Tuesday, February 28, 2006

The advances continue

A123 batteries are finally bringing lithium-ion batteries in to more conventional uses, and Wired is there. The article is pretty short, but here's the good parts:
The M1, based on the same lithium-ion technology used in your cell phone and laptop, is the first product from MIT spinoff A123 Systems. Cofounder Yet-Ming Chiang, a materials science professor, succeeded in shrinking to nanoscale the particles that coat the battery's electrodes and store and discharge energy. The results are electrifying: Power density doubles, peak energy jumps fivefold (the cells pack more punch than a standard 110-volt wall outlet), and recharging time plummets. Going nano also solves a safety problem. Regular high-capacity Li-ion batteries tend to explode under severe stress, like if they're dropped from a ladder....

A123's real target, however, is your car. Chiang says A123's cells could lighten a Toyota Prius' 100-pound battery by as much as 80 percent and help boost any hybrid's performance. The quick recharging time - the M1 takes five minutes to reach 90 percent capacity - plus high peak power also would be ideal for plug-in versions of gas-electric vehicles. With a bit more research, the world's roads may someday see fast, zero-carbon autos that zip past gas guzzlers and tank up from the grid faster than a rest-stop Starbucks can serve you a latte.

Being stupid can be disappointing

At democracyarsenal, an interesting review of a new book by Paul Berman, in which he vents his dismay at the European left for letting the humanitarian intervention argument be captured and killed by the Bush administration:
He is disappointed in his heroes, Joschka Fischer and Bernard Kouchner. Fischer had the temerity to confront Donald Rumsfeld, in English, at a security policy conference in Germany and say, “I am not convinced.” In 2006, we could fill a room with liberals who wish they had said just that. Not, apparently, Berman: he wants “a left-wing alternative” – “different from the arguments of the Bush Administration, but different also from the simple Great Refusal of the antiwar attitude in Europe.”
You can almost smell the sneer that Berman wrote that with - "the Great Refusal", as if being against illegal, aggressive war were the pouting tantrum of a three-year-old. And we saw this, before the war - antiwar activists were asked "so what's your solution for Iraq", as if a country of 20 million people were reducible to a mathematical equation.

In fact, there was no "Great Refusal" on the side of the left. What there was, was a rational argument, with copious evidence before the war started, that in the case of Iraq military force would do no good whatsoever. In fact, the antiwar left that Berman is writing about - the leftist governments of Europe - argued that a) the case for WMDs was not persuasive, b) there were better options for dealing with WMD concerns than illegal war, and c) the aftermath of war was going to be unpredictable at best, with the potential for a more potent recruiting tool for jihad.

All of these things were predicted before the bombs started falling in Baghdad, and all of them have been proven correct. There was no "Great Refusal", only "Great Accuracy." And I refuse to apologize for being correct years ahead of those who now wish they'd been as smart as me.

This makes me happy

Indie bands - who could really use the money - are refusing to let Hummer use their music in their ads:
(AP - Tuesday, February 21, 2006.) The Thermals, a rambunctious rock band from Portland, Ore., were en route between gigs last year when they got a phone call from their label, Sub Pop. Hummer wanted to pay them $50,000 for the right to use their song "It's Trivia" in a commercial.

"We thought about it for about 15 seconds, maybe," lead singer Hutch Harris said.

They said no.

Washington D.C.'s Trans Am were offered $180,000 by Hummer for the song "Total Information Awareness."

"We figured it was almost like giving music to the Army, or Exxon," guitarist Philip Manley said.

They said no.

The post-punk band LiLiPUT, who broke up more than 20 years ago, could have pocketed $50,000 for "Heidi's Head" after making close to nothing during their five-year existence. But they, too, said no.

"At least I can sleep without nightmares," Marlene Marder reasoned.

The Illusion of Power

Arthur Silber has an excellent series of posts on the possibly-impending, definitely disastrous attack on Iran. Particularly this one, in which he points out the American folly in Vietnam and Iraq and the similarities between the two. Specifically, Silber uses Barbara Tuchman's framework of "folly":
This book is concerned with the last in a specific manifestation; that is, the pursuit of policy contrary to the self-interest of the constituency or state involved. Self-interest is whatever conduces to the welfare or advantage of the body being governed; folly is a policy that in these terms is counter-productive.

To qualify as folly for this inquiry, the policy adopted must meet three criteria: it must have been perceived as counter-productive in its own time, not merely by hindsight. This is important, because all policy is determined by the mores of its age.... Secondly a feasible alternative course of action must have been available. To remove the problem from personality, a third criterion must be that the policy in question should be that of a group, not an individual ruler, and should persist beyond any one political lifetime.
Both Vietnam and Iraq meet these criteria in spades. Digby, in response to Silber's essays writes:
The Republicans clung to their delusions for more than a quarter of a century believing that the Vietnam war was lost because it was sabotaged by the civilian leadership and the fecklessness of the American public. They nurtured their resentment through almost three decades, unappeased even by the fall of the Soviet Union. They, and many Democrats as well, never questioned their assumptions about the "illusion of American omnipotence" and they never understood that "problems and conflicts exist among other peoples that are not soluble by the application of American force or American techniques of even American goodwill." In fact, they carefully nurtured all those fancies and when they finally gained the power and opportunity, they immediately set about trying to prove their point --- again. The results are as predictable and as bad they were the first time.
We on the left might try and blame to Republicans for this, but the fact is that America as a country never rejected the comfortable illusion of it's own omnipotence. I've had my American friends and family tell me straight-faced that Vietnam wasn't "lost" because America just gave up, or because America wasn't invaded, or whatever. But if anecdotes aren't enough to convince people, how about some polling data? Last November, I wrote about a poll which reported the following:
Question: 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.?

US Should be only 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%
This poll terrified me then, and it still terrifies me. The numbers you see are basically the level of approval broken down by various demographics, so you can see that almost 2/3 of local and state government officials believe that the US should commit to doing the impossible. Similarly, 1/3 of academics and religious leaders also believe that the US should commit to doing the impossible. Because that's what this poll is asking, in case you'd missed it - the US is as likely to remain the lone superpower in this century as I am to sprout wings and fly. The United States simply cannot maintain preponderant military power forever. Hell, a pessimistic reading of Iraq would say that the US isn't a superpower now.

And this is why American politics will never be able to admit that the entire notion of the Iraq war was morally and pragmatically wrong - not because the facts don't justifty it, but because the American political system is incapable of admitting that there are limits to US power. Which is why the Democrats are likely to be blamed when the US is finally evicted from Iraq. The idea that Howard Dean is responsible for the defeat of the 3rd Infantry Division is as ridiculous as the urban legend that Vietnam vets were spat on when they got home. Nevertheless, the urban legend persists. Similarly, the American electorate will demand that someone - anyone - be blamed for the defeat in Iraq. This is certainly going to include the current administration, but I don't believe that it will stop there. The search for scapegoats will, like it did after Vietnam, include the civilians who rationally saw that the war was unwinnable and said so publicly. This isn't really a prediction, after all - it's already happening.

My bet? In 20 years, unless the American public wakes up in some fantastic way, Howard Dean is likely to be remembered as another Hanoi Jane.

What Does It Take?

I know I'm supposed to be happy that Bush is down to 34% approval rating. And really, I am - two out of three Americans now think Bush is a bad president. What's not to love?

Well, mainly the fact that these numbers are about 5 and a half years too late - early November, 2000 would have been more timely.

You know, I had a great big long rant in the works here, but it's too late and I'm tired. I just really, really wish Florida weren't run by a Bush.

Monday, February 27, 2006


Ah, the sidebar is back where it belongs. Thanks Adam.

Equal time

Mike makes a good reply to my post on medicare. I reprint it in full here, because you should all read it and I think you're all too lazy to click on a link:
Well, Japan and France also deliver healthcare directly to citizens while Canada is essential fee-for service private with a since fee payor. In other words, in Canada doctors and some diagnostic clinics are are private businesses that charge fixed, negotiated rates to the government for services. In Japan and France, doctors and diagnostics are salaried employees of the state. In France, they have 2x the doctors and pay them 1/2 as much.

By all means, lets convert to that system if you dare, but it will be harder to sell than the current one - its far more "socialist" than what we have.

Also, you may want to look at how the mix of public and private ruined Australia and nearly ruined Britain. There are more countries in the world than France and Japan.
I had heard that Australia's experiment with mixed care had been disastrous, but never got any details. If anyone has references they want to share, leave it in comments.

It's also worth re-stating that Canada doesn't have public health care, we have public, non-profit health insurance. This is an important distinction.

Some Movies I Saw on Reading Week

For all the hype, Brokeback Mountain was a disappointment. The acting and directing were great - surprisingly, in the case of the actors. I'm no fan of Gyllenhaal, and I thought he was definitely the junior partner in this movie. Heath Ledger really surprised me though. I may have to reevaluate 10 Things I Hate About You and A Knight's Tale.

The movie really suffered, I thought, from a poor screenplay. The directing and acting really did carry this film - hell, even Anne Hathaway was good - and I thought the lack of a strong narrative really brought the film down.

