Monday, April 30, 2007


Saturn eclipsing the sun, with the Earth in the (very, very far) distance.

Catching up

I am a bad blogger, and haven't been keeping up my output. So some more quick links:

-Tom Tomorrow reminds us of the stupidity of early 2003.

-The US General Staff: Losing the war, again.

-The Israeli government really, really, really fucked up last summer.

That second link in particular is worth reading in full, if you didn't catch it from other bloggers. A good explanation of what, exactly, senior military officers are supposed to do, and how the US Army is failing at basic competencies.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

Perils of even moderate, non-violent democracy-promotion

(Cross-posted at Ezra's.)

A few days ago as TAPPED, Garance Franke-Ruta quoted a TNR report from Iran:

The reform era, Amir explained to me, may not have accomplished all Iranians had hoped it would in terms of structural political change. But it had opened a space that had not existed before. Khatami had made it possible for some 37,000 nongovernmental organizations to take root, addressing a panoply of social issues and human rights concerns at a granular level....

But there was a problem. The government had become convinced that the United States planned to finance and train these activists to overthrow the Islamic Republic, much as it had done in Serbia and elsewhere. In leaked intelligence reports Amir had seen, the regime had meticulously documented its case: "They quote the American Enterprise Institute and Michael Ledeen, as well as the statements of President Bush about civil society," he told me.

And we also get this news from Russia:

Russian officials in recent months have complained that western countries are trying to meddle in the political process by funding protest groups, and Putin echoed those allegations.

"There is a growth in the flow of money from abroad for direct interference in our internal affairs,'' Putin said in his address, delivered to members of both houses or parliament.

"There are those who, skilfully using pseudo-democratic rhetoric, would like to return to the recent past – some to loot the country's national riches, to rob the people and the state; others to strip us of economic and political independence,'' Putin said.

Two points I'd like to make here. The first is about the costs of our actions. Now, in this case the governments of Russia and Iran are saying pretty much exactly what you would expect them to. But it's worth pointing out that, yes, the fall of Milosevic in Serbia was due largely to American-funded NGOs, and the various colored revolutions in the post-Soviet countries have similar backgrounds. So when Russia and Iran talk about US-funded NGOs trying to weaken them from within, it's not like they're part of the tinfoil hat brigades. We did these things, and part of the consequence of having done this is putting other democracy movements in harm's way – more so than they already were.

Secondly, it's always worth remembering that, to an unfortunate degree, America is represented in the Muslim world by the intellectually bankrupt crazies on the neocon fringe. When the Iranian government is quoting Michael Ledeen as evidence that America is trying to bring down Iran from within, my reaction is something like “yeah, but it's Michael Ledeen. Chill out, nobody cares what he thinks.” But of course, for people who already want to believe that America means Iran harm, he's a godsend. And when McCain sings “bomb Iran” to a military crowd, that's probably being noticed.

(Then there's the issue of whether or not the current American government does, in fact, mean to harm Iran.)

Finally, the corollary to all this is that Americans need to be careful who they let represent the Muslim world in their eyes, too. Letting bin Laden or Ahmedinejad stand in as icons of Muslim opinion doesn't do anyone any good.

Friday, April 27, 2007

My dilemma

See, I don't like Paul Wolfowitz, so if he were fired from the World Bank for petty corruption -- or trying to muddy climate science -- that would make me happy, because anything that makes Paul Wolfowitz sad is, odds are, going to make me smile.

And yet, I don't like the World Bank much either. So if Wolfowitz stays, and that makes the World Bank less effective than it already is, that's also a plus in my book.

I think of what Henry Kissinger said of the Iran-Iraq war: Isn't there some way they can both lose?

Up next: how to get there

I'm feeling even nerdier than usual with the news of Gliese 581c, so let's take a look at a potential faster-than-light propulsion system...
If the experiment gets the go-ahead and works, it could reveal new interactions between the fundamental forces of nature that would change the future of space travel. Forget spending six months or more holed up in a rocket on the way to Mars, a round trip on the hyperdrive could take as little as 5 hours. All our worries about astronauts' muscles wasting away or their DNA being irreparably damaged by cosmic radiation would disappear overnight. What's more the device would put travel to the stars within reach for the first time. But can the hyperdrive really get off the ground?...

Yet the theorem has proved surprisingly powerful. The standard model of physics, which is generally accepted as the best available theory of elementary particles, is incapable of predicting a particle's mass. Even the accepted means of estimating mass theoretically, known as lattice quantum chromodynamics, only gets to between 1 and 10 per cent of the experimental values.

But in 1982, when researchers at the German Electron Synchrotron (DESY) in Hamburg implemented Heim's mass theorem in a computer program, it predicted masses of fundamental particles that matched the measured values to within the accuracy of experimental error. If they are let down by anything, it is the precision to which we know the values of the fundamental constants. Two years after Heim's death in 2001, his long-term collaborator Illobrand von Ludwiger calculated the mass formula using a more accurate gravitational constant. "The masses came out even more precise," he says.
I give major points to any crackpot theory that actually turns out to have empirical value. Whether it actually comes to anything is quite another matter, clearly, and my knowledge of quantum physics is only marginally better than a chimps, so there's a definite "caveat lector" warning here.

I'm shocked, shocked to discover the Bush Administration is incompetent

...and yet it never occurs to these people to resign on principle and tell America the truth, oh, when it matters?

