Friday, December 30, 2005

A Brief Conversation, While Watching CBC

My Girlfriend: Boy, Stephen Harper actually looks pretty good with glasses on.

Me: Yeah. Shocking.

MG: It makes him look more... human.

Me: "Look, puny humans! My eyes are frail like yours!"

MG: "See, now I'm Clark Kent!"

Me: (takes glasses off) "...and now I'm reptile-boy!! Bwahaha!!"

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Breaking Radio Silence

I've been enjoying/surviving the holidays, so forgive the lack of posting. Meanwhile, enjoy this message from the ACLU.

Thursday, December 22, 2005

Harper the Spendthrift

I actually really like this idea, but has anyone tallied up the amount of money Harper the small-government Conservative has promised to spend between tax cuts and new spending? Because at a certain point we might have to check the pantry...

Oh, and I can't remember how I found this, but Chretien's supporters are apparently talking about a Conservative minority, too. So at least I'm not entirely insane.

Class War: It's On, Baby

In response to this:
From GEORGE ZACHAR: We learned in January that New York City newspaper hawkers earning $9 an hour were making more than Guild members at the Youngstown Ohio Vindicator.

Now, thanks to David Cay Johnston's research, we know that the average Wall Street Journal reporter makes about as much the average (striking) New York City bus driver, roughly $55,000 a year.

No doubt the various benefit and pension plans differ greatly, but it is still a sobering statistic.
Atrios writes:
Why is this a sobering statistic aside from the general belief that anyone who is a part of the "professional class" is intrinsically deserving of making more money than those who aren't?

There's a really weird class resentment going on. White collar workers "know" they deserve more money than blue collar workers. Some blue collar workers, ones in unions and skilled workers, can make decent money. Since a lot of white collar workers actually don't get paid very well, they resent the hell out of the fact that some uneducated lout gets to buy a nicer house than they do. And, thus, we get the out of touch media coverage of the NYC transit strike.
The bizarre flip side to this is the typical white-collar sneer whenever the idea of unionizing is brought up. As if unions were only good for guys who swing wrenches. Morons of the world, wake up! Your boss might like you, but his job is to fire you if you get too expensive. If you like getting paid crap for your work, then fine. But I'd only point out that, at this minute you could make more working for Starbucks than the guild members at the Youngstown Ohio Vindicator. Kind of makes your student loans seem worthless, don't it?

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Confucius Rehabilitated?

The Communist Party has had a pretty bad relationship with Confucius, to put it mildly. So it's kind of fascinating to see that the Party has recently begun resucitating his reputation. Check out these two:

"The Confucian Party of China", and "The Confucian renaissance".

This is interesting in it's own right, but I'll say the thing that jumps out at me is that, in Confucian tradition, China is not just the best civilization - it's the only civilization. The rest of us are barbarians. Given the recent cultivation of Chinese nationalism, this could be troublesome in the future.

ANWR Defeated, again

And a good thing too. Frankly, I'm too busy to post once more about how useless ANWR will be in terms of making any significant amount of oil. But the short version is this:

1) It won't produce much oil.
2) It wouldn't start producing it for about a decade.
3) We could save more oil than ANWR could ever produce by making marginal improvements to fuel efficiency.
4) Even the oil companies have basically given up on it.
5) ANWR is worth protecting, even ignoring all of the above.

Oh, and before I forget, Ted Stevens is still an ass.

Paul Wells Speak, You Listen

Stephen Harper has as much right to speak for Canada as any leader or any Canadian. Will he do a less-than-sterling job? Maybe. Will he say things I would regret? Ohhhhhh, yeah. Will he spend too much time promising change and not enough defending the root proposition that this is an easy country to like? Sadly, probably so. But folks: We seriously need to stop looking for federalism's white knight. We, or those of us who rather like federalism, need to carry the water all by ourselves. Each of us. Canada is an easy proposition to defend, if only you get into the habit.
How do we forget this? Seriously, who doesn't love Canada?

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Why is the US the only one allowed to play?

When discussing whether China, India, Russia, or whoever might replace the US as a global power, there are almost always three implicit assumptions made:
1) The force of gravity at the Earth's surface is 9.8m/s2.

2) The speed of light in a vacuum is approximately 300 million m/s.

3) The United States of America is the only nation allowed the means to global power.
Two of these assumptions are reasonable. One is not. Can you guess which is which?

Believe it or not, just because China is building it's first modern military force since the 1700s, that it not in and of itself a bad thing. Now, we can have reasonable doubts as to what China will do with that military, but you cannot argue that China is not allowed to have those forces. There are two reasons for this: One, China isn't asking anyone's permission (wisely on their part.) Two, China is a nation that has suffered numerous invasion in the 20th century alone. Japan and Russia have both invaded, not to mention the history of western powers (including the US) forcing their commercial interests on the Chinese by military force.

We may think this is ancient history. To the Chinese generally, and especially to the Communist Party this is living history. The whole purpose of the Communist takeover can be summed up in Mao's words - "China has stood up." The legitimacy of the Communist regime resides on a) National unity, and b) Chinese sovereignty. There is little evidence that this is simply a "party" concern - any Chinese government would feel the same way. We're talking about historical facts here - the Chinese have no desire whatsoever to be the victims again.

As an important aside, none of this excuses Chinese treatment of the Uighurs or Tibetans. China's human rights record is abominable, and that's important to say. But once again, there is no reason to suppose that a Democratic China would free Tibet or Xinjiang. Sun Yat-Sen had a map on his office of what he considered Chinese territory which encompassed everything from the Arctic circle south to Singapore. The CPC doesn't have anything like those ambitions, judging from their record.

Back to the main point here. The discussion of China's power is all to often framed as China's power being by definition a threat to US interests. That is to say, the discussion assumes that only the US is allowed to have a blue-water navy in the Pacific, or supersonic fighter aircraft, etc etc. Read enough of articles about the China Threat and you see the same assertions over and over - China's building new submarines, and new destroyers, and could CONQUER TAIWAN IN FIVE YEARS!!!! AAAAHHH!!! Of course, we're bizarrely imputing the worst motives to a country which has shown - despite the above-mentioned abominable human rights record - considerable intelligence in foreign affairs since Mao died.

The US cannot have a monopoly on global power forever. However, that is exactly the stated policy of the United States (maintaining power forever), and it's the unstated assumption behind the castigating of China. I personally believe that China will democratize long before it has the potential to take the US on in global power terms. But even if I'm wrong there's a simple point to make - the US, and the world need to make room for China (and India, and others) peacefully. This doesn't mean we surrender our principles or our own rights. But it does mean we don't overreact to every new weapon the Chinese make or buy. The alternative to a peaceful accomodation is, quite simply, the next war between major powers - World War III, for real.

There is nothing - so far - that Beijing has done, or threatened to do, that is worth that.

China Threat Redux

Quirkyalone writes in comments:
Please look at the article Commentary: China Signals War - China threatened the U.S. with nuclear war for the thrid time already.
and then links to an article in the Epoch Times. Now, first of all I should point out that the Epoch Times has a pretty bad rep among Chinabloggers, known for particularly hysterical rantings about all things Chinese. That said, this did really happen:
On July 14, 2005, a top Chinese general threatened nuclear war against the United States, noting that China would destroy “hundreds of cities” in America if the U.S. honors its commitment to defend Taiwan against a Chinese attack:

“… we will have to respond [to the U.S. defense of Taiwan] with nuclear weapons.” “… the Americans will have to be prepared that hundreds of [their] cities will be destroyed by the Chinese.”
Okay, first of all it was a Major-General, specifically Zhu Chenghu. He's not exactly in the Chinese equivalent of the Joint Chiefs or anything. (Specifically, he is not a member of the Chinese Central Military Commission.) He is however a senior analyst, and a dean at the National Defense University. In any case, he was quickly rebuked by the Party for his comments. He very quickly ammended his remarks - no doubt at Beijing's insistence - to say that he was only hypothesizing, not presenting policy.

But let's take Zhu at his word for a moment. Does China even have the means to destroy "hundreds" of American cities? Categorically, unambiguously no. China has a grand total of 18 ICBMs capable of reaching America - all of them almost 30 years old now, with their warheads in storage - no aircraft carriers, and one (or possibly two) nuclear missile submarines incapable of operating away from the mainland for long periods of time.

There is no nuclear threat from China. End of discussion.

It is not, however, the end of that Epoch Times article. First off, any article which makes numerous comparisons between Nazi Germany and present-day Beijing isn't worth reading, but I'll go on anyway.

One of the first accusations that Beijing is prepared for war is this: "And, in 1998, a Chinese Defense White Paper boldly stated that China should “lead the world into the twenty-first century." If that's supposed to be scary, please consult, oh, every document issues by the US departments of State and Defense for the last fifteen years. Hell, Canada says crap like this all the time. I don't think anyone's worried about the Canuck peril.

