Friday, September 30, 2005

Now, At Long Last, Can You Stop Being A Douchebag?

A Japanese court has ruled that Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's visits to a controversial war shine violate the constitution.

Government officials are banned from "religious activity" which contravenes the separation of state and religion.

But Mr Koizumi argues his visits to the shrine, which honours Japanese war dead including war criminals, are private.
Actually, the article makes it clear that Koizumi has no plans to stop being an arrogant ass.

To be clear, I don't think that Koizumi is doing this to be a war hawk or anything like that. I simply think that he doesn't care what Japan's neighbours (namely Korea and China) think about his actions. He's just being incredible insensitive and obnoxious, and this would give him an easy was out of such behaviour. Unfortunately, it seems like he's determined to be an ass.

Oh well.

Is This A Joke?

MIAMI (AFP) - Welcome to Florida, but avoid arguments or thanks to a new law you run the risk of getting shot, according to an ad campaign launched by a gun-control group.

The campaign coincides with a state law that enters into effect authorizing gun owners to shoot anyone in a public area who they believe threaten their safety.

The law, supported by the National Rifle Association (NRA), was approved by the state legislature in April. Governor Jeb Bush described it as a "good, common sense, anti-crime issue" when he signed it into law. His is a brother of US President George W. Bush.

Words fail me.

A Republic, eh?

(Yes, I just reinforced a bad Canadian stereotype. Bad blogger!)

Calgarygrit disagrees with the shameless monarchism of his countrymen:
With all the hullaballo around Michaelle Jean and her FLQ friends, the debate over the position of Governor General has been put on the backburner. But it’s still a debate worth having. So I’ll come out and say it bluntly – we should abolish the Monarchy.

I recognize the support may not be there for it right now but it’s hard to argue we’re not heading in that direction. When cases were being made for different politicians in the Greatest PM contest, I was shocked by the number of “legacy” items related to Canada asserting it’s independence for Great Britain: confederation, signing for ourselves in Versailles, the Statute of Westminster, Canadian flag, repatriation of the constitution. Our history has been a gradual move towards complete Canadian sovereignty and the logical conclusion to that is to replace the Queen with a Canadian head of state.
Really? The repatriation of the constitution and the Statute of Westminster both had concrete, real effects on Canadian governance. The Statute gave us the Supreme Court, among other things, and the repatriation of the constitution made the Supreme Court even more important than it already was, with the addition of the Charter. In contrast, replacing the Queen would probably have little effect on the governance of Canada - unless of course, the new position were given new powers. But we could just as soon give the GG those same powers, if that's what we're looking for. I don't see how the long process Calgarygrit talks about "logically" concludes with abolishing the monarchy in Canada.

On the other hand, it does have a lot of similarities with the creation of an all-Canadian flag - abolishing the monarchy would be largely symbolic (though not unimportant for that) and the huge flap likely to result would probably be forgotten within a decade.

There's some other problems with CalgaryGrit's argument:
Although the head of state is merely symbolic, I really have issues with what it symbolizes on two levels. Firstly, having a British head of state implies we’re not a full fledged independent country. Some Canadians may still feel strongly about our ties to Great-Britain but do French Canadians? Do immigrants? Canadians from India may not have fond memories of the crown. Canada is no longer a British country and it’s time we brought our institutions up to speed with reality.
The question about representing all Canadians is well taken, but it's important to point out that on a technical level, Elizabeth II is the Queen of Canada, a title which is legally distinct from her position as Queen of the United Kingdom and so many other places. Some might see this as splitting hairs (must avoid "heirs" joke) but I don't think it is. In a very real sense, she's "our" Queen as much as she is Britain's or any other Commonwealth country. We aren't subordinated to the British in any way, we're equals to them. Some would argue we're much, much better...
Secondly, and most importantly, the Monarchy is a hereditary institution. It says that certain people are better than others from birth. To me, this is completely contradictory to the values of most Canadians (and most Britons too, I'd wager). If we had a Canadian head of state, no one would advocate making it a hereditary position so why do we put up with it in the current situation?
This is an excellent point. I reprint it mainly just to pass it along.
It may not be worth the hassle to abolish the Monarchy right now but the only reason to keep it around is out of a sense of tradition. And generally if that’s the only reason to keep something around, it’s likely not worth preserving.
I don't know about that. I'm too much of a Burkean to believe that tradition doesn't have some value in and of itself. I'm not blind to the problems posed by a hereditary institution, or one that doesn't represent Canadians. But that's why we have a Governor-General, isn't it? The position is term-limited, and as Michaelle Jean proves the position can be filled by people who can represent the many different backgrounds of Canada. The Monarch's relevance to Canadian politics is somewhere in the vicinity of non-existent, while the GG's is (a bit) less so.

Now, it's possible there's some positive aspect to replacing the monarchy with an indigenous position. But unless we're simply talking about a "Canadian" clone of the Governor General, that opens up the whole constitutional can of works again. Given that Canada barely escaped the last attempt intact, maybe we shouldn't be in too much of a hurry to head back in.

Heated Rhetoric

The continuing Chronicles of the Weimar Republic down south...

I sympathise with this kind of rhetoric, I really do:
Your party has set aflame the entire political landscape, and now, once burned, you warn sternly from the branches of a burnt-out tree about "playing with fire". You used the ashes of one of the great liberal cities of America, New York City, as war paint for your own sick, racist dreams. You shudder at a burning flag, yet are willing to snip-and-cut basic tenets of the Constitution as needed or convenient.

And now, you're outraged, not by any of the rest of it, not by anything that has come before, but because a few prominent Republican faces have -- shock of shocks -- been indicted in probes that have spanned years of investigation, and interrogation, and deposition. That, you say, represents the underpinnings of a civil war....

Welcome to the world of the politics of personal destruction, you tubthumping, chin-jutting, Bush humping gits. Welcome to the nasty and partisan world that Rush Limbaugh, Ann Coulter, Michelle Malkin, Hugh Hewitt, Grover Norquist, Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay, and a legion of insignificant lowest-rung toadies like yourselves nurtured into fruition daily with eager, grubby hands, and now look upon with dull-faced faux horror....

So don't give me chest-thumping crap about civil wars, if your politicians are indicted. Don't give me visions of a lake of fire, if all those who find you loathsome refuse to suck at your teats of scientific ignorance in the name of religion, racism in the name of freedom, and corruption in the name of the New World Order.

Get used to the world you have created, and the stench your worshipped heroes have unleashed.
Like I said, I appreciate the sentiment. God knows I'd love to respond in kind every time crazy Ann goes off her meds again. But the unfortunate thing about democracies is that they require someone to act responsibly. When all sides of the political spectrum start seeing domestic politics as some kind of Hobbesian war of all against all, as the center falls apart people start tearing the very fabric of the country apart.

This process was seen very clearly in Germany before Hitler's rise to power. There was something very rotten with Germany in the 1920s - while the Nazis were growing on the right, the Communists posed a smaller but just as militant threat on the left. The center fell away as Communists and National Socialists won increasing shares of the votes. Soon, the parties were settling their disagreements on the streets.

We saw a taste of that in 2000, when the Republicans interrupted the counting of votes to make sure that their man won. To be clear: The GOP started this scorched-earth tactic of victory. I'm not trying to defend their conduct in any way whatsoever.

But when people on the left start talking about how they've come to enjoy this new way of doing things, as Hunter does at DailyKos, I start to worry. My biggest fear - yes, even a bigger fear than a continuing Republican majority - is that the left responds in kind. Because we'll never be mean enough to actually take power, the way they will. And a lesson the Socialists learned in Germany in the 1930s: It can always, always get worse. All we need is for the left to be blamed for a new Reichstag fire, and if you think the Patriot Act is bad, watch out.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

STFU Already

I'm watching Paul Cellucci (our former douchebag ambassador from down south) on CPAC. He was asked the commonsense question: given the ever-growing body count in Iraq, the lack of any justification for the war, and the moral cesspool that has been made there, shouldn't Canadians be happy they stayed the hell out?

Now, I'm just a simple country blogger but it would seem the only possible answer to this is "yes thank you Jesus Chretien Christ!"

Cellucci of course went on to cluck about "the price of freedom" being high. Now, the price of freedom for Paul Cellucci turns out to be $36.95, the list price for his new book. It's nice to see that the Ambassador is doing so well. But maybe he could show the soldiers who are dying in Iraq what the price they're paying is for?

(crickets chirping.)

At least the CPAC guy is giving him the gears over missile defense.

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

A Good Start

Via Suburban Guerilla, this good news:
John Mathews of Universal Toyota in San Antonio has witnessed the day that auto industry executives in Detroit said would never come.

"We are seeing people who are driving $40,000 Suburbans trading them in on $15,000 Corollas," said Mathews, who manages a dealership in a state where big trucks and sport-utility vehicles rule the roads. "The last 30 days have been unlike anything I've ever seen in the automotive industry."

Even in hurricane-addled Alabama, people pouring in from Louisiana and Mississippi are popping into Treadwell Honda looking for replacements for destroyed cars. Harold Wesley, a salesman, in the midst of fielding calls last week, said he can't keep Civics on the lot -- new or used. "As soon as the new ones get here, they are sold." Wesley said the manufacturer is allocating dealers a few at a time to be fair. Treadwell's last shipment of 12 sold in three days, he said.

