Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Look Away, Citizens

Boy, it's a good thing there's no chance this will become an election issue. Nope, no chance whatsoever:
A Quebec judge has lifted a number of restrictions placed on schoolgirls' killer Karla Homolka following her release.

In a decision released early Wednesday, Quebec Superior Court Justice Jean Beaulieu struck down eight of the conditions, which had been applied under Section 810 of the Criminal Code....

Conditions related to issues like keeping the peace and reporting to police were kept in place under Wednesday's ruling.

However, the judge struck down restrictions preventing her from contacting violent criminals and working places where she would be in authority over children under 16 as well as those ordering her to take therapy from certain therapists and provide a DNA sample.
So... this is bound to be a plus for someone. I'm guessing the Conservatives get a bump in the polls.

The Serendipity of the Net

Not too long ago, I read this interesting piece on Slate about the price of copper (this blog makes me write sentences I never thought of):
Copper is a cheap, plentiful metal with lots of useful properties: It resists corrosion and is an excellent conductor of heat. As a result, it can be found in the intestines of a good chunk of the world's industrial economy. Plumbing, radiators, electrical wiring, and air conditioners all require copper....

The rising demand has also been good news for copper traders. This monthly chart plots copper's rise over the last several years, and this vertigo-inspiring chart illustrates how the price of copper has doubled in the last year....

The price of copper generally represents a pretty accurate barometer of the demand for it in the real world, rather than an irrational bet on its future value. Why? As Howard Simons, a strategist for Chicago-based Bianco Research, notes, copper is cheap, heavy, and plentiful. "So you don't stockpile it, you use it as needed." Nobody bothers to hoard it. (You'd need a massive warehouse to store any meaningful amount of copper.) And while some hedge funds are doubtlessly speculating on copper, "nobody goes out and takes a flyer on it, the way you would with more expensive metals like gold and silver,"
Nobody, says you? Really?
HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam, Nov. 24 -- China on Thursday acknowledged that a since-detained government trader placed a series of disastrous bets on the price of copper in London this summer, leaving the state to cover hundreds of millions of dollars in losses, according to a report in official Chinese media....

China has in recent years developed a voracious appetite for raw materials, becoming the world's largest buyer of copper, iron ore and steel, as well as the second-largest purchaser of oil. This month copper prices soared to record levels on the assumption that China will eventually have to buy large quantities to square its accounts after the trading debacle.
It's so funny when highly-paid financial advisors get proven wrong. (In fairness, it's obvious that the Chinese trader was doing something very very stupid, so Mr. Simons can't be blamed for not anticipating that.)

The Slate article poses an interesting paradox for us. According to the article, Copper is a positive indicator of a good economy (high copper prices = goodness) and Gold is a negative indicator (high gold prices = badness.) So what does it mean when both copper and gold are reaching record high prices?

I honestly don't know. Any economists out there?

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Dude, Some Of Us Were Eating

Rick Mercer Paul Martin:
Of course I have to mention Belinda. If it wasn't for her this government would have died months ago and me along with it. Some people in the press have referred to her as my guardian angel, I prefer to think of her as my political defibrillator. Even to this day when I see her coming I want to tear open my shirt, put Vaseline on my nipples and yell CLEAR!
Seriously, that's just horrible. I think I may have just lost my appetite forever.

Don't Ever Change, Stephen

Wow - this is the best poll yet for the Conservatives. An even tie for the Liberals and the Conservatives! Way to go Tories.
Taken for CanWest/Global News, the Ipsos-Reid poll put both leading parties at 31 percent, followed by the leftist New Democratic Party (NDP) at 18 percent. A November 22-24 Ipsos poll put the Liberals ahead 34 percent to 30 percent.
Of course, this leads inevitably to the next question - how will Harper fuck it up?

Oh, never mind:
Conservative Leader Stephen Harper reopened the hot-button issue of same-sex unions on his first day on the federal election trail Tuesday, saying he would hold a free vote on changing the definition of marriage if he becomes prime minister....

Harper, who believes same-sex couples should be recognized through civil unions, promised to preserve the gay marriages already performed across Canada.

Some observers say the Tory stance against gay weddings cost the party crucial support in urban Ontario and among younger voters.

But Harper may have raised the issue to pre-empt his critics, who say he's intolerant and has a secret agenda.
First off, what Harper is proposing would not only be dumb politics, it would be unconstitutional. On the off chance a tory is reading this blog, listen carefully: The Supreme Court has ruled on this matter. You lost. Get over it.

But I love the speculation that Harper may have raised this issue deliberately. "My critics say I have a secret agenda. This is unfair. My agenda is right out in the open - and it's batshit crazy!"

My initial reaction is to think this poll is an outlier, and others will show that the race isn't this tight. But it's good to know that Harper can still be counted on to screw his party in a pinch. Some days I suspect Harper is in fact a Liberal sleeper agent.

More seriously, this is bad news for the NDP if these numbers are confirmed by later polls. The NDP is going to hemmorhage votes if it looks this close.

Off to a great start already!

Withdrawal: The Only Option Left

Martin Van Creveld:
What had to come, has come. The question is no longer if American forces will be withdrawn, but how soon — and at what cost. In this respect, as in so many others, the obvious parallel to Iraq is Vietnam....

Clearly, then, the thing to do is to forget about face-saving and conduct a classic withdrawal.

Handing over their bases or demolishing them if necessary, American forces will have to fall back on Baghdad. From Baghdad they will have to make their way to the southern port city of Basra, and from there back to Kuwait, where the whole misguided adventure began. When Prime Minister Ehud Barak pulled Israel out of Lebanon in 2000, the military was able to carry out the operation in a single night without incurring any casualties. That, however, is not how things will happen in Iraq.

Not only are American forces perhaps 30 times larger, but so is the country they have to traverse. A withdrawal probably will require several months and incur a sizable number of casualties. As the pullout proceeds, Iraq almost certainly will sink into an all-out civil war from which it will take the country a long time to emerge — if, indeed, it can do so at all. All this is inevitable and will take place whether George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and Condoleezza Rice like it or not.
Somebody really, really needs to ask the Liberal candidate for Etobicoke-Lakeshore if he still supports this unmitigated disaster, and whether he thinks we should have wasted Canadian lives on this.

I'm still hip-deep in schoolwork, and my paid work is starting to warm up with the Christmas season, so blogging is going to be erratic, at best, for the next week. But I would like to say at the beginning of this election that this should be fun, more than anything.

We're looking forward to an election almost two months from now. This means plenty of time for each of the parties to stumble, recover, and stumble again. I frankly think all of the polls at this point are meaningless. We'll know more in a few weeks, but for now almost any prediction could be proven right.

Oh, and one other thing: Can we please, please see an end to the statement "X worked with Y party (where Y is the NDP, BQ, or Conservatives), therefore X is evil." It was a minority parliament. Not a single party accomplished anything on their own. Gay Marriage is owed as much to the Bloc as to the NDP, and the Conservatives voted to pass some of the spending bills too. I disagree strongly with the separatists, but so long as Quebec keeps foolishly electing them they have a role to play in Parliament. It's a vain hope, but can we at least cut the elementary bullshit? If bullshit we must have, could they at least respect us enough to make sophisticated crap?

Monday, November 28, 2005

Even Stupider Than That "Freedom" Song

Sir Paul McCartney says he will never play in China because of the way dogs and cats are killed for their fur.

The ex-Beatle was given a preview screening of undercover footage taken in a fur market in Guangzhou, southern China....

Sir Paul and wife Heather were close to tears as they watched the undercover report.

Sir Paul said: "This is barbaric. Horrific. It's like something out of the dark ages. And they seem to get a kick out of it. They're just sick, sick people.

"I wouldn't even dream of going over there to play, in the same way that I wouldn't go to a country that supported apartheid."
Holy Christ - this is what set him off? Let's see... on my list of outrages in China, my list would begin with:
1) The ongoing crackdown of legal, democratic movements in villages across China.

2) The farcical justice system, which executes dozens of people every year without anything close to a fair trial.

3) The continuing threats against Taiwan and Japan.

4) The stifling of democracy in Hong Kong.

5) The intrusive surveillance of all aspects of life, including use of the Internet.
Wow. See, animal cruelty didn't even make my top five. I'm pretty sure I could make another five without getting anywhere near animal cruelty.

In case you missed my point, there are actual living, breathing, human beings being killed and otherwise abused in China. Maybe Paul could have announced his boycott for one of them.

Oh, and China (despite recent relaxation) still has an apartheid system that restricts where people can live and what jobs they can hold. Needless to say, the majority of Chinese have no say in their government.

Paul McCartney. What a tool.

Progressive or Dipper?

Simon Pole graciously writes:
This is a great blog. John, you should join up with us at Progressive Bloggers. Your posts deserve to be read by many more people. We should see a huge surge in traffic for the election, and having you at Prog Blogs will help make sure the good guys win.
Aside from my own vanity, there's something that I'd like some advice on. I've considered signing up with the Progressive Bloggers before, and I'm uncertain. This may sound ridiculous, but I take my identification as an NDP voter and blogger seriously - well, at least as seriously as I take anything on this blog. There's something in me that rebels at the somewhat vaguer identity as a "progressive", even though I have no problem with that label. My problem specifically in this context has something to do with this blurb at ProgressiveBloggers.ca:
Progressive Bloggers is a group of Canadian bloggers who firmly believe that this great country needs to move forward, not backwards. Be they Liberal or liberal, New Democrats or democrats, Green voters or voters who want a green country, or even Red Tories searching for a home, these bloggers believe that Canadian politics should move in a progressive direction.
But here's the thing: I don't agree with Greens, or even leftish Liberals. I'd wish there were more Red Tories, but in any case I don't think people should vote Liberal, Green, or Tory for a very simple reason: I don't believe the Liberals or Tories will ever willingly pass policies I agree with, and I don't believe the Greens have the means to yet.