Then we get this attempt at wit:
In August of 2005, China and Russia held their first-ever joint military exercises, signaling a profound strengthening of their military relationship. China used diplomatic doublespeak to explain the exercises, saying their purpose was to train China’s military to counter “terrorism.” China failed to clarify whether its anti-submarine warship or its amphibious landing exercises were designed to deal with the naval forces of Islamic Jihad, Al Qa’ida, or any other land-locked terrorist group.
Okay, that's kind of funny. But here's the thing - conventional military forces are asked to combat terrorism. Look at Chechnya. Not too closely, mind you - it's pretty awful. The US Navy and Marines are playing a role in counter-terrorism across southeast Asia. If you're skeptical of China's claims, fairness demands that you be equally skeptical of US claims.

Regarding China's so-called "buildup", we need to remember that China is still making the transition from a lightly armed "People's Army" to a modern fighting force. China is spending nowhere near the same kinds of money that the US is, and China has a much, much larger burden of pensioners to provide for. Anyone who talks about China's "buildup" without acknowledging those two simple facts is being either stupid or dishonest.

As for the claims that "no nation threatens China", this is patently absurd. Between hysterical articles in the Washington Times and the words and deeds of the last three Defense Secretaries, China has every reason to feel threatened by the US. The US military has been explicitly anti-Chinese for the last ten years. US diplomacy has recently begun attempting to "contain" China, a la Cold War. To expect China to do nothing would be absurd. But China didn't start this dustup, the US did. If the US backed off a bit, we'd have a testable hypothesis. Either things would calm down, and we could all breathe a bit easier, or China would become more agressive and we'd know we had to be on our guard.

In short, while this article makes a whole bunch of grand claims, the author desperately needs to take a remedial course in Chinese Military Affairs. Perhaps Maj-Gen Zhu would be willing to tutor him.

Holy Crap

King of the Simians Speaks:
After September the 11th, one question my administration had to answer was, using the authorities I have, how do we effectively detect enemies hiding in our midst and prevent them from striking us again?

We know that a two-minute phone conversation between somebody linked to al Qaeda here and an operative overseas could lead directly to the loss of thousands of lives. To save American lives, we must be able to act fast and to detect these conversations so we can prevent new attacks.
Seriously, if Bush believes that this is all there is to terrorism, we're fucked.

It's bizarre to think that he even believes this. Think about it - was 9/11 nothing but a phone call? Of course not. The terrorists had been in the country for months - many of them were known to the CIA. None of them were citizens of the US. They had been training in the US, and they'd been spending their money here all that time. Almost anything they did could have been monitored, legally. Even if Bush had known they were planning something, he wouldn't have needed new powers to watch them.

But Bush needs people to believe that his using the NSA to spy on American citizens is connected to 9/11. Here's the thing - there is no possible way this is true. The NSA is allowed to operate on American soil, provided it doesn't spy on American citizens. None of the 9/11 terrorists were US citizens. Any person believed to be an agent of a foreign government is fair game, and in any case a US citizen can be spied on with a warrant - which can be procured retroactively up to 72 hours later.

There is literally not a single reason Bush had to violate the law. Period. Full stop.

He ordered his underlings to break the law because he doesn't know any better, and they followed those orders because they wanted to.

It's gratifying to see the blogospheric left begin calling for the impeachment of this president. In my eyes it's about three years too late, but hey, what's a few thousand corpses between parties?

Monday, December 19, 2005

The Conspiracy Deepens

The "climate change" menace continues to poison our minds:
The world is now hotter than at any stage since prehistoric times, a top climatologist announced last week. His startling conclusion comes as Nasa reported that 2005 has been the hottest year ever recorded.

Dr Michael Coughlan, head of the National Climate Centre at the Australian Government's Bureau of Meteorology, said: "One probably has to go back into prehistoric times - and way back in them - to be seeing these sorts of temperatures."

Top British climatologists agree privately but are cautious of saying so in public because, naturally, no measurements were taken of temperatures then.
Aha! You admit it then! Caught in your own web of lies, aren't you now?

Boy, it's fun trying to be as incoherent as a the oil industry.


Gays and lesbians have a rough time in China. No doubt a proper sinologist would try and offer any number of cultural explanations for this, but the reality is probably not too different from why gays and lesbians still have a rough time in the US or Canada. Admittedly, the US National Guard isn't called in to break up peaceful festivals for gay culture:
BEIJING (Reuters) - Chinese police shut down the opening of a gay and lesbian culture festival on Friday, an action participants said highlighted deep-rooted intolerance toward homosexuality.

The festival was to be a weekend of films, plays, exhibitions and seminars on the issue of homosexuality, but police raided the opening reception on Friday night and participants said they were still negotiating on whether any of the events could go ahead.

"They didn't have permission to hold this event," said a police official surnamed He.

But participants said the real issue was the subject matter.

"The attitude in China is still very conservative. They say it's illegal, but what's illegal about wanting to understand more about these issues?" asked a film student surnamed Cui....

Homosexuality was listed as a mental disorder in China until 2001 and even state media have reported the heavy pressure gays are under to stay in the closet because of traditional beliefs that homosexuality is immoral.
Anyway, via Angelica at Battlepanda, I love this picture:

Soldier 1: Ugh. Frigging Dykes.

Soldier 2: Shut up man, that's hot!

Mao: I'm dead. Really, really dead.

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Equal Time for Rebuttals

via Brad Delong, a rebuttal to the idea that Susan was damned for getting breasts:
Susan has lived in Narnia; she has reigned as Queen of Narnia during its golden age. She and Lucy have had an intimacy with Aslan that ever Peter does not experience. She comforted Aslan during his agony before going to the Stone Table, and he let her stroke his mane. After his resurrection, she celebrated with him and he let her ride on his back. However, she now denies that any of this ever happened, and instead seeks joy exclusively through beauty products. Pullman wants us to believe that "Susan became interested in lipstick, and is therefore thrown out of Narnia." I think Lewis is really saying "Susan ceased to love Narnia, and therefore, became a pathetic figure -- a woman of 50, trying to be a girl of 21, capable of loving nothing apart from lipstick."

Susan is committing Lewis's cardinal sin: getting confused about what is real and what not. She choses to believe that Narnia is only a play-world, something which she and her three siblings made up.
Read the whole thing. It's a very strong case.

But Think of the Children!

I just recently finished reading Sam Harris' book, The End of Faith. Boy, all I can say is that it's not exactly seasonal literature - basically, it's 230 pages of explicitly anti-religious arguments, that are often very strident and angry. Which is to say that I loved every page. Really, it was refreshing. I laughed, a lot. To get an idea of what Harris' book is like, read this article by him on Truthdig:
Somewhere in the world a man has abducted a little girl. Soon he will rape, torture and kill her. If an atrocity of this kind is not occurring at precisely this moment, it will happen in a few hours, or days at most. Such is the confidence we can draw from the statistical laws that govern the lives of 6 billion human beings. The same statistics also suggest that this girl s parents believe at this very moment that an all-powerful and all-loving God is watching over them and their family. Are they right to believe this? Is it good that they believe this?


Consider the destruction that Hurricane Katrina leveled on New Orleans. More than a thousand people died, tens of thousands lost all their earthly possessions, and nearly a million were displaced. It is safe to say that almost every person living in New Orleans at the moment Katrina struck believed in an omnipotent, omniscient and compassionate God. But what was God doing while a hurricane laid waste to their city? Surely he heard the prayers of those elderly men and women who fled the rising waters for the safety of their attics, only to be slowly drowned there. These were people of faith. These were good men and women who had prayed throughout their lives. Only the atheist has the courage to admit the obvious: These poor people died talking to an imaginary friend.

Of course, there had been ample warning that a storm of biblical proportions would strike New Orleans, and the human response to the ensuing disaster was tragically inept. But it was inept only by the light of science. Advance warning of Katrina’s path was wrested from mute Nature by meteorological calculations and satellite imagery. God told no one of his plans. Had the residents of New Orleans been content to rely on the beneficence of the Lord, they wouldn’t have known that a killer hurricane was bearing down upon them until they felt the first gusts of wind on their faces. Nevertheless, a poll conducted by The Washington Post found that 80% of Katrina’s survivors claim that the event has only strengthened their faith in God....

Although it is easy enough for smart people to criticize religious fundamentalism, something called “religious moderation” still enjoys immense prestige in our society, even in the ivory tower. This is ironic, as fundamentalists tend to make a more principled use of their brains than “moderates” do. While fundamentalists justify their religious beliefs with extraordinarily poor evidence and arguments, they at least they make an attempt at rational justification. Moderates, on the other hand, generally do nothing more than cite the good consequences of religious belief. Rather than say that they believe in God because certain biblical prophecies have come true, moderates will say that they believe in God because this belief “gives their lives meaning.”...

It is perfectly absurd for religious moderates to suggest that a rational human being can believe in God simply because this belief makes him happy, relieves his fear of death or gives his life meaning. The absurdity becomes obvious the moment we swap the notion of God for some other consoling proposition: Imagine, for instance, that a man wants to believe that there is a diamond buried somewhere in his yard that is the size of a refrigerator. No doubt it would feel uncommonly good to believe this. Just imagine what would happen if he then followed the example of religious moderates and maintained this belief along pragmatic lines: When asked why he thinks that there is a diamond in his yard that is thousands of times larger than any yet discovered, he says things like, “This belief gives my life meaning,” or “My family and I enjoy digging for it on Sundays,” or “I wouldn’t want to live in a universe where there wasn’t a diamond buried in my backyard that is the size of a refrigerator.” Clearly these responses are inadequate. But they are worse than that. They are the responses of a madman or an idiot....

