Sunday, September 30, 2007


What's a wingnut to do?

The New York Times reports that, wonder of wonders, life is returning to some semblance of peace in Grozny. The NYT attributes this in no small part to the iron-fisted rule of Moscow's local bastard, Ramzan Kadyrov. But you've got to wonder how the Bush-sycophants read an article like this. On the one hand, you've got an endorsement of the "more rubble, less trouble" mania they're so fond of. On the other hand, the guy getting most of the credit is a muslim. On the other other hand, he's a Sufi muslim (are they friends for the US, or not?) On the other other other hand, he's a tool of the Kremlin and Putin -- and Vlad Putin's basically one war from being the next Hitler at this point, right?

Oh wait. The nutters don't believe anything printed in the New York Times. Nevermind.

In other eastern European news, the Prime Minister of Ukraine is running for parliamentary elections using Bob Dole's advisors. Bizarrely, he seems to be poised to win.

One of the interesting elements in both these stories is the continuing ability of Russia in particular, and the FSU in general, to confound prediction. You could say it about any country over a decent time span (try predicting American politics 4 years from now!) but what shocked me is how quickly Yuschenko in Ukraine went from being saviour to Satan, and how quickly Yanukovich was put back in the PM's office. You could also point to Turkmenistan, where the death of (crazy crazy crazy) dictator Saparmurat Niyazov seems to have given the Turkmen government the idea of trying to break Russia's monopoly on natural gas pipelines -- something I daresay Moscow didn't see coming.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Another day, another bad anti-MMP column in a newspaper

Ian Urquart [a-doy, I need to read bylines more closely...] at least, isn't making up wholesale fantasies of dhimmitude or anything. But he persists, like so many journalists, in worrying about fringe parties. Apparently, journalism now requires that we narrow the bounds of acceptable politics, not expand it.

But what's really annoying about this trope -- not just when Walkom uses it, but always -- is that it's not simply the size of a coalition that matters, but the stability. So a minority government has a very strong interest in seeking the cooperation of a large, moderate party with a number of seats. Tory's first attempt if he wanted a coalition government could very well be the Liberals, like the current government in Germany.

Oh, and on that note, it's incredibly aggravating that Ontario's media persist in pretending that Germany doesn't exist for the purposes of this discussion. Only Andrew Coyne is busy pointing out the comparison, because it looks really, really good.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Who's Greener?

NOW Magazine has a good article on one of the primary disagreements I have with the NDP as it's presently constituted: it's reliance on the support of extractive or otherwise environmentally destructive industries. In this election, the spotlight is on the forestry and paper industries, but not too long ago Hampton was saying that we needed to leave Lambton and Atikokan (coal power plants) online.

I understand Hampton's political pressures-- and I don't want to diminish the economic problems of the north -- but from here it's hard not to see the NDP's committment to the environment as taking second place to propping up old legacy industries because their workers give the NDP lots of votes.

Meanwhile, the Greens have, to put it charitably, a bunch of really bad ideas too. But the difference is that the wackiest of the Green ideas (such as the unsustainable green tax shift idea) is probably impossible in the real world -- as in, it's not going to happen, so the pro-Green points (their school platform among them) remain while the anti-Green points are irrelevant. Doubly so, when you realize that the Greens won't win anything.

I wouldn't be voting Green if I lived in a riding where the NDP wasn't fielding such a lopsided incumbent. (The Liberals and Conservatives, as far as I've seen, just aren't advertising in my riding.) But it's possible for my vote to not count even if I vote for the winning candidate, if that pol is guaranteed victory anyway. So I'm increasingly leaning towards voting Green.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Like Chet, I find myself wishing that I'd written this post by Rick Perlstein. Sadly, I haven't even written the best blog post reacting to Perlstein -- that honor goes to Robert Farley.

It's truly mystifying that, in 2007, a country of 300 million with thousands of nuclear warheads is whipping itself up into stroke over a country of 90 million with no nuclear weapons and that would pose exactly zero threat to America if the US government hadn't put hundreds of thousands of Americans within arms' reach of Tehran.

So yeah, here's Perlstein:
Let me put before you an illustrative example: one week in September of 1959, when, much like one week in September of 2007, American soil supported a visit by what many, if not most Americans agreed was the most evil and dangerous man on the planet.

Nikita Khrushchev disembarked from his plane at Andrews Air Force Base to a 21-gun salute and a receiving line of 63 officials and bureaucrats, ending with President Eisenhower. He rode 13 miles with Ike in an open limousine to his guest quarters across from the White House. Then he met for two hours with Ike and his foreign policy team. Then came a white-tie state dinner. (The Soviets then put one on at the embassy for Ike.) He joshed with the CIA chief about pooling their intelligence data, since it probably all came from the same people...

Pot, kettle

So Ann Coulter's new book is titled "If Democrats had any brains, They'd be Republicans".

In other news, President Bush requires the big words in his speeches be spelled phonetically for him. And he still can't get "nuclear" right.

Yes, that's right, Ann Coulter thinks that Bill Clinton (Rhodes Scholar) would've needed more brains to be admitted in to the Republican Party, currently led by George Bush (C student.)

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

More media ranting

So the CBC finally put up the Northwest Passage story, at 11:58 eastern. (Thanks, Shani.) That's exactly 2 minutes before the National aired on Newsworld in Vancouver.

This is exactly the kind of behaviour you expect to see from an institution that simply doesn't take the Internet seriously. At best, the CBC is seeing the Internet as nothing more than an adjunct to it's legacy broadcast functions. Maybe the website is only update every day at midnight -- though that's even worse, frankly, than what I think is probably the real reason for these kinds of delays: a fear that putting a page up on the web would cannibalize TV viewers.

Well, that's a real enough concern in this case, because the web-hosted page has absolutely nothing that the broadcast didn't -- I'd be far better off reading the web page than watching the broadcast version.

But you'd think that the CBC would pay some attention to what's actually going on in the media world -- the NY Times has just opened up a huge chunk of it's formerly-protected content to the Internet, because they make more money from "incidental" traffic (Googlers, blog links) than they did from subcriptions. The Guardian in the UK has an extraordinary online policy, and then you've got the sleepy little CBC which seems to not be getting it.

I don't want to dump too much on the CBC, because there are some high points -- the CBC's podcasts are fairly popular. But when you've got a 24-hours news channel (Newsworld) there's no excuse for the web to be your dumping ground.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Dear CBC

Please make your website suck less.

PS, you smell.

...okay, let me clear that up. The National tonight leads the news with a report that Ottawa is planning to bug the Northwest Passage. Essentially, it sounds like we're borrowing the SOSUS idea -- the hydrophones that the US buried in the North Atlantic to track Soviet submarines.

So, a really interesting story, and sufficient reason for me to write one of my rare "Stephen Harper does something I think might not suck" posts.

Except, because this is the CBC we're talking about, as of 10:10PM tonight, I can't find a single mention of this lead story on their website. So no link, meaning I'll have to wait until tomorrow and hope that somebody at the CBC discovers this Internet thingy the kids are all talking about.

Arctic potpourri

An interesting article in LiveScience -- more bad news from the Arctic! Yay!
A new study examining satellite measurements of the winter sea ice covering the Barents Sea (located north of Scandinavia) over the past 26 years has shown that the ice edge has recently been retreating in the face of rising sea surface temperatures, said study leader Jennifer Francis of Rutgers University.

