Thursday, June 30, 2005

Bringing the State Back In

In reading about Peak Oil, you repeatedly run in to assertions that, because oil is the lifeblood of our society, society will collapse without oil. Given how big a fan I am of Jared Diamond and his most recent book Collapse, you might think I'm partial to this view. (Diamond doesn't say that we're doomed, by the way. He just identifies a number of environmental constraints to the continued existence of western economic conditions.)

Of course, I strongly disagree with what I've called "Apocalypse Porn" in the Peak Oil community. There are two fundamental reasons for this, and both stem from what I think are important misunderstandings.

The first is a misunderstanding of oil, or specifically the useful energy we get out of it. All throughout the Peak Oil community, a ratio you will encounter with tiresome regularity is 30:1. This is the so-called "Energy Return on Energy Invested" (or EROEI) of a barrel of oil, or the energy it contains versus the oil it took to get it out of the ground. This 30:1 number is frequently contrasted with renewables, which are said to have a negative, or only slightly positive EROEI. One apocalyptic site grudgingly concedes that biodiesel might have a EROEI of 3:1. So let's stay with that number for a moment. Biodiesel is a finished product - usable as is. A barrel of oil generally is not. Refining it in to usable fuel is by definition going to lower it's EROEI. By how much? Well, refining costs are usually half the price of gasoline, even here in "over-taxed" Canada. But let's say conservatively that the refining lowers the EROEI of oil by 1/3, so that it's now 20:1. But of course, there's also the fact that we don't get all the energy in a barrel of oil. In a standard automobile, 80% of the energy is simply lost - meaning that suddenly our EROEI on that barrel of oil is suddenly 4:1.

Now, obviously biodiesel or ethanol will suffer a similar loss in an internal combustion engine. But what about plug-in hybrids? The efficiency loss of an electric motor is usually in the ballpark of 20% - one quarter that of gasoline or similar combustion fuels. Some are already arguing that charging batteries with solar power is comparable to paying for gasoline. As solar and battery prices fall, the economics will become even more favourable. While solar panels and batteries have low EROEIs, there's no reason to believe that these are fated, and certainly both can be designed to have decades of useful life - car batteries are already among the most recycled items in production today. There's no reason to believe that this should change.

Of course, this technology won't be rolled out overnight, any more than our current infrastructure was. But people seem to think that our current industrial system grew incrementally, as if we've been building more and more factories at a steady rate since the 1750s. This is the second fundamental understanding I mentioned. Our current industry is directly traceable not to James Watt, but the industrial needs of fighting World War II. While CO2 emissions begin to climb slowly in the 1750s - with the first use of coal as a fuel - they really take off mid-20th century, as the exigencies of war, and the post-war recovery brought incredible industrial growth to first North America, and then western Europe.

How did this happen? Well, it surely wasn't "incremental", and it wasn't a result of natural market forces. In both the western powers and the Communist bloc, this incredible economic progress was largely accomplished by economic planning, along the lines of GOSPLAN in the USSR. The US and Canada had, shall we say, a lighter touch - but dirigisme was very much the order of the day. By the end of the war, a whopping 70% of the US's GNP was a result of government spending. Obviously, this came to an end after the war, but it wasn't the last time the US government dallied with central planning. During the heydays of the Apollo Program, it's said that NASA could identify which mine-cart carried the ore out of the mine to make each of the 2 million parts of the Saturn V rocket. I doubt even the USSR accomplished that. (Ironically, while the US used Soviet-style management to beat the Soviets to the moon, the Communists had built two competing rockets, both of which failed. The wonders of the market!) The important fact to take from the examples of World War II and the Apollo Program is that the state has a nearly-unlimited power to intervene in the market, when it chooses to.

Since the growth of neoliberalism in the 1970s, we seem to have forgotten this. But national governments are only as weak as they choose to be. If the "Apocalypse Porn" camp is right, then I think we can bet on a return to some form of dirigisme in our national politics, if only to maintain the integrity of the state. During the last oil crisis, most western governments imposed various forms of currency, price, and wage controls. Here in Canada, we had the much-hated National Energy Program. If Alberta thinks that a recurrence of the NEP is impossible, they'd better think again. If Peak Oil gets really bad, and the rest of the country is forced in to economic crisis so that Alberta can maintain it's privileged position, I think any kind of intervention is imaginable. Can the federal government re-draw provincial boundaries unilaterally? The constitution currently says no. But put a squeeze on the rest of the country, and... does "well, just watch me" sound familiar?

Now, I think the NEP was actually bad policy on it's own terms, but some kind of federal intervention in natural resources generally, and oil in particular, is probably inevitable. Moreover, I'd be unsurprised to see things like nationalizations of the remaining private rail lines, combined with subsidies (or mandates) that encouraged rail traffic over trucks. If the Federal fiscal situation goes sour in a big way, we could conceivably see a nationalization of the oil industry. Canada is unique in the industrialized world, in that we have a small but long-term supply of oil in the tar sands. While it's small in the global context, it's quite possible to meet all of Canada's needs for the next century off the tar sands. This, of course, would necessitate the demise of NAFTA.

Now, I'd personally have preferred if this heavy-handedness by the state were unnecessary. If we'd taken the lessons of the 1970s seriously, it probably wouldn't have been. But the state will act to protect itself, and if the post-Peak scenarios get as bad as some seem to hope they will, I think we'll all see a much more powerful national government than we're used to.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Miscellany

  • Now that Gay Marriage is behind us, the Conservatives can focus their bile on the next target: The Jedi. After all, with a Jedi in the British House of Commons, can we be far from Hot, steamy, Jedi-on-Sith action?
  • Bob Dylan, still ugly as sin, sells his last shred of dignity to Starbucks. Up next: Dylan's bank account appreciates by 30 pieces of silver. Actually, I'm more in agreement with Skippy on this one - Dylan sold out years ago. Remember the Bank of Montreal commercials?
  • The Republican Party: Batshit Crazy. In the past, that would deserve it's own link. These days, it's status quo.

Energy Stuff

France has won the rights to host the ITER experimental fusion reactor. This is such a non-story, I almost felt like I shouldn't bother blogging about it at all. The plant will be at least a decade in the building alone, and it's going to be generations before there's any real-world applications - and this is according to the people behind the project. Imagine what the critics have to say. Actually, you don't need to imagine:
With 10 billion [euros], we could build 10,000MW offshore windfarms, delivering electricity for 7.5 million European households," said Jan Vande Putte of Greenpeace International.
This is essentially where I am on this - fusion power has some real potential, but frankly, unless we're willing to get behind fusion the way we got behind fission (i.e., another Manhattan Project) we'll just piss money away that could be far better used in the here and now.

In other news, a US think-tank has war-gamed the possibility of serious oil shocks as a result of terrorism, and it ain't pretty. Oil peaks at $161/barrel, and gasoline sells for $5 a gallon. What's kind of funny, though, is that this nightmare scenario corresponds roughly to what Europeans spend on gasoline right now. This is another reason why I'm skeptical about the "Apocalypse Now" side of the Peak Oil community - there are places in the world that already deal with much, much higher energy costs than the US currently does.

Of course, the possibility of a catastrophic decline in oil production does tighten the sphincter a bit: Eric Sprott (apparently, an investment analyst) is publicly musing about annual oil production declines on the order of 8% per year. That translates to oil production declining by half in under a decade. If you buy this analysis, and also accept a near-Peak scenario, then we could be in a lot of trouble. If the global oil market is tens of millions of barrels short by 2010, we're simply screwed. You can get a better idea of Sprott's oil depletion numbers with this PDF, which has a lot of food for thought:
To overcome todays decline rates means that we have to find over 3 million barrels per day more of new oil than we did 10 years ago. Based on recent evidence, that just aint happening. Furthermore, 10 years ago it was known that OPEC could increase production by 10 million barrels per day over the next decade, and Russia by 3 million. (Thats how we got from 71 million barrels per day to 84 million.) The rest of the world (non-OPEC/Russia) has merely flatlined. If OPEC and Russia flatline today, then global oil production is sure to go down.

As a side note, the decline rates being experienced in the natural gas industry are even more onerous. First Energy revealed that Canadian natural gas production is expected to rise by a measly 0.1% this year, even though exploration and development costs are up 25%. So 25% more money has to be spent in order to find 0.1% more natural gas. As one can see, the supply side of the natural gas market is having problems of its own.
Something to remember about the Tar Sands: Oil production from Athabasca is entirely dependent on cheap natural gas - even if we can ramp up volume production of tar sands oil (something I think is unlikely), if NG is scarce and expensive we still end up with expensive gas. Meanwhile, ethanol and other biofuels are falling in price.

