Percentage Women Directors in Canadian Tech Companies Not Exceptional


According to a recent report, only 15.9% directors of Financial Post 500 are women. When Crown corporations are removed, women make up only 10% of directors. The percentage of women directors in Canadian tech companies is slightly higher (16.1%), but when the boards of multinationals are excluded this figure falls to (11%), which is consistent with other sectors. Blackberry and Open Text have high representation, 28.6% and 37.5% respectively, but four others have no women on the board. Implications and remedies are discussed. Continue reading

Hans Rosling explains why I have a hard time choosing a cause to support

 For those who follow TED talks, Hans Rosling is a magician with statistics. This seemingly bookish Swedish professor of public health possesses a sharp wit and a showman’s understanding of the power of infographics. His talks are captivating.

I found the following talk through Stumble Upon the other day. It helped explain to me why I have been having such a hard time choosing a cause or project to support. For quite some time, I have been looking for a charity or NGO to become involved with, seriously involved with. But it’s been difficult to choose. Local or global? Hands on or advocacy? Women’s rights or feeding hungry children? The choices are endless.

Around 14:30, a Rosling shows a list of dimensions for development. First, he points out that all of them are necessary to achieve a comfortable life, which explains the impossibility (for me) of choosing one cause above all else. Then, he analyzes their effectiveness as means vs. goals.

Human rights are especially dear to my heart as a member of multiple minorities. They are a great goal, but a lousy means for development; just because I have rights, it doesn’t mean I’m any less hungry. Economic growth doesn’t seem as exciting to me, as I associate it with business, finance, corporation, globalization, trade, and other things that make me go squick. It is a fantastic means, but money is a lousy goal in life; I can eat well and still not have self determination.

In one slide, Rosling has explained why I have been having a hard time choosing. At the same time, it suggests a way out: work on human rights in the developed world and work on economic growth in the developing world. For best effect in the developing world, support organizations that advocate for women’s rights. In the USA, these are organizations such as the ACLU, Planned Parenthood and National Organization for Women. For the developing world, support economic growth organizations. Some examples include micro-credit lenders, World Vision, and Plan International (no relation to Planned Parenthood).

Top 5 Superstitions that a Progressive Christian Doesn’t Have to Believe

Since Easter is coming up and is an occasion where the supernatural traditionally plays a role, I thought I should do a top five list of superstitions that I don’t, as a Progressive Christian, have to believe in.

Coming back to church after an absence of 18 years, I wasn’t sure how I would handle the Christian beliefs that I considered rather supernatural. It was a bit like asking an adult to believe in Santa Claus.

I had the fortune of happening upon Irvine United Congregational Church, which subscribes to (very) Progressive Christianity. It’s a non-dogmatic, non-creedal church that is deeply involved in social justice issues. We are against war, support gay marriage, and are in favor of health care reform. In our area, we have a reputation for being “That Church.” Over the last few years I discovered that Progressive Christianity does not require me to give up the rational side of my mind. Here are the top five beliefs that I no longer need from my days attending a conservative Baptist church.

1. The Bible as the inerrant word of God.

The Bible should be read as literature, the same way that we do with Shakespeare. We need to understand the cultural context at the time that it was written to make sense of central, essential message in the text. Human beings wrote the Bible for their own purposes. I find it very hard to believe in a God who manipulates people like puppets and makes spelling mistakes.

2. Virgin birth

The notion that Jesus was born to a woman who had not previously had sexual intercourse is due to a translation error. The Hebrew word used to describe Mary was almah, meaning “young woman.” But in the 3rd Century CE, the Bible was translated into Greek and the word became parthenos, which means “virgin.” It’s good news to me that I don’t have to believe in something biologically improbably and likely supernatural, in order to accept that Jesus of Nazareth walked the Earth at some point.

3. Jesus arising from the dead.

The Easter story where the formerly dead Jesus leaves a tomb is a parable. The underlying message is that love and hope go on, even in the darkest hour. Easter is about resurrection, not reanimation. It’s about restoring something that that was lost, not making a former corpse walk the Earth again. It was such a relief to me that I didn’t have to believe someone came back to life (zombie, anyone?) in order to call myself a Christian.