Nationally, Toyota Motor Corp. officials say the Corolla, one of the Japanese company's smallest and most fuel-efficient passenger cars, had 8.7 days' supply of inventory at the end of last week. In the industry, inventory of 50 to 60 days' supply is seen as adequate. Honda Motor Co. officials are struggling to keep up with demand for the Civic, of which there is nine days' supply. "Inventories are as low or lower than they've ever been for the Civic," said Sage Marie, a Honda spokesman. "They're basically being bought right off the truck."...

Healy and other analysts are predicting bleak results for Detroit automakers when they report sales results for September on Monday. Healy said large sport-utility vehicles will be especially hard-hit after climbing in the summer due to "employee pricing for everyone" discount pricing sales. "We're looking at 20, 30, 40 percent yearly declines," Healy said. The spike in gasoline prices and the summer incentives have crushed SUV sales now.
Meanwhile, Billmon points out this idiocy from General Motors:
General Motors is pinning its turnaround on a series of new full-sized SUVs -- the very models whose sales have fallen as gas prices have climbed. GM previewed the redesigned Chevrolet Tahoe and several other 2007 models last week.
As Billmon says, "...we're not talking about prudent corporate planners; we're talking about General Motors -- the same company that, at various points over the past 40 years, has bet heavily on the proposition that U.S. consumers would never buy cars made in Japan, that quality didn't matter because nobody kept a new car that long anyway, that safety could never be marketed because people don't like to think about car crashes, that the federal government would never impose auto emission standards because it would destroy the economy, and that sending private detectives to poke through Ralph Nader's garbage was a really smart way to discredit Unsafe at Any Speed."

Meanwhile, Japanese carmakers are ramping up production of small, efficient cars for the North American market.

Survival of the fittest strikes again, I guess.

Vicki Is Licking Her Lips

My girlfriend, she loves the calamari. I hope she's getting a bib ready:
Like something straight out of a Jules Verne novel, an enormous tentacled creature looms out of the inky blackness of the deep Pacific waters.

But this isn't science fiction. A set of extraordinary images captured by Japanese scientists marks the first-ever record of a live giant squid (Architeuthis) in the wild.

The animal—which measures roughly 25 feet (8 meters) long—was photographed 2,950 feet (900 meters) beneath the North Pacific Ocean. Japanese scientists attracted the squid toward cameras attached to a baited fishing line.
That was the secret? We've been trying to get a live shot of these things since forever, and the secret was combining worms and a betamax camcorder? Damn... I've got to get a research grant.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Duh... I Mark Paper

Wired has an interesting article on possible solutions for the currently paperless voting machines often used in the US:
Efforts to secure the integrity of electronic-voting machines seemed to get a boost this week, but the debate over the best way to guard against election tampering remained at a fever pitch.

After five months of hearings and deliberations, a high-level election-reform commission led by former President Jimmy Carter and former Secretary of State James Baker recommended that Congress require electronic-voting machines to produce a voter-verifiable paper audit trail by 2008.
But this sentence shows that the author has never used a modern cash register:
Critics also say the printers will jam, break down or run out of paper, creating more labor for poll workers. And they argue that an election involving numerous races and candidates would produce an unwieldy paper trail that would be time-consuming for voters to review and difficult for election officials to recount -- especially if the thermal paper used in the printers is tightly curled.
Anyone who's worked a till in the last five years should know this: You fold the ballots lengthwise. That's the high-tech solution to curled thermal paper. Morons.

Oh, and by the way - it's difficult to see why these elections would be more difficult and time consuming then Canada's, where all ballots are paper and counted by machine, and hand counted in the event of a recount. I haven't heard a single decent reason - not one - for why we should prefer paperless voting. I can only assume that for some people, accuracy in democracy doesn't matter much.

Speaking of which, I had a recent conversation in class in which somebody brought up (yet again) the idea that we should be able to vote over the internet, because "it would be so much easier, and it would increase turnout." To which my eternal response is: Easier than what? I've voted every time I was eligible in Canada, and I've usually done it by showing up with nothing but a pulse. They ask for some ID, I vote, and I go home. Need to get time off from work? Your boss has to give it to you. Period. It doesn't get easier than that - and if you need it to be easier than that before you'll vote, then please, stay home.

One measure which would achieve most of the aims of the "easy" camp would be to simply make election day a statutory holiday. This would be slightly more complicated in a parliamentary democracy, as elections can occasionally be unpredictable. But in no case would businesses have less than four weeks' notice. It would also give people a specific occasion for voting associated with that most precious of commodities - time off. This could do much more for voting then internet democracy.

Meanwhile, allowing people to vote over the internet poses so many huge security and privacy issues that I don't want to have anything to do with it. I mean, if Stephen Harper is elected Prime Minister, then fine. But if he gets elected by the same bots that fill my comments with spam...

China Falls To Lesbianism, Satanism, etc.

At least, one can only assume that's what's coming for China, after this article:
The rules of love, and separation, are changing in China.

Until recently divorce was rare in the communist state. Separating couples needed their work unit's permission before a divorce could be granted, but that was rarely given.

Personal relationships took second place to serving party and state.

But at the end of 2003 the rules changed. Now unhappy couples can visit their local community centre and - if both parties agree - the divorce will be issued in only ten minutes, for as little as 65 pence ($1).
But it's this part that really interests me:
After 20 years of marriage, the 45-year-old office worker has met someone else. In the past she would have thought twice about separating. But in the new China divorce is less stigmatized, she says.

"Today's society is a lot more tolerant. It allows individuals to make their personal choices," she says. "People have different expectations of the quality of their lives. We decide what life-style we choose and how to live a better life."
So... divorce = democracy? Let it be so!

Nasser Had Our Number

Which might explain the Suez Crisis. Via Jon Schwartz, this brilliant quote:
The genius of you Americans is that you never made clear-cut stupid moves, only complicated stupid moves which makes us wonder at the possibility that there may be something to them we are missing.
Let me just alert the rest of the world - no, we're actually terrifyingly stupid.


You've Got To Be Kidding

While on the subject of books, let me take a moment to condemn the US Congress (once more.) This time, it's because of their choice of witnesses. The House of Representatives is holding a committee on the use of science in policy making. Excellent. I'd like to see Chris C. Mooney, author of "The Republican War on Science" called to testify, and I'd like to see the National Academy of Science detail how the Bush Administration has hurt US commerce and industry with it's incessant war against the scientific method.

What's that? No can do? Well, which expert witness have you called?

No. Seriously? The dinosaur guy? Oh, we're so screwed.

Actual News in the Oil Front

...Not that I believe it. Via Ezra Klein and Kevin Drum:
Sept. 27 (Bloomberg) -- Saudi Arabia's oil minister and the president of Exxon Mobil Corp. said world petroleum reserves are enough to last for decades, seeking to ease concern that supplies are peaking and prices will stay near records.

Saudi Arabia, the world's largest oil producer, will ``soon'' almost double its proven reserve base, adding 200 billion barrels to the current estimate of 264 billion, said the nation's oil minister, Ali al-Naimi. Exxon Mobil President Rex Tillerson said the world may still have more than 3 trillion barrels from conventional oil fields, oil sands deposits and other sources.
Ah, time to parse:

First off, adding 200 billion barrels of oil is a big deal, but it doesn't add decades to our lifespan. It adds less than 7 years, at current world consumption. If this development actually lowers prices (which I doubt) that 200 billion disappears even faster.

Secondly, the statement that "the world may have more than 3 trillion barrels..." is technically true, but only if you group conventional oil and unconventional oil (tar sands, oil shale, etc.) in together. This is kind of like saying that I'll never run out of wine, because I've got Welch's grape juice in the fridge. The two are similar, but you've got no idea how to turn one in to the other at a reasonable cost.

So does this change anything? Yes, if the Saudis aren't lying about their oil reserves. Notice also that this isn't an announcement per se, but an announcement about an impending announcement. Whether or not we actually hear anything from Mr. al-Naimi again on this matter is a good question.

People Read Hayek

Over at Battlepanda:
I am also (finally!) reading Hayek's The Road to Serfdom. I'm reserving my judgement because I am only about half way through, but my first impression of it seems to confirm my view of Hayek as a very reasonable man who wrote a book condemning socialism in fairly hysterical terms because, perhaps, the direction socialism seemed to be taking at the time merited it. He is certainly no knee-jerk lover of laissez-faire.
Those are two very important points that aren't often made. Hayek in fact can be read much the same way that Adam Smith can be - recognizing the weaknesses of capitalism, and recommending the government take a limited role in securing the function of the economy.

But it's the historical context that is crucial. Road to Serfdom came out in 1945, before the war was even over. At the time, "socialism" as a word basically referred only to the USSR, and all it's attending crimes. The success of the mixed economies in Europe hadn't happened yet. So of course Hayek can be forgiven for being terrified of the increasing "socialising" of western economies.

