Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Conservatives Waking Up?

Opposition backs off on toppling government

Paul Martin's Liberals have been given some breathing room, as the Conservatives are not expected to introduce a non-confidence motion on Tuesday to try and topple the government.

The Conservatives and the Bloc Québécois have their opposition days on Tuesday and Friday respectively, meaning they can set the agenda those days and introduce non-confidence motions.
Actually, it gets even better. The Conservatives are trying to re-define Gomery's role to include the naming of names. While I don't know the legal side of it too well - the Justice Minister is already calling it "inappropriate, unjustified and harmful" - this is a much smarter play for them then trying to bring down the government. Also in the article is an expectation that the government will at least last to the fall, but I bet that means we can start planning on a February election.

In other news, the Conservatives are planning to hand over the tapes they allege contain evidence of the Liberals trying to entice a Conservative to vote against his party. The party had dragged its feet over turning over these tapes, and generally hasn't been as enthusiastic about the contents as either Grewal himself, or the other opposition parties. This leads me to think that there's no "there" there, and the Liberals are probably not too frightened.

Interesting BBC Article

On the end of the idea of "the West." Basically, the author notes that the idea of Europe, the UK, and the US as some kind of "civilization" really only dates back to the Cold War. But there was this interesting graph:
Americans aren't noted for their ability to turn the other cheek. Angry at European criticism and, as they see it, ingratitude, they've been hitting back sharply. A friend of mine, a former Senator - and by the way a Democrat, not a Republican supporter of President Bush - said to me "I don't ever again expect to see the French or the Germans pointing their guns in the same direction we're pointing ours. They're petty, they're envious and in their guts they hate us."
Okay. Note the preceding argument - that the idea of "the west" dates only back to the Cold War. That is, it was essentially a wartime alliance, and no more inherently stable than the alliance between the Soviets and the western Allies during World War II. So, if you agree with this argument (and I do) then it's not surprising in the least that the alliance is breaking down - Europe and the US have fundamentally different views, objectives, and interests in the world. Maybe not quite so divergent as US v. USSR, but more than enough divergence exists to break down a Cold War "friendship". No half-serious international observer would be surprised, and nobody could really take it personally.

But that's exactly what the Americans are doing. This senator uses words like "petty", "envious" and "hate." The American reaction to European anti-war politicians was also incredibly emotional, as if they'd slept with their boyfriends or some similar betrayal. Never mind that these governments were simply following public opinion - the American intelligentsia acted as if the Europeans were attacking the US itself.

I find it bizarre that a country that has really led the world for a half-century now should have such an immature view of foreign policy, but this isn't the first time the Americans have had this problem. When you look at most of the disastrous US adventures, they more or less come down to the Americans not understanding why other people insist on being and thinking different. This would be opposed to standard European imperialism, which simply didn't care. The US can bash the french all they want for being "jealous" and "surrender-monkeys", but the simple fact is that France and the US are two totally different countries. Of course France is going to oppose the US when it can. It has nothing to do with jealousy or irredentist Franco-imperialism. It's simply France looking out for it's own interests, when it can.

The larger question is: Can the US formulate a foreign policy where it doesn't need allies in strong European countries like Germany and France? The answer there is no, so the US might as well get used to the idea of shepherding it's allies when it can't, and dealing with it's own petulance before it lectures other countries.

Hee Hee

Two Funny Stories:
  • Japanese men are angry over the introduction of women-only train cars. I might suggest that they keep their heads down, as protesting that men should have the availability of female asses to grap probably won't play well.

On That Other Failure of European Integration

I saw Downfall last night, the German movie capturing the last days of WWII in Berlin. This is really an incredible movie, and I'd advise anyone capable to go see it. The movie captured this eerie atmosphere of "the world is ending" extremely well. You've got some soldiers who just give up, get drunk and stay drunk - and partake in some raucous whoring, drugs, etc. Then you've got the other extreme, the people who insist stubbornly that the Fuhrer will lead them to victory. There's a hysterical moment where, after Hitler's death, the Germans attempt to negotiate with Zhukov's forces.

Let's repeat that - after killing somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 million Russians, the Nazis honestly believed they could negotiate a ceasefire. Zhukov basically laughs them out of his tent, not surprisingly.

Definitely worth seeing. Bruno Ganz's performance as Hitler is astonishingly good. He captures both the insanity and the pathetic extremes of Hitler's personality perfectly. To see Hitler screaming about how he's been betrayed by everyone around him at the end is an incredible moment. He looks like nothing more than a petulant adolescent. It's inherently satisfying for that, but it's also got an element of the bizarre. It's hard to remember, at that moment, that this was a man who commanded incredible loyalty, and yes, great popularity with the German people. (Until the 1980s, majorities of the German people routinely answered yes to the poll question "Aside from the war, Hitler was a good leader.")

Anyway, there's far more to this film then a blog post could cover. If you've got small second-run theatres near you, it should be showing up. Go see it.

On the EU Constitution

So France has voted no, and Belgium looks likely to follow tomorrow. I have to say, I'm not terribly surprised, so I find it hard to work up the "EU in Crisis?" panic that so many seem to have. If Belgium does in fact reject the proposed constitution, then it looks like the EU will be back to the drawing board. This isn't to say that expansion will stop, or that the constitution will be abandoned entirely. But I do think this vote really puts the issue of the EU's future in the spotlight. The Constitution, aside from some small changes (a President and a foreign minister, who despite their titles probably wouldn't have any real power) was not a document about the future. Rather, it was most of all a way of entrenching the present. This is fine, I suppose, but it doesn't really motivate any passion, even in EU supporters like me.

(I've spent a lot of time re-writing what follows, and I'm having a difficult time really clarifying my thoughts on all this. So apologies if it sounds kind of half-baked.)

So where we are now is a moment to consider the future of the EU. Of course, the primary choice for the EU is still the same: Either more or the same. That is, a more powerful, "federal" Europe - at the very least, an EU that is less beholden to the member states - or an EU that is essentially what it is today, but with some additional ruffles. The EU today has some of the bodies of a national government, but it's still essentially 2/3 bureaucracy. The "Bureaucratic" EU has been a resounding success, in the sense that a great deal of pan-European policy is decided in Brussels, without too much input from the European Parliament. This is, of course, one of the lasting complaints of the EU - if it had to meet it's own criteria for democracy, it couldn't.

The choice for the people of the European member states is both a very simple one, and a very complex one. It is quite conceivable that the EU could continue in something close to it's present form, in to the indefinite future. So the idea that somehow the EU is going to fall apart because of this is absurd. The reaction of the markets, and the plunge of the Euro, is typical overreaction. Europe is hardly tearing itself apart - it's just stopped to think for a moment. The EU could simply choose to abandon the idea of a "federal" Europe, and proceed along the current path - with an ad hoc collection of treaties between the member states. There's no inherent reason why this process should fail - it's cumbersome and unfair to new entrants to the Union, but it has the political advantage of not upsetting the status quo.

Now, I personally think that would be a bad idea, and this is where we have to start thinking about the future. Gwynne Dyer has argued that, within the next few decades, in order to compete in the international arena (economically, politically, presumably militarily) a "major power" will need a population of at least a half billion people, and a large or fast-growing economy to draw from. By 2050, this list will definitely include India, China, Brazil, and the United States. In the economic sense, the EU is already one of the world's largest economies. Politically and militarily, however, the EU is still a midget. If europeans want a voice on the world stage - and that's a question, isn't it? - then some degree of serious political integration is necessary. One of the major absences in the Constitution was the lack of taxation powers - the EU was explicitly forbidden from raising revenue, the basic function of any government. In already heavily taxed European states, this makes sense. But it also is a major roadblock to serious integration.

Nosemonkey at Europhobia has an interesting post positing that the new phase of European integration will abandon the Constitution's one-size-fits-all model, and instead will probably occur between a core of integrationist states, leaving out perennial troublemakers like the UK. Members who didn't want to become even more closely bound would probably stay within the old EU structure, until or unless they became convinced of further integration. I think this would probably be a good idea, and I imagine we'll see Germany propose something like this. But the interesting wrinkle to all this is that Italy, France and Germany are all headed for elections within the next two years, so it's difficult to say which way Europe will turn next.

Monday, May 30, 2005

More Tech Stuff

Cory Doctorow is an activist with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and also an SF author who's released his books under a Creative Commons license - essentially, you can download his books without fear of a knock on the door. Anyway, I just discovered his blog, and he's got an interesting talk on the movie and music industry's assault on new technologies. You can watch the whole thing in quicktime, or download the MP3. I'd reccomend the mp3 - the video isn't particularly special.

I've been very pleased to see the left become more conscious of Open Source knowledge as an "issue" for our side. Of course, this stuff needs to be encouraged and protected by the government. It would be nice to know if the NDP has a view on this, but their website currently sucks beyond description - I can't seem to find a link to the platform, which I'd found just a few weeks ago.