Especially precious is George Tenet's discovery that, in fact, loyalty in the Bush White House runs entirely one-way. There's a fantastic element in James Risen's State of War that basically says the Tenet-Bush relationship was forged immediately after 9/11, when Bush effectively save Tenet's job by taking personal responsibility for any intelligence failures. (Rhetorically, he took responsibility. In reality, he just kept being Bush.) So Tenet was so grateful for keeping his job, he basically let Cheney and Rumsfeld run right over the CIA, just to keep the boss-man happy.

And then he was thrown overboard like rotting meat when it became convenient to do so.
“There was never a serious debate that I know of within the administration about the imminence of the Iraqi threat,” Mr. Tenet writes in a devastating judgment that is likely to be debated for many years. Nor, he adds, “was there ever a significant discussion” about the possibility of containing Iraq without an invasion.
No surprise there. Indeed, this has already been said in as many words by Paul O'neill in Ron Suskind's book The Price of Loyalty. The difference between now and then, I suppose, is that Bush's approval ratings are half what they were then. Oh, that and a Democratically-controlled Congress.

Let's see what develops from this.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Exoplanet follow-up

Seems like I was just saying last week or so:
a group of scientists has published a paper arguing that M-class (Red) stars may be more hospitable to life than previously believed. There are a number of obstacles that life would overcome: M stars are dimmer, so the planet would need to be so close to the star...
Well, yesterday a group of scientists announced finding a possibly Earth-like planet orbiting a red dwarf star, Gliese 581.
The planet, Gliese 581c, circles the star every 13 days at a distance of about seven million miles. According to models of planet formation developed by Dr. Sasselov and his colleagues, such a planet should be about half again as large as the Earth and composed of rock and water, what the astronomers now call a “super Earth.”

The most exciting part of the find, Dr. Sasselov said, is that it “basically tells you these kinds of planets are very common.” Because they could stay geologically active for billions of years, he said he suspected that such planets could be even more congenial for life than Earth. Although the new planet is much closer to its star than Earth is to the Sun, the red dwarf Gliese 581 is only about a hundredth as luminous as the Sun. So seven million miles is a comfortable huddling distance.
What a strange world. Gliese 581c is probably tidally locked, meaning one side is constantly in daylight, and because it's so close, the local star would appear 20 times larger than our sun does in the sky, but the days would be dimmer and red.

As a side note, it's often said that the discovery of extraterrestrial life, more so intelligent life, would be a huge blow to the religions of the world. To which I say: please. These people don't believe in evolution, but we're going to convince them that we've found algae on Mars, or little green men orbiting a distant star?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

God loves us, everyone

Else, he would never have created Chuck Norris.

And then, I'd never get to read Chuck Norris blame media violence for the Va. Tech shootings.

And that, friends, would not be a world worth living in.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Um, there's this thing called "civilian control"

So.... John McCain is on the teevee, saying to Jon Stewart that the vast majority of US soldiers he speaks to believe in the cause that is the Iraq War. The implication, it seems, is that we can't abandon the soldiers who've committed their lives to a cause they still believe in.

There are so many problems with this logic, but I'd like to point out two first -- assuming charitably that McCain isn't simply full of shit:

1) He's a frikkin US Senator, and a prominent Republican hawk at that. Is it possible, just maybe, that an active-duty serviceman or -woman might be shaping their answers to what they think the audience wants to hear? Maybe?

2) How many people go to work everyday committed to failure? Of course soldiers want to see Iraq work out -- they've been stop-lossed in to this war for years, and have to wake up every day with this crap.

Now, those two things aside, there's the title issue -- democratic governments command the army, not the other way around. If, defying all facts and logic (which is what we've been reduced to in Iraq) the soldiers want to keep America committed to a losing war, then the military is no longer a national security asset, they're a liability.

Fortunately for America, and shamefully for McCain, I don't think the military is actually that close-minded.

The thirsty years

This isn't the kind of choice we're used to as a society.
Australians have been told to pray for rain or face a ban on irrigation in the main food-growing region so that there is enough water to drink.

The Prime Minister’s warning yesterday heralded a dramatic increase in food prices and the prospect of tens of thousands of farmers having to watch their crops fail.

John Howard said that an expert panel had advised the Government that the worst drought in the nation’s history left it no choice but to turn off irrigation systems in the agricultural heartland of the Murray-Darling basin in the east.
How long before America, Canada, China, or India have similar problems?

Found: One spine, barely used.

Jeebus. Joe Klein, you been eatin' yer wheaties, aintcha?

Innumeracy runs rampant

Jesus, this is simply unforgiveable. Richard Gwyn, in the Toronto Star:
Objectively, France is edging toward the wings of the international stage.

Its economic weight is increasingly modest. Militarily, it's of second rank....

Two preferred solutions are constantly being called for by commentators. That the French must accept the market system and globalization or, as they call it "the Anglo-Saxon system." Also, that the French are going to have to accept multiculturalism.

Plausible though these notions are – Britain's economy now is far stronger than France's...
Okay. This is an easy one. Let's go to the CIA World Factbook:

GDP (purchasing power parity): $1.871 trillion (2006 est.)
GDP (official exchange rate): $2.154 trillion (2006 est.)

GDP (purchasing power parity): $1.903 trillion (2006 est.)
GDP (official exchange rate): $2.341 trillion (2006 est.)

France as a % of the UK:
PPP: 98%
OER: 92%

Clearly, the French need to change their ways. Unless, of course, the French have a good year or two while the Brits continue to lose oil production with the collapse of the North Sea, in which case clearly the Brits will need to change their ways.

