Monday, October 31, 2005

The Continuing Story of Sony Sucking

A few years back, Vicki sent me a package on my birthday. I was a good boy (at least, as I recall) and waited to open them. When the time finally came, I unwrapped the box to find a copy of... Rush Limbaugh's book. For a moment I thought Vicki had become severely retarded. Then I actually opened the book to see that Vicki had hollowed the inside of the book, leaving just enough room for a Sony MD player.

For a while, things were wonderful - the MD player worked more-or-less like a more conventional MP3 player, albeit with removable disks. (Depending on who you ask, this is either a bug or a feature.) Then came the day when I accidentally broke a small piece on the door of the player, making it impossible to close the player properly.

A digression: My first real job was at a musical instruments store in Toronto - Long & McQuade, for those who know it. I worked in the repair shop for several years. I didn't do much actual repairs, however. I saw my job as mainly trying to keep the skilled labour on the right side of sanity by handling the incredibly arcane paperwork. So when I say the following, I'm not speaking from a position of total ignorance. Anyway, back to the story.

I knew I didn't really want to bring my player in to be repaired by Sony. If we could ever avoid it, we tried not to send stuff away to be repaired at Sony's shop simply because a) it took forever, and b) it cost twice as much as it should have. But, I was relatively new to Ottawa and didn't know where else I could go. So I bring in my player, and it takes three weeks. I should point out that while the necessary part was crucial to keeping the door closed, it was not terrible complex - it was a simple metal hook that had been bent off.

The repair bill was $120.00. This despite the fact that I had specifically asked to be called if it was going to cost more than $80. I wouldn't have asked for that to be done, because it usually just adds to the technician's problems, but the clerk offered. In any case, it never occurred to me that the repair would ever cost that much - not for a $5 dollar part and a half-hour's worth of labor. It especially didn't occur to me that after being told I would be called if the job would cost more than $80, I would be told I had to pay 50% more than that or I wouldn't get my machine back.

So from that point on, I basically decided never to spend money on a Sony product if I could at all avoid it. Some of this is more-or-less unavoidable - I think Sony gets a nickel or something off of every DVD sold. But if I ever own a Playstation, it'll be a used one. And I never, ever intend to buy another Sony music player again. (The player finally crapped out on me this summer, and I have no intention of getting it repaired again.)

I write all this for a very simple reason - it looks that Sony is putting horrible restrictions on some of its CDs, despite the wishes of their musicians, just to piss off Apple. (via Atrios.) This has nothing to do with protecting copyright, or making sure we fatten musicians or whatever. Rather, the rights of consumers are being sacrificed on the altar of some petty inter-corporate squabble over the openness of iTunes. I'm not at all surprised that Sony is acting like this. Nothing in the corporation's history suggests that it has any idea how to treat its customers properly. Instead it looks like the last piece of disruptive technology that Sony actually approved of was the Betamax. These days, Sony is just another lazy incumbent, doing it's best to strangle competition in the crib.

All I can say is thank God for Samsung.


Some heathens among you probably think it's Halloween. Pagans! The godly among you surely realize that it is in fact Reformation Day, the anniversary of Martin Luther nailing his 95 Theses to the church door in Wittenburg, Germany, thus thwarting his editor's demands that he drop theses 46, 72, 87, and 91-95.

Oh, and apparently, it had some other effects, too.

I'm beginning to wonder what we ever did without Wikipedia.


via Angelica, via whole mess of people, this story has me very confused.
Three weeks after a South Korean freighter carrying more than 2,000 tonnes of benzene capsized off Taoyuan County, the government on Thursday tried to demolish the ship with bombs and missiles.

Although two separate bombing runs failed to sink the ship, the Ministry of National Defense declared the mission a success.

Admitting that it was "embarassing" that the initial effort by two F-16s to bomb and sink the ship failed, Minister of National Defense Lee Jye yesterday said the ministry would engage in introspection about the mission.
So they attack it with F-16s, and fail. Then they attack it with helicopters, and that seems to have worked better, although not completely.

There are two possibilities. One is that the Liberians are secretly making cargo vessels capable of withstanding attacks from some of the most advanced weaponry available. The second possibility is that the Taiwanese Air Force desperately needs more training.

Some guys are chuckling in a smoke-filled room in Beijing.


(I'm using that title mainly because I like to use the word whenever I can.)

So Bush has named a new nominee to replace Hariet "Bush is da Coolest" Miers. There were two schools of thought after Miers withdrew. One, which we'll call the David Brooks school, thought that Miers was torpedoed by moderate GOP leaders because of the small matter of total incompetence. The second school of thought, which we'll call the Everyone Who Was Actually Paying Attention School, saw that it was Bush's conservative base that abandoned him, forcing Miers to withdraw.

Is this simply an academic debate? No. Definite consequences flow from these two hypotheses. If you believe the syndicated New York Times columnist David Brooks, the chain of logic binds like this:

Observation: Miers is withdrawn.
Hypothesis: This is due to staggering incompetence.
Conclusion: Bush will nominate a competent moderate to replace her.

Meanwhile, the EWWAPAS goes like this:
Observation: Miers is withdrawn.
Hypothesis: This is because of Bush's weakness with his base.
Conclusion: Bush will solidify his base by naming the worst kind of conservative.

Given these two competing hypotheses, we then have to wait and observe, so that we can determine which hypothesis best fits the observed facts. Doing so reveals that Bush is nominating... the worst kind of conservative:
...In his dissenting opinion in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, Alito concurred with the majority in supporting the restrictive abortion-related measures passed by the Pennsylvania legislature in the late 1980’s. Alito went further, however, saying the majority was wrong to strike down a requirement that women notify their spouses before having an abortion...

In Doe v. Groody, Alito agued that police officers had not violated constitutional rights when they strip searched a mother and her ten-year-old daughter while carrying out a search warrant that authorized only the search of a man and his home...
It gets worse. Read the rest of the ThinkProgress piece to get a feel for this guy.

Ezra Klein is already calling this Gotterdamerung, and I can't say I blame him. It would have been hard for Bush to nominate a more extreme judge, short of adding some hoods and bleaching the Supreme Court's robes to a nice crisp white.

But, if there's one good thing to come out of all this, it's scientific proof that David Brooks wouldn't know his ass from a hole in the ground.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Things Keep Getting Better...

Except when they don't. Japan's governing LDP have release their proposed ammendments to the Constitution. Let's just say it doesn't look like they're too concerned about how this will play in Seoul or Beijing:
TOKYO — The ruling Liberal Democratic Party on Friday finalized its draft of a new Constitution, featuring possession of military forces for self-defense, in a move to amend Japan's fundamental law for the first time since its introduction after World War II.

The move is expected to help spur the political debate on revising the Constitution that was promulgated in 1947 as the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan has already been prompted to prepare its own set of proposals for preliminary release next Monday....
The draft, meanwhile, maintains that the emperor is the symbol of the state and leaves intact the first paragraph of Article 9 that says "the Japanese people forever renounce war as a sovereign right of the nation and the threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes."
Good, right? Well, not quite:
As for freedom of religion, the draft relaxes the ban on the state to engage in religious education or any other religious activity to be relevant only when the activity goes beyond the scope of socially accepted protocol or manners, apparently defining Koizumi's visits to the war-related Yasukuni Shrine as constitutional.
So the proposals maintain the fig leaf of pacifism, but definitely put Japan back on the road to military power. Furthermore, future Japanese PMs won't be pestered by that nasty separation of church and state, which Koizumi has ignored anyway.

Given that Article 9 was largely being ignored anyway, you might argue that nothing much has changed. I disagree. What we're seeing is a legal enshrinement (pun not intended) of Koizumi's more pugnacious form of Japanese nationalism. I haven't read a translation of the ammendment yet, but I'll try and find one. All in all, I imagine we'll see a response from the mainland in not too long.

The Tories: Never Afraid To Follow

For most political parties, if you wanted to show that you were ready to lead the country, you might try your hand at... leading the country. Fortunately for us, the Tories have developed a much simpler plan - and one I'm sure will yield far more substantial results:
Whether the Conservatives will try to take down the minority government after Justice John Gomery's releases his long-awaited report on the sponsorship scandal will depend on the "public response," warned Deputy Conservative Leader Peter MacKay.
Shorter Peter MacKay: If you're for it, so are we!

Alternate Shorter Peter MacKay: What do you think we should do?

No Eloi Need Apply

Don't you miss the Cold War?
WELCOME to Cold War City (population: 4). It covers 240 acres and has 60 miles of roads and its own railway station. It even includes a pub called the Rose and Crown.

The most underpopulated town in Britain is being put on the market. But there will be no estate agent’s blurb extolling the marvellous views of the town for sale: true, it has a Wiltshire address, but it is 120ft underground.

The subterranean complex that was built in the 1950s to house the Conservative prime minister Harold Macmillan’s cabinet and 4,000 civil servants in the event of a Soviet nuclear attack is being thrown open to commercial use. Just four maintenance men are left.
An entire underground city. And of course, being British, it has a pub.

Of course, the mutants will need a pint of bitter.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Matthew Yglesias Says I Was Right

At TAPPED, he puts it better than I could have:
One thing that's now clear is that everyone who claimed, asserted, or assumed that Judith Miller went to jail to protect journalists' right to preserve the anonymity of their sources was mistaken. Miller herself was lying. ...If Miller hadn't been subpoenaed, her source would have been revealed. If the Supreme Court had ruled in her favor, her source would have been revealed. If Miller had refused to testify, her source would have been revealed.