Then Margaret Thatcher was elected in 1979, and Ronald Reagan was inaugurated in 1981. In both countries, free-market radicals (allegedly inspired by Hayek) quickly laid waste to the government and economies, though in the US people seem to forget that. (That Ronald Reagan was actually mourned stunned me.) But here's the thing: It made as little sense to dogmatically follow Hayek when he was 35 years out of date as it did to dogmatically follow Marx in Russia in 1917, 35 years after he died. Neither author had anything useful to say about the times and places where they were most fervently followed.

Odd, in a sense. Neither author was relevant for their times, but they serve as useful bookends to the Cold War - Marx inspired the October Revolution of 1917, and Hayek (in part) motivated the Reagan Republicans who survived the Cold War, if barely.

Don't Mess With The Irish

Ooh... it's Clooney versus O'Reilly! Who'll win?
Media-dog watchers worried that the long-running feud between the actor and the Fox News scourge had cooled last week when O'Reilly was invited to a VIP screening of "Good Night and Good Luck," Clooney's movie about the 1953-54 clash between CBS eminence Edward R. Murrow and Communist-hunting Sen. Joseph McCarthy....

"O'Reilly actually said some nice things about the movie," Clooney told us Friday at the opening night of the New York Film Festival.

This comes as high praise indeed, considering that the movie's archival footage of McCarthy reminds some people of the "No Spin" pundit. The U.K.'s Guardian newspaper wrote, "You don't have to squint too hard to recognize O'Reilly — who makes it his business to shout down and then de-mike his guests on the air — in the hectoring robot-voiced McCarthy."... fact, Clooney thinks it unfair to compare O'Reilly and McCarthy.

"Unlike McCarthy," a broadly grinning Clooney told us, "O'Reilly was never elected to public office. What's more, Joe McCarthy was never accused of telling one of his female staff members she should use a vibrator" — one of the sex-harassment claims former Fox News associate producer Andrea Mackris made against O'Reilly, who denied her allegations.
And Clooney puts O'Reilly on the mat!

I definitely want to see Clooney's new movie. I'm not sure I buy the usual retelling of the Murrow-McCarthy duel (Murrow being responsible for single-handedly saving America, in the usual fable) but it's nice to remember an era when America had the capacity for self-correction.

Almost Worth $5,000/year

My history prof handed out a really funny flow chart today. It's basically a way to avoid sinning if you want to have sex. Here are the necessary preconditions to have righteous sex, according to the Catholic Church:

You must be married - to the person you're having sex with! - for more than three days. Your wife cannot be menstruating, pregnant, or nursing. It can't be Lent, Advent, Easter Week, Whitsum Week, a feast or fast day, Sunday, Wednesday, Friday, or Saturday. It can't be daylight out, you can't be naked (?), you can't be in Church, you must want a child, and you mustn't fondle, kiss lewdly, have oral sex, and only do it once in the missionary position. And try not to enjoy it. And wash afterwards.

What I find interesting is how little time is allotted to an activity that is, after all, necessary to obey God's commandment to be fruitful and multiply. Between the day and time restrictions, you've eliminated the daylight hours of 4 days of the week. Take out time for sleep (say a conservative 6 hours for sleep) and over an entire year there's only a bit over a month's worth of cumulative time to have The Sex. And we haven't even accounted for Lent, Advent, Easter, and Whitsum week - not to mention the menstrual cycle of wives!

Obviously, there's always been a lot of sinful, sinful sex going on.

Monday, September 26, 2005

I Was Cool Before It Was Cool

Okay, I'm just saying that I was a blogger who liked Joss Whedon's Firefly well before it became cool to.

But I turn around, and wherever I look Bloggers are prostituting their dignity for free movie tickets to Serenity. Now, if it were possible for me to see Serenity on my own, I might consider a similar whore-for-tix scheme. But I can't - Vicki and several other friends would beat me to death if I saw it without them.

On the other hand, I truly hope that Serenity does well, so consider this a less whorish, more genuine plea: Please, please go see Serenity if you want to see something that, unlike so much this last summer, doesn't suck. Can I guarantee you'll like it? No. But it'll almost certainly be worth the $10 for admission. As Bob Harris wrote:
You laugh, you cry, you get scared. The whole deal. Eat popcorn and enjoy. It's Joss Whedon, people. The guy can write in three-emotion layers in the middle of chase scenes. If he felt like it, he could make you feel ennui, schadenfreude, and hyggelig, all while something enormous blows up.

The writing is the Joss level of brilliant you'd figure, and his direction is eye-popping and full of surprises. There's even some stuff I think readers of this site will particularly dig.

It's a world. And the world is very cool. Most fun I've had at a movie this year.
I tried to dig up a definition of "hyggelig", and while I was able to confirm it's existence, I swear this is a danish word that can't translate to english. Damn you, Denmark!

Even if you're not a particularly big SF fan, I'd reccomend (almost*) anything by Joss Whedon. A writer that's still interested in anachronisms like "characters" and "narrative" is a rare find in the film industry these days.

*Alien: Resurrection and the original Buffy movie not included.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

I Continue to Love Wikipedia

In researching the last post, I found myself reading about the British Monarchy (why not?) where I followed a link in this paragraph:
As of 2004, the European monarchs and former monarchs descended from Victoria are: the Queen of the United Kingdom, the King of Norway, the King of Sweden, the Queen of Denmark, the King of Spain, the King of the Hellenes (deposed) and the King of Romania (deposed). The pretenders to the thrones of Yugoslavia and Serbia, Russia, Prussia and Germany, Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, Hanover, Hesse, and Baden are also descendants.
Russia?, says I. Really? My understanding was that the Bolsheviks were pretty thorough in their de-Romanovication of Russia. But apparently I'm a retard, because this lady claims to be the Queen of all Russia. Obviously, I'm the crazy one. My favourite line in the entirely-too-surreal piece comes near the end:
Maria Vladimirovna of Russia is the 109th heir in the Line of Succession to the British Throne.
So if numbers 1 through 108 kick the bucket, she'll be there in a flash.

And now I'm thinking of King Ralph...

Lamest. Protest. Evar.

OTTAWA (CP) - Questions are being raised about the Governor General - not Adrienne Clarkson's spendthrift ways or Michaelle Jean's separatist sentiments, but whether Canadians should continue to put up with an appointed head of state.

When Jean becomes the 27th Governor General in a pomp-filled ceremony Tuesday on Parliament Hill, a small knot of demonstrators plan show up calling for an end to what they see as an undemocratic vestige of the colonial past....

"If you're looking at why the issue isn't getting the attention it deserves, look at the Prime Minister's Office, that's the problem right there," says Tom Freda with Citizens for a Canadian Republic.

Freda hopes to muster about two dozen protesters whose message will be that Jean is part of a monarchistic system that a mature country should have outgrown.

Freda's attempt to get Canadians talking about choosing the head of state democratically includes a not-so-subtle reminder about who will take over from Betty Windsor.

"If something were to - heaven forbid - happen to the Queen today and Canadians woke up tomorrow, we would have King Charles III as head of state, whether Canadians like it or not."
This November Charles will be 57 years old. Assuming he lives to about 75 or so, there's only about 20 more years of King Charles III. Hell, I've been alive for 24 and just barely noticed that the Queen is our head of state. If anything, Charles will be even more of a non-entity.
Constitutional lawyer and adviser Ted McWhinney, a former Liberal MP, said an "antique, outdated system," that gives a prime minister exclusive power to appoint a head of state and commander of the armed forces is potentially dangerous.

"The powers (of the Governor General) are enormous and what would be unhealthy would be if you had an egomaniac in the job or someone with delusions of grandeur who ran amok," McWhinney said.
Oh yes. I'm sure this is the most likely of scenarios. Because there's absolutely nothing we could do if Michaelle Jean suddenly declared war on the Dominican Republic. Like, say, replace the Governor General. Of course, I'm sure the Queen wouldn't be able to pick up the phone to remove one of her officers at the request of an elected Prime Minister. Because you know how hard it can be to catch those tricky Windsors!

I've had this kind of argument one way or another for something like ten years now. I have to ask, honestly, any Canadian republicans out there: What angers you so? No British troops are killing Canadians on the streets of Montreal, Toronto, or anywhere else. The Queen has exactly zero say in Canadian politics, nor does the High Commissioner, nor for that matter does the Governor General, 99% of the time.

For this, you want to change all our money?

I don't oppose some ideas, like making the GG a Parliament-approved position, or something like that. But getting rid of the monarchy all together? Maybe - maybe - when the Brits do it first. Screw Charles III, I want to see what kind of a King William V would be! Billy IV was the last King to appoint a Prime Minister in defiance of Parliament... for now...

From Psychotic to Benign?

via A Tiny Revolution, an interesting article on the strange career path of Jeffrey Sachs:
Jeffrey Sachs is a complicated guy. His first claim to fame was as the doctor who administered "shock therapy" in Bolivia, Poland, and Russia. Now he's Bono's traveling companion. Bono wrote the intro to Sachs's latest book ("My professor.... In time, his autograph will be worth a lot more than mine"), and Sachs gushes all over Bono in the text ("Bono brilliantly brought the AIDS tragedy to the attention of several key leaders of the religious right...").