So I'm a dyed-in-the-wool NDP partisan. I may have common ground with Green policies, but I'm strongly opposed to people voting green if they could otherwise vote NDP. I don't have a lot of time for people who call themselves progressives but are unwilling to support the only progressive party in Parliament.

All the same, I am a progressive, and there's no law saying I have to give up my (entirely unofficial, and somewhat meaningless) Blogging Dipper link. And for reasons having nothing to do at all with my own ego (ahem), the additional readership would be more than welcome.

So, a request for advice from the audience - join up with the Progressives, despite my misgivings, or languish in principled obscurity?

Oh, and a side note: Simon's blog is very good, and his Political Science professor is an idiot. Sadly, not the only one credentialed to teach PoliSci, as I can attest.

SURPRISE!

I don't want to alarm anyone, but the government has just fallen!

(crickets chirp, tumbleweeds roll.)

Yup, it's about the least surprising political development ever.

RIP, 38th Parliament. Bring on the next one.

I'm busy watching the final moments of this Parliament. But really, do we have to give a standing ovation to every single sick/retiring MP?

Mike Harris: Yup, Racist

Harris wanted 'Indians out' of Ipperwash: Harnick

CTV.ca News Staff

Just hours before native protester Dudley George was shot dead by police at Ipperwash Provincial Park, former Ontario premier was heard yelling that he wanted "the fucking Indians out of the park."

Former attorney general Charles Harnick told a public inquiry into the incident Monday that as he walked into a meeting attended by Ontario Provincial Police officer Ron Fox, he heard Harris make the comment in anger.

"As I walked into the dining room, the premier in a loud voice said, 'I want the fucking Indians out of the park,'" Harnick told the inquiry.

"I was at that point just taking my seat. I didn't hear who had spoken previously to evoke that comment, but then there was complete silence in the room."

Harnick said "he was stunned'' by what he thought was a "wrong and inappropriate comment."
This isn't a surprise to anyone - it's been suspected for some time, this is just the first time we've got it on the public record.

This inquiry would never have happened if the Tories had been reelected. Dalton McGuinty just made me happy I voted Liberal in the last election. Now, if he puts the kibosh on new nuclear plants, I might even vote to re-elect.

Despite what you'll see in the news, the point is not that Harris used a dirty word. The point is that hot-headed Harris got so angry that he unleashed the police on what had been a peaceful protest, and gave them no illusions as to what he wanted to happen to the "fucking indians".

(And by the way, if you're going to use the word "fucking" in the story, why not use it in the headline?)

Ignatieff: It's the Sycophancy, Stupid

Colby Cosh has the magic quote that's gotten everyone so exercised:
The first thirty years of my Russian grandfather's life were spent in Ukraine, attending the lyceum in Odessa, holidaying in the Crimea, then farming on his father's estates in central Ukraine, in a village called Kroupodernitsa. He became the head of the Kiev district council, the zemstvo, and then, after the revolution of 1905, was appointed the civilian governor of Kiev region...

For my grandparents, Kiev was more than a Russian town. It was the birthplace of Russian national identity itself. Russian Orthodox Christianity began in 987, when the ruler of Kievan Rus was baptized into the Christian religion. Now, unbelievably, it was the capital of a new independent state.

My difficulty in taking Ukraine seriously goes deeper than just my cosmopolitan suspicion of nationalists everywhere. Somewhere inside, I'm also what Ukrainians would call a Great Russian, and there is just a trace of old Russian disdain for these "Little Russians."
I've been having a hard time formulating exactly why I'm so hostile to having Ignatieff in government, but the full context of this quote really crystallized my thoughts.

Ignatieff calls himself "cosmopolitan", but he's not opposed to all nationalisms, just "little" nationalisms. He wouldn't question American or Russian nationalism, he simply disdains the idea that smaller nations might choose to carve a separate path. The common thread between this quote and his belief that Canada should participate in Iraq is simply this - he doesn't think we deserve a choice, just like he doesn't think the Ukrainians do. Canada, as a smaller nation, should be subject to the whims of the United States regardless of what our "nationalism" might dictate.

What Ignatieff's views amount to is not only an endorsement of both American and (bizarrely) Russian imperialism, but a denial of Canadian sovereignty over matters like control of our own foreign policy. The Norwegians have given us a name for people like this - Quislings. That the party of Trudeau and Pearson - men who understood the value and costs of a close relationship with the US - would nominate a man like this shows just how far they've fallen. Pearson fearlessly criticized the American war in Vietnam, and Trudeau tried his damndest to insulate Canada from American corporate pressure. Now the best we can do is Paul Martin waffling over weaponizing space, and Ignatieff: A sycophant to power, any power whatsoever.

I Love Liberals

How to lose a riding in Toronto: Nominate a candidate whose writings include: Insulting Ukrainians, advocating Canadian participation in Iraq, and running him in a riding with a heavy immigrant community.

Now, looking at the last election results for Etobicoke-Lakeshore, we see that the Liberals shouldn't have too much to worry about:

Liberals: 24 909 (50.24%)
Conservatives: 15 159 (30.57%)
NDP: 7 179 (14.48%)
Green: 2 201 (4.43%)

But the 2000 elections was a closer affair - with the combined Alliance/PC vote (remember the good ole days?) taking 40% of the pie. (I'd post the link to the Elections Canada reports, but I don't want to inflict our government's horrible web design on you. You can look it up yourself at www.elections.ca, should you desire some punishment.) Meanwhile, in 1997 the Reform/PC vote was within 5% of the Liberal vote.

There's an obvious flaw in my logic here - assuming that the Tories and Reformers will vote together again - something that hasn't proven true in Ontario generally, or Toronto specifically.

But the Conservatives are still led by Stephen Harper, so the Liberals probably don't have much to worry about, right? I'm not so sure. Three reasons why the Liberals might lose this seat:

1) They've turned Ignatieff in to a lightning rod. You can bet that both left-wing and right-wing groups all across the country are doing what the Liberals apparently didn't - going through his previous writings, speeches, everything he's every written (quick, someone! Find his graduate thesis!) to find any halfway controversial thing he's ever said or done. All the publicity for Ignatieff only works if he can win it in a walk. But before this election is over, there's going to be a scene where Ignatieff is face to face with screaming Ukrainians. How he handles that will go a long way to electing him or not.

2) The election generally is shaping up to be about punishing the Liberals generally for being too long in power. The arrogance the Liberals have shown by parachuting Ignatieff in to a riding where there's some obvious hostility to him could hurt them badly.

3) Jean Augustine was an incumbent who'd won every election since 1993. Ignatieff hasn't even lived in this country for a year (has it even been six months?) and as good as the Liberal party machine is, I wouldn't bet on any kind of local support.

If we see a major defection from the Liberals - with disgruntled anti-war voters going NDP, and disgruntled conservatives going for Harper - this could be a major victory for the Conservatives: That elusive Holy Grail, the Conservative Elected From Toronto.

Plus, seeing Michael "Canada Should Bend Over For the US" Ignatieff get humiliated by good Canadians would be fun too.

Fun With the Ignorant

Bill O'Reilly, being a dipshit:
O'REILLY: See, I think it's all part of the secular progressive agenda to get Christianity and spirituality and Judaism out of the public square. Because if you look at what happened in Western Europe and Canada, if you can get religion out, then you can pass secular progressive programs like legalization of narcotics, euthanasia, abortion at will, gay marriage, because the objection to those things is religious- based, usually.
As a Canadian, I'm pretty sure I could give O'Reilly a copy of the Canadian Almanac, ask him to read from a page, and he'd still manage to get his facts wrong.

Canada in fact has been "flagged" by the UN for our state support (mandated by our constitution, mind you) of Catholic schools. As part of the original deal between French-Catholic Quebec and English-Protestant Ontario, the government was required to provide funding for Catholic education in Canada. This funding technically violates the UN declaration of human rights, as other denominations aren't getting the same kind of funding. Getting Christianity out of the public square? We're way more religious than the US government.

What bugs O'Reilly is that Canadians aren't forced to go to religious schools, preferably protestant ones. Further, it drives him batty that, religious as we are, we don't use our religions as a cudgel to deny people their rights.

All this is to say, we're a better democracy than the US. Nyahh. If that bugs O'Reilly, he should go back to a country where a person's right to marry who they want isn't respect-

Oh, never mind.

The Death of Honour

via DailyKos, this depressing story about a suicide in the US Army:
WASHINGTON — One hot, dusty day in June, Col. Ted Westhusing was found dead in a trailer at a military base near the Baghdad airport, a single gunshot wound to the head.

The Army would conclude that he committed suicide with his service pistol. At the time, he was the highest-ranking officer to die in Iraq.

The Army closed its case. But the questions surrounding Westhusing's death continue.