The anonymity of sources, in short, had nothing to do with it.

Miller was, in fact, protecting Libby. But she was protecting him from a perjury charge, not protecting his anonymity. I'm not familiar with any construal of journalistic evidence wherein a reporter has an obligation to help a source who's already identified himself as a source cover up criminal conduct. The entire back-and-forth about whether or not Libby's waivers were or were not uncoerced was a red herring. Insofar as Libby didn't want Miller to testify, that was because he wanted her to cover for his perjury. He had long ago identified himself.
As I've previously mentioned, my father is a journalist. So you can imagine that we had some disagreements on the whole journalists-in-prison issue. Especially after my somewhat strident remarks regarding Miller earlier this year.

In any case, I now get to my father and have a nice long Nyahhh at his expense.

Miller is lucky she's not facing an indictment of her own today. And if they're smart, the journalists of the New York Times will move quickly to disown her - or rather, they'll do so faster than they already are. She's shown that she has no interest in discovering the truth, which is, you know, a rather important aspect of her profession. She participated in a conspiracy to obstruct justice - in the ethical and moral sense, if not a legal one.

It's times like this that I almost wish journalism were a guilded profession, like medicine. If it were, it would be possible to simply discipline her and revoke her license. But freedom of the press is too valuable, even at the risk of letting slime like Miller run loose.

Things To Remember

Constitution of the United States, Article 2, Section 2, Clause 1:
The President shall be Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the Militia of the several States, when called into the actual Service of the United States; he may require the Opinion, in writing, of the principal Officer in each of the executive Departments, upon any Subject relating to the Duties of their respective Offices, and he shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.
Don't think it won't happen. Especially if the White House gets word that Libby's about to turn on them.

And if that doesn't work, Nixon Bush retains the power to fire Fitzgerald.

But now I'm just upsetting myself. So let's all imagine for a moment that this will end the way we all hope it will. With the US Congress invoking another part of Article 2 - Section 4:
The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.

Indictments Make Me Happy

WASHINGTON (AP) - The vice president's chief of staff, I. Lewis ``Scooter`` Libby Jr., was indicted Friday on charges of obstruction of justice, perjury and making false statements in the CIA leak investigation, a politically charged case that will throw a spotlight on President Bush's push to war.

Libby, 55, resigned and left the White House.

Karl Rove, Bush's closest adviser, escaped indictment Friday but remained under investigation, his legal status casting a dark cloud over a White House already in trouble. The U.S. military death toll in Iraq exceeded 2,000 this week, and the president's approval ratings are at the lowest point since he took office in 2001.

Friday's charges stemmed from a two-year investigation by special counsel Patrick Fitzgerald into whether Rove, Libby or any other administration officials knowingly revealed the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame or lied about their involvement to investigators.

The grand jury indictment charged Libby with one count of obstruction of justice, two of perjury and two false statement counts. If convicted on all five, he could face as much as 30 years in prison and $1.25 million in fines.
This is the first time in 130 years that a sitting White House official has been indicted for a criminal offense. All five charges are felonies. And, judging from Fitzgerald's presentation and the reaction to it, Libby is guilty as sin. Still, Billmon is disappointed - and I've got to say, so am I. It might be irrational, but I'd really hoped that we'd see Rove or - dare to dream! - Cheney fingered in the case. Fitzgerald pregnantly says the investigation is ongoing...

Furthermore, as Josh Marshall points out, Libby wasn't "just" the Chief of Staff to the Vice President of the United States of America. (As if that weren't bad enough.) He was also an advisor to that other member of the executive, the President of the United States. This rot goes straight to the top, people.

With luck, Billmon's disappointment will be turned in to joy when Libby flips on Rove or his boss, Cheney. Please Allah, let it be so!

Setting The Right Course, As Always

Holy hell!
LOS ANGELES - George Takei, who as helmsman Sulu steered the Starship Enterprise through three television seasons and six movies, has come out as a homosexual in the current issue of Frontiers, a biweekly Los Angeles magazine covering the gay and lesbian community.

Takei told The Associated Press on Thursday that his new onstage role as psychologist Martin Dysart in "Equus," helped inspire him to publicly discuss his sexuality. He described the character as a "very contained but turbulently frustrated man." The play opened Wednesday at the David Henry Hwang Theater in Los Angeles, the same day that Frontiers magazine featured a story on Takei's coming out....

"The world has changed from when I was a young teen feeling ashamed for being gay," he said. "The issue of gay marriage is now a political issue. That would have been unthinkable when I was young."

The 68-year-old actor said he considers himself as "having been out for quite some time." Takei and his partner, Brad Altman, have been together for 18 years.

Takei, a Japanese-American who lived in a U.S. internment camp from age 4 to 8, said he grew up feeling shameful about his ethnicity and sexuality. He likened prejudice against gays to racial segregation.

"It's against basic decency and what American values stand for," he said.
Wow. Way to go, George Takei!

Of course, this is going to give slash fiction a whole new angle...

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Peaking My Interest

Some new reports are coming out about oil production that are, frankly, really bad news. Via Past Peak, two stories. First:
Quite remarkably, in the first half of 2005 the top five, the top ten and the top 22 publicly quoted oil companies all produced less crude and NGLs than they did in 2004 and only slightly more than they did in 2003 and 2002. Given the global increase in production and demand over the last three years it is clear that, in aggregate, the largest private oil companies are losing marketshare. For ten of the top 22 companies, and for four out of the five largest private companies, the first half of 2005 saw lower crude and NGLs production than in 2004. Ten companies also produced less in first half 2005 than they did in 2003, while nine companies produced less than in 2002.
It's hard to believe that, with oil prices where they are, the major producers wouldn't be pulling out all the stops to make as much oil as they can. So the idea that oil production for 2005 is actually declining relative to 2004 is crazy. But that's what the data says. While I've believed for a while that we faced the terrifying prospect of a near-term Peak in oil production, I really, really hope that it isn't already behind us. I honestly don't know what we'd do. (The above quote is from a report you can read here. Warning - PDF.)

The second terrifying story is also via Past Peak, from the NYT.
WASHINGTON, Oct. 26 - Last spring, the White House publicly embraced plans by Saudi Arabia to increase its oil production capacity significantly. But privately, some officials and others advising the government are skeptical about some of those Saudi forecasts.

The United States relies on a few producers to maintain enough spare capacity to keep prices and markets stable, even during war or disaster. As oil prices have climbed over the last few years amid surging demand and tight supplies, the Bush administration has looked to the Persian Gulf countries, particularly Saudi Arabia, to pump extra oil.

But doubts about Saudi Arabia's assurances of how much it can expand capacity - and for how long - have been raised in a secret intelligence report and in a separate analysis by a leading government oil adviser, according to a federal government official and the oil expert.
So now not only is the major production slowing, but there's serious doubts - even in government circles - about how long the Saudis can keep producing at the rates they're going.

Oh hell. While I'm at it, let's talk depletion rates.
The world has now reached the point where the volumes lost to depletion are much larger than the levels of likely new demand. This means total increments requred (new demand plus depletion) are running at around 7%/y, while the largest supply increments in 2006 and 2007 are contributing 3.6% and 3.5%. It would seem most unlikely that small projects and infill drilling could account for the remaining required 3.5%. The inescapable conclusion is that oil prices will have to remain high enough to destroy demand, bringing supply and demand back into balance.
These two reports come from the Petroleum Review, which is hardly part of the tinfoil-hat crowd.

Meanwhile, the Congress of the United States has decided people don't need help heating their homes this winter. I know the Liberals aren't great, but when contrasted with Republican malfeasance, I'll take Paul Martin any day.

So basically what I'm saying is that it looks more and more like Peak Oil is upon us. Darn. I hope nobody's just bought a car.

Stop! You've Opened the Nerdonomicon!

Wow. I figured that if I ever saw a blogger review the craptacular movie Robot Jox, I'd be the one to do it. But no, someone has beaten me to it.

If you haven't seen this movie, you really, really shouldn't. But if you have, you might enjoy reading a fellow traveller's take on it.


CBC is reporting that Harriet Miers is withdrawing her name from the Supreme Court nomination.

Special Prosecutor Fitzgerald is expected to announced indictments of White House staff either today or tomorrow. (CNN is now saying it'll be tomorrow. Darn.)

It's possible he'll also delve in to the lies that got the US in to this war.

That's what I call a trifecta.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

800 lb Gorillas, continued

A few days ago Ezra Klein linked to this Slate column by Edward Jay Epstein:
"...The HD recording was so clearly visually superior to the DVD that one guest asked: "Why would anyone ever rent a DVD if they could record it in HD?"...

That's why they have created an artificial barrier called the video window, which prevents cable operators and TV stations from showing movies at the same time as their release on DVD. In the case of pay-per-view, the window is 45 days; with subscription cable such as HBO, it is at least four months.... If that barrier were removed, a large part, if not all, of the DVD rental business would disappear....