4. Sin is breaking God’s law.

Sin is not violation of some arcane rule in the Bible or some inference from a passage in the Bible. In PXnty, sin is any action that increases emotional and spiritual  distance between a person and loving Creator.  This model is beautiful to me, because it’s so personal, subjective, and immediate. It also a definition that works through the ages. I like believing in a God who isn’t a rules lawyer, who makes decrees about corner cases, such as whether a white lie is a real lie. A God who doesn’t micromanage our lives makes so much more sense to me, as does the emphasis on how I live my life and my relationship with God.

5. Hell is where sinners are sent after we die.

If sin is an action that increases distance between a person and God, then heaven and hell are not where people go in the afterlife, but consequences of how we live in this life. Someone who commits a lot of sins will have a uncomfortable consequences to deal with, such as damaged relationships, guilt, sadness, etc. All these negative emotions are hell in and of themselves. They don’t require further condemnation from others. By the same token, heaven on Earth is not just an abstract concept, but a specific state. In the absence of sin, we can be perfectly loving, perfectly compassionate, perfectly courageous, and perfectly just.

A God who would create a place where people are sent to be tortured forever after they die is a monster, in my book. Eternity is a long time. It’s an even longer time to be boiling, freezing, whipping, or starving someone who was alive for at most a little over a hundred years. I refuse to believe in a God who uses more advanced interrogation techniques than the CIA.

Liberal government representative shot by lone gun man

A moderate politician who supported progressive policies was shot by a lone gunman at a busy local market last week. No, I’m not talking about Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, but Salmaan (or Salam) Taseer.

Taseer was governor of Punjab province in Pakistan. He was a moderate Muslim in country that is becoming dominated by religious extremists. He was an opponent of Pakistan’s Blasphemy Law, which forbids blasphemy against Islam. The law has become an excuse for a witch hunt against “troublesome” officials and neighbors alike. Since the allegation of blasphemy is sufficient to bring about harassment, attacks, and riots, the law is often used to intimidate moderates and non-Muslims. Even a false accusation can lead to someone losing their job, their home, or worse. Taseer sought the pardon of a Pakistani Christian woman who had been convicted under this law.

The gunman was Taseer’s own security guard, apparently encouraged by clerics who criticized any opposition or leniency toward the Blasphemy law. The shooting occurred on January 4, 2011 at Kohsar Market, a shopping centre in Islamabad. Husain Haqqani, Pakistan’s ambassador to the United States, said in an interview with the BBC,

“[Taseer] shares a vision of Pakistan that is liberal, that is tolerant, that is inclusive. Unfortunately, he has been gunned down by those with a totally different vision of Pakistan, a theocratic vision, a narrow vision, a vision that conflates blasphemy with a man-made law and wanting to change it…

He has been assassinated not just by an individual, but by the entire movement that basically tries to play up the emotions of Pakistanis rather than telling them the facts, and that tries to say to them that anyone who questions a law made by human beings a few years ago, critizing the law is somehow the same is, God forbid, insulting the holy prophet of Islam. I think those people are responsible, the lone gunman, or conspiracy or plot will come out in the police investigation. For now, let us focus on the two conflicting visions for Pakistan, the theocratic and the democratic.”

The similarities to Gabrielle Giffords’ shooting are eerily similar. Both Giffords and Taseer were moderates. Both were shot at a market. Both shooters used a very large number of bullets, emptying magazines. Taseer was killed, but Giffords is now in critical condition in the hospital. The motives of Giffords’ shooter are still unclear, but it’s safe to say that he had a different vision for the government.

Coincidentally, I wrote about the Montreal Massacre recently. There, too, a gunman killed many innocent people for what they represented. I think my characterization of the killer from that incident also fits these two cases: an individual who had his own personal, psychological problems, whose desire to kill was fed by rhetoric around him. Giffords’ shooter was creepy and seemed to fueled angry anti-government movement that sees conspiracies everywhere, such as government brainwashing and validity of Barack Obama’s citizenship. I haven’t read anything about the mental state of Taseer’s killer, but the fact that the governor was shot 29 times speaks to a certain amount of rage and overkill. This killer was clearly influenced by a prominent movement in Pakistan seeking to create a theocratic state. The strength of this movement is evident in the hordes of people raining rose petals down on the alleged killer. Fortunately, the US has not sunk to this level, though there is a lot of inflammatory rhetoric going around.

