Monday, January 31, 2005

Three Quick Ones

Pernicious Myths

As mentioned before, I am a space nerd. One of the most disheartening things about the early 21st century, to me, is not that I don't live on Mars, but that I don't even have the option.

However, in certain segments of the space-advocacy community, you'll here a common refrain - "the Government doesn't want cheap access to space. They're standing in the way to help [insert ominous conspiracy group here]. If the government got out of the way, we'd already have space colonies, etc."

Now, there might be some truth to this - I don't sit in on the meetings of the Trilateral Commission. However, I'd like to address the second part of the statement - that government should "get out of the way". It's a common refrain, and not just in space advocacy. Ever since Thatcher and Reagan, we've heard to varying degrees and with varying enthusiasms that government isn't the solution, it's the problem. This view seems to be largely informed by the myth of the hard working pioneer who cleared his own farm, and didn't need no daggum guvmint to take his money.

Unfortunately, some history shows us that this simply is not the case. First off, in the case of the Americas and Australia, that farm land was confiscated by the militaries of the United States and Canada, who evicted or killed the previous tenants - or landlords, more properly. This is pretty obviously a case of the state interfering in the market - what would the chances of colonization been if every acre had to be bought by the settlers from the natives? Not much. So the government comes in and interferes with a market solution to impose its own, top-down inefficient solutions on the working man - and just happens to commit genocide and steal a continent.

Once it had this land, the government tried to act like a business, selling it for revenue (the US army was basically a real estate corporation for most of the early 1800s. The 1860s were a different story - call it a new market competitor.) Of course, as we all know government can't operate like a business, so the US gave up the real estate racket and passed the Homestead Act, which more than any other piece of legislation is responsible for the settling of the American frontier. But don't let that fool you - Dick Cheney says that government can't create prosperity! Judging by the past four years, he's probably right. And look, he'll be able to prove it for the next four years, too! The system works!

More seriously, this myth is seriously stupid for the space community to have. Leave aside the notion of a privately-built, Saturn 5-scale rocket launch (NASA's not great, but would you trust a rocket built by Microsoft? The "Blue Screen of Death" takes on a totally different meaning"), and leaving aside the idea that a major corporation would be willing to invest billions in such a risky investment as space settlement, no expansion of the frontier has ever come without major government involvement, whether Spanish, Dutch, British or the Americans. Trying to keep the government out of space policy would be like Columbus saying "if only the kings of Europe would get out of the way, I could show them the route to China." Of course, seeing as the kings owned all the boats, this was a self-defeating strategy.

On the other hand, there are some positive ideas for what the US might do to stimulate private investment in lunar and other off-world properties. You can find some good ideas here.

Brief China News

Apparently, in the last interview he gave before he died, Zhao Ziyang compared the modern Communist Party to the Empress Dowager Ci Xi.

This may not mean much to a western audience, but Zhao couldn't have said something more inflammatory if he yelled "Mao Sucks!" while burning the little red book. The Dowager Empress was so incredibly repressive and corrupt, she makes Louis XVI look like a liberal-minded reformer by contrast. Because her brutal, corrupt, yet weak rule coincided with China's contact with the west, China was basically dissected by European colonialism. Meanwhile, Japan was graced with a much stronger imperial ruler during it's period of contact, and quickly adapted and within 40 years was beating Russia in the Russo-Japanese War.

There was a similar moment in Chinese history, where the emperor began what is now known as the 100-days reform, but this was killed in it's crib by Ci Xi. Some have argued that the reformers were too ambitious anyway, and the reforms could never succeed. That's a harder call to make - and I'm late for class, so I'll have to leave speculation for later.

Some thoughts on the election

The Iraqi election, that is.

First off, fewer people dead than was expected. This is a good thing, as far as that goes. It's hard to get excited about slightly less bodies to pile, but that's where we're at.

More troubling is the near-total marginalization of Sunnis in this election. The Sunni community is likely to have less than 10% representation in the drafting of their constitution. Given that they already feel they're being screwed out of Iraq's oil by the Kurds and Shia, and given that they're already heavily armed, this doesn't bode well for a post-American civil war. Now, smarter people than I (namely Robert Fisk) think that civil war is a bogeyman that the US is using to justify it's continued presence, but I'm not sure he's right.

Finally, I hereby deputize all my readers to physically harm anyone who thinks this is a success for Bush. Be proportional - no severed limbs. We should all remember that the first Proconsul in Baghdad (Jay Garner) was fired because he wanted elections in late 2003. Bush could have a) greatly improved the US's image in the muslim world and b) possibly saved hundreds of his soldiers lives by holding the elections early. Doing so before the insurgency really got going in early 2004 would have seriously undercut the legitimacy of people like Sadr. Even after Bush consented to elections, at first they wanted only US-picked "caucuses" to be eligible to vote. Ayatollah Sistani had to send a few million Shia to the streets to get the US to relent.

So, elections were never what the US wanted - this is, if anything, Plan D or E. That the Iraqis have forced the US to allow elections is indeed a moving fact, but I don't think it's the angle Fox News is going with. Comparing Bush to an eastern-european dictator probably isn't on tonight's talking points.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

University Pays Off, Continued

"By the later 1960s and 1970s, young women who had been raised and come of age in the newly 'open' culture of sexual hedonism and participated in it both more and less enthusiatically had deconstructed the bedroom and revealed it to be a place of considerable unhappiness for women. Best-selling works such as Ann Koedt's The Myth of The Vaginal Orgasm and Shere Hite's The Hite Report indicated that the penis was not an instrument of endless pleasure for the majority of women, but a fetish for men, in whose gratification female pleasure was very often sacrificed. Feminists called for an end to the double standard in sexual behaviour (based on the maternal/sexual dichotomy), sexual satisfaction for women as well as men, and the same autonomy as men in choice of sexual partners." [emphasis mine]
-Varda Burstyn, "Delivering the Male: Sport Culture, The Mass Media and the Masculinity Market." (1999)
My response to this excerpt, which I am reading for my Mass Communications class:
  • I never imagined my penis was "an instrument of endless pleasure for the majority of women". I'd be surprised if it's an instrument of mild pleasure to one woman. Now, as an instrument of my pleasure, that's a different story...
  • Sexual satisfaction for women had to be demanded? No wonder early feminists were so angry.
  • Note to Vicki: You have exactly as much autonomy in choosing other sexual partners as I do. None whatsoever.

How Expensive is Paper?

We've got a crappy printer at work, so I was thinking about the costs of printing today, and the costs of not printing.

Office Depot sells reams of 500 sheets of printer paper for $6.65 - $5.85 if you buy more than 5 reams. That comes to a bit more than one cent per page. Of course, printing something on a blank sheet costs money too. I've read that the energy and ink costs of printing a sheet of paper are roughly equal to the cost of making the sheet in the first place, so let's say a round two cents for a printed page.

How much do other forms of text-storage cost? Well, I've got a lot of PDF files on my computer. Picked at random, one 7-page document is roughly 75k - 10.7k/page. Bestbuy's website lists a 160gb hard drive as costing $100, or $0.000000625 per kilobyte of storage. Some quick math gives us a cost-per-page that is 3,000 times less than printing a sheet of paper.

The point of this is all to say WHAT THE FUCK ARE WE DOING WASTING TREES ON THIS CRAP?!!!

Now, as a bookseller I'd be shortsighted if I didn't admit there are some uses left for printed text. However, the modern office uses an incredible amount of paper. Recylcing this stuff is good, but not using it in the first place would be much, much, much better. Just something for everyone to keep in mind. Don't photocopy that funny cartoon - email it to your coworkers. And to my father: You know how you print out your emails every night? Stop. Now. I'd like to have some free oxygen left for your grandchildren. You don't like reading email off your screen? Boo hoo. I like breathing more.

(By the way, how screwed up is a 160 gigabyte hard drive for $100? If someone in my family is looking for a birthday present...)

Nothing Can Possibly Go Wrong

DARPA, the agency that brought you the Internet, wants to build a computer that can read, laying the groundwork for future AI to help manage the military. They've already introduced robotic weaponry, so this is just one more step towards a human-free military. Proposed names include Skynet, Matrix, the Technocore, Colossus, and Our Silicon Overlord.

Someone cue Kent Brockman: And I for one, welcome our silicon masters. I'd like to remind them that, as a journalist...

Capsule Alien vs. Predator Review

Piece of shit.

That said, something's always bothered me about the concept of the Predator. You've got this fast, strong alien that's incredibly devoted to the ethic of hunting - but it uses it's invisibility cloak all the time. Does this sound like something a dedicated hunter would use? It's kind of like playing Doom with all the cheat codes on, isn't it? Sure, wasting a few thousand guys with a machine gun is fun for the first minute or two, but eventually it just gets old.

Warning: Space Nerdery Ahead

So I was at the school library today doing some photocopying, and I decided to wander through the small section of space books in the basement. Aside from feeling vaguely like a murderer was going to jump out from one of the aisles, the library basement is actually fun, because it's where most of the cooler (by which I mean farthest from cool) books are kept.