Oh, no, I'm sorry. That will never happen, because if there's one thing that always trumps an actual grasp of "numbers" or "facts" in the media, it's a disdain for France. Oh, and a belief that anyone who doesn't run their economies at the behest of international capital is clearly headed for the ash-heap of history.

Wonder how they got that idea...

An in-depth poll of major Muslim countries has found that in all of them large majorities believe that undermining Islam is a key goal of US foreign policy....

Large majorities (average 79%) across all four countries believe the United States seeks to “weaken and divide the Islamic world”, ranging from 73 percent in Indonesia and Pakistan to 92 percent in Egypt. Equally large numbers perceive that the US is trying to maintain “control over the oil resources of the Middle East” (average 79%). Strong majorities (average 64%) also believe it is a US goal to “spread Christianity in the region”....

Large majorities in all countries (average 74%) support the goal of getting the US to “remove its bases and military forces from all Islamic countries”.

Substantial numbers also favour attacks on US troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, and in the Persian Gulf. Approximately half of respondents support such attacks, while three in ten are opposed. But there is substantial variation between countries. Pakistanis are divided about attacks on the American military - many do not answer or express mixed feelings.
I'm shocked to learn that 21% of Muslims don't believe that the US is out to grab their oil.

David Halberstam

If the Vietnam era did one thing, it certainly produced a number of excellent journalist-authors. Neil Sheehan (A Bright Shining Lie) and David Halberstam (The Best and the Brightest) have really defined so much of the understanding of how the Vietnam war went the way it did.

Sadly, Halberstam died yesterday in a car accident. Working away at his next book at the age of 73, I think it's fair to say he died in the saddle the way any journalist might ask to. Just in case you were wondering, I think we can safely say he wouldn't have approved of modern conventions:
“He was not antiwar,” Mr. Prochnau said. “They were cold war children, just like me, brought up on hiding under the desk.” It was simply a case, he said, of American commanders lying to the press about what was happening in Vietnam. “They were shut out and they were lied to,” Mr. Prochnau said. And Mr. Halberstam “didn’t say, ‘You’re not telling me the truth.’ He said, ‘You’re lying.’ He didn’t mince words.”
He's already got a book about the Korean War slated to come out in the fall. And now, with The Best and the Brightest and War in a Time of Peace on my bookshelf, I need to make time to read both.

The Internet explains everything, cont.

So a common refrain from journalists whose abysmal coverage incenses us bloggers so is that "if we're being criticized from both sides, we must be doing something right."

via some unrelated toying with wikipedia, I find that this idea -- virtue lies between two extremes -- is referred to "the Golden Mean", and dates back to ancient Greek and Roman philosophers. The Roman poet Horace had a specific phrase for it in latin, aurea mediocritas.

The thing is, my lack of latin skillz is so profound that when I first read that I thought it might refer to golden mediocrity. Which seemed to be a perfect summation of the modern media, after all.

Couldn't happen to a nicer guy

Joe Francis: 35 days in jail.
PANAMA CITY, Fla. -- Blowing his nose and wiping away tears, the multimillionaire founder of the "Girls Gone Wild" video empire pleaded guilty to contempt of court Monday and was sentenced to 35 days in jail.

The Internet explains everything

I was confused by this.

Because it turns out it's an OC reference, a show I never had the pleasure of watching.

Just so you're all up on the kids these days.

Monday, April 23, 2007

What do the Korean DMZ and Chernobyl have in common?

They're both basically nature preserves in all but name. That and more in my latest Gristmill post.
To put it another way, humanity's regular everyday presence on earth is more disruptive than the worst nuclear disaster in history.

Pity the lemming

The Weathermakers by Tim Flannery, p. 99:
Collared lemmings are the true offspring of the extreme north, for they survive even on the hostile northern coast of Greenland, and are superbly adapted to life in the cryosphere... Their population fluctuates on a cycle of around four years, at the end of which their abundance is such that they may migrate en masse in search of food, thereby giving rise to the idea, erroneously propagated, that they commit suicide by running off cliffs...

...if global warming trends persist, forests will expand northwards to the edge of the Arctic Sea destroying the tundra... For the collared lemming the tundra and life itself are inseparable, and the report states that the species will be extinct before the end of this century. Perhaps all that will be left then will be a folk memory of a small, suicidal rodent. But the real tragedy will be that the lemmings didn't jump. They were pushed.

RIP, ya bastard

Boris Yeltsin, dead at 76.

I don't hate the guy or anything, but one of the most troublesome stories we tell ourselves when it comes to Russia is that "Yeltsin=Good, Putin=Bad." Things have gotten worse for Russians under Putin when it comes to human rights, and that's clearly bad, but they weren't wonderful to begin with.

On the other hand -- and this isn't an exchange or trade-off -- it's gotten much better for Russians when it comes to eating. Yeltsin presided over the collapse of the Russian economy, and it was only barely beginning to recover when he left.

So you've got a guy who was a lousy democrat without even managing to clothe and feed his people properly, and you've got Putin who's undeniably a worse democrat, but who's presiding over a recovering economy. That is, I think, the more accurate narrative to tell about Russia since the end of the USSR.

Globalization in pictures

I can't help but think this is the most staged picture ever, but if you want a good illustration of globalization at work this might be it.

Yes, that's an AK-47. And yes, that's an iPod.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Putting smart bombs in the hands of dumb people

via Uncorrected Proofs, Billy Bragg's performance of "Waiting for the Great Leap Forwards" on... CBS? The hell?

Like UP, I prefer the original. But any Bragg is good Bragg.