The Sprott Paper is actually terrifying, making it an excellent complement to Matt Simmons' book about impending Saudi decline. Simmons, in case you've forgotten, has argued that Saudi decline, when it comes, will be fast and dramatic as a result of the extraction methods the Saudis have used. Sprott backs Simmons up, with info from the North Sea:
North Sea oil production is now falling off a cliff. In a report released this week, it was revealed that Britain had the steepest decline in oil production of any oil-producing nation last year, falling by 10% or 230,000 barrels per day. Norway (the other major North Sea oil producer) in the first four months of the year saw its oil production similarly fall 10% compared to last year. Even more disturbingly, the month of May alone saw a drop of 40,000 barrels per day versus April. If such a month-over-month rate of decline continues then Norway will lose at least 400,000 barrels per day of production this year alone. The heyday of North Sea oil production is clearly a thing of the past. It is worth noting that at its peak in 1999, the North Sea accounted for 9% of world oil production.
Doing the math there, the combined UK/Norway decline will be almost 700,000 barrels this year - and that's if the UK holds production to last years levels, and doesn't decline further. Not too long ago, I derided James Howard Kunstler for portraying Peak Oil as an apocalyptic event. I stand by most of my criticisms of Kunstler, but it looks more and more like Peak Oil is unlikely to be the "soft landing" I have said was possible. If we'd taken Peak Oil seriously when warnings first started (roughly 1998) we might have avoided ourselves a lot of pain in the future - but jumping at the first guy to say "Boo!" would have been irresponsible, too. In any case, I'd get ready for more bicycling and walking in our futures.

Buzzkill

Dude, Billmon, you're harsh.

By The Way...

As predicted, the Commons passed the civil marriage bill last night.

But...

As WASN'T predicted, the sun rose the next day. The ground didn't open up to swallow me whole, nor did I behold a rider on a pale horse.

The funniest thing in the aftermath is hearing the Conservatives talk about how the Liberals will be "punished" by the electorate for this. That would require the Conservatives to make this an issue in the next election, and we all know how that will turn out - a Liberal sweep everywhere outside of Calgary.

Seriously. Last night was a great day for all Canadians, and we should all be proud.

Ignatieff for PM?

So, on the front page of the Globe and Mail today, this piece of news totally ruins my appetite:
Ignatieff sets sights on Ottawa
By MICHAEL VALPY

Celebrity intellectual Michael Ignatieff is coming home to Canada with his eyes fixed on 24 Sussex Dr.

The 58-year-old author, broadcaster and director of Harvard University's prestigious Carr Center for Human Rights Policy is on the edge of announcing his decision to run for Parliament for the Liberals in the next election.
Just a few days ago, Ignatieff wrote a piece for the New York Times magazine, in which he seems entirely confused about the Bush Doctrine. But boy, I tells ya, you can really see why Ignatieff is seen as such a genius:
If democracy plants itself in Iraq and spreads throughout the Middle East, Bush will be remembered as a plain-speaking visionary. If Iraq fails, it will be his Vietnam, and nothing else will matter much about his time in office. For any president, it must be daunting to know already that his reputation depends on what Jefferson once called ''so inscrutable [an] arrangement of causes and consequences in this world.''
Whoa - hold on a minute. You mean, if Bush succeeds, he'll be seen as successful? And if he fails, he'll be seen as a failure? ALL BOW TO IGNATIEFF!

Meanwhile, in the exact next sentence, Ignatieff essentially concedes the only important fact when speaking about the Bush Doctrine:
The consequences are more likely to be positive if the president begins to show some concern about the gap between his words and his administration's performance. For he runs an administration with the least care for consistency between what it says and does of any administration in modern times.
So Ignatieff has A) advocated following in the US's doomed, imperial invasion of a foreign country, and B) admitted that Bush is full of shit when he talks about spreading democracy. Now, admittedly I'm not a genius like Ignatieff, so maybe I'm missing something. But if you admit that Bush is lying when he talks about spreading democracy (it's hard to imagine what else a "gap between his words and his administration's performance" could mean), haven't you nullified the only decent justification for war?

Ignatieff then goes on to exhibit some stunning historical illiteracy:
Jefferson's words have had the same explosive force abroad. American men and women in two world wars died believing that they had fought to save the freedom of strangers. And they were not deceived. Bill Clinton saluted the men who died at Omaha Beach with the words, ''They gave us our world.'' That seems literally true: a democratic Germany, an unimaginably prosperous Europe at peace with itself. The men who died at Iwo Jima bequeathed their children a democratic Japan and 60 years of stability throughout Asia.
Does Ignatieff think this happened in a vacuum? He doesn't mention the single largest factor in the US's contribution to Asian and European peace - the USSR and the Cold War. To pretend that WWII led to global peace because of Jefferson's words, and not because the US feared France would join the Warsaw Pact, is simply ignorant. But Ignatieff must be right, because he's the "philosopher-king" that is already being compared to Trudeau.

Let's be clear - Ignatieff could only be compared to Trudeau now that the great man is dead. In life, Trudeau would have bitch-slapped Ignatieff. Ignatieff is a man who has not only endorsed, but actively advocated the vision of Imperial US power. He's also endorsed a closer relationship with the US at the last Liberal leadership conference. If Ignatieff is the new Trudeau, then Ralph Klein is the new Tommy Douglas. Once upon a time Canadians had a PM who was both an intellectual powerhouse, a strong nationalist, and a Liberal. Ignatieff could only be one of those three.

One of the funniest things about Ignatieff's piece is the doubtful, questioning tone it adopts. Like Greg, I think Ignatieff is simply confused. But that's not something to reccomend the idea of Ignatieff as PM. If he runs in my riding (the article suggests he might run in Trinity-Spadina, a safe Liberal seat) I'll be volunteering for the NDP, and doing everything I can to see him defeated.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Chutzpah

In response to Harper's "Separatists are Gay" comment, this CP story:
OTTAWA (CP) - Stephen Harper set off a political uproar Monday when he appeared to blame Quebec separatists for the pending legalization of gay marriage....

The comments were swiftly rebuked and ridiculed by rivals of all political stripes.

"We're elected," said Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe. "Our mandate is every bit as legitimate as any member who sits in this chamber.

"That's what they call democracy."

The Conservatives could help end the Bloc's influence by supporting Quebec independence, Duceppe said.
Oh hell, don't give him any more bright ideas, Gilles!

It's All Too Funny

Quick Doublespeak Note, Everyone:
  • When the Tories want to bring down the government in partnership with the Separatists, that's Double-Plus Good, and a blow against Liberal Corruption.
  • When the Liberals want to expand rights for homosexual couples, in agreement with the NDP and the Bloc (in all, more than 2/3 of the Commons, and representing 65% of the general population) that's Double-Plus UnGood.
"You believe, I believe, most Canadians believe that the traditional institution of marriage should be recognized and respected in law," Mr. Harper said. "Unfortunately, the Liberal government doesn't believe this. It is working with their allies in the NDP and the separatists to attack these beliefs and to abolish the traditional institution of marriage."
Boy, I think I'd hate to be Gilles Duceppe today. You never can tell when that snake Harper is going to turn on you.

That Card, Monte

Hoo boy. Monte Solberg, in the Toronto Star, writes a hillarious criticism of the NDP budget, and the NDP's role in previous minority governments:
Thirty years have passed, and many Canadians will find it hard to remember the original Canadian production of That '70s Show. The cast was a Liberal-NDP coalition government that set an all-time record for fiscal recklessness. The show ran for only a couple of seasons — 1972-73 and 1974-75 — but wrecked the Canadian economy for the rest of the decade.
Oh my god! Really? That's horrible! I suddenly have the urge to vote for the Conservatives! Or the Bloc!

Oh. Wait. There was something else that happened between 1972 and 1975, if I remember correctly. Something about oil, actually:
The world oil shock of 1973 began in earnest on October 17, 1973, when Arab members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), in the midst of the Yom Kippur War, announced that they would no longer ship petroleum to nations that had supported Israel in its conflict with Egypt—that is, to the United States and its allies in Western Europe. At around the same time, OPEC-member states agreed to use their leverage over the world price-setting mechanism for oil to quadruple world oil prices.
Damn you, NDP! How could you betray us!

Actually, Monte's list of sins is kind of funny, if you know how to read it:
  • Between 1972-1975, spending on federal government programs increased by 50 per cent, from $18.8 billion to $28.2 billion.
  • The federal government increased taxes by 52 per cent; from $19.2 billion to $29.3 billion.
Hmm. So revenues increased slightly faster than spending. That would be... fiscally conservative, wouldn't it? Damn you, NDP! Why can't you be more like a Tory? (For reference, Mulroney was PM from 1984-1993, including the years '89-92 where the Canadian deficit grew dramatically.)
  • From 1972-1974, Canada's inflation rate more than doubled, from 5.2 per cent to 11.1 per cent.
See above, regarding oil embargo.
  • Canada's interest rates nearly doubled — prime rose from 6 per cent to 11 per cent.
Yes, and when the Liberals had a majority inflation (not to mention the deficit) increased even more. Not to mention Brian Mulroney's tenure, when catastrophically high interest rates nearly destroyed the Canadian economy. But if you live in Monte's world, it's all the NDP's fault anyway. Of course, Monte doesn't actually care about political (or mathematical) accuracy. It would be nice if we could take the Conservatives seriously, but when you base your argument on re-hashed arguments from The Economist and Tom D'Aquino, that's impossible.

"Breaking" Patents?

Grrr. The BBC makes me angry. Watch the use of language:
Brazil may break Aids drug patent

Brazil has threatened to break the patent on an anti-Aids drug in order to make a cheaper generic version....