Westhusing, 44, was no ordinary officer. He was one of the Army's leading scholars of military ethics, a full professor at West Point who volunteered to serve in Iraq to be able to better teach his students. He had a doctorate in philosophy; his dissertation was an extended meditation on the meaning of honor....

When Westhusing entered West Point in 1979, the tradition-bound institution was just emerging from a cheating scandal that had shamed the Army. Restoring honor to the nation's preeminent incubator for Army leadership was the focus of the day.

Cadets are taught to value duty, honor and country, and are drilled in West Point's strict moral code: A cadet will not lie, cheat or steal — or tolerate those who do.

Westhusing embraced it. He was selected as honor captain for the entire academy his senior year. Col. Tim Trainor, a classmate and currently a West Point professor, said Westhusing was strict but sympathetic to cadets' problems. He remembered him as "introspective."...

But amid the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, he told friends that he felt experience in Iraq would help him in teaching cadets. In the fall of 2004, he volunteered for duty.

"He wanted to serve, he wanted to use his skills, maybe he wanted some glory," recalled Nick Fotion, his advisor at Emory. "He wanted to go."

In January, Westhusing began work on what the Pentagon considered the most important mission in Iraq: training Iraqi forces to take over security duties from U.S. troops.

Westhusing's task was to oversee a private security company, Virginia-based USIS, which had contracts worth $79 million to train a corps of Iraqi police to conduct special operations....

Then, in May, Westhusing received an anonymous four-page letter that contained detailed allegations of wrongdoing by USIS.

The writer accused USIS of deliberately shorting the government on the number of trainers to increase its profit margin. More seriously, the writer detailed two incidents in which USIS contractors allegedly had witnessed or participated in the killing of Iraqis.

A USIS contractor accompanied Iraqi police trainees during the assault on Fallouja last November and later boasted about the number of insurgents he had killed, the letter says. Private security contractors are not allowed to conduct offensive operations.
You can guess where this might be going, I'm sure. Westhusing very quickly became disillusioned about what was really going on in Iraq:
At a meeting the next morning to discuss construction delays, he seemed agitated. He stewed over demands for tighter vetting of police candidates, worried that it would slow the mission. He seemed upset over funding shortfalls.

Uncharacteristically, he lashed out at the contractors in attendance, according to the Army Corps official. In three months, the official had never seen Westhusing upset.

"He was sick of money-grubbing contractors," the official recounted. Westhusing said that "he had not come over to Iraq for this."...

Then there was the note.... "I cannot support a msn [mission] that leads to corruption, human rights abuse and liars. I am sullied," it says. "I came to serve honorably and feel dishonored.

"Death before being dishonored any more."

A psychologist reviewed Westhusing's e-mails and interviewed colleagues. She concluded that the anonymous letter had been the "most difficult and probably most painful stressor."

She said that Westhusing had placed too much pressure on himself to succeed and that he was unusually rigid in his thinking. Westhusing struggled with the idea that monetary values could outweigh moral ones in war. This, she said, was a flaw.

"Despite his intelligence, his ability to grasp the idea that profit is an important goal for people working in the private sector was surprisingly limited," wrote Lt. Col. Lisa Breitenbach. "He could not shift his mind-set from the military notion of completing a mission irrespective of cost, nor could he change his belief that doing the right thing because it was the right thing to do should be the sole motivator for businesses."

One military officer said he felt Westhusing had trouble reconciling his ideals with Iraq's reality. Iraq "isn't a black-and-white place," the officer said. "There's a lot of gray."
God, this makes me sick. I'm sure that Lt. Col. Breitenbach is a bright person and all, but how rotten is your soul when an officer kills himself, and your response it to say "he didn't get it - greed is good!"

I'm not one of those people who thinks the Army is a factory for churning out good citizens - indeed, I'm largely in agreement with Wonderdog when he says
All that need be said on this one is that the only person I've met who murdered his own mother in cold blood was a soldier. The only person I've ever met who offered to kill someone's landlord, for pay, over a rent dispute was a soldier. And the only person I've ever met who got a buddy to beat up his pregnant girlfriend in the hope of inducing a miscarriage was a soldier, as was the buddy who did the deed. As a matter of fact, I've never personally met a violent criminal who wasn't a soldier, and that's to say nothing of the minor crooks.

It's time to put a stake through the heart of the myth that the army builds fine citizens. It builds soldiers. They come out with the character and integrity they brought in.
That said, there are people like Col. Westhusing who do bring in ideals of honor and respect to the military, and take it very seriously. Iraq is doing to the US Army what Vietnam did 30 years ago - eating it whole, from the inside. It's frankly bizarre that the United States has managed to ruin its army, rebuild it, and ruin it again all in less than 35 years. You'd think that institutional memory would last longer than that.

In all the biographies of Schwarzkopf, Powell, and other Gulf War commanders, one of the messages that comes through clearly is the desire of all the officers who lived through Vietnam not to repeat that mistake - most famously pronounced in the Powell doctrine.

Well, Powell may not have led the US in to this war, but he lent his considerable moral authority to it. Top members of the US armed forces have all followed their orders rather than tell the Commander in Chief what he needs to hear - that this war is a disaster, and it's killing the Army. True, this would destroy an officer's career - if he said it privately, he'd probably be fired. If he said it publicly, at the very best he'd get the Fox News treatment - and he might commit a crime, I'm not sure what legal restrictions are placed on high commanders.

The commanders are failing their troops. Lower ranks can't leave - the stop loss orders prevent that. And they can't speak out against the chain of command. What America needs, if it's going to preserve a functioning army, is some sense of bravery - some sense of honour - at the top.

Let's just say I'm not holding my breath.

Saturday, November 26, 2005

Horrible, Horrible Progress

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa's tribal leaders on Saturday slammed a government attempt to ban virginity testing, saying the age-old custom could help fight the country's deadly AIDS epidemic by discouraging promiscuity.

The tests are conducted by an elder tribeswomen who inspects young girls' hymens to see if they are still intact before the girl marries.

But rights groups say the tests, practiced in rural areas in South Africa, are unhygienic and sexist and justice officials have put forward a bill to outlaw it.

The head of the Congress of Traditional Leaders of South Africa (Contralesa) told his members at a conference it could prove key to curbing the spread of HIV, which infects around one in 10 South Africans.

"It helps children to continue to lead clean lives. It discourages promiscuity and if children are not promiscuous then we are not going to have instances of unwanted pregnancies but, most importantly, it ensures that the spread of HIV/AIDS is halted," Patekile Holomisa told state radio.

South Africa has the world's biggest HIV/AIDS caseload, with close to 5 million people infected.
Now, in most cases like this I simply assume that the men are full of shit, and are trying to maintain their control over women's bodies - and I think that's still what's going on here.

So why is this progress?

Because the old reason why they claimed virginity tests could fight AIDS was because it was believed that sex with a young virgin woud cure AIDS. If the misogynists have changed their stories, I'm hoping it means that the old one is no longer believed. Maybe this is a good thing then.

Or, I could be incredibly wrong.

Continuing Pretty Space Picture Watch

Apparently, the rings of Saturn are made up of the remains of Alderaan:

Friday, November 25, 2005

Wax Off

Pat Morita (Mr. Miyagi to most of us) is dead.

Actually, my favourite Karate Kid is #4, the one with Hilary Swank. Yup, Hilary Swank sure does know how to get beaten.

Profile in Courage

Conservative MP and Editor of the Spectator Boris Johnson is offering to publish the transcripts of George "I wanna bomb Al Jazeera" Bush's conversation with Tony "Crap, I'm Tony Blair" Blair. In so doing, he would violate the Official Secrets Act and be risking a prison sentence.
And yet however wrong you may think al-Jazeera is in its slant and its views, you must accept that what it is providing is recognisably journalism. It is not always helpful to the American cause in Iraq, but then nor is the BBC; and would anybody in London or Washington suggest sending a Tomahawk into White City? Well, they might, but only as a joke. Exhausted Western leaders, living in the nightmare of a media-dominated democracy, are allowed to make jokes about blowing up journalists. I seem to remember that when I was sent to Belgrade to cover the Nato attacks, Tony Blair told the then proprietor of The Daily Telegraph that he would "tell Nato to step up the bombing!" Ho ho ho.

But if there is an ounce of truth in the notion that George Bush seriously proposed the destruction of al-Jazeera, and was only dissuaded by the Prime Minister, then we need to know, and we need to know urgently. We need to know what we have been fighting for, and there is only one way to find out.

The Attorney General's ban is ridiculous, untenable, and redolent of guilt. I do not like people to break the Official Secrets Act, and, as it happens, I would not object to the continued prosecution of those who are alleged to have broken it. But we now have allegations of such severity, against the US President and his motives, that we need to clear them up.

If someone passes me the document within the next few days I will be very happy to publish it in The Spectator, and risk a jail sentence. The public need to judge for themselves. Sunlight is the best disinfectant. If we suppress the truth, we forget what we are fighting for, and in an important respect we become as sick and as bad as our enemies.
via Antonia Zerbisias.

It's Funny When The CIA is Wrong

Popping my head up for a moment... I'm doing a bunch of research for an essay due... tomorrow. Anyway, just came across a funny article on intelligence failures. It starts with a Russian joke: "If you come across a Bulgarian on the street, beat him up. He'll know why."

I guess it works better if you've had a bottle of Stoly.