This book is a manifesto and how-to guide on ending extreme poverty around the world. The subtitle, "Economic Possibilities for Our Time," echoes Keynes's famous 1928 essay, "Economic Possibilities for Our Grandchildren," which forecast, rightly, that we would be able to meet all the basic material needs of humankind two generations later - essentially today. We could, but we don't. Worldwide, about 1 billion people live on the equivalent of less than $1 a day, the official definition of extreme poverty; 2 billion live on less than $2, which officialdom considers normal poverty. These estimates have been criticized for being too low, and the definition of poverty for being too crude, but still, the numbers are criminally large. ...

On one level, Sachs's analysis and agenda are unremarkable. Many have written on how much the poor of the world suffer, and how little it would cost to reduce that suffering. But we've almost lost sight of a remarkable fact: this is Dr. Shock, Jeffrey Sachs!
For the record, I don't trust Sachs, period. Russia was destroyed by his policies, and other countries very nearly so. As the article mentions, Russia saw it's GDP decline by half by taking Sachs' advice, an event unprecedented in history outside of a major war. It's probably fair to say that outside of members of various large Communist parties, there's few humans alive today who are as reponsible for poverty as Jeffrey Sachs. There's nothing that Sachs can do - including joining the development party far too late - that can make up for his crimes.

That he's adding his name to ideas that have been developed by others is laudable, but nothing in his book is new, and I have a hard time believing that it's anything but his own ego that is driving him down this road. Maybe it's an attempt on his part to avoid the otherwise-inevitable trial for crimes against humanity.

You might have guessed I'm not a fan.

Things Keep Getting Better and Better In Iraq

BASRA, Iraq (Reuters) - An Iraqi judge has issued arrest warrants for two British soldiers freed after a British raid in Basra, an Iraqi lawyer said on Saturday, and thousands rallied in the southern city in support of a new constitution.

Judge Raghib Hassan issued the warrants on Thursday, accusing the men of killing an Iraqi policeman and wounding another, carrying unlicensed weapons and holding false identification, Kassim al-Sabti, the head of the lawyers' syndicate in Basra told Reuters.

Britain's Secretary of State for Defense John Reid said the Ministry of Defense had not received any arrest warrant for British soldiers in Iraq, adding that in any case the warrants would have no legal basis.

"Iraqi law is very clear. British personnel are immune from Iraqi legal process. They remain subject to British law," he said in a statement.

The whereabouts of the two soldiers was not clear.
Wow. The Ministry of Defense's official position on this matter amounts to "Suck it, bitch."

Why do I continue to think this isn't going to end well for any of us?

Of course, there's nothing particularly unusual about the British position. The US military maintains bases across the planet, and in every case US soldiers are immune from local law - including when US Marines rape and murder Japanese of Korean schoolgirls, which shamefully has a long history. Less than a half dozen soldiers have ever even been arrested, and to my knowledge only three have ever actually been jailed. This out of a recorded history of dozens of "incidents."

This all dates back to a period of China's history, when European and American powers claimed that Whites should not be subject to "primitive" Chinese law. (There was a similar short-lived attempt to force western legal codes on Japan.) Even though these treaties were all renounced in 1944, the principle of "extraterritoriality" (usually just called "extrality") remains, and has become part and parcel of American military policy. This has led to some pretty perverse situations, such as in Kuwait, where in the run-up to the latest Iraq War it was said that Kuwaitis were barred from 1/4 of their country. Extrality was also one of the major grievances cited by Khomeini in the years before the Iranian Revolution.

And yet somehow extrality is never reconsidered. It's been absolutely toxic to America's relationships, even with staunch allies like Seoul and Tokyo, and it continues to cause problems like today in Iraq.

"If something cannot go on forever, it will stop." - Herbert Stein

This Is A Good Idea. Please Do It.

TOKYO (Reuters) - Emerging economies, notably those in Asia, are under-represented in the IMF and their quotas should be increased to reflect their growing role in the global economy, Japan's finance minister said on Saturday.

"It is important to recognize that the current distribution of IMF quotas represents another form of unsustainable global imbalance," Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki told the International Monetary Fund at its fall meeting.

"Many emerging market economies, including those in Asia, are markedly under-represented in terms of their current economic strength and relative positions in the global economy."
I'm not terribly optimistic of the possibility of making the IMF a "good" organization in the near term, simply because the finance ministries of the west are not run by people who are serious about development. However, this proposal by the Japanese is an important step towards making the IMF a much "less bad" organization in terms of development and social justice.

Basically, the IMF's voting is decided by allotted quotas. The US is unsurprisingly the largest voting bloc, with 17% of the total. Since it takes 85% of the votes to make any serious change, the US can currently veto any proposal to change the IMF's mission. But it's a narrow margin - revaluing some of the Asian economies might knock 3% off the US's totals, removing the only effective veto power from the IMF.

Now, to my knowledge (I welcome corrections) the US hasn't single-handedly scuttled any major reform initiatives in the IMF - like I said, the west generally isn't serious about development. But allowing developing countries a deserved larger voice in one of the most important international institutions is a good move in it's own right.

On a similar note, Mark Weisbrot (one of my favourite economists) argues that the IMF is increasingly irrelevant. The culprit? Argentina:
Just a few years ago, the IMF was the most powerful financial institution in the world. When financial and economic crises swept across East Asia in 1997, it was the IMF that laid down the painful conditions that governments had to meet in order to access more than $120 billion in foreign funds....

Those days are over. After their nightmarish experience with the fund in 1997-1998, Asian countries began to pile up huge international foreign exchange reserves - partly so they would never have to go begging to the IMF again. But the final blow to the fund came from the country that Anne Krueger, first deputy managing director of the fund, reportedly calls "the A-word": Argentina.

Argentina suffered through a terrible four-year depression, beginning in 1998. A country that had recently ranked among the highest for living standards in Latin America soon had the majority of the country falling below the poverty line. Many Argentines blamed the IMF, which had played a major role in designing the policies that led to the collapse, and seemed to prescribe just the wrong medicine during the crisis: high interest rates, budget tightening and maintaining the Argentine peso's unsustainable link to the U.S. dollar.

In December 2001, the government defaulted on $100 billion of debt, the largest sovereign debt default in history. The currency and the banking system collapsed, and the country sank further into depression - but only for about three more months. Then, to most people's surprise, the economy began to recover.

The recovery began and continued without any help from the IMF. On the contrary: In 2002, the fund and other official creditors (including the World Bank), actually took a net $4.1 billion - more than 4 percent of gross domestic product - out of Argentina. But the government was able to chart more of its own economic course, rejecting IMF demands for higher interest rates, increased budget austerity and utility price increases. Argentina also took a hard line with foreign creditors holding defaulted debt, despite repeated threats from the fund. When push came to shove in September 2003, Argentina did the unthinkable: a temporary default to the IMF itself, until the fund backed down.

The result was a rapid and robust recovery, with a remarkable 8.8 percent growth in gross domestic product for 2003 and 9 percent for 2004. With a projected 7.3 percent gross domestic product gain for 2005, Argentina is still the fastest growing economy in Latin America.
I recently finished reading Sorrows of Empire by Chalmers Johnson. In it, he argues that US policy makers are largely ignorant of how badly the IMF has affected US relations in Asia, as a result of the remarkably destructive IMF response. Now, the nations of southeast Asia have taken some pretty strong measures to see that they don't find themselves in a similar position. No wonder - I mean, the 1997 Crisis removed Suharto from power. It's not like the Malaysian or Singaporean government wants to risk a similar situation again.

It also points to the growing fondness for China and ASEAN (an all-asian trade group that, unlike APEC, excludes the US) among Asian economies - unlike the US and the IMF, ASEAN hasn't demanded it's members make painful cuts to food and fuel subsidies.

Far from securing the liberal trading regime that it was designed for, the IMF may very well have been crucial in undermining it.

Some China News

Here's an interesting story on the increasing use of Chinese courts to, shockingly, enforce the rule of law:
A new breed of Chinese public-interest lawyer is leading the push to establish real rule of law. The bravest handful have argued cases on illegal land grabs and seizures of private property by local officials, on freedom of the press and on unauthorized taxation. They've won a few cases that have become legendary among the growing body of Chinese lawyers.

Their efforts, and the rising legal consciousness of the Chinese people, hold hope of change from within....

Chinese officials know they have a problem; they've rebuilt a legal system destroyed by the Cultural Revolution. But the Communist Party controls the appointment of judges, who are very vulnerable to pressures by local officials. Fearful officials try to deny their local residents the facts they need to build a case....

Some brave lawyers who tackle the most controversial public-interest cases wind up in jail. Among them is Chen Guangcheng, a blind peasant lawyer who tried to bring a class-action suit challenging forced abortion and sterilization in the city of Linyi. He documented hideous cases, which are now illegal (fines are the punishment for too many births).

Officials seized Chen from his home district while he was visiting Beijing, and he is now being held incommunicado, according to his lawyer Teng Biao. Last Friday, Teng told me that his client was conducting a hunger strike. The Chinese news media aren't permitted to mention the case, although details are circulating on Chinese Internet sites.
And another example of the Communists putting themselves on the wrong side of reason:
BEIJING - As oil prices rise, carpooling is taking off in China's biggest cities. But unlike in the West, authorities appear none too happy about it.