When we have reasons for what we believe, we have no need of faith; when we have no reasons, or bad ones, we have lost our connection to the world and to one another. Atheism is nothing more than a commitment to the most basic standard of intellectual honesty: One’s convictions should be proportional to one’s evidence. Pretending to be certain when one isn’t--indeed, pretending to be certain about propositions for which no evidence is even conceivable--is both an intellectual and a moral failing. Only the atheist has realized this. The atheist is simply a person who has perceived the lies of religion and refused to make them his own.
The entire book is like this. If you're an atheist, it's glorious. If you're a believer, I may have just lost a whole bunch of friends. But Harris' arguments are incredibly strong, clear, and well written. He even attempts to propose alternatives to religion for things like ethical guidance and spiritual knowledge. It's a dense book, and I'd reccomend it to anyone with a pulse. If nothing else, it's bound to get your heart racing, for good or ill.

I'm Like Edward R. Murrow, But With More Tits

Some of you may have heard of this already: A mini-scandal has erupted at the University of Western Ontario, where a young woman's birthday present to her boyfriend (in this case, a strip-tease) was photographed and shared on the web.

Now, because I'm nothing if not a fan of attractive young women taking their clothes off, I had heard of this a few days ago. Then yesterday this issue became a lot more relevant, as I woke to a phone call from the national editor of Carleton University's school newspaper.

She explained to me that the paper really wanted this story, but two others had backed out of it. What I didn't say at that point was "Who the hell backs away from a story like this?" But I really should have. The editor made it seem like my predecessors had backed out because the subject because they were uncomfortable, but for all I know it could have been exams.

So anyway, my day yesterday went from being: "Gee, I think I won't do anything today." And instead became "Boy, I think I'll interview staff at a university about the sexual habits of their students. This should be fun."

I'll say this about Western's Administration: They're handling this matter exactly right. I spoke with the VP of housing, (who's also quoted in the above article) who said in no uncertain terms that student's rooms are private, and so long as no laws are broken the University has no intention of policing consensual activities.

So good for them.

But more importantly, how does this affect my possible journalistic career? After all, the path I start down at this point in my life might very well determine what events I cover for the rest of my life.

My God - What if I'm forced to report on coed strippers for the rest of my life?

Please God let it be so! That would be terrible!


I haven't asked anyone to nominate me for a blog award of any kind, but that hasn't stopped Angelica at Battlepanda from nominating me for best new blog for the Koufax awards. All I can say is I'm very grateful and humbled. Ironically, she especially likes my posts about energy. It occurs to me that I haven't done a good post on energy issues for a while. It also occurs to me that I believe energy issues have been largely ignored in the Canadian election. I'll have to do my part to fix this.

Unfortunately, for the moment I've had a bit too much beer and popcorn while watching the leader's debate. So the post on energy is going to have to wait.

If you'd like to add your voice to Angelica's, go here and find the latest Koufax nominations post. Then submit my name for best new blog in the comments. Yes, if you want to nominate me you might have to log in an actual name - I don't know if they allow anonymous comments.

I didn't start this thing, but I'll be damned if I let some free publicity slip by!

Thanks Angelica!

Friday, December 16, 2005

Blood for Oil

Why is it that when I see this, I think of this?


via Angelica, this blew my mind:
WILLIAMS: A lot of people have seen, in this series of speeches you're giving on Iraq, a movement in your position. They call it an acknowledgment that perhaps the mission has not gone as it was originally planned, that the U.S. would be welcomed as liberators.

BUSH: I think we are welcomed, but it was not a peaceful welcome.
Lots of people are having fun with this today, but even if we take Bush seriously, how does he figure the US was welcomed, peacefully or not? Does Bush honestly think that a ferocious insurgency could survive in a land where the US was "welcomed"?

Bush's connection with reality is increasingly frayed.

The Streak Continues

Whenever Harper pisses off the social conservatives, I like him more:
VANCOUVER (CP) - A Conservative leader often branded as a right-wing ideologue declared he would love his children even if they were gay, and swore not to use a constitutional loophole to overturn same-sex marriage....

How would this staunch opponent of same-sex marriage react if he learned his children were gay? The Conservative leader - and father of a young boy and girl - paused briefly before answering.

"It's a duty of parents to always love their children," Harper replied.

"I love my children and I'm going to love my children all my life."

That personal declaration was followed by a more substantive statement where Harper swore not to use the Constitution's controversial notwithstanding clause on same-sex marriage.

It was as adamant as he has ever been on the issue and left only the slimmest and most legally remote chance that the recent same-sex marriage law will ever be overturned.

"I will never use the notwithstanding clause on that issue," Harper said.
Well, I'm glad that the Conservative leader was brave enough to point out that while he may not love Canada, he does love his children. Even if they end up liking the butt sex.

Now comes this news from the latest SES poll: For Canadians outside of Quebec:

LIB – 41% (+4)
CP – 41% (+6)
NDP - 14% (-11)
GP – 4% (NC)

So the NDP continues to falter, but outside of Quebec the Libs and Cons are tied. Moreover, in Ontario the numbers are sobering as well.

LIB – 41% (-3)
CP – 38% (+8)
NDP – 15% (-8)
GP – 6% (+3)

I don't know what the margin of error for that poll is, but it's worth noting that the Cons' strength does not seem to be coming from a strong NDP. That is to say, for the people who were worried that the NDP would bring in a Tory government, there is no evidence for your beliefs. Calm down. If we're going to get a Tory government, I have no doubt that people will blame the NDP. But grow up - if the Liberals lose, it will be nobody's fault but Paul Martin's. Harper increasingly manages to dress himself in moderate drag (and that's what I believe it is) and he continues to grow his appeal to Ontario voters - 8 points up, more than a month before the election is Very Good News for Harper.

I think what we're beginning to see is a movement towards (at least) a Conservative minority. This will no doubt cause the NDP to hemmorhage votes. I haven't made a seat prediction yet, but I think that if Harper continues to do this well (and barring a major Liberal success) we could be talking PM Harper by the end of January.

But It's Cute When Georgie Does It

Boy, I'd hate to live in one of those authoritarian states, where the government can track your movements and what you say without even going to a court or anything.

You know, like America.
WASHINGTON, Dec. 15 �- Months after the Sept. 11 attacks, President Bush secretly authorized the National Security Agency to eavesdrop on Americans and others inside the United States to search for evidence of terrorist activity without the court-approved warrants ordinarily required for domestic spying, according to government officials.

Under a presidential order signed in 2002, the intelligence agency has monitored the international telephone calls and international e-mail messages of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people inside the United States without warrants over the past three years in an effort to track possible "dirty numbers" linked to Al Qaeda, the officials said. The agency, they said, still seeks warrants to monitor entirely domestic communications.
This is entirely illegal. The government has been able to spy on people within the US for a while, but only so long as a) they aren't US citizens (though there are loopholes here) and b) the agency goes through a court.

Now, as it turns out the court involved is basically a rubber stamp. But that makes this more serious, not less. The US government has been breaking the law on US soil, despite the ease with which it could have in fact followed the law.

Never mind that it is by definition the government's job to enforce the law.

I've been calling for their impeachment for a while now. Come on, 2006...

China Is Not Our Friend

Not yet, anyway. The Chinese, on the other hand, could very well be. (I think I know all of one person born in the PRC.) Thomas P. Barnett has some excellent points about the US's sinophobia and how damaging it is - to international relations, to the US's own military, and therefore to the war on terror.
The greatest threat to America's success in its war on terrorism sits inside the Pentagon. The proponents of Big War (that cold-war gift that keeps on giving), found overwhelmingly in the Air Force and Navy, will go to any length to demonize China in their quest to justify high-tech weaponry (space wars for the flyboys) and super- expensive platforms (submarines and ships for the admirals, and bomber jets for both) in the budget struggles triggered by our costly wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

With China cast as America's inevitable enemy in war, the Air Force and Navy will hold off the surging demands of the Army and Marines for their labor-intensive efforts in Southwest Asia, keeping a slew of established defense contractors ecstatic in the process. How much money are we talking about? Adding up various reports of the Government Accountability Office, we're talking about $1.3 trillion that the Pentagon is locked into spending on close to a hundred major programs. So if China can't be sold to Congress and the American people as the next Red menace, then we're looking at a lot of expensive military systems being cut in favor of giving our troops on the ground the simple and relatively cheap gear they so desperately need not only to stay alive but also to win these ongoing conflicts. ...

Do the Chinese have a trillion-plus dollars locked up in huge acquisition programs like we do? Are you kidding? We spend more to buy new stuff each year than the Chinese spend in total on their entire military. In fact, we spend more on operations in the Middle East each year than China spends on its entire military. Prior to the September 11, 2001, terrorist strikes, the China threat was being successfully employed to win congressional support for all manner of Big War toys that logically had no real application in the 4GW scenarios that U. S. ground forces routinely found themselves in in the post-cold-war world. (Think dirt-poor Haiti or Black Hawk Down Somalia.) But 9/11 changed all that, and the Bush administration's global war on terrorism and resulting Big Bang strategy of transforming the Middle East inadvertently shifted the budgetary argument from the capital-intensive Navy and Air Force to the labor-intensive Army and Marines....