Also funny is this list of the CIA's admitted failures - important events that it failed to anticipate:
-The Likelihood of North Vietnam Intervention in South Vietnam
-The Likelihood of All-Out Soviet Support of Hanoi
-Cuba
-The Sino-Soviet Split
-The First Chinese Nuclear Test
-The Soviet ALFA-Class Submarine
-Libya
-The OPEC Price Increase of December 1973
-Ethiopia
-Afghanistan
-Iran
-Nicaragua (The Nature of Somozas Opposition)
Boy. And that's just what the CIA admitted to dropping the ball on in 1983. That doesn't include all the crap they've missed in the last quarter-century!

A cousin of mine has a saying - "The CIA only knows about the shit it starts." It's a good rule to remember.

(The article, if you're curious, is "Learning from Intelligence Failures", by John Hollister Hedley (International Journal of Intelligence and Counter-Intelligence, v. 18, p. 435-450))

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Have a Good Day, Everybody

School craziness for the next little while, so no promises about blogging. For now, a video that I first saw care of Adam: The Ballad of Bilbo Baggins, by Leonard Nimoy. Or, as I call it, Ian Holm by Spock.

Interesting

China's economic growth is driving out smaller dialects of the spoken Chinese language, to the benefit of the language of Beijing (Putonghua). This process is now beginning to threaten dialects from cities as large as Shanghai:
Dialects from across China are disappearing, squeezed out by the relentless spread of the official language from Beijing. The local dialect of a sleepy fishing village called Shenzhen, for example, was lost inside a burgeoning Special Economic Zone in the 1980s and few people noticed.

But Shanghai is no sleepy fishing village. The jewel of post-imperial China and the "first son" under Mao's central planners, the city has been designated by party chiefs to take over from Hong Kong as the commercial and financial capital of China....

Shanghai people are proud of their urbanity, business savvy, cuisine, literature, drama and traditional opera. As the foundation stone of this heritage, Shanghainese is considered the highest example in the Wu school of languages, the most refined dialect of one of the seven main Han Chinese linguistic groups.

The problem is this flagship tongue is under a two-pronged attack - from internal immigration on the one hand, and central government policies on the other....

With internal migration controls eased, immigrants are again flooding into Shanghai from every province on the back of the economic boom. Following a recent relaxation in the city's hukou (resident registration) system, new arrivals are now free to live wherever they please.

The upshot of these developments is that native Shanghainese increasingly find themselves in a minority, surrounded by neighbors with whom they are forced to speak Putonghua.
I get kind of touchy with the whole dialect/language division. Some "dialects" of Chinese are as different as Spanish and French, for example. The language is still written the same way, but it seems to me that we need a more objective label than that.

It's fascinating to watch China go through many of the same processes western nation-states went through in their own histories. For example, even in to the 20th century the majority of French citizens did not speak the French language. Nations have used a variety of levers to build national languages, including some of the ones Beijing is using today. Nation building is hard work, as George W. Bush can tell you.

I can't say whether I see this as a bad thing or not. I'm not a linguist or anything - do we lose something when a language dies? Are languages akin to species, where extinction is forever? The one counterexample I can think of is Hebrew, which had become a dead language (in the sense that no Jews used it as a common spoken tongue) before it was resucitated by the zionist movement in the late 1800s. This might not be a useful example in the case of China, where I imagine the written language doesn't preserve the spoken differences.

Of course, like I said I'm not a linguist or anything, so take all of the preceding comments as a guy way out of his depth.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Boing

That's the sound of oil prices bouncing back from their off-season lows:

Crude futures saw a second day of gains after sliding to five-month lows last week, though prices are still about 20 percent above year-ago levels. A barrel of light, sweet crude for January delivery added $1.05 to $58.75 on the New York Mercantile Exchange.
With the end of summer driving and the mercifully-delayed cold weather, we've been cushioned in a period of low demand. That's about to change, and fast.

Yowza

Ever since the US "accidentally" bombed Al-Jazeera's station in Afghanistan... and Iraq, there's been rumors that the independent broadcaster was being targeted by the Bush regime. This report, via Suburban Guerilla, won't help matters:
PRESIDENT Bush planned to bomb Arab TV station al-Jazeera in friendly Qatar, a "Top Secret" No 10 memo reveals.

But he was talked out of it at a White House summit by Tony Blair, who said it would provoke a worldwide backlash.

A source said: "There's no doubt what Bush wanted, and no doubt Blair didn't want him to do it." Al-Jazeera is accused by the US of fuelling the Iraqi insurgency.
Christ. Bush had to be talked out of attacking an ally. One wonders what the Bush administration would have thought of the Nazis killing Ed Murrow during WWII.

Sorry, I forgot, the Bush administration only likes Nazi comparisons that make them look good.

Addendum: Wasn't there an Onion story about Nixon bombing the New York Times? Funny how satire becomes reasonable... no, wait, that's not funny at all.

On Rape

Angelica, in response to nasty and disheartening polling, writes:
I wonder how much of the damage done to rape victims occur after the attack, either from the victim-blaming attitudes of the society if she chooses to pursue her case, or in the shame and guilt she feels because she internalized those attitudes.
I wonder how much women who are not raped lose nevertheless because of the curbs placed on their freedom through fear of rape -- is that skirt too short, is that makeup too provocative, is walking alone in the dark tantemont to asking for it.
I wonder how much men who are not rapists lose nevertheless because women are taught to treat them all as potential rapists.
I can't answer the first two, but I know it was a pretty bizarre experience going through school and puberty while much of the discussion around rape presumed that Men Rape, period. Now, I went to a pretty bad school for that - the two teachers hated children first, and especially male children - but it gives you some weird issues growing up, when you have to second guess your own (already confused) feelings while you go through the normal vicissitudes of puberty.

I've long since come to the conclusion that merely having a Y chromosome does not mean I am going to rape anyone, but the statistics don't lie, either. Men - especially young men - are responsible for the vast majority of violence and violent crime, throughout history and across borders. It's kind of unsettling to know that I belong to a dangerous demographic, and I have since before I was born.

Succinct

Tom Tomorrow on the claims that bin Laden and Al Qaeda want to win in Iraq so they can spread Islamic fundamentalism across North Africa and South Asia:
Not-Vietnam now has its own Not-Domino Theory.
The set up took longer than the punch line, I know.

Why Do The Iraqis Want the US to Fail in Iraq?

via Nitpicker, this piece of... news.
CAIRO, Egypt (AP) - Leaders of Iraq's sharply divided Shiites, Kurds and Sunnis called Monday for a timetable for the withdrawal of U.S.-led forces in the country and said Iraq's opposition had a ``legitimate right'' of resistance.

The final communique, hammered out at the end of three days of negotiations at a preparatory reconciliation conference under the auspices of the Arab League, condemned terrorism, but was a clear acknowledgment of the Sunni position that insurgents should not be labeled as terrorists if their operations do not target innocent civilians or institutions designed to provide for the welfare of Iraqi citizens.
Memo to Cheney, and Bush too I suppose:

YOU ARE NO LONGER WELCOME IN IRAQ. IN ALL LIKELIHOOD, YOU NEVER WERE.

Why does Cheney want more US soldiers to be killed by Iraqis with a legitimate right to resistance?

When Did Stupidity Become Acceptable?

Time was, it wasn't okay to be happy about your stupidity. Times have changed.

I work at a bookstore, and I see the new acceptability of stupidity frequently. The most memorable example I can think of was a woman who brought in her daughter, who had to read a book for school. We walked through the entire store, and the mother was quite helpful to her daughter, trying to think of things she might like.

The daughter, on the other hand, was the most pugnaciously stupid person I'd seen in quite some time. She started off by saying, in a tone of pride (!) - that she never read anything, except for school. As we walked through the teens section of the bookstore, she refused to consider most of what her mother and I showed her. The reasoning, as far as I could fathom, was that if the books were any good, she wouldn't enjoy them. (I'm not reccomending East of Eden or anything. Think "Travelling Pants.")

I was really surprised by the adamance of this incredible stupid girl. But apparently, a lot of people feel free to be stupid, indeed see it as a kind of cynical wisdom. For example, Scott Adams of Dilbert fame:
Many of your comments suggest that there are plenty of credible scientists on the topic of Intelligent Design and evolution. Some people asked who I would consider credible....

I would consider credible anyone who didn't have a preconcieved notion or a financial/career incentive.
When you're talking about the cause of life itself, I submit that no one can pass that test (especially people who write books on the topic). That has been my point all along.
Okay. So if you've got a career/financial interest in a subject, you can't be credible. Let's analyze this a moment.

How does one become informed on a subject in our society? I don't mean informed for a lay person, I mean how do you become an authority on a subject? Well, for something like human evolution you have to spend years at expensive schools learning about a subject. This is a substantial investment, that is to say you have a financial incentive in your own knowledge. Even if you don't pursue this as a career, by informing yourself about a subject, you've been disqualified as a "credible" person in Scott Adams' eyes.

It gets even worse if you actually pursue biology as a career. Suddenly, your entire future as a scientist is dependent on your career incentive to develop knowledge of evolution.

So, according to Scott Adams (who I stopped reading long ago) the only way to be credible is to not have spent any time or money educating yourself.

When did it become acceptable to be this stupid?