After picking up a book which referenced Gerard K. Oneill's pioneering work on the idea of space settlement, I realized that the library probably had O'neill's original article in Physics Today from 1974, in which O'neill proposed not colonizing Mars or the Moon, but building new, massive habitats in space capable of housing tens of thousands of people. For people who've seen Babylon 5, B5 (the station) is a classic O'neill design - a rotating cylinder enclosing an earthlike environment and gravity. O'neill had a modestly popular book called The High Frontier in which he advocated construction of these habitats, whose primary industry (in the beginning) would be making solar power satellites, which I mentioned earlier. For a good summary of O'Neill's ideas, start here.

One of the most interesting things about reading the Physics Today article is how much more evangelical it is than even High Frontier. O'Neill advocates building colonies bigger than many small countries, capable of supporting hundreds of millions of people - in the most extreme case, a cylinder forty miles long consisting of nothing bur farmland and apartment complexes could support 700 million people indefinitely, according to his calculations. The costs were estimated at roughly equal to the Apollo program, or $100 billion in today's money. That comes out to one year's worth of US oil consumption, 90 days of US military spending, or an hour and a half of global currency speculation. Of course, that cost isn't for one colony, it's for a whole system to construct that colony and more like it. Better yet, 90% of the costs are startup, so the next colony costs $10 billion, not $100 billion. If we could move people off the planet fast enough (and that's the hardest part) we could move the entire human population in to space in less than 20 years. Now, obviously not everyone is going to want to go, but given some of the impending climate crises we're in for, they may change their minds.

When I write about the Iron Denominator, there's something we should keep in mind: even with the most optimistic assumptions about renewables and sustainability, it may not be possible to support the projected human population of this planet without a) serious social hardship (famines, epidemics, etc.) or more importantly b) human activity totally monopolizing the biosphere's capacity to support life. So we should be thinking about this, if only to keep the world's few remaining wild spots wild. In the long-term, I think a world with a population of less than one billion, with most humans living in space and coming to the mother world as tourists would be wonderful. But then again, I'm a big nerd, so that figures.

Friday, January 28, 2005

Speaking of free time..

Lounging around Wikipedia, I find this piece of information - Professor Hubert Farnsworth of Futurama is named after Philo T. Farnsworth, who invented the modern television. Farnsworth premiered his magical device at the 1939 World's Fair in New York, specifically at General Motors' exhibit, which was called - you guessed it - Futurama.

Now, as a student of Mass Communications, who passes a picture of Philo Farnsworth every day on my way to the computer lab, and who learned who Farnsworth was in first year, you would think I wouldn't need Wikipedia to have deduced that. And you'd be wrong, because I'm apparently retarded.

Quiz Time!

"This so-called ill treatment and torture in detention centers, stories of which were spread everywhere among the people, and later by the prisoners who were freed & were not, as some assumed, inflicted methodically, but were excesses committed by individual prison guards, their deputies, and men who laid violent hands on the detainees."
Who said this? Rumsfeld? Cheney? Robert "Douchbag of Liberty" Novak?

No.

Rudolf Hoess, Commandant of Auschwitz and one of histories most prolific mass murderers, before the Nuremberg Tribunals.

Like I've said before - just because they're not Nazis doesn't mean they're not evil.

What Hath God Wrought?

For those of us who love the Buffy:

A fully searchable database of every word, character, writer and director of every Buffy episode ever.

Suddenly, what I do with my free time doesn't look so bad.

Not The Briar Patch!

Please Microsoft, do this.

Please restrict the functionality and security of illegal Windows users. After all, it's not like they have an alternative, do they? Sure, there's Linux, and sure Mac is getting cooler again with every iPod purchase. And sure, Firefox is slowly eating away at IE's dominance of the web. But I'm sure your brilliant plan to piss off all your users is bound to succeed.

Oddly enough, I've just been studying the 30-years war in class. Capsule version (easy to dispute, but relatively accurate): The Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor (let's call him Bill G... no wait, that's too obvious. B. Gates) decided that there were too many protestants in the empire, attempted to crack down on their worship, and provoked a war that destroyed the power of the Pope and Emperor. Not that I think this is relevant in any way.

Expletive deleted

I've had to retype this post now, because blogger sucks.

Before the election down south, the British medical journal Lancet (peer-reviewed and everything) released a study estimating that 100,000 Iraqi civilians had died during the occupation. What attention did the free press of the world's greatest democracy pay to this troubling assessment?

[crickets chirping]

Actually, it's much worse than that - if the press had simply ignored the study, that would have been one thing. Instead, the press actively undermined the public perception of the survey's accuracy. Doug Ireland has the details.

Can we all please cut the bullshit about "clean" wars and "smart" bombs? Even if a relatively small bomb hits its intended target, these things explode. The fatality-causing radius for a small laser-guided bomb is something on the order of 30m. The injury-causing radius is much larger. Bombing anything in an urban environment is going to kill people unnecessarily. Especially when the entire war is unnecessary, but that's another issue...

More broadly, we have to understand what militaries do. Any military - US, Canada, Iceland, whatever - destroys things. The better the military, the faster and more efficiently they fuck shit up. Militaries are really not meant for humanitarian intervention. Especially in a case like Iraq, where policy is apparently to fight a war and keep the peace at the same time, which as anyone can grasp are two diametrically opposite goals.

Before the Russo-Japanese War 0f 1904-5, the Russian foreign minister opined that Russia needed "a short, victorious war" to unite the people and quell dissent. What the Czar got was catastrophic defeat which nearly sparked off the Bolshevik revolution twelve years early. If our leaders should have one thing tattooed on the inside of their eyelids, it's "Wars Are Never Painless". Of course, in most administrations, cabinets, and palaces, that kind of talk is dismissed as defeatism anyway, so it's probably all for naught.

I've been reading John Stoessinger's "Why Nations Go To War", which has an interesting account of the Iran-Iraq war - news flash: Hussein was a nasty guy. But a question popped in to my mind: the US was willing (or enthusiastic) to support Iraq in it's desire to capture the western Iranian oil fields during 1980-89 (mainly later in the war, after some startling Iranian successes.) As you can see in this map, Iran's oil industry is almost exclusively concentrated in the Iraqi border regions. So why was Husseins posession of Iranian oil okay, while Hussein's posession of Kuwaiti oil sparked off one of the largest conflagrations in decades?

I'd always been skeptical about the notion that the US induced the First Gulf War by giving Hussein the green light... I may have to reconsider.

Thursday, January 27, 2005

I Have Met My Moriarty

"12-year old Corrects Encyclopedia Brittanica"

Someone more nerdy than I? I will destroy him!

Coming Soon: Pastureland in Antarctica!

Scary New York Times article here.

Latin Loving

I've mentioned A Canticle For Leibowitz previously, and Vicki has finally neared the end of that excellent book. The books of Canticle (it's divided in three) all have latin titles - Fiat Lux (let there be light), Fiat Homo (let there be man), and Fiat Voluntas Tua. I knew the first two, but was mistaken about the third - turns out it means "Let thy will be done", and was what Jesus said in Gethsemane as he begged his Father to spare is life, but realized it was hopeless - "let thy will be done" showed that Jesus had accepted his fate, more or less.

Knowing how the book (Canticle) ends, suddenly that means a lot more to me. I dug this stuff up here, where I also learned that "goodbye" is a contraction of "God be with ye". And yet, despite being a contraction, I'm sure I heard Lt. Data use the word "goodbye" in Star Trek.

All together now.... NERD!

Nuclear Family Upset By Battery Charges

Wired has a very frustrating article this month about nuclear power (not online yet - link forthcoming.) It's frustrating because it clearly expresses much of the problems with our current energy supply - and unlike other American publication often do, Schwartz and Reiss are emphasizing the coming dangers of Climate Change, not pushing it off to the side. Further, they note that carbon fuels' wastes are untaxed, whereas nuclear energy is taxed to support construction of long-term storage (the notorious Yucca mountain.) I've mentioned before how we should be thinking of CO2 the same way we think of U235.

The article loses me because it basically argues that we'll have to adopt nuclear as our primary energy source because none of the other non-carbon possibilities will do - dismissing wind and solar essentially out of hand. Now, I've said here before that I'm open to considering nuclear after we do everything else necessary to replace carbon energy. What I think woud be foolish to do is engage in a decades-long policy of building hundreds of nuclear reactors, when the price of solar and wind are both coming down precipitously. Schartz and Reiss talk about solar being 8 times more expensive than nuclear, but the price for next-generation, "clean, green and safe" nuclear energy they give is roughly $1.2/watt of installed capacity, which is roughly equal to the price quoted for solar power by Akzo-Nobel, which I mentioned previously here. They also resort to the straw man of a centralized solar utility somewhere in the desert - possibly the stupidest idea possible for solar power.

Now, one of the points the article stresses is that our global energy demands are going to increase in a huge way, and Schwartz and Reiss argue that nuclear is the only technology that can be deployed in sufficient volume to meet demand. Here I think they're just being ridiculous. As efficiencies increase and costs come down, I would be surprised if solar doesn't begin to out-compete even natural gas for peak power production. Further, unlike nuclear power, solar panels are a technology that can be mass-produced quite readily. What do you think is going to happen when the force that brought you $20 DVD players gets in to the energy game?