Not encouraging, from a tech point of view.

Channeling Michael Moore

From the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, via Atrios:
In exchange for our uniformed young people's willingness to offer the gift of their lives, civilian Americans owe them something important: It is our duty to ensure that they never are called to make that sacrifice unless it is truly necessary for the security of the country. In the case of Iraq, the American public has failed them; we did not prevent the Bush administration from spending their blood in an unnecessary war based on contrived concerns about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. President Bush and those around him lied, and the rest of us let them. Harsh? Yes. True? Also yes. Perhaps it happened because Americans, understandably, don't expect untruths from those in power. But that works better as an explanation than as an excuse.
I don't know about you, but the first thing I thought of was the last few lines to Fahrenheit 9/11 - "Will they ever trust us again?" But of course, anyone who's seen Team America knows that Michael Moore is an American-hating Commie, so I can only assume the Minneapolis Star-Tribune arrived at this conclusion independently.

Last Enterprise Episode, and More Bad SF Blogging

Wow. Just astonishingly, egregiously bad. For a series that was never that great to begin with... I mean, wow. Holy crap that's bad.

First off, I know Frakes and Sirtis need work, but is there even a single ST franchise that can be kept free of their presence? Do they know about Gene Roddenberry's black child, or something? Seriously, how do they manage to keep showing up in every single series??? Frakes was never that great, and Sirtis spent seven years adding nothing substantial to any story, ever. They must have some hex on the boys at Paramount.

Secondly, the last few seconds, where they try to connect Enterprise with the Enterprises of the past/future (i.e. Picard and Riker) was just horribly ham-handed. Apparently, Rick Berman was worried that without explicitly linking these series, his viewers would be all lost and confused. In Berman's mind, this is a typical ST Fanboy conversation:
"Gee, do you think that Kirk's Enterprise was named after Archer's Enterprise?"

"No, stupid. They're obviously two totally unrelated ships, dumbass!"
Whereas, in reality, your average ST Fanboy conversation is more like:
"So, do you think the protein synthesisers on Archer's Enterprise use an algae- or a mold-based feedstock? And if they have transporters, how come they can't leapfrog all the way to food replicators? And do you think I've got a chance with T'Pol?"
Or something.

On other bad SF matters, with a week and a half now past since Episode III came out, I've been giving a lot of thought to the weaknesses of the movie, and how it affects the series as a whole. The biggest single problem, as I see it, is that at most 20 years pass between episodes 3 and 4 - a rough estimate of Luke and Leia's age in New Hope. This gives us a timeline that looks really screwy - everyone in New Hope is talking about the Empire as if it's always been there, and the Jedi as if they're something you'd see in a museum. In 20 years? I find it really hard to believe that even the resources of a galactic empire could quash people's memory so completely. On the other hand, maybe the Empire has Fox News. In which case, Alderaan was supporting Bin Laden, and the Death Star is renamed "Freedom Sphere", or "Liberty Blaster."

With the demise of SW and ST, I guess it's time to take the B5 DVDs off the shelf again...

I go away for a day...

and we get more evidence of the evil that is the Bush, and Blair, governments. Apparently, US and UK aircraft began bombing Iraq in March of 2002, a full year before the "war" "began".

A bunch of different people have been all over this, noting the evil and lies inherent in this strategy. However, I'd like to point out the historical analogy that struck me, once again - the invasion of Russia by the forces of Germany in the summer of 1941. Though the Nazis' increased air activity in 1941 was primarily reconnaisance, it was explicitly intented to goad Stalin's air force giving the Nazis a causus belli. This isn't the first time I've compared the invasion of Iraq to Barbarossa - Bush's chilling pre-war declaration that captured Iraqis would not be granted the protections of the Geneva conventions (and we now know this policy has been followed enthusiastically) has a parallel in Hitler's similar declaration about captured Bolsheviks.

Well, it's nice to know that the US and UK governments are open-minded. After all, Hussein compared himself to Stalin, so I suppose it's only fitting that we take our cues from Hitler, right?

Saturday, May 28, 2005

If you aren't reading Steve Gilliard, you should

He's got a bunch of good stuff: From yesterday, Steve's account of seeing the John F. Kennedy (aircraft carrier) end with this touching note:
I think anyone who thinks of these people as some kind of robot killing machines need to see them in action. They need to see them talk to kids and explain their jobs. Most of all, they need to see how young they are, how very young.

I have a feeling of guilt after going to the Kennedy. That somehow, we let these people down. That we didn't do enough to protect them. It was an odd feeling, but one I had all the same.

The whole vibe was creepy, kids handling guns, kids in uniform. If Bush had a consicence it would bother him to send these kids to war for a lie.
And with his usual eloquence, a rebuttal to Democrats who think that foreign policy seriousness comes from endorsing imperial wars:
Second, "security" Dems need to state the obvious: Bush's policies have failed. Thay have made the country far more dangerous than need be. By their racism and imperialism, they have made the US far less secure. The US needs a very different and cooperative military, and one with radically new weapons to meet a new threat, light infantry armies mobile in light vehicles. We need a radical rethink of how we fight wars.

You need to cut the bullshit out about National Service and the disguised draft. You aren't sending your kids to Ft. Leonard Wood under ANY circumstance you can avoid. Stop seeking to send the poor there. America has had a draft for about 43 years of it's existance. That's it. Raise the pay, lessen the impact of IRR and improve family lives and once the war is over, people will join again.
He's on the blogroll to the right there - go visit.

Richard Holbrooke on China

Here. Overall pretty good, especially this last paragraph:
China's gradual emergence as a political player on the world stage comes when there is a growing impression among other countries in East Asia that Washington is not paying the region sufficient attention. (Ironically, this is in sharp contrast to India, where relations with the United States are at their historical best.) If we lose interest and political influence in the Asia-Pacific region just as it grows in economic importance, the imbalance will surely return later to haunt a new generation of policymakers -- and the nation. The challenge is obvious, but the lack of clear focus at the highest levels in Washington on our vital national security interests in the region is disturbing.

Weekend Update

So, a mounting number of polls show the CPC is losing public support, presumably because their present strategy is failing. What does a smart party do? Refine their strategy, change their message, probably de-emphasize the parts of their politics that are turning people off. What does the CPC do? Keep diggin that hole, that's what.
Ottawa — The Conservatives say they will attempt to block the government's two budget bills from being passed before the House of Commons summer recess to protest against what they say is excessive and unaccountable spending.

And Conservative Leader Stephen Harper warned yesterday that his party may make further attempts to force an election, although he doubts they would succeed as long as the NDP supports the Liberals.
See, this is why the CPC won't form a government - their insistence on standing "on principle", i.e. their conviction that the Liberals are evil, therefore extremism in the defense of virtue is no vice, right? The problem is that politics isn't about principles. (A lesson the NDP could learn any day now, by the way.) Politics is about winning, and to do that you need to be, let's say, "ideologically flexible". Something the Liberals excel at, but something the Tories were only occasionally capable of, and something the Conservatives seem to have no skill at whatsoever.

Here's hoping that the Conservatives find a decent leader, and soon. I too grow tired of the Liberals, and finding a Party that can run on the "sane opposition" platform would be nice. But first, you have to qualify.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Journalisming Is Hard

This is small, but I fid it kind of grating: the insertion of useless sentences in a news article. Case in point: A CTV article on King Fahd of Saudi Arabia's admission to a hospital:
Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Islam and home to its two holiest shrines.
This is one of those sentences that's technically true, but is probably offensive to some Muslims, given the corruption and general craptitude of the Saudis (the rulers, not the people.) Let me put it this way: How many angry letters do you think CTV would get if they called the Sharon's Israel the "birthplace of Christianity" or Mubarak's Egypt the "birthplace of Judaism"? The sentence would actually be far better if CTV has simply dropped the word "Saudi". Saudis only captured Mecca in 1925, so saying that Saudi Arabia is the birthplace of Islam is inaccurate, as well as granting the House of Saud a legitimacy they don't really deserve.

You might argue that I'm asking reporters to editorialize, but I would argue that's what they've done here. As I say, referring to "Arabia" as the geographical location, instead of the political body "Saudi Arabia" would be far better, from the perspective of objectivity.

And on top of ALL THAT, the sentence really has no place in the article, making me wonder why it's even there, as well as this sentence:
During his rule, Fahd brought the kingdom closer to the United States and agreed to a step that enraged many conservatives: the basing of U.S. troops on Saudi soil after the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait.

The troops later left.
Alright, either drop that friggin sentence, or tell us just where those troops went. Give you a hint. It starts with an I, ends with a Q, and rhymes with "schmirack".

Quick - Name A Chinese Car Company!

You can't, can you?