So far, I'm rooting for Good Night and Good Luck for Best Picture on Oscar night. But I haven't seen Crash yet. I'm torn on the Best Actor nod - Ledger really was impressive, but I can't decide whether or not I liked Strathairn in GN&GL more. Ledger arguably had the harder role, though.

The other movie I saw was The Matador, starring Pierce Brosnan and Greg Kinnear. Not a great film in any sense of the word, but lots of fun. Probably the kind of film Hollywood would do well to make more of - no A-list stars, just a good, funny story well told.

However, it really blows me away that it costs $40 to bring a date to the movies these days. I mean, jesus fricking christ. I'm not made of popcorn!


When I posted the math quiz results, it seems to have changed the alignment on my sidebar to center instead of left. It's not a big deal, but if someone has a tip on how to fix it, I'd be grateful.


I don't write much about Canada's health care system, probably because I don't think of it much. Basically, all I've ever had to do to get health insurance was fill out a small form and get my picture taken. I really, really like that.

So it kind of bugs me that the only impression a reader of the New York Times would ever get of Canada's medicare system is one of rot and decay. Seriously. In over a decade of irregularly reading the Times, I've never seen a single article that said a good thing about our system. Meanwhile, the American system (which, as even enlightened Americans will admit, is objectively worse) is never subjected to the same kind of criticism.

That's why I wasn't surprised by the latest Times article which basically talks about how great this new private health care in Canada is. (Thanks for the tip, Max!) The headline itself is enough to give you an idea of the author's bias: "As Canada's Slow-Motion Public Health System Falters, Private Medical Care Is Surging". Way to be objective there.

I'd love for the Times to talk about the huge and growing numbers of entirely uninsured people in the US, or the much, much larger number of under-insured people. Something close to 50 million people have no insurance whatsoever, despite higher average spending in the US. If we add up the uninsured and underinsured, I'd be willing to bet that 1/3 to 1/2 of Americans lack proper access to proper medicine.

Let me rephrase that. Despite the fact that America spends more on health care than we do, there are more uninsured Americans then there are Canadians.

The argument does cut both ways, by the way. As Ezra notes, Canada spends more on health care than other countries, and gets poorer service for its money than France or Japan. And yes, Japan and France do allow restricted private health care. Which is why I'm not convinced that private health care will ruin Canadian medicine. The big difference is that France and Japan don't live right next door to the world's most inefficient and predatory insurance industry, always on the prowl for new customers.


To those who question the quality of Ontario high schools, I say to thee: Look upon my marks, ye mighty, and despair:
You Passed 8th Grade Math

Congratulations, you got 10/10 correct!
Could You Pass 8th Grade Math?

In other news, water is wet

Gee. It turns out that this little dust-up in Iraq might have had something to do with oil:
In today's New York Times , Koppel lays out the argument that if oil wasn't the main element of the "the Bush administration's calculations when the president ordered the invasion of Iraq in 2003, it would have been the first time in more than 50 years that the uninterrupted flow of Persian Gulf oil was not a central element of American foreign policy."

Koppel systematically goes back fifty years to show how the Eisenhower, Nixon, Carter, Reagan and Bush administrations all intervened in the Persian Gulf because of oil.
I remember being dumbstruck when, in the months before the war actually began, one of my friends insisted (apparently in all seriousness) that the war in Iraq "had nothing to do with oil." Now, I was willing to concede that the US probably wasn't out simply to turn Iraq in to a gas pump for the US. Still - nothing to do with oil? You'd have to believe that the US was invading one of the world's largest oil reserves without thinking about the effects that might have in the future. If they weren't thinking about oil, they really should have been!

It blows me away that this was ever taken seriously. Nevertheless, Tom Friedman was able to say repeatedly that it was unquestionable that this war had nothing to do with oil. And nobody slapped him for saying something so dumb. Imperial powers seem to need to believe that everything they do is motivated only by love and a desire for peace. Reality, of course, is very different.

Suck it, Prius owners

How does a $13,000 car that gets 157mpg sound? The car looks like they basically followed Amory Lovins' plans - make it out of carbon fiber, reduce the weight down to less than 500 lbs, and give it a small engine. As far as I can tell, it's not even a hybrid!

The article says the car only has a 20hp engine, but has a top speed of 160km/h. Nice. This is what you get when you start building cars like you build planes.

Bring on the flex-fuel models! Hell, something this light might make a perfect all-electric vehicle.

This "Peak" thing is getting old, even for me

Peak fish? Really?
The world has passed "peak fish" and fishermen's nets will be hauling in ever diminishing loads unless there's political action to stem the global tide of over fishing, says a fisheries expert based at the University of British Columbia. Dr. Daniel Pauly says the crisis in the world's fisheries is less about scientific proof than about attitude and political will.

And, he says, the world's fish need a dynamic, high-profile political champion like a Bono or Mandela to give finned creatures the public profile of cute and furry ones.

"It's time for leadership on global fisheries issues. It's time to act," says Dr. Pauly, Director of the Fisheries Centre at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada. "We don't need more science. This is a message that's different from many of my colleagues. Of course we need to learn more about fish. But research is often publicly funded on the grounds that this is an alternative to other political action. We know enough to act to prevent the continued decimation of global fisheries."
(Link via Past Peak)

This does point out something to keep in mind - all resources are non-renewable if consumed in the conventional, industrial manner. An ethanol-fueled plug-in hybrid still sucks if by buying it you necessitate more roads being built, for example. Similarly, even a "renewable resource" like fish are most definitely finite if we consume them the way we do today.

I'm a big technophile, but changing the things we use doesn't help if we keep doing the same stupid things with them. Use better tools, yes. But use them smarter, too. And that, I fear, is the hard part.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Weekend Roundup

Well, I've been enjoying my week off, what with the doing of nothing. Of course, the rest of the world keeps turning. Or, in this case, spinning out of control.

See Iraq: An attack on a Shia shrine leads to martial law, and the country teeters on the precipice of civil war - or perhaps, well over the edge. My question: What's new? That sectarian violence in Iraq is undermining the government? That radical Sunnis are deliberately killing Shia to spark off some kind of reenactment of Sarajevo? Or that the US Forces in Iraq are unmasked as totally, entirely useless for keeping order?

Note that it has been the clerical authorities who have taken the lead in restoring order, not the "government" of Iraq or the US Army. Steve Gilliard has been right about Iraq for a long time, and I'd reccomend you read his stuff to get an idea about what's going on. Juan Cole is good on Muslim issues, but the fact is that Iraq is far more a military issue than a religious or cultural one at this point, and Steve's perspective is informed far more by military history than religion.

See Saudi Arabia: There have been multiple attacks on Saudi oil infrastructure, the latest one pushing the price of oil up to $62 again. One of these days, AQ or one of their fellow travellers will get lucky and knock out Saudi exports for a few weeks. If this happens during a cold winter or hot summer, we're in deep trouble.

via The Oil Drum, we see that Colorado and China both suffered from (unrelated) natural gas shortages this month. This is gloomy news - as oil prices rise, a lot of governments (including Ontario's) have bet on natural gas as a domestic heat source. The North American supply of natural gas is uncertain enough - if the Russians and Iranians can't keep China and India well-fed, then who honestly thinks Toronto will be able to keep the lights on?

There's also been some good energy news, though. A company here in Toronto has announced kits to retrofit a Prius in to a plug-in hybrid, that will run you an extra $6,500 for bulk orders. Obviously, people are already paying a premium for a Prius, but they might be willing to shell out a bit more for the cost savings a PIH kits would bring. It would incidentally increase the lifespan of the car, giving an owner more time to pay off the investment.

A lot of interesting news in microbial biofuels. One company, Veridium, seems to have a promising technology to capture CO2 emitted from (for example) power plants and feed the gas to algae, which can then be turned in to ethanol and biodiesel. My guess is that Veridium's technology would work with any dense emitter of CO2, though Veridium seems to concentrate on capturing the CO2 emitted from ethanol production.

And the news about ultracapacitors keeps coming. The latest is a new form of aerogel capacitor, which seems to have some pretty impressive numbers - an energy density of about 90wh/kg, or about four times that of lead-acid batteries, or 1/3 that of lithium-ion batteries. One point worth noting is that aerogels are the least dense solids that exist, so these figures might be hiding the actual volume of one of these capacitors. Technology also has to be compact to be useful, after all.

Well, that's about all the links I've got for now. I'm going home tomorrow, so I expect I'll be back in the swing of things for Monday.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Honour and Revenge

Hi all, just popping in to point out a really interesting interview on Salon.com. You'll have to watch an ad to check it out, but it's really worth it - a discussion of how the concept of "an eye for an eye" has been misinterpreted, and how in some ways primitive honor-based societies had the right idea:
To get the value exactly right, we say an eye is worth an eye. You have a right to my eye. Now you can say to me, "I'm going to take your eye." Then I'm going to say, "Hey, what would you be willing to accept instead?" It becomes an initial bargaining position.

If you want victims to be more highly valued and you want real, adequate compensation, this is how to do it. Now if I offer you what some lousy insurance company says your eye is worth -- say, $100,000 -- you'll say, "No way! I would never have let you take my eye for that." Instead, you can be sure I'll put the same value on not losing my eye that you would have put on yours, and I will pay you that amount to keep my own eye. How about $5 million? Let's start there. And we'll bargain it out.