What has prevented the studios from closing the video window is simple: Wal-Mart. The company, which is the single biggest seller of DVDs, has made it clear that it does not want to compete with home delivery. Wal-Mart executives told Viacom's home entertainment division in no uncertain terms that if any studio does away with the 45-day video window for a single title, they would risk losing access to Wal-Mart's shelf space for all of its titles. Wal-Mart provided studios with more than one-third of their U.S. DVD revenue in 2004. In the face of Wal-Mart's retail power, the studios have not dared (yet) to do away with the protective video window.
I'm confused, though. Video on demand threatens DVD rentals, not sales. So what does Wal-Mart have to lose from closing the DVD window?

I guess one possible answer is that Wal-Mart fears that DVDs really are a one-time experience, and that if people can get a cheap (say, $3-4) watching, people won't buy DVDs at all.

Still, this shows how these companies manage to strangle innovation in it's crib. And people wonder why we don't have electric cars...

The 800-lb Gorillas Hold A Banana Monopoly

So how did Motorola manage to make an MP3-playing phone that sucks so badly? Wired reports:
When Jobs and Ed Zander, CEO of Motorola, announced 15 months ago that the two companies were going to partner on a new phone, people imagined a hybrid of two of the coolest products in existence: Apple's iPod and Moto's RAZR. For months the new gizmo glimmered mirage-like on gadget sites - ever promised, never delivered. When it finally did show up, it bore the unmistakable hump of a committee camel. Not sleek like an iPod, not slim like a RAZR - and when you saw the fine print, you discovered that you can't use it to buy music over the airwaves, that it's painfully slow at loading songs from iTunes on your computer, and that it comes pre-hobbled with a 100-song limit. No matter how much of its 512 megabytes of flash memory you have left, you can't load any more tracks onto the thing. The consensus: disappointing....

None of this is difficult. The technology to make a cell phone do double duty as an MP3 player is readily available. Motorola and other companies have been selling phones that play music in Europe and Asia for a couple of years now - handsets with lots of memory and serious audio capabilities. And with the iPod, Apple showed how to turn an ordinary MP3 player into a great one. Put it all together and you get - the ROKR? How does a great idea get this botched?...

Each had his reasons. Zander had been hired to jazz up the staid midwestern company, and an association with iPod would provide a much-needed infusion of cool - maybe even more than the upcoming RAZR. For Jobs, a partnership with Motorola was a way of neutralizing a threat to the iPod, which already dominated the US music-player market. Consumers around the world are expected to buy 75 million MP3 players this year, but they'll purchase nearly 10 times that many mobile phones. If music players become standard in handsets, the iPod could be in trouble. Partnering on a music phone gives Apple a way to enter that market yet protect the iPod. So although the two companies were superficially aligned, in fact their ambitions were diametrically opposed: Motorola dreamed of bringing the iPod to the cell phone-buying masses, while Apple sought to protect the iPod from them....
The whole article is an excellent example of the power that incumbent players have in the telecom market. As a Nokia exec puts it in the article:
Walter Mossberg railed against this sort of orifice maneuver in a recent Wall Street Journal column that compared US carriers to the Soviet bureaucracies that fought the free market. "I read that and I said, 'Spot on!'" Vanjoki recalls, dropping any vestige of Finnish reserve. "I have not seen an example in this business or any other business where braking innovation - you know, Push the brake! No innovation! - would benefit mankind. I have not seen that! But where you let innovation come to the marketplace and even help it come to the marketplace, it has always resulted in a bigger cake to be divided."
This is the effect of the death of Napster. An mp3 player should be a relatively simple piece of equipment, and relatively inexpensive. But because of the fear of RIAA lawsuits, hardware makers are even more predisposed to muck up their crappy players with copyright protection.

I've only taken a few key parts of the article. I'd really reccomend reading the whole thing - there's a lot in there.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Tick Tick Tick

That time bomb you're hearing isn't the growing threat of China, but the threat of fiscal irresponsibility. Via defensetech:
Now, the Pentagon is "looking to cut between $13 billion and $15 billion from the U.S. Department of Defense’s 2007 budget," Defense News notes. And after all those billions spent on Katrina and on another year in Iraq, there are indications that the men in uniform might be a little less reluctant about paring back their budgets this time around.

Senior Navy officials -- facing a possible $18 billion trim over the next six years -- are "weighing cuts to big-ticket programs such as the DD(X) destroyer, the Marine Corps’ variant of the Joint Strike Fighter and the LHA(R) amphibious ship," says Inside the Navy.
If the Chinese manage to ever get naval parity with the US, this will be the reason why - Bush's abuse of the US treasury has made it necessary to start cutting even the sacred cow that is the US military.

Now, in reality these cuts probably won't amount to a serious degradation of the Navy's capabilities - $6 billion a year in a $400 billion budget isn't that much. Lawrence Korb has been advocating major cuts to the US military for a decade now - cuts that would have no effect on the military's actual readiness.

It's also worth pointing out how bad an idea it is to start cutting away at the navy. If you seriously want to project global power, there's no better way than to have a major navy. The US Air Force is nice, but it's still based in countries that can evict it. We saw this earlier this year in Uzbekistan. Attempting to "evict" the US Navy from the Pacific is a much more complicated, and painful, procedure - as the Japanese learned.

Of course, if the Japanese had just waited for the Bush administration, they wouldn't have had to bomb Pearl Harbour. If things keep going the way they are, the US might have to sell the Pacific fleet just to cover the debts to Japan, China, and Taiwan.

On Rosa Parks

Rosa Parks died yesterday at the age of 92. For those who don't keep up:
Parks gained notoriety when on Dec. 1, 1955, she refused to give up her bus seat to a white man in segregated Montgomery, Ala. By doing so, she violated a city ordinance. She was jailed and fined $14 US.

That act of defiance led to the creation of the Montgomery Improvement Association, led by a young Baptist pastor named Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

A boycott of the Montgomery bus system was launched, and lasted 381 days.
The way the story is usually told is that this kindly woman simply was tired, or her feet hurt, or something like that. Parks says this is dead wrong:
"But the real reason of my not standing up was I felt that I had a right to be treated as any other passenger. We had endured that kind of treatment for too long."
In fact, even this quote doesn't do justice to how deliberate her actions were. She had in fact attended a summer-long seminar that focused on training young black activists in civil disobedience. Parks had at one time been a card-carrying communist, so she was hardly apolitical.

It's a useful corrective to the load of crap that will be said in the coming days. I can't wait to see how Bush will pollute her memory. But remember this: Rosa Parks wasn't just a woman whose feet hurt. She went out of her way to pick a fight with the Apartheid regime in the US south. And she won.

Monday, October 24, 2005


This site is a wonder. What Conservatives really think, in their own words. I especially appreciated this reminder of what Jonah Goldberg once wrote about Canada:
"Canada is, quite simply, not a serious country anymore... And that's why a little invasion is precisely what Canada needs. In the past, Canada has responded to real threats with courage and conviction (some say more Canadians went south to enlist for war in Vietnam than Americans went north to dodge it). If the U.S. were to launch a quick raid, blow up some symbolic but unoccupied structure -- Toronto's CN Tower, or an empty hockey stadium -- Canada would rearm overnight. "
Just so we're clear, Jonah Goldberg was advocating that the US invade Canada, destroy Canadian property and lives, so that a more pliable Canadian government would come to power, or that the existing government would be more pliable. This is the definition of terrorism. That an allied national would write this is bad enough. That the National Post, an allegedly Canadian paper, would reprint it (as it did on November 12, 2002) is simply treasonous.

Just one more in a long line of reasons to lock up the press barons in this country.

The Arrogance of Power

Anyone who read Anthony Summers' masterful biography of Richard Nixon will find this very familiar:
WASHINGTON - Facing the darkest days of his presidency, President Bush is frustrated, sometimes angry and even bitter, his associates say....

Bush usually reserves his celebrated temper for senior aides because he knows they can take it. Lately, however, some junior staffers have also faced the boss' wrath.

"This is not some manager at McDonald's chewing out the help," said a source with close ties to the White House when told about these outbursts. "This is the President of the United States, and it's not a pleasant sight."...

Presidential advisers and friends say Bush is a mass of contradictions: cheerful and serene, peevish and melancholy, occasionally lapsing into what he once derided as the "blame game." They describe him as beset but unbowed, convinced that history will vindicate the major decisions of his presidency even if they damage him and his party in the 2006 and 2008 elections....

A second senior Bush loyalist disagreed, saying Bush knows "some of these things are self-inflicted," like the Miers nomination, where Bush jettisoned contrary advice from his advisers and appointed his longtime personal lawyer.
Wow. Bush decided to nominate Miers on his own? That's got to be the worst presidential decision since Clinton unzipped his pants.

Of course, in one sense Bush may be right. Nixon was rehabilitated by the end of his life - Clinton gave a eulogy full of praise at Nixon's funeral, despite the damage he'd done to the nation before being fired. Similarly, it's all too likely that Bush's "excesses" will be forgotten when he's buried. Of course, barring illness or injury, I'll be my father's age when Dubya's body finally desecrates some piece of earth.

The funny thing is that Bush's temper, his peevishness, his total failure to deal with any kind of dissent was made obvious when he debated Kerry. Remember "I know Osama attacked us! I know that!"? If only people actually judged politicians on their character, the way they always claim to. Okay, so it's not actually that funny.


Okay, this is pretty inconsequential, but Steve Gilliard has a good smackdown of Robert Kaplan in this post.

