Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Now I really must burn my copy of Ender's Game.

Gaaah. Orson Scott Card has officially lost any claim to any part of my future income. Jesus. It doesn't just sound stupid, it sounds awful.
A rocket hits the west wing of the White House, killing the president, vice-president, and secretary of defense. While those directly responsible are Arabs, the next day, 14-foot-tall, bulletproof, armed globes on mechanical legs, backed by shooters on individual hovercraft, seize New York City by killing anyone in uniform. None of the new attackers looks anything other than American. A "Progressive Restoration" administration is established in the city, and it encourages other cities and states to join it to restore government as it should have been but for the stolen elections of 2000 and 2004.
Right. Exactly the same way the left immediately leapt on the opportunity provided by 9/11 to establish a Communist dictatorship. I'm sorry, what's that you say? The left actually rolled over for Bush for more than two years? That even today, many alleged "liberals" continue to support the Iraq war? God, Card is a moron. A moron who apparently believes that leftists share his own genocidal fantasies.

This gives me the opportunity to explore one of the weirder things that I see on the right - a bizarre tendency to take the most extreme views of someone on the fringe, and apply it to everyone who's to the left of Atilla the Hun. This is not done by all rightists, nor is the left innocent by any means, but this tendency was most clearly demonstrated when I was going through Ted Morton's website, reading editorials of endorsement. The editor of the Calgary Sun wrote:
Morton's leadership would diffuse separatist sentiment in Alberta, which is buried now, thanks to Conservatives holding power in Ottawa, but could hit record levels should (heaven forbid) Michael Ignatieff, Bob Rae or Stephane Dion become our next prime minister -- and do what they said they would do -- raid our natural resources either through nationalizing our oil industry or taxing the well head.
To which I simply shook my head a bit - which of the leading Liberals said they would nationalize the oil industry? As far as I can tell, nary a one. Does Licia Corbella really believe this? Well she wrote it in a very, very public place, so I kinda think she must. Which means she's also completely insane.

If any Liberal said for the public record that Canada should nationalize the oil industry, he'd be on the very, very leftist fringe of his party. (Making this hypothetical Liberal the party leader would also make me more likely to vote Liberal, but I imagine the Grits actually want more than zero seats from Alberta next election.) I don't believe any of the three Liberals named has actually said this, so I have to believe Corbella is making this up.

Either that, or she's trying to conflate Ignatieff's carbon tax proposal with confiscatory nationalization, something I think is equally insane. I mean, I know that Trudeau's NEP was this trauma for Alberta. Leave aside for the moment the fact that the NEP was about as unjust as Quebec's "being left out" of the Constitution - that is, not at all*. How in God's name is a modest carbon tax - something even the right is beginning to accept - in anything like the same league as nationalization?

Well, if you're this particular species of rightist, it has to be the same, because it's an idea from "the left", and thus the spawn of Satan.

Before you accuse me of the same, I'll just point out that, many months ago when I asked Liberals to please STFU about the NDP being responsible for Harper, much of the reaction boiled down to a hysterical disbelief that I would dare suggest any daylight exists between Harper and George W. Bush. That I said Harper was in fact quite distinct from the Republicans, and fit reasonably well in the Canadian prairie Conservatism tradition, was seen by NDP-haters as a gross blasphemy.

*That I don't share in the apparent western consensus that the NEP was the next-worst thing to the Gulag Archipelago should not get in the way of my belief that it was simply objectively bad policy, regardless of the justice criticisms.


Global warming is creating a climate time bomb by storing enormous amounts of heat in the waters of the north Atlantic, UK scientists have discovered.

Marine researchers at Southampton and Plymouth universities have found that the upper 1,500 metres of the ocean from western Europe to the eastern US have warmed by 0.015C in seven years. The capacity of the oceans to store heat means that a water temperature rise of that size is enough to warm the atmosphere above by almost 9C.
The oceans have been storing up massive amounts of CO2 and heat, but eventually that heat is going to be belched back up in to the atmosphere. A 9-degree rise in air temperature would be a disaster - say goodbye to Greenland and a good chunk of Antarctica. The article - being from the Guardian - doesn't give an indication of how quickly that heat would be released. But so long as you posit continued human civilization, it doesn't really matter - a 9-degree increase, over any likely time frame, would be disastrous and more than we can handle.

Anyone have access to the journal Geophysical Research Letters?

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

How Quaint

In 1970, two of Henry Kissinger's closest advisors resigned in protest over the planned invasion of Cambodia. From their letter of resignation (Larry Berman, No Peace, No Honor: Nixon, Kissinger and Betrayal in Vietnam, p. 75):
As we told you in February, we find ourselves increasingly alienated by the domestica and many of the foreign policies of this Administration. Because of our continuing loyalty to you and what you are trying to do, however, we have no desire for our resignations to become even a minor public issue. We do indeed believe... that a new era requires a new quality of leadership. It demands above all an understanding of urgent needs in America and abroad and a commitment to meet them. We have found neither. We have often heard courage equated with criticism. But it is not enough to dismiss the critics for their motives or manliness, nor to ridicule them with the catch phrases of the Right. We think real courage means recognizing the validity of the problems, however they are raised, and leading an effort to resolve them. We think Presidential politics should be a means to that end and not, as we see it practiced now, an end in itself through obsession with public relations.
One wonders who would hire them today. I suspect McDonalds - as fry cooks.

Well Said

Mark Schmitt on the sometimes-hysterical Scarlet Letter effect the blogs have on media criticism:
And we challenge them on it, as we should. It's a great world we live in that makes such a rapid, thorough discussion of a question possible. But the rush to find a nefarious motive (the "Armstrong Williams check"), or to disqualify a writer entirely as "drinking the Beltway Kool-Aid" doesn't further that discussion or add to our understanding.

I like the philosophy of Wikipedia: Make it easy to make mistakes and easier to correct them.
With one caveat: It is not enough, and it cannot ever be enough, for reporters and commentators who spend months and years not only ignoring a profound mistake, not only denying that a profound mistake has been made, but actively ridiculing and belittling those who called it a mistake in the first place, to one day turn around and say "boy, I guess it's a mistake after all. Now, let me pat myself on the back for my wisdom."

Shorter me: The people who mocked Howard Dean and called him "unserious", but now support troop withdrawals from Iraq, should be tarred and feathered.

Matthew Yglesias advocates Satanism

Or at least, I'm sure that's how it will be spun. He's doing the unthinkable - recognizing that American power has limits, and that American leaders should respect those limits. Next thing you know, he'll be demanding that the Government nationalize the car industry or something equally deviant.
...the complaints naturally blend concerns about Putin's authoritarian tendencies with complaints about his geopolitical views -- in particular, willingness to sell stuff to Iran and Venezuela and so forth. Anatol Lieven's convinced me that this needs to be put into the context of America's policy toward Russia. This started out with expansion of NATO into Central Europe. It continued with NATO expansion into the Baltics -- former Soviet Republics that have been in the Russian sphere of influence since the 18th century or some such. Then we helped sponsor the overthrow of Russia-friendly governments in Ukraine and Georgia and started talking about adding those countries to NATO.

Now I won't deny that there's something to be said on behalf of all of these policies. They do, however, come with a price.
Price? That's Commie-speak. American foreign policy decisions never carry any price whatsoever, and never, ever, have any repercussions for America down the road.

Oil and imperialism

My latest post at Gristmill is up, dealing with the Empire of Oil. Read the whole thing here.
Angell proposed the remarkable heresy that it didn't really matter who "owned" India so long as British merchants could trade with Indian ones. Meanwhile, efforts to keep India, South Africa, and other colonies within the imperial fold were a substantial net cost for Great Britain. Rather than being a source of national greatness, Empire made Britain less Great with every passing year....

Whether we acknowledge it or not, oil imperialism costs us mightily, as it cost Empires back in the day. You can point to the hundreds of billions (perhaps trillions) for the war, you can point to climate change, you can point to any number of costs -- and the alternatives would be cheaper. (Ask Gar Lipow about that part.) Like the British of the early 1900s, the only thing that stands in our way is making the choice: give up the Grand Illusion that colonies/oil are vital to our national greatness, and decide that it isn't worth fighting a war over.

Cheney says "how high?"

When the House of Saud says jump:
Saudi Arabia is so concerned about the damage that the conflict in Iraq is doing across the region that it basically summoned Vice President Cheney for talks over the weekend, according to U.S. officials and foreign diplomats. The visit was originally portrayed as U.S. outreach to its oil-rich Arab ally.
The thing about imperial relationships is that they're inherently two-way: Sure, you're appointed puppet can't afford to piss you off too badly, but just as importantly you can't afford to lose your puppet - you never know if you'll find a suitable replacement.

Nouri al-Maliki, theoretically the Prime Minister of Iraq, hasn't been able to convince the Americans of his value, so there's some talk of replacing him. But if the Americans arrange a coup at this point, it's almost guaranteed to see Moqtada al-Sadr take control. His militia now outnumbers the nominal Army of Iraq, so it's a definite possibility.

So not only does Maliki have to support the US, the US has to support him. Till death do they part.