Under Brazilian law, the government can break drug patents if it is deemed to be in the public interest. This would be the first time it would have done so.
Okay, this is something that gets deliberately obfuscated by western reporters all the time, so let's be clear: There is no international body that grants intellectual property laws. Period. There are organizations like WIPO, and the Berne Convention goes back more than a century now, but at the end of the day IP, like all property laws, is the purview of sovereign national governments. So Brazil can't "break" a patent - the Brazilian government gave Abbot Labs that patent, and can take it away whenever it wants, under Brazil's law.

Brazil is, quirkily enough, not bound by the patent laws of the United States. Bizarre, but true!

Now, if the headline used the word "revoked", instead of the emotionally-charged "break" (which is obviously meant to imply a crime) the BBC would at least be accurate.

Clash of the Titans?

I'm getting increasingly bored of the questions of war between the US and China. However, when Zbigniew Brzezinski and John Mearsheimer go in to the international relations equivalent of Thunderdome, it gets interesting. In this corner, The Man Behind The Taliban, ZBig!
More broadly, China is determined to sustain its economic growth. A confrontational foreign policy could disrupt that growth, harm hundreds of millions of Chinese, and threaten the Communist Party’s hold on power. China’s leadership appears rational, calculating, and conscious not only of China’s rise but also of its continued weakness.
And in this corner, John "No Snappy Nickname" Mearsheimer:
China cannot rise peacefully, and if it continues its dramatic economic growth over the next few decades, the United States and China are likely to engage in an intense security competition with considerable potential for war. Most of China’s neighbors, including India, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Russia, and Vietnam, will likely join with the United States to contain China’s power.
I'm not sure I agree with Mearsheimer in this case, however. More directly, I'm not sure the US can rely on the goodwill of some of those powers - umm, Vietnam? - to keep China down. In the case of Vietnam and Russia, maybe even Singapore, I wouldn't be surprised if they opted for China, rather than the US. If South Korean relations continue to deteriorate, the US might even find Seoul giving Washington the cold shoulder.

Think of the Children!

Surprising no one, a number of culture groups are upset about the pay-radio CRTC decision:
OTTAWA - A coalition of arts, labour and other groups is asking the federal cabinet to overturn a regulatory decision that would allow satellite broadcast operators to bring pay-radio service to Canada.

The ruling by the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission, if allowed to stand, would erode years of efforts to promote and protect Canadian programming on the country's airwaves, says Ian Morrison of the Friends of Canadian Broadcasting, one of the groups challenging the decision....
Now, I do think it's bizarre that pay-radio by satellite would have different rules than pay radio by tower, so in a sense I agree with this coalition. But they really are missing a fundamental change in music - technology is allowing people to have more and more choice over what they listen to. Look at television, which has evolved much faster than radio as a medium: The increase in channels available for transmission has actually contributed to the growth of Canadian content - Corner Gas would be a much riskier proposal without CTV being able to rebroadcast on Comedy. This would be impossible without the increase in channels available.

Now, this comparison breaks down a bit - cable television channels are essentially bound by the same regs as basic broadcasters, unlike the looming radio environment. However, what this CRTC policy does is essentially make a bunch of CBCs. CBC is bound by much higher CanCon standards then regular broadcasters. If people want CanCon radio, they'll have that choice. What they won't have is CanCon forced on to non-CanCon channels. I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing.

Red Oil?

So the Chinese government, through a state-owned proxy (CNOOC) is making a bid for UNOCAL. This has led to some diplomatic rumblings, including this less-than-diplomatic quote:
But Gal Luft, executive director of Institute for the Analysis of Global Security, said it would be "suicidal" at a time of $60-a-barrel oil for the United States to let a Chinese state-run firm control oil sources by buying Unocal.
Now, Gal Luft and the IAGS have written a lot of smart things (they're one of the go-to places for plug-in hybrid information, for one thing) but Luft is not making a lot of sense here. There's a very simple reason for this - UNOCAL isn't that big, to begin with. (Scroll down to the second table.) It's not Exxon or Shell, certainly. Rather, the reason Beijing is interested in Unocal probably has more to do with this:
Unocal was one of the key players in the CentGas consortium, an attempt to build a pipeline to run from the Caspian area, through Afghanistan and probably Pakistan, to the Persian Gulf. One of the consultants to Unocal at that time is Zalmay Khalilzad, now appointed US ambassador to Afghanistan. The CentGas pipeline was not built, due to inability of CentGas and the Taliban to come to a mutually acceptable economic understanding, despite pressure from Washington. Shortly thereafter, the US invaded Afghanistan, removing Taliban control from Afghanistan and making moot the question of their renumeration.

Unocal is also the third largest member of the recently completed and opened Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline from the Caspian to the Mediterranean Sea.
Beijing is very interested in natural gas as an alternative to dirty and inefficient oil. However, it makes no sense to ship that NG all the way to the meditteranean when it's already in Central Asia. So I imagine what we'll see is plans for a second pipeline leading from Baku to Iran - the Iranians already deal with China, and the Indian Ocean route allows easy(er) shipping to Asian ports. Of course, NG is still a very difficult to ship over the ocean, so we might even see an overland pipeline in to Xinjiang - it would be extremely pricey, but no more so than the Russian pipeline planned to end in Nakhodka.

More broadly, since when does America deserve oil? Luft's entire quote only makes sense if you believe that the US deserves the front place in any queue for oil. I mean, we know this is how they feel, but they're not usually so open about it. Sadly, even Paul Krugman falls in to this trap:
The China National Offshore Oil Corporation, a company that is 70 percent owned by the Chinese government, is seeking to acquire control of Unocal, an energy company with global reach. In particular, Unocal has a history - oddly ignored in much reporting on the Chinese offer - of doing business with problematic regimes in difficult places, including the Burmese junta and the Taliban. One indication of Unocal's reach: Zalmay Khalilzad, who was U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan for 18 months and was just confirmed as ambassador to Iraq, was a Unocal consultant.

Unocal sounds, in other words, like exactly the kind of company the Chinese government might want to control if it envisions a sort of "great game" in which major economic powers scramble for access to far-flung oil and natural gas reserves. (Buying a company is a lot cheaper, in lives and money, than invading an oil-producing country.) So the Unocal story gains extra resonance from the latest surge in oil prices.
Well, in an era of tight oil supplies, it's not just Beijing that's acting like it envisions a "great game". Last I checked, the US had a little something called the Carter Doctrine, which states pretty baldly that the US will go to war over oil. Period. Now, I know that UNOCAL is a US company, so in this case there actually is something the US government can do about this situation. But it's kind of a sad state of affairs when the Colossus of the 21st century has to maintain it's economic integrity through a foreign ownership review board.

Note Krugman's paranthetical quote, too: "Buying a company is a lot cheaper, in lives and money, than invading an oil-producing country." True, but if China really wanted to save money, they'd get off the oil train entirely - the $18 billion they're spending to get UNOCAL's measly 150 million barrels of oil per year could easily save that much oil and then some.

On That Note...

Rejected TV Pilot Thrives on P2P

How's this for irony?

A sacked TV pilot about a large number of people who stay in touch through an underground data network has popped up on ... well, an underground data network.

The WB television network passed on the pilot for Global Frequency, a sci-fi adventure series based on the graphic novel by English scribe Warren Ellis.

But that didn't stop someone from leaking the pilot on the internet. The file eventually found its way into the BitTorrent network.

Over the last couple of weeks, enough people have downloaded and viewed the pilot online to give producers hope that TV executives might take a second look at the show.
There are more and more examples of this happening, and I love it - company X makes content Y, refuses to distribute it. Content Y makes it on to the Internets, where it becomes a success. Company X screams bloody murder, like this:
Hoffman added that the pilot's unauthorized distribution is "unacceptable and illegal ... no matter what the underlying motives" and said the company hasn't ruled out taking legal action "when it comes to stopping the illegal distribution of our copyright material."
thus ensuring it alienates motivated consumers. Because WB also apparently owns the intellectual property on stupidity and arrogance, too.

Note to Music, Movie and TV executives: Piracy is not the reason you're losing money. Sucking is.

Grokster Loses

The US Supreme Court has ruled against Grokster, inc.
Associated Press

07:45 AM Jun. 27, 2005 PT

Internet file-sharing services will be held responsible if they intend for their customers to use software primarily to swap songs and movies illegally, the Supreme Court ruled Monday, rejecting warnings that the lawsuits will stunt growth of cool tech gadgets such as the next iPod.

The unanimous decision sends the case back to lower court, which had ruled in favor of file-sharing services Grokster and StreamCast Networks on the grounds that the companies couldn't be sued. The justices said there was enough evidence of unlawful intent for the case to go to trial.
God, that's going to be a nightmare. This decision rests entirely on the "intent" of the corporation that's releasing the software. Well, sorry, but the largest abettor of music piracy has got to be Apple "Rip, Mix, Burn" Computers. Between the iPod and that company's early advocacy of CD burning, Apple has played a huge role in helping people violate copyright, and (with the iPod) giving them a reason to.

Meanwhile, Kazaa remains incorporated outside of US jurisdiction, and thus beyond the reach of this decision.