Essentially, Kaplan is mastering what anyone with two cents worth of brains learned when they watched Band of Brothers: it's the non-commissioned officers who make an Army work.

I especially like to see Kaplan ridiculed for my own personal reason. Last summer, Kaplan wrote a piece in the Atlantic about how the US would "fight China", based almost entirely on access to commanders of the US Pacific Fleet. It never seems to have occurred to Kaplan that these sources might have their own personal reasons to scare the crap out of the US public about the Yellow Peril.

I occasionally write about things military, but I'd ask my friends and loved ones to please hit me if I ever get as hackneyed as Bob Kaplan.

Sunday, October 23, 2005

The Final Sign of the Apocalypse

...Bill Gates and I actually agree on something. Holy crap:
Daily Princetonian: There has been a lot of debate about the next generation Blu-ray and HD DVD technologies in recent weeks. It seems more and more companies are backing the Blu-ray standard. The current debate seems to harken back to the Betamax vs. VHS format war in the 1970s and 80s, where Betamax was ostensibly the superior technology yet it did not gain wide acceptance. Why is Microsoft not backing Blu-ray today — a technology that many consider to be superior?

Gates: Well, the key issue here is that the protection scheme under Blu-ray is very anti-consumer and there's not much visibility of that. The inconvenience is that the [movie] studios got too much protection at the expense consumers and it won't work well on PCs. You won't be able to play movies and do software in a flexible way.

It's not the physical format that we have the issue with, it's that the protection scheme on Blu is very anti-consumer. If [the Blu-ray group] would fix that one thing, you know, that'd be fine.

For us it's not the physical format. Understand that this is the last physical format there will ever be. Everything's going to be streamed directly or on a hard disk. So, in this way, it's even unclear how much this one counts.
Okay, when Bill "the license agreement says I own you" Gates says you're too consumer-hostile, be afraid.

That said, he's exactly right on his last point - this will be the last physical media, and I'm more and more convinced that people won't use it for much. Most data is more easily available off the net, anyway. If we can make flash drives a bit bigger and faster, they'll be able to eclipse DVDs entirely. (You can already find a very few 8 GB flash drives.) Once flash (or some analagous technology) can hold data up to or past 50GB, we simply won't need these HD-DVDs. Of course, the latest iPods already hold more than 50GB, so we're not that far off.

Saturday, October 22, 2005

This Full House Wants Lebensraum

via Atrios, Creepiest thing I've read in... days:
Oct. 20, 2005 — Thirteen-year-old twins Lamb and Lynx Gaede have one album out, another on the way, a music video, and lots of fans.

They may remind you another famous pair of singers, the Olsen Twins, and the girls say they like that. But unlike the Olsens, who built a media empire on their fun-loving, squeaky-clean image, Lamb and Lynx are cultivating a much darker personna. They are white nationalists and use their talents to preach a message of hate.

Known as "Prussian Blue" — a nod to their German heritage and bright blue eyes — the girls from Bakersfield, Calif., have been performing songs about white nationalism before all-white crowds since they were nine.

"We're proud of being white, we want to keep being white," said Lynx. "We want our people to stay white … we don't want to just be, you know, a big muddle. We just want to preserve our race."
Oh, and just in case you think they're simply proud of their heritage or some crap like that - check out the t-shirts they're sporting:

Yup, you're seeing that right. They're wearing Hitler smileys. Because apparently the fact that he was a total incompetent and managed to lose a war he should've won* isn't sufficient to dampen his image among the insane.

Now, on the subject of racial purity, a friend of mine put it succinctly many years ago. "We're all mongrels," he said. And while some, like these two idiots, keep trying to deny it that doesn't make it any less true.

*Obviously, not saying that Hitler should have won in the sense that this would have been a desirable outcome. Only that it was such a near thing for the allies, and we were far too close to defeat on a number of occasions. Fortunately for us, the Nazis were total frigging boobs.

One of my favourite stories along this line comes from John Kenneth Galbraith, who was (among many, many other things) responsible for the interrogation of the Nazis who essentially ran Germany's economy during the war. Galbraith was amazed to find that most of them had little to no knowledge of economics, and they were almost all drug addicts of one form or another. As one of his coworkers put it: "We almost lost to those poor bastards?"


This kind of accident we could use more of:
An accidental discovery announced this week has taken LED lighting to a new level, suggesting it could soon offer a cheaper, longer-lasting alternative to the traditional light bulb. The miniature breakthrough adds to a growing trend that is likely to eventually make Thomas Edison's bright invention obsolete....

Michael Bowers, a graduate student at Vanderbilt University, was just trying to make really small quantum dots, which are crystals generally only a few nanometers big. That's less than 1/1000th the width of a human hair.

Quantum dots contain anywhere from 100 to 1,000 electrons. They're easily excited bundles of energy, and the smaller they are, the more excited they get. Each dot in Bower's particular batch was exceptionally small, containing only 33 or 34 pairs of atoms.

When you shine a light on quantum dots or apply electricity to them, they react by producing their own light, normally a bright, vibrant color. But when Bowers shined a laser on his batch of dots, something unexpected happened.

"I was surprised when a white glow covered the table," Bowers said. "The quantum dots were supposed to emit blue light, but instead they were giving off a beautiful white glow."

Then Bowers and another student got the idea to stir the dots into polyurethane and coat a blue LED light bulb with the mix. The lumpy bulb wasn't pretty, but it produced white light similar to a regular light bulb.

The new device gives off a warm, yellowish-white light that shines twice as bright and lasts 50 times longer than the standard 60 watt light bulb.
The article mentions some other possibilities - like painting your walls with LEDs, and instead of a bulb, you'd be surrounded by light. It all sounds neat, but we'll see how much they cost first.

Friday, October 21, 2005

I Almost Forgot

Happy Trafalgar Day, everyone.

200 years ago today, Admiral Horatio Nelson led his fleet in to battle from the deck of the Victory, saying "England expects that every man will do his duty," and beating the French navy and their Spanish allies.

This, by the way, ushered in the most powerful age of British power, leading (after Napoleon's final defeat) to the century or so of unchallenged British Imperialism. So, unlike a lot of other things on this blog, it's actually worth noting.

And Furthermore...

One of the other things that really, really bothered me about that CBC piece last night was the obvious racism in the labor dispute that the reporter simply ignored.

Some background: Many of the striking workers are Sudanese, who were recruited by the company to come work in the town. One could not-unreasonably presume that Sudanese men were recuited because a) they'd be desperate to get the hell out of Sudan, and b) they would therefore be more willing to work under difficult conditions.

So the CBC reporter starts talking to people about town. One pair of good ol' boys tells our intrepid correspondent that "these people" (or alternately, "those people") don't understand the "redneck culture" of the town. The reporter inquires what "redneck" culture means, but doesn't even attempt to explore the racial implications of this phrase. Can black people be rednecks? Or is this club a bit more exclusive?

Later in the piece, he interviews a few young women, one of whom says (I'm quoting from memory, so this might not be exact) "you want to be like that, you shouldn't come here from Africa. We're not like that here." One of her friends seems to have realized how that sounded, prompting a hurt-sounding "What?", as if what she said could only be misinterpreted by fools.

Now, I'm not saying that everyone in that town is racist. But the reporter simply ignored two obvious - one might say glaring - opportunities to explore the racial element to this story. Instead, we got incredibly patronizing reportage about how Albertans just don't want silly old unions and all their pesky concerns about "health" and "safety."

What Do NASA and the Republican Party Have in Common?

Neither of them like sex. Nor, I'd wager, are any good at it:
Sex and romantic entanglements among astronauts could derail missions to Mars and should therefore be studied by NASA, warns a top-level panel of US researchers.

NASA plans to return astronauts to the Moon by 2018 and later on to Mars. But a round-trip mission to the Red Planet would probably last at least 30 months and carry six to eight people. That would be a hotbed for intense crew relationships, says a report by the US National Academy of Sciences (NAS).

"With the prospect of a very long-term mission, it's hard to ignore the question of sexuality," says Lawrence Palinkas, a medical anthropologist at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, an author of the report. It reviewed NASA's plans for research to keep astronauts safe and healthy in space – but the plans make no mention of sexual issues in spaceflight.
Okay, any mission to Mars is going to need to accept that a) the crew is likely to have The Sex, and b) This shouldn't be a show-stopper. Obviously, there's problems, yadda yadda. But any serious proposal is going to have to deal with this, preferably with something better than "Just Say No To Naughty Bits." On the other hand, this is probably wrong:
But he says sex may also benefit missions by creating "a sense of stability or normalisation". Ellison agrees, saying sex or masturbation could help alleviate boredom and anxiety on the long, lonely journeys through space.
While there would probably be anxiety, one thing astronauts never are is bored. Ever look at the itinerary for a shuttle launch? Time is budgeted down to the second. Time in space is so valuable that you literally cannot afford to waste a minute, so Astronaut days are crammed tight from the time they wake up to the time they go to bed. Hell, if the crews find time for sex we should give them a medal.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

There Is Power In The Union

So there's a strike at a slaughterhouse in Alberta. The house is owned by Tyson foods, and the strikers are therefore by definition on the side of good. Believe me, read Fast Food Nation if you want an idea of how bad Tyson is.