Of course there was no insurance in those societies. We like to think that life was cheap in those cultures, but the problem was that it was so expensive they couldn't get anything done. Life is cheap with us, despite all our talk about how we can't have capital punishment because human life is too valuable. Do you know there are these signs up on the Michigan highways that say, "Kill a worker, pay $7,500"?...

That's how it works. In some revenge cultures, you don't necessarily have to hit the person who did the wrong. You could hit the brother of that person, or his son. Sometimes the person who whacked your brother is not an equivalent person to your brother. If you kill him, you're devaluing your brother. Suppose the killer has a wonderful, very talented, beloved brother -- well, then you kill him.... But before we start laughing at that, consider what that means. If you know that those are the rules in your society -- that you, the cool guy, can die for the harm that your loser brother or cousin causes, you will control your loser brother or cousin. It makes for peacekeeping.

The group controls its own loser members. And here's how they do it: They whisper to the other side, "Take him out. He's free." You see this in Mafia movies sometimes. Or sometimes they'll ax their own guys. The Eskimos will kill their own guy, if he's causing too much trouble. Other societies tend to sell 'em out.
As they say, read the whole thing.

Friday, February 17, 2006

Lite Blogging Warning

My reading week starts Monday, so I'lm heading down to Toronto tomorrow to see the girlfriend and get in some belated Valentine's- and birthday celebrations. Also, I hope to see many a friend and family.

This means the blog goes on the back burner, unless of course something spectacular happens.

This Probably Is Gonna Suck

A Nigerian militant commander in the oil-rich southern Niger Delta has told the BBC his group is declaring "total war" on all foreign oil interests.

The Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta has given oil companies and their employees until midnight on Friday night to leave the region.

It recently blew up two oil pipelines, held four foreign oil workers hostage and sabotaged two major oilfields.
Ah, Total War. There's a phrase I haven't heard real people use for some time. I'm sure he's just kidding though. Really. Anyway, the BBC makes a common error when they write:
Nigeria is Africa's leading oil exporter and the fifth-biggest source of US oil imports, but despite its oil wealth, many Nigerians live in abject poverty.
Even in normal times - but especially these days, with oil at $60/bbl - there's an assumption that "oil exporter" = "wealthy." This simply isn't true. Even the big producers, like Saudi Arabia or Iran, haven't really been producing enough oil to keep up with population growth for some time. Nigeria is even worse off. Basically, even if it were equitably distributed, Nigeria's oil wealth would add less than $250 to each person. Now that's a lot for the third world, but it's not exactly opulence.

Our image of oil sheikhdoms is really derived from a few small countries like Kuwait, Qatar, and Oman where the populations are small and the oil reserves are outsized. For most oil-producing nations, the per-capita oil revenues are quite small.

Nobel Peace Prize Material

Boy, I Dean Kamen pulls this off...
San Francisco (Business 2.0) - Dean Kamen, the engineer who invented the Segway, is puzzling over a new equation these days. An estimated 1.1 billion people in the world don't have access to clean drinking water, and an estimated 1.6 billion don't have electricity. Those figures add up to a big problem for the world—and an equally big opportunity for entrepreneurs.

To solve the problem, he's invented two devices, each about the size of a washing machine that can provide much-needed power and clean water in rural villages.

"Eighty percent of all the diseases you could name would be wiped out if you just gave people clean water," says Kamen. "The water purifier makes 1,000 liters of clean water a day, and we don't care what goes into it. And the power generator makes a kilowatt off of anything that burns."
via BoingBoing.net.

Providing clean water and electricity has some obvious benefits, but one of the less obvious ones is the amount of human potential it would unleash. Consider that among the desperately poor, a woman may spend up to 2/3 of her day gathering water, fuel, and food - and then preparing the food, often with something as primitive as a handheld grinder. We could open up a vast pool of labour simply by providing tap water, electricity, and even a small food processor and a toaster oven.

Obviously, there's more we'd like to do. But some pretty simple first steps could have huge multiplier effects.

Still Angry About Cohen

What really rubs me the wrong way about Cohen's paean to innumeracy is that I see the same thing all the time at work. Regulars know I work at a bookstore, and you'd be surprised how many people come in with a simple question and need a reference material. When I say, "boy, you could find that on the Internet really quick" I frequently get this response, or a variation on it:

"I don't use computers, and I never will."

Seriously. In 2006, in an industrialized country, adults say this to me with a straight face. Regularly.

Now, I'm not an absolutist. If you don't like computers, can't afford one, don't think they're necessary, whatever, that's fine. What bothers me is that these people say this with such an obnoxious - and obvious - pride in their voices, as if they're superior to me because they lack a skill I have.

These are, of course, the same people who insist that reading is a moral obligation for anyone who wants to consider themselves at all intelligent. I think reading is important, and I think math is important, but I also think knowing how to use a computer is important. I don't think lacking either skill would necessarily make you a bad person.

What bothers me about Cohen's piece isn't just his satisfaction with his inability to do basic division. (Hello? Percentages?) It's the obnoxious pride he seems to take in tearing down people who are better than him at math. Not being great at math doesn't make you a worse person by any stretch, but it certainly doesn't make you a better one, either.

Just to state the converse, I certainly don't think people should be forced to do higher math, either. In this limited sense, I agree with about 5% of Cohen's article. In fact, I think we probably do way more harm to our children by forcing them in to roles they don't want to fill. As just one example, my early adolescence was miserable until my Dad gave up on the idea of me playing team sports. (I started swimming, instead.) Or, to use my bookstore again, I feel really sorry for the kids whose parents are always trying to force them to read "real books" instead of the magazines, comics, or whatever the kid actually enjoys reading. And Jason is absolutely right when he says (in comments) that if logic is what we want to teach, then we should just teach logic.

Alright, I think I'm done venting my spleen.

Duh, I'm A Journamalist

Richard Cohen win's Atrios' coveted "Wanker of the Day" with this know-nothingness:
I am haunted by Gabriela Ocampo.

Last year, she dropped out of the 12th grade at Birmingham High School in Los Angeles after failing algebra six times in six semesters, trying it a seventh time and finally just despairing over ever getting it. So, according to the Los Angeles Times, she "gathered her textbooks, dropped them at the campus book room and, without telling a soul, vanished from Birmingham High School."...

I confess to be one of those people who hate math. I can do my basic arithmetic all right (although not percentages) but I flunked algebra (once), barely passed it the second time -- the only proof I've ever seen of divine intervention -- somehow passed geometry and resolved, with a grateful exhale of breath, that I would never go near math again. I let others go on to intermediate algebra and trigonometry while I busied myself learning how to type. In due course, this came to be the way I made my living. Typing: Best class I ever took.

Here's the thing, Gabriela: You will never need to know algebra.
Now, I sympathize with Gabriela, too. Frankly, I think it's awful that a school in America's wealthiest state can't run an educational system. Because that's the problem here - not that some kids won't ever get Algebra, but that some kids need a lot of help to get algebra, and can't get it at the LA school that Gabriela went to.

It's a lot easier, and a lot less demanding for us as a society, to pretend that some kids just aren't worth the effort. But I find it difficult to believe that kids in grades 7 and 8 can understand algebra (which I've seen happen) but that a kid can't get it by the end of grade 12.

But let's move on to the real crap in Cohen's article:
Gabriela, sooner or later someone's going to tell you that algebra teaches reasoning. This is a lie propagated by, among others, algebra teachers. Writing is the highest form of reasoning. This is a fact. Algebra is not. The proof of this, Gabriela, is all the people in my high school who were whizzes at math but did not know a thing about history and could not write a readable English sentence. I can cite Shelly, whose last name will not be mentioned, who aced algebra but when called to the board in geography class, located the Sahara Desert right where the Gobi usually is. She was off by a whole continent.
Boy, that's surprising. A journalist favours linguistic skills over math. Plus, notice the smug sense of superiority to the poor girl who couldn't locate the Sahara. See, in Cohen's world, algebra is for people with too much time on their hands, but knowing the location of the Sahara is a critical life skill.

But I'd like to address Cohen's big assertion - that writing is the "highest form of reasoning." Now, I like to write, and I'd like to think I've got some game when it comes to penning a nice sentence or two. But the best written essay - with all the evidence and reason the human mind can marshal - can never surpass the elegance of 2+2=4. We who craft sentences and paragraphs like to think we can win an argument by the force of pure logic, but compared to the mathematician, we're pikers.

This is undoubtedly part of Cohen's problem, but I think there's something specifc to math that is so offensive to Cohen as a journalist: In mathematics, a statement is true or false, right or wrong. When someone says 2+2=5, they don't deserve "balance" or "an objective treatment". They deserve ridicule, and nothing else. What offends Cohen as a journalist is the presumption of someone to claim to "know" something, without any qualification.

And that says more about the problems in journalism today than anything else.

For the record, my father (himself a journalist) never demanded that I achieve excellence in math, but did say I needed to have a basic understanding of mathematical concepts. I had to be numerate, but not a mathematician. That distinction - between being good at math, and understanding math - is something Cohen wouldn't understand. It has, however, made a huge difference to me.

Thursday, February 16, 2006

The NDP Leading in Ontario?