The Achilles Heel to solar power is the down-time problem. Our nighttime energy uses are quite a bit less than our daytime uses, but they're not zero. So long as we selfishly insist on heating our homes in the winter nights, we'll need backup. If we want to talk about long-term switching of our energy supply to solar, then we need to talk about the costs of a combined solar production/storage system, i.e. batteries or fuel cells. Fortunately, the solution is one I've mentioned before: electric cars. Because even the smallest, most efficient electric car is still going to require several day's worth of a typical household's electricity demand, this is a huge storage capacity that would otherwise mostly be wasted. Let's look at Volvo's latest concept car, the 3CC. With a full-charge range of 180 miles, most people would use only 20-25% of their car's stored energy in their daily commute. That leaves the other 75-80% to be used for other purposes.

Let's imagine an unlikely world in which every watt of energy we used was delivered by the sun. Your car - which you only use for at most a few hours a day, after all - spends most of it's time plugged in to the grid, either at home or at work. During the daytime, the grid feeds in solar electricity to your car, until the batteries are full. Once sunset comes, however, the car's batteries start putting out a stream of energy back on to the grid until the sunrises agan. The car would probably need a cutoff - preferably something the owner could customize - at which point the batteries would stop emptying, so that we don't have cars running out of batteries in the morning rush hour. How much energy could our cars store? The Stanford Electric Vehicle (SEV), which I mentioned before here, would store 40 kilowatt-hours onboard, roughly four days worth of energy for a current home. A four-person model, assuming energy storage scaled up with the size of the car, would store more than two weeks worth of power. If you owned the car and the solar panels it charged off of, and had free access to sell your solar energy the grid (an unlikely assumption, but let's run with this) your car could make you almost $7 every time you "emptied your tank" on to the grid, still assuming you kept 25% of the car's charge for your daily commute. $7 isn't much, but on the other hand it currently costs my brother somewhere in the vicinity of $30 to empty his tank out his tailpipe. (Okay, that sounds kind of dirty. Moving on...)

The real bonus to this scenario, however, is that our storage system for solar energy doesn't cost us anything extra - we're buying the cars anyway, we're just using them more intelligently. It's a variation on an idea originally proposed by the people at RMI as an additional selling point for fuel cell cars. However, I think we'll have to wait a bit longer for that. I've mentioned before, the solar-hydrogen-fuel cell system is currently far less efficient than a solar-battery system, though that could change. Even if it's more efficient, however, it's not certain to cost less. Even if both ends of the fuel-cell system are 85% efficient, it's still only slightly more efficient in real terms than the 70% most batteries get, and batteries are much simpler pieces of technology.

Oh, and please excuse the pun in the title.

ADDITIONAL EXTRA-CREDIT MATH (FEEL FREE TO IGNORE)
Assuming Akzo-Nobel's price point of C$1.6/watt of installed generating power, how expensive a system would we need to charge a 4-person SEV with an oboard charge of 160 kwh each day? When does this system break even?

Assuming a mean of four hours of peak solar input each day, we need 40,000 watts of input. This comes to $64,000 for the solar power. Assuming the following:
  • The car is actually used, so we only sell 75% of the power back on to the grid.
  • Electricity sells for $0.06/kwh
  • The batteries are emptied every night, and fully charged every day.
  • Access to the grid is free (maybe to encourage solar power - who knows?)
That gives us 160*.75*0.06 = $7.2/day solar power.
$64,000/ $7.2/day = 8,888 days, or 24 years and a bit.

So... we still have some cost issues to work out. Or does someone see a huge math error?

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Holy Crap

Anybody who doubts the lunacy of Bush's fiscal policies need only look at the graph at this post, charting future deficits. For the curious, the bottom line on the graph is the result of Bush's stated policy objectives for the future.

The other bottom line is that 2015, the US could be facing a $4 trillion deficit. Boy, when the government makes you channel Dr. Evil, something's seriously wrong.

China Stands Up

"China Now Top Trader With Japan"

Boy, every day I see a new piece of information that makes me think the US is going to be left in the cold. Asia is increasingly becoming Chinese- and Indian-dominated, with the US's piece of the pie shrinking, Europe is moving East, and Brazil is undercutting the US's agricultural export market.

Not too long ago, I thought I was cursed to live in such boring times. Times change, I guess.

Modest Mouse's Good News for People Who Love Bad News

Proviso: I haven't listened to the whole album yet. Still, what's the big deal? I mean, "Float On" is catchy and all, but I've heard so much about it, I was kind of disappointed.

What am I missing?

From the Inbox...

My dad sends along the Electronic Frontier Foundations link to their Endangered Gizmos list - devices that the RIAA and MPAA want killed in their cribs so that they can be guaranteed monopoly prices forever.

More on Lind

In the Lind piece I linked to earlier, he calls America the "Dispensable Nation", a twist on Madeleine Albright's famous phrase during the Clinton years. The interesting question is why this is happening now. Certainly, in many respects, America's international stature post-Vietnam seemed much worse than it it now. Militarily, the US was essentially emasculated by the Vietnam war - any bio of Powell, Franks or the other recent military luminaries will give you a good idea of exactly how broken the military was, especially in the Army. Further, the chaos of the late 1970s economically speaking would, one would think, have led other nations to try and challenge the US then when it appeared weak.

Of course, this didn't happen. The Cold War kept the international situation more-or-less static, and America's allies didn't abandon it during it's moment of weakness. Instead, the US recovered from the 1970s and during the 1980s rebuilt its military, which performed admirably in the most one-sided war in recent history, the First Gulf War.

Compare what actually did happen to what some people were predicting (Immanuel Wallerstein was prediciting the collapse of American Hegemony in the 1970s) and the differences are startling. However, the big difference that the Wallersteins of the world didn't address was that to a large extent, during the Cold War the US was the "indispensable nation", and Europe and Japan were hardly going to allow the US to 'collapse' like many were predicting. Furthermore, the US itself turned out to be a lot more resilient than people thought.

The major difference today is that Europe and Japan no longer seem to perceive the need for America anymore. The EU is chugging along nicely (certainly not without problems, but with less than most europhobes seem to think), Asia seems to have been so upset by the IMF's (and therefore the US's) response to the Asian crisis of 1997 that they're now explicitly excluding the US from future economic partnerships. Latin America, hit hard by currency crises (Brazil, Argentina) basically equates the IMF with imperialism, something Africa concluded a decade ago. The funny thing is that, while Democrats want to blame Bush for this, he is only responsible for this recent crisis over Iraq. The resentment and rejection of America has been building probably since the end of the Cold War, and (with the exception of Europe) was fostered by policies championed by Clinton.

It would be comforting to many if we could demonize Bush and the Republicans for ruining America's good name, but the blame should more properly be pinned on America's long-term policies of liberalization and globalization. Certainly, Bush deserves blame for his own actions, but he's really an outgrowth of a long history of American policy and thought.

Tony Blair is a Moron

"Blair predicts new 'Global Agenda of Consensus' with US back on board."

Um.... exactly what evidence is there that the US is 'back on board' (by which I assume he means back on planet earth)? Furthermore, even if the US had returned to some semblance of sanity, what makes Blair think that Bush, Putin, Schroeder, Hu, Koizumi, and Chirac are all even capable of consensus?

Poor Tony. Poodle doesn't begin to cover it. Is there another example of a British PM being so totally mislead and misleading in the 20th century?

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

I'm Not As Smart As I Wish

Michael Lind of the New America Foundation writes a far better post-inaugural commentary than I, titled "America the Dispensable Nation". Steven Clemons has reposted it in its entirety, because it currently lies behind the Financial Times' pay wall. Go here, and scroll down.

Actual Good News

After all my carping about the short shrift African AIDS victims have been getting, this is really good news: HIV vaccine begins widespread trials.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Thoughts on the Inauguration

Last week, we saw the US political process reaffirm the mistake made two months ago – Bush was inaugurated. This poses a dilemma for the world – if the US were just another country, we could deal with this the way we deal with any other country that elects an erratic leader with a history of noxious policies. We would ignore them. Sadly, the world doesn’t have that option when it comes to the US.

How bad will the next four years be? I’ve already mentioned the Seymour Hersh piece that talks about the possibility of war with Iran. However, the more terrifying nugget of information in that piece was that Rumsfeld is busy constructing Special Operations teams that can avoid any legal oversight whatsoever. What could they be planning that they don’t even want to reveal it to a Republican Congress?

I’ve previously mentioned that I think the US economy is in for a major crash in the next four years. I should moderate that stance slightly, because usually a declining currency means cheaper exports and less imports. As the dollar continues its slide, exports should recover. Oddly, however, this doesn’t seem to be happening. For the last two years, the slide in the dollar has been accompanied by a growing, not shrinking trade deficit. This is a truly worrying trend.