Oh, I'm Conflicted

I don't know what makes me happier:

US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald indicting important members of the Bush Administration, or:

US Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald indicting Conrad Black, the soon-to-be-former Lord Crossharbour.

I guess this is the sequel to Fitzmas. Or is it still Fitzmas, but just the Julian calendar?

What a wonderful way to start the day.

Monday, November 21, 2005

First You Lose the Sitcoms

...then you lose the war. From How I Met Your Mother tonight (yes I watch.)
Woman: I'm Canadian, remember? We celebrate Thanksgiving in October.

Man: Oh right, I forgot you guys are weird. You pronounce the word "out" oot.

W: You guys are the worlds leader in handgun violence, your health care system is bankrupt, and your country is deeply divided on almost every important issue.

M: (hesitates, at a loss) Your cops are called mounties.

On Unsustainability

OTTAWA (CP) - The issue of public versus private health care needs to be front and centre in the next federal election campaign, says Alberta Premier Ralph Klein.

Federal politicians appear unwilling to tackle the problems facing Canada's "unsustainable" public health-care system head-on, Klein told the Canadian Club, adding he fears they will try to avoid the issue altogether.

"It's easy . . . at the federal level to say pretty much anything you want about health care because the federal government is not actually responsible for delivering health services to the vast majority of Canadians," he said in a speech Monday.

"But at the provincial level, we are responsible. We have to talk about it. We have to try and fix it. We can neither wait for federal elections, nor can we shut up when they come along. We have to tell the truth."

Some federal Tories undoubtedly wish Klein would avoid the sensitive issue of Alberta's planned health-care reforms.
Ahem. There is one province in Confederation that is totally dependent on a non-renewable source of mineral wealth for it's finances. The extraction, refining, and use of oil causes pollution leading to early death for children and seniors, and climate change for the entire planet. The use of oil will almost certainly be banned before Mr. Klein has drawn his last breath.

So please tell us, Mr. Klein, which system is unsustainable.

Screw it

Okay, it's an all-China day:
A major moment came this July in a Defense Department review on the PLA. While criticized as soft by hawks, the report hit especially hard due to a comment that China's buildup now appears to go past just an effort to invade Taiwan. Rather, it stated that China was modernizing its forces with the intent of longer range operations and "regional contingencies."...

"They are buying and developing capability whose only use is against the US military," said an Asia-based US Air Force colonel. "The programs we can see are designed to combat a carrier battle group. Who is it that has carrier battle groups?"...

Taiwan especially is a place where China has succeeded in getting US attention. Despite Taiwan's 60 years of separate development, China views the island as its own territory. A conflict with Taiwan would be especially dangerous since, for internal political reasons, China can't start a war over Taiwan that it cannot win. A military loss over Taiwan could cause a collapse of the party in Beijing....

What concerns some American China experts is that creating a modern army will also create the dynamic to use a modern army. Analysts like Mulvenon point to possible unintended consequences of a buildup.

"What I worry about is the military influencing foreign policy," he says, "[decisionmakers] using the military they have paid so much for like a tool in their kit ... as leverage in certain situations.... That can be how bad things get started."
Some important points there - one, that Beijing isn't going to panic and start lobbing missiles at Taipei before they're ready. Beijing remembers what happened to the Argentine Junta after the failed Falklands invasion. Two, Beijing is beginning to build a force to beat the US, not just Taiwan. But there's an important qualifier here - China may simply be assuming that a war for Taiwan will put them at war with the US anyway. This doesn't mean that China is going to invade San Francisco.

Most important of all is the part that I didn't quote above here:
In a surprisingly short time, China has accomplished two feats. One, it has focused its energy and wealth on creating an army within an army. It has devoted huge amounts of capital to create a small high-tech army within its old 2.2 million-member rifle and shoe-leather force.

The specialty of this modern force, about 15 percent of the PLA, is to conduct lightning attacks on smaller foes, using an all-out missile attack designed to paralyze, and a modern sea and air attack coordinated by high-tech communications.
The PLA is still 85% built to fight "people's wars" and is in no way ready to take on the US, unless Beijing really relishes a severe drubbing.

Let's All Laugh About African Politics

It's not really funny, but this story about reforming Kenya's constitution has this key paragraph:
At opposition leader Uhuru Kenyatta's hometown of Gatundu, also in highlands north of Nairobi, most were opposing. "Uhuru has told us to vote 'No'. We will follow him even if he tells us to go to the wilderness," said Sam Kungu, a jobless 32-year-old.
As the article notes, Uhuru Kenyatta is the son of Jomo Kenyatta, Kenya's first post-colonial leader. The word Uhuru means Independence. So to have a politician named Uhuru Kenyatta is roughly equivalent to having an American politician named Independence Washington or something.

You've got to love the gall of naming your kid that. Not that old Jomo was grooming the boy for politics or anything like that...

Keeping China down, continued

Gee, I didn't mean to keep blogging about this, but this stuff keeps coming up. via DefenseTech, it looks like the Indians have handed the Americans their asses, again. (The first time was during war games last year.)

The more interesting element is that the Indians seem to have bested American F-16s with Russian Mig-21s and Su-30s. The Chinese, incidentally, have been buying and building SU-30s as fast as they can.

Obviously there have been no US-China war games to test our hypothesis, but I wouldn't bet on the Chinese doing much worse than the Indians.

Staying with China, John Mearshemier has a piece about the rise of China, and he's not optimistic:
If China continues its impressive economic growth over the next few decades, the US and China are likely to engage in an intense security competition with considerable potential for war. Most of China's neighbours, to include India, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Russia and Vietnam, will join with the US to contain China's power.
Um... what makes Mearsheimer think that Russia will side with the US, really? For that matter, South Korea isn't a sure thing either: Seoul has been so badly mistreated by the Bush Administration, I honestly wouldn't assume the South would be on Washington's side. This is especially so if the US continues to encourage Japanese re-militarization.

India, Japan, Singapore and Vietnam I buy trying to beat China, however. More Mearsheimer:
Specifically, China will seek to maximise the power gap between itself and its neighbours, especially Japan and Russia. China will want to make sure that it is so powerful that no state in Asia has the wherewithal to threaten it. It is unlikely that China will pursue military superiority so that it can go on a rampage and conquer other Asian countries, although that is always possible.

Instead, it is more likely that it will want to dictate the boundaries of acceptable behaviour to neighbouring countries, much the way the US makes it clear to other states in the Americas that it is the boss. Gaining regional hegemony, I might add, is probably the only way that China will get Taiwan back.
I think Mearsheimer underestimates the powerful attraction a rising power has - look at the example of Austria and Germany in the 1920s and '30s. The Austrians were happy to be annexed (at the time) because they saw it as a natural union with a large and growing power. Similarly, I wouldn't be surprised if the Taiwanese eventually saw reunification as in Taiwan's best interests. It's even more likely if Beijing manages to make a transition to some kind of democratic government.

Of course, Mearsheimer doesn't really care who's running China - and neither do most American scholars of international relations. This is, I think, a serious mistake. Most IR thinkers seem to think that China is a threat, period. I'm no fan of the Beijing regime, but they aren't going to be around forever. There's no reason for the US and China to go to war now, and there's even less if China's a democracy.

Articles like Mearsheimer's don't help matters. Ever hear of self-fulfilling prophecies? If everyone's convinced that a war is inevitable, well...

Moment of Levity: The George W. Bush School for Special Children

Just in case you haven't seen this picture yet:



But seriously. What a sissy:
Mr Bush answered a range of questions before one reporter said: "Respectfully, sir - you know we're always respectful - in your statement this morning with President Hu, you seemed a little off your game, you seemed to hurry through your statement. There was a lack of enthusiasm. Was something bothering you?"

The president answered: "Have you ever heard of jet lag? Well, good. That answers your question."

The reporter asked for a follow-up question but the president then thanked the attending journalists and said "No you may not" as he walked away.

He strode from the lectern to the door, trying both handles and then breaking into a laugh.
Presidents have been unmade by images like this. Thank you God.

On The Other Hand...

If the US were going to try and keep China, India, and whoever else (Brazil? EU? Indonesia?) down forever, they'll have to do it on a budget. So it's kind of funny that the US is now looking at 30-year old weaponry to arm the soldiers of the future.

This points to an interesting problem with military hardware. Say you've got a fighter jet that's 5 times more capable than the previous one, but costs 10 times as much. Well, you or I might just think we're getting hosed - it's still cheaper to just buy 10 more jets, right? Well, no. The first reason is that a) qualitative assessments like my theoretical example are tricky at best, and b) the margin of victory might be somewhere in that equation, and you might lose it buy going cheap. Given that military needs aren't supposed to be dictated by economic efficiency, this partly explains some of the fabled examples of Pentagon misspending.

Interesting to see the US deciding that, in some cases, cheap is okay too.

Scary Polls

We've all been too happy about Dubya's crappy numbers for too long. I've decided to break the monotonous joy with some bad news - via Ezra Klein, this scary poll (warning: PDF.)
In the future, should U.S. policies try to keep it so America is the only military superpower, or would it be acceptable if China, another country or the European Union became as militarily powerful as the U.S.?
Given that this question is proposing that the US government commit to doing the impossible, you'd expect that large majorities of people would be opposed to it, right? Oops.
US Policies should keep US as only military superpower:

News Media: 44%
Foreign Affairs: 54%
Security: 46%
State/Local Government: 63%
Academic/Think Tanks: 34%
Religious Leaders: 34%
Scientists/Engineers: 22%
Military: 57%
General Public: 50%
That 1/3 of religious leaders in the US think that the US can, nay should be the dominant superpower for all time is astonishing. It's like saying 1/3 of Americans think that Bush should command the sun to halt in the sky, and the moon too.

