Friday, April 29, 2005

This is gonna haunt you, Paulie.

Here. Paul Martin singing the praises of Alfonso Gagliano.

Somebody Call The Minister of Justice

One would think this is a reason to break up the Asper media monopoly. Timmy at Voice in the Wilderness has some info on the Tyee report on how the BC Liberal party has been able to avoid serious criticism in the media despite their lies and corruption.

I haven't been a fan of the Aspers. But this is what two decades of corporate-friendly regulation gets you.

Gee. If only there were a federal party that wasn't wed to the same corporate trough as everyone else...

Who Lost Science?

Alas, the field of climatology has fallen to the Communists. This leaves only theology and economics in the hands of good Christians.
Using ocean data collected by diving floats, U.S. climate scientists released a study Thursday that they said provides the "smoking gun" that ties manmade greenhouse gas emissions to global warming.

The researchers, some of them working for NASA and the Energy Department, went a step further, implicitly criticizing President Bush for not taking stronger action to curb emissions of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases.

They said the findings confirm that computer models of climate change are on target and that global temperatures will rise 1 degree Fahrenheit this century, even if greenhouse gases are capped tomorrow.

Good News, Bad News

So, the good news first: Jack seems to have saved the government, judging by the latest poll results (from the 24th to 27th.) Further, by a 2:1 ratio, Canadians want to wait for an election.

Poor Stephen Harper. With his proclamation that he's going to put the government "out of its misery", he's painted himself in to a corner. Either he forces an election, and gets punished in the polls, or he waits and gets punished by his own party.

It's also bad news for Jack in this poll - but that's to be expected. Any increase in Liberal support was likely to come at the expense of the NDP. The NDP is back below 20% support. This brings me back to one of my pet peeves about Canadian politics - the NDP and the Bloc continually get similar percentages of the popular vote, but the NDP has half the seats. Damn you, single-member pluralities!

The more I think about it, the less likely (not that it was ever likely) that the NDP does well in the next election. The only way the NDP does well is a total Liberal collapse in Ontario, but that's just as likely to help the Conservatives, not the NDP. I wonder what alignment of the planets would be necessary for the NDP to do well? (Aside from the return of Brian Mulroney. Please God, not that!)

Thursday, April 28, 2005

Checking in on the Batshit Insane

Oh, goody: A republican law in the US Congress would, if passed, make it illegal for bus drivers to transport visibly pregnant women across state lines. Yet another restriction on women's choice.

Next time I hear a Conservative talk about how we should be more like the US, I'm liable to hit them. Repeatedly.

Because Nothing Important Was Happening

That can be the only explanation for this:
Martin admits he's on the South Beach Diet

It was after Paul Martin's wife Sheila asked him to stand sideways and look in the mirror that he decided to go on a diet. Though the Prime Minister thought he looked alright, "that was not her judgment."

Since then, Martin has revealed he's following the low-carbohydrate South Beach Diet -- the same regime former U.S. president Bill Clinton used to shed pounds.

Martin, 66, usually wears a suit jacket that disguises the girth his wife Sheila recently pointed out. But experts say Martin's stomach is pretty much typical for a man his age.

But at least one expert is worried how the diet might affect Martin's ability to work at his peak. "Cutting carbohydrates means he's also cutting cognitive functions," registered dietician Beth Mansfield told the Canadian Press.

Whither Hu?

(Because "Who's Hu" would have gotten me beaten up.)

It's looking more and more like President of China Hu Jintao, despite the early mantle of agrarian reformer, is more of a hardliner than early optimists had believed. I've defended Hu myself on occasion, because I believed he was attempting to manage a delicate power transition. I'm still not totally sure I'm wrong, but the evidence is not in my favour:
More than two years after taking office amid uncertainty about his political views, President Hu Jintao is emerging as an unyielding leader determined to preserve the Chinese Communist Party's monopoly on power and willing to impose new limits on speech and other civil liberties to do it, according to party officials, journalists and analysts.

Some say Hu has cast himself as a hard-liner to consolidate his position after a delicate leadership transition and could still lead the party in a more open direction. There is a growing consensus inside and outside the government, however, that the 62-year-old former engineer believes the party should strengthen its rule by improving its traditional mechanisms of governance, not by introducing democratic reforms.
The more interesting question is why Hu is doing this. I don't believe he's a committed hardliner - my guess (and that's all it is) is that he is alarmed by the increasing social unrest in China, and is trying to keep a lid on things. We have to remember that the Communists aren't moustache-twirling bad guys - they sincerely believe they're the defenders of Chinese national integrity. Mao really did end the period of warlordism far more effectively than any previous ruler since the early Manchu Dynasty, and the modern Communists remember that.

Obviously, I don't want to defend or condone oppression, but Hu has got to be scared at the turn Chinese politics have taken in the last few years. When autocrats get scared, you can guess how bad it can get.

Millionaires of the World, Unite!

You have nothing to lose but your servants?
BEIJING, April 28 -- From Mao to Yao, China has come a long way, and not everybody here is happy about it.

Amid a national controversy over what it means to be a worker in the China of 2005, the Communist Party government announced Thursday that Yao Ming, the 7'-6" Houston Rockets center from Shanghai, has been accorded the title of vanguard worker -- even though he is a millionaire living in Texas who makes his living playing basketball.
Hee hee. I'm waiting for Mao's corpse to come back to life and re-start the Cultural Revolution over this.

And Another Thing... of the other things that John Ibbitson said yesterday: That an NDP budget would harm Canadian productivity. Because, apparently, once the NDP are elected everyone will just start working a bit slower. Meanwhile, something that will actually matter happened today - the loonie fell below $0.80US today. The low loonie actually does lower Canadian productivity, unlike Ibbitson's fevered delusions. Now, we can argue over whether or not NDP fiscal policies would raise or lower the value of the loonie, but there's no magical socialist penalty for the value of a currency.

Oh, and in case you think there's a connection between the fall of the loonie and the budget deal, think again: Oil was back below $50 today, causing the loonie to fall. It had nothing to do with the budget deal.

What More To Say?

Well, everyone else seems to have hashed out the NDP-Liberal deal pretty thoroughly. Greg at Sinister Thoughts has a few good posts.

The only thing I'd add is that the press reaction seems more negative than the public opinion so far - though admittedly that's to be expected. Between the Globe and the National Post, neither paper is exactly overjoyed at the prospect of a centre-left coalition government. Also, I hope Jack's rebuttals of Conservative criticism stick. I'd be willing to bet that he'll come out of this week with a bump in the polls, because of the additional press he's gotten in combination with the fact that the deal itself is a pretty good one. The only sector that Jack's really likely to be less popular with after this week are the Conservatives, who weren't going to vote NDP anyway. Also, the Bloc voters might be upset - but I'm hardly an expert on Quebec politics, and should probably keep my mouth shut on such matters. (Which is a herculean task for a blogger, after all.)

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

China and Winston Churchill

Sure, he was a union-busting imperialist who wanted to gas the Iraqis, but he was also pretty sharp. Like this nugget:
"Dictators ride to and fro upon tigers which they dare not dismount. And the tigers are getting hungry."
Well, Beijing is worried about the hungry tiger beneath it's legs:
BEIJING - A major Chinese state-run newspaper has said in a staff editorial that the wave of popular protests against Japan were part of an "evil plot" with "ulterior motives," suggesting that at least some elements of the Chinese leadership now wish to portray the demonstrations as a conspiracy to undermine the Communist Party.
Oops. After encouraging these riots with a wink and a nudge, there's now a lot of concern that things might get out of hand - that the 400 million members of the Chinese middle class (not to mention the 800 million poor) might actually want a say in the running of their lives. Boy, what'll they think of next? Look for the next blowup to happen on May 4th, a historic date in Chinese history, that coincidentally combined anti-Japanese riots with calls for democracy - in 1919.

In other China news, some are concerned that the KMT in Taiwan may be betraying or surrendering to China with the KMT's visit to Beijing. Obviously, this is a tense situation. The BBC says the KMT leader is resigning, and wants to pull this stunt to ensure his political legacy. Well, I can certainly think of less volatile ways to ensure one's legacy, but I don't think we should read too much in to this situation. Looking at Angelica's post, I have to say I agree - Beijing is engaged in a form of endurance Chicken, or something. But once again, with everything happening inside China at the moment, I don't think we need to worry about what goes on outside of China just yet.

And the Mendacity Award Goes To...

Mendacity: 1: The condition of being mendacious; untruthfulness. 2: A lie; a falsehood. 3: This.

Wow. Big fat Paulie makes a deal with the NDP to pass the budget without the tax cuts, and then announces he's going to try and put the tax cuts back in anyway. Greg at Sinister Thoughts calls him dumb as a sack of hammers (and even gives him a medal!) but we should add that he's a liar, too. So here's the question: Does Big Fat Paulie really think that he can pull this off? He's already got the Bloc and the Conservatives ready to vote him down, and now he'll just add the NDP to it.

Does he even get that he's in a minority government?