[Robert Kaplan outlined] "how we would fight China," which is the title of the article. Not why, mind you, just how . Kaplan takes such an indirect route because the "why" argument on China frankly sucks. I mean, we're going to fight China to prevent it from becoming our biggest trade partner? ...Kaplan avoids all such arguments for just that reason—they defy logic. Instead, he simply flips the Taiwan card on the table and then he's off to the races, or, should I say, the many wars—both hot and cold—that he imagines America must inevitably wage against China in the coming decades. Why? Let Kaplan tell you himself in what constitutes the stunning thesis of his argument: "Pulsing with consumer and martial energy, and boasting a peasantry that, unlike others in history, is overwhelmingly literate, China constitutes the principal conventional threat to America's liberal imperium."

Got that?
That, I think, is the most important point to make about any so-called China threat. It doesn't exist. There is, as yet, no conceivable argument to make that China poses a military threat to American interests. (The extent of America's attachment to Taiwan is bizarre when you really think about it. As lamentable as a hypothetical conquered Taiwan would be - and I don't underestimate or discount it - American interests would not be threatened one iota.) The threat that China does pose is an economic one. By definition, if China becomes even moderately wealthy their consumption of resources will escalate dramatically, and China's gross economic weight will give it a kind of power that America has by sheer mass.

Only in the most paranoid, fevered delusional states could any of that be construed as a "threat" that necessitates military force. Unfortunately, the US department of defense is currently run by the feverishly paranoid.

As a final note, the economic potential of China is often described in superlative terms, but some quick math shows us just how large the potential really is. South Korea's per capita GDP is something like $20,000 US. Taiwan's is more like $25,000. Even if we take the lower range of these numbers, a China that was as proportionally wealthy as South Korea is today would have an economy roughly twice that of the US. A "Taiwanese" China would have an economic power three times the size of America's. And of course, an "American" China would have an economy something like 5 or 6 times America's economic output.

It's worth pointing out that both Taiwan's and South Korea's experience of economic growth led directly to the downfall of military or one-party rule in those countries. I'm not saying the same is guaranteed in China, but anyone who thinks that a rich China will also be a Communist-ruled one has a high evidenciary bar to meet.

That economic growth, both present and future, is what is driving China's grand strategy, aptly summed up in the same article:
Here's another good example of this queer logic: The Wall Street Journal recently ran a front-page story that laid out—in rather breathless detail—China's "broad push into Africa." The Chinese are accused of courting African dictatorships to gain access to strategic resources, including—God forbid!—oil. Good thing America could never be accused of similar motivations and tactics.

But the Chinese aren't waging war in Africa, nor are they establishing military outposts like we are. No, China's "indirectness" comes in the form of building dams and laying roads and "cultivating desperately poor nations to serve as markets for its products decades down the road.”

My, that is scary, reflecting, as the Journal story points out, "Beijing's policy of actively encouraging its companies and citizens to set up shop in Africa at a record pace.”
Again, only the absurdly paranoid could call this A Bad Thing. Investment in Africa, aside from helping China's image, will do wonders for African economies. If the American government chooses not to invest in Africa, fine. I think that's cruel, but whatever. But to object when other large economies do invest in Africa, and scream about the "threat" it poses is insane.

The rise of China is first and foremost a good thing for the Chinese. It will also be a good thing for Canada. It will undoubtedly be a good thing for the developing world, who will have more customers to sell to at higher prices. It will also be a good thing for America, if their government is intelligent enough to use this moment properly.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Wikipedia, cont.

Yesterday I noted the problems with wikipedia (which I love.) Maybe I was a bit rash - it turns out that Wikipedia doesn't stack up too badly against a more established encyclopedia:
However, an expert-led investigation carried out by Nature — the first to use peer review to compare Wikipedia and Britannica's coverage of science — suggests that such high-profile examples are the exception rather than the rule.

The exercise revealed numerous errors in both encyclopaedias, but among 42 entries tested, the difference in accuracy was not particularly great: the average science entry in Wikipedia contained around four inaccuracies; Britannica, about three....

Editors at Britannica would not discuss the findings, but say their own studies of Wikipedia have uncovered numerous flaws. "We have nothing against Wikipedia," says Tom Panelas, director of corporate communications at the company's headquarters in Chicago. "But it is not the case that errors creep in on an occasional basis or that a couple of articles are poorly written. There are lots of articles in that condition. They need a good editor."...

"People will find it shocking to see how many errors there are in Britannica," Twidale adds. "Print encyclopaedias are often set up as the gold standards of information quality against which the failings of faster or cheaper resources can be compared. These findings remind us that we have an 18-carat standard, not a 24-carat one."
It looks like Wikipedia's goal of being at least as good as Brittanica is closer than we'd like to think.

It Can Never Be Said Enough

The elections in Iraq today may be a good thing, but there is no reason to believe the US invasion was necessary to get to this point. slacktivist explains.

Another Hurdle to Clear

Between bad banks, a crumbling ecosystem, widespread poverty, not to mention incompetent governance, China has a lot of hurdles to clear before we can speak of anything like a "Chinese Century". Add to all those a festering AIDS problem that is being exacerbated by ignorance and bigotry.
Images of China's top leader shaking hands with two AIDS patients, meant to dispel widespread discrimination, have brought mockery instead for their now-shunned families, a state newspaper said.

President Hu Jintao made an unprecedented visit to AIDS patients in a Beijing hospital in November 2004, urging the nation "to phase out discrimination and estrangement towards them."
What an exceptional act by Hu Jintao. Seriously. That's praiseworthy, even if Hu has been pretty bad overall.
Xiao Wei and Lao Ji (pseudonyms) were among those who met Hu, but state television repeatedly showed footage of the meeting without covering up their faces, China Youth Daily said.

Neighbors in their village in Shanxi province, where they were infected with HIV in the 1990s through blood selling schemes, have made their life miserable ever since, the newspaper said.

"Local officials came to ask Xiao Wei's landlord to expel his family lest the whole village get infected," it said.

Lao Ji's daughter, 11, who has not contracted HIV, had been isolated by schoolmates and mocked by other children. Villagers even refuse to allow chickens raised by the family to leave their backyard, it said.

"I cannot forgive them. It's as if we have been sentenced to death by the villagers," Lao Ji's wife, who is not infected, was quoted as saying.
The World Health Organization says that unless China really manages to step up on this matter, they could have as many as 15 million HIV+ patients by 2015. I'm not sure what medical people say about stuff like this, but I find it hard to believe that a public health crisis couldn't be better managed if the public were less ignorant and bigoted. But maybe that's just me.

How They See Us

A friend passed this on to me - The Economist's view of the upcoming Canadian election. It's illuminating, if only the show what an Anglo-American bastion of capitalist thought thinks of us:
Yet there are two reasons why the world--and its American neighbour in particular--should pay a bit more attention to Canada. The first is a rather old-fashioned one. Canada, and especially its west, is one of the great storehouses of the commodities that the world needs in ever greater quantities--something China has recently noticed.
That's us Canucks - nothing worthwhile except our oil! Not that a nation of 30 million people should be worthwhile on its own, right?
The second reason to watch Canada, as The Economist has argued before, is that it is a healthy rival to the American way. To the "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" of the American Declaration of Independence, Canada replied with "peace, order and good government" in its founding charter.
This cliche gets old fast. It's true that Canada was founded - almost 140 years ago - in an oblique reaction to the United States' liberalism. But it's about as relevant to say that the US today is defined by the enshrinment of slavery in it's constitution. Not that you can't make that argument, but frankly there are far more relevant aspects to look at.

Not that I expect relevance from The Economist. This is the magazine that can acknowledge that a) George Bush is the worst president on free trade, ever, and b) for some reason a magazine calling itself The Economist thought he should be reelected. Speaking of:
Mr Martin was a fine finance minister, but as prime minister he has, on the whole, disappointed. Rather than reform Canada's cherished but increasingly expensive state-provided health-care system, he has merely pumped ever more money into it. Although he promised to improve relations with the United States, he has not done so.
Rather than reform Americas absurdly expensive and wasteful system, Bush keeps funnelling money in to it - when will the Economist condemn that, I wonder? Bush's incompetent Medicare bill is liable to cost (and waste) orders of magnitude more than anything Paul Martin is likely to do. But because it's the Economist, public = bad, private = good. Simple as that.

As for repairing relations with the US, don't blame Paul Martin for that. At least, not Martin alone. Unless "improving relations" is simply code for "bend over and take it, bitch" and I missed it, repairing relations requires two willing partners. Ask a marriage counselor. So long as the United States is run by Republicans, relations with Canada are going to be strenuous at best.

Oh, but we're not done yet - the Economist needs to get one last slap in at the Canadian left:
Unless Mr Harper excels, the election's most likely outcome is another Liberal-NDP government. That does not bode well. Economic growth is no longer outstripping that of the United States, as it did between 1999 and 2002. The gap in productivity and incomes is widening. To close it, Canada needs more investment and enterprise. Mr Martin knows that. Temporarily free from the veto of the old-school socialists of the NDP, last month the government announced tax cuts and new training schemes. That is the right ground on which to stand, but may prove untenable if the Liberals are again forced into coalition with the NDP.
Okay, let's see if you follow this: The Economist says Canada needs more investment. The Liberals wanted to cut taxes. The NDP forced the Liberals to spend money (or as some economists call it, "invest") instead. But somehow, the NDP are old-school socialists. Funny, I missed the point where Jack Layton started singing the Internationale, and proposed nationalizing the Auto industry.