Seriously, I'm just curious

When did Belinda Stronach colour her hair? During the vote last night, I noticed she's now sporting this look:

But her website still has all these pictures up of her as a blonde. And no explanations!! Dammit, the people deserve, and the people demand answers!

I have a new toy

My girlfriend, knowing my love of all things cartographic, gave me a free inflatable globe she found at work yesterday. It's neat, and I in no way want to look a gift horse in the mouth, but there are some minor hints that mark it as out of date:

-Guangzhou and Beijing are referred to as Canton and Peking.

-The Democratic Republic of Congo is referred to as Zaire.

-The Russian Federation does not appear, but the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics does.

All this amuses me, but I'd be interested if anyone knows when the Western media stopped referring to Beijing as Peking. Any clues?


Neglected to mention my 2,500th post there. Some day, I'm going to get a word count of how much I've written for this blog over the last (almost) two years.

Monday, November 27, 2006


On a day in which the former Reform Party, noted for it's hatred of anything that smacked of privilege for Quebec, voted to give Quebec the special privilege of nationhood, I'd like to reprint something I wrote shortly after Harper won the election.


The western Conservatives may think their day has come, but in reality the worst possible thing has happened to them - a Conservative government led by Stephen Harper.

Let me explain.

So long as the government was led by Quebec Liberals, the Cons could say that the west doesn't have a voice. So, superficially, some would now say that Harper will lead a "western" government in Ottawa. Don't count on it. Look at the seat count: 59 of the Cons' 124 seats come from Ontario, Quebec, or the Maritimes. Harper won 10 seats in Quebec, despite the fact that three quarters of that province voted against him. Meanwhile, two thirds of Alberta went Conservative, but they "only" won 28 seats there. After this election, the Conservative party is no longer "western" based: there are 30% more Ontario Conservatives in Harper's caucus then there are Albertans.

A self-aware Conservative would be weeping right about now. To win a majority in Canada, you still need to win Quebec and Ontario, preferably with some inroads in to the major cities (where the Conservatives have been shut out.) What do you think is more likely - that we'll see a bunch of western radicals take over, or that Harper will govern like any other politician - concerned for his own reelection, and pandering to Ontario and Quebec?

I don't deny that some crazy Conservativeness is bound to happen. But here's the thing - Harper needs to win more votes in Quebec and Ontario, period. The west is barren ground for the Conservatives, electorally speaking. They've won all they can there. So Harper (despite leading a nominally "western" government) is going to pander to the centre of the country as much as any leader. Either that or he'll lose the next election.

Over the next two years, western Conservatives are going to watch this happen, and weep. This was supposed to be their moment, and it's going to turn to crap on them.

Sorry Alberta, we win again!

An interesting view on China

China’s wealth is rising rapidly, delivering an average income per person of $7,204 last year, up from $2,800 ten years ago. By contrast, Argentina’s per capita income was $4,030 ($8,773 in 2000 dollars) when the military was forced by unrest to quash democracy in 1975. That was the wealthiest democracy to fall prey to a military coup, according to Adam Przeworski and others in a study of democracy and development from 1950 to 1990.
That comes from this essay, "When will the Party end?"

I was dismayed to note that a number of people, Thomas Axworthy among them, are proposing that Canada lock out Chinese investment from Canadian companies. The idea seems to be that since the major Chinese overseas investors are all at least partially or wholly state-owned, they aren't "investors" in the sense that other companies are, but rather acting on behalf of Beijing - especially in the case of energy and mineral exploitation.

Well, color me unimpressed. First of all, this view totally ignores the extent to which large American corporations have acted as agents of American influence, especially when it comes to oil - the history of the Arab-American oil company in Saudi Arabia is a perfect example.

More broadly, the only way a country like Canada can maintain even the fig leaf of independence is not to become to tightly tied to one partner over any others. Canada should be willing to deal with China, India, Russia, Brazil, whoever wants our oil (as long as we can still produce it.)

Axworthy, according to his essay here (PDF), believes that we should do the opposite - offer America a guaranteed energy supply in exchange for an end to trade disruptions emanating from Washington. Apparently, he never noticed that we've already done exactly that, and it didn't work. We have guaranteed America a certain fraction of our energy as exports under NAFTA, and NAFTA was supposed to put a stop to US trade tantrums. It didn't work before, why is Axworthy so stupid to believe it would work now?

Axworthy has a long history of being hostile to the PRC and, I believe, naively kind in his opinions of the United States. This latest essay really just confirms it for me - to believe that the US Congress would stop acting like, well, the US Congress, simply because we go from our current position (slavish devotion) to something even more sycophantic is absurd.

Now, imagine for a moment that instead Canada openly courted Chinese and Indian investment in the oil sands, and started building the necessary pipelines to export the 1-2 million barrels of oil a day we can expect from the tar sands to the Pacific coast, and from there to Asia. We would suddenly have what people not named Axworthy call "bargaining power" with the United States: We could ship our oil to the US, or not, if we decided to. At the moment, most of the pipelines lead (PDF) from Alberta straight south to the US, making serious bargaining impossible. Pipelines to the west coast would end this situation, and allow us to sell to more than one customer. But all of that is moot if way lay down and promise the Americans they can have whatever they want.

Axworthy is the kind of Liberal that makes it difficult for me to support their party - no vision of Canadian independence from the US, no vision of Canada as an actual equal in the world, and no heir to Pierre Trudeau. There are plenty of strong Liberals out there, but Axworthy's vision of Canada is not one that I can support in any way.

Harper loses another

Michael "Tommy" Chong is rumored to be resigning over the Nation motion, but whether it's just from Cabinet or from the Conservative Party remains to be seen.

I gotta say, if Harper loses another few MPs the Conservative+Bloc votes will be smaller than the Liberal+NDP ones, meaning we'll be right where we were in the early summer of 2005, when the control of the House rested basically on a handful of Independent MPs.

Maybe Belinda can cross the floor again. Or maybe we'll find out if Andre Arthur is this age's Chuck Cadman. Oh, good times indeed.

Endgame in sight? Or just more of the same?

So, um... does anyone know what's going on in Iraq? I mean, it looks really bad. Michael Ware is on CNN telling the bobble-headed anchor that rival neighbourhoods are having mortar duels between each other, something I really just can't imagine.

It might have been possible to have a US withdrawal that "only" had the Iraqi state collapse after the last US soldier left, not so long ago. I think now the only reasonable expectation is that the Iraqi state is going to collapse around the Americans, forcing them to fight their way out of Iraq.

Boy, it's like Bosnia, Somalia, and (maybe) Rwanda all in one. But remember everyone - no matter how bad it gets, the US should stay, or else it could get even worse.

Oh God, it's congenital

US State Department: Bush daughters urged to withdraw from Argentina, citing an increased threat to security.

Bush daughters: We won't cut and run.

Up next: Bush daughters chide influx of foreigners from Chile and Paraguay determined to destabilize their occupation of Argentina...

Poisoning the well

This is just awful. Mike at Rational Reasons has been threatened by some disgusting piece of web-flotsam with publishing his personal information and thus ending his anonymity on the web.

I hope he can find some other venue to resume comment, but he'll just run the same risks unfortunately.

Look. Plenty of people have perfectly good reasons to remain pseudonymous or even anonymous. I've maintained the pretense of anonymity here on this blog, but the fact is anyone who's interested can go to my posts at Gristmill, which I'm not exactly shy about promoting, and see that my name is John McGrath, and there's probably enough information scattered among my blog posts to get a good idea of where I am in the world. What does that get you?

Well, if you're a scumbag like "jeff", it gives you leverage. Not leverage to do anything worthwhile with your life, but leverage to silence an intelligent, active voice in the community we all participate in. Rather than contribute positively, "jeff" has decided to poison the well for the rest of us.

I would say to other anonymous bloggers out there, if it's at all possible, you should try and immunize yourself against these kinds of juvenile attacks - the usual method is to threaten to inform your employer, so at the very least (again, if possible) you should probably tell your boss about your blog.

I'll miss Mike's voice around here and elsewhere on the web, and I hope he's able to put this mess behind him.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

No, seriously, tell us what you really think

The Chicago Sun-Times does not, repeat not, like the Microsoft Zune:
The Zune is a square wheel, a product that's so absurd and so obviously immune to success that it evokes something akin to a sense of pity....

The Zune is a complete, humiliating failure. Toshiba's Gigabeat player, for example, is far more versatile, it has none of the Zune's limitations, and Amazon sells the 30-gig model for 40 bucks less.

Throw in the Zune's tail-wagging relationship with music publishers, and it almost becomes important that you encourage people not to buy one.
This is, I'm sure, exactly the kind of attention Microsoft wanted a month before Christmas.

Building a Bridge to the 14th Century

Occam's Razor: The overused observation that, all things being equal, the simplest solution tends to be the best one. I dislike the phrase "nowhere is this more true", but Occam certainly applies in spades to energy policy. My favourite example of simplicity triumphing over complexity is solar energy: solar water heaters are vastly more common than photovoltaic solar panels, because they are cheap, rugged, and extremely efficient. (No slander intended against the rapidly growing solar PV market.)