Well, neither can I. But that may be about to change - using a generous interpretation of the words "about to". By 2007, imported Chinese cars may be flooding the American and European markets, with an effect no doubt similar to the Koreans and Japanese before them. This article captures some of the possibilities:
But Bricklin and Chery aim to begin with models that will compete with mainstream vehicles. Starting in 2007, they plan to roll out a four-door sedan, a crossover SUV, and a sports car. The SUV, which Bricklin grandly compares to the $31,000 BMW X3, will sell for $15,000. While analysts say Chery will face a marketing challenge, analyst Jim Hall of AutoPacific Inc. says its cars will generate interest "because of a price advantage, just as Hyundai did in the beginning."
The other interesting possibility is that the Chinese, who've invested in clean car technologies in ways the US hasn't, might actually be the lever that forces US and European car manufacturers to compete on clean, cheap cars as well. It sounds kind of bizarre, but Beijing has a problem - the national goal is a car in every driveway, but China can't possible support that many cars - the chinese would simply asphixiate on the pollution. Enter clean fuels like ethanol, natural gas, and other possibilities.

If Beijing follows Brazil's lead and invests in flexible-fuel cars, we could see a major change in the auto industry in the next decade. This is something the Rocky Mountain Institute has predicted, and god knows I'd love to see it happen. Of course, we're then likely to see another spasm of anti-Asian xenophobia in the US, especially in the south where most cars are now built. I wouldn't want to be Chinese in Tennessee these days. Of course, I never want to be in Tennessee, so there's that.

Yet more Haw Haw

Paying attention to the ongoing meltdown in the US can be incredibly depressing. However, every once in a while you see a headline which makes you smile, like this:
Poll majority say they'd be likely to vote for Clinton
See, I saw this headline and naturally assumed we were talking about Bill, in an imaginary poll where he could run again. It seriously never even occurred to me that we were talking about Hilllary.
WASHINGTON — For the first time, a majority of Americans say they are likely to vote for Hillary Rodham Clinton if she runs for president in 2008, according to a USA TODAY/CNN/Gallup Poll taken Friday through Sunday.
Just to be clear, the woman the US right used to call "Hitlery" is now more popular than George W. Bush. Oh, happy days!

[Nelson] Haw haw! [/Nelson]

Boy, things keep getting worse and worse for the Conservative Party of Canada.

On the front page of the Globe and Mail today, we learn that "Christian activists" are securing nominations for Conservative ridings across Canada. I'm sure this scares some people. I, however, read the piece with that combination of dread and humour you usually reserve for America's Funniest Home Videos. In this piece, you see, Stephen Harper is the dad who's about to get kicked in the nuts by his kid. After nurturing the religious- and social-conservatives of Canada by throwing them gay-marriage red meat - after doing so much to make sure that this ticking wingnut time bomb is young, healthy, and strong - religious Conservatives are going to be running in places like Ontario, which already thinks the CPC is nuts.

Now, Harper had a tough enough time keeping his prospective MPs muzzled in the last election. Does anyone seriously believe he'll have an easier time riding herd on a bunch of God-crazed fundies? The next election is going to be too fun for words - personally, I think we need to start a network: Left, center, and moderate-right bloggers should make sure to keep an eye on their local CPC candidate, and make sure to publicize any crazy-ass thing they say.

Who's with me?

Shocking, I Know

For the last three people who thought cops were all nice guys:
KINGSTON, Ont. (CP) - Results of the first study of racial profiling by police in Canada has emotions running high in Kingston, Ontario.

Kingston officers stopped over 10,000 people during the year-long study - and blacks were pulled over three times more often than whites or aboriginals.

University of Toronto criminologist Scot Wortley analysed the data and calls the project a good first step in dealing with police racial bias.


The report also found aboriginal people were 1.4 times more likely to be stopped than whites.
I'm not a reflexive cop-basher by nature, but the defenders of these cops really did look ridiculous - "Well, we stop and arrest innocent blacks because blacks are more likely to be... innocent? No, wait, I've got the line here somewhere..." But the aboriginal figure was more interesting to me. The article doesn't say whether that 1.4 factor is corrected for their smaller percentage of the population, but I truly hope it is. Otherwise, we've got a much larger problem with the first nations than I previously thought.

One of the other things this shows is the pervasiveness of racism, even in countries that never had it systematized as the US or other slave states. People use racism, like all their prejudices, as a shorthand to deal with the complexity of life. The problem is when this comes up against judicial concepts like the presumption of innocence.

A number of Conservatives have recently written about the "Myth of Canada", the idea that Canada is this multicultural utopia that has "peacekeepers", not soldiers, and derided this as Trudeau-era propaganda. They've even got press in the New York Times, proving only that the quickest way for a Canadian to get printed in the US is to pull a Zell Miller.

I personally never bought that this was a multicultural utopia, and I think our ideological preference for "peacekeeping" has probably hurt our national defense in a number of ways, but that's not to say that multiculturalism or peacekeeping are bad things, or that they're "Liberal propaganda." Multiculturalism is a very real thing in Canada, and we're better off for it. And Canada, until recently, had the distinction of being the only country to participate in every single peacekeeping mission under the UN banner. However, these facts aren't simple declarations - there's a lot of complexity hidden behind them, especially with multiculturalism. We've had to deal with right-wing xenophobes who want to shut the doors to new immigrants, and I've had more than one argument with people on my left flank who think that Canada should cut military spending even further than the paltry amounts we already spend. In fact, military spending is one area where Linda McQuaig and I disagree. (Though I don't think she advocates cuts, she does oppose spending increases.)

However, there's a flip side to Canadian multiculturalism - because it's most evident in the biggest cities, it's proportionally less in the suburbs and rural areas. Outside of, say, the five biggest cities, this is an incredibly white country, and my city-dwelling compatriots would be well to remember that.

A Candy For My Mac Friends

I've occasionally slurred the good name (cough) of Apple, and while I know none of my Mac using friends took it too seriously, I thought I'd offer up this link, The Security Awareness Blog, where the main poster has moved his company off of Wintel boxes for good, and chosen Apple for it's reliability and security.

One of the things he mentioned got me, though:
I want my computer to function every time I turn it on.

WinTel platforms don’t work anymore – at least not reliably. More than anything else, I need my box to work. I don’t need it to crash while giving a PowerPoint presentation to the Canadian Parliament or the ABA. I don’t need Word to crash after writing the last irretrievably 12 brilliant paragraphs. I don’t need IE to crash because the memory handling in Windows is so poor*. And so it goes with a global litany of crashes that require reboot or memory cleansing every day.

*Do this. Open IE. Look at Processes in Task Manager and see how much RAM is being used. Now open a whole bunch of IE windows and watch the memory get eaten up. Now, close all of the IE windows and see how much RAM you are now using.
Okay. We all know Windows sucks. Period. I'm certainly not going to defend Windows as an OS, ever. And certainly "working" shouldn't be too high a bar to set. But I've found a number of ways to avoid the most obnoxious problems in Windows. The first, for Internet users, is never, ever, ever use Internet Explorer. To use the old Information Superhighway metaphor, IE is an offramp right in to your bedroom - it's so bound up with Windows that an attack on IE is pretty much by definition an attack on everything in your computer. And besides the security concerns, IE just plain sucks. Download Firefox, and use that. Thunderbird works pretty well for email and RSS feeds (though not perfectly.) These two programs should import your IE and outlook settings without any trouble (though I haven't used IE in so long, I couldn't say for sure.) Finally, download Grisofts free anti-virus software. It scans all incoming email and other files. It's probably the least-hassle anti-virus software I've used, but I've never had any problems with it and a lot of the techie people I know reccomend it over classics like Norton Anti-virus. Update it frequently, though. I can tell you stories...

While I'm software-whoring, a special tip just for the ladies bloggers: If you're a blogspot user, download w.bloggar. It's a much simpler, more versatile tool than blogger's Dashboard. It gives you a much wider range of options, and generally lets you write "cleaner" posts that don't get chewed up by Blogger's crappy interface as much.

In any case, I've found Windows to be remarkable stable (even when I was using ME) just by not using IE. Of course, the biggest problem doesn't have a software fix - don't download and run things you don't recognize. And for the porn addicts among you, don't click "yes" on any movie file that asks for a license or DRM prompt. Just don't. Having had to clean up my computer brother's computer (yeah... that's the ticket) after that, it's just too much pain. Besides, there's plenty of safer ways of getting your fix.

Thursday, May 26, 2005

Coal-Based Oil?

Oil and Natural Gas are in increasingly short supply. What to do? Well, if you're China or the US, you probably look to the energy source that already makes up most of your domestic consumption, coal. The Germans made aviation fuel out of coal for the entirety of World War II, so the technology isn't new. It is, however, dirty - considerably dirtier than conventional oil or even the tar sands. However, a South African firm (Sasol) quotes costs of less than $20/barrel, so it's an enticing vision. Not surprisingly, the Chinese seem to be paying attention to this possibility.