My point in drawing these parallels is not that we live in a scary world full of crazies, but that people are the same all over and that they only way out is tolerance, inclusion, and just peace. Every tragedy seems uniquely horrifying. We want to strike back at the cause, to hurt as much as we have been hurt. But this response only fuels the cycle of hatred and violence. It’s no use to annihilate one form of intolerance only to replace it with another form, to get rid of “them” and replace it with “us.” I don’t want to sound like a Pollyanna who says “Why can’t we get along?”, but the only way to stop hate is through personal choice. We as individuals have to make an active choice to be open minded, to learn, to ask questions, and to find ways to we make room for people who are different from us, whether those differences are religion, politics, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or any other source of categories.

Evil in the World

In Adult Sunday School, we are going through some curriculum on “Living the Questions.” The theme for this month is the question, “If God is all-powerful, all-loving, and all-good, how can evil exist?” There are a number of prompts for discussion in the material and I’ll be responding to some of them here. I’ll start with a discussion of the question itself.

I think the question starts from the wrong place. It assumes that God is in complete control of everything that happens. If this is the case, then we are simply automatons who behave in a deterministic manner. But God didn’t make us that way. We were given free will and can act any way we choose. One explanation that I have heard is that God gave us free will so that He could be loved by creations who choose to, rather than being programmed to. It is far less meaningful to hear a trained parrot say “I love you” on cue, than it is to hear a person say “I love you” with joy in his eyes.

Because God gave us free will, He doesn’t control absolutely everything. But this does not diminish his power, love, goodness, or presence in our lives. Because we have free will, we can choose good or evil. Adam and Eve were given the choice whether or not to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. Jesus was tempted by power and by the opportunity to turn away from ministry.

Evil is not a dark menace out in the world. Evil is a possibility in each one of us. Evil is an act that diminishes us as individuals or diminishes humanity as a whole. By using this definition, evil can be both small and big. It can be the resentment that we harbor against a fellow driver. It can be the atrocities committed by a warlord. The challenge for us as humans is to confront evil possibilities in the minutiae of daily life and turn away from it.


Why is there suffering in the world? And where is God during suffering?

To build on what I have written above, there is suffering because an individual makes a choice to act in a manner that diminishes themselves, others, or the collective. God is present in the world, as He always is. We can turn to him for strength or we can turn away in anger. Author and Auschwitz survivor, Elie Weisel, was angry at good for a long time after World War II. But in order to be angry at God, one must a) believe that He exists and b) have a relationship with him. I am reminded of the poem Footprints in the Sand in which the protagonist sees her/his life flash before him as a series of footprints in the sand along the shore. The protagonist notices that most of the time there are two sets of footprints, but during difficult times, there is only one set. She/he confronts God about this disparity, and He replies:

The Lord replied, “My precious, precious child,
I love you and I would never, never leave you
during your times of trial and suffering.
“When you saw only one set of footprints,
it was then that I carried you.”

If God is present in the world, does He intervene and take direct action? Sometimes. We really like it when God’s actions are undeniable and obvious. For example, Moses and the burning bush, Joshua and the walls of Jericho, and Noah. But it’s not always the way we think He does or should. For example, the maltreatment of Job. A friend suggested the idea of “severe mercy.” God’s mercy can sometimes be severe in the sense that He can use negative events in our lives to bring us closer to Him. I’m a bit uncomfortable with this idea, but it does make one wonder. Sometimes bad things just happen. Sometimes bad things are part of God’s plan. It’s hard to know.

Does Satan get a bum rap?

Definitely. Satan is a personification of evil and distracts us from the insidiousness of the evil within. It suggests that we look outward for the cause of evil (and the solutions to it). It suggests that Satan is out there in the world and leads to counterproductive ideas like demonic possession and devil worshiping. These phenomena can be explained through much simpler mechanisms, such as our own human foibles.

