Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The stupid will continue until we leave, I guess

We're almost at the 5-year mark for this misbegotten war, and they're still making up the reason for being there in the first place:
Wurmser said that Cheney, Feith, and Bolton were convinced that U.S. containment of Saddam Hussein was failing and that the controls to keeping Saddam Hussein from expanding his regional influence were dying. As a result, the Iraqi leader was in position to exploit the rising anti-Americanism in the region and to break out from the sanctions strategy and the no-fly zones to lead a rogue coalition of nations to expel the United States from the region and even to wage war against the United States. The failure of the United Nations and multilateralism in general made a compelling case for U.S. intervention, according to Wurmser.
I don't even know if this is supposed to be taken seriously.

Saddam Hussein was going to build a coalition? With whom, the 3 2 1 0 countries he hadn't been at war with, or close to war with, in the last 20 years? Wurmser seems to be an idiot, and the reference to "rogue coalitions" is a hint: clearly, there was some Syrian-Iraqi-Iranian superpower alliance that needed to be stopped before it started. Just one thing: the combined GDP of these three countries, today, is just over $1 trillion. That is less than 10% of US GDP, and about what the US spends on all of its security and defense obligations. Meaning that even if Saddam Hussein suddenly became a master diplomat, managed to cobble together an alliance with two of his rivals, and started a war against the United States, it would still be the shortest war ever. Hell, America would barely need to get off the couch. Canada might need to go to the gym for about 30 minutes before winning a war against these jokers.

Man, I miss the days when the excuses for the war were really outlandish, like "the new Iraq will be an Israel-friendly state" or "we're certainly not there for the oil, just don't ask which ministry we're guarding".

Coal is dying, coal is dead.

Good news from the Bush administration -- and I write non-ironically!
ST. LOUIS (AP) — The U.S. Department of Energy, frustrated by ballooning costs for an ambitious plan to build a virtually emissions-free power plant, told federal lawmakers Tuesday it expects to pull its support for the $1.8 billion project in Illinois, lawmakers said.

The Energy Department would not publicly divulge its intentions about the plant, dubbed FutureGen, or discuss what was said during the private meeting with lawmakers, saying only that it planned an announcement within days.

But some lawmakers who attended the briefing later insisted that building the coal-fired, 275-megawatt prototype power plant anywhere other than the central Illinois town of Mattoon would be unacceptable — and grounds for a possibly nasty congressional fight.
(via Gristmill.)

Sadly, the Congressional Democrats are wasting no time in protecting this monstrosity:
Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, accused Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman of "cruel deception" of Illinoisans by "creating false hope in a FutureGen project which he has no intention of funding or supporting."

Durbin said Illinois' delegation in Congress "is going to make the case for FutureGen directly to the President."

"We will not go down without a fight," he said.
Well you should, Dick. The cost for FutureGen is closing on $2 billion for a 250 MW prototype -- a staggering $8/watt for a prototype when existing solar would deliver the same or better performance, guaranteed CO2-free. No uncertain prices in the future, no huge complexes of pipelines and sequestration pits. Oh, but also no coal miners or power workers unions. Can't have that...

Edwards out

I'm kind of sad that John Edwards has left the race. Oh sure, Sens. Obama and Clinton have pledged to put poverty at the front of their campaigns, but, well, let's just say that the last Democratic President who actually seemed to care about Poverty in a meaningful sense left office before I was born. Hell, he left office before my father was old enough to vote for him...

More than that, Edwards was the one candidate who I could reasonably say was a "good candidate" for me as opposed to a "least-bad". I can't reasonably advocate on Clinton's behalf, given that her supporters literally are trying to bill her as "Bill, but more so." Sorry, I actually do remember the Clinton presidency, and that won't cut it again.

So I'm left with Obama. Squishy, vague, homophobe-coddling, coal-supporting Obama. Right on the war -- and that earns him so much from me, much more than Edwards' learning curve -- but wrong on a lot of other things. But not a Clinton, and seems the best suited to actually grow the ranks of the Democratic Party.