I’ve also talked about Iraq. The news does keep getting worse and worse, but I feel no joy in being able to say “I told you so”. Noah Feldman, author of After Jihad and What We Owe Iraq was on CBC yesterday morning, saying that he thinks the elections have a chance to turn things around in Iraq because, he says, the Sunnis who largely make up the insurgency will trust elected Shia leaders more than they trust the current religious authorities. This, I think, is incredibly na├»ve. The Sunnis have controlled Iraq more or less since the British made it a colony, and aren’t wild about playing second fiddle to the Shia. Whether or not the Shia are elected can’t make much difference to their thinking, any more than Josef Stalin trusted US leaders because they were elected. What we have in the sectarian strife in Iraq is conceptions of legitimacy that are fundamentally different than what we in the west are used to thinking about. I believe that certain aspects of western demaocracy can be applied universally – but you have to have a respect for history first. It’s no accident that the only Muslim nation that qualifies as a real democracy (Turkey) was founded by a revolutionary leader who explicitly attacked Muslim traditions – “For the people, despite the people” was Attaturk’s motto – and was ruled largely by the ardently secular military for most of the 20th century.

So the next few years are likely to be bad for the US, and for all of us by extension. Back during the anti-war marches, I saw more than one sign comparing Bush to Hitler, but this misses the point: Just because he’s not Hitler (and so far, he’s not even close), that doesn’t mean he’s not evil. Bush has ordered the deaths of tens of thousands of innocents in pursuit of a goal he was not able to accomplish. We can certainly accept that Hussein is a bad man, etc etc. And I certainly accept the humanitarian impulse to help people who suffer. But we have to ask what that obligation is when we have no means to help. If I could save a drowning child, and choose not to, that’s monstrous. If I can’t swim, and the child is out in deep water, what is my obligation then? Is throwing another non-swimmer in the water and saying “Go save that kid!” a reasonable response? To put it more clearly, wasting military and civilian lives on an impossible mission is not just foolhardy, it’s fundamentally evil.

The lives of the soldiers in the service of the United States do not “belong” to the government in the sense that they can be squandered for nothing. Militaries, at the end of the day, are used to effect political goals. It doesn’t matter if, like in Vietnam, the US wins every battle. If the war is lost – if not a single policy is achieved – that makes the lives lost more tragic, not less. The loss of 60,000 US lives in Vietnam, and coming up soon on 2,000 lives in Iraq is a crime. It goes without saying that the 2 million Vietnamese dead and the up to 250,000 Iraqi dead from this war are even more tragic.

The US is going to lose Iraq, one way or another. How the US deals with this is going to be another matter entirely. Unfortunately, it looks like we’re in for a repeat of the post-Vietnam syndrome, where the people responsible for this disaster admit exactly no wrongdoing, and the people who opposed the war in the first place will be blamed for not supporting the troops. This is one of the more worrisome trends in US rhetoric today – David Neiwert has chronicled the rise of extreme-right propaganda in the US, much of it in the same tones as Weimar-era German nationalism. People who think this is alarmist should remember that, at the dawn of the 20th century, few experts would imagine that Germany would engage in such vicious anti-Semitism as it did. France or Russia had much longer and nastier histories with anti-Semitism. However, the interwar period provided a breeding ground for political leaders who normalized anti-Semitism in popular German discourse, often through “innocent” things like anti-Jewish humor. (This, by the way, is why I refuse to watch Team America: World Police.) Some people think the rise of the Christian Right is something to joke about, while we’re safe on the other side of the border. I’m not so sure.

I should say that I would be overjoyed to be proven wrong about all this. It's not like I want to see a collapse in the US economy, thousands more dead in Iraq, or the ascent of far-right extremists in the US. But the trends don't look all that great from where I sit.

Building a Bridge to the 17th Century

UPS is challenging Canada Post's existence under NAFTA, according to the Globe and Mail.

Because NAFTA allows foreign companies to attack the government for policies that they claim reduce their profits, UPS says that the Canadian postal system undermines their business, and they are entitled to reparations. I haven't seen balls like this since Saudi Arabia demanded compensation from any lost oil revenues because of Kyoto.

There is a more general point here - if UPS wins this battle, then private US HMOs could begin challenging provincial health insurers, and US banks could try to destroy the CPP, and Monsanto could attack the Canadian Wheat Board. One by one, the institutions which built this country as a separate entity from our souther masters would be undermined or destroyed. We might console ourselves that Royal Bank and other Canadian companies would do the same thing to the US, but that's cold comfort when all of our once-public services are privatized. It's not too much of a stretch to think of large corporations attacking tax policies and labour laws because they undermine "competitveness".

It might seem obvious, but letting Mulroney and Reagan lock their respective countries in to a trade regime which undermines all the progresive policies of the 20th century doesn't seem like such a good idea in retrospect. William Greider has called this "undoing the 20th Century", but I think he's being overly optimistic - we're turning the clock a bit further back then that. At least the 19th century saw Democracy entrenched in the the UK, and later Europe and much (though not most) of the rest of the world through reform and revolution - in the 21st, we're seeing democracy undermined by the world's heir to the British Empire.

Davinci Code

Okay, a fun but forgettable book is being made in to a movie. Why blog? Because France's cutest export has been cast in the female lead role.

She'll join Tom Hanks (who, like Samuel L. Jackson, is apparently in everything) and Jean Reno in a movie about how Christ was a mortal man who banged Mary Magdalene, all Christian churches (and especially Catholicism) are founded on lies, and Christ's descendants are alive today. Given the... sensitivies of the American market, I'm thinking the script is going to be changed a bit.

Coming this summer: Davinci Code the movie! Watch Tom Hanks drive around Paris in a Smart car for 2 hours!

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Actual Iron Denominator News

Oil imports in China have increased by 35% over last year, 122.7 million tonnes.

So... hope nobody owns a hummer. 'Cuz fueling that sucker is 'bout to get 'spensive.

Iron Denominator News, Number Indeterminate

Chinese cell phone users sent 217,760,000,000 text messages last year. This is a statistic that calls for Useless Math Exercise Man!

Let's see... 217,760,000,000 divided by 1,298,847,624 (CIA's July 2004 estimate of China's population) gives us 167.66 text messages per person. Divided by 366 (2004 was a leap year) gives us 0.46 text messages per day.

Consider yourselves enlightened.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Odd Coincidence, II

(Alternate title: Inter arma enim silent leges)

After my previous mention of the firebombing of Dresden, Brad Delong responds to someone else entirely on the same matter.
But because of the terror-bombing of German citizens by British and American warplanes (strategic bombing that did little to harm Nazi war production while leading to things like young women wandering Hamburg carrying the charcoaled remains of their babies in their handbags), by 1944 half the artillery barrels
the Nazis had were in the Reich pointing skyward. If not for the terror-bombing, those artillery barrels would have been--in 1942, 1943, and 1944--in Russia pointing eastwards.

Brad Delong, despite being more of a liberal economist than I usually prefer, is a very smart guy, who has taught me the occasional fact about World War II that I've found useful. Also, he uses far more latin in a blog than can possibly be healthy.

Operating Philosophies

For the Bush Administration: Kill the messenger.

Apparently, if you engage in a stupid, disastrous policy, and someone tells you that it's stupid and disastrous, then it's their fault.

Great News From Iraq!

Actually, no. Knight-Ridder has been analyzing statistics from the Pentagon itself, and is now proclaiming that, short of a major change, the US will lose in Iraq. They've got some interesting figures showing the downward spiral, but the most interesting one is probably that attacks on US personnel have increased from roughly 700-800 in November 2003 to close to 2,500 in October 2004.

Many people I've spoken to, even people who opposed the war from the beginning, keep saying to me that the US should stay and "fix what they broke", so to speak. But this, I think, misses the point: The US no longer has the ability to effect policy in Iraq. In order to fix anything, they would need to be in control. With the latest news about the "elections" (more than half of Iraq simply will not be able to vote because of the poor security conditions) we can say the one thing that the US doesn't have is control.

The US will not be able to fix anything before they are forced to leave. Therefore, they should leave now. Actually, they should never have gone in the first place, as this war was unlikely to have proceeded any other way with this bunch of criminals in power. The point is, the US is going to have to leave sooner or later, and nothing they do now will survive their departure. That said, the only thing that leaving later rather than sooner will accomplish is raise the body count.

The only rational course of action is to leave, and soon. Or, they can reinstate the draft, send a couple hundred thousand black and brown kids to Iraq, waste a few thousand more lives, and then leave anyway. Knowing this bunch for four years now, it terrifies me that I can't say the latter course is impossible.

What Ghandi would have wanted

Dalits ("untouchables") in tsunami-stricken India are being denied aid.

Don't you just feel warm and fuzzy?

(via Suburban Guerilla)

Friday, January 21, 2005

I promise, I'm still working

My previous post dealing with moral questions has a bit to do with what I've been kicking around in my brain post-Inauguration. I'm hoping to do a longer post about Bush, the US, and the world later in the weekend. However, school has already started selfishly interfering in my life, so some delays should be expected.

Odd Coincidence

After mentioning Errol Morris earlier today, the documentary channel ran The Fog of War tonight. Now, I own it so this isn't a big deal, but my brother hadn't seen it, so I've now seen the movie probably a half-dozen times.

