majority of those supporting the introduction of such legislation already do not tolerate dissent in the debate prior to a democratic vote on this issue and it will be clear that if such a constitutional amendment is allowed to pass that these people will call for the strictest and most stringent punitive action for anyone who still dares to simply disagree.
It is also not beyond the realm of possibility (and has actually already happened in other countries and jurisdictions) that parents who on religious or conscientious grounds object to same-sex marriage will be forced to have their children educated otherwise in their schools. Again if the state classifies objection as hate-speech (thereby making it akin to racism or holocaust denial) the state cannot allow children to be taught such hate-speech in schools.
In conclusion one cannot deny the fact that experience in other jurisdictions/countries combined with the rabid intolerant of dissent displayed by the hard-line same-sex marriage campaigners *even prior to the referendum* that yes indeed, the constitutional amendment on which the Irish constituency will vote on May 22nd will, if passed, lead to end to freedom of speech, expression and quite possibly thought in Ireland. That my friends, and that alone should be sufficient reason to vote no.
Tags: #haiyan, #Yolanda, aid, disaster, lessons learned, Philippines, relief, typhoon
It will be one year tomorrow since Typhoon Yolanda struck the Philippines. Obviously there will be lots of retrospectives published online and in the printed press. Most of these will outline the great work that has been done and is still ongoing. While I fully support those types of articles I’ve decided to do something different. I’m going to summarise the obstacles that we’ve encountered when responding with Disaster Tech Lab. You can read all the good stuff about our work following typhoon Yolanda here. However by summarising the obstacles we encountered, the mistakes we made i hope to make even a tiny small contribution on how disaster response and humanitarian aid could be improved.
By no means is this a study on the subject, these are simply my observations from the left-field of disaster response. Disaster Tech Lab is only a small organisation and we sometimes have an unconventional approach. We also have a task focussed rather than a process focussed approach and this occasionally conflicts with organisations who prefer to do more planning and discussion. I have also broken this into bulletpoints rather than elaborate analysis. It’s supposed to serve as a catalyst for discussion rather than a guideline.
- Tunnel vision: While Tacloban was probably to most severely hit area by Yolanda it received too much focus by the media and the major aid organisations. Hence it became a black hole for resources. While Yolanda made its East to West path across the Philippines it also hit areas such a East Samar, North Cebu, Panay and Culion & Busuanga islands. I am fully aware that even for the large NGO’s resources are limited and it’s impossible but even considering that Tacloban received an unequal share of the aid.The cynic in me says that’s partially due to the overwhelming media focus on the area. Most of the initial aid provided to the outlying areas was provided by smaller, grassroots type organisations like ours, individuals and/or faith based organisations.
- Logistics: We experienced several issues here. We had no pre-established logistical planning for a response to the Philippines and due to the urgency logistical arrangements had to be made up on the fly. With a damaged infra-structure and a huge influx of responders, equipment and supplies that is a recipe for disaster. A large batch of our equipment went “missing” and some is still stuck in customs (yes after 8 months and reams & reams of forms completed and submitted by us). When we switched to having volunteers bring equipment with them on their flight in as excess baggage we sometimes ran into other issues. This led to such things as panicky incoming phonecalls at 4 am from a Korean airport when one of our volunteers wasn’t allowed to check in the Goal Zero batteries he was carrying and was also not allowed to bring them as carry-on. While large NGO’s have the budget to pay for commercial airfreight or get space on other airlifts for an organisation like us, who do not have the funding for this, it remains a challenge. We have since worked to bring logistical expertise in-house and are developing logistical plans for the most likely destinations across the globe.
- Biggest kid on the block: After so many years and so many disasters during which small grassroots type organisations and the “informal organisations” have made valuable contributions to the relief effort it still seems to be largely impossible for the larger NGO’s to recognise the increasing value these organisations bring as part of the overall relief effort. Most large NGO’s either are unaware of anything that’s not happening on their doorstep or within their direct network or they’re just flat-out not interested in working with such smaller organisations. This brings the added complication that some of the larger donors of relief supplies and equipment donate to these larger organisations expecting that their donation, to an extent, is shared amongst the the responding organisations. Instead these donations hardly ever make it past the few organisations at the top of the pyramid. Direct, validated requests by smaller organisations to larger ones for support are ignored or flat out refused. This in spite of clear evidence and report after report on the value that these smaller organisations bring to the overall relief effort. I am not going to name names but those at both sides of this divide know what I am talking about. A better cooperation and a recognition of the value of each others work and the different parts of the disaster response puzzle that each of us brings will only make future responses better.