...ah, the miracle of the Internets. The original version of Waiting for the Great Leap Forward. This is not the original video, I suspect, but somebody who's decided to use it as a soundtrack to their slideshow.


Brian Beutler:
...if an Iranian leader with great visibility--say, Mahmoud Ahmedinejad--had been videotaped singing "Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb bomb America," (which, yes, sounds foolish but you get the idea) it wouldn't be taken lightly here. Fox News would treat it as a sign that the regime was unstable and dangerous and, voila, we'd allow it to bring us a step closer to war.
In fact, we've already seen this kind of thing over and over again with China. Some two-bit Chinese General points out the obvious -- that China's nuclear deterrent exists for a reason -- and suddenly the entire wingnutosphere freaks the hell out and starts gearing for war.

But remember everyone, Ahmedinejad is an anti-semite, so clearly we're on the side of angels.


This post by Dave at the Galloping Beaver has finally prompted me to put down in pixels a post that's been bouncing around in my brain for a few months now. You should go read it now, and please come back.

While I find it regrettable, I think it's easily understood why we don't spend a lot of time pondering what, exactly, our wars do to the other side. The Americans seem to think that their soldiers, sailors, and airmen have the accuracy of cupid and the good intentions of St. Patrick. Even in Canada, we excuse with a wave of our hands all the collateral damage we do by simply stating, as if it were fact, that we're there to do a good thing -- ergo, the bad things we do are justified.

Like I said, I understand why we do this. If we spent a long time thinking about what we do to the browner places of the Earth, I suspect we'd just stop doing it. What really confuses me, though, is how little time we spend thinking about what we do to our own side -- most especially our own soldiers.

If you haven't read up on these matters, you might be surprised to find that, by far, the most common psychological ailment for soldiers who return from war -- more common even than the grief of watching friends die -- is the trauma of knowing you've killed another human being. Even those who never end up actually killing another man report being upset at the self-knowledge that they would follow an order to do so. Like I said, you might find this surprising, but only because in our society we've so devalued the act of killing another human being -- our heroes kill and torment without forethought or regret -- that the act of taking a human life seems to be worth about as much as the old Italian lira.

While every army inevitably employs some men who revel in killing, the vast majority of soldiers don't start off wanting to kill -- even raised in our society, most people don't have that kind of bloodlust. They have to be trained to kill, made to kill. The modern army breaks men like horses are broken to the saddle.

The word "break", in this context, actually implies far more violence than is actually the norm. For horses, one of the most effective ways of training the beast is to simply be around it for the first days of its life, holding it and controlling it while it's still young enough to be overpowered by a human. The impression this makes lasts for a lifetime.

Similarly, the modern army doesn't rely on ritual beatings for its discipline. Rather, a new recruit slowly has their ties to the outside world weakened, while the ties to the army and to their fellow soldiers are created and strengthened. The army becomes your family, and more than anything you want to make your family proud. (It's a cliché to say that most soldiers returning to Iraq are heading back for their brothers in the force. It is also true.)

The effect in both cases is the same. Neither a man nor a horse is robbed of their independence of mind or spirit -- as any rider who's been thrown will tell you -- but at the end of the day, the objective is to have a creature who obeys. An army is only as effective as its soldiers are obedient, and the armies of the west (with the full arsenal of modern psychology behind them) are very effective indeed.

Then comes the day when a soldier obeys the command that he's been trained for -- the command to kill. Here, a different kind of breakage occurs. Society, not the soldier, breaks a cardinal rule. We take the whole, and holy, rule that "Thou Shalt not kill" and split it in two pieces: Thou shalt not kill, until we tell you to. The effects of this betrayal by the state are profound, and can last a lifetime. We turn good men in to good men who kill. We inflict that trauma on them. Even those who come back blessedly unharmed in body will never be the same.

So you would think, before inflicting this kind of injury of the soul on our own brothers, fathers, sons, and more recently mothers, sisters, and daughters, we would make sure that they have have the whole of our community behind them, behind their objectives, and committed to their well-being when they return. Soldiers' lives shouldn't be ruined for a trifle. Instead, we have the Canadian army in a war where there's no consensus, no commitment to the stated objectives, and little enough clarity about those objectives, though we can at least hope their well-being at home will be assured.

Lest you think I'm about to scream "support the troops!" as I drive off in my yellow ribbon-festooned Hummer, I want to be clear: absent an open and honest debate about the role of our soldiers in Afghanistan -- a debate we've never had in this country, certainly not before Paul Martin's decision in 2005 -- they shouldn't have been put there in the first place.

I suspect this state of affairs is going to inevitably lead to yet another breakage -- the heartbreak of the soldiers who are removed from Afghanistan "before the job is done". It's only natural that soldiers on the ground will see the positive impacts they're having, and want to see those effects persist. But we know beyond any doubt that our current forces aren't enough, and we can say with near-certainty that reinforcements of the necessary volume simply aren't coming. Why would we stay, only to have more Canadians kill and be killed in return?

I read this morning that Conservative Whip Jay Hill seems to believe we're in a war "...on evil people, just as we were during the First and Second World Wars." What a curious war. No mobilization, no tax increases, not even delays in the government's precious tax cuts. The troop increases announced by Harper are pitifully small if we're actually at war. If Paul Martin or Stephen Harper had been PM during those previous wars Hill cites, I suspect that Hitler would have died peacefully in his sleep. In London.