And, as Cory Doctorow has said, these decisions and laws and lawsuits actually do nothing to stop p2p software - this is incredibly simple code to write, and between bittorrent and the gnutella clients out there, it's open sourced and pretty much impossible to stop now. The Supreme Court may reject "warnings that the lawsuits will stunt growth of cool tech gadgets such as the next iPod", but I actually think that tech firms are going to be the only people hurt by this ruling. Filesharing is going to continue, one way or the other. The only people that this ruling will stop are companies who, either because of lawsuits or the fear of lawsuits, don't invent the next iPod or Tivo.

Oh, and I'd be willing to bet that Bittorrent gives it's web-search program a second thought, now.

Batblogging

I was going to write a review of Batman Begins, but August basically beat me to my own thoughts - though it's chock full of spoilers, so be warned.

I'll add a bit of non-spoilerish comments, though: First off, I think the consensus among most Batman fans is that this is the best Batman movie thus far - certainly, it beats the Burton entries, and simply humiliates the Joel Schumacher versions. In one interview I read either Nolan or Bale say "we want you to forget there's been another Batman movie", and I thought: Gee, that's exactly what I want, too. What surprised me was willing they were to go an entirely different path. This simply has no connection in any way to the previous movies, and it's far better for it.

One of the best examples of this was the visualization of Gotham City. While I liked Burton's version of Gotham, Nolan simply achieves a far more realistic city. It looked real while also looking unmistakably like Gotham - it's had stylistic elements (like the train system) which added to the "comic"-y feel, without making it feel campy or overdone.

All in all, an excellent job, with the slight complaint that Christian Bale's Batman voice sounds like Angry Scooby Doo.

Once More, I Am Right About Everything

Okay, maybe not everything... but regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I wrote earlier this month:
...eventually, you are going to have to accept "their" demands in order to stop the killing, even if it means "giving in". You can't kill your way out of situations like this.
Now, I mainly write this blog in the expectation that my friends and perhaps a few others will read it. But is it possible someone else is reading? Someone whose names rhymes with Blumsfeld?
US 'in talks with Iraq with Iraq rebels'

AT a summer villa near Balad in the hills 40 miles north of Baghdad, a group of Iraqis and their American visitors recently sat down to tea. It looked like a pleasant social encounter far removed from the stresses of war, but the heavy US military presence around the isolated property signalled that an unusual meeting was taking place.

After weeks of delicate negotiation involving a former Iraqi minister and senior tribal leaders, a small group of insurgent commanders apparently came face to face with four American officials seeking to establish a dialogue with the men they regard as their enemies.
As you might guess, I'm totally in favour of the US negotiating with these people. Are they probably murderers of both Iraqis and Americans? Sure. That's the reality of the situation, and you have to work with reality. Hell, most of the people in the Iraqi government (not to mention their US masters) probably have blood on their hands, so looking for someone pure is a waste of time. If this stops (or even slows) the pace of killing in Iraq, I'm all for it.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Wonder of the Market

Antonia Zerbisias links to an interesting speech by Dan Rather, in which he points out the obvious:
Increased competition and pressure to turn a profit has resulted in TV news giving more attention to stories like the “Runaway bride” from Georgia than substantive issues, ABC News Nightline anchor Ted Koppel lamented Wednesday at the Promax/BDA conference in New York....

Referring to the shrinking audience for news, Koppel said, “With the need to make money and a smaller piece of the pie, we have to keep appealing to as large an audience as possible.” He added, “Sadly, the ‘Runaway Bride’ brings in a larger audience than a one-hour documentary on Iraq ever could.”
This is one of the most direct problems with increasing media mergers. When large media companies (say, AOL+Time Warner) merge, they usually have to take on a lot of extra debt. This ends up giving the merged companies a higher debt load than the non-merged ones, meaning that a lot of "extras" get sacrificed to debt service. I don't know what the story with CBS is, but this is the natural outcome of the "convergence" fad that was all the rage a few years back, and the similar mania of the 1980s.

It also points to the value of having a substantial public, non-profit news media (cough cough CBC) that doesn't need to chase the bottom line. If you want to know why the BBC and CBC run circles around even the best of the American media, this is it.

Who Says Democracy Doesn't Work?

So, you actually can't fool all the people all the time. From Paul Krugman, in the New York Times:
In a new Rasmussen poll, 49 percent said that Mr. Bush was more responsible for the war than Saddam Hussein, versus 44 percent who blamed Saddam.

Sign Me Up

Seriously. Suddenly, the appeal of Scientology makes a lot more sense.

Haw Haw

So, Paul Martin pulled a fast one tonight:
The contentious budget amendment bill passed 152 to 147 in the House of Commons Thursday in a late-night, snap vote.

In a move that caught the Conservatives completely unawares, Liberal House Leader Tony Valeri proposed a rarely-used time allocation motion in the House of Commons, cutting off debate on Bill C-48.

The motion passed easily. And after an hour of debate, MPs voted on the bill at around a quarter to midnight ET.
Hoo hoo. I know the Conservatives will start screaming about the Liberals not playing by the rules, but face it - this is the kind of thing governments do. The Liberals know how to play this game better than most, and if the Conservatives can't play the game then they shouldn't be on the field, should they? Not that this will stop them from screaming - McKay is already saying the Liberals "will do anything to win."

Shorter Peter McKay: Conservatives don't want to win.

Yawn

By the way, this happened:
SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Oil prices rose to touch $60 for a second day on Friday, extending a streak of record highs that have yet to curb robust U.S. energy demand.

U.S. crude futures on the New York Mercantile Exchange traded up 39 cents to $59.81 a barrel, having earlier reached a peak of $60 to match Thursday's record -- the highest since the contract began trading in 1983.
So we're still a bit shy of the halfway mark for the year, and oil prices are already up nearly 40% for the year. Interestingly, The Oil Drum points out that we're closing in on prices that, in real terms, are about as high as what we endured during the 1970s.
The data tell us that the price of oil averaged $51/bbl in 2005, whereas oil averaged $66.20/bbl in 1981, adjusted for inflation....

That means, by this way of looking at the data, we're not actually at 63% of the 1981 high in 2005 as I discussed in an earlier post.

Instead, with this more valid data, we're at 76% of the 1981 price!
Ouch. Of course, we still use less oil (per $1000 of GDP) then we did in 1979, so it's possible that the we're not about to hit the joys of stagflation yet. On the other hand, the main use of oil is still transportation fuel, and fleet efficiencies haven't improved any since 1979 - or rather, they did, but SUVs have basically eliminated any improvements we made since then, on average.

And, in the spirit of Live 8, I should point out that as bad as high oil prices will be for us, it's quite possible that the third world is in for another "Lost Decade" from fuel costs if prices stay high. (Stridency Alert!) People are going to die because of our consumption. So, please people: Slash tires, key doors, do anything you can to damage SUVs, and other cars if you feel like it. Walk, bike, do whatever you can.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Ooh! A Security Debate!

Chrisale at Murky View has an interesting post on the problem of global security in a post Cold War world. It's a bit too long to excerpt fairly, so you should go read the post and come back. That said, I do think Chrisale has some good ideas, but I can't see groups like the Francophonie or The Commonwealth playing an important role in international security.
I believe the only way to do this is to strenghthen, and grow, the cross-border alliances and Institions such as the EU, NATO, the AU, the OAS, the Commonwealth, La Francophonie, and even APEC. I believe that only through the enlargement and strengthening of current military alliances, economic fora, and political groups, will the threat of state-vs.-state war be averted in the future.
First off, many of these organizations are currently working at cross-purposes when it comes to international security. Take the example of the EU vs. NATO. France and Germany, not to mention Russia, would love to see a strong EU security aparatus (to remove the American preponderance from Europe.) If the Atlantic community faces another rift similar to Iraq, I can definitely see NATO falling apart.

A lot of people see the EU as a military weakling, and in many senses this view is correct. But there are two important caveats to this: First off, the EU is already putting together a military force, which already is seeing action in Macedonia. Secondly, the EU members actually have more men under arms than the US - and most of them are members of NATO, so combining some of these forces should be less difficult than it might otherwise be. In relatively short order, the EU could put together a larger force than most individual countries. This is really a matter of paperwork more than anything else.

But what could force the EU to go this route? Well, if the US continues to be unpopular in Europe, it's imaginable (though perhaps not likely) that the US might leave or be forced out of Europe. Of course, this would only happen if the NATO member states were ready to see their security as being threatened, not guaranteed, by a continuing US presence. The EU would also need to be prepared to guarantee it's own security for the first time since 1945. Actually, I think this is one of the easier aspects of this scenario - Germany and France are both looking for ways to flex their muscle internationally, and it's no accident that they've both been the loudest voices calling for a EuroArmy. The EU army would still be a small fraction of the size of America's, but would certainly be able to play a role in regional peacekeeping.

More importantly, the EU increasingly has greater "soft power" than the US-based NATO. There are many countries that would welcome a European force, but would shun an American one, or one that was perceived as being an American facade.

I think this is a process we'll see more of in the future. In Asia, ASEAN members have already proposed adopting much of the adornments of the EU. A similar process is already underway in South America, and the AU is already slowly taking shape. Regional organization will, where possible, take over their own security in places where the US or foreign organizations have played that role.