To quote Atrios, Jeebus doesn't love us this much:
The Decima Research survey of 1,010 adult Canadians, conducted between Feb. 9 and 13, suggests there has been no significant change in national support for the Tories.

Thirty-five per cent of respondents said they would vote Conservative, compared with 36 per cent who cast ballots on election day.

The poll put support for the Liberals at 25 per cent, down five percentage points from Jan. 23....

In Ontario, the poll suggests the three main parties would be in a virtual dead heat, with 31 per cent supporting the NDP, 30 per cent backing the Liberals, and 29 picking the Conservatives.

The survey suggests Bloc Québécois support has declined since the vote, with 35 per cent of Quebec respondents supporting the separatist party compared to 42 per cent who voted BQ last month.
Wow. The NDP at 31 in Ontario, with the Bloc down to 35%. So far, I'm really liking the Harper government.

Of course, he'll ruin it the moment we can find him again...

Seriously, if the Liberals think they can force an election and win, we're going to see a smoking crater where there used to be a Big Red Machine.

(Poll link via Accidental Deliberations.)

Let's Go Exploring...

...the Copyright Act! Come along, children!

(Worst. Field trip. Ever.)

28.1 Any act or omission that is contrary to any of the moral rights of the author of a work is, in the absence of consent by the author, an infringement of the moral rights.
So that's a pretty broad statement, in the heart of copyright law in Canada. But compare that to this, in sec. 80:
80. (1) Subject to subsection (2), the act of reproducing all or any substantial part of

(a) a musical work embodied in a sound recording,

(b) a performer’s performance of a musical work embodied in a sound recording, or

(c) a sound recording in which a musical work, or a performer’s performance of a musical work, is embodied

onto an audio recording medium for the private use of the person who makes the copy does not constitute an infringement of the copyright in the musical work, the performer’s performance or the sound recording.
So on the face of it, it doesn't look like the CRIA has a leg to stand on - thanks to Skippy for pointing this out.

Still, the CRIA has a lot of money, and the means to make this in to a federal case (literally.) I suspect they'd lose, but we're likely to see this play out in court, I'd wager.

On Winning A Majority

It's really funny to listen to Bill Graham lecture the Conservatives on not governing as if they had a majority. Apparently, when you join the Liberal Party of Canada, they give you a shame-ectomy.

Regardless of the size of their penis opposition, the Liberals have to accept that Harper did win the elction. So while I agree, Harper doesn't have the right to act as if he won a majority, you know who has even less right to act as if the won?

The Liberals.

Hilarity Abounds

In comments, Westacular points out that CBC's lawyers are overriding the explicit wishes of music artists:
They played a few songs at relevant points in the interview -- songs that the blurb says have been removed from the online release. The irony is that at one point, before playing Avril's Skater Boi, McBride said to the kids at home something to the effect of, "Go ahead and record this on your iPod. I don't mind. Avril doesn't mind. Go right ahead!"

Apparently CBC's lawyers mind.
Ah, our public broadcaster, serving us all so well. I mean, I love the CBC and all, but why are they so terrified of this?

Secondly (and this isn't really ironic, just funny) Kevin Drum is hawking titanium frying pans. This is funny to me, because I've seen these pans before, and was initially interested in them until I had a conversation with the salesman. The conversation went something like this:

Me: Wow - non-teflon, non-stick frying pans. Just titanium, huh?
Salesman: Yup. Made in Germany.
Me: Really? Who in Germany is making titanium frying pans? (Dreading answer.)
Salesman: A company called Krupp.
Me: (Dread justified.)

Now, the company Kevin points us all to is Danish, so he suggests getting a frying pan to support free speech. Whatever. If it means money goes to the Danes instead of the company that used to make artillery for the Kaiser and the Nazis, I'm all for it. Several of the Krupps were indicted at the Nuremberg Tribunal, so I say buy Denmark.

RIAA Craziness isn't News

So the RIAA is saying that CD-ripping isn't fair use - even when it's CDs you bought yourself. This is actually old news in Canada - our version of the RIAA, the CRIA, has long maintained that CD-ripping is infringement, unless explicitly permitted. That is, iPod owners may be felons, if the RIAA and the CRIA get their way.

What's funny is that we would expect them to do anything else. Of course they don't want you getting MP3s from your CDs. What the music industry wants is for you to spend $2+ for each track if it's MP3s that you want. Never mind that the costs of distribution are essentially zero, and at $2 a track the costs are about the same as a CD. To the music companies, if you want MP3s you should by MP3s, and if you want CDs you should buy CDs. But if you buy the CD and rip it to MP3s, you're stealing.

This is why the logic of "lost revenue = theft" is so pernicious. We basically bought the argument that the music companies had the right to sue to protect their business model, and now this is what it gets us.

A Second Moment for Television

What? Andreas Katsulas died? Damn. The cast of Babylon 5 is now two short, after Richard Biggs died a while back.

Is it possible someone's hunting down the cast of Babylon 5? I'm just saying, I wouldn't want to be Bruce Boxleitner right now.

Or possibly, ever.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

A Moment for Television

So, aside from this blog, the main reason my assignments have been late this term has been a raft of excellent television shows. I've recently succumbed to the Battlestar Galactica plague, which cost me two days straight that could - nay, should - have been more profitably spent writing papers.

But I haven't seen a lot of other bloggers writing about the wonder that is Grey's Anatomy. So I'm going to. I stumbled upon this show at the beginning of the 2nd season, and unlike BSG that didn't leave me grasping for understanding like I'd just been released from Plato's cave.

Where to start? The cast is excellent, especially Ellen Pompeo and Sandra Oh. The writing is smart, funny, and snaps the way the West Wing used to. It's one of the few shows that I actually look forward to the next episode. I seem to be watching 24 and Lost more out of a sense of obligation than anything else these days.

The last two Sundays' worth of Grey's Anatomy were an excellent two-parter about a guy with a bomb accidentally embedded in his chest. The odd thing about the 2nd part was that it had a lot of the classic clichés of a medical drama - just short of the doctor screaming "don't you die on me, dammit!" But they pulled it off. In fact, it was one of the best hours of television I've watched this season.

Anyway, season 1 was just released on DVD, so I'll be getting that for myself soon.

What Freedom of Speech Looks Like

Ezra Levant is a coward and an asshole. Canadian Muslims have not responded to the offensive Danish cartoons with any kind of violence or threats, outside of a reasonable case that Levant might be comitting a hate crime under Canadian law.

People need to understand there's a difference between the exercise of free speech, and the moral high ground that free speech sometimes gives you. Levant has the right to publish this giant "Fuck You" to Canadian muslims (which is all this is) but he can't expect us to congratulate him for essentially laying a turd in the middle of the living room.

Want to see what a real exercise of free speech looks like?
Amitai Sandy (29), graphic artist and publisher of Dimona Comix Publishing, from Tel-Aviv, Israel, has followed the unfolding of the “Muhammad cartoon-gate” events in amazement, until finally he came up with the right answer to all this insanity - and so he announced today the launch of a new anti-Semitic cartoons contest - this time drawn by Jews themselves!

“We’ll show the world we can do the best, sharpest, most offensive Jew hating cartoons ever published!” said Sandy “No Iranian will beat us on our home turf!”

The contest has been announced today on the www.boomka.org website, and the initiator accept submissions of cartoons, caricatures and short comic strips from people all over the world. The deadline is Sunday March 5, and the best works will be displayed in an Exhibition in Tel-Aviv, Israel.
This is such a beautiful response to all of this insanity. I'm overjoyed to see that a sense of humour remains the best response to this kind of idiocy.

The contest is open to all Jewish cartoonists. So if there are any in my audience, knock yourselves out!

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Welcome, Conservatives

Seriously, enjoy the beer. I sincerely welcome new readers.

Allow me to re-state my arguments against Mr. Currie: He alleges that western culture is endangered by low birthrates in the western world. I read that (not unreasonably, I thought) to mean that he is concerned that the European nations where birthrate are lowest - which are also all generally defined as "white" nations. They are also all Christian nations. Worrying about birthrates in the west is therefore usually a shorthand for white Christians worrying about being out-bred by the "lesser developed countries", a label usually applied to more fields than just economics when racially minded conservatives use it.

Further, there is no reason to link the concept of "culture" to any particular "racial" group. Cultures can cross "races" either by immigration or by cultural export, something the west (and North American in particular) has excelled at.

So, when Mr. Currie argued that western culture was endangered by low birthrates, I saw three assumptions behind that argument:

1) That western culture was primarily white culture.
2) That this culture was being actively maintained by white people, and would falter or be diminished if there were fewer of us.
3) The only way Currie sees to "save" white/western culture is by increased breeding.

These are the assumptions behind Currie's argument (whether he likes it or not) absent a clear restatement of his principles.

I'm far more optimistic about western culture - the power of cultural exports, the already powerful "westernized" non-white nations, all seem to me to be very powerful signs that the most important parts of western culture - democracy, science, liberty, the whole package - are winning the war against anti-modernism. Ironically, the one place where modernism is losing the war is in America itself. Will it look exactly like ours? No. But it probably shouldn't, if there's any fairness in the world.

I'd welcome a clarification or restatement by Jay on his argument. Specifically, why are birthrates a concern if this isn't a racial argument? Also, why is cultural export of so little importance? Would it really be that bad to have a world without whitey?