So I read with great interest a post by one of my favourite energy bloggers, Engineer-Poet, on running the entire United States on charcoal derived from biomass and crop wastes, while sequestering billions of tons of CO2 per year. It is an extremely detailed, very impressive bit of writing, that I won't hazard to summarize: If you're interested (and you should be) you should go read it.

I'll simply add that it would amuse me to no end if, after all the debates over hydrogen vs. ethanol, solar vs. wind, hybrids vs. biodiesel, we ended up fueling our society and saving the planet using a fuel that would have been common to our ancestors 600, or even 6,000 years ago. And, I suspect, Occam would chuckle with me.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

A Discordant Note

A lot of people are linking approvingly to Hagel's piece in the WaPo this morning. While I'm happy - overjoyed, really - to see any senior Republicans calling for withdrawal, I do have some major disagreements with Hagel's piece. This is less about the politics, or even the policy, but more about what story America will tell itself after it leaves Iraq. Here, I think Hagel's narrative has some serious flaws.

Of my two major problems with this piece, let's start with the one in the middle of the piece, where Hagel writes:

There will be a new center of gravity in the Middle East that will include Iraq. That process began over the past few days with the Syrians and Iraqis restoring diplomatic relations after 20 years of having no formal communication. The next installment would be this weekend's unprecedented meeting in Iran of the presidents of Iran, Syria and Iraq, if it takes place.

What does this tell us? It tells us that regional powers will fill regional vacuums, and they will move to work in their own self-interest -- without the United States. This is the most encouraging set of actions for the Middle East in years.

I'm sorry, but since when does Damascus and Tehran extending their control over a failed state in the heart of a vital strategic region constitute "good news"? How badly has America's influence and power in the world fallen when a Republican Senator is hoping the US Army will be rescued by an alliance of Baathists and Mullahs?

Maybe Hagel is simply acknowledging that the Bush Administration has, in fact, been such a disaster that this is the case. But I think this is actually part of something else, because Hagel starts his piece with this:

There will be no victory or defeat for the United States in Iraq. These terms do not reflect the reality of what is going to happen there.... We are once again learning a very hard lesson in foreign affairs: America cannot impose a democracy on any nation -- regardless of our noble purpose.

It is understandable that politicians are allergic to even implying that America has, in fact, been defeated in Iraq. Nevertheless, it's difficult to ponder what else you call it when America fails to find WMDs, fails to eliminate a terrorist haven, in fact creates a terrorist haven, is unable to support it's chosen government, is forced to withdraw from Iraq, and leaves a vacuum which Hagel acknowledges America's rivals (if not enemies) will fill.

The common thread through Hagel's bizarrely optimistic view of the Assad-Maliki-Ahmedinejad conference and the words "there will be no victory or defeat" in Iraq is a desire to conceal the magnitude of America's defeat. If any country expends billions of dollars and thousands of lives and fails to achieve any meaningful objective, and ends up in a weaker position than when it began, that's a defeat. Hagel is unwilling or unable to state that plainly, and this is dangerous.

I'm not simply trying to be churlish, here. It's important for American policymakers to acknowledge the facts of what has actually occurred if they're going to learn any meaningful lessons from this debacle. Hagel, to his credit, already seems to realize what the lessons are. But Hagel is speaking to a public audience, and as any addict knows, the first step is admitting you have a problem. By couching his overall sound counsel in a way that fails to acknowledge the magnitude of America's failure, I worry that he's making it easy for opportunists in the future to say "we could have won, if only."

Hagel notes that America went in to Iraq "with an arrogant self-delusion reminiscent of Vietnam." It's worth asking why America's arrogant self-delusion survived Vietnam in the first place. The only reasonable explanation, I believe, is that both the civilian and military leaders in America refused to accept the fact of America's defeat. The oft-repeated, and totally-irrelevant, belief that America "won every battle but lost the war" is a way of insulating a person from the reality of defeat. "See, we deserved to win, but [insert excuse here.]" This may not be arrogance, exactly, but it's a self-delusion designed solely to preserve one's ego, and not to face the facts.

Indeed, the lessons that America seemed to learn from Vietnam arguably paved the way for this disaster in Iraq. During Gulf War I, the lesson of Vietnam was said to be that wars should be left up to the Generals, and the recent Bush Administration has turned this in to a talking point - Bush evades all responsibility because, he says, he listens to his Generals.

But of course, that isn't the lesson of Vietnam, or certainly not the only one - the Generals failed in Vietnam, too. The military largely acknowledges that fact today. It is not enough to learn "a lesson" from a failure, America needs to learn the right lessons from Iraq. If we are going to be consistent, at least as much blame must fall on the shoulders of men named Franks, Abizaid, Myers and Pace as on men named Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, Cheney and Bush.

Dana Carvey once did a fantastic impression of George H.W. Bush, in which he said "America learned our lesson in Vietnam. Don't go to Vietnam." By soft-pedalling the reality of America's defeat in Iraq, I worry that Hagel is laying the ground for a similarly disastrous view of Iraq. And in 30 years, we'll all be here again, as the Jenna Bush Administration gets America bogged down in the occupation of Madagascar.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Smashing. Head. In. Keyboard.

Watching CNN just now, Ret. Brigadier General James "Spider" Marks advised against US forces trying to "neutralize" Moqtada Al-Sadr because, in his words, "sometimes you're better off with the devil you know."

Maybe this was simply an idle comment, but I can't help but reflect upon the fact that Gen. Marks was the lead intelligence officer for the US land war during the invasion of Iraq. I wonder if he understood, in 2003, that "sometimes you're better off with the devil you know", or whether subsequent events have educated him.

China may have effective aircraft carriers by 2030 - PANIC

I was mildly intrigued by this story - Russia has agreed to sell China naval jet fighters - the SU-33. The SU-33 compares favorably with the F-18, and the F-14 is being retired, which basically leaves the US Navy's variant of the Joint Strike Fighter to compete with. Of course, the reality is that both the JSF and the Air Force's F-22 are extremely powerful aircraft, and I can't shake my suspicions of the quality of Russian design and manufacture.

What's far more interesting to me, in this story, is that China seems to be moving away from the policy it's pursued thus far: not mirroring US abilities, but countering them asymmetrically. It's far more expensive to build aircraft carriers than to build missiles capable of sinking aircraft carriers, and so far China seemed to be playing a strong hand by developing cheaper technologies to lessen America's inherent technological advantages.

I wonder if someone in the PLAN has been reading Mahan...

Thursday, November 23, 2006

His father's son, redux

Woof. Those of us who've been mocking Ignatieff's presumptuous claim to be "the next Trudeau" since forever are very, very happy to see not just one, but both of Trudeau's surviving sons talk smack about Michael Ignatieff:
OTTAWA (CP) - Michael Ignatieff received a blast Wednesday from one of Pierre Trudeau's sons, after a top aide suggested the late Liberal icon would have endorsed the leadership front-runner's position on recognizing Quebec as a nation.

Alexandre Trudeau issued a written statement saying that anyone who believes his father would have supported Ignateiff's views "couldn't be more wrong." He said it's "more objectionable still" to suggest that his father "would, like Ignatieff, deal in vacuous terms meant to appease emotions."

...Alexandre Trudeau was having none of it. He said his father would never have supported Ignatieff's "paternalistic and empty" recognition of Quebec as a nation.

Moreover, he said the term nation cannot be strictly symbolic; it either "signifies a sovereign country, as in the United Nations" or it signifies a "cultural collective."

If it's a cultural collective, Alexandre Trudeau questioned how only Quebec can be recognized as a nation, and not other collectives such as "Mohawks, Jews, Arabs, Sri Lankans, Guatemalans, Crees, Irish, English, German and French descendents."

"One might be able to argue for a French Canadian nation. One might be able to argue for a state of Quebec. But arguing for the Quebec nation to the exclusion of the myriad of other nations of Canada is absurd for someone who aims to lead Canada," he said.

"It takes no son of Trudeau to know how foreign to him is the idea of allowing Canadian nation building to proceed along the path of ill-defined collective recognitions and entitlements as opposed to the clear rights of free individuals, each capable of being many nations or of none."
So what does Sarah Trudeau think of Mr. Ignatieff?

India: The France of Asia?

Many observers have pointed to the US relationship with India as an attempt to check China in Asia - one Asian giant against the other. This little bit of grand strategy may very well be the most farsighted thing Bill Clinton ever started. In some ways, it's a historical echo of Austria-Hungary's strategy of allying with Germany against Russia. Though maybe I've overplayed the historical analogies today.

The wrinkle in US plans, however, is that the Indians themselves are actual people, with minds and ambitions of their own. Alyssa Ayres has an interesting perspective here:
However, those in the US who see India simply as a hedge against China will likely be disappointed—for the two Asian giants have also taken giant strides toward better ties. The US may be better off viewing India as an ally like France—one which shares many values with Americans, but pursues its own course.