But I've just finished watching CBC's piece on this whole affair, and I swear I've never seen anything more deliberately obtuse. The entire piece was presented with a kind of "oh, you silly strikers. When will you learn?" attitude that was a) insulting, and b) deliberately misleading. The alleged journalist involved kept refusing to actually explore what, for example, the workers might be striking for. Apparently Google has yet to make it to the offices of the CBC:
As the temperature begins to cool here in the United States, a bitter and brutal cold has crept into the air surrounding the Tyson beef plant in Brooks, Alberta, Canada. More than 2,300 workers, many of them workers who are refugees from the Sudan, have been forced onto the streets and onto picket lines in a battle to preserve a decent standard of living. Tyson is leaving workers and their families out in the cold, again.

Workers at the Brooks plant stood up for a voice with the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Local 401 in August, 2004, eager for basic workplace protections such as an end to harassment, improved safety training, and better handling of biological hazards. More than 600 Sudanese immigrant workers were lured to Alberta with the promise of a good job and bright future. Tyson’s disregard for the basic safety needs of its workforce, immigrant and native, is reprehensible. Picket lines went up on October 12, 2005 after Tyson Foods threw out a proposal by a mediator appointed by the Alberta government to facilitate a first-contract agreement.
Because of the anti-union, anti-safety, and anti-human practices of Tyson foods and other meatpacking companies, meatpacking has gone from being one of the safer, better paying jobs in North America (at it's unionized height) to now being one of the lowest paying, most dangerous jobs. As if asking unskilled labour to work quickly with knives wasn't enough, Tyson's reputation is well known: once you're injured, you're out.

The CBC should be ashamed. Not for being anti-labour so soon after their own experience with the evil of management (though for that too.) And not for failing to represent the worker's side fairly (though for that too.) No, the CBC should be ashamed for allowing such a poorly-researched, poorly written piece of crap on the air without bothering to meet even the basic minimum standard for journalistic competence.

Boy, it didn't take long for that lockout to wear off, did it? Chumps.

Die Redmond Scum, Die!

Microsoft just passed it's 30th Anniversary. Now that I've soiled my blog forever by linking to the MicroBorg, let me pass on the good news - a number of developing countries are trying to bridge the digital divide by providing cheap computers to their citizens. Problem: Windows doesn't come cheap. Solution: Linux, baby!
When the government of Thailands Peoples PC initiative began selling a subsidized Linux-only PC aimed at the masses, Microsoft dropped the price of its Windows/Office package in the country 85% from nearly US$600 to $37. However, most first-time PC users in Thailand found that the free Linux Thai Language Edition was easier to use than Windows, and the dramatic price cuts were not enough to allow Microsoft to retain a majority share of the market. Moreover, local Linux-only PC manufacturer Laser Computer replaced HP as Thailand's top PC seller...
There no part of that I didn't love. That paragraph comes from an really interesting report titled "Technology Innovations At The Edge" (warning - PDF) about how developing countries are using cheap, low-end technology to meet their needs - but also, how these low-end technologies also percolate back in to the developed world. Wind-up radios are just one example of this.

I think we tend to have a well-meaning but somewhat conceited notion that we in the west can "save" the poor of the world. While there's undoubtedly a lot we can do, and even more that we should just stop doing, we have to remember that, even among some of the poorest nations of the world, they retain the capacity to save themselves. Needless to say, this goal is incompatible with the far-more-important goal of making shameless amounts of money for major corporations.

I Didn't Know He Could Write That Much, or That Well

In one of his rare multi-sentence posts, Atrios makes an excellent point about the inherent contradiction of those who supported the Iraq War for humanitarian reasons:
But, granting the conceit (just for fun) that humanitarian concerns were their actual reasons for the invasion, this is still just utterly ridiculous. We had an opportunity and a need, post-9/11, to invade a country under tyrannical rule which was, in an odd way, a threat to us. That country was called Afghanistan. And, despite all the promises of saving the residents from the Taliban and engaging in a massive reconstruction of that country, that sort of didn't, you know, happen so much. It would've been nice to build some streets of gold in that country, show the world what the great benevolent United States could do, but we didn't. When the Bush administration kicked the soccer ball away from Afghanistan and towards Iraq the media and the "liberal hawks" and the country dutifully followed, aborting what could have been the greatest humanitarian triumph in history. One which, given the speed at which books about the place were selling after 9/11, would've had the full support of the country. I was somewhat surprised but deeply proud of the fact that post-9/11 much of the country seemed to buy into the idea that bad people had taken over a country of good people. There was a heartwarming generosity after 9/11, a sense that we must help those people - not the bad people, but the ones under their thumb.
Boy I wish I'd written that first.

This is yet another one of the great historical crimes of the Bush Administration. Imagine how much easier America's role in the middle east would be if the US could point to a stable Muslim democracy in the heart of a strategically important region and say "See? That country where the people are free, growing wealthier, and more open to the world around them? That's what America can do." Of course, this was exactly the pitch the Bush administration used for Iraq. The difference being of course that what would have been difficult but noble and worthwhile in Afghanistan was impossible in Iraq, and made ignoble and worthless by the lies that were used to justify it. (Oh, and the intervention in Afghanistan would have had the unflinching support of the international community, unlike the illegal war in Iraq.)

The opportunities lost because of these criminals is really beginning to boggle my mind.

Somebody Owns 1/5th of You

via Adam, we learn that 20% of the human genome is already patented.
Nearly a fifth of all human genes have been patented - the majority by private biotechnology companies, according to a survey of patent records published today.

The extent to which companies claim ownership of human genes has raised alarm among researchers and led to warnings that by asserting commercial rights over crucial genes, companies risk stifling research into diseases such as breast cancer, diabetes and obesity.

Legal cases triggered by disputes over who owns specific genes and how access to working on them is restricted are also likely in future, the scientists warn....

Writing in the journal Science today, the researchers report that nearly 20% of the human genome, or 4,382 of the known 23, 688 human genes, have been patented, with over half owned by private companies. Around 63% of the patents are assigned to private firms, with one firm, Incyte Pharmaceuticals/Incyte Genomics, having intellectual property rights covering 2,000 human genes.
So ONE firm has the rights to nearly 10% of the stuff that makes you, you. Lovely.

This is part of the reason why biological patents make little to no sense - these companies aren't "creating" anything. They're mapping a natural feature of human biology. "Mapping" may be the best analog, actually. During the ages of exploration, a sailor's maps were closely guarded trade secrets, of course. But nothing really prevented his competitors from going to (say) Cuba and mapping the shoreline for himself.

These patents do exactly that. I'm not saying that these companies don't deserve a patent on the treatments they devise based on the genetic knowledge, but nobody should be able to patent genetic information. To go back to our nautical analogy, imagine if Columbus has managed to charge a monopoly royalty on anyone who wanted to come to the new world? Arguably, this scenario would have been better for the natives, but Spain would've suffered.

If anything, new biological technologies promise even more advances than the conquest of the new world did, and should therefore be kept open to as many new firms and scientists as possible.

We're Very Lucky Some Days

...To have Tom Delay forced to submit to the indignity of an arrest warrant? To be forced to be fingerprinted and photographed?

Why, it's far more than we deserve, isn't it. It's like Christmas in... October.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

What Next, Continued

Boy, if the oil industry didn't have enough problems:
Workers abusing and producing methamphetamines have left oil producers struggling to fill jobs, causing delays in projects and helping push up the price of oil and petrol in the US and around the world.

The problem was a big challenge in states such as Texas, Colorado, Louisiana and Oklahoma, industry insiders said. Ron Walsmith, director of oil & gas training at the Mid-Continent Oil & Gas Training Center, said entire rig crews of up to 12 people had been fired for making or using the drug. Methamphetamine labs have even been found on rigs, which is dangerous because both are highly explosive.
And the award for "Understatement of the Month" goes to:
The drug problem is potentially dangerous for oil companies. “Meth is particularly dangerous for oil and gas workers because meth users go through a wide range of emotions including the Superman stage during which they believe themselves to be invincible,” Mr Walsmith added. “Believing oneself to be invincible when working with hundreds of tons of steel and thousands of pounds of explosive pressure can maim or kill in an instant.”

Good News, Bad News

via WorldChanging, this is a wonderful idea: making a 30GW wind farm in the Canadian north, both to replace the costly and polluting diesel fuel that is the norm up there, and also to export back south to the bulk of the Canadian population. Let's please, please do this.

On the other hand, people are still concerned about the (literally) bloody birds.
Thousands of aging turbines stud the brown rolling hills of the Altamont Pass on I-580 east of San Francisco Bay, a testament to one of the nation's oldest and best-known experiments in green energy.

Next month, hundreds of those blades will spin to a stop, in what appears to be a wind-energy first: Facing legal threats from environmentalists, the operators of the Altamont wind farm have agreed to shut down half of their windmills for two months starting Nov. 1; in January, they will be restarted and the other half will be shut down for two months.