I should also say that this argument is far less important point (to me at least) then the wider point in Jay's post - the freedom of women to choose their own role in society. So when Jay says (in comments) that he hopes Vicki and I have lots of kids, I appreciate the sentiment but Vicki probably doesn't. I honestly don't know if we'll ever have kids. But check it out - it's her choice, not mine.

Oh, and Jay: Yes, I've "bought into the medicalized view" of pregancy. That's us lefties for ya. Always getting uppity with our science and our book larnin. When doctors tell me that pregancy is a major strain on a woman's health (to the point that as recently as 60 years ago death in childbirth was not uncommon) I tend to bellieve them.

Why Are Conservatives Racist?

Jay Currie, at the end of a post against the NDP vision for childcare:
In many ways creating a child friendly, family friendly society is the challenge Western governments face in the next few decades. Somehow, as societies, we have to get out birthrates back up to replacement rate or our culture will simply die out. The daycare driven, one and two child families which are stand issue for many in the West are not getting that job done. Thinking seriously about how to raise the birthrate, starting with giving stay at home mums support through three or four children, would be a start.
I'd like you to focus on one sentence in particular there:
Somehow, as societies, we have to get out birthrates back up to replacement rate or our culture will simply die out.
(Does Currie even know what kind of punishment pregnancy is for the female body? Would he volunteer for the "three or four" pregnancies that he advocates, if it were medically possible? I don't think I even need to ask.)

This kind of hysteria is standard, Buchanan-esque racial paranoia, and it's incredibly offensive. My girlfriend is Chinese, albeit born in Canada. Does she count as part of "our culture"? Why or why not? If you say she does, then you have to admit that culture is separate from the totally fictional concept of race. In Vicki's case, she's at least as Canadian as I am, as a white male.

But that's not what Currie believes. He explicitly conflates "culture" with "race" and therefore says that we need women to stay pregnant and barefoot in the kitchen, or else the darkies will outnumber us all. This is the only reasonable interpretation of worrying about birthrates. If society is a collection of ideas, norms, and beliefs, then the complexion and demographics of society are irrelevant. If Currie is worrying about "birthrates", what he's worrying about is making sure there are enough white people in the future.

Meanwhile, the democratic, liberal, increasingly-wealthy country of India is rapidly outgrowing even China. Somehow, I doubt that this comforts Currie any.

But by far the saddest thing about statements like Currie's is the fear behind them. The culture of western, liberal democracies basically spans the planet. It has a wonderfully corrosive effect on socially repressive states, and at its best it acts as a beacon to the world. At its worst, it's pretty bad, no doubt. But American, Canadian, and European movies, music, and books are by far a net positive for spreading a message of tolerance and freedom. This is true today, and it is going to stay true in the future, whether or not the proponents of freedom are white. Would the world be worse off if we lost Stephen Lewis, but gained two Nelson Mandelas? I don't think so.

What scares Currie is that the future might not belong to white people the way the past has. What's pitiful is that the only solution he can think of is to shackle half the population to the kitchen and bedroom.

Past Peak Already?

So Kenneth Deffeyes, whose book "Hubbert's Peak" was one of the earliest attempts to ring the alarm on Peak Oil, is saying we're already past peak production. Specifically, the magic day was December 16th, 2005.

Given that I'm reading in some places that the USGS is revising 2005's numbers down to the point where 2004-5 production was essentially flat (despite a runup in prices) I'm inclined to believe it, cautiously. But that might be because it was a Salon review of Deffeyes' book that was my first introduction of Peak Oil.

So what to do? Well, Japan's solar power market is growing at 40%+ per year, leading to predictions that by 2008 Japanese companies will produce 2,350MW worth of power each and every year. Meanwhile, Denmark, Spain, and Germany are already making gigawatts of wind electricity every year.

We also know (know, not guess, suspect, or surmise) that Canada and the US could begin to save roughly 1/3-1/2 of their electrical bills by refits and efficiency. I keep advocating the abolition of the incandescent lightbulb, for starters.

How about a subsidy for flat-screen computer monitors? They save a lot on energy, and they're nicer to look at. Dell would love it, I'm sure.

I keep bringing up the potential savings, because conversations around Peak Oil too easily become conversations about how OMFG WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE!!!! For a good example of this, read some of the comments at The Oil Drum discussing Deffeyes' announcement.

Calm down, people. The Black Death didn't cause any kingdoms to collapse, and Peak Oil won't be as bad as that. People who think Peak Oil will cause the collapse of global capitalism/western civilization/multicellular life are all dramatically underestimating the power a modern state has at its disposal. Even if it takes a return to the command economies of WWII, the state is always able to protect itself.

Lib-NDP Fratricide

So Jason Cherniak is slamming the NDP for doing what the Liberals could not - win seats two elections running:
I know a lot of people who vote or consider voting for the NDP. They are mostly good, idealistic people who are trying to improve the world. The problem is that they have been siphonned off from the rest of politics.
See, in Mr. Cherniak's world there are only two parties who qualify as real politics, and really only one party you should vote for. Which makes this statement kind of funny:
The NDP response to this last election has finally put me over the top. The joyous reacting to less than 10% of the seats was embarrassing. The positive reaction to a Conservative government was unprincipled. Now, the Stalinistic removal of a life-long member of the party for advocating strategic voting has proven that the extremists really are in charge.
See, Jason, when you're arguing that only one party should ever be in charge of government, it's not us who are Stalinist.
I do not want the NDP to merge with the Liberals because the NDP has too many extremists who I would rather not work with.
So why should we want to work with you, Jason? You mock us, call us worthless, and assume that our votes are yours by divine right, and you wonder why some of us might be turned off by your arrogance?
I do, however, think it is time for reasonable NDP supporters to reconsider what their political goal is. There are certainly enough of them to help us Liberals mend some of our worst ways.
See, and I think it's time for actual progressives (read: Not Jason Cherniak) to look around with open eyes for once. The Liberals have never done anything progressive without an NDP knife to their throats. So cut out the middle man and put the NDP in charge.

To respond to Cherniak's anecdotes with some of my own, let me just say that while I was willing to consider strategic voting at the beginning of the election campaign, the insane arrogance of every single Liberal I spoke to when I told them I usually voted NDP made it impossible for me to stomach a Liberal vote. From Paul Martin on down, every single Liberal I saw on television or spoke with personally acted as if my vote for Paul Dewar was an act of theft.

My vote doesn't belong to the Liberal Party, Paul Martin, any of his successors, or Jason Cherniak. My vote is mine, and I used it to get an actual progressive elected. If Mr. Cherniak is upset that NDP voters were trying to do that all across the country, then he needs to reconsider his politics.

How Is This Necessary?

Awful. Simply awful.
The treatment of a pregnant Chinese woman who miscarried twins last week after federal immigration officers in Philadelphia forcibly tried to deport her from New York has become a flash point for planned protest in the Chinese-American communities of both cities, lawyers and immigrant advocates said yesterday....

By the time they reached the airport, Ms. Jiang was suffering severe abdominal cramps and begging for help in a public waiting area, said John C. Liu, a New York city council member, who called the woman's treatment un-American. Someone called an ambulance, Mr. Liu said, and she was taken to Jamaica Hospital Medical Center, where Mr. Liu visited her after doctors found that the two fetuses she was carrying had died....

Ms. Jiang had been allowed to report routinely for years to an immigration office in Philadelphia until last Tuesday, he added.

Ms. Jiang and many of the family's Chinese supporters say the authorities decided to deport her when they learned she was pregnant, to prevent her from giving birth to another United States citizen.

Totally Understandable

Ezra Klein:
I know a fair number of folks who went to school with her [Natalie Portman] (like a good 45 percent of DC, Portman went to Harvard) and there's near unanimity that she doesn't stand out in a crowd. I know a number of guys who began hitting on "this girl" at a party, thought it going quite well, and then fell apart when names were exchanged and they realized they were about to ask Princess Padme on a date.
That'll throw off your game.

Damn, I've got to figure out which hot celebrities go to Carleton...

Bob Harris Clears it Up

Just to review, in the wake of Tricky Dick's 18-Hour Gap:

* There is no reason a hunter should be expected to know what he is shooting.
* If you are shot by the vice president, it is your own fault for not first shouting, "Mister vice president, sir! Please do not shoot me in the face, neck, and torso!"
* Being wounded in the face, neck, and torso by a shotgun is something that happens to hunters all the time.
* Shotgun wounds are inherently minor.
* People also go into intensive care with minor wounds all the time.
* There is no reason to worry about a 78-year old man who has been shot in the face, neck, and torso and has been in intensive care for days.
* A 78-year-old man who has been shot in the face, neck, and torso is obviously healthy if his eyes are open and he is able to speak.
* It is perfectly respectable to kill animals not because you need to put food on the table, but for fun. It is good that our leaders take pleasure in killing.
There's more. Check it out.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Neat Find

Matthew Simmons - the guy who believes Saudi Arabia is nearing peak production - defends the much-maligned yet wholly accurate "Limits To Growth."

Read the article. Too many authors (economists, especially) try to pan L2G as a hopelessly inaccurate book that was disproven by events. In fact, nothing of the sort is true. As Simmons notes, much of the book was not only right, but eerily so.