I Haven't Read The Globe In A While

So I didn't realize what crap John Ibbitson had been spewing until today. I mean, the guy calls Jack Layton Satan. Well, Mephistopheles. I haven't read his columns in the last three years, so I can't say when it happened, but yet another occasionally-lucid conservative has jumped the shark of mouth-foaming left-wing hatred.

Don't believe me? Some excerpts:
"We have today, not just a whole new budget, one radically different from that presented by Finance Minister Ralph Goodale in February, but a whole new
government agenda, an agenda of the NDP."
Wow. It's the second paragraph of his "analysis", and he's already got two things totally wrong. Frankly, spreading less than $5 billion over less than two years, with enough loopholes for the Liberals to pay down the debt and keep the budget balanced, isn't the new Apollo Program. But if all you read was Ibbitson...
"Mr. Goodale should resign. His budget lies in ruins. The new NDP budget will significantly increase federal spending, much of it in areas of provincial jurisdiction..."

Really? Some of the spending will include, according to another Globe article on the very same page:

  • $1.5 billion will go to the provinces, provided there is a pledge to reduce tuition fees."
  • $.5 billion for foreign aid.
  • $900 million for energy efficiency.

Okay, so the largest single chunk of money is a grant to the provinces, provided they agree to reduce their tuition fees. Given that the Ontario Liberals campaigned on exactly that, this can hardly be called an "intrusion" in provincial affairs. Neither can $500 mill for foreign aid. And with the $900 million for the environment (which should be a Federal responsibility - is it?) we've got more than half of the spending proposed being used in ways that the provinces should either find inoffensive, or beneficial. And yet, if you read Ibbitson, you'd think we were on our way to a French unitary state.

Also, note the phrasing of "the NDP budget." It looks more and more like the next election will be between the NDP and the Conservatives, at least from an ideological point of view. That's a fight I think Jack can win.

There's far too much to criticize in Ibbitson's piece for today, but let me close with his closer:

"Finally, we can stop calling Paul Martin Mr. Dithers. He has a new name: Dr. Faust. And Jack Layton is his Mephistopheles."
Wow. So not only his Jack a godless, gay-marrying Socialist, he's Satan. Good work, John. But you didn't work in Reefer Madness, so we're going to have to dock you a day's pay.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Canadian Politics through Family Guy References

So are we allowed to call the Prime Minister Big Fat Paulie? I mean, not that I want the RCMP after me, but there are lessons to be culled from the fate of Big Fat Paulie - I just don't know if any of them are relevant.

Still, I think I'll stick the name on him.

And I'm Back

Of course, the day Jack and Paulie make a deal is the day I spend moving. This means I'm already behind the curve, and on top of that Wonderdog has basically written the post I wish I had. Go read.

Monday, April 25, 2005

Going Offline

For a time. My last exam is today, and I've got some packing to do. Probably back tomorrow evening or so. Maybe wednesday, if I can bear to be offline for 48 hours. But that's unlikely.

Back in a while.

Throw Him an Anvil, Jack

So Jack's given Paul a hard deadline for taking out the tax cuts, Tuesday. Good. But it looks like Paul Martin may not want to make the deal:
However, the Prime Minister appeared to be closing the door on the NDP demand to remove corporate tax cuts from the budget.

"We're not intending to water down anything," Martin said Monday in an interview with Toronto radio station CFRB.
Fine. Screw him. Martin's rapdily approaching Mulroney-esque levels of incompetence, and now he can't take a helping hand when he's drowning? He deserves to lose.

It makes you wonder if Paul Martin ever had any idea why he wanted to be PM. I'm beginning to think he's likely to go down as the male, liberal Kim Campbell - around just long enough to destroy his party.

Why You Should Vote NDP

In my continuing voyage towards party-whoredom, I forward this Ed Broadbent speech, via Sinister Thoughts. A shortened excerpt:
Let me put it in historical context. In my first years as leader, I had as my opponents Pierre Trudeau and Bob Stanfield. The former was a progressive Liberal and the latter was a “Red Tory”. As a social democrat I had some serious disagreements with both of them. But I will tell you that on three key matters we thought alike. On these beliefs or values, our differences were more about speed and detail than about direction. What were these common beliefs?

1) We understood that for Canadians as for others in the world, having more real freedom and opportunity in our lives meant we needed more positive action by government. We knew that legal freedom for a young girl or boy means little unless they have adequate housing and good schools, have a public health care system - and ready access to university education....

2) In choosing between a market-based solution and government activity for many options, the government option is not merely a different choice, it is the best choice. The task of democratic leadership is to keep the balance right....

3) The third matter Trudeau, Stanfield and I would have agreed upon is that the social justice goal of Canadian citizenship should be one of increasing equality, that the gap between the rich and the poor should be narrowed. Today’s Liberal and Conservative leaders simply do not share in these beliefs. Our differences on equality today are not about speed and detail. They have become fundamental.
Something worth remembering: the NDP may be the only party running a candidate who cut his teeth fighting with Trudeau. I know some people have problems with Ed, but it's odd to think that all of the sudden, it's the NDP that has history in this parliament. The Conservative party that founded Canada no longer exists, and the Liberals running the government are all post-Trudeau apostates.

Should Jack Support Paul?

Idle speculation time: There's been some talk of a deal between the Libs and the NDP where Jack would support the budget without the corporate tax breaks. It's a sensible deal, and Jack's a good MP for trying to put governance ahead of ambition.

That said, is it good for the party? Doesn't Jack risk being painted with the same brush as the Liberals when (not if) the government falls? At the very least, he's given Harper a simple retort every time Jack talks smack about the Liberals - "If you think they're so bad, why did you support them?" I think there's a reasonable argument to be made that Jack's doing exactly what he should be doing, but I honestly don't know if it will help him in the election.

On the other hand, it's put his name and the party in all the headlines for the last few days. You know what they say - no such thing as bad publicity.

Any comments? Who thinks Jack's doing the right thing? Who thinks he's writing his own epitaph? Does anyone else think that the Lenin quote "We support the Labour party like the noose supports the hanged man" is appropriate?


I've added Battlepanda to the blogroll, as she was kind enough to blogroll me, as well as Billmon, who should have been there in the first place.

Also, I've added my name to Blogging New Democrats, the creation of Robert of My Blahg. The Link to other NDPers is at the side. We've got an election coming up, one way or another, and it would be nice to give the NDP some support. If there's one lesson to draw from the Dean campaign down south, it's not to scream hysterically while on camera. If there's two lessons, however, the second would be that the Internet can play a huge role in a campaign.

I have no idea if the NDP is thinking along these lines, but they've always needed every helping hand.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Speaking of Morons

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Andre Schorochoff is convinced a conspiracy is afoot to give Belgium a bad name. He cannot think of any other reason why writers, actors and film makers would blame former King Leopold II for the death of millions in the Congo more than 100 years ago.
Bloody hell. First we have the Sino-Japanese rift over whether the Rape of Nanking happened, and now the Belgians are upset that people think Leopold II was a mass murdering bastard, just because he was, well, a mass murdering bastard? Ahem. From Wikipedia:
After a number of unsuccessful schemes for colonies in Africa or Asia, in 1876 he organized a private holding company disguised as an international scientific and philanthropic association. In 1879, under the auspices of the holding company, he hired the famous explorer Henry Morton Stanley to establish a colony in the Congo region. Much diplomatic maneuvering resulted in the Berlin Conference of 1884-85, at which representatives of 14 European countries and the United States recognized Leopold as sovereign of most of the area he and Stanley had laid claim to. On February 5, 1885, the result was the Congo Free State (later the Belgian Congo, then Zaire, and now the Democratic Republic of Congo), an area 76 times larger than Belgium, which Leopold was free to rule as a personal domain.

Reports of outrageous exploitation and widespread human rights abuses (including enslavement and mutilation) of the native population, especially in the rubber industry, led to an international protest movement in the early 1900s. Finally, in 1908, the Belgian parliament compelled the King to cede the Congo Free State to Belgium.

Leopold II is still a controversial figure in the Democratic Republic of Congo; in 2005 his statue was taken down just hours after it was re-erected in the capital, Kinshasa. The Congolese culture minister, Christoph Muzungu decided to reinstate the statue, arguing people should see the positive aspects of the king as well as the negative. But just hours after the six-metre (20 foot) statue was erected in the middle of a roundabout near Kinshasa's central station, it was taken down again, without explanation.
For those who don't know, the Congo Free State (what it was called while it was Leopold's personal plaything) was Joseph Conrad's inspiration for the novel Heart of Darkness, which was of course turned in to the film Apocalypse Now.

Later in this idiot-laden article, we have this brilliant defense, worthy of the Nuremberg trials:
"These attacks ... really get on my nerves," said Pierre Vercauteren, who was born and raised in the Congo where his father went as an army officer in 1926. "It's really in fashion. Obviously there were abuses and excesses -- but which colony didn't commit them?" he asked defiantly.
Well, Pierre, this may be hard to grasp, as you are apparently the only 80-year-old with an IQ below that of a six-year-old. Still, shocking as it may be, just because everyone else did it, doesn't make it right. Did we not have a mother in the Congo? Or are we the bastard child of your father the army officer and some poor rape victim?