I would, however, hope they take a closer look at coal-based methanol production. I'm not wild about coal, period, but if China's going to use coal to meet it's energy demands (and it is, no question about that) then it would be best for everyone if China embraced a cleaner, more efficient fuel. Methanol can be burned in a conventional internal combustion engine, or reacted far more efficiently in a fuel cell (when that technology matures.) Moreover, like ethanol, methanol is an extremely clean-burning fuel. It's still a net-CO2 producer, but it's so much better than coal-based oil, and might in fact be cheaper. Meanwhile, China still doesn't have a huge fleet of gasoline-powered cars to worry about displacing or refitting, like we do in North America. So early adoption of coal-based methanol might solve a lot of China's problems.

Methanol can also be acquired from carbon-neutral sources, like wood pulp and landfill waste, so once China embraces methanol they could slowly work their way to a less carbon-heavy energy diet. Of course, this is China we're talking about, and bringing down their CO2 emissions is most certainly a long-term project.

Juan Cole Is Smarter Than I

Not surprising, really. However, I find that he and I are on the same wavelength. I've argued before that the US should just leave Iraq. There's nothing more they can accomplish in Iraq, save raising the body count. Juan Cole argues the same, thought he comes to a different conclusion than I, with the eloquent post title "Sometimes You Are Just Screwed."
There are simply too few US troops to fight the guerrillas. There are only about 70,000 US fighting troops in Iraq, they don't have that much person-power superiority over the guerrillas. There are only 10,000 US troops for all of Anbar province, a center of the guerrilla movement with a population of 820,000. A high Iraqi official estimated that there are 40,000 active guerrillas and another 80,000 close supporters of them. The only real explanation for the successes of the guerrillas is that the US military has been consistently underestimating their numbers and abilities. There is no prospect of increasing the number of US troops in Iraq.


The guerrilla tactic of fomenting civil war among Iraq's ethnic communities, which met resistance for the first two years, is now bearing fruit. There is increasing evidence of Shiite murders of Sunni clerics and worshippers, and of Sunni attacks on Shiites, beyond the artificial efforts of the guerrillas themselves. Civil war and turbulence benefit the guerrillas, who gain cover for violent attacks, and who can offer themselves to the Iraqis as the only force capable of keeping order. AP reports an Iraqi official saying today that there is a civil war going on in the northern city of Telafar between Sunnis and Shiites. I doubt US television news is even mentioning it.


Therefore, I conclude that the United States is stuck in Iraq for the medium term, and perhaps for the long term. The guerrilla war is likely to go on a decade to 15 years. Given the basic facts, of capable, trained and numerous guerrillas, public support for them from Sunnis, access to funding and munitions, increasing civil turmoil, and a relatively small and culturally poorly equipped US military force opposing them, led by a poorly informed and strategically clueless commander-in-chief who has made himself internationally unpopular, there is no near-term solution.
Well, I disagree with Cole in that I don't believe the US can protect the "Iraqi" "Government" any more than they can protect themselves. He's a smarter man than I when it comes to Middle Eastern Issues, but I'd wager he's no more of an expert in military affairs than I am. The fact is the insurgents have far greater control over the country than the US military does, right now. It's only going to get worse, barring a draft and a huge influx of soon-to-be cold bodies.

Anyway, go read the rest of Cole's post - it's (and he generally is) very good.

Pity Lord Black

Actually, don't. Really. What kind of schmuck steals from his workplace, in plain view of the security cameras?
TORONTO — Deposed media baron Conrad Black has agreed to return 12 boxes of documents after a video caught him on tape taking papers from his headquarters in downtown Toronto, a spokesman for Black said Thursday.
For as long as I can remember, Conrad Black has epitomized the worst kind of Conservative - ideologically driven to destroy anything progressive or in the national interest of Canadians. The National Post still reeks of his influence, long after he oozed away from it.

I'm so very happy to see this SOB continue his downward spiral. I have a dream: I'll be walking down Bloor street, and see a disheveled, drunken homeless Conrad Black begging for change.

And, should that dream come true, for the first, last, and only time in my life, I'm gonna kick me a panhandler.

Bad News For Georgie

Okay. All in one day, we see that:
  • George Bush is now seen as being out of touch with America, according to 60% of respondents to one poll.
  • In the same link, Bush's popularity is still hovering around the 44% mark.
  • A Republican Senator is planning to vote against Bush's UN nominee, John Bolton, after being screwed by the Pentagon.
  • And finally, Amnesty International is calling for foreign governments to arrest and investigate top US officials, including the President.
Wow. That's a really bad day. Did I mention the weather is beautiful here in Toronto today? Sunny skies, not a cloud to be seen...

More Energy Stuff

In a recent Salon article, James Howard Kunstler (who I last mentioned here) slammed Amory Lovins and the idea of "hypercars", Lovins' idea of radically more efficient cars based on light-weight carbon fiber bodies combined with fuel cells to deliver radically better cars, that would incidentally be extremely environmentally friendly.

Well, Lovins didn't like that so much, and they get in to a bit of a catfight here. (It's a Salon piece, so you have to click through the ad to read it.) Lovins and Kunstler seem to talk past each other a bit - but that's standard to my eyes.

For my part, I've been a longtime fan of the Lovinses, but I'm growing increasingly skeptical about the possibilities of us actually meeting the rather high goals they set. Especially troubling is that Vaclav Smil, a Manitoba academic whose research on energy and food issues is top-rate, thinks that Natural Capitalism (the best of Lovins' books) is crap. You can read Smil's none-too complementary review here (warning - PDF file.) I've read a lot of Smil's stuff in school, and he's not the usual green-basher. In any case, he raises a number of problems with the standard green utopia, and he's hard to dismiss.

Meanwhile, with the Globe and Mail running a weeklong series on Peak Oil, I'm more convinced then ever that we need to think of new energy solutions. Sadly, the Globe's position seems to be that we need more oil, which is problematic if oil is running out. I'm still not sure that I buy Kunstler's doomsday scenario, but I'm less optimistic then I have been.

Thought Leaders?

Antonia Zerbisias has a post about Toronto Life's recent article about Heather Reisman - and this phrase jumped out at me:
Reisman phoned the editor of this magazine, accusing me of posing nasty questions. “I think I’m a good person,” she said, adding that she could call on “500 thought leaders” across the nation to attest to that perception. Three hours later, a two-page missive was hand-�delivered to Toronto Life on the personal letterhead of Gerald Wilfred Schwartz. In more than three decades as a journalist, I have never received such a heavy-handed warning, let alone one from a couple whose net worth is estimated at $758 million. “You and the writer are hereby put on notice,” it said, “that all records, notes and source documentation used in the course of preparing the proposed article must be maintained for litigation should this become necessary.”
"Thought leaders?" That's pretty creepy sounding. Is this rich-speak for "people like me"? Without getting in to too much detail (Reisman and Schwartz do seem lawsuit-happy, after all) I can personally attest that Reisman seems to have a thing for Orwellian phrases. Is there something fundamentally unhealthy about being rich - does it permanently destroy your capacity to perceive how crazy you sound?

The Other Religion Test Results

Oh, and Fuck You, Orson Scott Card.

Religion Quiz Results:

You scored as Islam. Your beliefs are most similar to those of Islam. Do more research on Islam and possibly consider taking the shahadah and officially becoming a Muslim, if you aren't already.

Despite the actions of some - who go against the teachings of Islam - Islam is a religion of peace; the word "islam" means "peace through submission to God." "Muslim" means "one who submits to God." Islam is the third of the three Abrahamic faiths, and it shares much with Judaism in Christianity; its differences are the acceptance of Muhammad as the last and final prophet, and the oneness of God - in other words, that Jesus, though he was a revered prophet, was not in fact God, and only one God exists. Apparently the Taliban could not read (though their name means "students"), because the Qur'an states that men and women are equal as believers, and that all believers should be educated and seek knowledge. Modesty in dress and behavior is required in Islam for both men and women to preserve the values of society and move the emphasis from superificial appearance to intelligence, knowledge, and God.



















Which religion is the right one for you? (new version)

Okay. So much funny here. First off, I have to go see my local imam. Secondly, Satanism scored higher than Christianity. Thirdly, I find it really funny that, as a near-lifelong Atheist, I scored high as Muslim. Also, according to my answers, there's only a 5% difference between Islam and Judaism. And yet, we can't all get along...

And really, if we can't trust internet quizzes, who can we trust?

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Too Weird

Pizza rage lands US woman in jail

An 86-year-old US woman arrested for incessantly calling the emergency services to complain about a pizza parlour has spent two nights in prison.

Dorothy Densmore of Charlotte, North Carolina, called the emergency 911 service 20 times in 38 minutes.

Angry she could not get the meal delivered to her home, she demanded police arrest the pizza proprietors.

But when she refused to stop calling, police arrived with their own delivery, arresting her for abusing the hotline.

She told police that she had been called a "crazy old coot" by someone at the pizza shop.

Mrs Densmore - who is 1.5 metres (5 feet) tall and weighs 45kg (98 lbs) - has also been charged with resisting arrest.

