The Terrorists Win

Over the past few years, there has been a lot of talk about the threat of terrorism, and how Canada can protect its populace against it. I’m here to tell you, if you want to win the war on terror, ignore it.

I’ll say that again, ignore terrorism.

You see, terrorism is a military tactic to get political change through threats of violence. You don’t actually have to commit violence for it to work. And it turns out Canadians are not victims of violence from terrorists activities. Before you read on, take a guess on how many Canadians were killed as a result of terrorists activities. And then think about if that number constitutes a risk to the average Canadian.

The number of  Canadian deaths attributed never rises above 5 people a year going back as far as 1970. 5 people a year hardly seems like a threat to the Country. Highway 63 in Alberta has seen 46 deaths in 5 years, why isn’t infrastructure the higher priority?  The average Canadian is under no statistical risk due to terrorism, so why is it such a big topic? It’s not even a risk to US citizens; in 2010, 8 US civilians died due to terrorism, and 29 died by lighting.

Yes, I realise that destabilization is a concern for the Global safety, and that deaths, globally, are on the rise. But, we are the ones destabilising these regions. Canada may have killed 27 Iraqi civilians in Jan of 2015 during an airstrike. So, Canada has potentially killed half the amount people in one incident that Canada has lost to terror in 40 years. Some estimates from the 2001 Afghan war say that 91,000 deaths are directly related to combat, including 26,000 civilians. Canadians would be wise not to forget the Somalia Affair, where Canadian forces tortured and killed a boy.

So, this begs the question, who is the terrorist in this scenario? Why are we spending our time, money, and effort to kill other people in the name of safeguarding Canadians, for a risk that statistically doesn’t merit mentioning?

Fear, that’s why. And because we harbour that fear, the terrorists win.

 

Mars One in the eyes of Islam

Obviously, I pay attention to news about Mars. It’s usually about missions, funding cuts and new discoveries. This past week I learned that the UAE Islamic watchdog has declared that Muslims must not take part in Mars One, as it is against Islam. According to their site, they issues 337,000 Fatwas last year, so it’s a very common practice. At more than 100 a day, it seems they are a very busy agency. According to Wikipedia, a Fatwa is a legal judgment or learned interpretation based on the the teachings of Islam. As I understand it, when something new in the world shows up, it is judged against Islamic Law and then decided upon if it is a sin or not. Traveling to Mars is apparently a sin in Islamic Law.

That doesn’t make me happy. I’m not a Muslim or a member of any organised religion. I do strongly believe that space exploration is very important, so a decry by anyone that it’s morally wrong doesn’t sit right with me. In this case, the voyage has been likened to suicide, and suicide is a Sin, therefore the voyage is against Islam.

I’m not going to argue against Islam, but exploration is not suicide. Suicide is intentionally killing oneself; there argument is that the trip is so dangerous that death is a certain outcome. Two things about that:

  1. Death is a certain outcome of life
  2. The trip does not mean certain death

Life and death are part of the package. Every living thing will die. The risks we take in life can increase the likelihood of dying sooner, but risks also let us live more richly. Everything we do has a risk. Life itself is a risk. So how do we die on Earth? A good portion of it is from cancer, cardiovascular diseases and respiratory diseases. Suicide and accidents are higher in the USA, but cancer and heart are still fantastic killers. Motor vehicle accidents are up there as well, 1 in 84 chance in 2006, but driving isn’t a sin.

The NASA study on radiation says there is about a 5% increase in fatal cancers for every three years you are on Mars. On the flip-side there is no risk of a traffic accident or accidental firearm discharge on Mars. You will be on a strict diet so your chances of heart disease goes down. You can’t drown in the bathtub either on Mars. (1 in 818,015, about the same risk as electrocution.) People die all the time. It’s cliché but not everyone lives a full life. Exploring, pushing boundaries, growing and making new frontiers is how we live our lives to the fullest.

Lets get back to what was said:

Professor Dr. Farooq Hamada, who presides over the fatwa committee, shared the motivation for issuing the fatwa: “Protecting life against all possible dangers and keeping it safe is an issue agreed upon by all religions and is clearly stipulated in verse 4/29 of the Holy Quran: Do not kill yourselves or one another. Indeed, Allah is to you ever merciful.”

Do not kill yourself or one another, that’s the verse. This year, the UAE is creating a law for mandatory military service. The UAE has a standing military force of 70,000 souls; over 5% of it’s GDP used for it’s upkeep. That’s the 5th highest in the world for 2011. If you have control over a standing army, you are preparing to take lives. FULL STOP. Any one of those 70,000 people can be called in to combat and is expected to fight another human to the death. That’s what war is, that’s what armies do.

Mars One is sending 4 people on a settlement mission. Permanent settlement requires people to be alive. No one on the mission is intentionally dying, therefor no one is committing suicide. The fact that you could die an accidental death during the trip is no more suicide than dying accidentally on Earth. Taking risks to live a better life is how we make tomorrow better.