Her research, detailed in a recent issue of the journal Geophysical Research Letters, showed that the warming waters in the Barents Sea—which have risen about 3 degrees Celsius since 1980—are to blame for the reduction in winter ice cover. Two factors contribute to the warming of the Barents Sea: warming Atlantic waters funneled in by the Gulf Stream and solar heating of the open ocean as ice melts in the summer, both of which make it harder for new ice to form in the winter.
Retreating summer ice is one thing -- retreating winter ice is quite another. Meanwhile, there's some explanation for why the ice has disappeared so quickly the last few years:
Julienne Stroeve of the NSIDC used satellite data that tracked the movement of the sea ice over the last 30 years to estimate the age of the ice—the older the ice, the thicker it is. Newly formed ice (about 1 or 2 years old) will only be about 1 meter thick, whereas ice that is closer to 5 years old will be between 2 and 3 meters thick.

Ice thickness is key to the survival of sea ice, because thinner ice vanishes much faster in the summer than thicker ice.

Stroeve and her colleagues found that while most of the Arctic sea ice in the 1980s was around 5 years old (with some sections even climbing up to 9 or 10 years old), the oldest ice the researchers can find now is only 2 or 3 years old. All the 10-year-old ice has melted away.
Which brings me to the news that world leaders are gathering in New York to discuss global warming. Matthew Yglesias points out the obvious: nothing of substance is going to happen until Bush leaves office. No country in the world is more in need of a better way to bring a government down. But Brian Beutler points out more obviousness: "Al Gore could become president next November..." and the US would still be years away from meaningful change.

Meanwhile, in our little corner of Canada, PM Harper is apparently planning to defend his government against slurs and accusations that he's lying to the Canadian public about his climate change policies. Slurs and accusations, incidentally, coming from within his own government.

Meanwhile, this quote from an American scientists seems as apt as any description of humanity's dilemma in the 21st century:
“We understand the physics behind what’s going on,” Dr. Serreze said. “You can always find some aspect of natural variability that can explain some things. But now it seems patterns that used to help you don’t help as much anymore, and the ones that hurt you hurt you more.”
Positive-feedback loops where harmful behaviour is magnified and beneficial behaviour is minimized. Yes, it describes climate change. But it's also, interestingly enough, one description of the effect drug addiction has on the human brain. When it becomes severe enough -- when an addict has made a total mess of their lives -- the only way to break the cycle is to take someone out of their lives, isolate them for a period of usually more than a month, and help them build new cycles in their brain that don't require whatever substance they were jonesing for.

Comparisons between the North American love of fossil fuels and drug addiction aren't novel, and I don't particularly like the idea that we require a crisis before meaningful political change can happen, but there's a pretty solid psychological and political basis for it.

This is going to be one of those days where I'll be really angry all day, I can tell.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Leadership material

Shorter Tom Flanagan: The Conservative Party of Canada can't possibly win an election with fair rules. Thank God the rules aren't fair!

(Hey, the Jurist is on vacation or something. Somebody's got to step up.)

Friday, September 21, 2007

About that 3% threshold...

(Update: Uh, there's something wrong in this post. A commenter points out that 3% of the votes will get you 3% of the seats, not a single seat like I say below. I don't think this changes much in the argument -- the math still works out to local seats being something like half as hard to scrounge up votes for, especially in by-elections. So while the math below is a bit off, I'm going to leave it as is.)

So, yeah. Apparently, the 3% threshold that Ontario's proposed system requires is too low, and it's going to create a forest of small parties, all of whom will collectively tear apart Ontario's politics. Because apparently massive political changes are made by parties with only one seat in Parliament.

Let's try some math, here.

In the 2003 Ontario general election, 4,497,244 people voted. For simplicity's sake let's say 4.5 million. 3% of 4.5 million is 135,000 votes. So in order for a party to get one list seat in the Legislature under MMP, they'd need to get 135,000 votes across the Province.

Meanwhile, in the actual 2003 election, we can see that actual ridings were won with vastly less voters. In London-Fanshawe, the Liberal candidate (Khalil Ramal) won with a total of 13,920 votes -- 0.31% of the vote, one-tenth as many votes required to win a hypothetical list seat. In the 2005 Scarborough-Rouge River by-election, Bas Balkissoon won his seat with 9,000 votes (0.2% of the 2003 provincial vote!) And remember, in the MMP system, the vast majority of ridings will still exist, only some of them will be larger. This will mean that slightly more voters will be needed to win a single riding, but not nearly enough to make up the difference between a riding and a list seat.

There's this idea out there that somehow, list seats will be "easier" to get. But elections are made by a party getting a bunch of people out to vote, and the fewer people you need to get voting for you, the easier it is to get a seat. Clearly, if you were a fringe party looking to spend some money to win a seat in the Legislature, grabbing a list seat would be the hardest possible way to do it. In terms of actual people voting, your money would be 15 times more effective in Scarborough-Rouge River (2005) and almost ten times more effective in London-Fanshawe (2003).

It's easy to underestimate how hard political campaigns actually are. They take a lot of money, and a lot of volunteers, and despite what Murray Campbell thinks, Youtube voters aren't particularly eager to throw their votes away. Indeed, those crazies he disparages are probably more engaged in the political process than most of his readers. Getting 3% of Ontarians to vote for you is really, really hard -- the Greens are the only "fringe" party that's come close, so far, and they only got 2.8% of the vote. The next runners-up, the Family Coalition Party, got 0.8% of the 2003 vote -- they'd have needed to quadruple their vote in order to get a single seat. (And once more, a single seat in Parliament and fifty cents will get you a phone call.)

For reference, here are the three party leaders, and the number of votes they got in their respective elections (Tory won a 2005 by-election):

Dalton McGuinty: 24,647 (0.55% of the 2003 Ontario vote.)
Howard Hampton: 15,666 (0.35% of the 2003 Ontario vote.)
John Tory: 15,633 (0.35% of the 2003 Ontario vote.)

Only one of the three party leaders who currently hold a seat at Queen's Park got even one-sixth as many votes as they'd need to win a list seat.

Murray Campbell is Googlestupid

(Googlestupid: "the act of looking like a complete idiot by saying something you could have realized was completely wrong by searching the internet for less than five minutes.")

Lordy, lordy, lordy. I try to be charitable (sometimes) to political disagreement, but the anti-MMP people in the upcoming Ontario referendum just keep saying incredibly stupid things, or relying on outright fantasies. First we had Liberal diehards worrying about the NDP running a decoy list -- because the NDP is known to have buckets of cash sitting around with nothing to do, and because it's certainly not the Liberal Party that's been trying to, for example, co-opt the Green Party federally. But today's example comes from a Murray Campbell column a few days ago:
It offers the same potential to rip apart Ontario's body politic as Mr. McGuinty fears financing more religious schools would.... New parties would spring up because the threshold is so low - just 3 per cent of the vote. (Rick Mercer passed that mark in four days with his 2000 spoof of Stockwell (Doris) Day and YouTube gamers would love the challenge of persuading 135,000 voters to support a spoof party.) MMP advocates say it's speculation that parties based on religion or ethnicity would be formed but, equally, it's speculation that they wouldn't. Could Mr. McGuinty have resisted the pressure to adopt sharia law if he had needed an Islamist party to govern?
Are you kidding me? Seriously? Jesus Christ...