I've said this before, so you'll pardon me for repeating myself, but we aren't committed to this war, and any politician who says we are should be ashamed of themselves. We're committed to the rhetoric of war, which is just another way of saying that Canadian soldiers in harm's way are useful props and rhetorical devices for the ruling party of the day.

That too is a break, the final one. A break with the past, with the notion that Canada could be something more than the larger powers, a nation committed to bringing peace and order to the dark, chaotic corners of the world. Prominent commentary has been ridiculing peacekeeping for years now, because only war-making is men's work. Whatever. I'm not a soldier, and don't feel like telling Canadian soldiers what is and is not their duty. It's clear, in any case, that Canada's leaders have given up on the idea of Canada as a true middle power, a country independent from the imperial games of the Great Powers, and this war is part of the reason for that.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Today in ridiculous infrastructure planning

Russia wants to bridge the Bering Strait. I say huzzah to them for it.

Between the Chunnel and this, I guess all the world's major economies would be linked by rail. But my understanding is that economics would still favor container ships for anything that didn't require speed. On the other hand, a high-speed rail across the north Pacific has some interesting possibilities. And unlike container ships, we can move trains with electricity.

Things I like

  • This cartoon just makes me laugh.
  • Nazi Robot Attack. Why not?
  • Bradford Plumer asks why so many Democrats voted for the odious abortion law that has just been ratified by the Supreme Court. Did they vote for it only because they thought it would be overturned?
  • A debate on Ontario's MPP suggestion. (Click on "Referendum on Democracy".) Someday, someone somewhere will have to explain to me why the "left" Toronto Star is so opposed to PR. Do they really not understand how much better life would have been if we'd only had two Harris minority governments? Talk about obtuse.
  • In another time and place, I would probably have devoted a whole blog post to the laughable claim that complying with Kyoto would destroy the Canadian economy. Sadly for all 6 of you who wanted to read that post, I don't think these Conservatives are even worth the effort. Let me say this for the Liberals: They did manage to keep the Conservatives out of power long enough that now, when they've finally got their mitts on the steering wheel, all their talking points are obsolete. Haw.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

And I'm back

Had a lovely time in NY, NY, and you don't need me to tell you what a great city it is. More on that later.

The Virginia Tech shootings: Good lord, how awful. Words fail me. But after the first 24 hours or so, when there was no news coming in, do you think maybe CNN could have looked at some other things happening in the world?

Ontario's Citizen assembly votes overwhelmingly in favour of a mild form of closed-list, Multi-member PR. This prompts CalgaryGrit to write the stupidest thing I've ever read from him:
I have to give a thumbs down to Ontario's MMP referendum. I'm not completely against electoral reform, but when you have party leaders writing the party list, you have a situation where MPPs are being appointed which strikes me as being completely against the principle of having an elected house.
Now, I know he's not in fact this dumb, but let's be clear: nobody gets to Parliament -- certainly not Queen's Park in Ontario -- without at least a wink and a nod from the party leadership. In some cases, you get the Michael Ignatieffs of the world who get gifted safe seats from the leadership where there's, if anything, less accountability then there would be in a closed list.

The PR system proposed by the CA is not perfect, but it's so much better than the status quo. The only substantial criticisms I've heard from the well-informed revolve around whether it's marketable, not whether it's good enough.

I intend to vote for this reform, and I hope to see it win.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Clap your hands say no

Ladies and gentlemen, meet antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea.

Is it odd that, as a young man, I'm kind of looking forward to a lifetime of monogamy?

What of the ninja, I ask you?

Getting ready for a flight to Canada's glorious and beneficent neighbour to the south, so I take a look at the TSA's list of proscribed items. Here I see:

This of course prompted the following between Vicki and I:
Me: Get a load of this -- ninjas have to check their nunchakus.

Vicki: Nunchakus?

Me: You know, nunchucks.

Vicki: I know. Still. Seems kind of unfair.

Me: Well, even without his nunchakus or throwing stars, the ninja is still, y'know, a ninja. I think he could take the air marshal.
We're not even boarding until tomorrow afternoon, and I'm already hoping for more in-flight entertainment than is reasonable.

Shades of a sealed train

I have nothing really substantive to add to the news that the Liberal Party is going to abandon Central Nova to the Greens that hasn't already been said by either the Jurist or Idealistic Pragmatist.

What I will say is that the Liberals need to officially shut the hell up about vote-splitting from this point on. Here you've got a party that screamed bloody murder at the idea that anyone would dare consider voting for the NDP just over a year ago because the threat of a divided progressive vote was so dire. Now, the same party is going to fracture the progressive vote even further by pushing the Green Party further towards the limelight -- and don't even pretend that's not exactly what's going to happen here.* Surely, if Harper winning a minority government because of an NDP vote was worth all that sound and fury, the possibility of Harper winning a majority because of the Green Party is worth even more, right? Right? Anyone?

I argued strongly against the Liberal scare-tactics a year ago (and before and after) and I'll continue to do so, because if you want to vote Green I say go for it -- I won't join you, but knock yourselves out. But let's stop pretending that this was about anything more than keeping Paul Martin and his sad excuse for a government in power.

And as for the sealed train reference, I would just suggest to the Liberal Party of Canada that the danger in encouraging political rivals is that sometimes they succeed beyond your expectations.

*There's evidence that the Greens take votes equally from all parties once they rise above a certain threshold, a sign to me that the public basically doesn't know squat about the Green Party or their proposals. (Shades of the ADQ during the early years of this decade.) But the net effect -- with a divided left in Canada -- is to hurt the Liberals and the NDP to the benefit of the Tories.