A peaceful path to a brighter future is not a sin.

Anti-Bully

I’ve noticed that bullying has become a buzz word in the news cycle. Somehow this generation has become more susceptible to bullying and it’s destroying our young people. This alarmist viewpoint is silly. Time and time again reports about rising violence and panic about “today’s youth” turns up to be false when the numbers are checked. If we want to help the victims of bullying, we need to be honest with ourselves. Bullying isn’t new, it’s not a phenomenon restricted to youth and it’s not a human invention.

Dany Morin, an MP for the NDP put forth an open letter about “bullycide” and called it the “most important issue facing Canadian youth” I literally don’t have the adequate words to describe the outright silliness of that statement. Dany describes what bullying is in his essay.

These kids represent the entire quilt that is Canada. Some of them were called weird, loser, or faggot. They have been picked on because of their sexuality, their gender, their language, their religion, their race, how much money they have or whether or not they have some sort of disability.

If this is the most important thing facing youth, Canada is a great country indeed. Don’t misinterpret me, I don’t condone bullying and I don’t think it’s a minor issue. I do however think it’s a common issue and it’s important to see it in a wider view than school yard interactions. My problem with protectionist legislation is that it shields victims instead of giving them tools to deal with the harsh realities of life. We, as a whole, should be teaching our citizens how to deal with bullies. Removing kids from danger teaches them that we can police bad things from happening. We need to teach skills. We need to instill confidence and pride. We need to create values in our society that honors those who overcome adversity, not those who avoid it.

There is a study in the UK that states kids are avoiding activities because of bullies. They don’t want to showcase their talents because of ridicule they face from their less talented peers. When they show the world what makes them unique, the world tries to drag them back down. Dany’s solution would be to crack down on the bullies. Then kids could flourish and follow what ever path they wished in peace! That is until they leave the playground and find themselves in a boardroom. Once they try to bring new and unique ideas to a corporate setting they will be met with resistance. They didn’t learn how to deal with adversity, and bullies are found in more places than the playground. We assume that adults have the ability to deal with bullies, but if they don’t learn as kids, where will they gain this ability? It’s an injustice to cover our future generations in bubble wrap and expect them to flourish when the nature of the universe starts to poke at their soft skin.

We should teach our children to be caring and respectful to people, history and nature. We should also teach them that not everyone they meet in life will do the same. We should give them outlets to vent frustration and activities to keep them occupied so they are too busy to bully each other. Idle hands is our problem. Investing in sports, arts, STEM programs and after school care will reduce bulling and create well-rounded citizens for future generations.

Life after the Singularity

There are many a nights where I fall asleep thinking of the singularity. It’s been my experience that most people don’t know what it is, so I’ll do my best to explain. Most people have heard of Moore’s Law, the theory that says computers will keep becoming more powerful as time goes on. The idea was introduced in 1965 and has remained true since then. Below is the graph version.

Moore's law

Here’s where the Singularity comes in; the human brain fits somewhere on this graph. At some point in the future, computers will be just as powerful as the human brain. This future point is somewhere around the year 2030. It’s a little later that the Skynet date of August 4, 1997, but this time it’s not a movie. This will happen and it caries real consequences. Take a few minutes and watch this video: Ray Kurzweil Explains the Coming Singularity.

It’s not the even that worries me, it’s how unprepared we are. Joe Public has such a low scientific literacy rate that a two tier class system is fast approaching; a technological sink or swim. Our education system is in no way prepared for this. By the time kids in kindergarten today graduate from college they will be competing directly with computer systems for jobs. This isn’t an exaggeration, it’s already happening. Currently, manufacturing jobs that were typically done by manual labour are being replaced with robots. The singularity makes it possible for computers to have the same effect on the arts, creative writing, inventing, engineering and investment banking. I’m not making this up.

In the next 20 years, computers will be able to mimic what we understand as a fundamental part of being human just as well as they can add numbers now. We can outsource culture to a mainframe in a basement. Again, I’m not making this up; just ask Tupac.

We need to start teaching our children TODAY the skills they will need to survive in this world.

Sugata Mitra has a good idea how to accomplish this. I’ll let him to the talking.

If children have interest, then education happens.

We need to take it a step further. As he demonstrated, teachers do not need to be experts in a certain field to teach that field. The internet is a great resource, but lets have the real experts teach and the teachers moderate. Bring in an artist to talk about perspective. Let a  civil engineer show them why they are learning how to calculate areas and volumes. I know there are bird watching groups, garden enthusiasts and hobby naturalists that would love a chance to share what they do to groups of kids.

Bringing in guest speakers once a month and letting the kids be involved in their learning will change the world. This will teach them how to be independent and critical thinkers. They will learn what is possible today and start reaching for tomorrow. Without these skills they won’t stand a chance.