Oops. Did I get some bile on you? Sorry, holocaust denial is another one of those hot-button issues for me, I guess.

Moff Harper

...okay, I don't know who should be more insulted: George Lucas, or Stephen Harper. After all, I'm not a fan, but at least Harper hasn't blown up peaceful, loveable Alderaan. (And can you believe Wikipedia has an entry all for Alderaan?)

In any case, Vicki has a rundown of some politicians and which Star Wars characters they should be. I make a cameo.

So Depressing I Weep

From another leaflet of the White Rose Society:
...Why do German people behave so apathetically in the face of all these abominable crimes, crimes so unworthy of the human race? Hardly anyone thinks about that. It is accepted as fact and put out of mind. The German people slumber on in their dull, stupid sleep and encourage these fascist criminals; they give them the opportunity to carry on their depredations; and of course they do so. Is this a sign that the Germans are brutalized in their simplest human feelings, that no chord within them cries out at the sight of such deeds, that they have sunk into a fatal consciencelessness from which they will never, never awake? It seems to be so, and will certainly be so, if the German does not at last start up out of his stupor, if he does not protest wherever and whenever he can against this clique of criminal, if he shows no sympathy for these hundreds of thousands of victims. He must evidence not only sympathy; no, much more: a sense of complicity in guilt... But he cannot be exonerated; he is guilty, guilty, guilty! It is not too late, however, to do away with this most reprehensible of all miscarriages of government, so as to avoid being burdened with even greater guilt. Now, when in recent years our eyes have been opened, when we know exactly who our adversary is, it is high time to root out this brown horde. Up until the outbreak of the war the larger part of the German people was blinded; the Nazis did not show themselves in their true aspect. But now, now that we have recognized them for what they are, it must be the sole and first duty, the holiest duty of every German to destroy these beasts.
Back before the war in Iraq, I emailed my father a quote from William Shirer's Berlin Diaries in which Shirer marvelled at how, in the rest of the world, the question was why was Germany such a menace to world peace? Meanwhile, Shirer in Berlin was being bombarded with the German media wondering why Poland was being such a menace to the peace of Europe.

All I'm saying is that not every Bush/Nazi comparison is wrong.

The White Rose

And this is why I read blogs so voraciously, and some blogs religiously. Billmon has a post up about The White Rose Society, a group of young people in Nazi Germany committed to non-violent resistance. A few of the quotes gave me shivers.

From a White Rose leaflet:
Therefore every individual, conscious of his responsibility as a member of Christian and Western civilization, must defend himself as best he can at this late hour, he must work against the scourges of mankind, against fascism and any similar system of totalitarianism . . . Do not forget that every people deserves the regime it is willing to endure!
And from the inevitable trial and execution:
"Somebody, after all, had to make a start. What we wrote and said is also believed by many others. They just don't dare to express themselves as we did."...That afternoon, the prison guards permitted Hans, Sophie, and Christoph to have one last visit together. Sophie was then led to the guillotine. One observer described her as she walked to her death: "Without turning a hair, without flinching." Christoph Probst was next. Hans Scholl was last; just before he was beheaded, Hans cried out: "Long live freedom!"
We don't often think of the Germans who resisted - probably because, unlike other non-violent resistors (Gandhi, MLK) they were ineffective against their oppressors. But as we come up to V-E Day, it's worth remembering. Not all bloggers can hope to be as good as Billmon, but damn if he doesn't set the bar.

You should read his post, and then go read some of the leaflets of the White Rose Society. More from the same leaflet quoted above.
If the German people are already so corrupted and spiritually crushed that they do not raise a hand, frivolously trusting in a questionable faith in lawful order of history; if they surrender man’s highest principle, that which raises him above all other God’s creatures, his free will; if they abandon the will to take decisive action and turn the wheel of history and thus subject it to their own rational decision; if they are so devoid of all individuality, have already gone so far along the road toward turning into a spiritless and cowardly mass - then, yes, they deserve their downfall. Goethe speaks of the Germans as a tragic people, like the Jews and the Greeks, but today it would appear rather that they are a spineless, will-less herd of hangers-on, who now - the marrow sucked out of their bones, robbed of their center of stability - are waiting to be hounded to their destruction. So it seems - but it is not so.

Passover: Not Just For Jews Anymore

Mark Kleiman has a nice post on Passover:
The willingness of Jews to stand up for vulnerable non-Jews, which I had always attributed to centuries of being the out-group, turns out on closer examination to be really quite deeply rooted in the religion.

Last week in the faculty Torah study group at UCLA -- which has been fighting its way through Deuteronomy at the rate of about two verses a week for the past decade -- we were examining Deut. 24:17-18:

Thou shalt not pervert the justice due to the stranger, or to the fatherless; nor take the widow's raiment to pledge.

But thou shalt remember that thou wast a bondman in Egypt, and the Lord thy God redeemed thee thence; therefore I command thee to do this thing.
A quick check with a concordance showed that the formula: "Do X, because you were slaves in Egypt and the Lord redeemed you" occurs five times in Deuteronomy, in each case following a commandment about dealing fairly with the vulnerable...

That, then, is the deeper meaning of the first phrase in the answer to the Four Questions at the Passover Seder: "Avodim hayyinu" -- "We were slaves."

It seems, if you think about it, a rather remarkable assertion to put at the very center of a celebratory feast. What other group, instead of boasting about being nobly born, makes a fuss about being descended from slaves, and then personalizes it so as to say that everyone present was a slave until redeemed?

But linked to the commandments in Deuteronomy, that phrase comes to mean: "We were slaves" and therefore must never, never, ever act like slaveowners. That makes sense of the empirical link between Judaism and liberalism.
Hell, it makes sense of the emprical link between liberalism and anyone. Most any nation you can think of has been oppressed at one point or another. We've all been slaves, serfs, sold, bought, worked to death, and chained for life in systems we had no control over. And some of us a lot more recently than Moses under the Pharoahs. It's nice that some of us try to remember it, though.

I've only put up a part of Mark's post. Go read the rest.

Friday, April 22, 2005

Go Nancy Go!

via Atrios, Nancy Pelosi (leader of the House Democrats) on Bob Novak:
Apparently, Mr. Novak's reporting is only accurate when he is blowing the cover of CIA operatives.
Ouch. That should sting, but unless it came with a wooden stake and some garlic, I'd wager Novakula is unharmed.

Seriously, how is this man still protected by the Washington press corps?

Sex Sex Sex Sex Sex

Alright, two carnally-related points that have been kicking around in my head since yesterday.

First off, is there some federal or state law mandating that crack (the drug) be visually linked to black men? I was watching CSI last night, and they engaged in what has to be the most tired image of drug use - the white girl, smoking crack provided by her black boyfriend/john/pimp/etc. Traffic did this too. Thirteen - that movie about a young white girl's downward spiral - likewise associated drug use and other assorted criminality with blacks and hispanics. I actually thought Thirteen was a piece of pretty nasty racist imagery wrapped in a crappy story that might have been relevant a decade ago. Basically, it was a young girl's version of Birth of a Nation.

Secondly, via Kevin Drum, this story from the NY Times about divorce rates coming down in the US. The reason for this newfound constancy in marriage? Young couples with university degrees have seen a rapid drop in the rates of divorce. These would presumably be the same university graduates widely assumed to be so promiscuous and experimental during their actual school careers.

So, Promiscuous Sex: Now good for your marriage!

Lite Blogging

Alas. As much as I want to break in my new hardware, other more temporal matters have priority.

I'll probably post a bit over the weekend, but I wouldn't expect anything much until wednesday. Exams, and other things, will keep me away until then.

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Well, I Could Be Wrong

So after I said that Layton had "flubbed" the speech by making an election pitch, everyone else seems to think that he did really well. I find this hillarious - I've been and NDP voter all my life, and was very happy when Layton got the leadership. But even CalgaryGrit is saying he did the best of the four speakers tonight. And Pogge points out something important:
"They're all talking about Jack Layton on an equal footing with Martin, Harper and Duceppe in the midst of a scandal that involves Liberal corruption, the possible fall of a government and national unity issues. That in itself is a victory. The fact that they all say nice things is gravy."
Oooh.. I feel good things coming Jack's way. It's enough to make a socialist's heart flutter.

Come on, it's about time the NDP had a chance at the big table. Prime Minister Layton!

Addendum: I should say that the reason Jack's speech turned me off was that it had a "laundry list" sound to it - rather than talk about sponsorship, the NDP wants to talk about all the things we think are important. What can I say, it sounded silly to me, and like a cartoon version of a left-wing politician. If it plays well, though, I will be the first to say congratulations!

Thoughts on Speechifying

So our beloved Prime Minister has spoken to the people of Canada. The speech itself seems to have been motivated primarily by a desire to get around the press, and Martin said a number of things to pay attention to. First and foremost was his reminding that he already apologized for the Sponsorship scandal, and that he was the one who convened the Gomery Inquiry in the first place. I have to say, this was probably the weakest part of the speech - most of what he did was largely what you would expect from a someone caught red-handed.