Here's news bulletin: According to Statistics Canada, only 3.1% of Ontarians are Muslims. (And by "news", I mean of course the 2001 census.) If you type "Muslims in Ontario" in to that obscure research tool academics call "Google", you'll find the statscan link deviously hidden in 2nd place. So, even if we insultingly assume that all of them are slavering Al Qaeda recruits in waiting, they'd still need 96% unanimously voting for an Islamist party for them to get a single seat. And exactly how many Muslim women would vote that way in a country with the secret ballot? And how many of them are children ineligible to vote? Or is Murray Campbell counting on the 1.7% of Jewish Ontarians to back up the Al Qaeda Party? And even if the Ontario muslim population has doubled since 2001, will one seat ever, in the remaining history of the Province Ontario, be enough to swing the fate of a government? Wouldn't Ontarians demand a new election instead?

On and on. Just an incredibly stupid thing to write, much less to have printed in a national newspaper. And we won't go in to the fact that Campbell is creating a Muslim boogey man, when the votes of Christian fundamentalists probably outnumber Muslim fundamentalists in Ontario by at least an order of magnitude. (There's 20 Christians for every Muslim in Ontario.) The reality is that 70% of this Province is either Catholic or Protestant. Other Christians make up another 5%, and then "no religion" makes up about 15%. So between the thoroughly-conventional Christian churches, and the atheists/agnostics, you've got 90% of the population. I don't know why Campbell decided to spin a fantasy about Ontario being reduced to an Islamic Caliphate with the tyranny of 3% of the population, but it's silly and insulting to Ontarian muslims. Not to mention Mr. McGuinty, who apparently is helpless before the Muslim hordes of Ontario.

(I just want to really, really emphasize how insulting it is to assume that any significant number of Ontario Muslims would support an Islamist party. Speculating about it in a national paper does grievous harm to Campbell's cherished "body politic" by convincing Canadian Muslims they'll never be trusted, no matter how much they assimilate. Campbell's doing far worse then MMP will ever do.)

Campbell's broader point, that MMP will "tear apart the body politic" of Ontario, deserves at least a pro-forma rebuttal. First off, the system reccomended for Ontario is explicitly modelled on the German system, a country whose body politic was forcibly ripped apart, not with elections but with tanks, concrete, and razor wire. And guess what? The German system has helped reconcile the two halves of Germany, to the point where an East German woman now leads a coalition government with the SDP. (German Muslims apparently being unable to force a Caliphate on Berlin, either.) Secondly, Rick Salutin makes the excellent point here:
Under stable provincial governments for 20 years, Ontario has been a whirligig of instability: vanishing industries, degraded services, disruptive strikes, fractured communities—largely, I'd argue, due to arrogant behaviour by governments that didn't represent the majority and didn't have to worry about it. I imagine what people really want is stability in their lives and communities. You might get more of that under a more representative, more democratic system.
It's true, Salutin here is "speculating" about the positive impact of MMP, but he's at least not creating fantastical boogeymen out of whole cloth.

Look, the press in Toronto seems to be incorrigibly anti-MMP, with only a few exceptions. I don't know why (PR, when it eventually comes to Canada, will make political reporting far more interesting) but it's there. But if we're going to have a debate about this stuff, let's please stop basing the anti-MMP arguments on total, and totally crazy, fantasies.

(I read the Campbell article after reading Salutin's column, via Chet.)

Yes, yes, a thousand times yes.

Mike Tidwell, at Gristmill:
All those happy lists in magazines and on web sites -- "10 things you can do to save the planet!" -- actually trivialize the scale of the problem. We'll never solve the climate crisis one light bulb at a time. What we need, à la the civil rights movement, are ten historic statutes that ban abusive and violent practices like the manufacture of gas-guzzling cars and inefficient light bulbs.

Other people -- including a whole panel of PhDs from around the world -- were critical of this point of view. They accused me -- wrongly -- of dismissing altogether the virtues of voluntary change. As I type this essay from my solar-powered house, with a Prius in the driveway and a vegetarian lunch in the oven, I assure you I view voluntary measures as very important. They just won't save us in time, that's all. The Arctic ice is melting way too fast....

The problem is we've somehow forgotten how it's done. Martin Luther King famously and repeatedly asked, "Why should we wait one more day for our freedom? Why?" King resisted public pleas to go slow; to let voluntary measures work; to understand that some people just can't change very quickly. No, King said, America must have a new set of laws that address the great moral urgency of now!

So why -- with Arctic ice vanishing, and hurricanes getting bigger, and sea levels rising -- why are we still politely urging Americans to change a few light bulbs and voluntarily spend a little more for a hybrid car? What breakdown in ethical thinking prevents us from insisting that all serious conversations on this topic focus on demanding governmental standards that allow only 50 mpg cars into the marketplace? In other words, given the great ecological, economic, and moral implications of global warming, why should we wait one more day for clean, efficient energy? Why?
On the Civil Rights note, it's worth remembering how many self-described liberals in the US allegedly supported the rights of blacks, but thought that MLK (retroactively re-branded as the moderate of the US Civil Rights movement) was "too extreme".
In June 1963, when the Southern Christian Leadership Conference that King headed was in the midst of the Birmingham campaign that brought images of Bull Connor’s police dogs into Americans’ living rooms, 60 percent of all Americans thought the public demonstrations with which King was by then synonymous “hurt the Negro’s cause” more than they helped it. By May 1964, that percentage had risen to 74 percent. By October 1966, following the SCLC’s nonviolent direct actions in Selma and Chicago, it reached 85 percent.
With the benefit of hindsight, we now see black protesters in the 1960s as the victims of state-sanctioned violence. But at the time, they were seen as the instigators and "trouble-makers" that were causing the problem.

This presents a real problem for the Green movement. Direct action to change people's minds on the environment would, in a far more direct way than MLK's protests, be attacks on their own lives and property (see what happens when people slash SUV tires.) And Tidwell's Civil Rights analogy breaks down because there's no convenient, begging-to-be-defied legal absurdity as there was in segregation*. There's just... our lives, each and every one of them. As Tidwell points out (and I emphasized) we've somehow forgotten what political action means in North America. This is the charitable interpretation: uncharitably, it's possible we just don't care.

On the other hand, the Civil Rights analogy holds up very well in that the solutions that are necessary are far more radical than political consensus will ever allow. For a great summary of how radical MLK really was, read this book review.

I don't know what the answer here is. I suspect, as with the civil rights movement, the result is going to be a job perpetually half-finished. It's just that in this case, a half-finished job means global extinctions and millions dead.

*I feel somewhat queasy writing about how "convenient" bus and lunch-counter segregation was from the point of view of protest politics, I assure you. Outrages upon human dignity shouldn't, I think, be reduced to their tactical benefits. Nevertheless....

Oil stuff 3

So the oil industry's demands of the Canadian people, so far this week, are this:

One: Start fucking. The oil industry needs more workers. (Immigrants are also acceptable, but only if the feds foot the bill for training them and teaching them to speak normal-talk.)

Two: Don't even think about taxing oil profits, you dirty pinko hippie.

Three: Lay out billions of dollars of subsidies for the Mackenzie gas pipeline.