Where I disagree with Chrisale is the possibilty of international organizations to enforce international law. Certainly, the idea of some international court of appeal is appealing on an emotional level, but I think it's impossible to imagine China or the US agreeing to that. Given the problems Ontario is having on the issues of Muslim jurisprudence, I find it hard to imagine one international court. Several regional courts is a far more likely possibility, in my mind.

The other thing I'll say is that I think none of this will happen to consciously guard international peace. Rather, we'll see a shift from national to regional security for simple national-interest reasons, not out of a "Duty to Protect." Let me say that I certainly would like to live in Chrisale's future - I just don't think we'll see it in our lifetimes.

Rightwing Crazies, Unite!

via Atrios, this news from Spain:
MADRID (Reuters) - Spain's previous center-right government "manipulated and twisted" the Madrid train bombings of March 2004 in a bid to salvage general elections three days later, a parliamentary commission found on Wednesday.

In a 200-page report after a year of bitter wrangling, the commission accused Jose Maria Aznar's Popular Party (PP) government of ignoring police warnings that its support for the
Iraq war increased the threat from Islamic terrorism in Spain.
Atrios has a decent summary of exactly how scarily bad Aznar and the PP actually are.

My first instinct is to say to Conservatives what real corruption is: Aznar and his bunch were more than happy to twist a national tragedy to win an election. Whatever you think of the Liberals, Gomery's got nothing on this.

I know a lot of people saw Spain's withdrawal from Iraq as "caving" in to terrorism somehow. This is just stupidly wrong. The Socialists were close to winning the election before the bombings occurred, and it was Aznar's obvious criminality pushed the Socialists over the top. Spain's withdrawal was democracy in action, and the fact that it wasn't what some warbloggers wanted doesn't make it "caving" or "defeatism."

The short lesson for governments is this: If you're going to adopt unpopular policies, be prepared to pay the price.

Best. Smugglers. Evar.

Wow. I think they're kind of missing the point.
Upon further examination, however, each brick [of cocaine] was also found to contain a second, internal brick, wrapped in brown tape and cellophane, which contained an unknown, compressed, tan colored powde... analysis of the tan powder (same analytical techniques) indicated a mixture of 72 percent heroin hydrochloride and 7.2 percent cocaine hydrochloride. This is the first submission of heroin mini-bricks inside cocaine bricks to the Laboratory.
Okay, guys: Heroin in dolls, donkeys, corpses: Good idea. Heroin in cocaine: Not exactly sneaky.

President Condemns Guantanamo Bay

No, silly, not the current President:
LONDON (Reuters) - Former President Bill Clinton has said the United States should either "close down or clean up" the Guantanamo Bay prison for foreign terrorism suspects.

In an interview with the Financial Times published on Monday, Clinton said American or British troops would be at much greater risk if they had a reputation for abusing people.

On Second Thought...

One octogenarian who I would like to see jailed, on the other hand:
SANTIAGO, Chile (Reuters) - Former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet was rushed to a military hospital on Tuesday after suffering a stroke but a family spokesman said he is conscious.
Not to seem bloodthirsty, but DIE PINOCHET DIE.

Ahem. Sorry about that.

Yeah, Right

PHILADELPHIA, Miss. (Reuters) - Former Ku Klux Klansman Edgar Ray Killen was sentenced on Thursday to 60 years in prison for orchestrating the 1964 killings of three civil rights workers who were registering black voters in Mississippi.

A jury convicted the 80-year-old former preacher on Tuesday on three counts of felony manslaughter, finding that he organized a posse to kidnap, beat and shoot the three young men. The notorious crime galvanized the civil rights movement and was dramatized in the 1988 movie "Mississippi Burning."
Great. The American justice system is just corrupt enough to give a murderer forty years of freedom, and is now just cruel enough to sentence an octogenarian to spend his last days in jail. So... hooray?

Interesting

Apparently, paper trails aren't all they're cracked up to be. At least, according to some people:
Worse still, he says, is that mandating a paper trail complicates the voting process, making it more likely that election officials will slip up.

In Nevada, the only state where a printer was attached to touch-screen machines for the 2004 Presidential election, Selker reports that printers were stowed in insecure places, opened without supervision, and that election workers even cut out portions of the paper-trail while reloading paper in a jammed printer.

Conny McCormack, who conducts elections in Los Angeles County, California, and testified against the bill, says the printers failed to help in the way they were supposed to anyway. “There was a key assumption - that voters would actually look at the paper trail. The fact is that most of them didn’t even glance at it,” she says.
Somehow, I can't stop thinking about the fax machine from Office Space. Maybe we don't need printers on our voting booths after all. What we definitely do need is independent examination of the code for these machines. Bizarrely, in most states the government is forbidden from independently examining the programs these machines run - combined with the natural uncertainty of any election results, it's hard to dismiss the conspiracy theories about the 2004 results.

Dolphin yes woman good give banana now dolphin yes

Via Slashdot, the Onion from 2056. Enjoy the craziness.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Guess Again

The moment you start talking about serious energy problems, some idiot is likely to pipe up with the supposed solution:

"What about the tar sands? There's a trillion barrels of oil there, smarty pants! We'll be running Chevy Suburbans FOR EVER!!!"

Or something.

Well, there are a number of problems with the tar sands. First and foremost, they take much more energy to make then you get in the final product. This isn't necessarily a deal breaker - every bite of meat you've ever eaten was not a terribly efficient energy source. But with tar sands, where the necessary energy is heat, and lots of it, the only options are a) using lots of increasingly scarce natural gas, or b) nuclear power. Using clean, efficient methane to make dirty, inefficient gasoline should probably be illegal, and I'd be surprised if Albertans wanted several new nuclear power plants so that Toronto can keep driving SUVs.

In any case, legendary oil prospector Boone Pickens agrees with the non-idiots on this one: Alberta is not going to save us. Basically, it costs too much for too little supply - Boone estimates over $300 billion dollars for 9 million barrels per day of production - quite a bit more than we get thus far out of Alberta. To deliver all of our current global demand (not a serious proposition by any means) we'd need trillions in investment dollars that simply aren't there.

And how bizarre is it that $300 billion is a reasonable amount for the private market to spend on oil, but a similar sum spent by the government to save oil would have newspaper editorial boards screaming about Communism and creeping fascism? Never mind the almost $200 billion spent to ruin the lives of brown people with funny names...

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

You Mean, Deficits Aren't Satan?

Much left-wing commentary has maintained - throughout the long reign of Martin - that deficits are not, in fact, a sign of the apocalypse. Today comes the news that we have a new ally - a former analyst for the Bank of Montreal.
Ottawa — The federal government should stop fretting about balancing the books every year, an obsession that has contributed to a string of larger-than-expected surpluses, says a prominent Canadian economist appointed by Ottawa to investigate its poor fiscal forecasting record.

Former Bank of Montreal chief economist Tim O'Neill says Ottawa's rigid, no-deficit policy is a central reason for a series of windfall surpluses totalling about $60-billion since 1997-1998 -- and can be relaxed today.
And before you can bat an eye, Ralph Goodale is there to stomp out this heresy, like the inquisitors of old.
Finance Minister Ralph Goodale rejected the idea of abandoning the no-deficit policy, a defining feature of the Liberal government's record over the past decade, saying it has "served the country very well." Ottawa likes to boast that Canada is the only member of the Group of Seven industrialized countries consistently running surpluses.
And like all things financial, the Liberals and Conservatives are in total agreement:
Conservative finance critic Monte Solberg said he thinks Canadian voters would punish any government that contemplated backing away from the no-deficit rule. "It's crazy talk," Mr. Solberg said.

"The last thing that federal politicians need is an excuse to go ahead and blow the budget."
And here's where the "news" part of the article goes out the window:
The belief that Ottawa should never run deficits has achieved widespread support among Canadian federal voters in the past decade, becoming the dominant orthodoxy. In fact, it's hard to find citizens in other countries as strongly anti-deficit as Canadians when it comes to their national government.
Umm... huh? The article provides a quote from one analyst, but no statistics or anything that might be considered evidence for this assertion. Dalton McGuinty was until recently considered dead for the next election. Why? Because he chose a policy to reduce the provincial deficit. Polls indicated that voters didn't want taxes, but they didn't want service cuts either - they probably didn't put it that way, but they were endorsing deficit spending. Of course, it's more likely that they simply didn't know what they wanted. But that's not exactly evidence for the Globe's assertion, either.

I Have Only One Question:

What are the hardware requirements?
Violent game furor
BY RIVKA BUKOWSKY
DAILY NEWS WRITER


You may have thought "Grand Theft Auto" was the last word in video game violence.

Think again.

The latest in shoot-'em-up video game technology, "25 to Life," allows players to attack police with an arsenal of Molotov cocktails, broken bottles and baseball bats. When weapons fail, players make strategic moves using civilians as human shields.

The game even lets players choose gang colors and create personalized graffiti tags.

"It's the worst in a series of violent and gruesome games that lower the common denominator of decency," said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who is trying to block the game from hitting stores in September.

The game, created by the British company Eidos, is similar to the best-selling "Grand Theft Auto" series, currently in its fifth incarnation: "San Andreas."

"25 to Life" makes "other controversial games like 'Grand Theft Auto' look like 'Romper Room,'" Schumer said.
Must... get... money... buy hardware... get game.