The more important statement was Martin's commitment to hold an election within 30 days of the final report of the Gomery inquiry. I think this is a pretty strong play for Martin - the opposition parties may end up looking petty if they insist on an election now, before all the facts are known. It will be interesting to see how this polls - most of the surveys I've seen have shown that people don't want an election yet, and I'd bet that Martin's commitment has reinforced that.

As for the opposition parties, I have to say that both the Conservatives and the NDP flubbed this. Both Harper and Layton treated this like it was an election speech, and I know it turned me off. Though it was good for all three opposition parties to repeat that this is a Liberal crisis, not a national one.

I'd just like to say that I'm once again grateful that we have a Westminster system in the country. Bush violates the law of his country six ways before breakfast, and nobody does a damn thing. In Canada, a nasty bout of white collar crime is enough to implode the government.

Hitting My Stride

Ah, back to normal. So what's going on with China? Well, something approximating democracy, at least in one small town:
This was not Chinese politics as usual. For the next eight hours these citizens grilled local officials, learned about their town's budget, debated various proposals for bridges, roads, parks and sewage-treatment plants, and then voted (through a second, identical questionnaire) on which 10 to build. Usually, such decisions are reserved for Communist Party officials conferring behind closed doors. But cadres in Zeguo and its parent city, Wenling, have pioneered a more participatory approach, putting them at the vanguard of China's experiments in political reform. President Hu Jintao has vowed never to adopt "Western-style" democracy. "But events like Zeguo's referendum, though isolated, may someday form the basis for China's gradual political liberalization," says He Baogang, an expert on Chinese grassroots democracy at the University of Tasmania who was on hand to observe the proceedings.
So Hu doesn't want "western-style" democracy, but he's willing to let town-hall meetings decide important spending matters. Hu buddy, this is how it starts. Don't try to stop it - you're just going to get hurt. Now, we shouldn't be wetting ourselves in anticipation of the reborn Republic of China, but these things are bound to spread.

By the way, does anyone find it ironic that the People's Republic is holding townhall meetings that are more democratic than Bush's Social Security meetings?

Oh So Corrupt

I've been lukewarm on the whole sponsorship scandal thus far. I mean, nobody honestly thought these people were clean, did they? Still, this probably shouldn't have surprised me, but it does:
A former senior Liberal organizer fingered as the man who demanded cash payments from the ad firm Groupaction has fired back with explosive allegations that a small network of party chieftains doled out contracts, sponsorship deals and judicial appointments to Liberal stalwarts in exchange for their work on election campaigns.
Alright, I'm not naive, and patronage has a long history in most democracies. But judicial appointments? These are pretty important positions, not measly ambassadorships or anything like that. Gah. Am I truly naive, or is this a regular aspect of our politics?

Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything

...Is the other reason posting has been sporadic. Simply put, it is possibly the best general science book ever written. Funny, clear, and comprehensive. To give it a fair treatment would be impossible, but some quotes that are simply too good not to share:

On the Big Bang (p. 10):
In a single blinding pulse, a moment of glory much too swift and expansive for any form of words, the singularity assumes heavenly dimensions, space beyond conception. In the first lively second (a second that many cosmologists will devote careers to shaving into ever-finer wafers) is produced gravity and the other forces that govern physics. In less than a minute the universe is a million billion miles across and growing fast. There is a lot of heat now, ten billion degrees of it, enough to begin the nuclear reactions that create the lighter elements - principally hydrogen and helium, with a dash (about one atome in a hundred million) of lithium. In three minutes, 98 percent of all the matter there is or will ever be has been produced. We have a universe. It is a place of the most wondrous and gratifying possibility, and beautiful, too. And it was all done in about the time it takes to make a sandwich.
On early geologists (p. 68):
The field attracted many extraodinary figures, not the least the aforementioned Murchsion, who spent the first thirty or so years of his life galloping after foxes, converting aeronautically challenged birds into puffs of drifting feathers with buckshot, and showing no mental agiltiy whatever beyond that needed to read The Times or play a hand of cards.
On the brevity of human history (p. 337):
Perhaps an even more effective way of grasping our extreme recentness as a part of this 4.5-billion-year-old picture is to stretch your arms to their fullest extent and imagine that width as the entire history of the Earth. On this scale, according to John McPhee in Basin and Range, the distance from the fingertips of one hand to the wrist of the other is Precambrian. All of complex life is in one hand, "and in a single stroke with a medium-grained nail file you could eradicate human history."

This Is Helpful

via DailyKos, this little tidbit:
WASHINGTON - The Homeland Security Department is focusing on possible terror threats from radical environmental and animal rights activists without also examining risks that might be posed by right-wing extremists, House Democrats said Tuesday.
Uh-huh. And everybody noticed which anniversary just passed on Tuesday, right? Because we all remember how Greenpeace and The Sierra Club launched that spate of successful terrorist attacks. No, if Timothy McVeigh were to strike in the US again today, odds are he'd probably get away with it.

Boy, it makes me happy to live in a freeish country. Not only do we have rights, even if we do lean to the left, it also has some fringe benefits, like actual security.

Wednesday, April 20, 2005

Habemus Papem, etc.

So there's a new pope. Of course, I'm officially more than 24 hours behind the news curve because of the aforementioned upgrades, which in blogging time means it's about time to bring this news out to the field and shoot it. Moving on...

Yes, the Benedict XVI was a Nazi. But then, the list of men in Germany in the 1940s who weren't Nazis is probably a short and manageable one. So I think it's pretty irrelevant. Young men were basically conscripted in to the HJ and the Army, especially at the end of the war. What I find more interesting is the fact that he was by all accounts an unenthusiastic Nazi who deserted and surrendered to Americans. Desertion in wartime, for any army, was punishable by death back then. Even if he thought he could get away with it, it was a ballsy thing to do.

As a Cardinal, Ratzinger was a progressive early on, but befriended Karol Wojtyla and became known as the Vatican's "Enforcer", both colloquially and formally - he led the successor body to the Spanish Inquisition (No Monty Python jokes, please) and is widely believed to have co-authored (at least) John Paul II's most controversial and divisive statements. This is where it gets a bit odd, to my mind.

Wojtyla and Ratzinger both experienced Nazism (though admittedly from different sides.) Wojtyla further suffered behind the Iron Curtain. These men, then, should be very familiar with what is and is not an "Ideology of Evil." But they used exactly those words to describe gay marriage in the previous Pope's final writing. Now, I may be missing something, but gay marriage seems yet to have brought us extermination camps, a Gulag Archipelago, a war against the Kulaks or Poland, so what the hell gives?

In any case, Benedict XVI is an old man, and is certainly unlikely to have a long reign like that of his predecessor. Frankly, I can't say that distresses me.

Sorry for the absense...

I was upgrading the computer. Am now running shiny XP, instead of tired ME. It'll be a while before I get all my blogging back up and running, so please bear with.


Monday, April 18, 2005

"The Devil is Beating His Wife"???

Apparently, that's a synonym for a sunshower. Weird. Anyway, yet more quizzing:

Your Linguistic Profile:

65% General American English

15% Yankee

10% Dixie

5% Midwestern

5% Upper Midwestern

Sunday, April 17, 2005

In Praise of Bomb Throwing

Sweet Jesus. From the Foreign Affairs article I linked to earlier:
Thanks to the government's competitive framework, the speed of the DSL service offered also rose dramatically, from 8 megabits per second in 2001 to 12, 26, and 40 megabits today. (The typical U.S. broadband connection, whether DSL or cable, is still only 1.5 megabits per second or slower.) Meanwhile, the price of monthly subscriptions remained stable, even for 26-megabit access speeds, at about $22 per month -- by far the lowest price in the world. By September 2004, 15.3 million Japanese subscribed to high-speed broadband. Moreover, for an additional $5 per month, users of Yahoo! bb can also have Internet telephone service. One in every 25 telephone calls in Japan is now made over the Internet, and the number keeps growing.
40 megabits! Christ. If the RIAA and MPAA think they've got a problem now, just wait!

Municipal WiFi

Adam Werbach, a wireless policy wonk who I pay attention to, has an editorial arguing for more municipalities to provide cheap wireless broadband to their citizens to drive competition in the broadband market. Even the current off-the-shelf wireless networking hardware could deliver speeds much higher than current cable or DSL modems. This will stay true until someone decides to throw a bomb in to the broadband market, because currently the phone and cable companies have little incentive to innovate.

Also, Matthew Yglesias has written about the policy problems in the US - problems that we Canadians face to an even greater degree.

Finally, there's this piece in Foreign Affairs talking about the sad state of American broadband.

I'm Nervous

In February, I wagered that oil wouldn't go below $40/barrel for the rest of the year. Well, we're back below $50.

I also noted that there was no money attached to the wager, making it a "wager" in the sense that oil priced at $49 a barrel is "cheap".

I Like Battlepanda, By The Way

Which you might not have guessed, given that every time I write about one of her posts, I seem to be disagreeing with her. Still, she's definitely worth putting on your daily reads list (unless of course, I'm the only one who has a daily reads list.)