Now, if you're a normal human being with a sense of reason -- or shame -- you might see a conflict between demands 2 and 3. But you aren't privy to the genius of the oil industry (commie.) Let's take this little nugget:
For starters, the line will allow the eventual production of an estimated 30 trillion cubic feet of natural gas north of the 70th parallel, equivalent to 10 years of Canadian consumption.

There is already up to 7 trillion cubic feet of proven reserves where the pipeline is going. The Mackenzie Delta is a triangular region, 75 miles from point to point.
First of all, "10 years Canadian consumption" is only half the issue (literally) because Canada exports half its production to the US. How much of the natural gas (taxpayer funded, no less) is going to be sent to the US? Will Ottawa be given any say on restricting exports in a time of shortage? (No, commie.) This is relevant because, you see, the Russians are coming!
Moscow is another issue. Ever since Russia's submarine stunt in the Arctic, it's obvious that Ottawa must establish sovereignty, beyond just subsidizing First Nations' traditional way of life and building a few ice roads.

By making the Mackenzie Valley pipeline a national priority, Canada will put its money and support where its sovereignty mouth is.
Huh? Moscow's claim is over a huge chunk of the Arctic Ocean, not over any Canadian land, nor even over the Northwest Passage. I'm sure that building a pipeline 1,500 miles away from the North Pole (and 3,000 miles from St. Petersburg) is going to send shivers down Moscow's spine. But even if we take this sovereignty argument seriously, doesn't that just imply that Canada should, I dunno, use its energy resources as a source of national sovereignty? Like, exactly what Russia is doing? Or should we just invoke national sovereignty when it's convenient for the oil lobby?

More oil stuff

So the Albertan government has finally decided to deal with the mess that Ralph Klein left them -- oil royalties were way, way too low by international standards even before $80/bbl prices came along. The report by a government panel concludes that a) royalties should be raised for all oil and gas projects, but especially the tar sands, and b) nobody should be grandfathered out of the hike.

The oil industry is reacting in it's usual calm and measured fashion:
Some Calgarians were angry, with one broker e-mailing his clients with the subject line: “Caracas on the Bow River,” comparing Alberta with Venezuela and its socialist President Hugo Chavez, who expropriated oil assets this year.

“If [the report is] enacted, investment decisions will be impacted … [the report] reads a bit like a Chavez-style manifesto,” Steve Larke, a Peters & Co. Ltd. broker, said in the e-mail.
This is the oil busines' reaction to an incredibly modest tax increase -- being called an authoritarian socialist. (Whether you think Chavez is one or not, it's clearly how it was intended.) Clearly, these people have no sense of perspective, nor any feeling of obligation to the public.

So let me respond in an equally calm and measured tone: Alberta-style conservatism is the Canadian equivalent of Saudi Wahhabism. Not particularly useful or beloved, even by the people who originated it, it's largely succeeded in political and ideological terms simply because of the vast torrent of oil money that it can draw on. It serves no higher purpose except serving it's political masters and their underlings, in this case brokers who got used to treating public property like an all-you-can-eat buffet.

So for once in my life, I'm going to say huzzah to the Conservative government of Alberta. Raise the royalties, piss off these whining toddlers who call themselves businessmen, and take one step closer to joining the political reality of the rest of Canada.

Unsurprising news for the morning

Energy CEOs call for national policy
LONDON -- In Alberta's oil patch, the words "national energy program" are usually uttered as a curse, a reference to the ill-fated 1980s program of oil nationalization and price controls.

But in a possible sign of changing times, several senior Canadian energy executives have used a gathering in London this week to make an unprecedented call for an increased federal role in their industry - some even daring to call for Ottawa to develop a comprehensive national energy policy.
Specifically, the oil industry knows it's currently in the worst of all possible worlds: they know a price on carbon is coming, but they don't know what the price will be. So they can't possibly plan their next round of investments rationally until Ottawa shits or gets off the pot. This, in turn, means that we're going to need an election, and we'll need for the Conservatives to lose it. Harper isn't realistically going to bring in a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system, but his intransigence is not going to help the oil industry in any case.

Meanwhile, it's not even that I disagree with this statement, so much as it nicely encapsulates the total alienation from human communities that large market actors live with:
More federal money for education for oil workers is another key demand.

Several of the oil firms are spending large sums funding trade schools in their operating areas, but still are short of skilled workers.

Mainly, though, they said Canada needs a larger population.
You see, there aren't enough Canadians to guarantee the oil industry the profits they would like. So -- rather than restrain the ambitions of the oil industry even a little -- the obvious answer is that we need more people. So get to fucking, Canada: the oil industry needs you!

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Change the channel, it's a political debate!

I haven't really posted a lot about the provincial election, but they had the debate tonight.

Funniest moment of the debate, by far: "Premier McGuinty, the next question is for you, and it's about broken promises."

Watching the post-debate press conference with Howard Hampton. He just said, in a very heterosexual way: "I disagree with John Tory, but he's not a scary guy. He's not an ugly guy either."

In my riding, I've got this weird situation of the NDP candidate being a shoe-in. While this pleases me politically, it's also got me thinking about voting for a party other than my usual party. Partly because I think it's silly the Green Party is excluded from the debate, I'm half-seriously thinking about voting for my local Green candidate.

Cautious optimism...

Jesus. I might have to sing the praises of Joe Lieberman. That's gonna need a shower.
The outlines of a bill considered a frontrunner in the Senate, to be co-sponsored by Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman, a Connecticut independent who caucuses with Democrats, and John Warner (R-Va.), calls for 20 percent of the credits to be auctioned. The other 80 percent, which would be allocated free, would be worth billions in the market that would be created. Some environmental groups are calling for a 100 percent auction of credits.

Lieberman, following a forum sponsored by the Progressive Policy Institute Wednesday, said such a change to his legislation was possible. “We’ve heard [calls for a 100 percent auction] from some stakeholders and heard that from some of our members. We’re thinking about it. Warner and I haven’t closed our minds to that. It’s on the table,” he said.
The cap-and-auction solution is infinitely preferable to the cap-and-handout system, though I'm basically lukewarm on cap-and-trade systems generally. But whatever we choose -- carbon taxes or cap-and-trade -- either is preferable to nothing.

First China, now the Saudis

Bailing out of the falling greenback: it's the new black.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Something I did not know, but should have

I knew, as a Canadian, that our population is extraordinarily concentrated in a few small urban areas. This belies the idea that Canada is a large country -- the Canadian people are in fact quite small in number, and aren't even particularly well-dispersed.

But I didn't realize how concentrated Ontario's population actually is. If, on a map, you drew a line of latitude from Ottawa west to Georgian Bay, all the land in Ontario south of that point would consist of only 15% of the land, but over 95% of the population -- more than 11 million of Ontario's 12.5 million people. This also implies that this line and the shores of Lakes Huron, Erie, and Ontario would encompass fully one-third of Canada's population.

Yeesh. A beautiful country, and we're barely living in it.

I'm shocked at how un-shocking that is

So I was walking by Harvey's yesterday, and they had on their windows a poster advertising the following:


And I admit, I was intrigued. Not enough to actually get the milkshake, but damn close. You see, sometimes the ordinary is bracing in it's very ordinariness.