There's a moment early on in the film where Robert McNamara asks "what makes an act moral if you win and immoral if you lose?" in reference to the firebombing of Japan. More than any other moment in the film, that question has stuck with me.

This is a big question in all wars, but especially in the case of World War II. More than any war in recent history, we can say (uncontroversially, I think) that politics and morality were aligned - roughly. More basically (and with the notable exception of our alliance with Stalin) we could say that the bad guys were in fact Bad Guys.

That being the case, to what extent are our actions by definition moral? Cromwell said that extremism in the pursuit of virtue was no vice (or something like that), and I don't want to sound absolutist, but there have got to be prices we're willing to pay when we're confronted with obvious evil. Do we in fact lose the moral high ground if, in the pursuit of victory, we do things we later regret or judge to have been disproportionate?

Note: For those wondering, I don't see any equivalence between WWII and the current "War on Terror/Terrorism/Radical Islam/Islamist/Jihadis/etc etc." So moral questions about our actions in WWII would not, in my mind, justify similar actions today - if Dresden was acceptable (not sure that it was, not yet sure it wasn't) that's not to say that firebombing Tehran would be.

Space Nerd, continued

Adam mentioned space elevators, so I have to continue...

There's at least three different "inventors" of the space elevator. Many people credit Arthur C. Clarke with popularizing the idea, others (including Clarke himself) note that a Russian by the name of Artusanov came up with it first. However, before either of these men, Konstantin Tsiolkovskii was inspired by the sight of the Eiffel Tower (believe it or not) and added to his already-huge reputation in early space concepts by noting that, if you could find a material strong enough, you could build a elevator to orbit, meaning that all you pay for the cost of lifting something in to space is the electrical bill - and not even that if you have an equal mass coming down while you're lifting.

Tsiolkovskii is really a legendary figure in space history. He basically taught himself physics and then invented the rocket equation, which is still used today in basic rocket designs. Many people today, including John Lewis (who's written some excellent books on what he calls "space resources utilization") credit Tsiolkovskii with identifying all the key problems to space colonization, and theorizing the technologies needed to overcome them (in-space agriculture, spinning habitats for artificial gravity, solar power, etc.) Tsiolkovskii died in 1935. That should give you an idea of how ahead of his times he was.

And, to bring it full circle, what material is widely considered the future building block of space elevators? Carbon-60, aka carbon nanotubes, aka Buckminsterfullerenes.

I think we need a new game - Six Degrees of Bucky Fuller. Everything nerdy is connected to him!

(Note - extra points to Adam for pointing out how truly nerdy I am in comments)

Oddly enough

...today is the 211th anniversary of Louis XVI's execution by the Revolution.

...it's also the day after Bush was inaugurated.

Not that I'm suggesting anything.

Errol Morris

Director of "Fog of War" (a must-watch) has a column up about why Kerry lost. I'm not sure I agree with him 100% (I think Vietnam is viewed far more positively in the US than most leftists want to admit) but he's got a compelling argument.

The Sixth Planeteer

With the power of NERD!

As most of you know, I'm a huge space nerd. I've been one for a while, and will probably be one until I die. On Mars. That said, I'm passing on a story about making solar panels from moondust. This kind of thing is critical to any future space exploration - lunar or otherwise - because the more we can make in-space (and the more simply we can make it) means the costs come down dramatically. Because the cost of putting something in Low Orbit is so high (despite recent advances, still well above $5,000/lb), even minimal weight savings can have major cost savings. It gets even better if we can make basic shapes, structures, and maybe even some chemistry. If we can make basic structures and fuel out of materials in space rather than blasting them up from the Earth, we can lower the real cost of space access to something closer to the costs of building on Earth. Of course, one of the bigger constraints is electrical generation, which the above solves neatly.

In the long-term, cheap solar power in space could conceivably be beamed back down to Earth far more cheaply than any other source of energy. Two problems, though: 1) The infrastructure to build huge (I mean huge) orbiting satellites doesn't exist, and 2) can you imagine what Greenpeace would say about microwaving several quare kilometers of the Earth?

The more important applications in the nearer-term would be turning lunar dirt in to solar power, which could be used to make more dirt in to solar power, etc etc until you have a reasonably large industrial capacity on the moon (or preferably in high earth orbit) which can then pump out cheap bodies and power plants for satellites. The delicate and complicated electronics would be made on Earth and plugged in to the prefabbed bodies in orbit, reducing the cost by a factor of (roughly) 100. Suddenly, the cable companies (and the existing satellite providers, for that matter) are really screwed, as everybody and his brother can afford satellite access.

Disruptive technologies are fun, and they're usually the most basic ones, such as increasing hard drive capacity. You increase hard drives enough, and all of the sudden everybody's got their songs on computer - and they all want to share. Similarly, a cheap and easy way to make solar panels out of lunar dirt could conceivably do wonders for the economy here on Earth.

I'm gonna steal a line from Oliver Willis

"Why is news coverage of Iraq so negative?

Because, with sobering regularity, 1+1=2."

(Is it stealing if you quote it and cite?)

Thursday, January 20, 2005

University Pays Off, For Once

An excerpt from a reading for my Cause of War class:
"However, by the time Athens decided to undertake the Sicilian Expedition, cost was no longer a major concern. The city was intent on embarking on this venture regadless of the enormous sacrifices needed in terms of resources... in the minds of the Athenians the quest for security clearly overwhelmed calculations of interest." [emphasis added]
-Chittick & Freyberg-Inan, "'Chiefly for fear, next for honour, and lastly for profit': an analysis of foreign policy motivation in the Peloponnesian War" Review of International Studies, Jan. 2001 p. 88
I've argued for a while now that Iraq looks more and more like the Sicilian Expedition everyday. Now, despite the fact that this was written before 9/11 or Iraq, I think this is the perfect explanation for the "real" reason the US went to war (with more-or-less public support from the American people) in Iraq - fear and the need for security overwhelmed the ability to make rational calculations.

On that note, Friedman's latest column drove me in to another fit of rage. After spending the lion's share of his column talking about these European pantywaists, the next to last paragraph:
Funnily enough, the one country on this side of the ocean that would have elected Mr. Bush is not in Europe, but the Middle East: it's Iran, where many young people apparently hunger for Mr. Bush to remove their despotic leaders, the way he did in Iraq.
My first thought is OH FUCK. First we had Ken Pollack's book on Iran's nuclear threat, then Hersh's article, and now this. It's like a goddamn nightmare. The exact same fucking game is being played again, and we all have to watch. Coming up next - the congressional debate on whether or not to invade Iran. The democrats will vote in favour of it, then get reduced to 2 seats in the Senate and 20 in the House during the 2006 mid-terms. Come 2008, they'll run Hilary Clinton for President, who voted for the war resolution but now thinks Bush has mishandled the occupation of Iran, as US deaths climb past 10,000.

I'm beginning to brush up on other Greek stories...

(My second thought, by the way, is "What pot is Friedman smoking? Shiite Iran is not going to elect President Born-Again himelf.")

Blogger's screwed up today...

Some of the posts have been doubled. Appropriate for a twin, but annoying nonetheless.

WTF?

Bush just said something about Social Security Destruction as "preparing our citizens for the challenges of freedom" or something like that.

Like most Americans, I thought they were already living in freedom. On the other hand, it's been a rough four years, maybe I missed something...

"Even the unwanted have worth" - translation: Abortions are gonna be illegal, you whores.

"We have to abandon all traces of racism" - except for having Trent Fucking Lott speak at my inauguration. I'm Rick James, bitch!

2008 can't come soon enough.

And now for something completely different

Family gunned down at Iraqi checkpoint. Details here.

$20 to the first person to spot this on CNN. (It's been on the Beeb all day, apparently.)

Bush's Speech

oh god he can barely speak english make it stop please god make it stop he barely conscious and mostly retarded god it burns oh please lordy lord shut him up

That's about it.

Note to the American Public:

ELECTIONS ARE NOT REFERENDA, YOU MORONS.

Just heard the umpteenth person say that the election was a referendum on Bush's policies. Look at the poll numbers - if this had been an election exclusively about the Iraq War, we'd be inaugurating President Dean and Vice President Kucinich today.

Oooh - here comes "The Star Spangled Banner"!

...wait - it's not SSB after all. What's the US national anthem? Google says it's SSB - but the lady is singing something else. Unless, of course, Trent Lott lied when he announced her. But Sen. Lott is such an honest man, like when he said he wished the US was still segregated, remember?

Damn... the republicans can't organize the Inauguration, and they're going to control the govt for four more years? This is gonna be crazy.

CNN, contd.

Wolf Blitzer is droning on about how the inauguration is a message to all non-Americas out there: See, even with a bitter election, the dust settles and we are all a happy family for the president's big day.

Well, don't know about you, Wolfie, but I'm still bitter. I'm working on a longer post on this later. But Hail to the Chief just started, so I should listen to his speech.

On CNN right now

Inauguration Coverage: Talking heads, blather blather blather, and then, in the background... that song... that horrible song...

"Let the Eagle Soar...."