There are a bunch of countries that have better fundamentals for military power in the 21st century, and the US can't beat them all. But half of the American public wants them to try anyway.

(Note that scientists and engineers are, as always, the most rational.)

Things to Come

The price of natural gas in the UK has tripled in the last 10 days.

Ahem. Let's check that again:

The price of natural gas has tripled in the last 10 days in a country that used to be a major natural gas supplier (from the North Sea.) This has come at a time of sustained sub-zero temperatures in the UK, which Canada has mercifully been spared thus far.

With all the stresses NAFTA is under already, I'll be interested to see if the energy provisions survive this winter. There are bound to be questions as to why we're sending NG south while Canadians pay record prices for it here.

Natural gas follows more or less the same cycle that oil does, albeit at a much faster pace. So if this is what Peak Gas looks like, just imagine it slower to get an idea of what Peak Oil will look like.

Friday, November 18, 2005

Relative Importance Watch

Sadly, I'm sure this is how this event will be covered throughout Canada:
OTTAWA (CP) - Country singer Shania Twain, hailed for a legendary rags-to-riches saga that has inspired millions, led a star-studded cast to receive an Order of Canada.

She was joined by the likes of speed skater Catriona Le May Doan, environmentalist Elizabeth May, chocolatier David Ganong and former Ontario lieutenant-governor Hilary Weston, along with 38 others, for the ceremony.
Okay, Shania and Catriona are talented, and who doesn't love chocolate? But for my money the most important person being inducted in to the order of Canada today is Elizabeth May. She's been a relentless agitator for the Canadian environment, both inside government and out. She worked with the Mulroney government (she's said Mulroney was the best environmental PM Canada's ever had, and I believe her) and she's been a vocal critic when necessary.

As she's said, it says something about this country when you can do nothing but heckle the government of this country for thirty years and be given it's highest award.

So here's to Elizabeth May, and here's to Canada.

John Ralston Saul makes me smile

And somewhere, the Moustache of Understanding is weeping:
MJ: Your general argument runs counter to the conventional wisdom, which is that globalization is on balance a good thing. Witness some recent books—say Thomas Friedman’s The World is Flat, Martin Wolf’s Why Globalization Works and Jagdish Bhagwati’s In Defense of Globalization—which all take a much rosier view than you do.

JRS: First of all, Friedman is barely worth considering. It's basically one of those 'How to succeed' books; it's very embarrassing, frankly. On the other hand, when you read people like Baghwati—who are very intelligent—when he says he thinks it's a great success, you read the book and you find that 50 percent of it says the opposite. He thinks the inclusion of intellectual property in the WTO was a terrible mistake and could well bring down the international trade system. And he says the deregulation, willy nilly, of international money markets is a terrible mistake. He feels he's on the side of globalization, but when you really get to what he means by globalization, it's very very narrow. [Joseph] Stiglitz is a bit further along that road. He says that globalization obviously isn't working very well, but there's no way out. John Williamson, the author of the ‘Washington Consensus’ [essentially, the policy advice being addressed by the IMF and World Bank to Latin American countries in the 1980s and 90s, emphasizing open markets] regularly says, “Well, that's not what I meant....”
via Tiny Revolution. The whole interview is worth reading.

Salient Facts

This got sent to me in the email today. Some facts about Canada's energy relationship with the US, but this jumped right out at me:
As of January 1, 2005 Canada's proved reserves were approximately 179 billion barrels -- 4.3 billion barrels of conventional oil and 174.5 billion barrels from Alberta's oil sands reserves -- and rank second only to those of Saudi Arabia.
Note that our government is explicitly endorsing the fiction that oil sands are equivalent to conventional crude - which is true only if you think chunk tuna is equivalent to caviar.

Note also the tiny fraction of our "oil" that is actually, you know, oil. Canada - as an entire country - contains less oil than the top 20 individual oil fields, much less oil exporting countries.

I've gone over, and over, and over the problems with tar sands, so I hope people won't fall asleep when I say this again: Tar sands won't solve the problem of oil shortages - not for the US, and not for the world. They could supply Canada with all the oil we need today, but that's only because our demand is puny.

Tar sands are too dirty, expensive, and use precious and dwindling natural gas supplies to make in to useable oil. On that note, this rather frightening article from the NYT:
Thanks to a huge buildup of natural-gas-fired electricity plants in the 1990's even as exploration has slowed, demand has outstripped supply; the nation now depends on natural gas for 24 percent of its energy requirements, compared with 23 percent for coal and 40 percent for oil...

In the meantime, higher prices for the fuel are rippling through the economy. And with more than half of the nation's homes heated by natural gas, millions of Americans are already bracing for big price increases this winter. The Energy Information Administration recently predicted that the cost of heating a typical home with natural gas could rise by more than 40 percent in coming months, or an average of $306 a household...

The prices have been pulling back from a post-hurricane spike in October that sent them above $14 per thousand cubic feet, but they remain at unusually high levels, with the futures contract for December closing at $11.61 on Monday. Only three years ago, during a glut, natural gas was selling for as little as $2 per thousand cubic feet.

High prices are inflicting pain across the country, hitting hard at utilities in the mountain states, grain elevators in the Midwest and chemical manufacturers along the Gulf Coast. Announcements of job losses in energy-intensive industries are mounting.

For instance, Lyondell Chemical of Houston said last month that it was shutting a foam chemicals plant in Lake Charles, La., cutting about 280 jobs. The reason was higher energy costs, the company said, though Lyondell also cited damage from Hurricane Rita...

"We need to declare a national crisis," Andrew N. Liveris, the chief executive of the Dow Chemical Company, said in recent testimony before the Senate. Dow, the nation's largest chemical maker, has shut 23 plants in the United States in the last three years in places like Somerset, N.J.; South Charleston, W.Va.; and Elizabethtown, Ky., as it shifted production to Kuwait, Argentina, Malaysia and Germany, where natural gas is cheaper.

"Call it demand destruction," Mr. Liveris said. "Dozens of plants around the country have closed their doors and gone away, and are never coming back."
Then the article ignores reality:
The current supply shortage results mainly from production disruptions in the Gulf of Mexico, where nearly 40 percent of output remains shut. But it has also revealed two disturbing trends: disappointing production elsewhere in the United States and an inadequate imports via pipeline from Canada.
Sure, these are temporary problems, but the long-term outlook is just as bleak - North American natural gas production is in decline. Period. Full stop. Later in the article, they mention that importing liquid natural gas from overseas is one option, but there are currently only 5 LNG terminals in North America.

The tight natural gas supply is a huge problem for North America this winter.

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Hulk SMASH.

Angelica has a post up where she rightly smacks Tyler Cowen for underestimating the intelligence of the American voter, and the savings possible from moving to a single-payer health care system. Some excerpty goodness:
Cowen: My worry is that U.S. national health insurance will be used to win votes, and not to correct micro-imperfections in the insurance market. Let's say that you are a left-wing blogger, and, for purposes of argument, that your entire critique of the Bush Administration is correct. Remember, this guy was re-elected. You are relying on these very same voters, and this very same "policy correction mechanism" to make politicians accountable for a well-functioning health care system.

Angelica: Erm...that's a new one. Yeah, sure nationalized healthcare is good policy and might work elsewhere, but the American people are especially feeble-minded. How else can you explain Bush's re-election? (Well, actually I suppose Tyler's got a point there...)

By doing a minimum amount of digging on google, I see that the per capita GDP in Taiwan is $25,300, in contrast to our per capita GDP of $40,100. And of that much-lower GDP, they only spend about 6% of it on healthcare in total, as opposed to 15% for the United States. Yet they manage to cover the primary healthcare of all Taiwanese including dental, while about 45 million U.S. citizens remain uninsured.
Okay, but the most egregious part to Cowen's idiocy is right out in the open. Go back and read it again:
My worry is that U.S. national health insurance will be used to win votes, and not to correct micro-imperfections in the insurance market. Let's say that you are a left-wing blogger, and, for purposes of argument, that your entire critique of the Bush Administration is correct. Remember, this guy was re-elected. You are relying on these very same voters, and this very same "policy correction mechanism" to make politicians accountable for a well-functioning health care system.
Did you catch it? How about now:
My worry is that U.S. national health insurance will be used to win votes, and not to correct micro-imperfections in the insurance market.
Micro-imperfections? There are 45 million Americans who lack any health insurance whatsoever, and whose life expectancy is shorter as a result. 45 million people dying early is a "micro-imperfection"? Tyler Cowen can go to hell. Here are some facts about the 45 million "micro-imperfections" that Cowen is okay with, from CampusProgress:
45 million uninsured Americans is more than...
• All Americans age 65 and older (35.9 million)
• All African Americans (37.1 million)
• All Hispanic or Latino Americans (39.9 million)
• 12 million more than the population of Canada (32.2 million)
• Nearly 5 million more than the population of Spain (40.2 million)
• 20 million more than the population of Iraq (24.7 million)
• Nearly five times more than the number of Americans living with cancer (9.2 million in 2001)
• 2.5 times higher than the number of Americans with diabetes (18.2 million in 2002)
• 7 million more people than those living with HIV throughout the world (38 million)

There are...
• Nearly 150 uninsured Americans for each physician in America
• Nearly 7,500 uninsured Americans for each hospital in America
• Over 84,000 uninsured Americans for each Member of Congress
"Micro-imperfections", each and every one.