Web sites that serve as bulletin boards for those who want to carpool have popped up and are drawing huge amounts of interest....

As crude oil prices soar worldwide, authorities in many developed countries are encouraging gas-saving methods such as carpooling. But Chinese authorities may be ready to crack down on it, because they see the drivers as engaging in illicit commercial transactions and the taxi industry views carpooling as a front for outlaw cab services.

State-run news media have carried numerous declarations of officials saying carpooling is illegal if the driver receives payment.

"It is an illegal business operation without a proper license. Those who conduct it could be punished," a Transportation Management Bureau official told the Jilin Daily newspaper. In Shenzhen, one transportation official, Sun Pulin, told a regional newspaper that anyone who offered carpooling services for payment could face impoundment of the car.
Good to see that the Communists, despite a remarkable amount of competence in recent years, haven't entirely lost the ability to be entirely looney-tunes.

And on a more regrettable note, the latest attempt to increase coal mine safety is being acknowledged as a failure:
This campaign was supposed to be part of a major drive to improve safety in its coal mines.

Local officials often have shares in the mines, which have risen in value as coal fuels the booming economy.

But poor safety standards and many illegal operations have led to the deaths of nearly 3,000 miners in the first half of this year alone.

Beijing ordered all local officials to give up their stakes after growing public anger about the problem.

Now, though, it has admitted that those orders have been ignored by many Communist Party cadres.

One quoted in the state media said he would rather give up his official position than lose his shares.
Hey, Deng Xiaopeng said to be rich is glorious, right? Nice to see that Enron-style capitalism has spread to China, albeit with more crushing fatalities.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Long, Slow, Tiring Day

The day began early, and it's going to end late, and aside from this I won't have an opportunity to blog. So some random thoughts:

1) Possibly the worst song to wake up to in the morning is Cheap Trick's "I want you to want me." This song will follow you from your bed, to your shower, to class, to lunch, back to class, to work...

2) I didn't need to know that Kate Moss was using cocaine to realize that she isn't a positive role model for young women. What took the rest of you?

3) I really, really need to stop finishing important assignments in the last ten minutes before class. I mean, sure you can get away with that once, twice maybe. But it catches up on you.

See y'all later.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Yet Another Survey

You are a

Social Liberal
(83% permissive)

and an...

Economic Liberal
(6% permissive)

You are best described as a:


Link: The Politics Test on Ok Cupid

Interesting. I didn't think I was that authoritarian when it came to economic issues. But if you can't trust the internet, who can you trust?

The Eternal Debate

Is Bush a fascist, or just evil?

For the former position, Kevin Drum and Digby present Prudent Bear, who argues rather forcefully yes, Bush is a fascist. As way of evidence, he presents this list of fascist characteristics from Dr. Lawrence Britt:
1. Powerful and Continuing Nationalism - Fascist regimes tend to make constant use of patriotic mottos, slogans, symbols, songs, and other paraphernalia. Flags are seen everywhere, as are flag symbols on clothing and in public displays.

2. Disdain for the Recognition of Human Rights - Because of fear of enemies and the need for security, the people in fascist regimes are persuaded that human rights can be ignored in certain cases because of "need." The people tend to look the other way or even approve of torture, summary executions, assassinations, long incarcerations of prisoners, etc.

3. Identification of Enemies/Scapegoats as a Unifying Cause - The people are rallied into a unifying patriotic frenzy over the need to eliminate a perceived common threat or foe: racial, ethnic or religious minorities; liberals; communists; socialists, terrorists, etc.

4. Supremacy of the Military - Even when there are widespread domestic problems, the military is given a disproportionate amount of government funding, and the domestic agenda is neglected. Soldiers and military service are glamorized.

5. Rampant Sexism - The governments of fascist nations tend to be almost exclusively male-dominated. Under fascist regimes, traditional gender roles are made more rigid. Divorce, abortion and homosexuality are suppressed and the state is represented as the ultimate guardian of the family institution.

6. Controlled Mass Media - Sometimes to media is directly controlled by the government, but in other cases, the media is indirectly controlled by government regulation, or sympathetic media spokespeople and executives. Censorship, especially in war time, is very common.

7. Obsession with National Security - Fear is used as a motivational tool by the government over the masses.

8. Religion and Government are intertwined - Governments in fascist nations tend to use the most common religion in the nation as a tool to manipulate public opinion. Religious rhetoric and terminology is common from government leaders, even when the major tenets of the religion are diametrically opposed to the government's policies or actions.

9. Corporate Power is protected - The industrial and business aristocracy of a fascist nation often are the ones who put the government leaders into power, creating a mutually beneficial business/government relationship and power elite.

10. Labor Power is suppressed - Because the organizing power of labor is the only real threat to a fascist government, labor unions are either eliminated entirely, or are severely suppressed.

11. Disdain for Intellectuals and the Arts - Fascist nations tend to promote and tolerate open hostility to higher education, and academia. It is not uncommon for professors and other academics to be censored or even arrested. Free expression in the arts and letters is openly attacked.

12. Obsession with Crime and Punishment - Under fascist regimes, the police are given almost limitless power to enforce laws. The people are often willing to overlook police abuses and even forego civil liberties in the name of patriotism. There is often a national police force with virtually unlimited power in fascist nations.

13. Rampant Cronyism and Corruption - Fascist regimes almost always are governed by groups of friends and associates who appoint each other to government positions and use governmental power and authority to protect their friends from accountability. It is not uncommon in fascist regimes for national resources and even treasures to be appropriated or even outright stolen by government leaders.

14. Fraudulent Elections - Sometimes elections in fascist nations are a complete sham. Other times elections are manipulated by smear campaigns against or even assassination of opposition candidates, use of legislation to control voting numbers or political district boundaries, and manipulation of the media. Fascist nations also typically use their judiciaries to manipulate or control elections.
By my count, the only aspects that don't apply to the Bush administration without question are 6 (controlled mass media) 10 (suppressed labor power) and 14 (fraudulent elections.)

This might already be causing some of you to spit blood at your screens, and I should be clear it's not like I approve of Bush's labour policies, or the performance of the media. But let's be clear - Bush doesn't control the media. He doesn't have to, they're already tame. There's certainly no evidence of anything as heavy-handed as Italian or Spanish fascism.

Similarly, while Bush's labor policies are pretty noxious, he really just inherited a long line of noxious labour policies from both Republicans and Democrats.

And now, #14, the "rigged elections" question. Questions about black-box voting and all that aside, it's worth pointing out that, in both 2000 and 2004, the election did exactly what it was supposed to do - let slave states pick the president. This is the grand compromise (or grand shame) of the US constitution: The electoral college is heavily weighted towards smaller, agricultural states. Given the environment this compromise was forged in (1790) this by definition meant that slaveowners were going to have a disproportionate say in who was elected. Flash forward to 2000, and unsurprisingly the south elects a crypto-racist republican administration.

If the electoral college were weighted only by population, and ignored senate seats, Gore would have crushed Bush. As would Kerry. (Admittedly, in 2004 this would have been "undemocratic" in that Bush would have gotten more votes.)

Now, back to the wider point. Even if we throw out the three aspects of Fascism as defined by Dr. Britt, that still leaves 11 out of 14 aspects that I think the Bush qualifies for in spades. For possibly the first time in his life, Bush has scored close to 80% (78.5, if you must know.)

But I've always maintained that whether or not Bush can be fairly labelled as a "Fascist" is really immaterial. By their works shall ye know them, and we've seen more than enough of Bush's works to know that he's at best an incompetent, and at worst a cruel man. If that's as good as it gets, he doesn't deserve to be president.


According to David Sirota, rather than raise taxes even an itty little bit, the Republicans are going to start cutting money for the troops - this in lieu of withdrawing the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 1%, which on their own would pay for the estimated $300 billion cost of rebuilding New Orleans. Story here:
A group of House Republicans have proposed a plan to offset the costs of relief and rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina that includes trimming military quality-of-life programs, including health care.

Possible sources of funding cuts to free up money for Katrina relief include reduced health benefits, consolidation of the three military exchange systems and the closure of the military’s stateside school system.
Jesus. Cutting health care while shutting down schools on military bases? This is going to dump tens of thousands of children in to the local school system with no warning.

Anyone else remember when Bush said "Help is on the way!"? It was supposed to signal a new, "responsible" administration that would take care of the military, in contrast to that pansy Clinton. I wonder how many Republicans are left in the military today?

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Bush Drinking?

I wasn't going to touch this, but Steve Gilliard makes a good point:
Let me say this before people start in: the National Enquirer has beaten more libel suits than most major newspapers. Their stuff is vetted by libel lawyers before it hits the stands. In fact, their accuracy is no worse than their MSM peers. Up until the 1970's, they ran alien stories, but then switched to celebrity coverage.

Why do I trust the NE? They pay their sources. So someone close to the WH got a big fat check for this, over $10K. And if they deny this or lie, the NE has a file on them. When dealing with gossip, this is quite effective. Now they may wind up paying the wrong people, but this is what they were told. Come on, if you ran the NE, would you risk a libel suit with your reputation?
I'll say this: I hope this isn't true. Not just because of the political and other implications, either - alcoholism can be a horrible thing to go through, for everyone around the addict as well as the addict themselves. So I'm genuinely concerned for Bush's health for once in my life. Anyway, the National Enquirer is reporting:
Faced with the biggest crisis of his political life, President Bush has hit the bottle again, The National Enquirer can reveal.