POSTSCRIPT: I should say that, as bizarre as this whole thing is, Peter MacKay is one of the stupidest MPs in Ottawa at the moment, so if this actually defeats him I'm willing to give a big yay to it. The Foreign Minister is a pathetic man-child who seriously needs to have his ass kicked.

Extrasolar planet news

One of my more... obscure interests is the science surrounding planets orbiting other stars. A bit of news this week.

First, we have the discovery of water vapor in the atmosphere of a "hot jupiter" planet, romantically named HD209458b. Not really Earth-shattering, but an interesting discovery nonetheless.

Up next, a NASA scientists says that plants on other planets might not be green, instead absorbing different parts of the light spectrum. The basis for this? An answer to the question of why grass is green:
It turns out that more red light reaches plants on Earth, and blue light is the easiest to absorb. So plants make most efficient use of these two, and that leaves green light as largely superfluous.
So if you had a star that emitted more light in a different part of the spectrum, plants would conceivably evolve to absorb different levels of light. (Are there examples of, say, blue-colored photosynthesis on Earth? That is, plants that do in fact absorb red and green while reflecting blue?)

Finally, this is an interesting idea: a group of scientists has published a paper arguing that M-class (Red) stars may be more hospitable to life than previously believed. There are a number of obstacles that life would overcome: M stars are dimmer, so the planet would need to be so close to the star that it would become tidally-locked, like the moon around the Earth. This would mean one side would always be in daylight, and the early thinking was that this simply made life impossible. New models suggest that an atmosphere no thicker than the Earth's would be enough to regulate the temperature and allow liquid water to exist on the surface.

If true, this dramatically increases the number of candidate stars where life could form -- M stars make up about 75% of the Milky Way galaxy. And M dwarf stars are dramatically long-lived to boot:
'One...aspect of M dwarfs makes them intriguing for SETI: they may be ideal hosts for advanced technological civilizations because they live an extraordinarily long time. Stars like the Sun live (i.e., they fuse hydrogen into helium) for only about 10 billion years. No M dwarf that ever formed has yet to die; no M dwarf will die for more than another 100 billion years. With such long lifetimes, there are big possibilities for these small stars.'
And you'll have to pardon me for being a bit tantalized by the fact that our Sun's nearest neighbor is Proxima Centauri, an M-class dwarf.

Giordano Bruno is owed an apology.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

The hell?

via TVP:
We, the people of Canada who support marriage solely as the union of a man and a woman, apologize to the people of the world for harm done through Canada’s legalization of homosexual marriage.
Uh. I'm trying to come up with something more to say, but all I can think of is the Canadian ambassador from the South Park movie shouting "my government has apologized for Bryan Adams on several occasions!"

Throne-Kissing Swine, cont.

That's right, Jonah. All the throne-kissing swine moved to Canada.

The injustice still manages to surprise me

In the case of the fisherman in Tikrit, he and his companion desperately tried to appear unthreatening to an American helicopter overhead.

“They held up the fish in the air and shouted ‘Fish! Fish!’ to show they meant no harm,” said the Army report attached to the claim filed by the fisherman’s family. The Army refused to compensate for the killing, ruling that it was “combat activity,” but approved $3,500 for his boat, net and cellphone, which drifted away and were stolen. ...

In another incident, in 2005, an American soldier in a dangerous Sunni Arab area south of Baghdad killed a boy after mistaking his book bag for a bomb satchel. The Army paid the boy’s uncle $500.
Tragic, horrible, and the inevitable result of this war.

Today in False Balance

The "shape of the Earth: opinions differ" award goes to the AP for this story on Wen Jiabao's visit to Japan:
The two countries have been at odds in recent years over Japan's invasions and occupation of China in the 1930s and '40s. China has accused Japan of not fully atoning for its aggression, while some Japanese feel accounts of their wrongdoings have been exaggerated.
Look, some Germans still don't believe the holocaust happened. There's no reason to give them the benefit of the doubt in an international wire piece.

The larger problem is not that "some Japanese" don't believe the accounts of WWII atrocities, but that those same "some Japanese" frequently have prominent roles in Japanese government -- such as Prime Minister. When the Chinese say that Japan hasn't fully "atoned" for it's aggression, they're on far more solid footing than the Japanese who say nothing happened.


So Belinda Stronach has decided not to run again. Meh. One of the nice things about supporting the NDP was not having to suddenly start singing her praises when she crossed the floor, after spending months smearing her for being a vapid know-nothing. (Liberals, we're looking at you.) That said, I think I actually did praise her for crossing the floor.

The funniest moment came when Stephen Harper slammed Belinda's move as nothing more than "ambition." This from the man who'd tried to be elected Prime Minister and not yet succeeded.

I don't know if Belinda was leadership material or not, but the stars were pretty clearly not in her favour. 2nd-rank MP in Harper's opposition, brief Minister in Martin's brief government, and now 2nd-rank MP in Dion's opposition, it was going to be a long time before Belinda had another shot at the leadership.


Kurt Vonnegut, 1922-2007.

I guess I can't be too angry about an 84-year old, internationally successful author finally leaving us, but damn if the world doesn't seem a bit colder today.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

"War Czar"?

I'm a bit late to this party, but it seems like the Bush Administration is looking for a "war czar" to help clean up the mess they're in. The funny thing is, nobody wants the job. The funnier thing is that even Jack "I helped invent the 'surge' plan" Keane doesn't want the job. The funniest thing of all is that there are already the following positions which should already provide Bush the guidance he needs, within the executive branch:

Secretary of Defense
National Security Advisor
National Security Council
Secretary of Homeland Security
Commander of Central Command (Afghanistan and Iraq.)