What a douche.

Pardon me?

Keep a sharp eye on fresh developments in both Canada and Cuba, two countries with rogue, corrupt and repressive regimes that don't know when to cut their losses and leave town.
I.... I... I. The Hell? I don't even know what to say. I honestly thought that Conservatives had left the Communist aspersions against Liberal Prime Ministers back in the 1960s, when they were already old, not to mention slanderous.

Some might not remember that the CIA and FBI once considered Lester B. Pearson (the man who brought us national healthcare, so watch your mouth!) to be a Communist sympathiser. Well, they did (briefly) and some wingnuts still think he "sold us out", whatever the hell that might mean.

But that was the only time I heard anything like the above.

Meanwhile, between the US and Canada, only one country has trouble passing laws against torture, so I'd be careful who I call "repressive" or "rogue."

PS - we get pot and gay marriage, too. Live with it.

Whats Wrong With Journalism Today

Apparently, l'affaire Woodward is stoking a debate at the Washington Post. I have no idea if these quotes are accurate, but the attitude expressed in this paragraph is common enough:
Now, maybe you make your living with anonymous sources or maybe you don't, but if you do, you know one thing, and that is that you do not reveal your sources when the heat is on or under any other circumstance--when it is politically expedient or when it is economically expedient or when it is journalistically expedient or when it is legally expedient. If your source is the devil, you keep his confidence.
But, as Matthew Yglesias keeps pointing out, that's not what Judy Miller was doing. The prosecutor knew Scooter Libby's identity. She knew the prosecutor knew. She was being asked to corroborate her source's testimony, and she chose to protect her source's perjury. That's highly unethical, even for a journalist.

More widely, why on earth would a journalist say they have a blanket obligation to protect their sources - the NYT has said they reveal sources if the sources lie to them, or end up harming the institution. I'd say Miller's sources did both. So, as the kids say, WTF?

Woodward is Slime, continued

Ugh. Bad enough he's working with the Bush Administration. But now he's using their patented "deny the linearity of time" defense, as in "there are terrorists in Iraq now, so obviously Bush was right to attack in 2003." From Americablog:
1. Woodward says that when he learned Plame's name (in mid-June 2003), he was in the middle of finishing a book, and that's why he didn't want to come clean with his executive editor at the Washington Post about his involvement in the Valerie Plame affair - he was afraid of getting subpoenaed while working on the book....

But no one was being subpoenaed in June 2003, no one was even talking about subpoenas at that time. Patrick Fitzgerald wasn't even appointed as special prosecutor until December 2003, and the first journalists, from NBC and Time, weren't subpoenaed until May 2004. Judy Miller wasn't subpoeaned until August 2004, and she didn't do jail time until summer 2005.
Bob Woodward has been spending too much time with the wrong crowd. Lie down with dogs...

On the Eating of Wheaties

Rep. John Murtha makes an angry speech about Iraq, and then presents this motion to the Congress:
Therefore be it

I) Resolved by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in

2) Congress assembled,

3) That:

4) Section 1. The deployment of United States forces in Iraq, by direction of Congress, is

5) hereby terminated and the forces involved are to be redeployed at the earliest practicable

6) date.


7) Section 2. A quick-reaction U.S. force and an over-the-horizon presence of U.S Marines

8) shall be deployed in the region.

9) Section 3 The United States of America shall pursue security and stability in Iraq

10) through diplomacy.
Hooo boy. Remember Iran-Contra? If the motion passes (which it won't, at least not in this Congress) Bush has two choices: He can obey the law, or he can pull a Reagan and stay involved in Iraq in defiance on Congress. Well, it's a family tradition after all...

I Shouldn't Read This

But when people take on FDR, I get defensive. via Digby, Jonah Goldberg says Bush's lies are no big deal:
What if Bush did lie, big time? What, exactly, would that mean? If you listen to Bush's critics, serious and moonbat alike, the answer is obvious: He'd be a criminal warmonger, a failed president and — most certainly — impeachment fodder. Even Bush's defenders agree that if Bush lied, it would be a grave sin. For example, the Wall Street Journal recently accused Harry Reid & Co. of becoming "Clare Boothe Luce Democrats" for even suggesting that Bush would deceive the public. Luce, a Republican, had insisted that FDR "lied us into war." And this, the Journal editorialized, was a "slander" many paranoid Republicans took to their graves.

My friends at the Journal are right to suggest that some Bush critics are paranoids, but here's the thing: Luce wasn't slandering Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Indeed, the evidence that FDR lied is far greater than the evidence that Bush did.
What an amazing discovery Jonah's made! Apparently, we have more evidence of a President's lies sixty years after his death than we do while those lies - and the conspiracy around them - are ongoing. The world thanks Goldberg for his brilliant deduction.

Up next: Jonah reveals that some historians have uncovered evidence that President Jefferson may have had an affair with his black slave!

But of course, Jonah doesn't stop there:
Does this make FDR a bad president? No. While I have my problems with FDR, most historians are right to be forgiving of deceit in a just cause. World War II needed to be fought, and FDR saw this sooner than others.
I think I see where this is going...
Now, you might say that Iraq was no WWII, Saddam was no Hitler, and 9/11 was no Pearl Harbor. Those are all fair arguments with varying degrees of merit. But WWII wasn't "the good war" in our hearts until after Pearl Harbor and even until after the Holocaust, and a lot of Hollywood burnishing.

The Bush Doctrine is not chiefly about WMD and never was. Like FDR's vision, it balances democracy, security and morality. Still, the media and anti-Bush partisans have been bizarrely unmoved by the revelations of Hussein's killing fields, his torture chambers for tots and democracy's tangible progress in the Middle East.

If Bush succeeds — still a big if — the painful irony for Bush's critics is that he will go down in history as a great president, even if he lied, while they will take their paranoia to their graves.
Of course, Bush has compared Iraq to Germany, Saddam to Hitler and Stalin, and 9/11 to Pearl Harbour. Does Jonah think that his President's arguments are without merit?

More broadly, the whole comparison to WWII is absurd (though you don't need me to tell you that, I hope.) The US declared war on Nazi Germany because... Hitler had declared war on the United States following Pearl Harbour. Now, note that Iraq had not declared war on the US in 2002-3. Nor had Iraq invaded Poland, Czechoslovakia, Austria, or remilitarized the Rhineland.

More seriously, Baghdad did not control large parts of Iraq (the no-fly zones, a rough analogy to the demilitarized Rhineland in the 1920s.) The invasions of Iran and Kuwait had been repulsed years ago, and Saddam's primary foreign policy seemed to consist of a) haranguing his people about the crusaders and zionists, and b) compensating families of suicide bombers. Fine, B isn't exactly Boy Scout behaviour. But compared to what the CIA does on a regular basis throughout the world (see Chile, Guatemala, Vietnam, etc.) it's chump change.

If Goldberg wants to paint Bush as the new FDR, then Hitler would have had to be contained in Germany, without the control of the provinces on the Polish, Czech and French borders, having been repulsed from his invasions of those countries in 1932. Can you spot the difference?

On top of all that, as if more were needed, it's worth pointing out that FDR lied to get the US in to an ongoing war, not to start one. Nations that were friendly to the US (albeit not allies at the time) were already engaged in the struggle against Fascism in Europe and Japanese imperialism. If Turkey and Saudi Arabia had been at war with Iraq, Goldberg might have a point.

But he doesn't. He's an idiot and a liar, and neither I nor you should read him.

End of the Line

Boy, I know journalists are supposed to venerate Bob Woodward, but the latest revelations - that Woodward was one of the first to be told about Valerie Plame's identity, months before other witnesses - is pretty shocking. One of the guys most responsible for hounding Richard Nixon out of office spent the last two years pooh-poohing the idea that this was a crime (it was) and even used his latest book (about Deep Throat) to attack Fitzgerald for locking up Judith Miller.

Frankly, it's a disgusting performance. But it's basically in character for Woodward. Certainly since the 1990s, Woodward's done nothing to actually attack those in power. He's just acted as a stenographer for the poweful, with no use of his critical faculties. His two books about Bush are the best example of this - fawning of the first degree.

I'm not too sad to see him go - he was useful once, but he was never a crusader of any kind. We've still got Bernstein, not to mention Seymour Hersh.

The Death of Madison?

James Madison is widely seen as the man who gave the US its Presidential system of government - i.e., a bicameral legisliature with a separate executive. This is contrasted to the British parliamentary model that Canada and many former colonies of the United Kingdom inherited. Rather than a separation of powers, parliaments operate through a fusion of powers, where the executive comes from the legislative. In the UK this goes even further, where the House of Lords also serves as the final court of Appeal, fusing Judicial, Legislative, and Executive in the Parliament.

Interestingly, the Americans designed their system based on a misinterpretation of the British system by the French philosophe Montesquieu. In a very real sense, all the democracies of the world, Presidential and Parliamentary alike, all derive from Westminster. It's just that some of us are more honest about it.