Via The Oil Drum, I think. Am I the only blogger who loses track of where I find things?

Ugly, Ugly Irony

An interesting post on why California was so astonishingly verdant when early European settlers arrived:
When explorers and pioneers visited California in the 1700s and early 1800s, they were astonished by the abundance of birds, elk, deer, marine mammals, and other wildlife they encountered. Since then, people assumed such faunal wealth represented California's natural condition – a product of Native Americans' living in harmony with the wildlife and the land and used it as the baseline for measuring modern environmental damage.

That assumption now is collapsing because University of Utah archaeologist Jack M. Broughton spent seven years – from 1997 to 2004 – painstakingly picking through 5,736 bird bones found in an ancient Native American garbage dump on the shores of San Francisco Bay. He determined the species of every bone, or, when that wasn't possible, at least the family, and used the bones to reconstruct a portrait of human bird-hunting behavior spanning 1,900 years....

Broughton concluded that California wasn't always a lush Eden before settlers arrived. Instead, from 2,600 to at least 700 years ago, native people hunted some species to local extinction...
Wow. So what, you ask, caused the wildlife of California to explode? Well, it turns out it was mankind's favourite invasive species - itself:
...wildlife returned to "fabulous abundances" only after European diseases decimated Indian populations starting in the 1500s.
Eeew. I feel dirty.

I Want One

Ooooohhh... pretty.

On Expulsions

Some thoughts regarding the whole Buzz Hargrove affair:

Buzz had to go, like it or not. Not because I have some cultish love of Jack Layton or the NDP, and therefore his voice needed to be silenced. It's ridiculous to think that Buzz will somehow not be able to continue to speak his mind because of this. He'll say nutty things, and the media will continue to pretend they're not nutty, just as they continue to pretend that Buzz is somehow a respected voice in the NDP.

But... Buzz's loyalties were divided. That much is obvious. There should be a vigorous debate within political parties, of course. But that debate should not include advocating voting for the other side. Otherwise, why have a party at all?

Rob may be right that Buzz was doing what was best for his union. Fine. That's Hargrove's right and his obligation. I think Hargrove in fact hurt the NDP and his union, but I'm not Buzz Hargrove. His duties as a union leader and as an NDP member have come in to conflict. This shouldn't have happened, but it did. The choice is simple - either keep doing his job as union leader, or give up his hobby as occasional voice of (and constant irritant to) the NDP. This has nothing to do with "blind obedience" to the NDP or anything like that. You can't be a member of a political party - any party - and advocate voting for the other side.

I respect that Hargrove wants to do what's best for his union, and for labour generally. But the interests of labour are not always going to be the same as the NDP, and I'm fine with that.

If you want a real example of cultish following, take a look at the reaction to Andrew Sullivan:
I support almost all of Bush's tax cuts (I support the estate tax) but also believe in balanced budgets and spending restraint (heretic!); I oppose affirmative action; I oppose hate crime laws; I respect John Kerry's military service; I believe all abortion is morally wrong and that Roe vs Wade was dreadful constitutional law (but I do favor legal first trimester abortions); I support states' rights, especially in social policy, such as marriage; I oppose the expansion of the welfare state, as in the Medicare prescription drug plan; I supported John Roberts' nomination and Sam Alito's; I believe in a firm separation of religion and politics, but I certainly take faith seriously and wrestle with my own. As regular readers know, I'm no fan of the far left. At some point, I have endorsed every single Republican president in my adult life.

All of that makes me a "liberal." Imagine what it now takes to be a "conservative" in Brent Bozell's eyes.
Quote from Glenn Greenwald. In fact, follow that link - it's an excellent discussion of the sickness that is modern Republicanism.

Smug Conversations You Can Have When You're Canadian

Me, to my Brother: Hey, you should check your health card - mine expired on our birthday, yours might have too.

My Brother: Crap! You're right. Now I don't have health care. Now I know what an American feels like.

Me: Well, to be fair, at least the guy who got the most votes actually wins in our elections.

Who Gave Cheney A Gun?

Seriously, who in their right mind gives a pallid, fragile, 5-time heart attack victim a gun? Even if he wasn't the incarnation of evil, he'd still have no business holding a firearm.

(Leaving aside for the moment my conviction that almost nobody has any business holding a gun...)

Reasonable people can disagree on the morality of hunting for sport, but canned hunting (where the animals are raised in cages, tame, and basically shot just to give rich guys a moving target) are far more widely detested, even (especially?) among actual, you know, hunters. This wasn't a hunting party. This was a "let's splatter us some birds, cuz it's soooo kewl" party.

Is it funny that someone got shot on one of these canned hunts? Not really. Is it poetic justice? You betcha.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Roundhouse Kick vs. 9mm

Chuck Norris vs. Jack Bauer of "24":
Chuck is sidestepping his way across the floor of the warehouse, attention drawn straight ahead. As he is making slow deliberate steps, he mistakenly kicks a loose metal pipe that is lying on the floor. It echoes throughout the warehouse and exposes his presence. Jack trains his cameras on Chuck and triangulates his exact location.

Using a small shaped charge, Jack blows a hole in the duct he is hiding in and drops through the ceiling suspended by a single rope.

Chuck dives for cover.

The two both start shooting at each other. Chuck is using a revolver and somehow manages to get 35 rounds off. Jack returns fire, and after running out of rounds throws his weapon away and pulls out a back up and continues to shoot.

After some time both come the realization that bullets have no affect on either of them.

8 Years? 8 Years??!!

Lots of bad news in the energy world this week. First off, when a Republican former US Secretary of Commerce basically says oil production has peaked, the argument should be winding down. From Hardball:
EVANS: The world is producing oil, the Middle East, every country at its full capacity and it's very unlikely that we're going to be able to see supply in the world grow from the levels where we are right now. There's a debate about that. I'm one that falls in the camp that says it's going to be very, very hard to do that. But what I do know is China needs to continue to grow, India needs to continue to grow, America needs to continue to grow. So what that simply says is we've got to develop new forms of energy for the United States and the world.
Second, the Wall Street Journal (not usually prone to hysterical paranoia) is saying that Cantarell (one of the biggest fields in the world) is not only in decline, but "precipitous" decline. Ouch:
LONDON (AFX) - Mexico's huge state-owned oil company, Petroleos Mexicanos, or Pemex, may be facing a steep decline in output that would further tighten global oil supply and add to global woes over high oil prices, the online edition of the Wall Street Journal reported.

The potential decline faced by Pemex, also could undermine US efforts to reduce dependence on Middle East oil, and complicate Mexican politics and financial stability...

Currently, Cantarell produces 2 mln barrels of oil a day, or six of every 10 barrels produced by Mexico, and is the world's second-biggest-producing field after Saudi Arabia's Ghawar
And, as if that weren't enough, the problems with natural gas supply in North America are getting worse, not better:
For natural gas, North America is now on what Hughes calls an "exploration treadmill," meaning that the number of wells drilled must be continually increased in order to hold production steady.

The published numbers from the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) concerning Natural Gas production in Canada confirms his statement. Look at the number of wells drilled by year, followed by production for that year:

1997: 4,842-15.7 Bcf/d
1998: 4,991-16.1
1999: 7,018-16.6
2000: 9,078-17.1
2001: 10,757-17.4
2002: 9,061-17.4
2003: 12,951-16.9
2004: 15,126-17.0

North America peaked in terms of conventional natural gas production in 2001–2002. Notable examples of the effects of this peak are the dramatic increase in prices for natural gas and natural gas-dependent products, such as fertilizers and plastics, leaving North America’s largest natural gas producer, Encana, publicly stating that the company focus is now on “unconventional” resource plays....

Consumption trends and patterns were also explored. In every case, the phenomenal growth rates in our economy show a complete disconnect with the reality of the resources currently supporting them. Canada, for example, has 8.1 years left in natural gas reserves.
Want an explanation for why the US is rapdily becoming a net food importer? Because places where NG is still cheap can make cheap fertilizer, while the US has to import it from elsewhere.

To get an idea of the trouble we're in, consider for a moment what the next 4 years will look like. Farm incomes are plummeting due to low prices for food but spiralling costs for fuel and fertilizer. Commuters and homeowners are going to keep suffering from high heating and gasoline costs. Summers are going to be ruinously expensive for either a) electric ratepayers, or b) the government which subsidize them. And this is just if we manage to keep the status quo. If things actually keep getting worse, my bet is we'll see even anti-government Conservatives start endorsing some pretty harsh measures to keep a lid on things. Price controls, anyone?

Imagine Sanity

via Lawyers, Guns, and Money:
SYDNEY, Australia, Feb. 9 — The continuing debate here over the so-called abortion pill RU-486 — the Senate voted Thursday to make it more easily available — has revealed many of the same fierce emotions as abortion debates do in the United States.

But it has also produced some moments unfathomable in the United States.

"I bring to this debate personal experience," said Senator Nick Minchin, who opposed the legislation. "A former girlfriend of mine had an abortion," he said Wednesday on the floor of Parliament. Mr. Minchin, 52, is also the country's finance minister, from the conservative governing Liberal Party, but there is no suggestion that he will lose his post, or even his next election.