To put it another way, sometimes we're shocked to see something we really shouldn't be. So when the former Commander of CENTCOM for the US military says
"There are ways to live with a nuclear Iran... Let's face it, we lived with a nuclear Soviet Union, we've lived with a nuclear China, and we're living with (other) nuclear powers as well."
You're almost shocked by the implied rationality, the sanity, the ordinariness of it all. No slavering Cheney in the wings yelling about how Iran is planning on some combination of holocaust and world domination (somebody's got to sweep up the ashes, I guess.) No drooling simp of a President talking about how foreign countries need to respect the sovereignty of the Iraqi people, totally devoid of the self-consciousness that would be required for a sense of irony.

Just a basic statement of fact.


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Why insurgents win

Edward Luttwak, in Harpers: (via Yglesias)
The very word “guerrilla,” which now refers only to a tactic, was first used to describe the ferocious insurgency of the illiterate Spanish poor against their would-be liberators, under the leadership of their traditional oppressors. On July 6, 1808, King Joseph of Spain presented a draft constitution that for the first time in Spain’s history offered an independent judiciary, freedom of the press, and the abolition of the remaining feudal privileges of the aristocracy and of the Church. At that time, abbeys, monasteries, and bishops still owned every building and every piece of land in 3,148 towns and villages, which were inhabited by some of Europe’s most wretched tenants. Despite the fact that the new constitution would have liberated them and let them keep their harvests for themselves, the Spanish peasantry failed to rise up in its support. Instead, they obeyed the priests, who summoned them to fight against the ungodly innovations of the foreign invader. For Joseph was the brother of Napoleon Bonaparte, placed on the Spanish throne by French troops. That was all that mattered to most Spaniards—not what was proposed but by whom it was proposed.

By then the French should have known better. In 1799 the same thing had happened in Naples, whose liberals, supported by the French, were slaughtered by the very peasants and plebeians they wished to emancipate. They were mustered into a militia of the “Holy Faith” by Cardinal Fabrizio Ruffo, coincidentally a member of Calabria’s largest land-owning family, who led his men forward on horseback. Ruffo easily persuaded his followers that all promises of material betterment were irrelevant, because the real aim of the French and the liberals was to destroy the Catholic religion in the service of Satan. Spain’s clergy did the same, and their illiterate followers could not know that the very first clause of Joseph’s draft constitution had not only recognized the Roman Apostolic Catholic Church but stated that it was the only one allowed in Spain.
Read the whole thing, dammit.


Woo! A big NDP win last night, though tempered somewhat by basement-level turnout. Ah well.

As expected, the knives are already coming out for Stephane Dion. While I'm not really interested in whether Dion or Ignatieff or Rae would be the better Liberal leader, I think coming after Dion because of some bad by-elections is insane.

Let's just point out the obvious when it comes to recent Canadian political history. Gordon Campbell lost his first general election. To the NDP. As did Mike Harris in Ontario. (Losing to Bob Rae!) Dalton McGuinty lost his first election to Mike Harris, in what was most certainly a winnable election.

These men all went on to become Premiers of their provinces. So maybe, even if Outremont was the next best thing to a Liberal fortress, a single bad night isn't reason enough to turf a leader?

Monday, September 17, 2007


I have very little to say today.

I will say this, however: the idea that Alan Greenspan fell from grace or somesuch after the Bush coup in 2000 is silly. The man was always a wackadoo Ayn Rand cultist who wanted to screw the poor. Bush just gave him a better opportunity.

It always confused me that people treated a Republican appointee, who's on-the-record statements were frequently nutty, with such deference. It served the Clinton wing of the Democratic Party to treat him as an exogenous force in American politics, someone who had to be obeyed irrespective of party politics, because the Clinton wing was more interested in winning Wall Street votes. (How'd that go?) But Greenspan was never that shy about his role as economic prognosticator.

Friday, September 14, 2007

We need a most wanted list for these people

Amir Taheri is one of those names that should set off your spidey-sense, if it doesn't already. This is the guy who sold the National Post the (totally fabricated) story about Iran forcing Jews to wear yellow stars.

Apparently, he's been a useful source for Washington media for decades, despite the fact that he's a proven liar.

Of course, journalists have high ethical standards while lowly bloggers are just smelly hippies who live in their basements.

The occasional Peak Oil post

The Hindu Business Line (what, you're not a subscriber?) says that the facts of oil production are increasingly corresponding with not just one, but all four of the competing theoretical predictions for Peak Oil. The key part:
In the Graph, the ‘all liquids’ fuel production shows a peak in July 2006 at about 85.39 mbpd and production by May 2007 was down by about 1.2 mbpd to 84.17 mbpd. Again, this is line with the estimates made by Matt Simmons and Dr Campbell in their studies.

This is even more remarkable considering that we have not had any major disruptions due to above-ground factors such as hurricanes or a drop in Iraq production due to political factors since 2005.

So in all probability we would have passed the peak oil scenario within this decade with 2006 as the most likely candidate for the event.
But this is something I didn't know, and I've been reading Skrebowski for years:
Chris Skrebowski started his ‘Mega Projects Database’ study to disprove the peak oil theory and after completing the study, became a convert to the peak oil camp.
Meanwhile, more evidence that the Ghawar oil field, the world's largest, has peaked:
The Ghawar oil field is the kingdom’s crown jewel. Stretching for more than 150 miles beneath the desert, it is the largest known deposit in the world. It produces perhaps twice as much oil as any other field, and has doubtless accounted for more than half of Saudi Arabia’s oil production. Yet the Saudis have been removing oil from this reservoir for half a century. Sooner or later, its production must fall....

But the total amount that the kingdom produces has been declining, down a million barrels a day over the last two years of data.

The Saudis have claimed these cuts have been in response to weak demand. However, the big drop in production began in the spring of 2006, when the price of oil was rising from $60 to $74 a barrel; the claim that no one wanted to buy Saudi Arabia’s light crude strains credulity. The drop in production has also coincided with a huge new Saudi effort to find and pump more oil: The number of active oil rigs in Saudi Arabia has tripled over the past three years.
Declining production at the same time as massively increased efforts in exploration is pretty much the definition of peak production (the same situation Canadian natural gas production is in, btw.)

So we've got a cataclysmic decline at Mexico's Cantarell field already happening, and the potential for a similar decline at Ghawar. The North Sea is collapsing as well, and non-OPEC production can't make up the margins.

Good time not to own a car.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Re-wilding Canada

Karl Schroeder had the same reaction I did to the idea of skyscraper farms. But, if you check the bylines, you'll see that I got printed first. Canadian science-fiction author, 0. Me, 1.

One of the most common responses to this idea I get is something like: "forget that, better we learn to live with nature as stewards than apart from it like this." And I admit, the whole "big-box farm" concept is pretty much the definition of separating ourselves from nature. And the idea that we could heal the planet after having wrecked it so thoroughly is tempting. But guess what? We've never, not once, demonstrated the ability to be careful stewards of the Earth.

Anyone who's read Guns, Germs and Steel (or the more recent The World Without Us) understands that the "balance" that pre-contact North American natives lived in with the Earth was less a model of good stewardship, and more the result of having used the Earth to the point of exhaustion their technology allowed: hunting every large mammal to extinction, repeatedly burning forests for better hunting, and a number of other practices. (There's a version of this line of thought that says the First Nations were worse to the environment than we are today, or any number of racist talking points. I hope I don't need to bother stating that simply isn't what I'm saying here.) The old Maya cities are perfect examples of civilizations that overshot the capacity of their natural environment and collapsed.