Bush, who said he quit drinking the morning after his 40th birthday, has started boozing amid the Katrina catastrophe.

Family sources have told how the 59-year-old president was caught by First Lady Laura downing a shot of booze at their family ranch in Crawford, Texas, when he learned of the hurricane disaster.
Like I said - I hope it isn't true. But if it is, Steve is exactly right - it's time to think about the 25th Ammendment, and removing Bush from office.

Well That's Helpful.... Jackass

(AP) WASHINGTON — The United States urged China to undertake a transition to democracy Wednesday, saying its existing one-party system "is simply not sustainable.''

In a major policy address on China, the State Department's No. 2 official, Robert Zoellick, also warned about possible retaliatory U.S. action against China, unless the U.S. trade deficit with that country shrinks.

Zoellick brought together in one speech all elements -- both negative and positive -- of the U.S. relationship with China, which officials call the most complex of any in the world.
If possible, the actual text of the speech is even worse than it sounds in the AP article. First off, get a load of this steaming pile:
Seven U.S. presidents of both parties recognized this strategic shift and worked to integrate China as a full member of the international system. Since 1978, the United States has also encouraged China’s economic development through market reforms.

Our policy has succeeded remarkably well: the dragon emerged and joined the world. Today, from the United Nations to the World Trade Organization, from agreements on ozone depletion to pacts on nuclear weapons, China is a player at the table.
Your policy? YOUR POLICY??? I wasn't aware that Republicans sat on the Politburo, you moron. Is it actually possible for American politicians to admit that they aren't in fact responsible for every good thing that happens in the world? Zoellick continues:
For the United States and the world, the essential question is – how will China use its influence?

To answer that question, it is time to take our policy beyond opening doors to China’s membership into the international system: We need to urge China to become a responsible stakeholder in that system. [emphasis in orginal]
Gee... responsible stakeholder? You mean, like defusing a major international crisis?
AP - BEIJING Sep 21, 2005 — China's success in orchestrating a landmark six-nation accord on ending North Korea's nuclear program has clinched its role as a major peacemaker in the region regardless of the challenges ahead for the deal, analysts say.
It seems to me Beijing doesn't need lessons on being a responsible stakeholder, Bob. Back to your speech:
For example, China’s rapid military modernization and increases in capabilities raise questions about the purposes of this buildup and China’s lack of transparency. The recent report by the U.S. Department of Defense on China’s military posture was not confrontational, although China’s reaction to it was. The U.S. report described facts, including what we know about China’s military, and discussed alternative scenarios. If China wants to lessen anxieties, it should openly explain its defense spending, intentions, doctrine, and military exercises.
Ah yes, because the Pentagon is the definition of openness and transparency. In fact, the Chinese have been relatively (important qualifier) open about their intentions - the US is just being willfully obtuse about them. In fact, the real reason that Zoellick is sweating comes earlier in the speech:
As Secretary Rice has stated, the United States welcomes a confident, peaceful, and prosperous China, one that appreciates that its growth and development depends on constructive connections with the rest of the world. [emphasis mine]
Notice a word missing there? Confident, peaceful, prosperous... and poweful, maybe? Whatever regime controls Beijing, the US is afraid of Chinese power - friendly or not, there can be only one superpower, if the US had it's way.

There's some good stuff in the speech too - Zoellick tries to fight the image of a new Cold War with China. This would be a bit more convincing if the US wasn't in fact replaying "containment" around China's borders, but it's nice to hear all the same. However, the majority of the speech is heavy-handed, crude, and likely to strain US-China relations even further.

Another 9% year for China: IMF

WASHINGTON, Sept 21 (Reuters) - The International Monetary Fund on Wednesday raised its 2005 growth forecast for China, the world's fastest-growing economy, and advised Beijing it may need to tighten monetary policy if investment growth rebounds.

In its twice-yearly snapshot of the world's economies, the IMF said Chinese growth was now poised to hit 9 percent this year, up from 8.5 percent predicted in April.

In 2006, the fund expects China's economy to grow 8.2 percent, again up from the IMF's April outlook of 8 percent.

"The expansion in China has continued to exceed expectations," the IMF said in its updated World Economic Outlook report.
The crazy thing is that China is trying to tamp down growth for fear of the economy overheating. Still, they're growing at 9%. For the less-mathematically inclined among you, at 7% growth something doubles every ten years. And China is growing faster than that, with India growing about that fast (7%).

Meanwhile, it looks like Koizumi is going ahead with his plan to privatize Japan's post-office bank, which in theory should allow trillions of savings dollars to flow in to the market. With luck, Japan's recovery (driven largely by that same Chinese growth) will accelerate.

Of course, the downside of all this growth going on is the big oil question. And on that note, a piece from a few weeks back:
Work on a $6bn gas pipeline linking Iran, Pakistan and India will begin in the middle of 2007, officials say.

Petroleum ministry officials from India and Pakistan made the announcement after a meeting of a joint working group in Islamabad.

The United States has expressed reservations over the purchase of natural gas from Iran, a country it accuses of supporting terrorism.

India and Pakistan have both rejected the concerns.
The financial burden of developing nuclear weapons just got a bit easier for Iran, didn't it? And from today:
VIENNA (Reuters) - Russia and China warned the United States and European Union on Wednesday against escalating the nuclear standoff with Iran, potentially blocking a Western drive to haul Tehran before the U.N. Security Council.

The European Union has circulated a U.S.-backed draft resolution calling on the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) governing board to report Iran's secretive nuclear programme to the Security Council, which could impose sanctions.

Western countries suspect Tehran is developing atomic weapons under cover of a civilian nuclear energy programme. Iran insists its programme is peaceful and intended to meet its energy requirements.

Both Russia and China, which as permanent, veto-wielding members of the Council could block any action, warned the West against antagonizing Iran.

"While Iran is cooperating with the IAEA, while it is not enriching uranium and observing a moratorium, while IAEA inspectors are working in the country, it would be counter-productive to report this question to the U.N. Security Council," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.
Now, I don't think that energy prices are the only reason Russia and China are doing this - Russia is an energy exporter, after all. It's not like the Chinese need another reason to back Iran, but if they did their need for oil would be enough.

All this is convincing me more and more that this is going to be a really bad winter. As heating oil and natural gas prices head up with little relief, this winter is going to see a lot of people - who are already hurting financially for any number of reasons - driven in to poverty. In Canada there's an obvious need to make sure people can heat their homes during the winter.

And in case you think I'm over-stating things, Hurrican Rita is heading for the Texan oil patch, and is being upgraded to a Category 5.

Okay, Sometimes Symbolic Monarchies Are Sweet

OTTAWA — The Canadian Forces have paid tribute to their outgoing commander-in-chief, hailing Gov. Gen. Adrienne Clarkson for helping to lead the military out of "a long decade of darkness.''

In a ceremony on Parliament Hill, Gen. Rick Hillier said Clarkson -- who leaves office next week -- helped restore the confidence of the military.

Hillier, chief of the defence staff, also thanked Clarkson for helping to forge a new bond between Canadians and their soldiers, sailors and air crew.

Sgt. Lorne Ford, who was wounded in a friendly fire incident in Afghanistan three years ago, and Claire Leger, a Silver Cross Mother who lost her son in the same incident, also paid tribute.

Clarkson, her voice breaking, said she regarded the military as family and will always remember the times she shared with Canadian troops, rangers and veterans.

Franz Ferdinand

Gwynne Dyer has an excellent article in The Walrus magazine this month about the US's ambitions to use India as an Asian bulwark against China. It's not online, but I would definitely reccomend that you pick up a copy when you can. The article is relatively short, so if you know a library that carries it, check it out there.

However, I was struck by Dyer's comparison between the US and Japan using India against China on the one hand, and the UK and France using Russia against Germany on the other. The Indians seem to believe that their relationship with the Americans can be negotiated according to India's needs, not the eccentricities of the US Senate. I'm not optimistic. India could easily find itself dragged in to a war with China over Taiwan, much as Germany was "dragged" (according to some historians) in to a war with the Entente powers over a dispute between Austria and Russia.

(And now I hope that my post title will accidentally attract readers looking for the band.)

The two real questions in my mind as to the future of asia are 1) How long does the Communist party last, and what effect does that have on Sino-US relations, and 2) Am I (and Dyer, for that matter) wrong - can India in fact have it's cake and eat it too? History's not optimistic on that second count, but it is only history, right?

The first question is more interesting, to my mind. Some liberal PoliSci theorists argue that war between democracies is impossible. While I'm sympathetic, I'm not optimistic. A newly-democratic China could if anything be more impatient with what it might see as foreign interference in Taiwan, or Japanese insults about the history of the Pacific War, or Indian obstinacy over border disputes. If you think a democratic China would get along better with Japan, remember that it was the Communists who suppressed anti-Japanese protests earlier this year.