My problem with the Economist is not only that it's basically a pretensious rag that talks down to everyone who doesn't love Saint Ronald. My problems is that it's entirely incoherent - health care spending is bad, unless you're George W. Bush. Investment is good, unless it's by the NDP. The hell? Somebody wake me when the Economist decides to actually try consistency over more than three paragraphs. Until then, I'm going back to the BBC.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Scorpio, Now Building A Spaceport

Nothing wrong with this, I'm sure:
(AP) Virgin Galactic, the British company created by entrepreneur Richard Branson to send tourists into space, and New Mexico announced an agreement Tuesday for the state to build a $225 million spaceport.

Virgin Galactic also revealed that up to 38,000 people from 126 countries have paid a deposit for a seat on one of its manned commercial flights, including a core group of 100 "founders" who have paid the initial $200,000 cost of a flight upfront. Virgin Galactic is planning to begin flights in late 2008 or early 2009.
After which he'll launch his Earth-destroying laser satellite, thus holding the most powerful nations of the world for ransom.

With an assist from Homer Simpson, of course.

Can you believe that Hank Scorpio doesn't have a Wikipedia page? Jeez.

(Update - Oops, yes he does.)

I Missed Harper Doing Something Dumb.

...But Skippy caught Harper's announced defense policy, and why it, well, isn't a defense policy.
What's missing, alas, is any kind of statement on what role the military would play under Harper. And that matters, because he's on record as supporting Canadian involvement in invading Iraq. He's seen the light now, so there is no risk of seeing Canadian Forces committed there. But if a similar situation arose next year, would he show the same lack of judgment he showed in 2003? Would Paul Martin, for that matter?
My bet is yes.

In a later post, Skippy furthers his theory that what we're seeing is the Conservative discovery of pandering. Frankly, this trend worries me. Guess what? Pandering works. If the tories have finally learned the noble art of vote-buying, I think that actually portends very well for them - much more than any "moderate" social stances they might take.

The Continuing Tale of US Decline

The East Asian Summit meeting in Kuala Lumpur, and a certain you-know-who wasn't invited:
WASHINGTON - The United States is rapidly losing its influence in the Southeast Asia region to China, thanks to an overly narrow focus on terrorism and a propensity to place bilateral ties above multilateral relationships, according to US and Chinese analysts....

By making Southeast Asia a "second front" in its global "war on terror", the Bush administration has signalled that "we care less about other areas of policy", Dalpino said, addressing a forum on China and Southeast Asia sponsored by the Sasakawa Peace Foundation USA.

Minxin Pei, director of the China Program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, agrees that the US "has ceded the region to China's initiative".
And we can see again that the US really, really fucked up in 1997. We in the west generally don't realize how bad the Asian Crisis was, and how much damage it did to our relations with that part of the world:
He said US military policies following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks have played a significant role in the estrangement. But he dated the problem back to the Asian financial crisis of 1997 and 1998, when the Clinton administration used its influence on the International Monetary Fund to impose solutions on Asian countries that supported US economic goals in the region.

During the crisis, "the US showed to the East Asian countries it really did not care about them", he said.

Conversely, the Asian crisis was a turning point for China's ties with the broader Asian region, said Ren Xiao, director of the Asia-Pacific Studies Department at the Shanghai Institute for International Studies.
Ironically, one of the pillars of the post-WWII US hegemony - the IMF and World Bank - may be the exact same thing that fatally undermines US power in Asia. Not that the rhetoric surrounding China's success doesn't sometimes go over the top:
China, Ren stressed, has built its ties with Southeast Asia out of altruism. "China's foreign policy way of thinking has much to do with its geographical location," he said. "That is to say, we must have a stable and peaceful neighboring area."
I hope that's a bad translation, because otherwise it's just funny. China is deliberately, justifiably, and successfully undermining US power in Asia for its own interests. Altruism is somewhere near the bottom of the list.

This is what gets me - the US ambassador just complained loudly about anti-Americanism in the Canadian election. But here's the point: What the US calls anti-Americanism is in Canada's best interests. Now, it's true that on the particular point (climate change) the US has a better record than Canada, to our enduring shame. But broadly speaking, a more assertive Canada, unafraid to question American policy and work more closely with potential American rivals (like China) would be an unadulterated good thing for Canadians. It would also cause American politicians and pundits to scream blue bloody murder. Don't think so? Look at Venezuela. It can happen here.

Beware Wikipedia

I love Wikipedia, I really do. But I never, ever use it as a source in papers, and never will. I've used it on this blog, but generally only for background stuff. Not that I think it is by definition sloppy or widely wrong, but you only need to be caught on something like this a few times:
Brian Chase, 38, who until Friday was an operations manager at a small delivery company, told Seigenthaler he had written the material suggesting Seigenthaler had been involved in the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy.

Seigenthaler discovered the false entry only recently and wrote about it in an op-ed article in USA Today, saying he was especially annoyed that he could not track down the perpetrator because of Internet privacy laws.

His plight touched off a debate about the reliability of information on Wikipedia — and by extension the Internet — and the difficulty in holding Web sites and their users accountable, even when someone is defamed.

Don't Even Ask, Alright?

I forget who said it - probably Chris Rock - but most men should never, ever ask about the number of men their partners have slept with. Gather whatever information you need for epidemiological purposes, but it's the rare man who can accept that his girlfriend has slept with X other men, when X > 0. This, from Steve Gilliard, perfectly sums up how stupid men can be on this issue:
First, he's an idiot. Why should he care how many men you slept with? Then, he thought you were pure? What was his dick? Gandalf's staff or something. It was going to cleanse your vagina of other men?
Now I'll be thinking of that scene from Clerks all day...

"Try not to suck any dick on the way to the car!"

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Best And Worst Named Celestial Body Ever

2004 XR190, however, follows a nearly circular path. And it is too distant to have come into direct contact with Neptune, travelling between 52 and 62 AU from the Sun. Its orbit is also too circular - and too small - to have been tilted by a passing star, says Allen.

These traits make the object, nicknamed "Buffy" after the US television series about a vampire slayer, hard to explain. "Maybe Buffy is going to be a bit of a theory slayer," Allen told New Scientist.
You just know Dr. Allen was saving that line up all day.

The Decline of the Dollar?

Last week, chrisale at Murky Views put together a pair of posts which pointed out two interesting data points: Iran is preparing to denominate its oil sales in Euros, and so is Russia.

Personally, I'm unconvinced that this will have a direct effect on the power of the dollar. Paul Krugman wrote a column in 2003 arguing that the real effects from even a worldwide shift would be minor at best. What I think the real point of concern here is that these two (small, very small) changes might act as a catalyst for the wider market to start moving away from the dollar en masse.

There is one important direct effect to point out, though. It's a bit obvious, but worth mentioning anyway. If oil were priced in euros, the US consumer would no longer be insulated from changes in the value of the dollar (though now the Europeans would be.) If the global oil trade moved away from greenbacks, and the value of the dollar decline dramatically (whether it was directly caused or not) the US price of oil would go through the roof.

Oh, and gold hit a 20-year high yesterday.

The Paris Hiltons of the Animal Kingdom

August Pollak watched a special on pandas, and I swear I'd rather re-read what he wrote than bother watching the thing.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Why You Should Care About Cory Maye

via Angelica, this disgusting story:
Let's summarize: Cops mistakenly break down the door of a sleeping man, late at night, as part of drug raid. Turns out, the man wasn't named in the warrant, and wasn't a suspect. The man, frigthened for himself and his 18-month old daughter, fires at an intruder who jumps into his bedroom after the door's been kicked in. Turns out that the man, who is black, has killed the white son of the town's police chief. He's later convicted and sentenced to death by a white jury. The man has no criminal record, and police rather tellingly changed their story about drugs (rather, traces of drugs) in his possession at the time of the raid.

The story gets more bizarre from there.

Maye's attorney tells me that after the trial, she spoke with two jurors by phone. She learned from them that the consensus among jurors was that Maye was convicted for two reasons. The first is that though they initially liked her, Maye's lawyer, the jury soured on her when, in her closing arguments, she intimated that if the jury showed no mercy for Maye, God might neglect to bestow mercy on them when they meet him in heaven. They said the second reason May was convicted was that the jury felt he'd been spoiled by his mother and grandmother, and wasn't very respectful of elders and authority figures. The facts of the case barely entered the picture. Gotta' love the South.

It gets weirder. Maye's family terminated his trial attorney after he was convicted. In her place, they hired a guy from California with no legal experience who convinced them that he'd had bad representation (given his lawyer's closing argument, he was probably on to something). The new fellow has since failed on several occasions to file the proper appeals.

Maye's case is an outrage. Prentiss, Mississippi clearly violated Maye's civil rights the moment its cops needlessly and recklessly stormed his home in the middle of the night. The state of Mississippi is about to add a perverse twist to that violation by executing Maye for daring to defend himself.
First of all, the reason you should care about Cory Maye is because his case is an outrage, and he shouldn't have been convicted, much less sentenced to death. But if that's not good enough for you, there are more parochial reasons to be interested in Maye's case.