Underscoring this change is a new robustness in economic ties. As recently as 2001, two-way trade between India and China was a paltry $3.6 billion, but it nearly doubled in 2004, rising 79 percent from the previous year to $13.6 billion dollars. By 2005 the figure reached $18.7 billion, and is expected to top $20 billion in 2006. The India-China Joint Study Group of Comprehensive Trade and Economic Cooperation predicts enormous growth potential because each country’s respective share of the other’s imports is still so small—both under 5%. And both countries anticipate growth in services trade, the sector in which their bilateral trade has grown faster than the sector has in each country. While some Indian commentators raise concerns about Chinese economic influence--underscored by the recent disqualification of Chinese firms from a mobile tender—this remains a mere blip overridden by economic pragmatism. Today’s talks, for example, between Hu Jintao and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh produced a commitment to double trade from current levels to $40 billion by 2010.
Those who've been reading this blog the longest might remember that I once described the big question of the 21st century as whether China and India would play the roles of Germany and France, 1914-1945, or whether they would instead play Germany and France, 1946-present. The hard work both countries are putting in to forge a friendlier relationship makes me optimistic. The equally hard work other countries are putting in to making the relationship fail makes me less so. (America, Pakistan, I'm looking at you.)

So, we're opposed then?

Boy, nobody on the Progressive or Conservative side of the Internet seems to like this whole nation motion. The best you'll find is a lukewarm "well, it's worse than nothing, but better than some" kind of resignation.

It is, I admit, disheartening that, in Paul Wells' words
only one nation was discussed in the House of Commons today, and it was the nation most Canadians don't live in. Apparently most of us don't deserve a nation. Certainly we don't seem to deserve a prime minister who names our nation for us. And if you don't like today's events in the Commons, you pretty much have to lump it, don't you: Vote Tory, NDP or Liberal, it's all pretty much of a muchness, because none of them can name a nation worth defending except Quebec.
And then you've got others out there basically screaming that this is the death of Canada. Well, I dunno. Joe Clark said the same thing about the Clarity Act. We all said the same thing about the FTA, and then NAFTA. Not to be too Pollyannish about it, but Canada is actually still here. On the other hand, maybe you'd look at exactly the same evidence I do and say that Canada is disappearing by increments. Even so, by that line of argument you'd have to concede that Canada has been doomed since the Mulroney Years, at least.

It would be interesting to see how this vote would go if, as well as the Quebec Nation motion, we also had a motion declaring Canada to be a single nation constituted of the people of Canada. I don't believe that saying Canada is a single nation precludes talk of sub-National nations (ugly phrase, I suppose) anymore than talk of "Canada" precludes recognition of First Nations communities.

Before I go ahead with this analogy, I want to state outright that it's incredibly poor, and people shouldn't read too much in to it. But I am nevertheless reminded of my first-year Prof's description of Weimar Germany. During the inter-war years, Germany was plagued by a number of governments that were either dysfunctional to the point of crisis, or actually engineered crises for partisan gain. Canada has not had governments as corrupt or dysfunctional, but the root cause of Weimar's dysfunction was similar: two popular, competing, mutually exclusive views of what Germany should be.

The religious and business conservatives saw Germany as a strong, industrious, Christian nation that had been beaten in the war by a conspiracy of Jews and Communists. The answer to restoring Germany's greatness was more religion, more business, and rejecting the Treaty of Versailles.

The Communists and Socialists saw Germany as strong and industrious, but objected to the religious classifications for ideological reasons. They believed Germany had been beaten by the aristocratic and capitalist nations of England and America. The answer to restoring Germany's greatness was revolution, and rejecting the Treaty of Versailles.

The point is that the two most powerful groups in Germany had fundamentally opposite views of what Germany should be, and only agreed on two things: Germany had been beaten "unfairly" in the war, and the Versailles settlement was illegitimate. You can see, however, that Germany became more and more polarized as the 1930s arrived - by the last election before Hitler's rise, the Communists and Nazis were doing much better than the more moderate Socialists and Catholic parties.

The tragic thing is that both sides were wrong about Versailles. We can argue about this is people want to, but by the time Hitler came to power, Germany's reparations to the Allies had been postponed until late in the 20th century, and Germany's economic problems derived less from Versailles than from the global depression. Also by the 1930s, the rise of the USSR had left many Conservatives in the UK and France willing to negotiate away Germany's military restrictions. In any case, there's no record of public Germans acknowledging that if Versailles was unfair, then the far, far more punitive treaty the Germans forced on the Russians at Brest-Litovsk was also unfair.

Now, I acknowledged in the beginning that this analogy is a poor one, but let me propose a few points of similarity:

Most Canadian poltical parties seem to accept the premise - to varying degrees - that the Canadian Constitution is somehow illegitimate. The Bloc Quebecois are perhaps the most vocal about this, but even federalist parties seem to accept the notion that Canada will not be complete - will not be a fully legitimate entity - until we somehow compel Quebec to sign the Constitution. This further leads to the belief that the Constitution is incomplete, will need to be reopened, and thus all the regions and communities of Canada have a laundry list of demands for the next time we open the constitution to amendment.

An additional point of similarity is that this belief leads to a certain amount of dysfunction in the Canadian political system, where even political parties like the Conservatives (a western, anglophone party whose base bitterly opposes special status for Quebec) ends up, less than a year in power, making large financial and political concessions to Quebec. This dysfunction is by no means Quebec's fault alone, but rather I would say stems from the way that our view of the Constitution seems to encourage regionalism. Because Quebec "was left out" of the Constitution, and in part because Meech and Charlottetown failed, we get the Bloc Quebecois and we get Reform.

These two parties, I believe, should have been a signal of something very wrong with Canada. What we began to see in Canada during the 1990s, and what I believe we're seeing today, is the replacement of two more-or-less national parties (The old Progressive-Conservatives and the Liberals) with parties that are basically regional. Even if the names don't change, the fact is that the Liberal brand in Quebec - and perhaps all of Canada - is broken and hasn't been fixed yet. The Conservatives are perhaps the most national party in terms of seats at the moment, but they have a basically non-national view - that Ottawa is the enemy. The Bloc, which should be smaller than the NDP by right, controls many more seats and is avowedly anti-national.

This brings us to another point of similarity - the disappearance of any kind of national consensus, and the replacement with competing, mutually antagonistic views of what the country should be. I disagree with both Harper and Duceppe's vision of Canada, but your average Albertan Conservative probably disagrees with your average Quebec separatist even more. Whereas I find the idea of a legally-sanctioned Quebec "nationhood" troubling, many westerners seem to find it downright offensive.

The final point of similarity I'd like to suggest is that we are all fundamentally wrong about the legitimacy of the Canadian Constitution. It's been a quarter-century, almost, and Quebec has grown more powerful as a Province, and Quebeckers have their rights more protected. We need to disabuse ourselves of this notion that the country won't work right until we somehow convince the separatists to sign up.

The federalists in Quebec won't endorse the Constitution so long as the separatists are there, simply because they want to win the next election and they believe the people of Quebec will punish them for it. And the separatists will never endorse a truly national document for Canada, because they don't believe in it. Neither of those pragmatic political decisions actually impact on the legitimacy of the Canadian Constitution.

The National Assembly (apparently, a label only the Quebec Provincial Legislature gets to use) has spent almost 25 years operating quite well within the Constitution. The people of Quebec have had their rights protected, and have benefited quite a lot from the Constitutionally-entrenched equalization program. At this point, we should be willing to accept that the Constitution is a fully legitimate document. What more do we need in this country?

I asked a few weeks ago a similar question: Is there anyone in this country's Parliament who believes that this country works, as it is? Is there anyone willing to defend the Constitution of Canada as it exists, today? In the last election, we had one party that said it would "Stand up for Canada." That party won the most seats and formed the government. But for the life of me, I can't find them today.

These assholes really hated Powell, I guess

From the Douchebag of Liberty himself:
The treatment of his war minister connotes something deeply wrong with George W. Bush's presidency in its sixth year. Apart from Rumsfeld's failures in personal relations, he never has been anything short of loyal in executing the president's wishes. But loyalty appears to be a one-way street for Bush. His shrouded decision to sack Rumsfeld after declaring that he would serve out the second term fits the pattern of a president who is secretive and impersonal.
Some observers - namely, everyone not employed by the White House - noticed Bush's one-way loyalty a long, long time ago. Witness the treatment of men like George Tenet or Colin Powell. Loyal retainers to the end, both men were dumped rather unceremoniously - with the suspicion that in both cases, it had more to do with their (slightly) wavering support for the White House than with more obvious faults.

I guess it was okay when they shitcanned Powell, though, because he wanted the terrorists to win.


Now that's just sad.
Bloc Quebecois Leader Gille Duceppe urged parliamentarians to reject the prime minister's "partisan" tactics as they consider his amended motion declaring that Quebecers form a nation "that is currently within Canada."

"We're tabling a motion that respects all sides without subjecting the recognition of a Quebec nation to partisan conditions. Yesterday the prime minister did exactly the opposite. He tabled a motion that recognizes a Quebec nation with a condition attached -- a partisan string attached," Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe said in the House of Commons.
Because apparently believing that Quebec is part of a united Canada is a "partisan condition."

For a minority government, this is going to be a pretty lopsided vote.

Bizzarely, Gilles Duceppe has clarified things

I'm kind of late getting to this, but yesterday Stephen Harper proposed the following resolution in the House of Commons:
That, this House recognize that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada.
This amuses me, because not five months ago Harper refused to make such a statement. Considering this government's record, that might actually be a record time for them to compromise their principles.