That said, I do understand the difference between fetishism and a simple preference for certain types of women. (Angelica has examples.) But given that I was not-too-subtly accused of being an asian fetishist myself when Vicki and I started dating, this is kind of a sore point to me. I agree that white men can date asian women without it being a fetish - I would count myself among that number - but the point is that the fetish does exist, and so does the "submissive" stereotype it's based on, and neither should really be the subject of winks, nudges, or jokes.

Unlike other fetishes, I would argue this is particularly noxious, and worthy of special condemnation. After all, if you're going after Asian women because you believe them to be "submissive", what you're really doing is looking for victims. A guy who wants to lick a foot or something is - if he can find a consenting partner - not harming anyone. Some asshole looking for a nice yellow girl to take his abuse and domineering isn't just seeking out a woman he's attracted to, he's bordering on sexual predation. The article I linked to previously may be an extreme case, but with a whopping 8% reporting rate, who can say?

So are all white men who date Asian women sexual predators? I certainly don't think so. But, there is a stereotype of submissive Asian women, which feeds a fetish for a certain man, who then carry out some pretty disgusting acts. Even without the gross-out factor, it's hard to believe that an attraction motivated by "submission" could ever be wholly benign.

It seems, by the way, that Angelica and I have succeeded in finding some of our respective hot-button issues - her and Sino-Japanese history, me and Asian Fetishism. How weird - I only started reading her blog last week!

Two Links from SG

(That's Suburban Guerilla.)

First, this little item about US firms illegally shipping GM corn to the EU, contravening EU law on GM food. Nice to know that the world's only remaining superpower can be counted on to try and poison it's closest allies.
(Yes, yes, I know that GM food hasn't been proven harmful. But the point is, these firms knowingly broke EU health laws, and probably had the US government's help in doing it.)

Secondly, I think I was on this ship a few years back, so the idea that it was damaged by a wave, which were pretty common when I was out on the ocean, is kind of alarming.

Rogers to Continue to Deliver Shitty Cellphone Service

...only this time, it'll be shitty Televison-on-your-Cellphone Service! How revolutionary!

Why yes, I am locked in to a Rogers cellular contract. Why do you ask?

(I should say that I've never had a problem with Roger's internet or cable television services. Even the tech support is unusually helpful. But the cellphones - crap.)

New Defense Policy To Be Announced

So there's nothing much to blog about, yet. But this paragraph is important:
But much of the document is about the Forces' role in disaster zones and failed and failing states. It cites the need for integrated task forces involving land, sea and air, sources familiar with the plan said Thursday.
Note the inclusion of all three forces. There had been some talk last year of eliminating one of the forces (I believe the RCAF was usually bull's-eyed) but the government seems to have given up on that. It always seemed a bit loony to me, so I'm glad to see it gone.

Of course, this is still the Canadian military we're talking about, so even when we have more information, it's not going to be blog-worthy.
(Sort of kidding.)

Go Jack!

I know some of my friends aren't his biggest fans, but I personally hope Jack Layton can capitalize on the widely-hoped-for Liberal Collapse - and he's already damn close. With all the parties so close, the NDP is only 3 points behind the Liberals, and only 9 points (9!) behind the front-runners, the Conservatives.

If things continue to go poorly, who knows? We could see a NDP-Liberal coalition. Or, if the Liberals really collapse, a NDP-Bloc coalition. Oddly, that would make more sense politically than a Conservative-Bloc "unholy alliance", but I have no idea how it would play in the NDP's rural ridings. Probably badly.

I wish I had something profound to say about the Liberals plunge in the polls, but what is there to say? They've been the governing party for more than a decade now, and Martin hasn't the charisma to weather scandal the way our guy Jean did. The writing was on the wall as early as last summer - Martin was doomed. Frankly, I've never trusted Paulie from the beginning, and certainly never voted for him. As far as I'm concerned, the only question here is whether Canada's actual left-wing party can finally capitalize on this opportunity.

I've got my fingers crossed.

Saturday, April 16, 2005

So Much Wrong Don't Know Where To Begin

You'd think that a vaccine against cancer - CANCER - would be welcomed with open arms. Specifically, you'd think people would jump at a vaccine for Human Papiloma Virus, which is essentially ubiquitous at this point. And you'd be wrong, you atheistic communist secular humanist activist judge:
In the US, for instance, religious groups are gearing up to oppose vaccination, despite a survey showing 80 per cent of parents favour vaccinating their daughters. "Abstinence is the best way to prevent HPV,"

"Giving the HPV vaccine to young women could be potentially harmful, because they may see it as a licence to engage in premarital sex," Maher claims, though it is arguable how many young women have even heard of the virus.

"We found that some Asian women in Britain are afraid even to get tested for HPV infection, because they say if it is positive they will be killed, never mind that their husbands probably gave it to them," says Szarewski. She feels that such attitudes may mean that HPV vaccination may be a non-starter in such communities.

Once licensed, the vaccine should be given to younger girls, he says. "But people will say 'My girl is very virtuous, why vaccinate?' It will be a real challenge, not like other vaccines."

Last but not least is the cost. Ganguly is trying to arrange for an HPV vaccine to be produced cheaply in India. But there are fears India's new patent laws will make licensing deals difficult.
So, between religious objections and intellectual property laws, all we've managed to do is create a new category of "preventable deaths." Fan-fucking-tastic. Human civilization should be proud. It's not often that stupidity is so widely seen to cross cultural, class, and national barriers. Kudos to us!

Friday, April 15, 2005


Okay, first off: This shit is disgusting.
"Recently, Princeton graduate student Michael Lohman admitted to police that he had been silently terrorizing more than 50 Asian women on campus by clipping snippets of their hair, spraying them with his urine and pouring his semen or urine in their drinks at university dining halls when they weren't looking. After three years of these repulsive acts, investigators finally caught up with and arrested Lohman last week. They searched his campus apartment and found stolen underwear and women's hair stuffed into mittens that he had been using for sexual self-gratification."
Okay, now I understand why Vicki's friends interrogated me so thoroughly when we started going out. I thought it was odd that they wanted to know if I'd ever dated an Asian girl before.

I guess I understood intellectually the whole "Yellow Fever" thing, but that's just horrible. It gets worse.
Not only are Asian women disproportionately targeted in sex crimes, but they are also the least likely to report such incidents. Sex crimes are already grossly underreported, with only an estimated 26 percent of rape victims coming forward, but the percentage of Asian women who do so is even lower, at a mere 8 percent. Police hope that the Asian women will come forward about their harassment in the Princeton incident; however, the statistics tell us that it is not likely.
As the article makes clear,Asian women are targeted disproportionately because of the "submissive" stereotype surrounding them. The solution to this preponderance of pervs is simple: Asian women, start collecting nuts. And I'm ain't talkin pistachios, neither.

(And lest anyone be under any illusions, if I ever acted like Vicki was "submissive", my parents would get my severed head mailed to them. Ah, young love.)

Get Me A Stepladder

There was a horrible fire here in Ottawa last week. A storeowner in Chinatown (yes, we have a Chinatown here in Ottawa) lost almost his entire family. Now it looks like there weren't any smoke detectors in the building.

Just a message, everyone - go check your smoke detectors, and make sure they work.

UPDATE: I feel worse.

I'm crappy old windows, and Adam's Linux. I mean, it seems eerily accurate, but it's doing nothing for my ego.


According to this quiz, I''m Windows 95.


You are Windows 95.  You look better than your older brother, but your communication skills are still lacking.  You start well, but often zone out.
Which OS are You?

Apocalypse Now and Then

Billmon gives us an indication of how swimmingly things are going in Iraq.

Somebody Keep An Eye on Max von Sydow

"Minority Report-style interface created for US Military"

Well, I don't see why not. They already launched a war based on vague, watery predictions of the future, and just like in the movie, the predictions turned out totally wrong.

And yet, in the highest form of injustice since the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ, I am still without a rocket pack OR a flying car.

(shakes fist)

Damn you, present!

More on Chinese Protests

Many demonstrators cleverly frame their demands and stage manage their protests so as to embarrass the objects of their protests (enterprise managers, local officials, etc.) and paralyze security officials from using extreme force. Favorite tactics include waving copies of the laws that local officials are violating, skipping levels and taking demands to higher administrative officials, and placing senior citizens, retired soldiers, women and children in the front ranks of protests.


But bad economic times alone cannot fully account for the sustained rise in unrest. This fact is amply demonstrated by comparing the rising levels of protest with recent rates of economic growth. Although protests did accelerate during the late 1990s recession, they began rising as early as 1993-1996 when Chinas GDP was growing at more than 10 percent a year. More importantly, protests have continued to increase at more than 20% a year during the 2000-2003 recovery when the economy grew at 9% annually. Thus, while unrest has clearly accelerated during economic downturns, its persistent increase regardless of the state of the economy clearly suggests that protests are being motivated by more than just transitory economic conditions. Consequently, the Chinese polices own data strongly suggests that Beijings leaders would be unwise to think that if they just hold on long enough, they can simply grow their way out of the current unrest.
From "Chinese Government Responses to Rising Social Unrest"

Wooh hoo hoo. Interesting times indeed.