Canada has mercifully been spared a debate on the death penalty since Parliament last voted against it, in 1987. It was defeated by a relatively slim margin of 21 votes. Since then, the Supreme Court has ruled that capital punishment is unconstitutional, and even gone so far as to rule that the Canadian government cannot extradite a suspect in a capital crime without assurances that they will not be executed. So this issue is not immediately relevant for Canadians.

All the same, I don't think we've seen the last of the death penalty debate in Canada. The conservatives won't be gone forever, even if they're defeated in this election. If gun crime continues to get worse in Toronto, don't think the CP wouldn't score some extra votes by running on the death penalty. They'd have to amend the constitution to do it, but they've already basically proposed to do that with gay marriage. So why not?

Maye's case shows us all why bringing back the death penalty would be a mistake. Aside from being morally repugnant, (and I don't put that aside at all) there's no evidence it works as a deterrent. All the death penalty seems to be truly effective at is killing dark-skinned people, and for that we've already got the US Army.

Honestly, I don't understand why this is even a debate anymore. Canada saw a 30-year trend of decline in violent crimes after capital punishment was abolished, and we know of at least 6 cases where convicted murderers were later released after being found not guilty. I hope our justice system isn't so bad that there are lots more like those, but the simplest pragmatic problem with the death penalty is also its supposed benefit - its finality. Any justice system in which there is capital punishment has almost certainly killed innocents, and that is simply not something we should tolerate in - to borrow a phrase the Liberals used to use - a just society.

An Actual Good Reason to Hate Narnia

See, I never read all of the books, which is why I missed this:
Then there's the unfortunate business with Susan, the second-oldest of the Pevensies, who near the end of the last volume is denied salvation merely because of her fondness for nylons and lipstick - because she has reached puberty, in other words, and has become sexualized.
Boy. Wonder if that'll make it to the big screen?


Has it been a year already? Yes, yes it has been.

And I missed it.

Happy blogaversary to me...

Sunday, December 11, 2005


But remember, it's Democrats who hate the troops.
SAN DIEGO -- There's controversy over how the military is transporting the bodies of service members killed overseas, 10News reported.

A local family said fallen soldiers and Marines deserve better and that one would think our war heroes are being transported with dignity, care and respect. It said one would think upon arrival in their hometowns they are greeted with honor. But unfortunately, the family said that is just not the case.

Dead heroes are supposed to come home with their coffins draped with the American flag -- greeted by a color guard.

But in reality, many are arriving as freight on commercial airliners -- stuffed in the belly of a plane with suitcases and other cargo.
via Atrios.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

'Tis the Season, II

I'll be off to work in my retail sector job in a few minutes, but I'd like to point out that I'll be saying either "happy holidays" or nothing at all to people who come to the till. I will do this in spite of the fact that I was screeched at last Christmas by a woman insisting that I apparently hated the baby Jesus.

Because obviously that's the only possible explanation. Not that, say, I don't want to offend the many Jews and Muslims who come in to the store. Nor could it possibly have anything to do with the fact that there are a number of holidays in the December-January period. And it certainly couldn't have anything to do with the fact that I'm "happy" that I'm getting time off - or "holidays" - at Christmas.

The influence of nutbars like Bill O'Reilly on other nutbars is greater than we think. Don't think it isn't.

Oh, and in case you missed it, you should really check out Jon Stewart's counter-attack on Bill O'Reilly here, and look for "secular central". It really is awesome.

Friday, December 09, 2005

How Does He Manage It?

Stephen Harper better pray there's full-motion video of Ralph Goodale calling out stock tips to Bay Street, with 5.1 surround sound. Because I am totally at a loss to understand how, despite the fact that the Tories have pretty much owned the news for the last two weeks, Harper's numbers can continue to sink. The latest SES poll puts the liberals in majority territory, which is awfully ironic (though perhaps in an Alanis sort of way - I can never remember the proper definition.)

So far I believe that they're the only ones calling a 41%, but every poll I've seen shows shrinking support for the Tories, despite Harper's policy-offensive. Or is that offensive policies?

On the other hand, an early increase in their numbers could be bad news for the Liberals by making people feel safer in voting NDP or even Conservative come election day.

Still, you've got to wonder how Harper manages to ruin everything.

You're Kidding, Right?

Paul Martin sez:
"To the reticent nations, including the United States, I say there is such a thing as a global conscience, and now is the time to listen to it,"
And the White House responds with this:
Prime Minister Paul Martin's comments on U.S. environmental policy prompted a furious Bush administration official to demand a meeting with Canadian ambassador Frank McKenna, U.S. sources say.
Seriously? Martin's mealy-mouthed, mildest-possible complaint about the US despoiling the planet got them all upset? See, if I'd been PM I'd have said something like this:
"To the reticent nations, including the United States, I say there is such a thing as a global climate change, and you're causing it. Stop ruining the planet, you greedy bastards."
I imagine that would've got the missiles flying.

Inevitable Consequences

Michael Ignatieff would like to believe that, once let out of the bottle, the torture genie can be constrained within the law - he believes that it can be leashed, if you will. It can't be, and here's what it leads to: Truly horrible people get to use your mideeds against you. From Saddam's trial:
The defense also continued to use the trial to attempt to score political points.

After Witness A testified about conditions at the Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad, where she recalled lice crawling on prisoners' scalps and using pieces of cardboard as shoes to go to the bathroom outside during the winter, the defense found an opening.

"I agree that things in Abu Ghraib were, until recently, bad, but did they use dogs on you? Did they take photographs?" said one defense attorney, alluding to U.S. troops' abuse of Iraqi detainees at the prison.

"No," she replied.
I've asked it before - would Ignatieff prefer we were involved in this mess?

A Great Canadian Speaks

Proud to count Louise Arbour as one of our own, not for the first time:

U.N. human rights chief Louise Arbour warned Wednesday that the U.S.-declared war on terrorism was eroding a global ban on torture. In remarks at the United Nations in the run-up to Human Rights Day on Saturday, Arbour urged Rice to further clarify the U.S. policy on torture and rendition.

"Pursuing security objectives at all costs may create a world in which we are neither safe nor free," Arbour said. "This will certainly be the case if the only choice is between the terrorists and the torturers."

U.S. Ambassador John R. Bolton immediately responded, saying Arbour should be concentrating on "real" human rights abusers such as Zimbabwe and Myanmar — not the United States.
I'm confused. US human rights abuses are well documented. Is John Bolton saying that the United States is not real? Does the UN Ambassador believe that his country is a figment?

Boy, they take the whole "faith-based community" thing seriously.

The Perfect Really Is the Enemy of the Good

In comments a few days ago, Aiden (who is apparently running for the Marijuana Party in Peterborough) wrote:
I was disappointed that the NDP supported the 'discriminalization bill'. As former Liberal Justice minister Martin Cauchon said: "We're not decriminalizing marijuana, to be technical, it will remain a criminal offense. What we are putting in place are alternative penalties, in using the Contraventions Act"

Another Liberal Paddy Torsney commented: "We think, actually, with what we're proposing a person with a small amount will be more likely to suffer a consequence for breaking the law."

This bill will simply lead to the further criminalization of marijuana users and further entrench prohibition and its war on the Canadian people. It does not grant amensty to the 1.5 million Canadians arested for possesion of cannabis. And the bill doubles the sentences of peaceful marijuana gardeners.
I read that and thought to myself, "surely that can't be true!" But boy, C-17 was a lot more noxious than I believed. From the government of Canada:

# of PlantsPenalty
1-3$250-$500 fine
4-2518 mo - 5yr in prison
26-50Up to 10 yrs!
>50Up to 14 yrs!

Boy, I foolishly thought that decriminalization might actually mean something close to what it sounds like. Stupid me, I guess. Even if it never actually happened, the idea 14 years in prison for growing a harmless drug is disgusting. I'm suddenly much happier this election happened - this bill deserved to die.

Note that the Liberals have introduced decriminalization - what, twice? Three times? - and have refused to actually bring it to a vote. This should tell you all you need about Liberal governance, and the cowardice of Paul Martin.

I think it's funny that Aiden opposes the NDP, when a somewhat more prominent pro-legalization advocate said yesterday:
[Marc] Emery said outside court that he'd be campaigning for the NDP after former MP Svend Robinson asked for his support when the politician was seeking the nomination for Vancouver Centre.

"I'm fully endorsing the NDP in the federal election and I think that's the best thing our people can do is support the New Democratic Party in British Columbia for the federal election so I plan to actively do that," Emery said.
Meaning no offense to Aiden, this is why I don't subscribe to the whole protest vote thing. I agree with the NDP on most issues, and I think they're right on this issue broadly, even if they're supporting a crappy bill. Moreover, the NDP agrees that C-17 was awful, and was on the record supporting ammendments. You want pot actually legalized? Your only hope in the near term if for the NDP and the Bloc to have enough votes for that to happen. The Liberals and Tories won't do it, simple as that.