Though the Altamont Pass is known for its strong winds, it also lies on an important bird-migration route, and its grass-covered hills provide food for several types of raptors. "It's the worst possible place to put a wind farm," said Jeff Miller, a wildlife advocate at the nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity. "It's responsible for an astronomical level of bird kills."
It's not that I'm sanguine about bird deaths, but is this really progress for the environmental movement? Shutting down the most successful example of wind power in North America to protect fowl? The article goes on to say that whatever the status of Altamont, this isn't something that can be applied to wind power in general:
Stengel also said the Altamont site is an anomaly. Besides its poor location, he said many of the turbines there, some decades old, use older designs, with faster-spinning blades that reach closer to the ground than recent models -- where birds are more likely to be flying as they hunt for prey....

She said other wind farms, in areas with smaller raptor populations, average about two fatal bird collisions annually per tower. Cell-phone towers, with their bright lights and electrical wires, "take out far more birds per tower than wind turbines."
So there's that - wind power is not the bird-killing industry some seem to think it is. If you're serious about saving the birds, you might consider declawing your cat and keeping it indoors, as inhumane as that is.


The Boondocks is coming to television. Go see the previews.

And Ponies, Too

OTTAWA (CP) - An independent Quebec would have its own military forces and spy service, says Bloc Quebecois Leader Gilles Duceppe, taking a firm stand on a traditionally wrenching issue for separatists.

"There'll be an army, of course," Duceppe said Tuesday in an interview with The Canadian Press. "We have to have those organizations, I would say." The leader of the sovereignist Bloc indicated the notion of creating a distinct security apparatus in a newly independent Quebec was no longer as controversial as it has been in the past.

"I went around Quebec saying the same thing I just said to you, and I see no opposition at all," Duceppe said.
I guess this throws the "sovereignty-association" claims right out the window. This, then, is the separatist aim laid bare: An armed and possibly hostile state in the heart of Canada.

I hate to sound paranoid, but this isn't speculation on my part - he's saying it right here. We can disagree on whether or not an independent Quebec would be hostile to Canada, but certainly there's more than enough potential conflicts - the rights of Natives to stay within Canada being just one of many. Would Canadians be willing to let natives be screwed, again, after Quebec separates?

Of course, Gilles Duceppe speculating on whether or not Quebec gets an army has all the real-world relevance of a 6-year-old girl speculating on what color her pony will be on Christmas morning. If anything, by putting the issue in such stark terms Duceppe is harming the separatist cause.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

I Heart... Ralph Klein? The Hell?

EDMONTON (CP) -- Premier Ralph Klein is dismissing the possibility of allowing a nuclear power plant to be built in Alberta's oilsands region. Atomic Energy of Canada has previously confirmed ongoing discussions with several oilsands companies about the possibility of using nuclear power.

But Klein says Alberta has banned the production of nuclear power because there's no proven method of disposing of nuclear waste. Klein also says he's firmly against Alberta's oilsands companies using natural gas from the proposed Mackenzie Valley pipeline. He says this would be "a tremendous waste of a resource." The premier says coal, hydroelectricity, coal bed methane and even burning bitumen to create power are all much better alternatives than using natural gas.
See, at first I thought this would be a moment where Ralph Klein would rip the mask off to reveal an informed, intelligent policy. Instead, read the last paragraph again: Klein would prefer dirty, sooty, CO2-intense coal to natural gas. Regulars will know I'm no fan of nuclear power, but the problems associated with nuclear power are actually less problematic than the problems with coal, if we look at it honestly.

Ralph Klein is a moron, and is now revealed to simply be just another NIMBY-ite. I'm happy that he's against nuclear, but not if it means making tar sands from coal, for heaven's sake.

Oooh, Pretty

NASA has released some pretty astonishing pictures from Cassini, but this is one of the best: A flyby picture of Saturn's icy moon Dione:

The thin band you can see near the bottom of the screen is the ballyhooed rings of Saturn. Because the probe is travelling near the equator of Saturn, the rings are seen edge-on. But if you look in the upper right, you can see the shadows that the rings cast.

Way to go NASA. I know this isn't the reason we support space exploration, but it kind of is.

Remember Real Journalists?

via, a speech delivered by Edward R. Murrow in 1958:
For surely we shall pay for using this most powerful instrument of communication to insulate the citizenry from the hard and demanding realities which must be faced if we are to survive. I mean the word survive literally. If there were to be a competition in indifference, or perhaps in insulation from reality, then Nero and his fiddle, Chamberlain and his umbrella, could not find a place on an early afternoon sustaining show. If Hollywood were to run out of Indians, the program schedules would be mangled beyond all recognition. Then some courageous soul with a small budget might be able to do a documentary telling what, in fact, we have done--and are still doing--to the Indians in this country. But that would be unpleasant. And we must at all costs shield the sensitive citizens from anything that is unpleasant.
Read the whole thing.

Falling Behind

Boy, I've been trying to keep up with blog-worthy subjects, but I've recently lagged behind. Something that came up a few days ago:
CALGARY - The Alberta government and 16 industry sponsors are looking at building a giant, $7-billion refinery complex near Edmonton, the first in North America in a quarter century.

The group, led by Alberta Economic Development, is getting down to the finer details of an ambitious strategy that started two years ago and could lead to a 300,000 barrels-a-day refinery and petrochemical complex that could be in operation as early as 2012.

The refinery would be the largest in Canada. It would be expandable to 450,000 barrels per day, putting it on par with the giant refineries of the U.S. Gulf Coast.
The idea that the Alberta government needs to subsidize this development is absurd. With fuel prices where they are, the private market can easily fund this entire development on it's own. Let's see. 300,000 barrels a day comes to roughly 110 million barrels a year. Of course, the whole point of a refinery is to add value to the oil, and refiner margins seem to range from $5-$10 per barrel. Assuming the low end of this scale, this refinery would pay off it's initial investment in 14 years. If we pick the median of the margin ($7) it's ten years, and the extreme of the scale gives us less than $7 years. The point is, the private market can easily find the money for this investment, and even 14 years is a relatively short-term investment when you're talking infrastructure.

If the refinery can be expanded to 450,000 bpd with a greater economy of scale, those numbers would all shrink somewhat.

The private market will make this refinery without public subsidies. If I lived in Alberta, I'd call my MLA and complain about this waste of taxpayer's money. Of course, if I lived in Alberta I'd have already seen much worse abuses of public funds, so maybe I'd be resigned to my fate.

But staying in Alberta, we can see that this is part of a trend - the oil industry seems to be accepting that conventional crude is running dry, and no price is too high for Alberta's synthetic crude:
PARIS -- French oil giant Total SA, amid rising oil and natural-gas prices, is considering building a nuclear power plant to extract ultraheavy oil from the vast oil-sand fields of western Canada.

This comes as oil prices -- driven even higher by Hurricane Katrina and now the threat of Hurricane Rita -- are removing lingering doubts about the long-term profitability of extracting the molasseslike form of oil from sand, despite the fact that the output is much more expensive to produce and to upgrade than is conventional crude.

At the same time, prices of natural gas -- which oil-sands producers have relied on to produce the steam and electricity needed to push the viscous oil out of the ground -- have risen 45% in the past year. That is prompting Total, which holds permits on large fields in Alberta that contain oil sands, to consider building its own nuclear plant and using the energy produced to get the job done.
This has been coming for a while now. I was reading discussions at least a year ago about building nuclear reactors to make tar sands in to useable oil. Of course, Total still has to actually sell the government of Alberta on nuclear power, which won't be easy.
Even now, despite wanting to cut production costs, few oil-sands producers have been willing to talk openly about the nuclear possibility for fear of protests from environmentalists. Nuclear power doesn't bring back good memories in Alberta, where in the 1950s U.S. and Canadian scientists looked into the possibility -- later abandoned -- of detonating an atomic bomb to bring oil to the surface.
The article is behind the Wall Street Journal's pay wall, sadly. But these two examples show something important: even if the optimists are right, and peak oil is decades away, the reality is that cheap oil is gone forever. If it weren't, Total would never breathe a word about using nuclear power - its stock price would leave a smoking crater in the stock exchange floor.

This is the new reality we've entered - nuclear oil. It's like an environmentalists worst nightmare. Bizarre. But the market is serious. Look at this picture from the article:

Note that conventional crude is projected to continue it's decades-long decline. All off Canada's increased oil production is expected to come from tar sands production. There's probably no way this will lead to cheaper oil - indeed, if it did, the tar sands operations would collapse.

But if Canada's production actually does begin to push close to 4 million bpd of production, that will be astounding. That would make us one of the (I think) top three producers of oil in the world. It would put us in about the same rank as Iran, possibly behind only the United States and Saudi Arabia.

Of course, it would be in the interests of the Canadian economy to use as little of that oil domestically as possible. Every barrel of oil we send overseas brings us a sweet $60 US, or it's equivalent in Euros, Yen, or Yuan.

What next?

Antarctic glaciers calving faster into the ocean

The edges of the Antarctic ice sheets are slipping into the ocean at an unprecedented rate, raising fears of a global surge in sea levels, glaciologists warned on Monday.

The findings confound predictions made just four years ago, by the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), that Antarctica would not contribute significantly to sea level rise in the 21st century.

In one area, around the Amundsen Sea in West Antarctica, glaciers are dumping more than 110 cubic kilometres of ice into the ocean each year, Eric Rignot of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, US, told a meeting at the Royal Society in London, UK. This loss, which is increasing each year, is many times faster than the ice can be replaced by snowfall inland, he says.