I proposed in that same Gristmill piece that the basic tenet of environmentalism should be that nature exists independent of human desires or purposes. The prairies don't exist for our benefit -- they were prairies before they were farms, and they'll be prairies when we leave again. This also means that nature doesn't exist to make us feel better about ourselves, or to give us something to do. The best thing we can do with nature is let it go wild. It will recover remarkably quickly if we just leave it alone for a bit. (Making exceptions for places where we've stored truly disgusting stuff like radioactive waste.) So yes, let's replace our horribly destructive, petroleum-dependent methods of farming with something more compact and close the loop -- better that than our current practice of using the Gulf of Mexico as our continental toilet.

But read Karl Schroeder anyway.

So much for that, II

Oh, and while things turned for the worse in Iraq today, Rob Farley cheers us up with the good news from Somalia: nope, just kidding, the US' war against Muslims* there has turned balls-up, too.

*I really truly wish there was a more charitable descriptor there, but there really isn't. The Islamic courts who were running Somalia seem to have been targeted by the US not for any provable collusion with al Qaeda, but because they had the name "Islamic" in them, and the US saw an easy win with Ethiopia on its side. Blech.

So much for that

Leader of the "Anbar Miracle" killed.

The leading suspects include all of the nationalist insurgent groups, AQI, and some of this internal Sunni rivals to boot.

And here's an important point: the Sunni nationalist insurgency is simply put the largest and most problematic force in Iraq for the Americans. They are the ones primarily responsible for attacks on US troops (though all sectors of Iraqi Arabs increasingly support attacks on Americans) and today's assassination shows that they have the ability to respond to American strategy with a strategy of their own.


So, I found myself spending a few rapt hours yesterday night reading about municipal finances in Canadazzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz whoops sorry there. Sleep-inducing or not, it's worth pointing out some of the conclusions in light of the whole "Toronto is running out of money" thing that's going on lately.

First of all, the fiscal imbalance (in the sense that the word is usually used) really is dubious. For the last 20 years, Federal and Provincial governments across Canada have, on average, managed to keep their revenues growing at the same rate as expenditures (indeed, in most cases revenues have grown faster than revenues, especially in the last decade.) And as others have pointed out (notably Andrew Coyne) the provinces have the same taxing powers when it comes to the most important revenue pools (personal and corporate income, sales taxes) so there's no reason why, even if provincial expenditures are becoming burdensome, they can't raise revenue in response. Instead, at both the federal and provincial levels, governments have been cutting taxes.

(All authors agree that, despite the serious effect Paul Martin's cuts to transfer payments had on provincial budgets, those effects are dwarfed by the effects of tax cuts made by provincial governments themselves in the 1990s. If the provincial governments find themselves fiscally unbalanced, it's because they shot themselves in their own fiscal foot.)

Nevertheless, provinces have mostly managed to keep revenues growing at the same time as expenditures. They've managed to do this, in most cases, by offloading many expenses on to the municipal level of government (and this is the direct cause of the current predicament Toronto is in.) If the "fiscal imbalance" exists anywhere in Canada, it's unquestionably the relationship between cities and the provincial governments. Over 90% of municipal revenue comes from one tax -- property taxes. Property taxes are a horrendously bad choice to fund the level of government closest to the people -- unlike income and sales taxes, property taxes don't expand proportionally to the economy or to the demands on services. Indeed, when property values climb rapidly in a growing economy, many cities are pressured to cut taxes in order to avoid punishing homeowners. The net effect of this, plus provincial laws mandating very narrow circumstances in which cities can accrue debt, is that cities have had their expenses grow faster than their revenues, the only one of the three levels of Canadian government for which this is generally true.

Worse yet, the cities bear the brunt of a lot of costs they simply cannot control in any sense -- water services being the best example. Ontario dictate the standards to which water services must be kept (a very good thing) but the money comes from cities.

The solution would be simple enough: allow municipalities to levy small income and sales taxes. Not only would the revenue be sufficient to do things like, uh, maintain our roads and plumbing, but the revenue would be more stable and grow proportionally to the economy. There are well-proven techniques in other countries to deal with issues of tax competition between governments, and mobility among taxpayers (trying to escape taxes by moving to another jurisdiction, for example.) But this will not happen, because Canada apparently lacks the capability for rational self-governance.

The other necessary step would be to make federal loans available for infrastructure -- the Feds have access to cheaper money than anyone else (bonds at lower interest than provinces or P3s) so it's the best deal.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

P2P Cellphones

This technology looks so promising it hurts. Too bad it'll never take off in North America. Thanks, regulatory capture!
A new way of making calls directly between phones, for free, is being trialled by a Swedish company.

It is hoping to dramatically improve communications in the developing world.

Swedish company TerraNet has developed the idea using peer-to-peer technology that enables users to speak on its handsets without the need for a mobile phone base station.
What? No network needed? But how will we screw people for millions provide quality customer service? No surprise, the cell phones are claiming the technology doesn't work.
"One of the biggest things against us is that the big operators and technology providers are really pushing against us, saying this technology doesn't work and it doesn't have a business model," he said.

"This is fine - just join us in Lund and see how the technology works, and ask our customers how our business model works."
Yeah, the business model is soooo complicated: Make phones. Sell phones for more than it costs to make them. Don't bother customers with bills for the network they aren't using and you didn't need to build.

Like I said. Complicated.

In a perfect world, we'd find much better things to do with the radio spectrum than AM radio and legacy television broadcasts, and this would be one of them. In reality, Rogers, Bell, CTVGlobemedia, Canwest, and Telus would burn Ottawa to the ground if we ever tried something as rational as encouraging this.

Doing big things takes big money

So now the US is talking with the Sadrists in Iraq. You know, the guy who the US has tried to kill more than once, and proclaimed a threat to the Iraqi government as well. Actually, the US has been negotiating with the Sadrists since 2006. On the one hand, this is probably the least-bad option for the US at this point. On the other, this means that between the Kurds, the Sunni, and now the Shia you've got the US arming or funding or training all three sides in the looming Iraqi civil war. That's gonna be one hell of a party, but the outcome's not really in doubt: the Shia get power, the Sunni get subdued, and the Kurds (probably) get screwed, again.

Meanwhile, CBC radio ran an interview tonight with Asadullah Khalid saying -- and he's following the lead of Hamid Karzai, here -- that we need to negotiate with the Taliban. Which we might as well do, because the Taliban are retaking all the places we supposedly just cleared out. You know, like they always do.

You know, I've been thinking about the Russo-Japanese war recently. A relatively small war, the Japanese and Russians fought over who would control the Korean peninsula. I say "relatively" because despite the relatively low importance other great powers saw in the conflict, it totally destroyed the Russian Navy and gave Japan the toehold on the Asian mainland it needed to begin it's empire. And the Japanese recognized it's importance: during the war, Japan in fact spent nearly 25% of it's GDP on military spending, according to some estimates. (This number would translate to 250 billion dollars in Canada's money.) The Japanese in fact didn't spend a larger portion of their wealth on military spending until 1942, when they'd managed to blunder in to a global war.