Satan as a personification of evil is an oversimplification. It’s an attempt to explain the world in black and white terms, with God on the side of good and Satan on the side of evil. Things are actually much more complex. There are shades of gray and marginally better or worse choices. The personification turns Satan into a fetish, like a monkey wrench thrown into the great order of things. This concept is misleading, because it causes us to not look for the evil in ourselves.

The trouble with categories

I previously blogged about how troublesome categories can be in my post on an area of India where people were being pressured to declare themselves either Hindu or Muslim after centuries of practicing a hybrid religion. These issues of categories seems to come up on our modern age where it’s necessary to put people into on group or another, so they can fill out a form or fit into a field in a computer database. Geoffrey Bowker and Susan Leigh Star wrote about precisely this phenomenon in “Sorting Things Out“.

Here’s another example of the problems that arise when it becomes possible to categorize things at a finer granularity than in the past. This story from the BBC reports on how an “Arctic Map shows dispute hotspots.” New technology has allowed us to map the Arctic more precisely than before. As a result, circumpolar countries have more “facts” that they can use to argue over national boundaries. Fortunately, being cold-weather cultures with Northern temperaments, these countries will likely settle things in an orderly fashion.

Dreamboarding, not waterboarding

I saw this post today on dreamboarding, and the first thing that I thought of was waterboarding. It turns out that the two have nothing to do with each other, except for the coincidental use of the term “boarding,” but what if…

Dreamboarding is a technique for presenting your dreams or aspirations in a visual format. Kind of like a scrapbooking/collage/dreamcatcher mash up. It’s supposed to be done to celebrate the full moon, with the hope that the dreams will come true.

Waterboarding, in the other hand, is a torture technique. I blogged about this previously, but essentially it simulates drowning by pouring water into the victim’s mouth and nose.

What if dreamboarding was a peace-building technique where you poured dreams into your enemy until they drowned in them? By immersing him or her in one’s hopes, fears, aspirations, love, joy, sorrows, and nightmares, one could win over hearts and minds, rather than alienate them. War is waged only against the “other,” that is, against those who are not one of us. There is no “them,” there is only “we.” Resources, territory, and power are not zero sum games. Peace is not just the absence of war, it’s the presence of a stable, just, and fair community of people who are fed, clothed, healthy, and sheltered.

You can’t be both Hindu and Muslim

BBC NEWS | South Asia | Islam and Hinduism’s blurred lines

This BBC news story report on a community in Rajasthan that follow both Hindu and Muslim traditions. They are nominally Hindu, but follow three Muslim practices (circumcision for the newborn male children in the community, eating halal meat and burying their dead). They have done this without conflict for hundreds of years. However, tensions are rising because there is a feeling that one must be one or the other, not both. Consequently, there are people who are “converting” to one faith or another. This is crazy.

Whenever categories are formed, there is always something left over at the end. Geoff Bowker and Susan Leigh Star wrote about this in their book “Sorting Things Out: Classification and Its Consequences.” They described the miscellaneous categories as “residual” and they are unavoidable. So this elimination of the hybrid Hindu and Muslim can be seen as an effort to reduce “otherness.” The impetus comes from both outsiders who don’t understand or want to co-opt people to their causes, and from the people themselves out of a desire to reduce ambiguity. It’s often difficult to live with a queer label that challenges basic notions about how the world is organized.

No doubt it’s torture, says U.S. journalist after trying waterboarding

“Christopher Hitchens, a Washington-based journalist known for his support of the Iraq war and the U.S. war on terror, has subjected himself to waterboarding.”

I have often thought about what it would take to convince someone that waterboarding was torture. My idea was to make a video where babies were subject to waterboarding. Of course, some photoshopping would have to be involved.

Then there’s trying it yourself. I didn’t think that anyone would actually try this. Well-known right-wing author and journalist, Christopher Hitchens did. He’s an ardent defender of the war on terror and the Bush administration. After less than 10 seconds on the table, Hitchens now is convinced that waterboarding is torture. Kudos to Hitchens for being brave enough to try it and brave enough to change his mind. His story will appear in the August issue of Vanity Fair.