The impending ice disaster centres on Pine Island Bay on the shores of the Amundsen Sea, where the Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers enter the sea. These glaciers, like many in West Antarctica, are perched on underwater mountains. The meeting heard that warmer ocean waters are circulating beneath the ice and melting their bases at a rate of 50 metres a year....

These glaciers are being dubbed the “plug hole” of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. If the Pine Island and Thwaites glaciers disappeared, they alone could raise sea levels worldwide by more than a metre, says Rignot....

Researchers also warned that the larger East Antarctic Ice Sheet is not as stable as thought. A recent study suggested that it might be accumulating snow in its high interior – possibly supporting the IPCC’s predictions – but it warned that little was known about events on the coast (Science, vol 308, p 1898).
Last February I mentioned (in response to an ealier piece about the failing WAIS) that should the East Antarctive Ice Sheet start to collapse, we could see very rapid, very large increases in the sea level. If all of the EAIS collapsed we could conceivably see a 60 metre (180 feet) increase in sea levels. That's obviously the worst-case scenario, but the corollary to that fact is that even a much smaller rate of loss would lead to massive changes.

For a brief moment, it looked like global-warming induced sea level changes would in fact be quite minor, or at least something we could adjust to over the next century. The IPCC report mentioned above predicted something like a half-meter rise over 100 years. That's a lot, but it's liveable. In the last four years, we've got evidence that the two largest reserves of ice on the planet - Greenland and Antarctica - are becoming increasingly unstable. This is bad, bad news.

Monday, October 17, 2005

I Am Mistrustful

Okay, I didn't believe it when this arrived in my mailbox - sorry Max. But damn it's funny. And as far as I can tell, it's not meant to be a joke. What follows is apparently a real fatwa. Or as real as they get, anyway.

New York Times, October 16, 2005
God Is In The Rules
By Geoff Porter

Fatwas, the legal opinions proclaimed by Islamic scholars, have proliferated in the Muslim world since the 1980's, driven by rising literacy rates and the Internet. The growth in fatwas -- some of them contradictory -- has led to a debate over who can legitimately issue them and has alarmed governments in the Middle East, since the decrees sometimes challenge state-sanctioned interpretations of Islam.

Yet criticizing fatwas about divisive issues like the propriety of killing civilians and Shiites can be dangerous for officials. So the Saudi government is trying a different tactic, zeroing in on what it considers frivolous fatwas in order to rally support for tougher measures on who can and who cannot issue opinions. Recently, Al Watan, a semiofficial Saudi daily newspaper, reported that a young athlete had joined the jihad in Iraq under the influence of a fatwa forbidding playing soccer by regular rules. The newspaper also republished the fatwa, said to have originally appeared on an Islamic Web site. Portions of the fatwa, which I translated from the Arabic, follow.


IN the name of God the merciful and benevolent:

1. Play soccer without four lines because this is a fabrication of the heretics' international rules that stipulate using them and delineating them before playing.

2. International terminology that heretics and polytheists use, like ''foul,'' ''penalty,'' ''corner,'' ''goal,'' ''out'' and others, should be abandoned and not said. Whoever says them should be punished, reprimanded and ejected from the game. He should be publicly told, ''You have imitated the heretics and polytheists and this is forbidden.''

3. Do not call ''foul'' and stop the game if someone falls and sprains a hand or foot or the ball touches his hand, and do not give a yellow or red card to whoever was responsible for the injury or tackle. Instead, it should be adjudicated according to Sharia rulings concerning broken bones and injuries. The injured player should exercise his Sharia rights according to the Koran and you must bear witness with him that so-and-so hurt him on purpose.

4. Do not follow the heretics, the Jews, the Christians and especially evil America regarding the number of players. Do not play with 11 people. Instead, add to this number or decrease it.

5. Play in your regular clothes or your pajamas or something like that, but not colored shorts and numbered T-shirts, because shorts and T-shirts are not Muslim clothing. Rather they are heretical and Western clothing, so beware of imitating their fashion.

6. If you have fulfilled these conditions and intend to play soccer, play to strengthen the body in order to better struggle in the way of God on high and to prepare the body for when it is called to jihad. Soccer is not for passing time or the thrill of so-called victory.

7. Do not set the time of play at 45 minutes, which is the official time of the Jews, Christians and all the heretical and atheist countries. This is the time used by teams that have strayed from the righteous path. You are obliged to distinguish yourself from the heretics and the corrupted and must not resemble them in anything.

8. Do not play in two halves. Rather play in one half or three halves in order to completely differentiate yourselves from the heretics, the polytheists, the corrupted and the disobedient.

9. If neither of you beats the other, or ''wins'' as it is called, and neither puts the leather between the posts, do not add extra time or penalties until someone wins. No, instead leave the field, because winning with overtime and penalty kicks is the pinnacle of imitating heretics and international rules.

10. If you play soccer, do not appoint someone to follow you called a ''referee,'' since there is no need for him after doing away with international rules like ''foul,'' ''penalty,'' ''corner'' and others. His presence would be in imitation of the heretics, Jews and Christians and would follow international rules.

11. Young crowds should not gather to watch when you play because if you are there for the sake of sports and strengthening your bodies as you claimed, why would people watch you? You should make them join your physical fitness and jihad preparation, or you should say: ''Go proselytize and seek out morally reprehensible acts in the markets and the press and leave us to our physical fitness.''

12. If you finish playing soccer, do not talk about your game and say, ''We were better than the opponent,'' or ''So-and-so plays well'' and so on. Instead be concerned with your bodies and their strength and muscles, and say, ''We played only to drill in running, attacking and retreating, and to prepare for jihad in the name of God on high.''

13. You should spit in the face of whoever puts the ball between the posts or uprights and then runs in order to get his friends to follow him and hug him like players in America or France do, and you should punish and reprimand him, for what is the relationship between celebrating, hugging and kissing and the sports that you are practicing?

14. You should use two posts instead of three pieces of wood or steel that you erect in order to put the ball between them, meaning that you should remove the crossbar in order not to imitate the heretics and in order to be entirely distinct from the soccer system's despotic international rules.

15. Do not do what is called ''substitution,'' that is, taking the place of someone who has fallen, because this is a practice of the heretics in America and elsewhere.

These are some conditions and precepts so that morally aware youth do not inadvertently imitate heretics and polytheists when playing soccer Hell awaits those who die playing soccer according to rules established by heretical countries, at the head of which is America.

This, To You, Is Reassuring?

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - White House lawyer Harriet Miers told a Democratic senator on Monday no one knows how she would vote on abortion if confirmed to the Supreme Court after a published report suggested she favored outlawing it.

Emerging from a closed-door meeting with Miers, Sen. Charles Schumer of New York told reporters that Miers told him she had not shared her views on the court's landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.

"She said, 'Nobody knows my views on Roe v. Wade," Schumer said. "She said, 'No one can speak for me on Roe v. Wade."
Okay, how about you speak for you on abortion? Isn't that how it's supposed to go?

It's A Small World, After All

And no matter where you are in the (industrialized) world, people bitch and moan about gas prices.
WASHINGTON -- Americans are grumbling about gas prices hovering around $3 a gallon, but that price would be welcome in many other countries.

AP-Ipsos polling found wide disparities in what people in the U.S. and eight other countries think is a fair price.

Americans grit their teeth as they pump $3-per-gallon gas. They think $2 is about right. In Britain, $3 sounds sweet - people there pay about $6.40 a gallon and think $5 would be fair.

Spaniards would like to see gasoline for just over $3 a gallon. People in France, Italy, Germany and South Korea put the fair market price at $4 or a little more. Australians and Canadians would like to see it just under $3 a gallon. The cost of gas in these countries is higher than in the U.S. - from just over $4 a gallon in Australia to about $6.70 a gallon in Germany.
And, showing that hope (or perhaps naïveté) is the most abundant strategic resource we have:
A majority of people in most of the nations polled said they think their government can act to limit increases in the price of gasoline.
It's hard to imagine what.

But look at the numbers for Germany - almost $7/gallon, or a bit more than double what we spend now. Say $1.70/litre? Now, Germany's cars are generally more efficient than our own, but it's worth pointing out that expensive gas doesn't spell the end of human civlization, the way some of the worst pessimists think it will. In fact, despite a lot of negative press in the US, Germany's economy is doing very well indeed - it exports more manufactured goods than the US, with an economy 1/5 the size. And about the same level of public indebtedness - admittedly, given the Bush Administrations misspending, that's not a great number.

When Peak Oil arrives, it's not going to be the end of the world.

Koizumi: Asshole

This is incomprehensible. And irresponsible. I guess I got an answer to my question - yup, still a douchebag.
TOKYO - Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi prayed Monday at a Tokyo shrine honoring the country's war dead, defying critics who say the visits glorify militarism and triggering angry protests from China and South Korea.

The visit was Koizumi's fifth to the Yasukuni Shrine since becoming prime minister in April 2001 and came despite a recent court decision that the visits violate Japan's constitutional division of religion and the state.

China and South Korea, which suffered from Tokyo's conquest of East Asia in the first half of the 20th century, immediately filed protests with Japanese officials.

Chinese Foreign Minister Li Zhaoxing summoned Japanese ambassador Koreshige Anami to Beijing, saying the shrine visit "severely damaged China-Japan relations," the ministry said on its Web site.

"The Chinese government and Chinese people express strong anger," it said.