What was perhaps more stunningly personal was the statement on the Senate floor by Senator Lynette Allison, a sponsor of the legislation.

"An estimated one in three women have had an abortion," she said. "And I am one of them."

She was 18, and abortion was illegal then, in the 1960's, she said in an interview. She came from a conservative family, "which would have been ashamed of their daughter having an illegitimate child," added Ms. Allison, 59, who was a secondary school teacher before she got into politics. It was not difficult to make the public statement, and she did so out of solidarity with other women, she said.
Boy, I really can't imagine Canada's right-wing, governing Finance Minister making a similar statement.

Friday, February 10, 2006


How can this be possible?
A little over a year ago The Wall Street Journal (31 Jan 2005) reported that the U.S. would become a net food importer on a more or less permanent basis by the end of 2005. To me, this is an immense challenge to our food security, but also marks a great opportunity for the U.S. to rebuild its food markets. I'm interested in how others see it.

Trade data for December have not been released yet. When they are, we'll know if the Journal's prediction is true. Still, one look at USDA Economic Research Service (ERS) numbers shows the trend is upon us.

The U.S. enjoyed an agricultural trade balance of $12 billion four years ago. By November 2005, we barely had a surplus, after a slide of $5 billion in one year. It seems to be a matter of when, not if.
So - energy, food, water. Three basic necessities, and the US is an importer of all three. How long can this last?

For Those Who Have Asked

Yes, I have a twin brother. We are fraternal twins - the kind that don't look alike. REALLY don't look alike.

As for the question of which one of us is evil, I'll have to leave that up to my close friends and family to decide...

Thursday, February 09, 2006


So.... 25 years ago today, my brother and I were born six minutes apart.

Thus far, I've celebrated by.... going to class, coming home, and watching some of the 1st season of Battlestar Galactica, given to me by the best girlfriend ever (two years running!)

Anyway, I do have to go back to class later, so light blogging today.

God, I'm 52.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

The Slaughter of the Innocents, II

When the Space Shuttle was first being developed, the budgetary stresses killed a number of important science programs. The Voyager probes barely escaped the axe, and went on to become one of the most successful science projects of all time.

Sadly, it looks like Bush's alleged Mars program is already having the same effect:
NASA wants to divert money from its science programme to help pay for billions of dollars of projected space shuttle cost overruns, says the agency's chief, Mike Griffin. The cuts mean several key science missions will be delayed indefinitely and have sparked criticism from space enthusiasts and law makers....

Such slow growth is down to NASA removing $2 billion from the science budget over the next five years to help cover projected cost overruns of $3 billion to $5 billion to fly the shuttles safely until they are retired in 2010.

Redistributing NASA's budget this way represents a turnaround for Griffin, who in September 2005 specifically vowed not to take "one thin dime" from the science budget to pay for human spaceflight.

When asked about his earlier statement, Griffin stunned reporters by admitting he had to go back on his word. "I wish we hadn't had to do it; I didn't want to. But that's what we needed to do," he said. "One plain fact is NASA can simply not afford to do everything our many constituencies would like us to do."
A problem the entire US government is having, lately.

On Threats

A lot of the liberal commentary on the Pentagon's Quadrennial Defense Review has coalesced around the opinion that the Pentagon is hyping the "China Threat" while ignoring the "more important" issue of terrorism. Bizarrely, this is seen to be a bad thing. Frankly, if we've learned anything from the Bush administration, it's that the military is not particularly well-suited to fight terrorism. Afghanistan and Iraq are both becoming textbook examples of how large militaries can be totally ineffective against motivated cells of attackers. I think it's probably a positive sign that the military is backing away from being the sole force to fight terrorism.

More broadly, the Pentagon should absolutely be concentrating on defending the US from conventional threats, because they have the potential to cause the most damage. If you accept that part of the Pentagon's role is not just to fight wars, but to deter them, then we can see that even small wars can have far bigger effects than even the most effective terror attacks. For example, the net cost to the US economy from the Iraq war is estimated at somewhere between $1-2 trillion dollars. The proportional cost on Iraq is of course much higher, and may in fact be incalculable. Bin Laden, on his best day, couldn't hurt the US the way the Iraq War has.

(Here I'm just using Iraq as an example of the cost of war. Obviously, I don't think the Pentagon did a great job deterring this conflict. If anything, it incurred it.)

The costs of a major-power war with any other nation would be much, much higher. I certainly agree that there is, as yet, no real Yellow Peril. But most liberal Americans accept the notion that the Pentagon isn't just there to fight wars, it's there to prevent them. If you believe this, then it follows naturally that China needs to be deterred now, before a ruinously costly war (whether Hot or Cold) breaks out.

Borrowing a notion from Gwynne Dyer, complaining that the Pentagon is focusing on major-power threats while ignoring "the larger threat" of terrorism is like saying that your doctor is focusing on your impending heart attack while ignoring the "larger threat" of severe acne.

More Important Than Bill Murray

Geez, I need to brush up on my military dates. February 2nd is not just Groundhog Day, but also the day that the Battle of Stalingrad ended. Over 90,000 German soldiers surrendered to the Red Army a few days after the last airfields had been captured, leaving the Germans no chance of escape or reinforcement.

The larger significance, of course, is that this began the long Soviet push back across Europe that eventually led - more than two brutal years later - to Berlin. Something like 2 million people died on all sides at Stalingrad, making it one of the bloodiest battles ever recorded - on average, something like 12,500 people died every day.

Brad DeLong has taken to saying "We in the west have still done far too little to repay our debt to the soldiers of the Red Army and to the workers of Magnitogorsk for what they did and suffered in those years." Needless to say, I agree. As offensive as western European arrogance is when it comes to how "we" won World War II, it's not even close to true. In Europe, the Soviets are owed most of the credit to defeating the Nazis. In the Pacific, most Japanese soldiers never saw an American: they were busy garrisoning (read: brutalizing) China. The Americans at least have a decent claim in the Pacific, what with the whole aerial incineration of Japan. Europe, on the other hand, owes both the freedom of France and England, as well as the oppression of the Warsaw Pact, to the Soviets.

I think I need to watch Fog of War again.

Gee, You'd Almost Think Rape Were A Crime

Via Lawyers, Guns and Money:
A man's life has been sacrificed, and three children have been denied their father by malicious feminists who have lobbied for laws that punish spousal rape just like stranger rape and deny a man the right to cross-examine his accuser. They have created a judicial system where the woman must always be believed even though she has no evidence, one in which the man is always guilty.
Schlafly is entirely right. After all, we all know that murder is punished less severely when the husband murders his wife. Ergo, it is impossible for husbands to rape their wives. Or something.

Seriously, it took years for the courts and legislatures in the west even to acknowledge that spousal rape was illegal. Why would we try to roll that back?

I recently read an extremely frustrating book called Big Sister: How Extreme Feminism Has Betrayed the Fight. I normally wouldn't have picked up the book, except that the author (Neil Boyd) wrote a fascinating book previously called The Beast Within: Why Men Are Violent. The Beast Within was really excellent, exploring the number of biological, anatomical, and neurological factors that help explain why men are so much more violent than women - especially when you get to the level of criminal violence, where 90-95% of all violent crime is committed by men. This number is pretty constant across history and different countries, making social explanations tenuous.

Basically, Boyd argues that men are built for violence in ways that women aren't. This doesn't mean that women can't be violent, or even extremely violent in certain circumstances. Just that they don't have the predisposition towards violence that men - especially young men - do. The book really screwed with my head in a number of ways, most importantly the realization that, as a man under the age of 30, I'm in the single most important demographic for violent crime. My gender and age are a better statistical determinant of potential violence than almost anything else. It's pretty weird - I don't see myself as a violent person, but if statistics have any predictive value at all (ask the polling firm SES about that) then I have to face the fact that I'm a potentially dangerous person.

None of this means that I think I'm going to kill someone, or even get in to a fight. Certainly, Boyd doesn't argue a biologically-determinist view. All this is just by way of explaining why I picked up Big Sister, which was not nearly as good as his first book. While he raises some interesting points, there's a large, suppurating sore in the middle of his book. Throughout the book, he spends numerous pages defending young and not so young men who were accused of sexual harrasment, assault or rape. Most of these men were not charged in a criminal setting, but in administrative one. So they weren't given what we would normally consider the full benefit of law. I find this troubling, for sure.

But what do they all have in common? None of them - not one - asked for and received a clear statement of consent. Indeed, Boyd unfortunately hitches his wagon to the Ewanchuk case that went before the Supreme Court a few years back. In Ewanchuk, the accused man was found guilty of sexual assault for repeatedly forcing himself on a woman during a job interview, despite her three separate protests. The way this was spun by anti-feminists was that he "stopped after she said no". Which is only true if you ignore the first two times she said no. That's two counts of assault, not zero.

Leaving aside the specifics of any one case, how do you not ask for consent in this day and age? I mean, this is the smallest, least meaningful barrier to put between a man and sex, and some men seem to think it's a padlock and a snarling dog. It takes a second to ask the question. I haven't found it breaks the mood. And there's a more fundamental question - if you can't bother to ask, why should anyone believe you care what the answer is in the first place?