- Prevention is better than a cure: While we had seen this before, even during response in the USA, the disadvantaged areas are always the slowest to recover after a major disaster. While this is self-explanatory as it is you can’t repair what isn’t there in the first place. If an community doesn’t have any dependable means of communication you can’t rebuild one. If there’s no hospital to start with, and hence no trained medical personnel, then providing medical aid becomes a larger undertaking. As we worked in areas that can be described as disadvantaged we gave this challenge some deeper thought and quickly came to the conclusion that rebuilding better rather than just rebuilding after a disaster is an important step. This not only means that infra-structure and services need to be rebuilt better and more resilient but you need to teach people how to become more resilient themselves. This is not solely a question of improving skills but also a matter of mindset. As governments are struggling to respond to disasters in an efficient manner people will have to learn that recovery and rebuild efforts will require a lot of their own hands-on input. An interesting observation is that we noticed an increased dependency and expectation in the more westernised, touristy areas of the Philippines while the more remote (but significantly poorer) areas showed much more resilience and willingness to improve their own lot.
- Trust no-one: Well actually, trust everyone but carry a big stick. During our disaster relief work following Yolanda we again learned that when you are doing relief work in far away beautiful destinations you will sometimes attract people who volunteer driven by the main desire to get an all expenses paid holiday. We encountered this again and as a result of this we have tightened up our volunteer screening procedures even more! There is no room for profiteering in this work and we have a 100% no tolerance policy on this. It is *not* representative of 99.9% of the volunteers working in this field and we won’t let that 0.1% mess things up. However as a non-profit you should never drop your guard; just because someone volunteers doesn’t make them a saint. Screen the person, screen their motivation, screen their references and use your intuition.
Following is a verbatim copy of a article put on Facebook by Bart Hall some time ago. Bart is someone who makes a living growing things in a way that gets dirt under ones fingernails. He uses an organic, natural and no-nonsense approach to farming and I found the article refreshing and insightful enough to share here.
Vegetarianism is anti-ecological, and cruel to animals besides. I’m fed up with self-righteous vegetarians claiming both moral superiority and ecological sensitivity for their proclivities. How they eat is their choice, but they become extremely tiresome when they attempt to promote it to others based on clear falsehoods. I’m not talking here about humane treatment issues — I’m appalled by the way many animals are raised, and it generates a very poor product in any case. We need, however, to look at agronomic reality.
Taking cattle as an example (or bison, or sheep, or any other ruminant) it is essential to understand that they are solar-powered grass combines, converting captured solar energy into a very nutritious (and *tasty*) product, rich in high-quality protein. The forages they eat (grass and legumes such as clover) are generally *perennial* crops, protecting the land, building the soil, and storing immense amounts of carbon in their roots.
By comparison, soyabeans and other sources of vegetable protein require annual working of the soil, leaving much of it open to erosion and what we soil scientists call “mineralisation” of soil organic matter (=carbon). A large percentage, perhaps even a plurality, of atmospheric CO2 increases in the last 150 years is the direct result of working the world’s soils to grow maize (corn) and soyabeans instead of leaving it in grass to feed cattle.
Humans will always need cereals and tubers for carbohydrates, but most of our protein should come from animals because (properly raised) they build the soil instead of destroying it.
Vegetarians have no idea how many sentient beings are destroyed in the production of grain and soyabeans, to say nothing of its storage. Based on normal pest-management criteria (and I’ve inspected *thousands* of grain storage facilities in many different countries) it is safe to say that one or two sentient beings (primarily rodents) perish to protect the storage of each kilogram of plant protein. Not only are we talking poison, but “live traps” which when opened will often contain one large mouse and at least a dozen tails.
With grass-fed beef the worst case is that one sentient being (the bovine) dies for every 50 kilograms of protein. Are cattle inherently better and more noble than rats and mice?
Furthermore, in many forage production situations I can increase yields by 50% merely through the addition of a few grams per acre of molybdenum. For geeky purists out there that’s because moly mediates the nitrogenase enzyme pathways responsible for capturing nitrogen from the atmosphere, which nitrogen thereafter increases yields, often substantially. So add some moly to your forage system and beef can beat vegetable protein by up to 100 to 1 in terms of sentient animal deaths per kilo of protein.