The point, pardon the digression, is this: foreign policy (even in "small" theaters) is expensive. You cannot, in fact, do it on the cheap. You can especially not wage war on the cheap with small armies under-equipped to do their jobs. If you try it, you might as well just accept that you're not going to "win" in the way westerners are used to winning. Negotiations usually follow this bleak realization. Not because it's at all complicated, but because our egos and preconceptions get in the way.

That deaf, dumb, and blind kid

Little Tommy Friedman:
I heard China’s prime minister, Wen Jiabao, address an international conference here in Dalian, and what impressed me most was how boring it was — a straightforward recitation of the staggering economic progress China has made in the last two decades and the towering economic, political and environmental challenges it still faces.

How nice it must be, I thought, to be a great power and be almost entirely focused on addressing your own domestic problems?

No, I have not gone isolationist. America has real enemies that China does not, and therefore we have to balance a global security role in places like the Middle East with domestic demands.
Yes, it would be just horrible to have an "isolationist" foreign policy -- you know, one where America's foreign policy doesn't involve decennial invasions of darker-skinned countries.
After 9/11, we tried to effect change in the heart of the Arab-Muslim world by trying to build a progressive government in Baghdad. There was, I believed, a strategic and moral logic for that. But the strategy failed, for a million different reasons...
Reasons 1 through 999,990 being "it was a stupid fucking strategy, and Thomas Friedman was too stupid to see that from day 1." Reason 999,991 being that Friedman's description of this strategy cannot be accepted as gospel -- America's war aims are far, far too obscure to give them this most generous gloss. The alternative explanation -- that America wanted a friendly regime in Baghdad more than it cared about democracy, ice cream, and puppies is frankly just as supportable, given existing evidence.

Now, the actual good part of the column is that he explores what China is doing while America wastes blood and treasure in Iraq -- new energy research that has exploded in the last five years. Of course, one of the fundamental antiwar criticisms of Iraq was that it was a strategic distraction -- America has rivals in the world, and even some honest enemies, and wars cost money and lives, and maybe America shouldn't be wasting them with rivals waiting in the wings.

Thomas Friedman famously dismissed that by basically saying Iraqis had to be killed by the thousands because Afghanistan wasn't gratifying his American Imperialist ego enough.

And the rage returns....

North Pole sheds Florida-sized weight

From September 3 to September 9, researchers say 69,000 square miles of Arctic ice disappeared, roughly the size of the Sunshine State.

Scientists say the rate of melting in 2007 has been unprecedented, and veteran ice researchers worry the Arctic is on track to be completely ice-free much earlier than previous research and climate models have suggested.

"If you had asked me a few years ago about how fast the Arctic would be ice free in summer, I would have said somewhere between about 2070 and the turn of the century," said scientist Mark Serreze, polar ice expert at the NSIDC. "My view has changed. I think that an ice-free Arctic as early as 2030 is not unreasonable."
70,000 square miles -- or, a bit smaller than Syria --lost in 6 days. Let's see what next summer is.

The words "tipping points" have been overused, but what if we're seeing one in the rearview mirror right now?

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Greenland is disintegrating

Always more bad news from the arctic:
The Greenland ice cap is melting so quickly that it is triggering earthquakes as pieces of ice several cubic kilometres in size break off.

Scientists monitoring events this summer say the acceleration could be catastrophic in terms of sea-level rise and make predictions this February by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change far too low.

The glacier at Ilulissat, which supposedly spawned the iceberg that sank the Titantic, is now flowing three times faster into the sea than it was 10 years ago.

Robert Corell, chairman of the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment, said in Ilulissat yesterday: "We have seen a massive acceleration of the speed with which these glaciers are moving into the sea. The ice is moving at 2 metres an hour on a front 5km [3 miles] long and 1,500 metres deep. That means that this one glacier puts enough fresh water into the sea in one year to provide drinking water for a city the size of London for a year."
Let's remember that there's a matter of our own survival here, even if this is happening "up there" in the arctic: no serious climatologist thinks that the Greenland ice sheet can survive in the absence of the arctic ice cap -- with the arctic now predicted to be ice-free by 2030, maybe 2050, Greenland is going to start disintegrating even faster than it is now, and has the potential to raise the sea level by 20-30 feet.

Monday, September 10, 2007

We don't need no steenkin' WEP password...

So, I'm currently blogging from the space outside the main library at the academic institution that I'm now attending. Spent one hour in line getting my student card, and then went to the library to get my wireless network set up.

Me: So, how do I get on the wireless network?
Librarian: Well, you log on to your student account to get the password.
Me: And, uh, how do I log on without wireless access? None of these computers is free, right?
Librarian: Uh, yeah. Screw that, here's the password.

So thank you, whoever you are, you security-foiling but eminently rational librarian.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Too easy

Emperor Hirohito, August 1945: "...the war has not progressed entirely as we would have wished."

Gen. Petraeus, September 2007: "[The surge] has not worked out as we had hoped."

Killing the unborn

So this has been kicked around by a few people, notably Matthew Yglesias and Kevin Drum:
Stephen Biddle, a military analyst at the Council on Foreign Relations, is a key proponent of the patchwork-quilt strategy. But even he emphasizes that the idea would be a political nonstarter if it resulted in a lot more American deaths. The American public, he said in a phone interview, will support overseas deployments of troops—even for many years—as long as not many get killed. For instance, 64,000 U.S. troops are still in Germany, 60 years after the end of World War II and 16 years after the end of the Cold War. American soldiers have been keeping the peace in Bosnia now for more than a decade since the defeat of Slobodan Milosevic. In both operations, virtually no American soldiers have died as a result of hostile fire. (Biddle is a member of Petraeus' advisory panel, but he emphasized that his views here are entirely his own.)

Biddle also said (again, expressing his personal view) that the strategy in Iraq would require the presence of roughly 100,000 American troops for 20 years—and that, even so, it would be a "long-shot gamble."
I wrote recently that I'm skeptical of the retrospective look on Gen. Shinseki's famous "hundreds of thousands" testimony, which a lot of progressives (including myself, for a time) took to mean that Shinseki was simply saying the war in Iraq was a bad idea. I don't think we can say what Shinseki meant. As Biddle makes clear here, it's totally possible to say that "victory" is nearly impossible, but still believe that something should be done.

But imagine that the US did, in fact, stay in Iraq until at least 2027. That would mean that a sizeable chunk of the soldiers fighting in Mesopotamia would have been born in 2009 (or possibly later) -- that is, they would have been born after George Bush left office, and the war is expected to last 20 years more. Given the state of the Democratic Party, it's not out of the question...

Here in Canada, we've had a number of generals say, essentially, that victory in Afghanistan requires a committment of decades. Generals can say what they like, but the rest of us should realize what this means -- we've lost. There's no way that Canadians will maintain a sizeable force of soldiers in Afghanistan for decades. It's simply not going to happen. Comparisons with peacekeeping, or even with better-known counterinsurgencies (Ireland) are meaningless for a variety of reasons. If "victory" requires 20 years of war, Canadians simply are not going to accept those costs. And if the payoff is so small, there's no real reason for them to do so.

No, wait, fear China.