And of course, Bush himself is the Commander-in-Chief.

Remember how, back in 2000, everybody said electing Bush wouldn't matter because he'd have plenty of good advisors? Well, here we see the ultimate problem. Bush is ignoring all the good advice he's been getting about Iraq, and only listening to the bad advice. When things continue to go badly, what does he do? Create a new advisor to tell him things he'll either already know or simply ignore.

And can we please abandon the use of the word "Czar"? They weren't models of competence, y'know. Just autocrats.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Iraqis have opinions

And they aren't in favour of the status quo. Duh.
Respondents were asked what would happen in a variety of areas if US-led forces were to withdraw from Iraq in the next six months. Majorities of Iraqis express confidence that in many dimensions related to security, things would improve. Sixty-seven percent say that "day to day security for ordinary Iraqis" would increase, a consensus position among all ethnic groups—83% of Sunnis, 61% of Shia and 57% of Kurds.
Much more. Follow the link.

Neat video about global health

Plus -- because I know you can't live without it -- pretty graphs and animations.

Throne-Kissing Swine

No, Jonah Goldberg, fuck you.
Maybe, just maybe, France and Denmark can handle the systems they have because they have long traditions of sucking-up to the state and throne? Marty Lipset wrote stacks of books on how Canadians and Americans have different forms of government because the Royalist, throne-kissing, swine left America for Canada during the Revolutionary War and that's why they don't mind big government, switched to the metric system when ordered and will wait on line like good little subjects. Liberals constantly invoke Sweden as a governmental model without paying much heed to the fact that Sweden's government succeeds as much as it does because it governs Swedes. And maybe, just maybe, the reason America doesn't have a sprawling European welfare state is that America isn't Europe. And, unlike some of our liberal friends, Americans don't want to be Europeans. Indeed, that's why so many Europeans move to America, so they can be Americans.
Jonah has previously written that the US should invade Canada simply to slap us around and make us real men, so all things considered I guess I should take "throne-kissing swine" as a compliment. Except that, like all Republicans, Jonah Goldberg has spent every day since 9/11 justifying every autocratic push by the White House, every unconstitutional crime, and smearing all those who disagree as disloyal.

Really, where does a modern GOP operative get off slamming the English, French, or Canadians for unseemly deference to authority? The English made a party game of executing their rulers when they got too uppity throughout the 1600s, and guess what? No more uppity rulers. Ditto France, though later. Canadian democracy exists today because of the rebellions in Lower and Upper Canada. The last American rebellion was the Civil War, where half the country decided owning, raping, and killing black people was a privilege worth killing their countrymen for. That principle -- treason in defense of slavery -- is one that Bush's colleagues in the Republican party have repeatedly defended. John Ashcroft -- sworn to enforce the laws of the United States when he was Attorney General -- repeatedly said in interviews that he was cool with the Confederacy.

Yes, Canada, the UK, and Sweden still have monarchs. In all those cases monarchs have all the potency of castrati. In contrast, the American Presidency and its concentration of unfettered executive power is an anachronism in the modern world. The Republican model of government has been adopted by dictators across the third world for exactly that reason.

What any of this has to do with health care is a mystery to me, but Ezra gives it a good try. Frankly, I think it's a waste of pixels. Goldberg isn't making an argument, he's just feeling threatened by the actual facts that, yes, other countries run their affairs objectively superior to the United States. So we must therefore be throne-kissing swine. What a child.

Monday, April 09, 2007

I can live with that

...just so long as I get my own personal asteroid. Oh, and I get to kick Wolverine's ass a few times.

Your results:
You are Magneto

Dr. Doom
Lex Luthor
Poison Ivy
Mr. Freeze
The Joker
Green Goblin
Dark Phoenix
You fear the persecution of those that are different or underprivileged so much that you are willing to fight and hurt others for your cause.

Click here to take the Supervillain Personality Quiz


First we had the car shaped like a boxfish, now we have a plane inspired by a tuna.

I for one welcome our new icthyological overlords.

When Stupidity catches its prey

John Murney reprints this little nugget from Kate McMillan of Small Dead Animals, saving me from having to link to her cesspool:
Kate: You do realize, John, that intelligence estimates about WMD's in Iraq was research funded by US, British, German, French, Russian, Israeli and UN governments?

Everyone remembers the Eisenhower quote about the military industrial complex. They conveniently forget what he said about government funding of university research.

John: To address your point (a very good one by the way), in the beginning, and for many, many years, I was extremely skeptical of warnings of climate change by intellectuals. I used to laugh at the warnings. and I too reverted to name calling and such for people who issued the dire warnings.
Mr. Murney unfortunately labels this "the first intelligent and rational criticism of arguments made for human induced climate change." It is, in fact, so incredibly stupid I'm upset to see him dignify it as he has. There are so many possible ways this is brain-dead, let's just start with the easiest:

--Process matters: the lies about WMD were cooked up in secret, away from the public eye, and then not allowed to be independently verified by Congress until after the war had already begun. Global warming can and has been verified with a look at publicly available and independently-verified records.

--Age matters: the science of global warming has been vaguely understood for over a century, and verified for decades. The lies about WMDs were cooked up over the summer of 2002 and few endured the light of public scrutiny for more than a few days after their first utterance.