Gilles Duceppe, after the Prime Minister of Canada explicitly said that Quebec forms a nation (albeit one within Canada) had the following to say:
The refusal to recognize the Quebec nation explains why Quebec is considered as a province like any other and no more.
Now, if you're anyone but Gilles Duceppe, that statement might sound absurd. Here's the Prime Minister saying Quebeckers form a nation, and Gilles Duceppe apparently believes it's unacceptable. But it's not absurd if you understand what the rules of this game actually are. If, say, you were a Harvard Professor who recently returned to Canada, you might think the problem of Canadian national unity was simply that we lacked adequate vocabulary for our problems. If you were stupid enough to believe this, you really have no business trying to be Prime Minister.

Duceppe, with his perhaps unintentionally-clear quote, has given the game away. It's not enough for the Bloc or other Separatists - it could never be enough - for the "people of Quebec" to be recognized as a nation "within Canada". These entirely symbolic motions in the House of Commons are only "acceptable" if they recognize the Province of Quebec as a nation without any strings attached. That is, these rhetorical plays are only acceptable to the separatists if they help lay the groundwork for the separatists' ultimate goal - the political division of Canada.

This is why a smart politician - say, one who's held a seat in Ottawa longer than 12 months - would normally avoid these issues like the plague. It's basically a lose-lose proposition for federalist politicians. Either we a) concede the ground game to the Separatists, or b) we concede even a millimeter less, at which point we've "insulted all Quebecois" and irrevocably harmed Quebec's place within Canada. (All this according to the Separatists, who of course arrogate to themselves the right to speak for Quebec alone.)

The primary division within Canadian politics really has nothing to do with the fact that Quebec isn't recognized as "a nation" or "a distinct society" or "whatever meaningless phrase the separatists demand next." The problem is that, for my entire life, somewhere between 1/3 and 1/2 of the Canadian citizens of the Province of Quebec have desired not to be citizens of Canada. (Or something like that. We're still trying to nail that down, exactly.) They want their own country, they want it to be the Province of Quebec with it's current boundaries and resources, and for the hardest of the hard core, there's no concession we can make short of giving them what they want that will satisfy them.

The only reason that separatist core even proposes these kinds of rhetorical tricks is not because they want to fasten Quebec more comfortably in the Canadian family, but because they want the painful, divisive debate that ensues. They're guaranteed a win either way.

Now, as for the actual text of Harper's resolution, I'm modestly hopeful. We have to remember that, for once, the Harper government was not the stupidest bunch of people in the Parliament. That honour would go to Michael Ignatieff and his supporters, who forced this debate when no one else in the Liberal Party wanted it. Given that Harper had to say something, this resolution might just be enough ju-jitsu to defuse this issue for a while. We'll have to see.

The people who should really be kissing Harper's feet, though I doubt they'll be that grateful, are the Liberals. Dion has already said he can support Harper's resolution, and even Ignatieff isn't so dumb to not recognize a life preserver when he sees it. They can vote on this resolution before the leadership convention, and then (if they're smart - oh, never mind) shelve the motion from the LPC-Qers which can now be simply called redundant and unnecessary. Then we can all move on to deciding where Michael Ignatieff will teach when he's defeated.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

On oil discovery rates

Grrr. A post at Environmental Economics dismisses the relevance of Peak Oil in the same patronizing tone I've learned to love from people who know more than enough economics, but not nearly enough geology or history.

So some history first: Global oil discovery hit it's all-time high in the late Truman administration, with another smaller peak in the 1960s. Since then, oil discovery rates - that is, the amount of new oil we're discovering every year - have declined. In the 1980s, we passed a milestone: We began using more oil every year than we discovered - global reserves were shrinking for the first time in history.

A simple, obvious, but often overlooked fact: We can only use the oil we know exists. So the fact that for 20 years we've been eating in to "our" reserves of oil without replenishing them with new discoveries is important.

So how does John Whitehead respond to this fact? The same response, it seems, that he has to every issue raised by a Peak Oil-aware commenter:
I would only be concerned if prices weren't responding. But they are. Again, prices need to rise to create the necessary incentives. Market based high oil prices are not a problem. Artificially low oil prices are.
A perfectly reasonable argument on it's own, but the implication seems to be that as prices increase discovery rates will tick up as well. This is where we run in to problems. The vast majority of the Earth's land surface has already been surveyed for conventional oil reserves, and most of this work was done by the middle of the 20th century. While I certainly won't discount the possibility of a few large discoveries, the overwhelming likelihood is that future discoveries of conventional oil fields on land will be marginal, while existing fields will eventually all go in to decline.

Which leaves us with the non-conventional sources - tar sands, shale, arctic finds, and the ultra-deepwater finds. Let's deal with the arctic and ultra-deep issue first: Despite a lot of promise, the actual discoveries in the high arctic and the gulf of Mexico have not met the expectations from the 1990s. Hell, we've been talking about gas and oil from the arctic since the 1960s, and we still haven't managed to extract meaningful amounts.

Frankly, there's no good reason to believe that there's some new Saudi-sized field out there, waiting for us to discover it. And this goes to geology - oil is an extremely rare, concentrated resource that requires a very specific number of coincidences to occur for it to form. It can only form in rocks of a certain type and age, and can only persist for millions of years in certain rock formations.

It will take some massive efforts to search the oceans for these kinds of formations, and I don't think any company - even the Exxons of the world - have that kind of cash. In any case, they keep cutting their exploration budgets - meaning prices are not yet high enough (at $60/barrel!) and need to go higher before the majors start looking for more oil.

Which leaves us the really ugly options - tar sands, shale, etc. We in Canada have truly massive reserves of a truly awful resource: one that requires massive amounts of energy to create, ruins the land it's extracted from, and consumes massive amounts of water to do so. Being perfectly rational people, we've decided that the best use of our money is to develop this resource as fast as possible.

It's true that prices will help increase the production from the tar sands, though less than is often surmised. Like any good, the tar sands are only profitable when the product (bitumen) exceeds the costs of production. And all of the costs of production for the bitumen have been going up like gangbusters - labour, infrastructure, and Canadian natural gas keep going up. Unless we build either a nuclear reactor or a liquid natural gas terminal in BC to keep feeding energy in to the tar sands, we could be facing serious production problems in less than a decade.

But, let's assume for a moment we don't. The most wildly optimistic prediction for the tar sands assumes they produce 4 million barrels a day by 2020. The Canadian government, more conservatively, assumes they'll produce only 3 million a day by then. So even by the most optimistic assumptions, Canada (the largest and most mature "non-conventional" producer of oil) will produce less than 1/20th of the world's 2005 demand. How many barrels of production will the world lose between now and then? Considering we're only talking about adding 3 million barrels a day from the tar sands (we already produce 1mbpd) I think it's almost certain we'll lose more cheap oil (from existing fields) than we gain in expensive tar sands.

The other function of high prices is to stimulate the search for alternatives, it's true. And I believe that those alternatives exist. But to blithely say that high prices are a positive sign and the market will make the transition is absurd. Plenty of people are going to be stuck with gasoline-powered cars and unable to afford the new model electric car (or whatever.) What peak oil will do is not simply increase prices: it will, if the moderately bad predictions are correct, make much of our current way of life unaffordable to most people.

To say, as Mr. Whitehead does, that a) CERA's (highly questionable) data says the peak won't occur until 2040, so relax, and b) that rapidly rising prices are a good thing and will push the peak further off, totally misses the point that the Peak Oil community keeps trying to make: oil is a much scarcer resource than is commonly understood, it is irreplaceable in many aspects of our daily life, and it will be less available in the future than it is today. This means severe economic dislocation.

This shouldn't be hard for economists, of all people, to understand. But I swear the group of people who seem most committed to an unrealistic optimism about oil all have Economics Phds.

Our friend the atom

Yesterday the nations of Europe as well as China, Japan, the US, Russia and South Korea all finalized a deal to build the experimental ITER fusion reactor in Cadarache, France. I'm not wildly optimistic of the prospects for ITER - even it's proponents acknowledge it won't be ready for commercialization for decades (2040?) and cost billions.

Let me say very briefly that if we haven't solved our energy problems (and the climate crisis they produce) by 2040, ITER will be much too little, much too late.

There are two other methods I've been learning about for fusion. One, which I've written about before, is Focus Fusion's dense plasma focus. The other, and this I've just read about recently, is from Robert Bussard, who I confess I thought was dead.

(The nerdy will recognize Bussard's name from the Bussard Ramjet, his hypothetical design for a starship that scoops hydrogen fuel out of the interstellar medium.)

Both Bussard and Focus Fusion are working on much smaller designs than the ITER project, and both have as their eventual goal fusing hydrogen and boron, to produce electricity with extremely minimal radioactive products. Instead of the decades-long time horizon of ITER, both projects are claiming a 5-year timeline.

Now, I'm not a physicist and am wary of talking too much about either of these groups, simply because western countries have fallen for the "limitless, cheap power of the atom" ploy before. That, and I am in no way competent to evaluate their claims. If you think you are, you can watch Bussard's very, very technical lecture to the staff of Google here.