The Dissent Ball Keeps On Rollin'

2000 Chinese veterans gathered in Beijing for a sit-down protest, demanding their pensions.
Millions of low-ranking PLA officers and rank-and-file soldiers who were given jobs at state-owned enterprises after retirement feel their pay and new status fail to live up to their contributions to the country. Many have lost their jobs because most state firms are losing money.
Needless to say, if the People's Liberation Army has to face down a large-scale protest of it's own former members, there's some serious potential for chaos. Then there's this aspect:
The petitioners, who previously held ranks ranging from second lieutenant to major, did not shout slogans. But they unfurled banners reading: "We want equality, reason and justice", the witnesses said.
We can joke about reason and justice in the People's Republic, but you'd be silly to underestimate the power of calm protests, with a good slogan. The TV footage from segregation-era Alabama, of black men carrying signs which said "I am a man" were simple, but incredibly effective. Of course, so was the video of the Southern reaction - water cannons being used on schoolgirls, that kind of thing.

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Useful Election Tips

Well, it looks more and more likely that we'll have an election here in Canada. In preparation, I've taken this quiz, which asks you a bunch of questions and ranks your party preferences. My score: Liberal Democrat.

Sorry, did I forget to mention it's a poll for the British election?

Your outcome:

Labour -14
Conservative -59
Liberal Democrat 92
UK Independence Party -4
Green 65

The LibDems take a strong stand against tax cuts and a strong one in favour of public services: they would make long-term residential care for the elderly free across the UK, and scrap university tuition fees. They are in favour of a ban on smoking in public places, but would relax laws on cannabis. They propose to change vehicle taxation to be based on usage rather than ownership.

I'm shocked, shocked to learn that I'm as antagonistic to the British tories as I am to the Canadian Conservatives. (Who, by the way, I refuse to dignify with the respectable name "Tory.")

Alright, so it's not that useful.

Newsflash: Microsoft Just Doesn't Get It

So Billyco wants to incorporate Wikipedia-like features in to Encarta. Good luck.
But it is asking them to reveal the source of their information if possible, and the editorial staff will check for both factual errors and evidence of bias.
So MS continues it's command-economy style approach to the internet, whereas Wikipedia gives away knowledge for free. Anyone who's used Wikipedia for any length of time can vouch for the generally high standard of information there. I didn't even know Encarta had a website, that's how little Microsoft matters these days.

On other MS matters, a proposal: What if we made all game manufacturers release Windows games for Linux as well? Most of the big games are coming out on multiple platforms already - Xbox, PS, Gamecube, PC - so adding a Linux requirement shouldn't be too difficult, should it? And gamers have got to be one of the last markets that Linux hasn't been able to crack, right?

They wouldn't even need to put the games in the stores, so long as you could order them off the net. Obviously, they should be released at about the same time, with no difference in price. Surely this can be done?

TV To Go

I can't really say what this will mean. All I will say is that one of the catalysts for the development of rock and roll music was the invention of the transistor radio. With lightweight, cheap radios that could be brought out with friends or listened to surreptitiously in one's bedroom, music became something you didn't do with your parents anymore, and could therefore listen to what you wanted to (Elvis, not Perry Como.) Who can say what good, mobile television will mean?

The EU Is Still Smarter

In the latest round of Chinese-EU negotiations over lifting the decade-long arms embargo, Brussels is now demanding that China make a major concession on human rights before the EU will let them buy new weaponry.
The EU's schedule has also been thrown into doubt by severe critical reaction from the United States, which fears that European arms sales to China could shift the strategic balance in the region and which has also repeatedly expressed concerns about human rights in China.


...the EU argues: "The EU's clear objective is not to sell to China any items and technologies which would help China to acquire a capability it does not already possess and which may have destabilizing effect in the region. The EU does not intend to change the strategic balance in the region, especially in the Taiwan Strait."

It also urges China to "make further clear and tangible steps" in human rights.
No word on what those "clear and tangible steps" would be, but notice the contrast between American "diplomacy" which amounts to screaming about the looming yellow peril, and the EU's more moderate carrot-and-stick approach. Which one do you think is destined for long-term success?

Look Inside

Yet more evidence for my contention that domestic Chinese politics are going to be pretty rocky in the near future:
The fragile banking sector is not the only problem that ought to give Chinese leaders sleepless nights. There are also the country's stock markets.

The days are long gone when the rising markets of Shanghai and Shenzhen threatened to eclipse Hong Kong as the listing location of choice for the best Chinese companies. Although a handful of locally listed companies have prospered, the markets as a whole have fallen since 2000. Last year, the Shanghai composite index dropped 15 per cent, making it one of the world's worst performers in spite of Chinese economic growth of 10 per cent.
A financial crisis in China is certainly possible. Of course, it's not unknown for crappy domestic politics to make leaders engage in overseas adventures (cough cough Bush cough) so this might make things even more tense in the South China Sea.

Speaking of Space Nerdery

25 years ago today, the cryogenic oxygen tank on Apollo 13 exploded, putting the lives of Tom Hanks, Kevin Bacon, and Bill Pullman Paxton in jeopardy. (Admit it, you couldn't keep Paxton or Pullman straight with a gun to your head.)

Actually, as much as the story of Apollo 13 can be told as a disaster, I prefer to look at everything that went right - the astronauts were able to navigate by using their eyes and a stopwatch (the movie wasn't making that up!), they reentered the Earth's atmoshpere properly (something NASA seems to have forgotten how to do), and they brought the men home alive. All this with a spacecraft where almost nothing was working except the windows and the walls.

In a sense, it's a good thing that the US public had already gone through the trauma of the Apollo 1 fire which killed Grissom, White and Chaffee. If the American public hadn't already suffered that loss (but before actually achieving Kennedy's dream) they might have cancelled the program after 13. That would have been a shame, because a number of important discoveries were made in the later Apollo missions.

I'll just repeat the immortal words of Commander Rick: If we can put a man on the moon... why can't we put a man on the moon, again?

China Thrice!

Okay, for a rebuttal to a rebuttal (both rebuttals via DefenseTech) on that NYT piece. So, to be clear, this piece is arguing that, yes, we should worry about China-Taiwan.
An emerging consensus among long-time PLA observers, including within the US intelligence community, is that the Chinese military has successfully achieved a far-reaching qualitative advancement in its warfighting capabilities since the beginning of this decade. The PLA is quickly becoming an increasingly credible threat against Taiwan and could even begin to pose a challenge to US military preponderance in East Asia in the next decade if the momentum is sustained.


The PLAAF now has around 300 advanced Russian and Chinese combat aircraft, which are armed with sophisticated munitions. Air force chiefs, however, also face the pressing challenge of coping with the spreading obsolescence that affects the rest of its inventory of more than 3,000 combat aircraft.
For any move on Taiwan, obviously the air and naval forces are going to be critical - ever since Operation Sea Lion, military planners have wanted air superiority before any attempted amphibious invasion. Like the British during "Their Finest Hour", the Taiwanese have always planned on winning any future war with the mainland "in the straits" - that is, they need to successfully defeat the PLAAF (Beijing's Air Force) and the PLAN (People's Liberation Army Navy, a damn weird name for a fleet if you ask me) to forestall any invasion.

Meanwhile, according to the above article 90% of the PLAAF's inventory is obsolete. That nasty 10%, however, is pretty damn good. It's worth asking whether China is yet ready to risk their best 10% in a war with the US, Japan, and Taiwan. Losing the best of their Air Force would essentially leave the Mainland with nothing but 1970s-era Soviet Migs. Replacing the other 2,700 combat aircraft is going to take a long time - at a guess, I'd bet on a decade at least. If Beijing is rational (and there's little reason to believe they aren't) they'll wait to start something until they can afford to lose. Who knows what else will happen in the meantime?

I Must Admit Error

Last night, I wrote that Kennedy and Truman* won the narrowest mandates in the 20th century. I realized this morning, after the second cup of tea, that this is in fact incorrect. The year 2000 is, as Arthur C. Clarke kept scolding us, entirely in the 20th century as well. Therefore, the narrowest mandate in fact goes to George W. Bush, whose margin of victory was -500,000 votes nationwide, right? This would give him what political scientists** would call a "negative mandate", or in layman's terms, a "Loss."

Glad I could clear up that mistake on my part.

*Despite their narrow margins of victory, I should say that I am an unabashed Kennedy and Truman fan. I am far too big a space nerd to not idolize the man who said "We choose to go to the moon." And Truman? The man finished off the Nazis, and then he's all like "Come on, ya bunch of Commies! You want some of this? That's right, I didn't think so, bitch!"

**No political scientists that I know of use this term. Am I the first?

Idiotic Political Commentary

I'm watching the Daily Show, and they've got some jackass talking about "moderates" and "centrists" winning elections to return America to sanity. His role models? Truman and Kennedy were mentioned - the two presidents to win the narrowest mandates of the 20th century.

Up next - winning elections by losing!

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Exams Are Trying

Which I suppose is the point. But I can't be expected to enjoy them, can I?

On the other hand, I got a paper back today which has made me quite happy. I was freaking out about how much my paper was going to suck, and - well, not to brag, but I'm back in the "A" category, after a dissapointing first term.