I Have Only One Question:

What are the hardware requirements?
Violent game furor
BY RIVKA BUKOWSKY
DAILY NEWS WRITER


You may have thought "Grand Theft Auto" was the last word in video game violence.

Think again.

The latest in shoot-'em-up video game technology, "25 to Life," allows players to attack police with an arsenal of Molotov cocktails, broken bottles and baseball bats. When weapons fail, players make strategic moves using civilians as human shields.

The game even lets players choose gang colors and create personalized graffiti tags.

"It's the worst in a series of violent and gruesome games that lower the common denominator of decency," said Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who is trying to block the game from hitting stores in September.

The game, created by the British company Eidos, is similar to the best-selling "Grand Theft Auto" series, currently in its fifth incarnation: "San Andreas."

"25 to Life" makes "other controversial games like 'Grand Theft Auto' look like 'Romper Room,'" Schumer said.
Must... get... money... buy hardware... get game.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Green Rise for China?

Green Car Congress has a good post talking about China's possibility for a "Green Rise", the idea being that China will lead the world in environmentalism because it has no other choice. This is yet another iteration of the Iron Denominator - how does the loot get divvied up among 1.5 billion people?
During this seventh meeting, Pan Yue, deputy director of the SEPA, noted that China has “paid a high environmental price” in becoming the biggest manufacturer in the world after experiencing rapid economic development over the past 20 years.

"The pollution load of China will quadruple in 2020 when the country’s GDP quadruples if the pace of pollution remains unchanged."

By then, China will only have six out of its current 45 major mineral resources, according to Pan.
I know a lot of people mocked Paul Ehrlich's prediction that we'd be facing major mineral shortages by 1990, but just because he was wrong then, doesn't mean he'd be wrong now. You've all heard the numbers - to give each human an American standard of living, we'd need three Earths. That leaves us two short, in case you're counting.

Continuing in the realm of basic math, at a certain point we do hit the limits of nature, and if we aren't ready for it, we face the very real possibility of billions of dead. I don't think Hubbert's Peak is that moment, unlike certain people, but it's not like Hubbert's Peak is the only shortage we face.

This is all a way of saying that, despite some pessimism about the Communist Party's ability to foster innovation, I really, really hope that China and the world can manage a Green Rise.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

My Impersonation of Garrison Keillor

(You know, the Lake Wobegon guy.)

If they notice you at all, people look at you funny when you carry a toilet seat on the subway. See, and now you're looking at me funny, too. Admit it.

Why, you could rightly ask, was I carrying a toilet seat on the subway? Well, the short version of the story is that I missed a chance to relax this weekend. Ready for the long version?

For longer than I've been alive, my family has owned a cottage on Wellesley Island, one of the Thousand Islands on the St. Lawrence river. Specifically, our cottage is part of a community called Thousand Island Park - more commonly abbreviated to "TI Park" for the locals. Because Wikipedia has an entry for everything, here's the link for Wellesley Island. The picture shows an island with a small house on it - that's decidedly not my cottage, but I've seen it frequently - you can see it from where we go swimming.

It's hard to describe exactly what made TI Park such a great place as a kid. The simplest explanation would be to say that, if you were bored it only meant you weren't trying. For me, it was where I became the reading nut that I am today, pleasing my father greatly while I made regular trips to the surprisingly well-stocked library. It was also where I discovered my passion for Science Fiction, pleasing my father somewhat less. Of course, there was plenty of physical activity too, for the people who "vacation" strangely translates in to "do things". To me, "vacation" has always meant "doing" is optional.

My preferred physical activity was swimming. Around the age of 9, I learned that a lot of people apparently went swimming in their shorts, without emptying their pockets first. That was an extremely lucrative summer for me, as I think I collected something on the order of $40 (American!) off the bottom of the river from overly-eager swimmers, armed with nothing but a mask and young, healthy lungs. Of course, this was back in a time when $40 (American!) was like winning the Powerball. Unfortunately, I think word got around and the following summers were pretty slim pickings - either people became more careful, or I got competition, I never figured out which.

TI Park is the kind of community where everything is a "The" something - because there's usually just one. The swimming hole nearest my cottage is The Rocks. Further away is The Main Docks. then The Cove, and on special days, The State Park. (Actually, not only are there multiple state parks on Wellesley Island, but they all have proper names. It's just that I've never cared to learn which one we go to.) This gives conversations the vague feeling that you're living in an episode of "Lassie" - Hey guys! Let's go hang out at The Water Tower! Lassie or no, we would usually manage to fill days and weeks doing everything and nothing at all.

Despite being about as small a town as I'm comfortable with, TI Park does have most of the necessities, without having the crap that just serves to clutter up our lives - running water and electricity, but my grandmother died without ever seeing a television in our cottage. She wasn't a luddite, but she knew that some things you leave at home. Okay, she was a bit of a luddite. But she was also right about the television. (Which I get to admit, now that she's dead.) There's a church that serves as a movie theatre some nights. Other nights, city slickers like myself were entertained by these bright spots in the sky people called stars. Odd, to be able to see whole constellations, plural.

One of the other things that was great about my cottage was the extended family. Between aunts, uncles, cousins (more than I can count), parents and grand-parents, nobody was an only child. During the summers at least, it was impossible to be lonely - not that you didn't get occasionally left out (especially if you were bookish and not inclinced towards sports) - but there was usually someone looking to do something, if you were willing to go along. At night, after a long day, we'd sit down to dinners which often included a dozen people. I was probably listening to political conversations in my family before I understood what politics was - given my family, it was only natural.

What does any of this have to do with a toilet seat? Well, the last time Wellesley Island made it in to the headlines was shortly before I was born, when Abbie Hoffman came out of hiding in 1980. One of the Chicago 7, Abbie Hoffman was one of the legendary activists from the late 1960s, who had to go underground because of cocaine charges.

Of course, men like Hoffman never truly retire. When the Army Corps of Engineers decided that the St. Lawrence river was too bumpy and steep for maritime shipping, they figured digging a nice, flat ditch would solve the problem. That this would destroy wildlife and the tourism industry along one of the largest rivers in the world was, of course, immaterial. The plan entailed removing 70 million cubic metres of river-bottom, enough to cover Manhattan Island with 4 feet of dirt. Communities all along the St. Lawrence were outraged, including one little hamlet called Fineview where one Barry Freed, formerly Abbie Hoffman, resided. When concerned citizens formed the Save the River Committee, Mr. Freed became one of it's most outspoken members.

There's a story my dad loves to tell about Freed getting really drunk one night at the local bar and confessing his true identity to the bartender.

"Mac, I'm really Abbie Hoffman," says Freed.

"Fuck off!" says the bartender.

Hoffman eventually came out of hiding and was given a lenient sentence for his cocaine charges. Still, he comitted suicide in 1989. Sometime before then, however, my aunt Margot managed to get her hands on... his toilet seat. (So goes the family legend, anyway.) I'd like to think that Margot stole it - it seems fitting. Said toilet seat must have been brought to our cottage before Hoffman died, in any case, because it's been there longer than I can remember. But times change, and so has our cottage. The moment finally came this spring, when it was decided to finally replace Abbie's old toilet seat with a seat that would stay up - I think on the theory that this will encourage the younger men to actually put the seat up to pee.

However, my father refuses to go gently in to that good night. Rather than throw out the toilet seat, he carefully and delicately removed the seat, and brought it back from the cottage with him, so that he could give it to one of Margot's sons. After bringing it four hours in the rental car, I didn't see it when we were unloading and we accidentally left a decades-old toilet seat in a rented Chevy Trailblazer. This meant we had to go back to the rental garage, and I had to carry the toilet seat home on the subway.

I would have been up there at the cottage this weekend, but I began a new job and foolishly decided to start right away, rather than spend father's day with my father. For some reason, this seemed like a perfectly rational choice at the time. In retrospect, it seems like incontrovertible proof that I've been away too long.

If you've got a Lexis-Nexis account*, you can verify everything I've written here. Except of course for the question of whose toilet seat it was. But if we were going to make up a story about a family heirloom belonging to a famous radical, you'd think we'd pick something other than a toilet seat, right? Then again, in our family...

*If you're interested, I used the New York Times:
On the Save the River Campaign: "Thousand Islanders United By The River Separating Them" September 8, 1980.
On Hoffman's Death: "Abbie Hoffman, 60s Icon, Dies" April 14, 1989.

A Lexis search for "Abbie Hoffman" found both of those.

When We Win

I've mentioned that not too long ago I watched the excellent film "Downfall" about the last days of the Third Reich. One of the truly bizarre aspects of the film (and the history) is watching Hitler plan, in all seriousness, what he would do "when the war is won." This is in late April of 1945.

Steve Gilliard has an excellent post on how the American right is starting to sound awful familiar...
In Hitler's bunker, he repeatedly said that Army Group Steiner would rescue Berlin. The fact that Army Group Steiner was a ramshackle group of units and unable to save itself was of no concern to Hitler. In his mind, Army Group Steiner was the solution to the desperate straits of the German Army....