A sharp drop in foreign holdings of US Treasury bonds over the last five weeks has raised concerns that China is quietly withdrawing its funds from the United States, leaving the dollar increasingly vulnerable....

"We won't know if China is behind this until the Treasury releases its TIC data in November, but what it does show is that world central banks are in a hurry to get out of the US. They don't seem to be switching into other currencies, so it is possible they are moving into gold instead. Gold is now gaining momentum across all currencies and has broken through resistance at 500 euros," he said.

Look who's evil now!

That's right world. Fear us.

...yes, chalk this up as another data point on the whole "carriers are obsolete" argument. The Canadian Navy, with used submarines, snuck up on a British Carrier. We've recently seen the same trick carried out by the Chinese on a US carrier group, so it's not like we're that special. I don't pretend to be knowledgeable enough to say the carrier/sub argument is over -- indeed, it'll probably only ever end with one kind of twisted and broken hull on the bottom of the ocean.

E-books.... just around the corner, this time, maybe?

I remain confused as to why, exactly, publishers seem to be getting excited about e-books. I'm excited, because I think the environmental and consumer benefits would be large. But if I were a self-interested publisher, I'd do everything in my power to keep my books from being released in digital format for fear of being Napsterized. And I say that as a strong critic of copyright laws. Nevertheless, with Sony releasing the Reader, publishers began working with electronics manufaturers to create online bookstores. Now, it seems, Amazon is working on it's own e-ink reader project, which may turn out to be the killer app or teh suck. Color me optimistic:
Several people who have seen the Kindle say this is where the device’s central innovation lies — in its ability to download books and periodicals, and browse the Web, without connecting to a computer. They also say Amazon will pack some free offerings onto the device, like reference books, and offer customers a choice of subscriptions to feeds from major newspapers like The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and the French newspaper Le Monde.

The device also has a keyboard, so its users can take notes when reading or navigate the Web to look something up. A scroll wheel and a progress indicator next to the main screen, will help users navigate Web pages and texts on the device.

People familiar with the Kindle also have a few complaints. The device has a Web browser, but using it is a poor experience, because the Kindle’s screen, also from E Ink, does not display animation or color.
That's not a show-stopper for me. This might be:
Some also complain about the fact that Amazon is using a proprietary e-book format from Mobipocket, a French company that Amazon bought in 2005, instead of supporting the open e-book standard backed by most major publishers and high-tech companies like Adobe. That means owners of other digital book devices, like the Sony Reader, will not be able to use books purchased on
Good God. The DRM market for music is falling apart as we speak, and any drm on text is going to be even more useless than the DRM on music -- and that's saying something. What could posess Amazon, watching so many before it fall of this cliff, to think that maybe, if they're lucky, they'll grow wings?

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Nerd stuff

Zero punctuation reviews Bioshock.

If you haven't watched the rest of Zero Punctuation's reviews of video games, you're living a life of shame and deprivation.

Slightly-fresher lake chronicles, cont.

So polar ice has hit a new record low, showing a precipitous decline year-on-year. I cropped this picture to show Canadians that, yes, huge chunks of the Arctic are now ice-free. The Northwest Passage is described as "the most navigable that people have see since monitoring began".

That magenta line shows the average sea ice extent from 1979-2000, so August 2007 is already obviously below that. To put it another way, this isn't just a usual summer melt -- this is way out of the norm. But the truly terrifying piece is this one, showing the declines for the last 20 years or so:

This is the single largest year-on-year decline shown, if I'm reading this right. That said, you can also see that some previous declines have been followed by substantial recoveries the following year -- not enough to offset the decades-long trend, but we should be prepared, next summer, for the possibility of a larger icepack than this summer. No, it won't mean that global warming is a hoax.

(Update: Just to be clear, the averages shown in the figures above are the August averages, not the yearly averages.)

Ooh, shiny

So now China is working on scramjet-powered missiles, theoretically capable of flight at Mach 5+.

I have nothing really to add to this, except to say that with scramjet missiles and energy-beam weaponry likely to debut during the 21st century, the next major-power war is going to make the German blitzkrieg look like a duel of angry snails.

Yes, bash economists

Matthew Yglesias asks if the progressive movement need do so much economist-bashing. Ezra says, in so many words, that he'll keep bashing economists until economics as a field starts bashing itself -- in the absence of real self-policing, the rest of us have to step up to the plate. In this sense, we're basically just treating economists the way we treat journalists.

It should come as no surprise that I'm closest to Ezra on this one than Matt. So long as economists refuse to actually marginalize their craziest brethren, I feel no compunction about calling them all crazy by association until proven otherwise. And it's not like this is a radical demand, right. I'm not asking that economists spend more time working on the costs of systemic unemployment, or work to develop better measures of sustainable growth -- I'm not even sure that these are, in the end, proper concepts for economics to study. Simply shouting down the "only-and-always-tax-cuts" partisans in public debate would be of inestimable value. And if people like Paul Krugman had rethought their knee-jerk committment to globalization a decade ago when it could have done some good, that would have been nice too.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007


I'm working on a line of reasoning that both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush -- their successes and failures -- can be described as much by the generation from which they emerged (the Baby Boomers) as by their own individual stories. I'll have more to say about this later, but basically I think my parents' generation did not understand at the time what a precious opportunity they had for transforming human society, and will only fully appreciate what it's like to live in a society of opportunity when we see it in the rearview mirror. Meanwhile, there's this depressing-as-hell post at The Oil Drum, Canada:
Global food prices set to rise by 50% in 5 years. Australian farmers pay 50 times more for irrigation water than in 2002. California cuts off water to farmers to save fish species, French wine growers harvest grapes 8 weeks earlier than in 1978. Russia considers a wheat export ban. Holland: bread prices to rise 20% next year. Milk named the new oil. UK: many crops just drowned. [insert deep breath] Eastern Europe, including Ukraine, had another crop-killing sweltering summer. Australia relives last year’s drought (and this time may not recover). The UN predicts a global food crisis. Topsoil vanishes at record pace. 2008 declared the Year of the Frog: up to half of amphibian species could be wiped out in coming years - the biggest mass extinction since dinosaurs disappeared. North American songbirds: going going gone, and we all know where our bees are by now. Not here.
Or maybe I'm just mourning the summer past. I was working all labour day weekend, in financial preparation for my soon-to-commence graduate studies, and frankly I'll say that working inside during the last glorious weather of the summer makes me want to stab people.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Stupid things we choose to care about, and the important stuff too

The girlfriend's computer is in the shop. Ergo, girlfriend is using my laptop. Conversation ensues:

Me: Love of mine, what happened to my Mozilla tabs?

The Girlfriend: Huh? Oh, I opened a new window so that they wouldn't be changed.


TGF: What???


TGF: I'm... sorry?

Me: (despondent, feminine weeping)

TGF: What did I do?


Okay, so I lost a week's worth of collected blog-fodder. Crud. But we've just celebrated 7 years together, which is beginning to sound kind of serious to me. And she hasn't stabbed me while I'm sleeping or poisoned the occasional lunch she makes for me. She stuck with me while I was away at school for four years, which is frankly more credit than any man can ask for, much less a shmoe like me.

Happy anniversary, sweetie. And to answer everybody and their brother's next question, yes, I'm working on the fucking ring... it's just that Vicki demands nothing less than Mithril from the mines of Moria itself. Which is why I love her.