I'm a big fan of solar, wind, and other forms of renewables. But the promise of actually getting fusion right is huge, and I don't think we should be too pessimistic.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

BTW, vote for me

I always forget... I've been nominated for Best Progressive Blog for the Canadian Blogging Awards. Vote for me, and people in other categories, here.

Well, that was easy

Gee, if only it could all be this uncontroversial:
The House of Commons voted unanimously Tuesday in favor of an NDP motion asking the government to sponsor a full state funeral when the last First World War veteran passes away.

Only three surviving First World War veterans - Dwight (Percy) Wilson, 105, and Lloyd Clemett and John Babcock, both 106 - are still alive.

NDP Leader Jack Layton said the government should recognize that a state funeral would celebrate "the contribution of a whole generation of Canadians who served, whether overseas or here at home and their families as well."
Nice to see the Commons voting unanimously for a NDP motion.

I wonder if we can count on the same support for our bill to change "O, Canada" to "the Internationale"...

Monday, November 20, 2006

That it has to be said, II

Joshua Micah Marshall:
a great power has the luxury to make various course corrections without its international standing or 'credibility' collapsing in upon itself. In fact, those who don't get this seem to be concealing a profound pessimism about the United States' collective national strength. The Bush crowd (and of course Kissinger in his long-standing and twisted way) sees America's position in the world as exquisitely brittle, liable to being destroyed entirely by what happens in Baghdad or what sort of 'mettle' we display in Iraq.
Now, I tend to think that the endgame in Iraq actually will be quite relevant for US foreign policy for at least a decade after it comes, but I don't think that America is going to be suddenly neutered and powerless in the world.

Let's just go over the basics: The United States of America is a nation of 300 million incredibly (on average) wealthy people. There is, as yet, no other country on the entire planet that combines these two factors - numbers and economic strength. The last state that tried to collapsed in the attempt and no longer exists.

And what do Americans choose to spend their money on? Well, a not-inconsequential amount goes to building one of the largest, most heavily-armed militaries in the world. 12 carrier groups do not come cheap, and the number of individual countries that could afford to build a peer-competitor Navy, or Air Force, or Army, is realistically zero.

So America is going to be powerful for some time after they leave Iraq, because there is no other option. But what about terrorists following the US home? Well, others have argued that Al Qaeda will be busy killing Shia in Iraq for a while yet, but even if we assume that terrorists do actually come to American soil again, the amount of damage they can do, while tragic individually, is inconsequential to American power in the world.

The far more substantial damage to US influence and power in the world comes from a rather unique historical combination: for the first time since the early days of the Cold War, there is a state that is challenging America's "soft power", and it is doing so at the exact same time as America is squandering that soft power in a war it's destined to lose. The China article I linked to earlier today is just one of many reports you can read on an almost daily basis about China's efforts to bind the developing world together against the Washington Consensus model of development. China's success in this goal is by no means a certainty, but the war in Iraq has made it much, much easier for China to gain recruits.

I generally hate authors who view conflict between China [or any other candidate country] and the US as a foregone conclusion, but if you do in fact believe that's the case, the first step to halting China's success is to end the war in Iraq and try to turn around America's image in the world.

That it has to be said is depressing

Ray Takeyh, in the LA Times, throws a bucket of cold water on our six-minute hate:
IF YOU THINK IRANIAN PRESIDENT Mahmoud Ahmadinejad makes outlandish comments, consider what Mao Tse-tung said to a visiting head of state in 1954: "If someone else can drop an atomic bomb, then I can too. The death of 10 or 20 million people is nothing to be afraid of."

Nonetheless, 15 years later, a nuclear-armed China was not only contained by the world, it opted for normalization of relations with its archenemy, the United States. Today, it is fashionable to equate Ahmadinejad with Hitler, yet the lesson of the 20th century is that rash leaders can, in fact, be deterred. And Iran's president will prove no exception.
Read the whole (very good) thing.

China's African Adventure

The New York Times Magazine has an article about China's push in to Africa which, unlike oh so many other examples, avoids the hysterical panic about China's lack of human rights standards, it's willingness to buy from places like Zimbabwe or the Sudan, and concludes with this excellent point:
If we believe that a model of development that strengthens the hand of authoritarian leaders and does little, if anything, to empower the poor is a bad long-term strategy for Africa, then we are going to have to come up with a strategic partnership of our own. And it is not only a question of what is good for the African people. The United States has a real security interest in avoiding failed states and in blocking the spread of terrorism in East and North Africa. What’s more, the United States already imports 15 percent of its oil from Africa, mostly from Angola and Nigeria; that figure is bound to rise and could even double, eventually making Africa as large a supplier of oil as the Middle East now is. China’s Africa policy shows that globalization is increasingly divorced from Westernization. We have grown accustomed to the idea that Africa needs us; it’s time to recognize that we, like China, need Africa.
We can talk all day about enforcing human rights through trade, but the reality is very simple - we've never really used human rights consistently in trade policy, and for most of the postwar period, human rights have been entirely absent from trade policy. (Pinochet, anyone?) Meanwhile, the policies we've forced on the poor through the IMF and World Bank - whatever their theoretical underpinnings - have a pretty long record of... not... working.

So China comes in, builds massively in infrastructure (where it has expertise) connecting major production centres in places like Angola - that is integrating the economy - and does it without economic or human rights conditions. Money from the west is "costly" both in terms of actual money but also in terms of national sovereignty. Long after the post-colonial period, national sovereignty is still a key issue for developing states.

People really, really shouldn't underestimate what the rather clinical word "infrastructure" actually means to the global poor:
Just as I reached the eastern side of the bridge I heard a tremendous roar — the Toyota was fishtailing wildly at the base of the bridge. It bucked forward and then slipped back. Only then did I discover that this jalopy, with bales of material and a live chicken in the back, was in fact the Kuembe-Kuito taxi service. The driver, Anacleto Kakande, said that he made the round trip twice a week. Somehow, four times a week he would navigate the bent railroad tracks, the shattered bed, the logs, the foot-high water. The five women, with five babies, waiting patiently at the western edge of the bridge were his fares; they said they were charged 1,500 kwanzas — about $19 — for the trip. It was only then that I fully understood how the terribly abstract word “infrastructure” could come to feel like life itself. For 15 years, the traders and farmers of this region had lived with no other means of crossing from one side of the Kwanza River to the other. (Why a ferry service hadn’t been developed, I have no idea.) They had improvised heroically, but at an absurd cost in time and effort. If those Chinese engineers ever got to the bridge, the local economy might really, as Jaime said, jump.
If China wants to go in to Africa and build bridges, roads, and electrical infrastructure for cheap, we have no place to yell "stop", especially if our only concerns are that Africa might choose a model of development that actually works for them, or that China might be positioning itself well for the 21st century. If we want Africans to listen to us, we might try something as breathtakingly irrational as offering them a better deal - more money with less strings. I know, weird.

A Purge of Wrong-think

Boy, I know they weren't wild about Rumsfeld in the Army, but they were at least trying to hide it before.
FT. LEAVENWORTH, KAN. — Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld may be leaving under a cloud of criticism over his handling of the Iraq war, but his invasion plan — emphasizing speed over massive troop numbers — has consistently been held up as a resounding success.

Yet with Iraq near chaos 3 1/2 years later, a key Army manual now is being rewritten in a way that rejects the Rumsfeld doctrine and counsels against using it again.

The draft version of the Army's Full Spectrum Operations field manual argues that in addition to defeating the enemy, military units must focus on providing security for the population — even during major combat.
So America is gradually abandoning the idea of war on the cheap. Good. It remains to be seen, of course, whether America will gradually abandon the idea of useless wars, or whether they'll just get spectacularly more expensively useless.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Lite blogging warning

Off to Ottawa for the weekend.

Ignatieff abandons the pretense of coherency

...he does it in service of a goal I support: Bashing Stephen Harper. Still, this leaves me confused:
Liberal leadership contender Michael Ignatieff blasted Stephen Harper Thursday, criticizing the prime minister for engaging in "megaphone diplomacy" on his foreign policy stance toward China....

Ignatieff praised China for improving the economic and social rights of their citizens over the last decade....

But Ignatieff said China also needs "to join the international community on these standards."

"But the right way to do that is to lower the megaphone, lower the volume, get into rooms, stand up for our values quietly."
There's nothing really in those sentences that I disagree with, shockingly. So credit where it's due. Nevertheless, it's a bit dissonant to see Canada's Morally Superior Champion of Human Rights(tm) come out and say that sometimes you need to negotiate patiently and quietly. I thought the proper response to profound, systematic human rights abuses was pre-emptive war?

Maybe I should just leave it at this: I don't disagree with Ignatieff's statements about China.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Disturbing review for the new Nintendo system

When the bell rang, I started pummeling my daughter... I pounded away furiously, sending a jab to her head that knocked her to the ground. The referee started counting, but she was out cold.
The funny thing is, she had it coming. But for that to sound not-horrible, you need to read the rest of the post.

I have to say, I've been impressed with the buzz Nintendo's getting for the Wii.

What is this thing you call.... ehveedance?