Well, it's official, the US has abandoned the Geneva Conventions.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Sanity Not Addictive After All

Vatican to Spanish Catholic Conference:

STFU.

Sanity Not Addictive After All

Vatican to Spanish Catholic Conference:

STFU.

Somewhere, A Long-Dead Japanese Pilot is Pissed Off

"Poor Ships, Not Divine Hand, Saved Japan From Mongolian Invasion"

Soooo.... there never was any Kamikaze, huh?

That's retroactively really funny.

Also - look at a map, and find Mongolia. Notice anything about the maritime nature of their country? Would you trust these people to build oceangoing vessels? Can I be a research scientists now?

Careful guys, sanity's addictive

Spanish Catholics have endorsed condoms as a means of fighting AIDS. Well, it's a start.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

"MULTI-BLOOOOOOOGGG!"

Sorry, had to make a Futurama joke.

A while back I asked if the current squatters in the White House were as scary or more than the Reagan crew - as trick question as many of them are one and the same people! Still, Paul wrote me back and gave me permission to post it. So, with some editing (That's right, Paul! I'm editing you! Nyah nyah nyah!) here is his response, in order to illuminate the terror and frustration that was the 1980s for those of us too young to remember clearly.
**********************

I was first hooked on international politics by listening to a live radio broadcast of the seizing of the American embassy in Tehran, and sorting the Saturday edition of the Star, containing news of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

Let me assure you Reagan was a terrifying motherfucker. And yes we all knew he was murdering people in many places around the world.

Well, okay, let's be clearer by saying that (as now) the faction of power represented by this particular figurehead was/is scary as hell.

As a teenager, I watched wide-eyed as possibility after possibility (for peace, health, well being, education, developement etc - name the virtue) was outright squandered, over fucking crap (factional politics and ignorance), I felt scandalized, and profoundly ripped off.

Yes we fucking knew twenty five years ago that electric cars were necessary to avoid absolute disaster. We absolutely fucking knew it, and anyone who tells you otherwise,wasn't paying attention, didn't give a fuck, or is an idiot-boomer; part of that special elite class who will maintain infantile denial of their cost to the world, until long after their desires have consumed it. Not that I'm bitter or anything.

Here's what screws me up - We have before us credible evidence of excellent reasons to be very afraid of what is being done in our names and with our money (I use the royal us here). I am just exactly this hardcore - I believe in the principles of Nurenburg - and I believe in the spirit of the statute against profiting off the avails of prostitution. I know, I have ranted on the subject innumerable times, so let me just say - Yes, that does sound a lot like 'original sin'. In fact it may point out the reason why such a concept should confer a positive survival benefit. My idea is offensive to the grand North American unstated doctrine that whim is right. Really it is simply that we arrive with an obligation.

[snip]

Now - was it any less scary for my dad, reading about psychotic Curtis Lemay in charge of Strategic Air Command, in the underground I.F. Stone weekly? (And Nixon and Liddy and Rumsfeld and Negroponte in his then incarnation as Vietnam Death-Brain - see 'Phoenix').
Was it less scary for Orwell? - Have you read "coming up for air", and "keep the aspidistra flying" yet? They are rare treats, and will hopefully never go out of print. But when you feel like understanding the time-dimension of this problem - check them out. They fucked me up badly - to realize my grandfather had precisely the same grounds for fear that "everything that he knew" was being simultaneously insidiously corrupted and blown to smithereens. I mean WTF mate?

[snip]

I do not miss the cold war. I do not miss the cold war. I do not miss the cold war. I do not miss the cold war.
They were, after all, planning to blow the whole fucking thing up, all at once, deliberately. On that scale, Iraq (a horrendous, despotic depravity) is barely evil. As incredibly bad as our nouveau-chaos is. There is no longer a 'good' strategic rationale for killing every single human, and letting their respective deities sort it out. This is a good thing.
But I have to remind myself of this regularly.

Here is perhaps the only optimistic thing I can say, from a quarter-century of politicization.
There was always opposition, the torch of reason, the voice of the underdog, and the social critic, have been around, in one form or another, for centuries of direct descent and flowering. (John Stuart Mill, Bertrand Russell and Noam Chomsky differ in fewer ways than they agree, despite their seperation in time.)

What is different now, is that we are approaching McLuhan's global village, in the sense of popular awareness of the 'political games' becoming more and more widespread. Yes the internet is very good at spreading disinformation, as are all of the mass media, there has always been pablum for idiots. That should not be our focus, so much as the fact that well-meaning people can communicate internationally like never before. And even under the tightest security - some information gets out, and some gets in. Much more than many (all?) governments would like.

So the distribution channel awaits. I feel it is incumbent upon us North Americans to work our hearts out for the rosetta stone, the universal translator of respect, trust and dignity. (Our pious pronouncemnents of virtue have certainly cost the world enough).
Communism (sorry for you sentimental freaks) is right out. Why? Because with the best intentions at inception it has nontheless routinely resorted to brutality as a social tool.

**************
So that's Paul everyone. (Most of you have met him or heard of him.) Frighteningly, he's had a profound effect on my learning and development. For those who lost track, he touched on nuclear war, George Orwell, John Stuart Mill, Iran, and the brutality that was/is Communism. There will be a test later.

Gee, I like this - no effort on my part, and a nice long blog post. I should do this more often!

Gee, if only he could do something himself...

Gordon Brown, the Chancellor of the Exchequer for the United Kingdom (still one of the world's financial capitals) has advocated that African debt be forgiven, according to the AP. For those unaware, the Chancellor is generally seen as the 2nd most important man in Parliament, much like our Finance Ministers are.

For some reason, I can't shake the image of Homer Simpson, holding his Tomacco plant, saying "Lisa, I'd love to destroy this plant, but what can I do, I'm just one man!"

Now, it's true that there's been a row recently in the UK's Labour Party over whether or not Blair will lead the party to a new term, but still, you'd think that the second-in-command of the British government might be able to go a bit further than merely advocating debt relief?

(I am being deliberately unfair to Mr. Brown - I haven't had my cup of tea yet. Also, you should read the article. Brown is actually proposing a new Marshall Plan for Africa. It seems I've heard this one before...)

Monday, January 17, 2005

Shake Hands With The Devil

"She would tell me of the noise and fear - and hope - brought by the Allied bombers as the pounded cities and farmland in front of the Canadian Army's advance to the Rhine. She would describe the sound of transport aircraft and the sight of thousands of paratroopers filling the sky as far as the eye could see during the Allied push to Nijmegen and Arnhem. I felt her mute horror as she told me of how she and her family had watched flames engulf the centuries-old towers and graceful cathedrals that had been the landmarks of her childhood... She instilled in me a thrill of pride in Canada, a nation unthreatened by war, which had sacrificed its youth to save the worldfrom the dark power of the Nazis." -Shake Hands With The Devil, p. 12
This is from the beginning of the book, with Dallaire describing his childhood - in particular, growing up with his mother the war bride. I've just started the book, but what really impresses me is that it's not just a book I want to read - it's a book that's really very well written. I'll be posting more on it as I get through it. I don't imagine it's going to be light and fluffy.

Embrace the Nerd

Vicki sends the following:

Star Wars Gangsta Rap.

Star Wars Gangsta Rap, The Special Edition.

I'm a very lucky man. My girlfriend, she be crazzy for the Star Wars.

Oh, and why not: An oldie but a goody - Saddam's an Outkast! (It's actually quite stupid, but hey.)

...late entry - Lindsay Lohan's Boobs Song. Truly inspired songwriting.

Seymour Hersh's Article Is Up

Here. And it's even worse than I thought. Put it this way: The world is so fucked up that the people inside the government that we wish were in charge are the CIA. That's right, the crack-dealing, Castro-assassination-bungling, couldn't-see-the-fall-of -Communism-or-9/11 CIA. They're the grownups at the moment.

Specifically, the Pentagon has essentially been given carte blanche to operate all over the world without Congressional oversight, all by executive order. Seems to me that should be impossible in a democracy. So now the military will essentially have the role that a number of different government agencies used to have. Great. Because, after all, when has concentrating power in the hands of the military ever gone wrong, except for, you know, every single time going back to the Caesars?

Suddenly I'm very, very scared.

Further MLK-ness

MLK's speech denouncing Vietnam and the US's imperial policies in Latin America and Africa here.

Funny, I don't think CNN will do a special on that.

We Couldn't Find Anything Stupider To Do...

So we wrecked Babylon. Yes, that Babylon - you know, one of human civilization's oldest cities, site of the first codified legal system, Hanging Gardens, etc?

But hey, fuck you, we're Americans!

(I keep thinking of Napoleons troops in Egypt using the Sphinx for target practice. Nice to see that George Bush is nothing at all like Napoleon.)

Is It Too Late For Climate Change?

Macleans has an article up on their website from last week's print edition - "Will Coal Bury Kyoto?" - which has me thoroughly depressed. Essentially, the article notes that, with Asian consumption of electricity and steel rising, once-unprofitable coal mines are being reopened all across the country, but especially in Nova Scotia and B.C. It is difficult to overstate how important coal is to China in particular - 75% of China's electricity is generated from coal, and consumption of electricity is likely to double in the next decade. This will make China by far the largest emitter of CO2 in the world, if Chinese coal consumption doubles along with electrical consumption. Currently, China is #2 at roughly (figures from memory) 15% of global CO2 emissions.