...A quick look at the WaPo in the last week or so would show the unravelling of Bush's war. Parents are facing off with recruiters and winning. The Iraqis refuse to fight. The Kurds provoke the Turks, Gitmo is now a recruiting tool for our enemies and decried by our allies. Pirates boarded an oil tanker.

So what dos Dick Cheney say? The insurgency is in it's last throes. And Army Group Steiner has stopped the Russians.

We are reaching a crisis point in Iraq. And Bush keeps pretending it isn't happening.

In the 1960's, they had a slogan: "What if they gave a war and nobody came?"

Well, in Iraq, by next year, they will have an army with no one joining.
Actually, he's got two good posts, the second one comparing the war in Iraq with Vietnam. Which reminds me to pick up Barbara Tuchman's book March of Folly, her history comparing idiotic military campaigns from Troy to Vietnam.

Right(s)

via Suburban Guerilla, a column by Carl Hiaasen. My parents love him, and I'm starting to, too.
Nutritionally, that certainly seems true. The $12.68 spent on each detainee’s daily meals at Camp Delta is about five times what it costs to feed a prisoner in Florida.

On the other hand, all prisoners in Florida get a few things that the Guantánamo inmates do not. For starters, they get charged with an actual crime.

Then they get a lawyer.

Then they get a day in court, and an opportunity to defend themselves.

In lieu of indictments, the Camp Delta detainees are served bagels and fruit salad. There’s reason to believe that many would gladly trade their healthy breakfast for a good old-fashioned American trial.
Use bugmenot for the link.

Prometheus, Call Line One

Everyone knows that Prometheus stole fire from the gods and gave it to mankind - yay for him, I say. Prometheus also means "forethought", which is what I thought of when I read this:
Israel 'sorry' over China weapons

Israel has publicly apologised to the US over a deal to sell military technology to China.

Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said he was sorry if Israel had acted in a way which was not acceptable to the Americans.

But, speaking ahead of talks with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, he said Israel had acted in good faith.

The sales have angered Washington which fears its own technology may could be used against Taiwan.
See, if I were Israel I'd be much more concerned over what those weapons were going to do once the Chinese had them - Beijing hasn't been shy about helping Arab regimes develop weapons, often based on Israeli technology. Whether they realize it or not, Israel is inadvertently helping hostile regimes.

Drool

I Want One.

We Actually Do Have Bigger Problems, You Know

I dislike freebies for MPs as much as anyone, but how does this rank anywhere near the top of our annoyance list?
CTV News has learned that the federal parties order approximately 180 meals a day, four days a week when Parliament is sitting.

Based on a catering price list that pegs the cost of Monday's fish dish at just under $20, the Parliamentary kitchen is serving some 20,160 meals a year for a total tab to taxpayers of $382,000.

John Willliamson of the Canadian Taxpayers' Federation finds those figures very hard to swallow.
Well of course the Canadian Taxpayer's Federation thinks that sucks. What else to they hate? Let's check out their website: Hmm.. Kyoto, Health Care, gasoline taxes, a whole bunch of stuff gets put on CTF's chopping block. If you read this document (warning - PDF) you get a good idea of where they come from. However, unlike CTV, the CTF at least is going after the big fish - whining about a measly $300k is a waste of ink. I can only hope that CTV didn't actually waste air time with this crap.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

Wake Me Up For The Splinter Code

First we had the (Leonardo) Davinci Code, now this:
Brazilian doctors uncover 'Michelangelo code'

SAO PAULO, Brazil (Reuters) - Two Brazilian doctors and amateur art lovers believe they have uncovered a secret lesson on human anatomy hidden by Renaissance artist Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel's ceiling.
So, eventually we'll have "Codes" for all the Ninja Turtles. Can the April Oneal Code be far away?

Casey Jones, the secrets of your athleticism await discovery.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Stupid Journalist Tricks

Alright, I don't know much about Bolivian politics, but I doubt this explanation is accurate:
In recent years El Alto has become a focal point of Bolivian politics, in large measure because the metropolis of 800,000 is where city and country meet and mix. El Alto's best-known activists are, like the charismatic De la Cruz, men and women with rural roots. They came of age in El Alto's schools, colleges and neighborhood assemblies.

Thanks to an accident of geography, the most important highways linking La Paz and the interior of Bolivia all pass though El Alto's impoverished, densely populated neighborhoods.

"This is the door to La Paz," said German Mamani Angulo, a resident of El Alto's District 8, on the southern fringe of the city. He stood by a stretch of asphalt leading to open plains of sable grasses. "When we close this door, nothing passes."
Oh sure. Those highways, built through poor slums and destroying people's homes and livelihoods? It was on accident. Meanwhile, I doubt we'll see multi-lane roads built through bulldozed mansions anytime soon.

Holy Crap

via Steve Gilliard, this shocking piece of news from Iraq:
Insurgents have taken over much of the Iraqi city of Ramadi and used it to launch attacks against US forces while terrorising the population with public beheadings.


A huge bomb killed five American marines yesterday and showered body parts on to rooftops, fuelling suspicion that armour-piercing technology is being developed and tested in Ramadi.


US troops recovered the remains and withdrew to their base outside the Arab Sunni stronghold, leaving masked gunmen to erect checkpoints and carry out what residents said was the latest of many executions.
Just to be clear, let's put this in plain language:

The US military just got its ass handed to it by the insurgency. They were pushed right out of a city because they didn't have the numbers to keep it, and lost 5 men in the process. This is called "defeat", and this is not supposed to happen to the US Army or the Marines. These are not forces that have had to "retreat" or "withdraw" from combat since Vietnam.

This is decidedly bad news for the US today. Of course, with the US busy in Tal Afar, the insurgents will have a field day in Ramadi. Oh, and to underscore this a bit further - Ramadi is a bit more than an hour's drive from Baghdad. Essentially, the Iraqi resistance just took a town 70 miles from the capital. I don't think that means much in terms of the overall picture, but it's worth pointing out that the US control in Baghdad doesn't extend very far from Saddam's old palaces.

I'm sure Tom Friedman will be able to tell you all why this is my fault.

CRTC Update

Another reason to believe that the CRTC did a good job - the CRIA (the domestic equivalent of the RIAA, and therefore evil) is extremely upset that the CRTC didn't force a broadcast flag-type system on the new digital radio broadcasters. Again, I say good job CRTC.

I Love The Smell Of Desperation In The Morning...

Moats? Seriously, moats? That's what we're reduced to in Iraq? What's next, fighting the insurgents with a phalanx charge?

Looks like we turned a corner, all right. Then another, then we ran for about 500 years back in time.

New York Times Slowly Accepts Reality?

Boy, you learn all you need to by reading the first paragraph:
TAL AFAR, Iraq, June 15 - Nine months ago the American military laid siege to this city in northwestern Iraq and proclaimed it freed from the grip of insurgents. Last month, the Americans returned in force - to reclaim it once again.
So... total success, followed by another total success? That's, like, super-extra double success! With sprinkles! Awesome!
It is a cycle that has been repeated in rebellious cities throughout Iraq, and particularly those in the Sunni Arab regions west and north of Baghdad, where the insurgency's roots run deepest.

"We have a finite number of troops," said Maj. Chris Kennedy, executive officer of the Third Armored Cavalry Regiment, which arrived in Tal Afar several weeks ago. "But if you pull out of an area and don't leave security forces in it, all you're going to do is leave the door open for them to come back. This is what our lack of combat power has done to us throughout the country. In the past, the problem has been we haven't been able to leave sufficient forces in towns where we've cleared the insurgents out."
Boy, you might almost think that there weren't enough troops in Iraq to actually accomplish the mission. But you'd be wrong - and a Communist.

You'd also think, reading this story, that Tom Friedman doesn't actually read the New York Times. Otherwise he'd know that
[Republican!] officials in Washington say the military has all the troops it needs, [while] on-the-ground battle commanders in the most violent parts of Iraq... have said privately that they need more manpower to pacify their areas and keep them that way.
Somehow, however, Friedman will discover why this is all the fault of anti-war liberals. I think Jon Stewart needs to enlarge the membership of the "Douchebag of Liberty" club - Robert Novak can't be President and Treasurer, can he?

Thursday, June 16, 2005

Catching Up On Reading, and Sleep

About to go to bed, but I have to pass on this quote from Amanda at Pandagon:
Once again, science has failed the conservative patriarchy by adhering to unpleasant facts, like that it takes a woman's body to make a baby instead of falling lockstep into received wisdom that a man, not a woman, makes a baby by shooting his load and taking a nap. That 9-month period after that where she gets fat and goes through pain and all that is a mere side effect of his tremendous Man Effort. The rest is gravy.

Honestly, the way feminists carry on, you'd think women had something to do with childbirth or something.
Go read the rest.

CRTC Fallout

Or, What A Canadian "Culture War" Looks Like.

(This may possibly be the most boring post I've written in a while, unless of course you like cultural regulation issues.)

So XM and Sirius want to bring Satellite Radio to Canada. Great, says we. But not so fast - current broadcasters have to meet content requirements mandating certain minimums for Canadian artists. This has been a fantastically successful policy, despite occasionally peeving certain artists - Bryan Adams, we're looking at you. Of course, these American satellite operators don't particularly want to have to produce lots of Canadian content, when they can use their US stuff and beam it to us cheap. So their original applications essentially promised 5% Canadian content - far less than the minimum of 35% for current radio.