When I said earlier:
...sending 20,000 extra soldiers in to Iraq... will still be less than were in-country during the early months of the occupation, when everything began to fall apart. Anyone want to bet that it will work this time, under much, much worse circumstances?
I was more or less relying on my memory, and little else. So it's positively glorious to see that someone actually did the math, and it confirms my suspicion: 20,000 troops in Iraq won't do squat, if history is any evidence.

People pushing the McCain/Bush plan need to explain why history doesn't matter. Or, they could just let the Shia run the place, which they could have done 3 years ago.

Tom Tomorrow once did a cartoon, after the Right started talking about Afghanistan as "the War to Liberate the Women of Afghanistan", about how cute it was that they were naming wars after the one and only positive outcome they could name. I wonder if we'll get around to calling Iraq "the War for Regional Iranian Hegemony". Or Something.

Oh shut up already

I was going to let Harper's idiotic and petulant comments about China pass, but sometimes it's too much.

To recap: We are currently having a disagreement with China about their treatment of a Canadian citizen. Harper - and here, I applaud him - has criticized the Chinese leadership for this. Fine. Harper has also muddied the waters about Taiwan - referring to it first as "an integral part" of China, then backing away from that language quickly.

Any idiot with a basic grasp of Chinese politics knows which issue Beijing takes more seriously: They'd like Harper to come out explicitly anti-Taipei, or at least shut the hell up. So they send a message by cancelling a meeting with Harper at the APEC summit in Vietnam, a meeting that is suddenly back on again.

So no harm, no foul, right? Wrong. Harper, between the meeting being cancelled and rescheduled, spouted off with this nonsense:
"I think Canadians want us to promote our trade relations worldwide, and we do that, but I don't think Canadians want us to sell out important Canadian values -- our belief in democracy, freedom, human rights," Harper told reporters during a Wednesday stopover in Anchorage, Alaska. "They don't want us to sell that out to the almighty dollar."
Ah, the George W. Bush school of diplomacy: when something goes amiss, insult your partners. What a tool.

I would have ignored all this, except Conservative preppy Adam Daifallah praises Harper for this trash-talk, calling his own party "the party of human rights." So I guess that means that Harper is going to refuse to meet with Chinese leaders, even though the meeting is back on? After all, meeting with them now would be appeasement, wouldn't it?

BTW, funny you should mention the dollar, Steve-o. You see, the Chinese don't use the dollar, they use the Yuan (or Renminbi.) The people who actually do use the dollar are... the Americans, among others. Certainly, the phrase "almighty dollar" should properly refer to the US dollar, the most circulated currency on Earth. The United States is also our largest trading partner. If we're going to crow about our moral independence from commerce, it's against the US we should be measuring ourselves, not China.

So, how has Harper been doing defending the values of Canadians from abuses by the United States? Well, let's see: Sold out on softwood, won't stand up for Maher Arar and the other Canadians held illegally by the US, wants to bring American-style homophobia back in to Canadian law (we only just got it out!) and is deliberately sabotaging efforts to stop climate change. This is all in line with what the American government wants, and often what American business wants, and it's all unpopular and against Canadian values.

A lesser person might say we've sold out to the American dollar. I'd say you're wrong - Harper's not a whore. He's just so dumb he'd push this crap on us for free.

"Realism, not 'realism'"

My God. The New Republic. What a bunch of sociopaths. we pore over the lessons of this misadventure, we do not conclude that our past misjudgments warrant a rush into the cold arms of "realism." Realism, yes; but not "realism." American power may not be capable of transforming ancient cultures or deep hatreds, but that fact does not absolve us of the duty to conduct a foreign policy that takes its moral obligations seriously.
I'm not sure what that last sentence even means. "We acknowledge that killing people's families is a poor method for encouraging tolerance and liberal values - but we just think some people need to be killed!"
As we attempt to undo the damage from a war that we never should have started, our moral obligations will not vanish, and neither will our strategic needs.
I've been trying to write a post about this for a while now, and this is as good a prompting as I'm likely to get. Can we please, please put away this obnoxious, muderous delusion about "moral values" in war? Every army in the history of organized warfare has believed itself to have the moral high ground. Even if the Americans actually did want to go to Iraq to liberate people (an assertion that would need a mountain of evidence) that doesn't change the results - hundreds of thousands of dead with no meaningfully positive results.

Meanwhile, realism - or as TNR puts it, "realism" - offers a perfectly moral prescription for states: don't kill people. That is, all other things being equal, peace is preferable to war, order is preferable to disorder. As with any claim, this can of course be taken too far. But imperial organs like The New Republic, or liberals like Michael Ignatieff, seem to think they can have "humanitarian interventions" that are all humanitarian, no intervention - that is, they try to minimize the apparent violence on which their creed relies. Realism is at least conscious of the fundamentally uncontrollable violence inherent in international war.

Liberalism - as manifested by TNR, Ignatieff, and others - is a philosophy of incredible arrogance, that believes once you unleash a major war you can control where it leads. Realists are under no such pretensions, and openly mocked the claims of liberals going in to the Iraq war.

More broadly, I side with realists on moral grounds for the very simple reason that there are few ways to kill as many people as modern war can. Even small arms are now so cheap and proliferated that once you smash the control that one state has on it's own territory and people you are, by definition, risking incredibly horrific amounts of violence, even if it's purely "sectarian" violence of the kinds we see in Iraq.

When it comes to the international environment, being pro-stability is empirically the proper default position. Even if your only interest is in preserving human life, there needs to be a high threshold for war - much, much higher than pro-war liberals assume. Obviously, Iraq never met this criteria - there was, at the time of the invasion, no mass murder on the scale required to justify that war.

To put it bluntly: Realism is a moral set of theories for international actors contemplating war, liberalism in 2006 is not. Frankly, based solely on its association with the Iraq WWar, I'm tempted to call liberalism immoral until proven otherwise. Realism's basic commandment regarding war is: "Don't." Like any commandment, it's more complicated than that, but clarity is valuable in this day. Realism isn't against war on fuzzy-headed grounds, but simply because realists understand that wars are, even in small doses, devastatingly violent and unpredictable. Therefore, they should be avoided if at all possible.

Liberals who signed on to the Iraq War denied the first premise ("this war will be precise, don't you understand? No innocent people will die!) and thus rejected the conclusion (if you oppose this war, you're objectively pro-Saddam!) The fact that the realists (as well as us dirty hippies) were proven right by events, and the pro-war liberals were proven wrong, should actually mean something. Like - and I'm just spitballing here - maybe the pro-war liberals should stop fucking lecturing us about how much more pious and moral and serious they are than us "realists".

Yes, I'm talking about Michael Ignatieff again.

I don't rule out the moral grounds for humanitarian intervention - despite the tone of this post, I'm not such a drooling fanboy for one camp or the other. But the liberal fantasy we've all been living with since 2002 or so is the idea that war is preferable to peace if there's any substantial human rights abuses going on. A rational person could look at Iraq and say that is simply false (if not insane) based on the historical evidence.

But then, the pro-war Liberals were never rational people, and never will be.

No, really, the US has lost control

Gee, and I thought I was a pessimist:
BAGHDAD -- While American commanders have suggested that civil war is possible in Iraq, many leaders, experts and ordinary people in Baghdad and around the Middle East say it is already underway, and that the real worry ahead is that the conflict will destroy the flimsy Iraqi state and draw in surrounding countries....

"We're not talking about just a full-scale civil war. This would be a failed-state situation with fighting among various groups," growing into regional conflict, Joost Hiltermann, Middle East project director for the International Crisis Group, said by telephone from Amman, Jordan.

"The war will be over Iraq, over its dead body," Hiltermann said.

"All indications point to a current state of civil war and the disintegration of the Iraqi state," Nawaf Obaid, an adjunct fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies and an adviser to the Saudi government, said last week at a conference in Washington on U.S.-Arab relations.
Gee, if only someone had predicted this would be a gigantic disaster that would set back American foreign policy for a decade or more. Oh wait, some of us did. But of course, we're dirty hippies who don't contribute anything to society - aside from being right on crucial matters of foreign policy - and so we can safely be ignored. Safely. Ignored.

The Oil Optimists

One of the most painfully optimistic consultant firms out there has to be CERA, the Cambridge Energy Research Associates. They've spent years now denying the possibility of Peak Oil, the hypothesis that global oil production faces an imminent plateau and decline.

A friend recently asked me why I maintain my acceptance of the Peak Oil hypothesis, despite the general trend in the market of optimism in new supply. Three basic reasons:

1) The market has actually been pretty bad at predicting future prices of oil for the last few years - in 2001, oil was expected to stay at it's 2001 level for a while, in 2002 it was expected to stay at its 2002 levels, etc. Today, the market seems to have internalized the current high prices, but doesn't predict prices climbing further - the exact same situation we were in in 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, and 2005. The market was wrong.

2) The governments that issue the data the market is basing it's assumptions on are either a) notoriously corrupt and not transparent (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait) or b) even when relatively transparent, have a record of simply being wrong. The best example of B is the United States, where cabinet-level officials publicly denied that the US oil production was in a tailspin for more than a decade. More recent examples abound. At the international level, the International Energy Agency has a similar record of vastly underestimating the problems in the oil industry. How the market can make informed opinions in this environment is questionable, at least.