"Luckily", China's energy industry is among the least efficient in the world. I did a paper on this last term, but I'll spare you the ten pages of filler, and give you two pages of meat: China cannot meet any of its future economic growth through increasing energy consumption alone. It needs to - needs to, not "would be desirable to" - begin a major program to make the nation's industry, transportation and homes more energy-efficient. There are some good signs - for example, the government has recently introduced a plan to almost halve the amount of energy China uses per $1,000 of GDP in 15 years. Because China's energy use is so inefficient, they could see major gains extremely quickly.

For an idea of some of the ways energy can be recycled from industry, see this article (warning - large PDF file) about distributed generation, by the head of Primary Energy, a corporation that specializes in such things. Some of it is very interesting, though do take it with a grain of salt - they obviously have an interest in this.

The Macleans article has me depressed because it paints an all too plausible future - increasing shortages of oil and natural gas force us off the cleanest of carbon fuels, while forcing us back on to coal as a major source of electricity (and possibly even coal-derived liquid fuels for cars.) This means that despite any reductions by the EU, CO2 emissions from China, India, Brazil, and the US totally outstrip any gains we might make in combatting Climate Change.

Taken to the extreme - basically, we consume coal until it runs out - we could easily see a scenario where the Earth gets set in a positive-feedback loop (in this context, "positive" is bad) where an initial forcing from human-made CO2 forces a much larger cycle of CO2 emissions from the planet itself. Some theorize this may already be occurring. This scenario ends eventually with most of the western prairies as deserts, the great glacier-fed rivers of Asia running dry (and the three billion people who are fed by those rivers starving) and large parts of Europe and the Southern US underwater. If you thought hurricane season in Florida was bad, wait until the high tide reaches into Georgia, and doesn't go out again.

It's the possibility of this scenario which has forced me to moderate my stance on nuclear power somewhat in recent months - using "passive-safe" designs, nuclear power plants need not be any more dangerous to us than coal or natural gas, and the waste is far less problematic than CO2. So, if we are absolutely draconian about using renewables and especially efficiency, and we still find ourselves using coal as a fuel source, I would support building nuclear power plants to replace coal generation. However, I personally doubt that, using all the renewables available to us, we would still need coal (or any other non-renewable.)

So yeah, I'm depressed. On the plus side for Canada, the Northwest Passage will be the new hot resort destination for us all. Stan Rogers will played on all radios at least once every hour. By law.

Obligatory MLK Post

Happy Martin Luther King day to our American brothers. Everyone loves "I Have A Dream", but my favourite is his last speech before he was killed - "I've Been To The Mountaintop."
Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to do God's will. And He's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the promised land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get will get to the promised land! [emphasis added]
Read the whole thing. Boy, could we use him today.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Zhao dead

Jeebus, I can't keep up with the news, can I?

Also, I officially look stupid. Read the last sentence of the previous post for details.

The next week is going to be interesting.

More on Zhao

Zhao Ziyang is now said to be in a coma, according to CNN.

Despite Wen Jiabao's closeness with Zhao, the Communist Party has got to be worried - there's a history with the funerals of beloved officials. It was the funeral of Hu Yaobang that sparked the Tiananmen protests in 1989. Hu was seen as a liberal who cared about the common Chinese, so I would be surprised if the Party wasn't thinking about that today. No doubt, China's changed a great deal in fifteen years, but there's still the possibility of Zhao's funeral metamorphosing into a 2nd Tiananmen. Given that many of the things that sparked the first Tiananmen have gotten worse for large parts of the country, Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao are probably worried sick about Zhao's death. I wouldn't be surprised if we find out a few weeks from now that Zhao's dead and buried somewhere in secret.

Dante Wrote About This, I Think

Everywhere I turn today, one face is on all the local papers. This musician played to a sold-out show last night, and her talent is apparently such that she needs - and deserves! - front page coverage. Who is this incredible talent, this new Elvis, this Angel of Music?

Hillary freaking Duff.

Second Verse, Same As The First

According to Seymour Hersh, the US has been launching reconnaisance missions in to Iran since last summer, with the possibility of an attempt at disarming Iran's nuclear program sometime this summer.

It's impossible to overstate how stupid this is. Steve Gilliard is already comparing this to MacArthur's crossing of the Yalu river during the Korean war - which prompted a Chinese attack and pushed the US forces south of the border. The Chinese lost more than a million men during the war, but they totally reversed the US's objectives. Similarly, the Iranians (who have thus far been relatively restful, despite being surrounded by US forces) can turn Iraq from a disaster to... well, something worse than a disaster, without too much trouble. God, by August we might be reading about the US army's forced retreat to Turkey.

The stupidest thing here is that any possible attack is unlikely to set back Iranian nuclear ambitions for long, and is meanwhile going to reinforce domestic Iranian opinion behind the mullahs - further retarding US ambitions. But hey, the US has managed to make Saddam popular again in Iraq, so I guess it's no surprise their next step is to make people nostalgic for Khomeini!

Disgusting Things I Found in the Fridge

1 Jug of Apple Cider. Best Before Date: June 2003

This is actually the perfect story of two bachelors: My uncle and I both assumed the cider belonged to the other one, and being men, didn't bother talking to each other to figure out whose it was. Eighteen months later... well, time makes fools of us all!

Friday, January 14, 2005

Japanese Defense Lecture

Was actually very boring. However, there were some interesting details:
  • Japan has signed an agreement with the US to jointly develop a theatre missile defense system. This has actually helped push forward the process of ammending the Japanese constitution, which forbids arms exports. I was going to ask the presenter (a Mr. Yoneyama) if he was worried about the possibility of this encouraging nuclear proliferation, but it occurs to me that between Russia, China and North Korea, Japan's neighbourhood is pretty much thoroughly proliferated already.
  • The system will be independent of the US's missile defense system. This isn't going to be part of the NMD system that the US wants us to join.
  • Japan's military is technically illegal, under Article 9 of their constitution. Probably the most heavily-armed illegal army in the world!
If I think of anything else that was interesting, I'll post it.

Asshat

Bush Admits Misgivings About Famed Phrases

"Sometimes words have consequences you don't intend them to mean", said the President, who apparently was never told this when he was a fucking six year old. Thanks, Barbara. Maybe you could've told your idiot child that he should keep his mouth shut before he says things like "We'll smoke him out dead or alive" or "Bring em on".

Why is it that Republicans are the best reasons for birth control? Does the universe hate us?

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Gyros, Lenny Kravitz, and Anal Sex

All products of Greek culture, according to this essay about Oedipus.

Miscellaneous

The Guardian UK has a really good piece about the success Argentina has had in essentially telling the IMF to fuck off, we'll feed our people first thank you very much. Now, if only the rest of the world can get their act together. I suppose the still-young African Union could try and pool their debts to try something like this. What's the saying? If I owe you $100, I've got a problem. If I owe you $1 million, then you've got a problem.

Meanwhile, the search for nonexistent weapons complete (and at least 20,000 Iraqi dead later), the chorus of American commentators advocating that the US leave Iraq grows by one important Republican - Jim "Fuck the Jews, they don't vote for us anyway" Baker. And yes, I think Baker should always be cited with his most memorable quote - it reminds us what kind of people the Republicans are.

Day off tomorrow - more blogging then.

Yet more China news

The BBC has an interesting piece on Hu Jintao (current President of China) and how he's alternately been seen as either a reformer in the Gorbachev model or as a new hard-liner. I think we should remember that this isn't as contradictory as it sounds - Gorbachev was not, after all, aiming to destroy the USSR, he was trying to stengthen it.

By the way, for anyone who likes Tom Clancy novels: One of the weirdest books I've ever read in that genre (but not by Clancy himself) was set in the remarkably short span between the Gulf War and the fall of the USSR. I can't remember the name at the moment, but when I do I'll post it.

For those who haven't been paying attention....

The US finally called off it's search for WMD in Iraq yesterday, only a day after CBS published it's investigations in to the screw ups in their Bush-National Guard story. For a valuable comparison of costs and consequences to such monumental fuckups, see The Poor Man.

Long story short: CBS is officially more responsible than the Bush White House. But then again, there are days when I think a drunken frat party is more responsible than the Bush White House.

It's amazing, you know. I could have made some sweet money if I'd gone with my instincts and started taking bets in March 2003 that not a single WMD would ever be found. But fortune favours the bold, and alas, I doubted myself. I thought, "Well, who in their right mind would commit to a war without the possibility of a threat?" It all seemed so implausible...

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Busy day.

Probably little posting today and tomorrow - though being in Ottawa pays off, for once: Carleton has been having a series of lectures from the staff of the Japanese embassy, and I'll be attending this week's lecture from the defense attache tomorrow. I'll take notes, does anyone have any questions they'd like to ask? I already intend to ask about Japan's reasons for signing on to the US Missile Defense program, despite the concerns Europe and Canada have about nuclear proliferation. So does anyone have any other issues they're curious about?