--The messenger matters: The people warning us about global warming are respected academics and scientists, including the vast majority of the world's living Nobel Prize winners. The people warning us about Iraq were the Bush Administration, who even pre-9/11 had already been caught lying about every major matter of public policy -- taxes, education, stem cells, Enron, etc.

It's simply insane to think there's some kind of equivalence between the Bush White House and the IPCC. But this coda by Mr. Murney really confuses me:
I always see red flags when it comes to anything that government takes an interest in, which is originally why I was in denial about the climate change phenomena.
Huh? The government of Canada, and that of the US as well, has been committed (in deed if not word) to doing absolutely nothing about climate change. There is a decade-long policy of denying the risks, and avoiding any commitment that would inconvenience the oil industry in Canada, or the coal industry in the US.

To read the events of the 1980s and 1990s as the governments of North America "pushing" climate change seems so blinkered to me, it really leaves me gasping. (The subtext of an anti-government fetish just further underlines my skepticism of the libertarian/anarchist spectrum.) We've made the scientific progress we have in understanding climate change largely in spite of the US and Canadian governments, not because of them.

And what, pray tell, did Eisenhower say about publicly-funded research? Here:
In this revolution, research has become central; it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government.

Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers.

The prospect of domination of the nation's scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present and is gravely to be regarded.

Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.
Whatever Eisenhower was worried about, I think it's clear -- with a President who wants to teach creationism in school -- that America is far from being captured by a "scientific-technological elite". I think it's also clear that Eisenhower's concerns about public research were clearly intertwined with his beliefs about the M-I complex, and aren't directly relevant to the debate over climate change.

But of course, cherry-picking irrelevant data points isn't new to the climate change debate either.

On a related note, take a look here and watch grown men fail before the superior understanding of climate change demonstrated by a 6 year-old. If only this weren't so representative...

Friday, April 06, 2007

Breaking radio silence

Somedays, the stupidity is too much for me to stay silent. So:

--If I'm ever captured by the Iranian Republican Guard, I'll say whatever they want, on the expectation that my family and friends care more about my personal safety then whether or not I say mean things about my government. If I'm on a inflatable dinghy and surrounded by IRG gunboats, you better believe I'm going to surrender to them, because a pointless death really is, duh, pointless.

--As for the whole "Nancy Pelosi in Syria" thing, am I the only one who remembers Jesse Helms' undermining the foreign policy of the President before the UNSC in 2000?

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Spotty blogging notice

The rest of this week is going to be lite blogging here. Death in the family -- my grandmother. I'm fine and all, but unsurprisingly occupied.

Happy thoughts are appreciated, especially those directed at my mother, aunts, and uncles who've lost their mother.

Minor irony note -- I was given The Phone Call just as I was heading to my newborn pseudo-niece's one-month birthday celebration. (When I get Vicki a ring on her finger, I'll drop the 'pseudo'.) I almost expected to hear Elton John, it seemed rather palpably 'circle of life'-ish.

I may drop in, but I really wouldn't expect anything until Sunday or so. Happy passover/easter, everyone.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Nardo Pace

The Galaxy's worst engineer: the Inbox.

Subject breathing device too fuckin LOUD
Lord Vader
Date A Long Time Ago 12:20 AM
To Nardo Pace

yo hey i still dont understand whats going on with this thing

can u put a knob on my breather apperatis so i can turn down the volume when im in the library or sneakin up on maintenence droids? why did u put a speaker on this thing in the first place lol

Kyoto: Part of the liberal tradition

That would be "small-l" liberals, the people who built the international order (UN, IMF, World Bank) after WWII. Kyoto is very much part of that tradition, and it needs to be rescued from those who would try and murder it.

Cough cough Harper cough Bush cough.

This, anyway, is my argument in my latest post at Gristmill.
Today, the earth's climate doesn't have a body as powerful as the World Bank trying to protect it. We don't have a Security Council capable of making international climate law enforceable at the International Court of Justice in the Hague. We don't even have the level of agreement necessary to work towards that kind of a body.

But it's clear, in this telling of the story, that America dramatically broke with it's history as the builder of international security when the U.S. Senate refused to ratify Kyoto. Kyoto was, as much as the Bretton Woods agreements or the UN Charter, an attempt to solve global stress before chaos and inequality lead to war. Exaggeration? Hardly...

"Probably stole it."

You've got to wonder how much it hurts poor Conrad Black that in Chicago, nobody seems to know who the hell he is. This is a man whose efforts at self-promotion are almost as legendary as his own misplaced self-regard, after all. Still, in the post-Enron age, I can't imagine he's going to get the warm reception he always dreamed of getting in America.

Right-wing capitalism, cont.

When it laid off 3,400 Circuit City veterans - 8 percent of its work force - last week, the giant electronics retailer discarded decency along with better-paid, knowledgable staffers who are being replaced by lower-paid knuckle-draggers.

The icing on the cake? Laid-off workers, after 10 weeks (giving them time to sell their cars, tell their kids they're not going to college and refinance their homes), can apply for their old jobs at a fraction of their former salary.

Almost as disgusting was Wall Street's reaction - driving the stock price up, as it always does when Americans are fired or degraded.

I placed a call to Circuit City Chairman, President and CEO Philip J. Schoonover to ask how much he would cut from the $4.5 million CC says he got last year....

When it comes to executive pay, corporations match maximum salaries, to be competitive, they say.

When it comes to workers, they match minimum salaries.
There are, in fact, companies that pay higher-than-average wages to their workers to encourage productivity and lower turnover. Those same companies are subjected to shareholder lawsuits for their trouble, and more often than not forced to eventually cave to the pressures of the market.