Dairy, because the animals are not slaughtered is vastly better yet, but many vegetarians will consume dairy, so I have left it out. By extension, then, veganism is even worse than vegetarianism.
If you wish to protect the planet and minimise the deaths of sentient beings, eat meat and dairy. I’ll be right there with you in terms of struggling to make sure it’s raised properly. How it’s done these days is widely awful, but that’s not the critters’ fault, and vegetarianism is no answer.
Buying local makes sense, and it also does not. I grew up in an “eat local” world, not based on philosophy, it’s just the way it was. Except for grain products nearly everything my family ate in the 1950s came from within 100 miles — milk, eggs, meat, veggies, fruit, and seafood. Mind you, I grew up on the coast, with one side of the family in the shellfish business and the other in produce, but it was not at all unusual for the era. We called it all “native” food, as in native peaches, native turkey, native eggs and so on. We ate with the seasons, and we ate rather well. The first time I ever tasted salmon was at age 24 in the Yukon.
That said, southern New England was a remarkably good place for eating local. The Southeast, not at all, as witnessed by the phenomenal percentage of southern men deemed 4F (unfit for any service) in World War II on account of profound malnutrition.
Local eating can be fun, and for things like produce and dairy actually makes a lot of sense. For starches (rice, wheat, etc) not at all outside of certain favoured areas. Whether it’s environmentally beneficial, I think that’s an open question because water transport uses so much less energy than land options. For example, it takes less energy to move rice to San Francisco in a ship, from *Thailand* than to truck it from the Central Valley. Trains are better than trucks, and big trucks are better than small trucks.
A “local food system” depends upon an awful lot of quite inefficient transportation. And let’s not forget that nearly 40% of the energy consumed in the entire food system is used for *cooking*.
As an agronomist I’d also add that growing food outside its primary area of adaptation tends to require a lot more energy, effort, and chemical usage than when it’s in its “sweet spot”. I can grow a lot of excellent sweet potatoes here with no inputs, but attempting that north of Toronto would not work so well.
Local eating wisely interpreted and applied makes a lot of sense and will probably be rather more delicious. As a religion it tends to lead to clusters of stupid decisions for both production and consumption.
Except for people with specific gluten problems (celiac, non-tropical sprue, etc) the whole anti-gluten, andti-wheat thing is generally silly, especially when framed as “healthier”. There are two very simple low-hanging fruit for healthier eating. #1: Eat more *vegetables*. Here in the States 80% of the population consumes one or fewer “servings” of vegetables and/or fruit, defined as 100 grams, and that includes potatoes! #2: More or less eliminate high-fructose corn syrup from the diet. The average American consumes about 155 lb of sugar annually, over half of which is HFCS. Simple, but for most people, unfortunately not at all *easy*. Just don’t ask ME to pay for the medical consequences of someone else’s terrible eating habits.
Tags: aerial, communication, disaster, emergency, quadcopter, wifi
In the last week there was a bit of buzz about a project by Yan Wan from the University of Texas who, at the Smart America Expo, showed a WiFi enabled drone that *ding* could provide WiFi with a range of up to 5 miles! This was presented as a great step forward in disaster communications. The various articles made it seem like one of these devices would cover a 5 mile area with WiFi.
See for yourself by the viewing the video here.
Having worked in the fields of wifi and disaster response I decided to have a bit of a closer look. Was this really such a step forward and whatsmore, how was this achieved…
Firstly let’s have a look at the hardware, what components were used to build this. The aerial platform is a DJI F650 platform. It’s a nice of the shelf platform. The payload is a Ubiquiti Nanostation. Then there is some sort of servo which rotates the Nanostation. Wether or not the rotation is automatic and slaved to the location of the station the devices connects to or not isn’t clear.
The Nanostation is a widely used WiFi AP/CPE operating in the 5GHz band. I’ve used them on different occasions and we recently deployed some when working in the Philippines with Disaster Tech Lab. They’re a functional, cheap and cheerful type of device which theoretically can provide up to 150 Mbps on a point-to-point link of up to 15 km.
So in short this project has taken two of the shelf products and bolted them together.
Now for the technical bit; The Nanostation is designed to be one end of a point-to-point link and as with all point-to-point links range/distance is achieved by narrowing the antenna beam. While an omni-directional antenna will cover a 360 degree radius it’s range is limited. A directional antenna, like the one inside the Nanostation, takes the same transmission power (TX) but squeezes it into a narrow bundle. That way the range is much further but the signal radius is much smaller. Any device outside the range of the bundle will not be able to connect. Compare it to standing in a huge dark room and switching on a lightbulb versus a flashlight and you’ll get the picture. In addition the touted range of 5 miles is really not such a big deal. Most of the off the shelf WiFi point-to-point devices have a much longer range. I can recall building a link over 40 kilometers back in 2004 (I think) using homemade gear.