Oh, and one last thing: Aiden gets docked 10 points for using the phrase "Information Superhighway" on his campaign blog. Dude, it's 2005. Still, good luck to him and Marijuana Party generally. I won't be voting for them, but they get points for trying to keep this issue alive.

It Was Bound to Happen

I disagree with something Skippy wrote:
amidst the reactions to Paul Martin's proposed handgun ban, there are obviously a wide range of opinions, and all of them are honest, save one.

That's the idea that there is no reason to own a gun in Canada.
No, not that. It's what he writes next:
This idea is an assumption that the rights -- to free expression, for almost everything we do expresses something -- of a small minority of Canadians are unimportant. Not only that, it dismisses the ideas and the culture of those Canadians out of hand, with no effort to understand them. (And please, if you say this is not a cultural question, I hope you've never let the words "gun culture" pass your lips.) Canadians who own guns clearly have their reasons. Do you understand them?
Well, I don't understand "gun culture", though I'll grant such a thing exists. But cultural reasons are not, on their own, legitimate reasons for a particular activity. To make an admitted reductio ad absurdum, consider that many cultures are fiercely patriarchal, and see women as little more than property? Should the women within those cultures be exempted from the protection of the Charter? Of course not, and I certainly don't think that's what Skippy is saying. The problem with cultural protections is that on their own, they pardon far too much. Harmless cultural practices are protected, and rightly. But when a cultural practice is demonstrated to cause harm, it is a simple matter to ban it.

One example of this in Canadian law is child pornography. The Supreme Court ruled that while it was a matter of expression, it was also seen to cause harm by encouraging harm to minors. So, goodbye to that. And yes, I did just compare gun owners to child pornographers. Moving on...

What is a "gun culture"? Is it harmless, like stamp collecting or Dungeons and Dragons? No. Simply put, all firearms confer upon their owners the potential use of lethal force. Moreover, that is the express purpose of owning a functioning gun, whether the owner admits it or not. (Please don't tell me about target shooting. If you want to shoot targets, play paintball.) It is not the same as owning a car or a kitchen knife, for that simple reason. To say that your right to own a gun should be protected because you belong to a "gun culture" is to say that you refuse to belong to society unless you retain the ability to kill your fellow citizens. Sure, you'll go to prison, but that doesn't bring back your neighbor.

Simply put, cultural protections cannot be granted when the cost to society is an armed minority who insist on the ultimate veto. And yes, I realize this is an agument against all firearms, not just handguns.

Now, as it happens I think this policy isn't going to accomplish much - legal handguns are pretty difficult to get in Canada anyway. I think that I also agree with Skippy that, in a free society, there needs to be a high bar for denying people any right, regardless of how little we understand it. But I frankly think that bar has been met and then some when it comes to firearms. We consider any number of cultural practices to be outdated or even barbaric. It's about time we put gun ownership in that category.

Hot Asian Action

(I imagine I'll get more traffic now!)

This article is funny - now that the party has stopped picking mates for people, the Chinese are suddenly discovering the joys of free love:
Li Li has lost exact count of how many men she has bedded, but she knows the number is far above 100. "I don't keep statistics," says the former journalist, 27. But she isn't averse to kissing and telling. For the past couple of years, Li has kept a blog--written under the pen name Muzi Mei--that has chronicled everything from her penchant for orgies and Internet dating to her skepticism toward marriage when it means staying faithful to one man....

Freedom in the bedroom is a novel concept in China, where for decades communist minders dictated most aspects of people's private lives. Dressed in baggy Mao suits--hardly outfits to set the pulse racing--citizens of the People's Republic had to ask permission from local officials on everything from whom to marry to what kind of birth control to use. But these days many Chinese are walking on the wilder side....

But China's sexual revolution has also brought unpleasant side effects. Although sex education is supposedly mandatory in Chinese middle schools, "many older teachers are too embarrassed, so they tear out the pages about sex from the textbooks," says Hu Peicheng, secretary-general of the China Sexology Association in Beijing. With little knowledge of birth control, an increasing number of unmarried women are getting pregnant in a culture in which single motherhood is still taboo. A survey by Shanghai medical researcher Yan Fengting found that 65% of urban women undergoing abortions in 2004 were single, compared with just 25% in 1999. Rates of sexually transmitted diseases are skyrocketing too, with HIV infections growing most quickly among Chinese 15 to 24 years old. Brothels barely disguised as beauty salons crowd the streets of China's big cities, while certain suburbs are known as "concubine villages" because of their high concentration of mistresses.
China and India have thus far managed to avoid pandemic-style outbreaks of HIV. Unfortunately, in both countries rates of infection are on the rise. Fortunately, both countries are better prepared to deal with it than most African countries. Given that India already has a history of using generic drugs (which the US falsely calls "illegal") and China hardly has a history of respecting intellectual property, it easy to imagine both countries will respond to growing HIV rates by producing cheap anti-retroviral drugs.

Another note, which would be funny, but not in a ha-ha way:
Those extra temptations--which the communists largely eradicated after taking power in 1949--have wreaked havoc on marriages, with 1.6 million Chinese couples divorcing in 2004, a 21% rise from the year before, according to the Ministry of Civil Affairs. "Before in society, we had a sense of right and wrong," says the China Sexology Association's Hu. "Now, we can do whatever we want. But do we have any moral standards left?"
Great: The Republicans are coming to China.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Please Don't Bomb Me

Okay, I understand he wrote a bunch of good songs. And really, some of the are great. But honest to Christ, he was a Beatle, not the messiah.

Get over yourselves.


From the British House of Lords:
LONDON (Reuters) - The Law Lords ruled on Thursday that information gleaned from torture anywhere in the world was unacceptable as evidence in British courts.

Rights groups immediately said the ruling sent a clear signal to governments around the world who are wrestling with accusations that they participated in, provided facilities for, or used evidence in court extracted from people detained as part of a CIA programme known as "rendition".

The decision by the country's highest court to refuse evidence obtained under torture in third countries comes a day after the United States explicitly banned its interrogators from treating detainees inhumanely after widespread anger and pressure from European governments and the U.S. Congress.

"Torture is an unqualified evil. It can never be justified. Rather it must always be punished," said Lord Brown, one of seven Law Lords asked to rule on the issue.
So why is the unelected, aristocratic House of Lords right on an issue, where the MP-hopeful for Etobickok-Lakeshore is wrong?

I Heart Mike Wallace

via Atrios, this quote from an interview with the 60 Minutes heartthrob:
Q. President George W. Bush has declined to be interviewed by you. What would you ask him if you had the chance?

A. What in the world prepared you to be the commander in chief of the largest superpower in the world? In your background, Mr. President, you apparently were incurious. You didn't want to travel. You knew very little about the military. . . . The governor of Texas doesn't have the kind of power that some governors have. . . . Why do you think they nominated you? . . . Do you think that has anything to do with the fact that the country is so [expletive] up?

He's dreeeeeaammmy.

On Labels

Of the four political parties in the Canadian parliament, three supported gay marriage, one opposed it.

Three support marijuana decriminalization, one opposes it.

Three support a real child care plan, not one that forces mothers to stay home.

So what do we call this outlying party - these Orwellian sourpusses who want to control who you love, what you smoke, and (if you've a uterus) whether or not you work?

Why, small government conservatives, of course.

Does this strike anyone else as retarded?

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Well That's All Cleared Up Then

I'm sure people will all go home now and stop all their carping:
HONG KONG (AFP) - Beijing could hint at the possibility of granting full democracy to Hong Kong by 2017, a newspaper report said Wednesday, after tens of thousands of people demanded universal suffrage at a weekend rally.
You know what's funny? In the world of Chinese politics, this probably counts as progress. See, sometime soon a leader might talk about democracy! In 12 years! Whoo! We're partying now!

Still, it's interesting to consider that HKers still have a lot more civil rights than mainlanders. I wonder how that goes over with mainland Chinese.

And I wonder how they came up with the year 2017?

Some People Are Just Angry

I've been following this for a while, and I've got to say: While I obviously understand the high emotions involved in Sino-Japanese relations, this story just cracks me up:
THREE Chinese actors have evoked outrage and jubilation in the internet chatrooms of China by appearing as Japanese geishas in the film Memoirs of a Geisha. Ziyi Zhang, China's most famous actress, has attracted epithets and accolades from "shameful traitor" to "graceful beauty" for her role.

The outrage stems from the anger that most Chinese still feel over Japan's brutal occupation before and during World War II....

"How could Zhang be willing to portray a geisha? And how could she kiss her lover, played by a Japanese actor? "Why did Zhang accept the role of a Japanese prostitute?" asked one participant in an internet chatroom. "Why did she allow a Japanese man on top of her?" another asked.
The one thing this story missed is my favourite over-the-top quote related to this issue: One overheated commentator wrote (from my memory) "It's not just Ziyi Zhang getting fucked by a Japanese, it's all of China getting fucked by Japan!"

Dude, chill. It's a movie. Worse yet, it's a movie based on a book whose prime constituency seems to be adolescent girls (Based on my observation of customers at the bookstore I work at.) It'll blow over.