Who's Who?

I was reading this post at Steve Gilliard's, and this quote struck me:
"You can be a fourth generation Asian American and people will comment you on
how well you speak English. Despite that you're the third generation in your
family to have a college degree. They don't mean anything evil by it, except
that they are saying you are a lesser American."
This stood out to me, because I find it funny how we define who belongs. Canada is probably the most post-modern nation-state in existence today - to have some kind of ethnic image of a "Canadian" is frankly ridiculous.

That said, Canada is still a pretty white country, and I'd imagine that the experience for non-whites in this country is similar to what Steve describes. Better, hopefully, but we aren't angels after all.

(The closest this cracker has come to experiencing something like racism was walking through Chinatown in Toronto with my arm around Vicki. Boy, those old Chinese men have a glower and a half, let me tell you...)

Lite Blogging

For the next 24 hours or so - 2 long exams tomorrow. In the meantime, enjoy this debunking of the NYT article I linked to earlier. Short version - don't worry about China yet.

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Staying in the East...

"Chinese Village Protest Turns Into Riot of Thousands"
Reports that two elderly women were killed during a protest against factory pollution have sparked a bloody riot by thousands of villagers in eastern China.

Several dozen police officers were injured, five seriously, during the clashes in Huankantou village, Zhejiang province, on Sunday. It was the latest of several recent violent demonstrations, of a kind that poses an increasingly serious threat to China's stability.

The two protesters were said to have been killed when officials tried to disperse 200 elderly women who had kept a two-week vigil outside a chemical factory that they blamed for ruined crops and deformities in new-born babies.
Yet more riots in China.

Remeber this story when people say either of the following:

a) War with China is imminent/likely/etc.
b) The poor don't care about the environment.

We don't know what is going to happen within China in the next few years, much less what their foreign policy will be. On top of that, as China's environmental problems get worse (!) the protests will be even more widespread. The Iron Denominator keeps on... dividing... stuff. Not the most elegant sentence I've ever written.


Beijing is starting to crack down on the anti-Japanese riots:
BEIJING - As anti-Japanese protests continued for a third day in a row Tuesday, government censors imposed a news blackout on coverage of protests, signaling that Beijing was trying to contain further damage to already strained Sino-Japanese relations.
There's a number of possible reasons for this. The first and most obvious one is that Beijing doesn't want the riots to get out of hand, for fear of damaging Japanese relations irreparably.

However, the more likely one, in my book, is expressed at the end of the article:
"Our government is too weak," grumbled Yang Xiaodong, a 40-something Beijinger who described himself as self-employed. "They should keep the media blasting for a week, or even for two weeks, until everybody in China and the whole word takes notice."
But Chinese leaders may fear, too, that continuous anti-Japan demonstrations could trigger protests about broader social grievances, speculated a university professor who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Aha. Beijing was fine when the complaints were directed expressly at Tokyo, but when the angry faces start looking towards Beijing, well, that's a different story. And people are still pissed off with the way Beijing treated Zhao Ziyang:
"Just two months ago, Chinese communist leaders refused to let people come out and publicly commemorate the late Zhao Ziyang [the purged party leader who sympathized with the 1989 Tiananmen student demonstrators]. They know that wound is still fresh and could easily open," the professor said. '. "They don't want protests to turn against them."
This is a sign of what's to come in China. The party has played on the sincere anger of the Chinese over history to prop up a regime that lacks any strong ideological support - they gave up on Communism, Maoism, and all they're left with is nationalism. But Nationalism is hard to control - the Nazis used it for themselves, but so have a number of democratic movements in history. You want to be careful by getting people hooked on nationalism - you never know if they'll still want you in charge later.


I put an asterisk in the last post, and forgot to add something at the end of the post. Here it is:

Anyone who wants to say that 8 million dead Chinese is somehow less meaningful given a population (at that time) of 400 million can leave right now. It's astonishing how often you hear that logic in a discussion about the war, or the Great Leap Forward (40 million starved to death by Mao's incompetence) - that because there's so many Chinese, somehow their individual lives are worth less. If anybody thinks that somehow 8 million Chinese dead are worth less than 12 million Europeans killed by the Nazis, then I invite you to attempt to dig 8 million graves, and come back to me when you're done. Sometime in the 2100s.

On Wounds and Healing

Angelica objects to my post on the textbooks issue and Sino-Japanese relations. She has an excellent post on the atrocities comitted by Japanese forces during the Pacific war here. However, I do have a few counter-objections. Not to the accusation that I'm living in a dream world, only the evidence presented!

I kind of think that we're talking past each other - I meant only to address the specific issues of textbooks today and their impact on North Asia. I didn't particularly want to have a debate about Japan's wartime atrocities, but here we are. So, no equivocation - the acts of Imperial Japan were different from the Nazis only by degree, not in kind. The Rape of Nanking is something we should all know about, but too few of us do. Wikipedia lists 8.4 million Chinese "non-military casualties" - a number of deaths comparable to the Shoah*. Japan ludicrously tried to portray it's war as a war to "protect Asia" from white colonialism, and then enaged in brutality that would have made King Leopold blanch.

When I said that Japan "hasn't done anything wrong", I meant in the present time. Do they deny and ignore their history? Absolutely. We all do, because the history of any modern state is positively ghastly. Even Canada? Ask a Beothuk - Sorry! Too late! And while I can certainly understand Chinese hostility towards Japanese, there's something more going on here. As Angelica notes in her post, it's ironic that these protests against Japanese have been allowed in an authoritarian (I would disagree with the word "totalitarian") state. Except that it isn't ironic at all - this latest outburst of anti-Japanese sentiment (anti-Japonism?) has been pretty transparently orchestrated by the Party. Again, this isn't to say the grievances aren't absolutely legitimate, just that, in this case, I think Japan isn't the one misbehaving.

Yes, Koizumi continues to visit Yasukuni. That's insensitive, to say the least. Of the remains held at Yasukuni, the vast majority (roughly 87%) belong to soldiers of the Pacific War period, including most infamously 13 of the "Class A" war criminals executed after the war. But nobody can seriously argue that Japan's PMs meant to endorse Japan's wartime behaviour - on the contrary, Koizumi has said repeatedly that he pays tribute to the dead to keep Japan from ever going to war again. The Emperor has not visited the Shrine once since the 13 were interred. Loved ones don't become unloved because of their crimes. There's a difference between mourning the dead and absolving them of their crimes, and we'd be good to remember that.

I can't speak to whether or not the dead of the Pacific War are revered as heroes or not - but to expect any nation to admit error on such a collosal scale is asking a lot. People are still people. As unpleasant as it is, I don't think Germany or Japan are likely to "admit" their sins to everybody's satisfaction, especially not 60 years after the fact. There was an uproar recently about German families seeking reparations from Poland for some damn thing or another. People remember grudges, even the people who shouldn't, or don't deserve to.

At the end of my last post, I said this shouldn't have the effect it does, "but that's history for you." That may have been read as cavalier, or dismissive of the facts. It certainly wasn't intended that way. Angelica calls the atrocities of the Pacific War a wrong that was never righted. How do you right that kind of a thing? Emperors, Prime Ministers, the vast majority of the Japanese leadership have all apologized for the conduct of the war. Korea and China have been recipients of a lot of Japanese aid. Japan has, since 1953, been a model citizen in the world - not just in relation to their own past, but in absolute terms. What more do we have a right to ask of Japan as a collective? Are individual Japanese idiots? Sure, and I can name a couple of the top of my head - Shintaro Ishihara comes to mind most readily.

I understand that all this is extremely personal to a lot of people (1.3 billion Chinese, for starters) and don't mean to demean their legitimate anger. I forget who said it first (Google! Why are you forsaking me??!!) but we're all prisoners of history. I don't know any other way of saying this, but we need to escape history. This doesn't mean we forget it, or even forgive, but beyond a certain point it has to stop mattering as much. I guess the analogy I would use is the death of a loved one - you don't forget, or stop loving them, but eventually the pain goes away. Maybe we're not ready for that in the case of China v. Japan. But eventually, we're going to have to get there.

China to Japan: Suck it.

Well, almost:
Visiting Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao said on Tuesday China supports India's bid for a permanent seat in the United Nations Security Council.

"We fully understand and support the Indian aspiration to play an even bigger role in international affairs and in the UN," Premier Wen said while addressing a question at a press conference before winding up his four-day visit to India.
Ah, so what does this have to do with Japan? Oh, not much:
Increasingly anti-Japan demonstrations in China have sent bilateral ties to their lowest ebb since diplomatic relations were normalized in 1972.

On Saturday, about 10,000 demonstrators took to the streets in Beijing. The protesters hurled stones and plastic water bottles at the Japanese Embassy and damaged Japanese restaurants. Demonstrations also spilled over to Guangzhou and Shenzhen in Guangdong province in the south and Chengdu in Sichuan province. In Shanghai, two Japanese students were beaten and injured by protesters.
These protests in China have been fueled by a number of things, but the two most important are the perennial "textbooks" issue (China and South Korea accuse Japanese textbooks of whitewashing the Pacific War) and, more directly important today, Japan's attempt to get a permanent seat in the UN Security Council.