Anyway, I was thinking about all that when I read this post by Mark Schmitt at TPMCafe:
Under Bush in the U.S., on the other hand, we have moved toward something that looks a lot more like parliamentary government, in which the ruling party moves with a single voice and when it fails to do so, the whole order is at risk. If Blair is more national leader than party leader, Bush has styled himself as much more the leader of an ideologically unified majority party than any American president in decades, including those such as LBJ who had solid congressional majorities. He is the first president, for example, to handpick the Senate majority leader....

The phenomenon of parliamentary democracies that surely seems weirdest to an American is the fact that a single loss can bring down a government. We are accustomed to having our "accountability moments" at regularly scheduled intervals, with all sorts of congressional victories and defeats in between. And there's something to be said for that. A president can be daring, can try to push Congress in certain directions, and can win some or lose some, get up off the mat and come right back and try again. Imagine, for example, if Bill Clinton had been prime minister rather than president. Rather than eight consecutive years in office, he would have been like one of those prime ministers who comes in and out of power several times, losing confidence votes, dissolving governments, and then forming new ones on new coalitions....

And just as in a parliamentary system, that works until it stops working. And when it stops working, the government is finished.
Here's hoping.

It's interesting to note that Canada, the UK, and US are all facing political - what, crises? That seems like too harsh a word in these cases. In any case, all are suffering from political weakness and low polls (though our Liberals look like the lions of the bunch. But when you look healthy compared to Bush and Blair, I'd still keep the Priest on speed dial - you never know when you'll need the last rites.

Meanwhile, Latin America will see a large number of elections in the coming year. Some are predicting a nationalist/leftist resurgence, sweeping away the neoliberal regimes that have been so cordial with the US. Then we have the US mid-terms a year from now. With 57% of US voters now saying that Bush deliberately misled the American people, there's a real chance of the Democrats retaking the House, though less so in the Senate. In any case, the House has all sorts of nifty powers, like subpoena, oh, and a little thing called impeachment. Even if my dreams aren't fulfilled, there's a real potential for a political shift - not just in Canada and the US, but throughout the continent.

Interesting times, as they say.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Creepy Police State, continued

-On the funny side, the MPAA is calling movie poracy "the new drug on the street." They're so good at self-parody.

-Oh, and if you oppose the use of oil, you're a terrorist.

By The Way

The violence in Iraq continues. 51 US soldiers have been killed in November so far, only 1/2 through the month. It's gearing up to be one of the most violent months so far.

Not exactly encouraging for the elections in December.

Why I Don't Subscribe

The Globe and Mail gives room to too many liars. Some may remember my feud against Margaret Wente. Wonderdog hates Marcus Gee, and with good reason.

I can't give the Globe money until they get rid of these liars.

Assorted Oil News

-Oil execs, in an attempt to calm public opinion, lied to Congress. Hey, if it works for the Bush Administration...

-Bipartisan lawmakers introduce a new bill to make all cars in the US "flex-fuel". This would mean they could be fueled on ethanol or gasoline. Good news.

-News that makes me happy - dealers in California are taking measures to hide the huge overstock of unsold Hummers they haven't been able to move. Tee hee. What's the waiting list for a Prius these days?

Um... Who's Driving This Thing?

So apparently, Rumsfeld is trying to back off from responsibility for the Iraq War. You might remember that Rumsfeld is the Secretary of Defense, and thus second only to the President in the chain of command. Still, apparently Rummy was never wild about the whole Iraq thing:
Rumsfeld never pretended there was anything off-chancy about the timing of the memo when he discussed it with Bob Woodward, who wrote about the document in his authoritative history of Iraq war preparations, Plan of Attack. In that account, Rumsfeld portrayed the memo as a warning blast, an attempt to do "everything humanly possible to prepare" Bush for the awful responsibility that had settled onto his presidential shoulders -- and his shoulders alone. For there comes a point when even the secretary of defense must realize that "it's not your decision or even your recommendation," Rumsfeld reflected with Woodward. By which he meant the Iraq war wasn't Don Rumsfeld's decision or recommendation.
Bush: I didn't make any mistakes, I was misinformed by my subordinates.

Rumsfeld: I may be his subordinate, and I may have misinformed him, but he owns this shit.

(Former CIA Director) Tenet: Dude, what's this knife in my back? And where did these cement boots come from?

The ongoing story of the White House crack-up is rapidly becoming both funnier and scarier. If nobody's responsible for Iraq, how did America get there?

Jobs the Humanitarian

You know, I didn't see Bill Gates making this offer:
Steve Jobs, Apple Computer Inc.'s chief executive, offered to provide free copies of the company's operating system, OS X, for the [$100 Laptop] machine, according to Seymour Papert, a professor emeritus at MIT who is one of the initiative's founders. "We declined because it's not open source," says Dr. Papert, noting the designers want an operating system that can be tinkered with. An Apple spokesman declined to comment.

Under present plans, the first production version of the laptop will be powered by an AMD microprocessor and use an open-source Linux-based operating system supplied by Red Hat. Open-source software is not patent protected and can be copied for free.
Good for Jobs for making the offer, but good for MIT for turning him down, too. Unless its all open source, this project will just turn in to a net drain on developing economies.

Bush Cracking Up?

Who knows? Maybe it's true:
President Bush feels betrayed by several of his most senior aides and advisors and has severely restricted access to the Oval Office, administration sources say. The president's reclusiveness in the face of relentless public scrutiny of the U.S.-led war in Iraq and White House leaks regarding CIA operative Valerie Plame has become so extreme that Mr. Bush has also reduced contact with his father, former President George H.W. Bush, administration sources said on the condition of anonymity....

The sources said Mr. Bush maintains daily contact with only four people: first lady Laura Bush, his mother, Barbara Bush, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Undersecretary of State Karen Hughes. The sources also say that Mr. Bush has stopped talking with his father, except on family occasions.
Steve Gilliard has a good line:
Just a year ago, people were gnashing their teeth that the US was lost and it was time to leave to friendlier climes. Well, how 12 months can change things. Bush's war is exposed as a fraud, the Gotti family is more popular than Cheney and Bush is railing against his opponents in an almost manaical way.
Steve takes this as a good sign. I'm less sure. As much as Katrina and Miers were body blows to this bunch, I honestly think Bush's numbers have more to do with fatigue than anything else. What we're seeing isn't rejection - it's boredom.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Radioactive

I've been watching the ongoing meltdown in Bush's poll numbers with something close to glee, but this gives me feelings of carnal lust:
Fewer than one in 10 adults say they would prefer a congressional candidate who is a Republican and who agrees with Bush on most major issues, according to a USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll taken Friday through Sunday. Even among Republicans, seven of 10 are most likely to back a candidate who has at least some disagreements with the president.

Bush's job approval rating sank to a record low 37%. The poll finds growing criticism of the president, unease about the nation's direction and opposition to the Iraq war....

In the poll:

• Two-thirds of independents and 91% of Democrats disapprove of the job Bush is doing. Even among Republicans, who have solidly backed Bush in the past, 19% express disapproval — a new high.

• For the first time — albeit by a narrow 49%-48% — a plurality disapprove of the way Bush is handling the issue of terrorism. Six in 10 disapprove of the way he's handling foreign affairs, the economy, Iraq and immigration, and 71% disapprove of him on controlling federal spending.

• A 53% majority say they trust what Bush says less than they trusted previous presidents while they were in office. In a specific comparison with President Clinton, those surveyed by 48%-36% say they trust Bush less.

• A record high 60% say going to war in Iraq was "not worth it." In a finding consistent with previous polls, 54% say it was "a mistake" to send troops there.
Ouch. Bush is less trusted than Clinton, by double digits. That's gotta hurt.

Eventually, Bush's poll numbers will reach critical mass, super-heat, melt through their containment vessel, and descend rapidly towards the water table. Let's hope it's in time for the mid-terms, so a Democratic Congress can impeach.

Impeach Bush and Cheney. Do it now.

Creeptacular

All the creepy stuff about electronic voting machines that you never wanted to know, but really should. My favorites:
16. California banned the use of Diebold machines because the security was so bad. Despite Diebold’s claims that the audit logs could not be hacked, a chimpanzee was able to do it!

18. All—not some—but all the voting machine errors detected and reported in Florida went in favor of Bush or Republican candidates.

20. Serious voting anomalies in Florida—again always favoring Bush—have been mathematically demonstrated and experts are recommending further investigation.

Open Source in the World

Zdnet has an interesting series on the development of open-source software in both the developing and developed world. Part one, two. One of the interesting points they make is that this isn't just some hugfest for commies, but it's actually the only way these countries can address their computer needs:
Buying Windows XP and Office XP on Amazon.com in the US is equal to almost 3 months of GDP per capita in South Africa and over 16 months of GDP per capita in Vietnam. This is equivalent to charging a single–user licence fee in the US of $7,541 and $48,011 respectively....

The availability of software in a local language can also be a factor in the deployment and support of open source software by governments. For example, the South African government has funded a project to translate OpenOffice.org into the 11 official languages of South Africa. This project is nearly completed, while Microsoft Office 2003 supports only one of the official South African languages — English — according to the Microsoft Web site....
I'm in the middle of paper season at school, so blogging may be erratic for a while. But one of my last papers will be arguing that copyright is an obstacle to any kind of fair "information society" we want to build in the future, and needs to be replaced by some alternative funding mechanism wherever possible.