It's not at all difficult to imagine, in my mind anyway, a young democracy in Beijing, full of nationalist fervor, demanding the reunification of China (i.e. subordinating Taiwan within the new government.) Unless Japan and the US decided this was an internal matter for the new democracy (which I think is unlikely) this could easily lead to war. Even if Japan didn't directly attack China or Chinese forces, if it was perceived to be "aiding" or "sympathetic" to the Taiwanese (which it probably would in fact be) this could widen the war.

There's a third question, come to think about it: Whither Europe? I think we naturally assume that in a major war, Europe would be on the side of the USA, but Russia and China both have impressive leverage on Brussels, Berlin and Paris. At the very least, it's possible that they could convince the Europeans to sit out a major fight in the east - and it's questionable what Europe could do to help, anyway. The Russians, I think, would almost certainly be in Beijing's camp. There's the natural (to Moscow's mind, anyway) Chechnya/Taiwan analogy, and of course Moscow and Beijing share a strategic vision of trying to roll back US power.

But back to Dyer: One of the other neat tidbits from the article is simply the number of countries the US has enlisted in it's encirclement of China. Except for Russia, the US has essentially every one of China's major neighbours in Southeast Asia as an ally or partner. While Dyer rightly notes that this is meaningless with modern military technology, it's still a non-trivial psychological game to play. If the Chinese leadership (Communist or post-Communist) feel they're surrounded and for whatever reason they don't believe they can secure China's interests through peaceful means (like Germany was convinced in 1914, and Japan in 1941) then the world is in serious danger.

So why does the US (and India, for that matter) want to play this game? Nobody wins, right?

I Feel Old

Young Co-worker: I miss the pop culture of the 1990s.

Me: (Incredulously) What coud you possibly miss about the 1990s?

YCW: You know, the bad songs, the crappy dances. It was great!

Me: You don't miss the 90s, you miss high school.

YCW: That's impossible. I only started high school in 2000.

Me: I think my hip just broke. And get off my lawn!

Update: Mike sez in comments "I hope I die soon, I don't want to see Bell Bottoms come in to fashion for a third time."

See, I hoped to die before I heard the words "The New Kids on the Block are brilliant." Unfortunately, that happened in the above conversation as well.

I expect frogs falling from the sky any minute now.

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

For Centuries, Man Has Longed To Destroy His Nuts

So, with the war on terror decisively won and Osama bin Laden behind bars, the FBI has turned to it's next targets - pornographers. Fortunately, the FBI actually seems to realize how useless this is:
The new squad will divert eight agents, a supervisor and assorted support staff to gather evidence against "manufacturers and purveyors" of pornography -- not the kind exploiting children, but the kind that depicts, and is marketed to, consenting adults.

"I guess this means we've won the war on terror," said one exasperated FBI agent, speaking on the condition of anonymity because poking fun at headquarters is not regarded as career-enhancing. "We must not need any more resources for espionage."

Among friends and trusted colleagues, an experienced national security analyst said, "it's a running joke for us."

A few of the printable samples:

"Things I Don't Want On My Résumé, Volume Four."

"I already gave at home."

"Honestly, most of the guys would have to recuse themselves."
Hey, none of that - I'm sure the women would have to recuse themselves too. I mean, if we're going after what one, two, or many adults do or read about in the privacy of their own homes, we're casting a pretty wide net.

I wonder what Clarence Thomas' vote will be at the inevitable Supreme Court trial?

Isn't there some Bizarro world I can hide in until 2009?

Sweet Monkey Jesus

$150 for 8GB of flash memory?

Suddenly my 512MB seems woefully inadequate. And it's not even orange...

(via BoingBoing.)

A thought, though: if this thing is really 8GB, that makes it just about big enough to hold an un-encrypted, uncompressed DVD.

I think the MPAA just got another nightmare...

Simon Wiesenthal is Dead

Story Here.

Wikipedia Bio here.

All I can say really is that the world is a lesser place without him.

Also, go read what Mike at Rational Reasons has to say.

Quasars of Stupidity

Wow. I figured that Bush only gave in to North Korea grudgingly, but even I didn't think "the world's lone superpower" was run by someone so stupid:
The North Koreans, dependent on China for food and oil, were unhappy but ready to sign. "They said, 'Here's the text, and we're not going to change it, and we suggest you don't walk away,' " said one senior American official at the center of the debate.

Several officials, who would not allow their names to be used because they did not want to publicly discuss Mr. Bush's political challenges, noted that Mr. Bush is tied down in Iraq, consumed by Hurricane Katrina, and headed into another standoff over Iran's nuclear program. The agreement, they said, provides him with a way to forestall, at least for now, a confrontation with another member of what he once famously termed "the axis of evil."

So after two days of debates that reached from Mr. Bush's cabin in Camp David to Condoleezza Rice's suite at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York to Tokyo, Moscow and Seoul, Mr. Bush gave the go-ahead on Sunday evening, once he had returned to the White House, to signing a preliminary accord with Kim Jong Il, a leader he has said he detests.

Had he decided to let the deal fall through, participants in the talks from several countries said, China was prepared to blame the United States for missing a chance to bring a diplomatic end to the confrontation....

As this unfolded over the weekend, the Chinese increased pressure on the United States to sign - or take responsibility for a breakdown in the talks.

"At one point they told us that we were totally isolated on this and that they would go to the press," and explain that the United States sank the accord, the senior administration official said.
I knew that the Chinese were doing the heavy lifting in the 6-party talks, but this really impresses me. Pushing for US concessions as New Orleans is in ruins might seem cold-hearted to some. Indeed, I have no doubt that some conservatarian will say that the Chinese stepped over American bodies to get this deal. That kind of idiocy is inevitable.

Still, this shows a) the Chinese have a very good understanding of American (and more broadly, western) politics, and b) that once again, China is a more responsible world power than the US.

Sound overly fond of the Chinese? I'm not, but that Bush had to be forced to accept this agreement is insane. Here's the thing: This is a good deal for the US. Even North Korea's... rhetorical excesses? shouldn't be allowed to get in the way of resuming the dialogue with Pyongyang. There shouldn't even be a debate here - a war with North Korea would almost instantly kill tens of thousands of Koreans (and probably several thousand Americans in the first few days.) Avoiding war on the Korean peninsula is a no-brainer. That said, apparently even a no-brainer is too complex for Bush and company.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Well, You Got MY Attention

HONG KONG - Over the past 16 years, the Chinese leadership has tried its best to dodge democratic reform while looking for alternative measures to stamp out rampant corruption and increase government efficiency. However, it seems to have recently come to the conclusion that there is just no way other than democratic reform.

Chinese President Hu Jintao has indicated that China will institute a program of democratic reforms, and Premier Wen Jiabao has given more detail, pledging to introduce direct elections at the township level "within a couple of years".

Hu and Wen chose to make their announcements during international events shorthly before Hu's trip last week to the United Nations summit meeting in New York. This could be a sign that both are eager to project a reformist image to the international community as part of efforts to defuse the theory of a "China threat" from what is still officially a communist government.

"China will press for democratic progress, unswervingly reestablish democracy, including direct elections," the premier, who favors mild reform, told a news conference prior to the 8th EU-China summit on September 5. "If we Chinese people can manage a village, I believe they can manage a town in several years. This system [of direct voting] will be realized step by step."
The article goes on to explain why the Party is even considering this - rampant corruption at the village and township level. Because the party seems unable to clean it's own house, they're hoping the Chinese people can play a role. Excellent news.

Of course, China's problems on the horizon go so far beyond corruption that this is only the beginning. Take, for example, the state of China's state-owned enteprises (SOEs). China has far more unserviceable debt than even Japan, because of the Party's need to finance the SOEs, which still account for about 50% of employment, albeit only 25% of GDP. The only way China is going to solve this problem is to de-politicize the banks. Partly, this will be accomplished by the entry of western lending institutions as part of China's WTO membership. This doesn't solve the fundamental problem, however - the Party needs to stop writing blank checks for the SOEs. The only way this is going to happen is with democratic reforms. This will mean elections at the national, not just the local level.

There's another reason the Party might want to consider national elections, and it has to do with the history of the Soviet Union. One of the reasons the USSR fell apart the way it did was because Gorbachev allowed elections in the sub-national republics of the USSR - this is where Yeltsin was elected by the Russians, originally. Of course, this gave the regional governments more legitimacy (in the eyes of their people) than the Supreme Soviet. After the coup attempt in August 1991, the USSR effectively broke in to the democratically-constituted republics. Or rather, they were "elected", though perhaps calling them democratic is a stretch. Certainly, places like Turkmenistan aren't exactly bastions of freedom...

Back to China: The primary concern of the Party is still - and always has been - national unity. It's said that Deng Xiaopeng was rehabilitated by Mao because of Mao's concern that his death would bring back the era of warlordism that existed before the Communist takeover. Deng was one of the only people who Mao trusted to run the country after his death. But by allowing local elections throughout the country while holding national power firmly in it's hands, we can see a similar dynamic to the terminal phase of the USSR - local officials with more credibility than national leaders. After all, who's going to have more clout - the elected mayor of Shanghai (or Shenzhen, or Beijing, or Guangzhou) or the President of China?

The party might keep control for a while, but if it goes forward with this plan for local elections, national unity will require them to hold national elections not long after.