A police spokeswoman said the octogenarian scratched, kicked and bit the hand of the officer who didn't feed her, after her repeated calls provoked a police response.

She has now been released from jail, pending a court appearance in July, after a judge ordered a medical evaluation.
Words fail me. Seriously. Pizza rage? Do we need a rage for everything now? Bizarre...

Religion Works Now?

Lite blogging today, but I had to pass this on. Via a whole bunch of people, starting with Atrios, we see that Orson Scott Card (I've ranted about him before) opened his pie-hole again. This time, it's to criticize people who claim Jedi as a religion. The best line is this:
Of course, all this quibbling would be moot if, in fact, the Jedi religion actually worked—if people could tap into the Force and do the miracles that the Jedi routinely perform.
Dangerous thinking, Orson. The point of faith is not, last I checked, that it demonstrate concrete payoff. After all, how many of us have had our prayers answered in the literal fashion we meant them to be? Of course, maybe Orson actually has turned water in to wine. But he's a mormon, so he wouldn't be able to drink it anyway...

Oh well. I'll leave OSC alone to rant about gays and anti-war activists.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Oh So Much China

Reading an interesting article about China's emerging grand vision, as described by a British Labor-backed think tank. The author's a bit in love with his own voice (not that I know what's that like at all) so take it with a grain of salt, but there's an awful lot of good stuff in there too. For example:
The idea that Chinese are all striving for the American Way of Life, as Richard Madsen has observed, is a dangerous misconception. They are striving to make The Chinese Way of Life. As a result, Chinese development has a certain kind of prideful, internal energy that helps the nations confidence.
or this:
The pursuit of stable reform itself now serves as one of the regimes major claims to its monopoly on power, a shift from regime justification based on ideology to one based on competence. "You know we are often chastised about human rights or democracy", one of the most influential of Chinas current top leaders told me. "But frankly, if we pull 1.3 billion people up out of poverty, that will be one of the greatest accomplishments in the history of mankind. We will work on the other things. But, really, I have to tell you that I think lifting 1.3 billion people out of poverty is enough for my lifetime."
They may be commies, but dumb they ain't.

The article, by the way, is The Beijing Consensus, from the Foreign Policy Centre in the UK. I'd reccomend a read.

Quote of the Day

Antonia Zerbisias, media critic for the Toronto Star, has started a blog. And the coveted QotD award goes to her:
Imagine if half the energy over the Newsweek Koran-in-the-toilet story, or the 60 Minutes II debacle over the Dan Rather documents, was channeled into, I dunno, the myth that the U.S. can convert Iraq into a independent democracy any time soon.
Well said.


FOREST CITY -- A sign in front of a Baptist church on one of the most traveled highways in the county stirred controversy over religious tolerance and first-amendment rights this weekend.

A sign in front of Danieltown Baptist Church, located at 2361 U.S. 221 south reads "The Koran needs to be flushed," and the Rev. Creighton Lovelace , pastor of the church, is not apologizing for the display.

"I believe that it is a statement supporting the word of God and that it (the Bible) is above all and that any other religious book that does not teach Christ as savior and lord as the 66 books of the Bible teaches it, is wrong," said Lovelace. "I knew that whenever we decided to put that sign up that there would be people who wouldn't agree with it, and there would be some that would, and so we just have to stand up for what's right."
And the already-tarnished name of Christianity takes another blow...

Random Tech Stories

Alright, I love bittorrent, but I think they're in trouble with this idea. As the story mentions, bittorrent's diffuse nature has so far been it's greatest asset - you can't really shut it down without suing Google. Making a central program is a business opportunity for them, but I think they'll be served with cease-and-desist notices before their first week is out.

Oh, and if you have an iPod and would like to download that winamp plugin, you can find it here. Personally, I've always preferred winamp, but my father loves iTunes. Anyone have a good argument for switching?

Yet More China

Another long-saved but unused link, this time Fareed Zakaria's recent Newsweek article about the rise of China. One extremely telling paragraph:
In November 2004, President George W. Bush and China's President Hu Jintao traveled through Asia. I was in the region a few weeks afterward and was struck by how almost everyone I spoke with rated Hu's visits as far more successful than Bush's. Karim Raslan, a Malaysian writer, explained: "Bush talked obsessively about terror. He sees all of us through that one prism. Yes, we worry about terror, but frankly that's not the sum of our lives. We have many other problems. We're retooling our economies, we're wondering how to deal with the rise of China, we're trying to address health, social and environmental problems. Hu talked about all this; he talked about our agenda, not just his agenda." From Indonesia to Brazil, China is winning new friends.
I think, in the future, this will be seen as the biggest failure of George W. Bush's presidency - the failure to use American diplomacy and "soft power" to effectively manage the rise of China. Rather than see China as an ally and friend, Bush insists on drawing lines through the world, and placing people on one side or the other. Well, that only works if people want to be on your side. If China looks more appealing (as it increasingly does throughout the developing world), your approach is self-defeating in the end.

I'm not Zakaria's biggest fan, but this article is pretty good. Go read it.

The Future, Faster

(That's a trademarked phrase from a telecom lobby group - who are, presumably, evil. Don't tell anyone I stole it!)

Anywho, Flocons lamented the lack of flying cars in 2005 a while back - something I've occasionally lamented myself. So, in the hopes of perking up his spirits, I present Daytona elevators, who make pneumatic lifts for people's homes. Okay, it's a bit lame, and the elevators are small and slow, but it's a start!

I've been hanging on to that link for a while now, and I'm glad to finally get rid of share it.

Containing China?

Interesting article on the historical and present day problems of containing China. But frankly, I don't think the author's right when he says:
But such analogies as 19th century balance of power politics or NATO's containment of the former Soviet Union don't work. Reason: Never before has the rise of a nation occurred while it was so intertwined economically with those countries that might wish to slow it down. And since China seems set on expanding its global role – economically, politically, and militarily – the rising nation's antagonists would be best served by working together.
This can't be true, can it? Late 19th century Germany was extremely closely intertwined with France and the UK, as was the US at the time. Frankly, a number of theories say that major powers can only rise when there's a hegemonic power to keep things calm, allowing the smaller powers to concentrate on growing their power.

The article is slightly tarnished when Garten ends with the usual pro-globalization tripe:
But the world has become much smaller, the web of communications and relationships much tighter, the importance of enlarging the pie rather than just carving it up much clearer than ever before. Unless a new order is negotiated, the world will risk entering a frightful period where damaging political and economic turmoil is no longer a far-fetched prospect.
Okay, this just isn't true. Proportionally speaking, on any measure you can name, the world was far more "globalized" before World War I. This is especially the case when you look at something like labour, which was far more mobile before the war. But even finance capital was at least as mobile during the era of the gold standard then it is now. So the whole idea that we're in a radically new era of globalization is patently false.

However, the second part of Garten's paragraph - "Unless a new order is negotiated, the world will risk entering a frightful period where damaging political and economic turmoil is no longer a far-fetched prospect..." - is a sentiment I agree with whole-heartedly. We do need to think of a new world order. I for one think that the people like Hugo Chavez are probably closer to the answer than Prof. Garten of Yale, but then who the hell am I, right?

South-Left America?

In the last few years, we've seen a number of elections in South America elect leftists leaders - Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and most vocally Venezuela. Hugo Chavez - hated and nearly deposed by Washington, beloved by his people - has been both a vocal opponent of the "Washington Consensus" brand of globalization, and a lightning rod for all sorts of abuse from the center and right in the North American press.

I know a lot of people who I respect who think that Chavez is the next Castro, or whatever. Personally, I don't buy it. Ever since his failed coup attempt in 1992, Chavez has been a pretty loyal democrat - at least in spirit, if not always in letter. You have to remember that Venezuela, like many Latin American countries, has a social order that most closely resembles Apartheid South Africa. Of course he's opposed by the major industries and media - he's opposed to their power. Imagine the shitstorm we'd have here if Layton won an election, then multiply that a few dozen times.

Anyway, there are signs of a new, leftist, pan-Latin American ideology forming - opposition to American hegemony, and Chavez seems to be at it's head. Oh, and I wouldn't worry about Chavez making trouble when his time comes to an end - if the article makes anything clear, it's that Chavez won't lack for things to do when he leaves office.

Good one, George

Syria Ends Cooperation With US

Now, I don't know how serious Syrian cooperation was, but the US's goal should have been to make the Syrians cooperate more, not less. But because of ham-handed US diplomacy, the Americans have just lost an important neighbor to Iraq.

Maybe next, George Bush can walk into downtown Istanbul and take a shit on their main street, or something.

Tag, I'm It

So Angelica kindly tagged me with this book virus that's been going around - name 5 books that you should read but haven't. Here goes...

1) Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad. I want to read it, I really do. But I just can't seem to work up the energy. Maybe I was permanently turned off by Apocalypse Now.