While we're on the subject, please disregard this column:. Complaining that CS Lewis' Narnia books are too Christian is... I don't even know how stupid it is. Yes, Disney's allied with fundies to help the box-office. But have you seen the trailers? This movie is going to do well, no matter how many tongue-speakers go see it. I think the most offensive quote from that article is this:
Of all the elements of Christianity, the most repugnant is the notion of the Christ who took our sins upon himself and sacrificed his body in agony to save our souls. Did we ask him to? Poor child Edmund, to blame for everything, must bear the full weight of a guilt only Christians know how to inflict, with a twisted knife to the heart. Every one of those thorns, the nuns used to tell my mother, is hammered into Jesus's holy head every day that you don't eat your greens or say your prayers when you are told.
I realize this horrible woman is still dealing with old childhood traumas here, but holy hell that's awful. I'm not a Christian, but to call the notion of Christ's sacrifice "repgunant" because we didn't ask for it really is repugnant. It was horribly bowdlerized by Mel Gibson, but if you believe in it, the story of Christ's death if an incredibly moving act - because not only was it not asked for, but Christ was mocked and tormented on his way to Golgotha. As for the guilt that Christians inflict, the point isn't that Edmund should feel guilty because Aslan died, but because an innocent died in Edmunds place. Screw what the nuns told this crazy lady, if the character of Edmund didn't feel guilt over Aslan's death, he'd hardly be a sane person - he'd be a psychopath.

I've now officially given too much attention to works of fiction for the day - Memoirs of a Geisha, Narnia,and the New Testament. Told you I'm not a Christian.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Rebuttals from Smart People

Specifically, CS Lewis rebuts... Michael Ignatieff:
The most dangerous thing you can do is to take any one impulse of your own nature and set it up as the thing you ought to follow at all costs. There's not one of them which won't make us into devils if we set it up as an absolute guide. You might think love of humanity in general was safe, but it isn't. If you leave out justice you'll find yourself breaking agreements and faking evidence in trials "for the sake of humanity" and become in the end a cruel and treacherous man.
And while we're at it, CS Lewis rebuts Paul Martin:
Of course God knew what would happen if they used their freedom the wrong way: apparently He thought it worth the risk.
Both from Mere Christianity.


You know the end of term is getting to you when you walk around with "One Day More!" from Les Miserables stuck in your head.

That is all.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Would Ignatieff Prefer They Were Canadian?

A roadside bomb explosion has killed 10 U.S. marines and wounded 11 others near Fallujah, in one of the deadliest attacks on American troops in recent months, military officials announced Friday.

The marines were on foot patrol at the time. They were hit by what the military calls an improvised explosive device, made from several large artillery shells.
I know it's callous to use the deaths of these Marines for my own political purposes, but it's a question the Liberal candidate for Etobicoke-Lakeshore needs to answer: Should Canadians be dying in Iraq for an impossible goal?

If you think "victory" in Iraq is still a possibility, I'll refer you to Steve Gilliard:
Look, guerrillas aren't going to set up a pressure plate with four 122mm shells and wait. They fucking knew these folks were coming. Maybe the cops told them, maybe the Army, but someone observed them, noted the number of men and the pattern and devised the best way to design that trap.

So, come this week, some very unlucky patrol walks into this carefully laid trap and were hit.

The Marine spokesman said some bullshit about how "this is how the insurgents fight". No fucking kidding. They use their ample intelligence resources to deliver the most pain at the lowest risk to themselves. That's what guerrillas do....

We are NEVER going to train an Iraqi Army worth a damn. Why?

Because the first thing the compent Iraqi Army would do is turn on the US like a rabid dog. So we send them out in pickups, while Marines laugh at them for doing so. The problem is that many of them speak some English and most of us don't speak any Arabic. They smile in our faces, they do their jobs, but they hate us. Too many Americans die in ambushes and traps for that to be untrue.
One of the most basic prerequisites for any reasonable argument in favour of humanitarian intervention is this: You need to be able to make the situation better through intervention. This isn't just common sense, it goes back to Just War theory as Christian thinkers have understood it for centuries.

I personally thought at the beginning of this war that, while the war in Iraq was always a "wrong war", there was at least the possibility that the US forces might make things better. The first year or so seemed to back up that belief, in part - the insurgency hadn't really begun to grow until the spring of 2004. In any case, the US shows no ability to control Iraq, much less improve matters. The only thing they've done in the last year is kill (and be killed) unnecessarily.

And before Mr. Ignatieff's defenders respond, there is no evidence Canada's participation in this disaster would have improved things, any more than Britain's participation has helped matters. All it would have done is given Prime Minister Martin a few more funerals to attend, and made us a bigger target for terrorists.

China's Soft Power

Fareed Zakaria makes an excellent point here:
But neither Japan nor China has any real vision of what Asia should look like, certainly not a vision other countries will buy into. Simon Tay, a Singaporean scholar, explains, "People speak of China's 'soft power.' But this is a misunderstanding of the term, coined by Joseph Nye. Soft power means the appeal of one's culture, ideas and principles. China has no soft power. No one in Asia wants the Chinese dream or pines to live in a Chinese world. Even the Chinese don't really know what that would mean."

China has used soft power only in the sense that it has exercised its power softly.
Actually, the whole article is interesting, in that Asian leaders are starting to think seriously about what they want Asia to look like in the next century.
But the broadest reason for the shift is that Asian countries are beginning to see China's rise as the complex phenomenon that it is. In Japan, India and much of Southeast Asia there is still great hope that China's growth will be an economic boon for them. But there is also a realization that an Asia dominated by China would not be in their interests. "We want a solar system with many suns," says Raslan.
Like Tatooine? Cool!


I would only add that it's a common belief among smaller powers that safety lies in being able to play larger powers against one another. So in theory, Malaysia might think it can guarantee its interests by (say) playing India, China, the US, and Indonesia against each other. It's a nice idea, but the history of Europe doesn't actually lend a lot of support to this idea. If you look at the smaller powers that were caught between major powers, it's the history of Poland, Belgium, Holland, and Yugoslavia. All of these countries have been invaded multiple times in this century alone. They've never really had a whole lot of independence, despite the fact that they've sometimes had some autonomy (see Yugoslavia under Tito.)

If I were Vietnamese, Malaysian, or Singaporean, I wouldn't take a lot of comfort from the idea that my leaders were trying to play the large powers against one another. Indeed, there's a potential disaster in the making here. It was after all the madness in the Balkans that prompted World War I.

Friday, December 02, 2005

He Ain't Seen Nothin

Marshall McLuhan on Photocopiers:
Xerography is bringing a reign of terror into the world of publishing because it means that every reader can become both author and publisher... Authorship and readership alike can become production-oriented under xerography. Anyone can take a book apart, insert parts of other books and other materials of his own interest, and make his own book in a relatively fast time. Any teacher can take any ten textbooks on any subject and custome-make a different one by simply xeroxing a chapter from this on and from that one... [But ] Xerography is electricity invading the world of typography, and it means a total revolution in this old sphere.

-The Medium is the Massage, p. 123 (quoted in Eva Hemmungs Wirten, No Trespassing, p. 66)
I'm not a huge fan of McLuhan, but this is brilliant. He foresaw people "Rip, Mix and Burn"-ing their own content decades before it was even possible. Similarly, he foresaw the reign of terror it would bring. Craziness.

The Biggest Loser Ever Speaks

Quiet, you know it's true:
Former Tory prime minister Kim Campbell says she doesn't think Stephen Harper will win the federal election because Canadians are too afraid of his party's social conservative agenda....

"Their (the Conservative party's) positions are too socially conservative, I think, to form a government in Canada," said Campbell about the Jan. 23 election. "People may like their fiscal policies but they're frightened by their social conservatism...It's a pity because it denies people a choice on policy issues."

Campbell served as the first female justice minister and defence minister before becoming prime minister after Brian Mulroney stepped down as party leader.

But she only held the post for just more than four months after calling an election in 1993, when the Progressive Conservative party was reduced to two seats in the House of Commons. Campbell lost her own Vancouver seat and she retired from politics.
At my place of employment, we've recently taken on a bunch of new seasonal help for the Christmas rush. One of them said to me on Wednesday: "Canada's never had a woman PM, right?"

When I asked if he remembered Kim Campbell, he said no.

I feel very old. I'm 24! How does this happen?

Anyway, sticking with the biggest loser, Wonderdog says:
It is time for those who strongly oppose a conservative government to recognize that we already have one. And it is time for those who strongly oppose a conservative government to send a clear message to the Liberal Party, that we will not stand for a government of bullshit artists who talk from the left side of their mouths and govern from the right.

It is time to recognize that Canada has only one left-wing party, and two conservative parties. Our choice is between a social democratic party, a strongly conservative party, and a conservative party that calls itself "Liberal." It is time to take the fiction of a "Liberal Party" down to the gravel pit, shove its head underwater, and hold it there until bubbles stop coming up.

It is time to hand Paul Martin the stomping he so richly deserves, to knock him down and kick him until he bleeds, and then to shove his vile, rotten carcass down the steps of parliament into the street where it will be slowly picked apart by seagulls.

It is time, in short, to make Paul Martin the next Kim Campbell.
I'm not there with you yet, Wonderdog. But if Martin doesn't try something radical like campaigning for office soon, it's going to happen anyway - with or without the NDP.

No doubt, when the Liberals go down in flames we'll be blamed for it. Oh well.