Japan, by the way, has territorial disputes with every single one of it's neighbours, largely stemming from Japan's policy a while back of attacking every single one of it's neighbours. Who knew the Chinese, Koreans, and Russians were so prickly about millions of dead Chinese, Koreans and Russians? For some reason, I've decided to write like Jacob Two-Two. Moving on...

My class on post-soviet Russia is very interesting, and I'll try and find some time to write about that soon.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Iron Denominator News

Russia May Stop Exporting Energy Sources By 2010 - Expert
and
Russia's Oil Exports Reach Maximum, Decline to Start in 2 Years

This is big - Russia just announced last week a deal to construct a 4,130km-long pipeline to Nakhodka on the pacific (rather than the Chinese-preferred route through Manchuria) which will supply, in theory, 80 million tons of oil per year. Japan has agreed to pony up almost all of the $7 billion cost of the pipeline. However, Japan is going to want a long life out of that pipeline in order to pay off the investment, and one wonders how much they'll be able to expect.

Now, obviously Russia isn't going to stop exporting entirely - rather, it will become a net importer. However, the two "final frontiers" of oil have been the Russian far east and the Caspian sea. China, South Korea and Japan would obviously love to have a ready supply of oil in the Russian far east. However, if this news is correct, then the supply they can rely on from the big bear is less than they think.

Of course, I can't write about this and not mention China a bit more. Short story - they'll be pissed for a while, but they'll get over it. Beijing would have loved to have a pipeline that ended in Daqing, not too far from Beijing itself actually, but that was really a bit of a pipe dream (pun only kind of intended.) The route Russia has settled on a) keeps the entire length of the pipeline under Moscow's control, and b) goes to a Pacific port, meaning Russia can deal with not just China, but China, Japan, South Korea, and even the US. Hell, Indonesia is looking like it's going to start importing oil soon, and they're a member of OPEC! Obviously, Russia is looking to be one of Asia's premier gas stops. And I should say that I could very likely be jumping the gun - both articles note that Russia still has huge unexplored areas that have serious oil potential. Interestingly, this will be one of the few overseas sources of oil which won't have to travel through the straits of Malacca, which have actually seen a resurgence of piracy in the last five years. Arr, matey!

The Dark Side

If I've occasionally sounded starry-eyed about China, I should definitely say that it's not at all a "nice place". PBS's Frontline is running a piece tonight about the Uighur population in the far west province of Xinjiang (which you can watch online here). Imagine how well a Communist state would treat natives on oil-rich land. Or don't bother imagining it, because the Uighurs exist, live under Chinese rule, and Xinjiang holds one-third of China's oil reserves. The Uighurs are Sufi Muslims (they call Xinjiang East Turkestan) and China has used the cover of the post-9/11 environment to oppress Uighurs in general for the alleged separatists in Xinjiang.

Unfortunately for the Uighurs, this really is not the kind of situation that is necessarily going to get better with political reform in the rest of China - a democratic China is not going to be more likely to bargain with the Uighurs, any more than a democratic UK was willing to deal sanely with Ireland. Of course, maybe I'm just being pessimistic. However, Beijing is certainly not going to give away much control to their main domestic energy supply. Imagine if Albertan oil fields were governed directly from Ottawa, and the natives wanted to separate from Canada. Even in a democratic country like Canada, how would Ottawa deal with them?

Oh just bite me

South Korea Launches Satellite TV Service For Mobile Phones

Okay. I can't even get my voice mail reliably, and South Korea is getting HDTV on theirs?

Props for coolness, but it sure makes us look bad, doesn't it?

In case anyone cares

Rumsfeld officially denies Newsweek's story about resurrecting Operation Phoenix.

Well, I guess it's settled then! I mean, remember how Rumsfeld said that they knew - knew - where the WMD were?

Seriously, if these guys tell me water's wet, I want independent confirmation.

Go Zhao!

Zhao Ziyang, rumoured to have died on the 8th, is still alive according to the Communist Party. Shades of Arafat.

For those who aren't familiar with Zhao's name (Shame on you!) this is one of the few genuine reformers to have ever made it to the top of the CCP's hierarchy - holding the posts of Premier and General Secretary of the Party. He was vocal in advocating for political, not just economic reforms, and made a desperate appearance to the crowds at Tiananmen to try and get them to go home before it was too late. It's said that, before he left Tiananmen, he told the protesters "I waited too long to come. I should have come sooner."

The tanks and soldiers rolled in to Tiananmen later that day. Zhao hasn't been seen in public since.

It's hard to know what to say about Tiananmen that hasn't already been said. It's worth noting that the soldiers who eventually killed so many people were probably never given explicit orders to fire, only to clear the square using any means necessary. At some point, it seems like a crowd started pushing back against the army, and a jeep went over the edge of a bridge. As with any army, once the soldiers felt their lives were in danger, they opened fire, and the killing started. This isn't to excuse what happened, just to say that any use of a military force against civilians carries this risk. If things had gone differently during the October Crisis, Pierre Trudeau could well be remembered today with the same feelings as Deng Xiaopeng.

Anyway, alive or not, Zhao is over 80 by now, so probably doesn't have long to live. It's sad that he was never able to see through his reforms, but I would be surprised if history doesn't show his influence to last long after his death. In many ways, some of the noises coming from the Party in the recent past sound Zhao-ish. In it's last Congress, the CPC called "governance" a "life-and-death" issue for the Party. Similarly, Zhao called political reform "the biggest test facing socialism." This probably has to do with the fact that Wen Jiabao, the current Premier, was Zhao's chief assistant before 1989, and Wen has somehow survived the post-1989 purge to his current post.

Actually, if you want a quick capsule lesson, read the Wikipedia articles on Zhao, Hu, and Wen. They're surprisingly good, as Wikipedia is in general. Open Source knowledge!

Go Rudepundit!

Who has an excellent post on the illusion of classlessness in the US. Not "excellent" in that it's researched or anything like that - "excellent" in that it spews bile and hate on the stupid. So, you know, I'm all for it. You should check out the rest of his blog too - he's really profane and funny.

Oh, also, if you haven't seen it, this.

Go U of T!

Researchers at U of T announced yesterday they have developed a new type of organic semiconductor, which could theoretically allow for plastic solar cells that would collect sunlight with 30% efficiency, versus 6% for converntional plastic solar cells today. If this can be produced at low cost (and it is plastic, after all) this blows a hole in our environmental and energy issues. Natural Resources Canada gives the number of 1000 watts/metre of sunlight, but that sounds a bit high to me for Canada. So, to be pessimistic, let's assume 750w/m in the summer and 500 in the winter. This means roughly 250w/m in the summer and 165w/m in the winter of actual electricity being generated . So, in order to power an efficient home (assuming 1 kilowatt peak use) using these 30% plastic cells, we need only 6 square metres to power the home. Most homes have at least 50 square metres of roof, so I think you can see the potential here.

There are a huge diversity of competing solar panel technologies coming out in the last few years, and many of them should be availble for domestic use before the end of this now half-finished decade. In some ways, this is a really exciting time to be aware of new energy solutions that are coming along. In other ways, it's frightening that we're cutting this so close (with global warming and the other more serious environmental crises heading our way). Bucky Fuller said that the race between Utopia and Oblivion would be neck and neck until the end. I guess he was right, but wish we'd gotten smarter since he wrote that in the 1950s!

Monday, January 10, 2005

I feel like Joe Pesci..

Or maybe Chris Rock, in the scene from Lethal Weapon 4 where both men discuss the evil that is cell phones. Being these two men, much profanity is exchanged, and they complain that the cell phone companies are sodomizing them for profit.

On that note, it's a new term, which means it's time to buy textbooks. I'll have more to write about this later, but my ass is sore from all the sodomy.

Sunday, January 09, 2005

24 Review (Spoiler Alert!)

Wow. I mean, that's ballsy. Basically, if you don't watch 24 already, you really should. The next two hours are on tomorrow night on Global, apparently. All you need to know is that the Secretary of Defense has been kidnapped, and Islamic terrorists are going to try and execute him for crimes against humanity. All live on the web.

Two Odd Stories

1) Tokyo firm plans underground farm. See, and I thought plants required sunlight. Apparently, I'm an idiot.

2) Kids these days don't know shit. Like, boil the potatoes before you mash them. See, I've often thought that I could have spent my time in high school failing classes that were more useful to me than Chemistry. I mean, what's an atom done for me lately?

Welcome boys, check your guns to the left. No, you won't be getting them back.

US Deserters flee to Canada to Avoid Service in Iraq

The article mentions that 5,500 soldiers have gone AWOL in the past year, though only a small number of those have come to Canada. Now, I'm of two minds of this. One, I absolutely support anyone who wants to avoid serving in Iraq. On the other hand, I also firmly believe that anyone who is capable of voting against Bush and the Republicans has a moral obligation to do so. Like the muslim concept of defensive jihad (the defense of muslims being persecuted by non-muslims) this is not an option, but a requirement of basic humanity. So. What to do?