2) Anything by Charles Dickens. Oddly, my favourite movie as a kid (and still probably my favourite Christmas movie) is Mickey's Christmas Carol the Disney version of Dickens' classic. Yet somehow, I've never read the real thing, or anything by Dickens for that matter.

3) Origin of Species by Charles Darwin. Actually, what I'd really like is OoS alongside a modern reviewer, pointing out what Darwin was right about and what he was wrong about. Speaking of...

4) This Mismeasure of Man by Stephen Jay Gould. From everything I've heard, it's an excellent book tearing apart old racist tropes about so-called "racial" theories - it came out after the awful, racist book The Bell Curve, and Gould was absolutely merciless in his criticism of it. So I've heard, anyway. I'd love to actually read the thing. Also, it's the only 20th-century book on my list.

5) Something by Lenin. I'd really like to understand how Lenin came to power, and honestly, early Revolutionary Russian history is kind of a black hole for me. So I should really learn more, including reading some of the greats.

While I'm on this meme, Kevin Drum used a similar tag to take a swipe at the Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson. This was enough to have me sputtering with rage - the Mars Trilogy is really unparalelled in recent Science Fiction. However, it really isn't for everyone - it's very heavy on the actual science, and you definitely get the impression that Robinson did about five times more research for his books then he ever got to use - because he puts so much in to the books as it is. However, it is also probably the most Utopian trilogy I've ever read, in that Robinson is honestly and seriously writing about the kind of society humans would need to live in relative peace. Robinson's not an idiot - people still fight, die, weep, etc. But he does propose a world that I'd love to go to - a nice change from a lot of early-90s SF, which (for those who remember) was almost entirely cyberpunk. If you're a left-wing Science Fiction reader and you haven't read the Mars Trilogy, go find a copy of Red Mars (the first) and start now.

So, I'm going to go and tag Adam, Vicki, and Corn Flake. Go!

Monday, May 23, 2005

Ar, Matey

So, as we all know (because the RIAA, MPAA and their fellow travellers keep telling us) music piracy is going to destroy the entertainment industry, leaving us all with nothing to do but bang pots and pans together at night, right?

Not so fast. China is essentially the land the copyright forgot - most Chinese would laugh at the prices that westerners pay for music and movies (and well they should!) So how is the music industry doing in China? Funny you should ask...
Music pirating is so rampant and so entrenched in China that it's unlikely to ever be eradicated. Chinese consumers have come to believe that music is worth, at most, a few cents a song, and that copying and sharing music are totally acceptable. In all probability, no company will ever be able to sell $15 CDs or 99 cents-a-song downloads in the world's most populous nation....

But the biggest concern is that this will be terrible for artists. If artists can't earn money, economic logic says they might stop making music, which would be a major loss for society.

But is that equation true? While visiting USA TODAY last week, Roger McGuinn, who led the Byrds in the 1960s, said he earned just 0.0007 cents on each early Byrds album sold. ... thanks to the machinations of the recording industry, McGuinn has never made any real money on even his most popular recorded music.

Yet he's done OK and now has a forward-thinking business model. He has a Web site, www.mcguinn.com, where he posts free songs. McGuinn made his most recent solo CD by recording it on his laptop and paying to have copies produced and packaged. He sells the CDs online and at concerts and says it's the first time he's ever made a profit on an album....

Chinese rock stars aren't getting as wealthy as, say, Michael Jackson, but Quek raises an interesting question: Why should they? Only a relatively few American rockers ever sell enough CDs to get fabulously rich. Should society care if rockers can't afford to build their own backyard amusement parks?

The vast majority of music artists bob along in the middle. They don't sell enough CDs to earn out their advances. They earn a living on the road and maybe from publishing royalties if they write songs. Such artists would benefit if the industry shifted to a model that includes more — and more innovative — ways for artists to make money.
It's difficult to think of ways that actors (as opposed to musicians) could adapt similarly. Although, who knows? Maybe a return to travelling drama troupes is in the works. Embrace the future of live entertainment!

In Which My Disdain For Separatism Shows

From Yet Another "25 Years Post-Levesque" article:
"One of the misconceptions of my Anglo friends is that sovereigntists hate Canada, that they are anti-Canadian," said Santos.

"It's much more nuanced than that. It's not a black-or-white thing."
See, I don't think sovereigntists hate Canada. I think that they think they'd be better off without Canada, or as some kind of half-defined economic association.

The above-mentioned disdain for separatism comes from the fact that this is incredibly stupid. First off, the PQ leadership has on occasion been honest with Quebecers (but usually only when they're out of office), and admitted that vaguely-formed referenda questions are really just covers for unilateral action taken by what is still a party of extremists. For PQers to be lecturing English Canada on "black-or-white" thinking is insulting. A yes vote on separatism is likely to get Quebec out of confederation entirely, one way or another.

This would, needless to say, be bad for Canada - but I think most Quebecers somehow think it would be good for Quebec, and this is ridiculous. First off, unless the split was amicable, there are any number of ways a hostile Canadian government could make life a living hell for a new country of Quebec. The one commercial artery that Quebec might control is the St. Lawrence, and exactly which navy is going to guarantee Quebec's access? (This is not a serious thought - just a theoretical example of the problems facing an independent Quebec.)

Even if the split was amicable, a state of Quebec would be a country of 7.5 million surrounded by two much larger and stronger economies. Quebec would still have to choose between continental integration or protectionism - the same choice it faces as part of Canada. And if the examples of the EU or NAFTA have shown anything, it's that national governments actually lose their sovereignty to international agreements quite easily. Hell, Quebec today has more autonomy than France, in a number of ways.

One theoretical upside to Quebec independence: Quebec would have zero domestic oil or natural gas, but abundant hydroelectricity. In that way, Quebec might be the only North American polity to seriously work towards a post-oil economy.

(An argument for another time - Canada is already one of the most decentralized countries in the world. "Separatism" or "Sovereignty" when a province already has it's own foreign representatives, education, health care, labour, immigration, and environmental policies is an unbelievable form of greed.)

Oh, and full disclosure: I am an Ottawa-born, Toronto-raised Anglo McOntarian. So maybe the disdain for separatism is genetic.

Friday, May 20, 2005


Matthew Yglesias makes a point that's been missed in all the Revenge of the Sith commentary: Now, thanks to George Lucas, the only good payoff moment in the entire Star Wars series - "Luke, I am your father" - is ruined for all future generations. All new Star Wars fans from here on out will, unless their SW-loving parents intervene, already know this. I, for one, intend to keep my children from watching eps I-III as long as possible.

Once more, George Lucas has ruined everything.

How Relevant Will The NDP Be?

Quick question: If we get our wish, and the NDP pulls the Liberals to the left for the remainder of this Parliament, what possible reason do Canadians have to vote for the NDP in sufficient numbers to form a government? Isn't an NDP-Lib coalition (formally or not) kind of the best of both worlds for most Canadians?

China's Domestic Problems

No matter what anyone says, it's impossible to predict the course China will take in the next decade. Robert Kaplan has been a big proponent of the view that China is a growing military threat to the US - as has the US realist school of international relations generally. However, I've long maintained that the most important variable will be the domestic situation in China. Between the mass migration of rural Chinese to the cities, the growing generation of wifeless young Chinese men, the environmental situation throughout China (disastrous), the political problems with Hong Kong, and on and on and on - there's so many things that are challenging the Beijing regime. This Asia Times piece has a pretty good rundown on some of the problems, and the scale involved.

With the budget off to Second Reading...

We should ask - what did the two non-government parties get for their support of the budget?

Don't kid yourself - the Conservatives supported the budget, at least in principle. Of course, they then voted to bring down the government, but the support in principle is important. The NDP, meanwhile, also voted to support the government - and did so without the schizophrenia. What did each party get for their support?

The NDP got: Several billion dollars in popular spending on issues that Canadians say they support - daycare, education, foreign aid.

The Conservatives got: A broken-hearted Deputy Leader, and a 10% drop in the polls.

I'm shocked, shocked to discover that the Conservatives are not yet ready to lead this country. After all, they've shown such brilliant strategic thinking so far...

US Lead in Science Ends... right.... now.

The White House on Friday condemned research in South Korea for producing human embryros through cloning and said President Bush would veto any legislation that loosens federal restrictions in the United States on embryonic stem cell research.
Just in case you think I'm exagerrating:
The results, published online on Thursday by the journal Science, illustrate the way Asian countries - China and Singapore as well as South Korea - have established a world lead in some areas of human stem cell science. In an interview, Prof Hwang said this is partly because of supportive political and social attitudes in Asia in contrast to the US and many European countries, where embryo research and therapeutic cloning are either banned or mired in controversy.
Oh, but big deal, right? It's only one little advance in the black arts, right?
SAN FRANCISCO -- Just a few years ago, Michigan State University scientist Jose Cibelli was considered the leading expert on cloning human embryos to treat and study disease. Now, there's no debate that the cloning king is Hwang Woo-suk of Seoul National University.