On the age of Consent

So the Tories want to raise the age of consent from 14 to 16:
A key Conservative priority is to raise the age of protection from 14 to 16, with a "close in age" exemption, said Toews, adding: "We don't want to criminalize conduct between youths."

The change would mean criminal charges for adults who have sex with girls or boys aged 14 or 15. At the moment, having sex with a 14-year-old is legal in Canada, in contrast with jurisdictions such as Texas, where the age of consent is 17.
Okay: Any day where Canada is becoming more like Texas is a bad one. Ew.

Secondly: I wish I'd had another person to consent to sex with when I was 14. How are all these kids finding sexual partners this early in life? And more importantly, have young women started finding nerds sexy yet? I need hope for the next generation of bookish nerdy guys, after all.

(This is, of course, assuming that there actually is a lot of sex happening among young teens, and not just an example of media hysteria.)

But here's a serious question: If a 14 year old can consent to sex with a 15 year old - as they would be able to, with the "close in age" exception - what's the argument for raising the age of consent anyway? I mean, if I were 14 and could consent to sex with a 15 year old, wouldn't I be just as mentally competent to consent to sex with a 20-year old?

If we're saying that a 14 year old is competent to consent to sex at all, what's the argument on restricting what form that consent takes?

Looks to me like the Conservatives don't actually think this is about protecting 14 year olds. This is just one of many examples we'll see of the Conservatives using the law as a form of moral scolding.

Welcome to the Conservative government, Canada - anything you want to do, the government wants to know about it, and tell you why it's wrong.

(Bring on the trolls to tell me why I'm a pedophile.)

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Strange Coincidence

My space-nerdery and energy-nerdery combine as Bob Zubrin, author of The Case for Mars and Entering Space writes a piece advocating ethanol, but especially methanol - via Kevin Drum:
To liberate ourselves from the threat of foreign economic domination, undercut the financiers of terror, and give ourselves the free hand necessary to deal with Middle Eastern extremists, we must devalue their resources and increase the value of our own. We can do this by taking the world off the petroleum standard and putting it on an alcohol standard.

This may sound like a huge and impossible task, but with gasoline prices well over $2 per gallon, the means to accomplish it are now at hand. Congress could make an enormous step toward American energy independence within a decade or so if it would simply pass a law stating that all new cars sold in the U.S.A. must be flexible-fuel vehicles capable of burning any combination of gasoline and alcohol. The alcohols so employed could be either methanol or ethanol....

Methanol is cheaper than ethanol. It can also be made from a broader variety of biomass material, as well as from coal and natural gas. And methanol is the safest motor fuel, because it is much less flammable than gasoline (a fact that has led to its adoption by car racing leagues).

On the other hand, ethanol is less chemically toxic than methanol, and it carries more energy per gallon. Ethanol contains about 75 percent of the energy of gasoline per gallon, compared to 67 percent for methanol. Both thus achieve fewer miles per gallon than gasoline, but about as many miles per dollar at current prices, and probably many more miles per dollar at future prices....

Ethanol is actually edible, whereas methanol is toxic when drunk. This difference, though, should not be overdrawn, since in an FFV economy, both would be mixed with gasoline.
Zubrin later argues for Methanol, basically because we can't make enough ethanol to fuel everyone. This is true. However, we totally ignores the potential for plug-in hybrids to displace the majority of our gasoline use. He's right that this is inevitably going to be a slow process, but will it be any slower than replacing our gasoline-fired cars with ethanol/methanol ones?

Oh, and Zubrin's probably dead wrong when he says the alcohol economy would benefit the third world. In theory it could, of course, but it's already possible to import cheap ethanol from Brazil and other third-world countries. What stops it in the US? Massive sugar and ethanol tariffs.

Thanks, Florida. For so much.

Gmail Invites, Anyone?

So I've got 19 gmail invites left to give away. Anyone desperate for a Gmail account who doesn't yet have one?

Email me, address on the left, below the blogroll.

I Am Underwhelmed

So President Bush last week announced that America is addicted to oil. Some are hopeful that this will be Bush's Nixon-to-China moment. Except that here's the thing - Bush didn't actually suggest that we break our addiction.

Cut oil imports from the mideast? Even if he was serious (he wasn't) all that means is the US is finding a nicer pusher. Maybe a guy who won't spray gunfire in to your house when you owe him money. Maybe a Canadian.

Switchgrass? Ethanol? Okay, so we're kicking smack and on methadone. Great for us, I suppose, but we're still not talking about actually breaking the addiction - we're talking about harm reduction.

This isn't to say that harm reduction isn't valid. I'm a big believer of harm reduction and mental health approaches to addiction. But if we're using metaphors, let's make sure we're using the right ones.

Meanwhile, this may be the only time that a Republican has proposed sensible solutions to addiction.

One Other Thing

I'm over-joyed to see the number of Blogging Tories who have reacted double-plus ungoodly to Harper's choices yesterday. Unlike their American cousins, they recognize that agreement and obedience are not the same thing, and one does not require the other.

Excellent Point

I'll try and make this my last word on the whole Emerson-Fortier thing. I'll just say that I agree entirely with BCer in TO:
How many seats would the Conservatives have won if Canadians knew the following about Stephen Harper:

1) He dodged questioning by the ethics commissioner.
2) He would lure a Liberal across the floor with a cabinet post.
3) He would appoint his campaign co-chair to the Senate and give him an important cabinet post.
4) He would ignore the spirit of his lobbying reform package by appointing a former defence industry lobbyist as his Minister of National Defence.

The CPC perpetrated a fraud upon the people of Canada. I suspect if all this was known before e-day we may have seen the swearing-in of another minority Liberal cabinet today under Paul Martin. You know, when I think of it that way thanks for being so dishonest Stephen, we needed a time-out. And with the way you’re going so far, it won’t last too long.
I'm beginning to think that perhaps Harper may have shot himself in the foot with this Senate appointment. Or rather, the appointment of a Senator to the cabinet. Aside from the horrible (HORRIBLE!) optics, there's also that fact that this makes the Senate relevant again.

Fortier won't be able to answer questions in the Commons, so it will fall to the Liberals and NDP in the Senate to question him. This will necessarily bring media attention to the Senate for the first time since... 1988?

So far, I haven't heard of any Tory talking about a by-election, so we've got however long this government lasts of journalists having to pay attention to the proceedings of the Senate. This is obviously going to affect how the Senate conducts its business. If the media is actually watching, I imagine the Senate Liberals will actually make a fight of things.

Harper would have been much, much smarter to simply appoint Fortier but find an actual MP to take Public Works. The optics would still be bad - given Harper's stated views on the Senate - but not as bad.

As it stands now, Harper may very well have done the one thing that could cut his government short - woken the Senate.

Open question for the crowd: Is this possible? If possible, is it deliberate?

Worst. Senator. Ever.

Memo to John Ibbitson: Having Senator Mike Harris "represent" Toronto for the Tories would be like having Pierre Trudeau "represent" Alberta.

He's not from Toronto, he spend most of his time in government fucking Toronto as violently as he could, and he left office just in time to not face a humiliating defeat to the basically robotic Dalton McGuinty. The GTA has thankfully swept the Tories away and replaced them with Liberals and NDP MPPs.

I'm sure there are sensible Tories who actually could represent Toronto, but Mike Harris would be a calculated insult to Toronto.

Ibbitson would know this, if he had the sense God gave a gnat. But apparently, the cult of Saint Mike lives on.

Bush: Not So Big on the Separation of Powers

The White House has been twisting arms to ensure that no Republican member votes against President Bush in the Senate Judiciary Committee’s investigation of the administration's unauthorized wiretapping.

Congressional sources said Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove has threatened to blacklist any Republican who votes against the president. The sources said the blacklist would mean a halt in any White House political or financial support of senators running for re-election in November.

"It's hardball all the way," a senior GOP congressional aide said.

The sources said the administration has been alarmed over the damage that could result from the Senate hearings, which began on Monday, Feb. 6. They said the defection of even a handful of Republican committee members could result in a determination that the president violated the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. Such a determination could lead to impeachment proceedings.
Via Steve Gilliard.

You see, if Congress did its job and actually provided a "check" or "balance" to the White House, then Bush could be impeached. Instead, the Senate needs to be broken to the will of the Executive.

Um... anyone else smell the putrid bouquet of late-Republican Rome?


The attentive among you may have noticed I've added The Reaction to the blogroll. A fellow Canadian blogger who's also been nominated for the Koufax awards.

In general, I'm happy to link to people if you email me. I can't guarantee I'll do it, and I generally want to check out the blog first, but I'm more than willing.

Oh, and it might take me a few days, even if I intend to.

Monday, February 06, 2006

A Great Morning For Conservative Principles

First, David Emerson crosses the floor, then Stephen Harper appoints a Senator without an election.

Now, I personally don't think either of these are especially big deals. I've always thought the whole hullabaloo over floor-crossing was irrelevant. The Senate appointment is a bit more important (or less unimportant, if you will) simply because it's hard to argue that this was at all urgent - we could have held a sham election in a few months, and the Parliament would really have kept on ticking.

I don't personally think either the Minister of International Trade or the new Senator from Montreal need to stand for election, but if the Conservatives want to hold elections anyway, I say go for it.