So going back to the implication of this aerial platform; we have a radio device with a narrow beam mounted onto what by definition is an unstable platform. Just ask anyone who has ever build a point-to-point link using masts with a lot of wind-sway how this can kill your connectivity.
Then there is the issue of backhaul; connecting two WiFi devices is great and all but it means very little without a source of internet backhaul. As this is an airborne device using a cable is a big no-no. So a form of wireless backhaul is called for. 3G/4G/LTE? All possible but it will add to the size and weight of the payload as well as require more battery power. In addition, if 3G/4G/LTE is available would that not negate the need for an airborne wifi device? So satellite maybe? That would mean an ever bigger payload and battery drain. The last option is to consider using lots of these devices and building a WiFi mesh with one or more fixed end-points with internet connectivity. Now this would theoretically be a possibility but there are several factors to consider. using directional antennas on airborne/unstable platforms might cause dropped links. Then there is ones of the bigger drawbacks inherent to WiFi mesh networks; a drop in throughput with every hop (unless you use dual radio devices but that won’t really work here). Lastly there is the logistics and costs of building, deploying and operating a large number of these type of devices.
So considering all the above I can only conclude that it’s a case of much ado about nothing. It might look cool and get much ooh’s and aah’s from the hackathon crowd but there’s really no benefit in this product at all. The cost of the combined package comes to around $1300 (off-hand) with $1000 of that being the aerial platform. Compare that to about $150 for a length of scaffolding pipe, a roof mount kit and some clamps. The latter would also create a link with much more stability.
If you are looking at a workable application for aerial platform mounted WiFi then look at a combination of a 3G/4G/LTE backhaul device and a WiFi router with an omni directional antenna. That way you can create small bubbles of WiFi that can be flown into hard to reach areas and which are not dependent on a directional link for connectivity.
Even better rather than a means of connectivity provisioning use aerial platforms as sensor networks able to detect wifi or cellular signals transmitted by client devices (smartphones etc) pinpointing people in need.
Tags: bag, bugout, edc, emergency, grabbag, kit, prepper, SERE, survival
I’ve committed to give a talk later this year on “The perfect Bugout bag”. It’s topic that I’ve discussed with regularity over the years and one that also caused a lot of controversy and heated debate on the numerous prepper, survivalist and related fora. During my deployments abroad with Disaster Tech Lab I always carry a small bag/pack with my basic essentials. A bag that would enable to me to “survive” for a few days if all my other bags were stolen or lost. So I do have a some practical experience in this area.
Traditionally discussions of what a bugout bag should contain include most, if not all, of the following:
- Water, water bottle & water purification
- Basic First Aid kit
- Map & compass
- Emergency Shelter
- Matches, flint & tinder
- Weapon (handgun or rifle)
- Survival blanket, small sleeping bag
- Collapsible stove
- Insect repellent
- Wind-up radio
- Fishing kit & snares
- Cash or gold coins
In my opinion the above list is based on an outdated principle. It assumes that any bugout situation will see one ending up in a remote wilderness situation. This is no longer true and a lot of bugout type scenarios will now take place in an urban environment. With increased instability in certain parts of the world you could find yourself having to bail out of a hotel, taxi, public transport or other urban location and having to depend on whatever is in your bugout bag for the next few days. In such an environment you will not be placing snares or fish for food, you won’t have to build a basha for shelter, or need to carry spare clothes.
You will require a whole lot of different items. Ones that provide you with access to digital communications (phone or internet), digital copies of important documents, a method to power your electronic devices. Even a way to smarten up your appearance quickly.
What you don’t want to carry is a big knife or even machete. Even a stove and cooking equipment is excess weight. Water is also less of an issue.
Basically you will need a Bigout Bag 2.0
I will be working on compiling a summary of my personal recommendations of tried and tested items that I carry in my bugout bag but as I am also very interested in finding out what other people carry. And please note, “bugout bag” is only a generic term. You might call it your grab-bag or your EDC but it basically boils down to the same.
So please, after reading it take the time to leave a comment with your opinion or experience in the area of bugout bags.