Well That Was Quick

Now that's funny. I was just doing a Google News search so that I could cite an article about the "good news" from North Korea, and instead I find this.
SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea will not give up its nuclear weapons until the United States provides civilian atomic reactors, Pyongyang said on Tuesday in a statement that significantly undermined a deal reached just a day earlier.

Six countries, including the North and the United States, had agreed on Monday to a set of principles on dismantling the Pyongyang's nuclear programmes in return for aid and recognising its right to a civilian nuclear programme.

Sceptics had said the deal was long on words, vague on timing and sequencing and short on action: the North's comments made clear just how short.
At 2:50 PM EST Kevin Drum asked
Are conservative bloggers avoiding the story because they don't want to admit that Bush caved in on issues he said he would never cave in on? Are liberal bloggers avoiding it because, after all, it will be a considerable success for the Bush administration if it pans out?

Where's the chatter?
By my count, that question was asked about five hours before this news was posted on Reuters. In answer to Kevin's question: Well, I was at school. But I was also waiting for the other shoe to drop.

There's a wider point here (as usual.) The US is kind of screwed. In any region you point to - Iran, North Korea, South America, Africa, China, etc etc - the US increasingly has few to no options. Iran is the best example of this: the US is soooo screwed. Iran has it's own supplies of Uranium, and indigenous technical expertise (with likely help from outsiders as well.) The only thing they might lack is money, but the US can't realistically mount an embargo of an OPEC member while oil is at $65 a barrel. Even if they could, there would be so much cheating (oil for food, anyone?) that the effect would be minimal. In any case, India and China aren't going to stop consuming oil or natural gas just because the US asks not-so-nicely.

Nor can the US attack Iran. The attack itself is liable to be pointless, as Iran's facilities are widely believed to be well-dispersed and even underground. Meanwhile, the Iranians have the ability to make a really bad idea in Iraq. Iraq's Shia population might not welcome the Iranians - except in contrast to the Americans.

And it's worth remembering that Iran (probably) doesn't even have nuclear weapons yet. Zoom over to North Korea, which (probably) does, and the options go from a few bad ones to zero. You negotiate, period. And if you're serious about avoiding a nuclear exchange in North Asia, then you start giving the North what they want. Given that Bush has already started by affirming that the US has no intent to attack (not the same as a non-aggression pact) the rest should be chump change.

It's also worth noting that the country doing the heavy lifting is China. If things don't go to hell in Asia, it's going to be because of Chinese level-headedness. It'd be nice if Donald Rumsfeld would remember that next time he starts trembling at the thought of a Chinese blue-water navy.




So I caught two of the fall's new shows tonight - Kitchen Confidential and How I Met Your Mother. My entire reason for deigning to watch these two shows was the presence of two Buffy alumni - Nicholas Brendan on KC and Alyson Hannigan (also known as "one time at band camp...") on How...

Brief reviews - KC would work better as an hour-long show, I think. And How is really kind of bad. This pains me, as I'll usually pay to see Alyson Hannigan in anything. Sadly, it's supposed to be funny. Instead, the jokes are lame - and where they're not, they're actually in bad taste.

Of course, I had just finished watching a number of episodes of Scrubs, which definitely skews the results. I'll give How... one more try next week. KC, on the other hand, is actually not bad.

Okay, back to our regularly scheduled blogging.

Some Times Words Are Worth A Thousand Words, Too

via Billmon, this really says it all:
Forty-five percent said Americans should make "major sacrifices" to pay for the effort, but only 20 percent said they would be willing to make those sacrifices themselves.

What an age we live in...

So I'm looking for a copy of Sir Julian Corbett's "Some Principles of Maritime Strategy" (aren't we all?) First place I check: Carleton University's library. No dice. While they have several titles by Corbett, they don't have his most famous work. This is kind of like having every book by Plato except the Republic, I guess.

So next step: Check Ottawa's Public Library system. Success! They have a copy! Except that they only have one, and it's in North Gloucester. Besides, I can't find my library card at the moment.

Attempt #3: Check the website for Indigo-Chapters. No luck - I can order it, but only for $50+. Seeing as I'm reading this for pleasure, not school, that is too steep for my money.

Aha! Following the link from wikipedia, I find that "Principles" is availble at the Gutenberg Project for free! FREE!! AHAHAHAHA!!! 30 seconds later, it's all mine! (And 25 seconds of that was me digging around in my bag for my flash drive.)

Me likee the technology.

Sunday, September 18, 2005

Saturday, September 17, 2005

The Progress of Materials Science

What an age we live in:
ARGONNE, Ill. (August 30, 2005) – Researchers at the U.S. Department of Energy's Argonne National Laboratory have combined the world's hardest known material – diamond – with the world's strongest structural form – carbon nanotubes. This new process for “growing” diamond and carbon nanotubes together opens the way for its use in a number of energy-related applications.

The technique is the first successful synthesis of a diamond-nanotube nanocomposite, which means for the first time this specialized material has been produced at the nanometer size – one-millionth of a millimeter, or thousands of times smaller than the period at the end of this sentence.

The result established for the first time a process for making these materials a reality, setting the stage for several fundamental advances in the field of nanostructured carbon materials.

The resulting material has potential for use in low-friction, wear-resistant coatings, catalyst supports for fuel cells, high-voltage electronics, low-power, high-bandwidth radio frequency microelectromechanical/nanoelectromechanical systems (MEMS/NEMS), thermionic energy generation, low-energy consumption flat panel displays and hydrogen storage.
Meanwhile, the idea of a space elevator is becoming much more likely:
Scientists have created the ultimate ribbon. A thousand times thinner than a human hair and a few centimetres wide, the carbon sheet is stronger than steel for its weight, and could open the door to everything from artificial muscles to a space elevator capable of sending astronauts and tourists into orbit.

The team of nanotechnology experts from the University of Texas at Dallas and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation in Australia have developed a way to assemble a form of carbon called "nanotubes" into flat sheets.

The cylindrical version of carbon, which combines lightweight flexibility and incredible strength with the ability to conduct both heat and electricity, has had engineers salivating since it was discovered in 1991.

The new research, published today in the journal Science, addresses one of the biggest problems with these remarkable molecules - how to turn them into large-scale materials. Ray Baughman, who led the Texan team, said the breakthrough was "elegantly simple".[John: aren't they always "elegantly simple"? I love scientists.]

Using sticky paper similar to a Post-it Note, the scientists teased out long sheets of the material from clumps of carbon fibres prepared in their laboratory. The sheets were initially full of holes but could easily be squeezed into dense ribbons capable of supporting drops of water and orange juice some 50,000 times their weight.

The scientists are now working with the US government and various companies to find uses for their technique. The first could be in sandwiching the thin carbon layers between plastic sheets, for example to make heated car windows or transparent radio antennae.

The research could also revive interest in the science fiction concept of a space elevator, as nanotube ribbons are the only material strong enough to make a track that would stretch thousands of miles from the Earth's surface along which electrical cars could speed into space.

"I believe that our carbon nanotube sheet does substantially improve the possibility," Professor Baughman said. "It does not enable a space elevator to be constructed, but we're getting there."
First off, interest in space elevators never, ever has to be "revived". The nerd fanboy demographic is basically always on high alert.

Also, there's another project that this could make plausible that's a bit more down to Earth. (Pun intended.) It's "only" 40 miles across the Bering Strait from Alaska to Asia. Surely if we can build suspension bridges out of carbon nanotubes, we could bridge this distance? (My understanding is that with current technology, the bridge is possible but would be ruinously expensive.) A high-speed train line from Asia to America could remove some of the need for air and sea travel powered by oil. Of course, if you can make maglev trains run through evacuated tunnels at Mach 3, the words "high speed train" suddenly have a very different meaning.


Except that it's not:
The failure of last week's United Nations summit to deliver an agreement designed to prevent terrorists acquiring 'weapons of mass destruction' was sabotaged by the US, senior diplomats have told The Observer.

Officials involved in the negotiations have confirmed that the Bush administration's refusal to countenance any form of disarmament blocked attempts to push measures that would prevent regimes seeking to develop a nuclear capability.

It contradicts reports last week that the US had in fact been furious that plans to crack down on nuclear proliferation were stripped out of the final UN document.

However, diplomats speaking on condition of anonymity have revealed it was in fact President Bush who scuppered what the UN believed was a crucial move in helping make the world safer from the risk of terrorists obtaining a nuclear threat.

Sources reveal that the move has heightened further tensions between the Americans and furious UN officials who believe the issue remains the greatest threat to world peace. Kofi Annan, secretary-general of the UN, told world leaders that the decision to drop all references in the final UN text to disarmament was 'inexcusable', saying that 'weapons of mass destruction pose a grave danger to us all'.

Later, President Bush urged leaders to tackle regimes that 'pursue weapons of mass murder'.
So the US refused to give up any of it's weapons, while demanding that other countries abandon any hopes of developing a deterrent forever. See, when brown or French people want nukes, they're "weapons of mass murder". The US and UK only have weapons of mass liberation, apparently.

I mean, I know they're big in to Jesus but I don't think the Son would want people at his Father's table to glow.