Noting that this year is the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II and that Koizumi had apologized for Japan's wartime aggression, China said the leader had "swallowed his own words."

China and Japan also canceled a planned meeting between envoys to discuss disarming North Korea.
So here we have Koizumi's visit directly, and severely harming the national security of Japan. Brilliant. But the sick thing is, this will probably only endear him further to his citizens.
"Koizumi is riding on a mood in government that nobody can speak against him now," political analyst Minoru Morita said. "He even ignored the court ruling to deliver a message that he is a ruler who makes his own decisions."
Yup, Koizumi was ordered not to attend by a court, and he's such an ass he still went, just because he could.

Hm... defying the rule of law, endangering national security, all to score cheap political points. Sound familiar?

No, Really, America is Beautiful

In Comments, Odograph writes:
I was thinking this morning that we (Americans) had some really good years ... maybe from 1975 to 2000.

I graduate high shcool myself in 1976 and barely missed the Vietnam draft, but saw that war and the fall of Nixon. Those two things left me with a healthy scepticism for governement, even American government.

As I further considered this, I wondered if 25 years was about what you had to have for a country to forget a lesson and do the same mistakes all over again. The words "not another Vietnam" were still en vogue in 200X but I think they'd lost their power, for a variety of reasons.

It will be interesting (dare I hope) if Bush ends his Presidency on the same note as Nixon, and the cycle begins again.

But strange as it is to say ... but for all his faults, and lies, Nixon was trying to disengauge from a war ... not start one. That's my coming-of-age recollection, anyway.
Well, they might take my Canadian citizenship away but I daresay America has had quite a few good years since 1776. The American revolution itself was as noble as could be expected for the age. I don't know enough about the Reconstruction, but the failed effort to "de-Confederate" the South (in the same way the US attempted to de-Nazify Germany) was bold and worthy, even if it did fail. Both the Revolution, the Civil War and the Reconstruction also marked temporary breaks in America's drive to steal the continent, so they're even relatively benign in that sense. (I should of course add that while Canada was late to the "steal North America" party, we were just as larcenous when we did arrive.)

And of course, while America's role in World War II is often overstated, victory would have been far more costly without the arsenal of democracy, it it could have been had at all. "Victory" without the United States entering the war would probably have meant the Soviet domination of the whole of Europe, not just the eastern half. So thanks for that, even if you did come late.

I tend to beat up on the United States pretty regularly (and I hope only when they deserve it) but that really shouldn't hide the genuine admiration I feel for our cousins. The last five years have been pretty rough on all of us - even the Republicans, though they won't admit it - but any anger I show towards America or Americans comes from disappointment, not resentment or hatred.
...And even should the cloud of barbarism and despotism again obscure the science and libraries of Europe, this country remains to preserve and restore light and liberty to them. In short, the flames kindled on the 4th of July, 1776, have spread over too much of the globe to be extinguished by the feeble engines of despotism; on the contrary, they will consume these engines and all who work them.

-Thomas Jefferson, writing to John Adams, September 1821
My man Tommy J presaged the Second World War eloquently and eerily well, but he could never imagine that the "cloud of barbarism" would spread to the science and libraries of his own country. Well, what would you call Intelligent Design? Fortunately for America, this country remains...

And feel free to dock me a letter grade for referring to the genius of Monticello as "my man Tommy J."

America the Beautiful

Jon Schwarz is obviously a depraved Communist:
The alternative here would be to believe that America is like any other country; that when a country attacks another without being attacked it is almost always immoral; and that therefore, because America has fought a lot of wars in which we weren't attacked, we've fought a lot of immoral wars.
Read the full post - he's responding to some particularly stupid reasoning by someone named George Packer.

It's truly astonishing to me how offended most Americans get at the idea that their nation is only incrementally better than most major powers have been throughout history, if at all. No, for many Americans (and I imagine most citizens of major powers at the height/precipice of their power) it's impossible to believe that the United States has been anything other than a beacon of liberty and holiness from which no evil was ever spawned.

Suggest to them that America behaves precisely as ALL major powers have through history, and they start foaming at the mouth and clutching their rosaries/crucifixes.

To further suggest that the drive for national power itself might be immoral is obviously a sign of mental illness. Lobotomies will be performed.

First Thing

Weird that this is the first thing I see in the morning: Ford Motors Executive VP Mark Fields apparently said in an adress to the Society of Automotive Engineers that "Oil Production is Peaking." This was listed as one of seven challenges that Ford needs to overcome. Gee... if only Ford had spent some money to get ahead of the Japanese on Hybrid cars. Or, gee, if only Ford had really gotten creative. Sadly, Ford was only slightly less egregious than GM, crushing most (but not all) of their existing stock of electric cars.

So now GM and Ford both face stiff (possible insurmountable?) competition from Japanese, and soon Chinese, carmakers. Meanwhile, if they'd tried to lead the market and stayed with their electric cars, we'd have already almost solved the peak oil problem.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Tibetan Railway Finished

China has announced the completion of the first railway line to Tibet - one of the world's highest train routes.

The pan-Himalayan line climbs 5,072m (16,640ft) above sea level and runs across Tibet's snow-covered plateau - dubbed the roof of the world.

Trains travelling on the line will have to have carriages that are sealed like aircraft to protect passengers from altitude sickness.

The line is expected to take its first passengers next year.
And something I wouldn't have known without Wikipedia: Those sealed carriages the passengers will need? Made in Canada, baby!
Bombardier Transportation is to provide 361 high-altitude passenger carriages with special enriched-oxygen and UV-protection systems, to be delivered between December 2005 and May 2006. Of these, 53 will be luxury sleeper carriages for tourist service[3]. When signalling and track testing is complete, trains travelling in the frozen earth areas are expected to attain maximum speeds of 100 kilometres per hour. On the non-frozen earth areas, speeds are expected to reach 120 kilometres per hour.
In the Tibet Autonomous Regions, ethnic Tibetans make up about half of the population, with Han Chinese making up about a third. With the rail now completed, we can expect those numbers to change quickly. Look at Xinjiang for an example - Uighurs and Han are now even, thanks to China's investments in the west.

Good to know that Canadian capital can be counted on to help cultural repression.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

If You Like Rick Mercer

Somebody stole his "Talking to Americans" bit, to hillarious effect.

Seriously - check it out, if you need a laugh. And who doesn't?

Good To Know

Woot! Now, time to take to the streets!
The Resistance
Achtung! You are 30% brainwashworthy, 22% antitolerant, and 42% blindly patriotic
Welcome to the Resistance (Der Widerstand)! You believe in freedom, justice, equality, and your country, and you can't be converted to the the dark side.

Breakdown: your Blind Patriotism levels are borderline unhealthy, but you show such a love of people from everywhere and a natural resistance to brainwashing, you would probably focus your energy to fight the Fuehrer with furor, so to speak.

Conclusion: born and raised in Germany in the early 1930's, you would have taken up ARMS against the oppressors. Or even your friends' oppressors. Congratulations!

Less than 5% of all test takers earn a spot in the Resistance!

The Would You Have Been A Nazi? Test
This calls for music:
God has smiled upon you this day
The fate of a nation in your hands
And blessed be the children who fight with all our bravery
'Til only the righteous stand

You see the distant flames
They bellow in the night
You fight in all our names for what we know is right
And when you all get shot
And cannot carry on
Though you die, La Resistance lives on

You may get stabbed in the head
With a dagger or a sword
You may be burned to death
Or skinned alive, or worse
But when they torture you
You will not feel the need to run
For, though you die, La Resistance lives on

They may cut your dick in half
And serve it to a pig
And though it hurts, you'll laugh
And dance a dickless jig
But that's the way it goes
And though we're shat upon
Though we die, La Resistance lives oooooonnnnn!

Democracy Being Killed In It's Crib

Sadly, it looks like the Chinese Communist Party is trying to stop the spread of actual (as opposed to nominal) democracy.
China's tough handling of recent protests by villagers in Taishi, southern Guangdong province, has thrown into fresh doubt its claims to be introducing genuine democracy "from the bottom up".

Direct elections of local officials by almost a million villages across the country have in recent years been widely welcomed as a possible first step towards a multi-party state.

They were seen as the single most important political change in a period when China has otherwise devoted itself almost entirely to economic development.

But the arrest of dozens of villagers and their legal advisers since the launch of a petition in July to dismiss the director of the Taishi village committee have gained nationwide attention, with many concluding that the government is no more serious about grassroots democracy than any other sort of political reform....

The lawyer who helped the villagers with their claim has reportedly been arrested, and a political activist involved in the dispute reportedly beaten up.

"The Government responded in a violent and reckless way," said Hou Wenzhuo, director of the Empowerment and Rights Institute, a non-governmental activists' group in Beijing.

"At first they reluctantly allowed the petition. But then up to 1,000 police raided the village and acted like gangsters, using water hoses on the farmers and arresting 48 local inhabitants, including old women."
This is really quite sad. I keep trying to be optimistic about the Chinese leadership, but I'm increasingly feeling stupid for doing so.

For those who haven't been following it, the Taishi elections have been the first village-level elections which have achieved national prominence. The Party's candidate, in a democratic system, would already be gone. Unfortunately, it looks like the Party is still afraid of the people. What Hu Jintao doesn't seem to get is that it's behaviour like this that makes the people fearsome.