The CRTC released it's decision today, and I judge it to be a good one based on the concern it's causing the satellite operators - they're already talking about "reevaluating their business plans." (In fact, it looks like they can live with the CRTC's increased standards.) That may sound snarky, but these companies were effectively trying to get around longstanding rules that would have allowed them to dominate a new emerging market without supporting local voices. In specific, the CRTC mandated that each satellite provider provide a minimum of 8 Canadian channels, and no less than 10% of the channels they offer must be Canadian. To qualify as a Canadian channel, 85% (!) of the content must be Canadian (presumably, the same rules will apply for what does and does not qualify as Canadian music.) Interestingly then, "Canadian" satellite radio channels will actually have a much, much higher percentage of cancon then the current terrestrial Canadian broadcasters.

One lobby group is already musing about the end of Canadian radio with these two - gasp! - American companies being allowed to play a role in our broadcasting, and I'm not unsympathetic to that fear, but I think these culture rules go a long way towards easing my mind.

A more interesting concern is why these two American companies are Canada's only option for satellite radio. Despite our long history of relying on satellites in this country (Canada was right after the US in launching a communications satellite, making us #3) these two US firms will provide services for us because, according to the CRTC:
  • Canada has no satellite facility capable of distributing digital satellite radio broadcasting and is unlikely to have such a facility in the future.
  • Canada has not secured with the International Telecommunications Union the required spectrum resources at the S-band to develop its own specialized satellites.
So we lack either the legal/administrative or the technical means to deliver a truly indigenous satellite radio service. I'm not exactly weeping at this - we'll still have satellite radio, after all - but it makes me wonder what the hell we have the CBC and CRTC for, if not ensuring that Canadians can have innovative new telecom services.

Finally, CHUM radio has also been given a license for a digital, subscription-based radio service. Except that this will not be satellite based. It will, however, be the only truly "Canadian" service, and will offer a number of different English, French and multicultural Canadian channels. Yay us! I don't know how well they'll be able to compete against US heavies, but here's hoping.

Why Can't Kissinger Be Stupid?

Say what you will about Henry Kissinger, but he's not stupid. Evil, yes. Stupid, not as much.

At least, not all the time. But more on that later. Via battlepanda, we see Kissinger actually making a lot of sense in the International Herald Tribune:
It is also unwise to apply to China the policy of military containment of the cold war. The Soviet Union was the heir of an imperialist tradition. The Chinese state in its present dimensions has existed substantially for 2,000 years....

Paradoxically, the best strategy for achieving antihegemonic objectives is to maintain close relations with all the major countries of Asia, including China. In that sense, the rise of Asia will be a test of America's competitiveness in the world now emerging, especially in the countries of Asia...

But from this it does not follow that any damage to China caused by a cold war would benefit America. The United States would have few followers anywhere in Asia. Asian countries would continue trading with China. Whatever happens, China will not disappear. The American interest in cooperative relations with China is for the pursuit of world peace.
Nothing there I would disagree with too much - and this is upsetting to me, because Henry Kissinger is, as per above, evil. Someday, he may have his MacNamara moment and confess his sins, but until then, evil.

And, as a side note, he's totally wrong about the whole "The Chinese state in its present dimensions has existed substantially for 2,000 years" thing, but to learn about that you've got to read the Mutant Frog. Short version: China has had a whole mess of different rulers, and they didn't exactly pass without conflict. While there are a whole bunch of things wrong with Kissinger's statement, it's got to be most galling for it's ignorance about Taiwan - China only really claimed Taiwan in the 1600s, didn't settle it substantially until the 1800s, lost it to Japan in 1905, and hasn't ruled it effectively since then. The United States has had a longer period of self-governance than China has had over Taiwan.

Failure is Impossible

Weird. Me and Rush Limbaugh agree on something. This can only lead to the apocalypse.

Does anyone else find it weird that the battle for sensible broadcast regulation may depend on Howard Stern and Rush Limbaugh?

Here in Canada, the CRTC is about to hand down its ruling on Satellite radio stations. The applicants are widely expected to get their wishes, which could possibly throw all Canadian Content (cancon) rules out the window. Unfortunately, the decision is likely to be made while I'm at work, so I'll have to blog about it later.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Logical Conclusions

The law enforcement agencies of the United States are legendary for investigating themselves - the Defense Department investigates Abu Ghraib, insists that it's just a few bad apples; the LAPD investigates racism post-Rodney King, finds things are really just swell. Interestingly, W. Mark "Deep Throat" Felt was way ahead of his time. After leaking important information to Woodward and Bernstein, Felt was tasked with investigating the source of The Washington Post's leaks. That's right. Felt was tasked with investigating... himself.

The Nation has more, but I'm slightly (slightly) comforted by the knowledge that amusing stupidity in government can still make me laugh.

Tom Friedman Is Worthless, Pt. MXCVII
Or, Fuck You Tom - We're Still Angry

Jesus. A few others have already commented on this, but is Friedman a tool, or what?
Ever since Iraq's remarkable election, the country has been descending deeper and deeper into violence. But no one in Washington wants to talk about it. Conservatives don't want to talk about it because, with a few exceptions, they think their job is just to applaud whatever the Bush team does. Liberals don't want to talk about Iraq because, with a few exceptions, they thought the war was wrong and deep down don't want the Bush team to succeed. As a result, Iraq is drifting sideways and the whole burden is being carried by our military. The rest of the country has gone shopping, which seems to suit Karl Rove just fine.
First off, one wonders how many Liberals Friedman talked to in coming to this conclusion. 1? 2? A whole 3? Because I find it hard to believe that he talked to more than 3 leftists who wished Bush to fail - hell, even I wanted Bush to succeed, in that I didn't want 1,600 young Americans dead, nor did I want tens of thousands of dead, uncounted Iraqis.

Secondly, on what planet is Democrat's continuing insistence that "the war was wrong" even remotely comparable to the obscene sight of Congressional Republicans continually pretending that if we just clap harder, things will turn around? If we had followed the anti-war Democrats (all two of them), yes, Saddam would still be in power - but many more people would be alive today. Meanwhile, Saddam would endanger exactly no one outside his own borders - and even people in the north and south of Iraq would still be relatively autonomous. Tens of thousands of people would be alive today, if only we hadn't followed the culture of lifers.

The most common reply to this pessimism on my part is something along the lines of "something had to be done" about Saddam, WMDs, etc. Again, I am sympathetic. But there are two questions we should ask - can we do something productive, and is it worth the cost? For it to be worthwhile, both of those answers must be "yes". We have to be able to accomplish something meaningful at reasonable cost - anything else simply leads to disaster, as we've seen.

The anti-war crowd understood that Bush was, at best, attempting the impossible - especially when he announced that the new reason was to "free Iraq". Worse, it became clear by late 2002 that Bush was attempting the impossible on a budget - coupon-clipping our way to victory. Discount disaster, body armour not included.

Sadly, I had no confidence that Bush and his coterie would provide positive answers for either of those questions. When it comes time for history to judge, I'm willing to bet that my judgement will be proven correct. Bush has accomplished nothing of positive substance in Iraq, and it can hardly be considered worth the cost, regardless of how you're counting.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Random Links

Enjoy.

Interesting News

The National Post is apparently running a story about a poll conducted by the Department of National Defense in Ottawa. The results in the Post's article are interesting on their own:
A poll has found a great degree of Canadian affection for their armed forces -- and overwhelming support for more funding and better equipment for the troops, even if it means cuts elsewhere in the federal budget....

...44% believed that a decade of government cuts to the defence budget had hurt Canada's international reputation. According to 43%, the cuts have put the safety of soldiers at risk.
Of course, you can feel the Post's bias dripping from the type:
Most Canadians appeared to be clinging to the notion of their soldiers being used for humanitarian or peacekeeping missions rather than more aggressive "peace-making" roles, and preferred co-operation with the United Nations to working with the United States.
Those silly, limp-wristed Canadians. Wanting their soldiers to be used to save lives, absent a threat to national security. Given where the Post came down in the debate over Canadian participation in Iraq, we know what their idea of "aggressive 'peace-making'" is, and Canadians pretty roundly are opposed to that. Of course, so are most Americans now.

In any case, it's encouraging to see Canadians increasingly willing to spend big money on the military. The problem is actually electing politicians who will do this. Like health care, Canadians seem willing to say they support more military spending, but the military is never made an election issue - probably because that would be too American of us.

Which brings me to another wrinkle to this story, something the Post's web story doesn't mention but Chrisale from Murkyviews has posted:
Q: What do you think constitutes the greatest threat to Canadian National Security today.

The Answers were….

38% International Organized Crime

37% International Terrorists

37% US Foreign Policy.
Now, I'm not sure those numbers add up, unless the answers were non-exlcusive. But the idea that Canadians rank the US up there with terrorism and organized crime is interesting, to say the least. Like I said, the National Post doesn't mention this part of the poll, at all - gee, wonder why? Could reality be intruding on their little right-wing bubble?

Conservatives love to blame Liberals in government and liberals in the press for Canadian anti-american sentiment, but it's worth considering that a large minority of us seem to find the US damn scary for the moment.