On Thursday, Hwang announced yet again that he had successfully cloned human embryos, this time extracting stem cells from embryos created using the DNA of sick and injured patients. It was the second time in a little more than a year that Hwang had successfully cloned. He remains the only acknowledged scientist to have done so. Hwang is succeeding where the United States is failing because generous South Korean government support helped him create an efficient cloning factory.
Alright, I know some people are a bit oogy on the whole issue of cloning. But there is a world of good that cloning and stem-cell therapy can do - and yes, my father's diabetic - and I'm not at all suggesting we should ignore the ethical questions. But Bush's approach, unsurprisingly, lacks any nuance or sophistication. Via Brad Delong, Carl Zimmer has probably the best comment on the state of reason in the US today:
Reading about this advance, I felt a grim sense of irony. As I wrote in my original post, President Bush stopped federal funding for research on stem cells using new lines... despite the fact that most of the already existing lines were contaminated by this lost sugar. American scientists have been making some progress with stem cells with private money and state initiatives, but guess where scientists finally figured out how to solve this evolutionary problem with cell sugars? South Korea....

Case in point: try to imagine a stem cell therapy company deciding where to set up shop. I doubt they'd be excited about a state that doesn't make sure their high school students understood mutations, natural selection, the origin of species, the fossil record, and all the other elements of evolutionary biology--that thinks it's fine just to claim that the broken sugar gene in our genome was just stuck there for reasons unknown by some mysterious designer...

UPDATE: Oh, it's even better! Bush's principled reason for opposing Stem Cells:
I made very clear to Congress that the use of federal money, taxpayer’s money, to promote science which destroys life in order to save life – I’m against that... Therefore, if the bill does that, I would veto it.
I expect that all military research will end within hours. Similarly, the US invasion of Iraq - which was, after all, destruction to save life - will also end quickly. (new quote via Suburban Guerilla.)

Of course...

I have to say, I was truly confused at the Conservative rush to topple the government. Voting against the budget is fine - of course, Harper would have had to explain why Maritimers should vote for Conservatives after scuttling the Atlantic accord.

Now, this certainly isn't genius-level analysis, but I realized what the hysteria was for - there's a ticking clock. The by-election in Labrador next Tuesday is almost certain to return a Liberal to office, which will give the Liberals and NDP 153 to the Conservatives and BQ 152. Assume Parrish votes with the Government on matters of confidence, and it doesn't matter if Cadman and Kilgour vote against the government. Paul Martin suddenly has a majority in Parliament, at least for the budget. Once the new Liberal takes their seat after May 24th, the Tories will have essentially lost their chance to bring down this government.

Even though it will be a Liberal win, it will probably make the NDP even more valuable to Paul Martin. Obviously, I'm in favour of this. Next week is off, and even the number of opposition days coming at the end of this Parliament will come after the Labrador by-election. Jack says NDP support ends after the passage of C-38, so watch as Martin drags out the budget as long as possible - certainly, long enough to get past the Tory and BQ opposition days. Harper has already said he'll propose a confidence vote on the 31st.

But there's an easy and quick way for Harper to bring down this government - support the budget, or at least get out of the way. Talk to the NDP, and see what Jack wants from the opposition in order to bring down the government. It might be that Jack won't help Harper and co. However, the certain thing is that the Liberals have Jack's support until the budget passes. So pass the budget quickly, then see what the NDP feel. If the slime continues to ooze out of Gomery, Jack might just be willing to have a summer election.

Yet again, WTF?

Eco-militants are greatest terrorist threat, warns FBI
By David Usborne in New York

The FBI has sounded a new and surprising alarm, suggesting environmental and animal-welfare militants are now the biggest terrorist threat in the US, increasingly using incendiary devices on targets ranging from housing developments and research laboratories to car dealerships.
I would like to congratulate the FBI on their excellent work. As we all know, after 9/11 Osama Bin Laden announced his intention to continue his attacks, until all Americans gave up meat and SUVs. His second in command, Ayman al Zawahiri condemned the US support for "terminator" seeds and large US corporations like Monstanto. And we all remember how the Taliban supported reforerstation efforts in the Amazon rainforest.

Seriously, does anyone think that burning empty housing developments or attacking car dealers is equivalent, say, to spreading anthrax through the Senate building? Because I think maybe there are bigger concerns for the US, at the moment.

Note: I don't condone acts of violence or property destruction as a political tactic. It is, however, hard for me to work up any real anger at burned SUVs. I'm one of those people who starts swearing compulsively when I see an SUV. The selfishness and conspicuous consumption inherent in those monstrosities really does get me angry. Still, arson=bad.

The Cowardly Generation

As of today, a greater number of days has passed since September 11th, 2001 as passed between Pearl Harbour and V-J Day. Amanda at Pandagon has great commentary.

Thursday, May 19, 2005


Cadman voted with the Liberals. One of these days, I'll make a prediction about Canadian Politics that actually comes true. Until then, go read someone else. Meanwhile, I'm going to go drown my shame.

Confidence Blogging

Don't have much to say today. Carolyn Parrish, after a bout of severe stomach pains, uttered the best line of this whole mess thus far: "Come hell or high water, there's no frigging way I'm going to let one ovary bring the government down." That's about the only thing I feel like passing along today.

We're not too far away from the vote, but with Kilgour deciding that Canada needs an election (apparently Kilgour knows what Canada needs better than most of Canada), I think the government is going to fall. Cadman was a Reformer, an Alliancer, and no matter what he says about following the will of his constituents, I'd be surprised if he actually voted to save Paul Martin's ass. Especially when it's going to be the NDP bill that will be the actual confidence motion, I don't think Cadman can be counted on. However, it will be less than an hour now, so I might look like an idiot. Tune in!

Star Wars Review

Right off, it's definitely better than the last two. Of course, that's not saying much. I really enjoyed it a lot, though Vicki is a bit more lukewarm.

The good? Well, the writing is "better" in the sense that you don't get the impression that the English language wronged George Lucas in a previous life, and now he's getting his revenge. There are still a few truly cringe-worthy lines, most of them delivered by Natalie Portman. Ewan MacGregor is excellent once more as Obi-Wan. Ian McDiarmid probably has the best role in the entire movie, as Chancellor/Emperor Palpatine.

Of course, the main story is Anakin's transformation from good to evil. Hayden Christensen does better this time around, but it's a shame that a decent actor gets such horrible scripts. I know most people didn't see Life As a House, but he was really very good, and George Lucas should be ashamed at wasting such good talent. I honestly believe that, if Lucas had seriously wanted to make good movies, instead of simply indulging his own ego, he would have turned the screenplays over to an actual writer. In any case, the transformation is actually very believable, and Anakin's motives are understandable - a nice change from previous Lucas villains (coughcoughTradeFederationcough.)

The movie does have it's lesser points, and here is where the first two installments show: Because Lucas wasted his two previous opportunities at storytelling, Episode III is extremely fast-paced. In some places, this is good - it certainly doesn't drag like I and II, or for that matter IV. However, because he wasted so much time before, the third film really has to cover so much story to set us up for episodes IV-VI. This leads to a lot of back-and-forth cuts, and you get the feeling like you're watching a music video, not a Star Wars movie.

Does it make up for the obscenity that was Jar-Jar Binks? Not entirely. But overall, I really enjoyed it. A much darker story, but overall a better put-together one as well. The script still sucks in places, but the action more than makes up for it. I'm not going to give it stars or anything, but if you paid for Episodes I and II, then you owe it to yourself to get your money's worth out of it. See this one - it's the only one of the new three that's actually worth it, but it actually is worth it.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

Episode III: The Revenge of the Scifiblogging

Two quick notes: One, I will be going to a midnight show of Star Wars - despite my low nerd score. Review to follow sleep. Unless of course, it's so good that sleep is impossible. If you're up at 3am, check here!

Two, I've been following the last few episodes of Enterprise. It's pretty odd - the series in general was crap, but it may very well turn out the best series-ending since TNG. Certainly, the last two episodes have done a far better job of humanizing the characters (which is kind of a pun, if you've been following the plot) than the entire series up to this point. Meanwhile, I thought the series finale for DS9 and Voyager were crap. So - we'll see what they turn in on Friday night to cap this thing off, but I'm prepared to accept T'Pol's warning that it's gonna suck.


via Kevin Drum, an Iraqi woman's take on the whole Newsweek "scandal":
We've been watching the protests about the Newsweek article with interest. I'm not surprised at the turnout at these protests- the thousands of Muslims angry at the desecration of the Quran. What did surprise me was the collective shock that seems to have struck the Islamic world like a slap in the face. How is this shocking? It's terrible and disturbing in the extreme- but how is it shocking? After what happened in Abu Ghraib and other Iraqi prisons how is this astonishing? American jailers in Afghanistan and Iraq have shown little respect for human life and dignity- why should they be expected to respect a holy book?...