The sad thing is, in this case, Japan hasn't done anything wrong. There are textbooks which do try to justify the war as "defending Asia from the White Man" or some crap like that (seriously) but they're almost never used in actual schools. That they exist is a sign of Japanese publishers' freedom, not necessarily racism*. Moreover, Japan has apologized for its conduct in the war a number of times. On top of all this, Japan has been central in driving the growth of both China and South Korea - and not entirely out of its own self-interest, either. South Korea was given billions in reparations for the war in 1964.

It goes without saying that Japan deserves a permanent seat on the Security Council. Certainly, if nations like China and France have them, Japan meets the threshold.

*One caveat to my defense of Japanese textbooks. While very few schools actually use the textbooks put out by the ultranationalists, their existence seems to have created a trend in the other national textbook publishers to become more forgiving of Japan's wartime activities. Obviously, this is a bad thing. All the same, this really shouldn't prejudice Asian international affairs as much as it does - but that's history for you.

A Southern Strategy

For years, Republicans in the US Congress have stood in the way of reasonable, constitutional restrictions on abortion. Why? Because abortion is such a good issue for them, were it to be "fixed", the Republicans would lose one of their primary talking points. So instead, the GOP keeps proposing laws it knows will be struck down by the courts, all so that it can say "Look! Them damn activist judges are baby-killers!"

Well, it looks like Stephen Harper and the Conservatives have picked something up from the Red States. Harper knows a) that this bill will never pass, and b) that this hate crime of a bill would be struck down even if he managed to pass it. So why do it? So he and the rest of his unreformed Reformers can go back to Alberta and scream about activist judges who love the ass-fucking. Brilliant.

Who was it who said Canada is a prisoner of it's geography?

In related news, 52% of Canadian say they're opposed to the new law. Fine. I'd like to reiterate: We don't put equality to a vote in this country. If we'd waited for popular support, women might have gotten the vote by now - maybe. The government is supposed to lead, every once in a while. Imagine that.

Moral Complexity

Does the government have a right to force you to violate a religious principle, if it means saving your life?

According to the BC Supreme Court, yes.
VANCOUVER - The B.C. Supreme Court on Monday upheld an earlier court order authorizing a blood transfusion for a 14-year-old cancer patient who doesn't want the procedure because she's a Jehovah's Witness.

Though she has consented to chemotherapy, surgery and the possible amputation of her leg, the teen says a transfusion violates her religious beliefs.
Part of me wants to say "This is what you get for trying to give the Watchtower!" but I'm actually rather puzzled by this story. At my most theological, I've never felt a religious belief would get in the way of a necessary medical procedure for me or a loved one. That said, I can't say I love the idea of the guvmint getting in to someone's life like this. I suppose, if I suported Terry Schiavo's right to choose her fate, I should support this girl's decision out of consistency if nothing else.

Can't say I have anything to add. Just saw this come across my RSS reader, thought I'd share.

(By the way, some of us will remember that Babylon 5 did an episode dealing with much the same issue. The kid ended up surviving the operation, but his religious parents killed him afterwards.)


Matthew Yglesias is confused about the panic over gas prices:
As this chart from Angry Bear shows, real gas prices, while quite a bit higher than those of the late 80s and 1990s, are not only way lower than during the late 70s-early 80s peak, but basically about the same as during the economic salad days of '48-'73. What's more, the energy intensity of the economy (amount of energy consumed per dollar of real GDP) is way up since then, and overall incomes are higher. A shift toward an era of higher prices strikes me as something we should be eminently capable of coping with. Probably fewer people at the margin will buy SUVs and pickups, more will buy hybrids, light truck engines will get more fuel efficient, etc.
A classic case of taking something out of its context. Let's consider, for a moment, the important differences between the US economy today and the economy of the 1970s:
-A decrease in real wages. (In real dollars, most people haven't had a raise in 30 years.)
-An increase in health care costs. (Most obviously in the US, but also in Canada)
-An increase in "income insecurity". (Jobs are less secure, and sudden unpredictable costs are more common.)

This list is, of course, not exhaustive. But look at that chart from Angry Bear again - and notice the trend from 1940 to 1973. The trend was downwards, not up. So fuel prices were falling, the economy was expanding, so even though people were paying more in real terms for their gas, they were also better able to afford it.

Add to all this that the US economy still isn't doing great (even if it's not technically a recession) and that the average fleet fuel efficiency in the US is now about where it was pre-Oil Shocks, and yeah, people are hurting.

Good News...

Iraq may be the undoing of Blair in the UK, and might cost Bush his Congress. Juan Cole has more.

Here's hoping for impeachment in 2007!

Monday, April 11, 2005

Sit Down, Mikhail

Poor Putin. He's still highly favoured by the Russian people, but then one of the least-like Russian politicians in the 20th century has to open his yap. Seriously, Gorbachev usually polls way behind Stalin.

Stalin. You know, Gulag Archipelago, War Against the Kulaks, Treaty-With-Hitler-Oh-Shit-He's-Invading-Us Stalin.

I've Officially Paid Too Much Attention To This Article

Bush apparently has someone who fills his iPod. Dude can't work a Mac on his own, and he's got his finger on the button? We are so screwed.

I loved this quote, near the end:
Mr. Jones, Mr. Levy said, was nonetheless an interesting choice. "George Jones is the greatest living singer in country music and a recovering alcoholic who often sings about heartbreak and drinking," he said. "It tells you that the president knows a thing or two about country music and is serious about his love of country music."
He sings about heartbreak and drinking, and this signals that the President knows about country music?

Turn to the country station in your market, right now. (Admit it - you know where it is.)

The odds are even that, right now, the song being played is about either a) heartbreak or b) drinking. Can the New York Times write a piece about how much I know about country music?

But most horrifying was this:
He has selections by Van Morrison, whose "Brown Eyed Girl" is a Bush favorite, and by John Fogerty, most predictably "Centerfield," which was played at Texas Rangers games when Mr. Bush was an owner and is still played at ballparks all over America. ("Oh, put me in coach, I'm ready to play today.")
Sadly, I too have these songs on my hard drive. How will I ever listen to them again? God, the horror!

Even worse, Bush only has 250 or so songs on his iPod. Shit, take that thing away from him, and give it to someone who'll put it to good use. Like me. Dumbass hick.

My Esteem For Catholicism Falls Another Notch

VATICAN CITY - Cardinal Bernard Law, whose failures to stop sexually abusive priests sparked the worst crisis in American church history, led a Mass for thousands mourning Pope John Paul II at St. Peter's Basilica on Monday after police whisked away a victim protesting outside.
Okay, first off, saying that Law "failed to stop" the child rape going on in the church is like saying Eichmann failed to stop the Holocaust. Law actively conspired to protect accused priests, and was likely to face an indictment before he was whisked away by the Vatican.

Secondly, this is just an incredible "fuck you" to American Catholics who are concerned about protecting their children. Think the Church is accountable? Suck it! Billmon said a few days ago that if he were a Christian, he'd be a Catholic. I used to think the same way, but this kind of crap soured me on the Church a long time ago.

The Mysterious Orient

Well, good news on one front - China and India have announced a plan to settle their 40-year old border dispute in the Himalayas. This quote was telling to me:
"India and China can together reshape the world order," Singh said after welcoming his counterpart to New Delhi.
I wrote once that I thought the most important question of the 21st century would be whether India and China will play the roles of France and Germany in the first or second half of the 20th century - that is, mortal enemies or cooperative powers. I get more and more optimistic on this front with every piece of news. China and Taiwan, however...

"Chinese Navy Buildup Gives Pentagon New Worries"
"They are building their force to deter and delay our ability to intervene in a Taiwan crisis," said Eric McVadon, a former military attaché at the United States Embassy in Beijing. "What they have done is cleverly develop some capabilities that have the prospect of attacking our niche vulnerabilities."
"Niche vulnerabilities"? I guess that's the newest euphemism for "Achilles' heel." Or, to put it more plainly, "problems we would fix in our force structure if it weren't for the Iron triangle."
In fact, American carriers responding to a crisis would now initially have to operate at least 500 miles from Taiwan, which would reduce the number of fighter sorties they could launch. This is because China now has a modern fleet of submarines, including new Russian-made nuclear subs that can fire missiles from a submerged position. America would first need to subdue these submarines.

China launched 13 attack submarines between 2002 and 2004, a period when it also built 23 ships that can ferry tanks, armored vehicles and troops across the 100-mile strait. Tomohide Murai, an expert on the Chinese military at the National Defense Academy in Tokyo, said that China's buildup is intended to focus on an American response, but he is skeptical that China already has the naval and air superiority over Taiwan to dominate the strait.
In first year, while I was looking through the library stacks, I stumbled across a book from the American Enterprise Institute (a bunch of right wingers in the US) which advocated that the US surface fleet was essentially obsolete, and that submarine-launched cruise missiles were "the new Carriers", that is the new strategic center for naval power. It seems the Chinese have internalized this idea - launching 13 subs in two years is an impressive number indeed. I may have to revise my assessment of the dangers in the Taiwan straits.