3) Finally, my prejudice is against economics as a science, and for geology when these two fields conflict. The main proponents of the Peak Oil hypothesis are geologists, and it's main critics are economists. (Much bad blood here.) To claim that high prices will simply bring more oil in to production is naive in the extreme. It also ignores profound short-term dislocations. To put it simply, if oil reaches $500 a barrel, we could conceivably bring all of the planet's hydrocarbons - oil, coal, gas, shale, whatever - in to production. But we'd also be paying $40/gallon for gasoline. I suppose it's possible industrial economies would continue in that sense, but I don't see it as a positive scenario.

A few years back I had an economist rather patronizingly inform me that the oil sands were an example of the massive potential for oil growth at high prices. I told him not to count his chickens, and predicted that oil growth in Alberta wouldn't bring prices down, but that the costs of tar sands oil would probably push Albertans in to the environmentalist movement. These days we see former premiers of that Province calling for a moratorium on tar sands development, and a poll showing that a Carbon Tax is more popular in Alberta than almost any other province.

John: 1, Patronizing Economist: 0.

The reason I bring this all up is because the CERA - perennial oil optimists - have released a new report, and the "peakists" at The Oil Drum have released their response. If you're new to the issue, it's relatively clear what they're talking about. If you're not new to this issue, you should be reading The Oil Drum every day anyway.

The other reason I bring it up is that I haven't written enough about energy issues lately.

Normally, this would make me happy

WASHINGTON — President Bush's overhaul of his war strategy is accelerating, as more senior officials are leaving the Pentagon and the administration is signaling its readiness to open direct negotiations with Iran regarding Iraq and to plan a regional "peace conference."

At the Pentagon, many senior hawks are following Defense Secretary Rumsfeld into the private sector.
About time, says I. Except for one bit:
the administration is signaling its readiness to open direct negotiations with Iran regarding Iraq
This is the problem - the Bush administration wants to negotiate with Iran about Iraq, and nothing else. Well, you might have noticed, Iraq is not the only international issue that Iran has a role in at the moment. There's also this pesky little matter of Iran wanting nuclear weapons.

The Iranians, quite sensibly, want to negotiate about the whole package - Iraq, nukes, Hezbollah, etc. - but the United States cannot abide the idea of negotiating with small powers unless it's absolutely necessary, and even then insists on massive violence to show it's not a pussy. (See Vietnam War, 1972-1975)

The US cannot continue pretending a "no compromises" policy with Iran is going to work - even Bush's White House seems to acknowledge now that some kind of exit strategy is needed, albeit only after "one last push". The "one last push" that is planned seems to involve sending 20,000 extra soldiers in to Iraq, which will bring US totals to about 170,000.

This will still be less than were in-country during the early months of the occupation, when everything began to fall apart. Anyone want to bet that it will work this time, under much, much worse circumstances?

The strategy seems to be to give Washington a "decent interval" between now and the eventual withdrawal, to show that America's resolve is intact, or whatever. This isn't serious warmaking, it isn't even serious policymaking. It's Kissinger and Nixon II, and it's the politics of testosterone: If we leave now, the enemy will think they can beat us! We can't let America be emasculated like that, so we've got to make sure we kill a bunch of those brown people before we leave, just so they know who's boss.

Of course, the enemy has beaten us, and no "decent interval" is going to change that fact. Whenever the US leaves Iraq, it will be perceived as a victory for the forces there who want the American gone. When the US left the Phillipines, albeit temporarily, it was seen as a victory for nationalist forces there - and that was under much more cordial terms.

Will it ever be possible for Washington to form a mature foreign policy again?

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Other countries' federalism

So while we're all busy here whining about whether or not Quebec is a nation, Australia seems to have had a genuinely important Supreme Court decision handed down which some are predicting will fundamentally re-order the powers of the state/federal relationship, in favour of the Feds. Others disagree.

I can't say I've paid too much attention to John Howard's industrial relations law (I know, shameful of me) but this view, from one of the dissenters, seemed awfully familiar:
Most commentators assume that the States have been fiscal hostages of the Commonwealth ever since the First Uniform Tax Case during WWII effectively stripped then of their income taxing powers, a process exacerbated by the generous interpretation given by the High Court to the Commonwealth’s power to make tied grants to the States under Constitution section 96....

However, is this story of State fiscal dependence actually true?... There is nothing either in constitutional law or practical reality stopping the States from doing this other than the fact that they don’t want to collect their own income taxes. It’s both more expedient and more efficient to allow the Commonwealth to collect the taxes and then ritually whinge about being shortchanged.
Oh sweet Jesus, you could write the exact same paragraph about Canada. We really are all the same people, all over the world. (Or at least, in predominantly white, english-speaking countries, all over the world.) I find it important to restate, however, that there is nothing inevitable or inherently virtuous about decentralizing powers. Is it sometimes a good thing? Absolutely. But can it go too far? Equally true. As just one example, I've heard American law enforcement personnel - from both states and the feds - say that they would much prefer the Canadian system, where the Feds have a monopoly on criminal law.

It's important to say that I don't necessarily want more powerful government, as in the Feds taking new powers that no level of government had before. Rather, I'd like to see the provincial governments have some of their jurisdictions taken and given to the feds - hell, simply sharing jurisdiction would be an improvement. Recognizing municipal governments in the Constitution would be great, too, so that the Provinces stop crapping all over us. Ideally, dismember the provinces entirely, and have a federation of local governments... no, that's just fantasy.

Good news

The RAND Corporation - my god! - says that renewables could easily make up 25% of the US' energy mix by 2025, at no to little net cost.

Somebody want to tell me what we're waiting for?

Jesus, when the RAND corporation is on the side of the left, we've truly entered bizarro world.

I've got a wild idea - let people in

Monte Solberg is apparently unveiling a big new plan that will let big firms hire foreign workers when "Canadian won't do the work" or whatever. This is just stupid. There are plenty of reasons why Canadians don't want to go work for good money in Alberta, primarily because it's Alberta, fer chrissakes. (I kid because I love.)

Seriously, I wouldn't mind the money that I could make at some entry-level job in Ft. McMurray or wherever. But there's a bunch of problems, like the fact that I know absolutely nobody in Alberta, wouldn't know where to start, wouldn't have a place to stay, etc. We have profound regional differences in unemployment in this country - how about we help some of the unemployed and under-employed in other provinces find work in the high-demand provinces? It wouldn't take much - some temporary shelter, help setting up interviews, etc. Of course, a federal plan that actually did this would be perfectly constitutional, but would have the provinces screaming about the apocalypse.

Not that I'm opposed to immigration in the slightest, btw. Anyone - anyone, I say - who wants to come to this country out of the 242 competitors* should be welcomed with open arms. If you don't have a criminal record and can speak the language, bonus. It's not like we're hurting for room in this place.

*Okay, the bottom, like, 200 countries all are kind of the suck. Still, anyone who chooses Canada over Sweden should be naturalized before they realize their mistake.

This should get interesting

Boy, I'm so glad the Conservatives have shown such competence on resolving trade disputes with our friends already, or else I'd be worried.
OTTAWA — The Prime Minister of France is urging the European Union to impose a punitive import tax on goods from countries such as Canada that refuse to sign on to a tougher second phase of the global warming deal.

Dominique de Villepin said countries that do not commit to new targets to cut greenhouse gas emissions should not be allowed to benefit by avoiding the costs associated with reducing global warming. He said France would make specific proposals for the European Union to discuss in the new year.
Anybody know how much of Canada's exports are to Europe?

...answer seems to be around 10% of our exports go to Europe, mostly the UK. That's less than "other countries". The US, as always, is about 3/4 of our exports.

Canadian Politics Today

It was bad enough that the Liberal Party of Canada, leaderless, bankrupt, in total disarray, and managing to find all the most divisive subjects for a leadership contest (Israel, Quebec) was still almost or exactly tied in the polls with the Conservatives.

What does it say for Stephen Harper's leadership now, that in at least one poll, the Liberal Party of Canada, leaderless, bankrupt, in total disarray, and managing to find all the most divisive subjects for a leadership contest, has pulled slightly ahead?

At this point, I think the Liberals could choose anyone but Ignatieff* and walk away with the next government. It'd be a minority, but they'd have it.

*And not just because I hate Ignatieff - the NDP and left-Liberal voters Ignatieff repulses (like me) are Harper's last hope to keep the left divided and squeak out the next government.

No loyalty in the Pachyderm kingdom, apparently

Lions vs. Elephants. Or rather, an elephant. Apparently, the rest of the herd of elephants saw their friend being attacked by 7 lions, and said "sucks to be you!", leaving her to her fate.

Now, I'm not saying I'd be much better in their place as a human being - if one of my friends is attacked by 7 lions, and I'm not heavily armed and layered with kevlar, you can pretty much count me out. (Friends: You've been warned.) But then, I'm not a 4-ton stomping machine with foot-long ivory tusks of doom. If there's a herd of us elephants, and 7 lions come up wanting to start shit, I kind of wonder why the elephants don't make quick work of these cats.

Proportionally, isn't a lion basically like a large housecat to an elephant?

(Shut up. It's early, and this video intrigued me. And maybe I watch to much Discovery Channel.)