Detainees coming back after weeks or months in prison talk of being forced to eat pork, not being allowed to pray, being exposed to dogs, having Islam insulted and generally being treated like animals trapped in a small cage. At the end of the day, it's not about words or holy books or pork or dogs or any of that. It's about what these things symbolize on a personal level. It is infuriating to see objects that we hold sacred degraded and debased by foreigners who felt the need to travel thousands of kilometers to do this. That's not to say that all troops disrespect Islam- some of them seem to genuinely want to understand our beliefs. It does seem like the people in charge have decided to make degradation and humiliation a policy.

By doing such things, this war is taken to another level- it is no longer a war against terror or terrorists- it is, quite simply, a war against Islam and even secular Muslims are being forced to take sides.
There's a long precedent of policies of humiliation and degradation - both domestically within the US (segregation) and throughout history in imperialist powers. It's also not surprising that US policy - dictated by so many prominent evangelical christians - would take on the flavour of a crusade. You know, people criticized Ann Coulter when she said Muslims should be forcible converted - maybe she just got the Pentagon memo earlier than most.

By the way - between Muslims and China the US has pissed off 2 billion people. Does anyone else think that maybe, if the US tried really hard, they could throw India in to the Yank-hating column and make it more than half of the world?

Who Is David Kilgour?

A moron, apparently. His two latest reasons for voting against Paul Martin are A) he thinks bringing Belinda in to the party was a bad idea, and B) Canada backed off of the mission to the Sudan.

Well, Mr. Kilgour, this may shock you, but the Sudan is a sovereign country. If they say no, Canada hardly has the muscle to force them to accept our troops. Given that other countries in the region are also non-plussed with the idea of non-Africans interfering in regional affairs, it's a total non-starter unless Canada can get a Security Council resolution. But guess who's acting as Sudan's big brother? China, that's who. No security council resolution is going to pass a Chinese veto, so it's not going to happen. Throwing a hissy fit and blaming Paul Martin for all this is absurd. Of course, I'm not the only one to call him a media whore these days.

And as for Belinda, you're absolutely right Dave - the Liberals should close the door to former Conservatives. Oh wait...
On a historical note, Kilgour has also switched parties. He was expelled from Brian Mulroney's Conservatives in 1990 after 11 years as a member of Parliament, partly because he opposed the GST. He became a Liberal three months later.
If I were Paul, I'd start asking Chuck Cadman for his Christmas List. It's time for Paul to play Santa again...

Sudden thought: At the moment, in Parliament there are a number of "swing" constituencies - the NDP, and several independents. So the budget we'll end up getting will be nothing like the one Ralph Goodale proposed. It's astonishingly like the situation in the US House of Representatives, where there's no confidence attached to money bills, so getting votes requires a positive deluge of pork. By the way, if you Conservatives think a Liberal-NDP budget is bad, take a look at the highway bill in the Republican Congress: $295 billion. With a B. (By my quick math, in Canada that would be equivalent to a $30 billion dollar bill. So far, Paulie has announced less than $10 billion in new spending since the budget.) But thank god those Democrats didn't get in - those tax-and-spenders can't be trusted!

Anyway, yet another reason to love Westminster Parliaments.

A Question:

After Conservatives of all stripes spent the last two weeks screaming themselves hoarse about how stupid the NDP was for supporting this government that was so obviously illegal, corrupt, illegitimate, blah blah blah - after all that, if Stephen Harper supports the budget tomorrow, will you say the same things about Stephen Harper? Will you apologize to the NDP? Or will you continue the proud Conservative tradition of screaming hysterically about the next outrage, totally ignoring anything older than 30 seconds?

Tech Day Continues...

You might as well subscribe to Wired's RSS feeds rather than read me, but I have to link to Cory Doctorow's article on how the BBC is one of the most forward-looking media outlets in the world:
Take digital TV. Practically every country in the world needs to come up with a strategy for the "analog switch-off" -- the day when the analog TV towers go dark, leaving only digital TV behind. To get there, citizens need to get new digital receivers, or risk having their TVs stop working after the switch-off. In most countries, the switch-off will be sometime before 2010.

In Britain, the BBC led the charge with something called Freeview, a system for transmitting 30 free digital TV stations and 20 free digital radio stations to the nation's analog TV sets.

A digital receiver sits on top of the TV, attached to a set of rabbit ears, and provides as many channels as most Americans get on basic cable, for free, forever....

In the United States, the "solution" was the doomed broadcast flag. The Federal Communications Commission decided the way to get Americans to junk analog sets was to offer high-definition programming.
And this line at the end is killer:
The greatest irony here is that it takes a publicly-funded broadcaster from a cozy liberal democracy to teach America's lumbering, anti-competitive Hollywood dinosaurs what a real, competitive offering looks like.
We're looking at you, CBC...

So Pathetic

This story depresses me. Not that the company decided to sue loyal customers - though that is indeed depressing - but rather this:
Tecmo filed the lawsuit in January in a crackdown on NinjaHacker.net, an internet forum where fans created and shared custom content for several Tecmo Xbox titles, including Ninja Gaiden, Dead or Alive 3 and Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball. Users had reverse-engineered the games to figure out how to create custom "skins" that changed the appearance of onscreen characters, in some cases rendering the already scantily clad women of Dead or Alive Xtreme Beach Volleyball completely nude.
Alright, how pathetic are you when the women of these games aren't naked enough? "Scantily clad" is, if anything, being generous. The girls in these games make the Baywatch one-pieces look like Burqas. Try playing games that require both hands, guys.

Up Next: iPod leads to Murder!

The New Scientists has a funny piece about how music-sharing with friends leads to social tensions:
Amy Voida and colleagues from the Georgia Institute of Technology and Palo Alto Research Center in California, US, interviewed 13 US office workers who routinely listened to each others’ music via their company's computer network, using Apple's iTunes music software.

Participants confessed to forming judgements about co-workers based on the taste - or lack of taste - revealed by their music collection. Many also admitted to tailoring their own music library to project a particular persona, and some said they deliberately hid particularly embarrassing tracks from others.
This is why I refuse to do the whole "Top Ten Random Tracks" thing so many other blogs do. I'm afraid of revealing my Lion King uhh... classical MP3s

Tuesday, May 17, 2005

Find Me A Better Rolodex!

First things first: In this post, I wrote "After a while in the belly of the western, religiously- and genitally-conservative Party..." It was not my intention to equate "western" with "crazy." I only meant to point out the difference in political stances - Conservative in Ontario doesn't seem to mean the same thing as Conservative in Alberta. Apologies for the inadvertent offense. The deliberate offensiveness gets nothing!

Secondly, who's lining up the guests for the CBC's panel discussions? The National just had Hugh Segal, Andrew Coyne, Faron Ellis, and Chantal Hebert discussing Belinda's departure. Now, the first three men are dues-paying Conservatives, and Chantal is one of the most conservative columnists the Star has. Couldn't we get one Liberal to defend their new teammate? It was like "You Can't Do That On Television" - nothing but slime everywhere.

The Wisdom of the Markets

With only a little comment, I present this. (via Wonderdog.)

Almost makes a capitalist out of me!

By The Way...

Switching parties has a long, proud tradition in Parliamentary democracies. It's not intrinsically evil. Winston Churchill switched parties twice, and was Prime Minister twice. So don't be so sure that Belinda might not be PM some day...

Once Again, Perspective

Gee. What do you think is more important - an incorrect Newsweek story that might be responsible for the death of dozens of people, or an illegal war responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands?

Well, the US papers have voted with their front pages. Kevin Drum has the details.

Galloway Update

Check out the video.

Centrifugal Politics

One of Belinda's reasons for leaving the CPC was Harper's stand with the Bloc - good for her. In that light, I'd like to highlight Calgarygrit's Chilling Vision of Things To Come:
May 24: Paul Martin offers "side deals" on equalization to British Columbia, Quebec, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Nova Scotia, and PEI. But adds "Stephen Harper would cave in to Ralph Klein and do a deal with Alberta. I will look Ralph Klein in the eye and say "no".

May 25: After 28 hour bargaining session, Paul Martin gives Ralph Klein a blank cheque. Says he's still standing firm by refusing to cave in to Nunavut.

May 26: After David Herle reviews the northern poll numbers, Liberal give Nunavut 3 billion dollars over 254 years.

May 28: Stephen Harper says Martin has "not gone far enough" and offers to give all future surpluses to the provinces. Also promises to take feedback from Premiers on writing future budgets. Says "that still beats having Jack Layton write your budget."

June 4: Jack Layton announces he supports a European Union style system between Quebec and Canada. However insists both countries must elect their Parliaments by proportional representation.
More seriously, I think we're in a very dangerous moment in Canadian politics, with a number of provinical governments (sadly, mine included) pulling the country apart. Now we've got even smaller provinces wanting a role in foreign policy. My God. It's bad enough that Quebec has a minister of foreign affairs - but Saskatchewan?