People say that Clinton is the best suited to win in November. Bullshit. Any of the top 3 (now top 2) could win in November. There's too many intangibles between now and then to make a serious argument about "electability" for or against any of the candidates. As for the assertion that her tough campaigning against Obama shows that she can take it to the GOP, well, her GOP opponent in 2000 lost specifically because of his tough campaigning style. It is, in fact, possible to die by the sword.

There's the obvious point that Clinton personally will serve to energize the GOP base (who basically see her as having horns and a tail.) Isn't it worth pointing out that the polling shows the best matchup for November is Obama v. Romney? (Admittedly, the numbers are close -- but whose numbers have the potential to grow more, Clinton or Obama?) Not the position you want to be in during an election -- it looks suspiciously like 2004.

I'm hoping that between the Kennedy and Sebelius endorsements, on top of Edwards' departure, Obama comes out well after Super Tuesday. Frankly, I think the alternative is unsettling.

Where's all the oil going?

I found this interesting:
The chief executive of the oil giant Royal Dutch Shell, Jeroen van der Veer, put out a paper on Friday forecasting the end of easy oil....

Dr Jim Buckee has just retired as president and chief executive of Talisman Energy, a major independent Canadian oil company with a market capitalisation of $25 billion.... "I think it was only a matter of time before one of them had to say that, and the pronouncements of the majors are inscrutable at best and I believe they often have a very political overtone," he said.

"Always the line of the major oil companies, Exxon, Shell, BP has been, 'there's plenty of oil, technology will overcome shortages; we'll find it'.... They changed a little bit to, 'there's plenty of oil, but access is difficult' and then this is a change again saying, 'well actually, it looks like it's finite and we're looking over the hill'."
This has been exactly what Oil Peakists have been saying for years now -- that the official statements of the oil majors are unreliable, you have to base your predictions on what hard data exists. Now, on that front: according to the folks at The Oil Drum, the numbers now show that world production of "total liquids" (crude oil, plus a mess of other crap) reached a new high in October of 2007. However, crude oil itself is still below the (so far) all-time peak of May, 2005.

Meanwhile, according to the US Government, America produced less oil domestically in 2007 than at any time since the Iron Curtain fell over eastern Europe. These declines are irreversible, and driven by geology. They have, for almost 40 years, proven themselves totally unmoved by US geopolitical and domestic demands. So long as America insists on equating "energy independence" with "more and more gasoline for more and more SUVs", America is pursuing the impossible.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

CCS: still a pipe dream

Carbon capture and sequestration [CCS] got a bit of press lately when the government of Alberta decided to throw the dice on a bit of technology that doesn't exist yet:
The "made-in-Alberta" plan says capture and underground storage will make up 70 percent of a targeted 200 megaton cut in emissions over the next 42 years.

"It acknowledges that as a global energy supplier, Alberta's greenhouse gas emissions will rise over the short term. But we will implement technology that exists today that will reduce our emissions over the medium and long term," Stelmach said.
So 70% of the planned goal should be discounted, because CCS simply doesn't exist yet. And I don't mean the way cheap solar power doesn't exist yet -- all the trends for the solar industry point that way, so it's reasonable to talk about solar power being economical by 2015 or so, even if oil, gas, and coal all stay cheap.

No, CCS is totally hallucinatory -- not only does it not exist in any industrial scale, nobody's even spending significant amounts of money on it.

But there's a very simple reason for this: coal is dead, or would be if subsidies were eliminated. Even modest carbon taxes make coal plants less economical than nuclear, and a full-up CCS plant would cost more than the equivalent solar power. (Think $0.20/kwh or more.)

If the coal industry is forced to pay for even a small amount the damage it does to the environment every year, the industry have to cease functioning. That simple.

Once stupid, always stupid, stupid stupid stupid

Sen. Clinton has managed to snag all the endorsements from people I generally associate with the worst political decision of the 21st century -- a category that now includes all of Rudy Giuliani's Presidential aspirations, remember. The only person missing to complete the full house of stupidity would be the deputy leader of the Liberal Party of Canada. It's somewhat amusing that their rationales for endorsing her are as half-witted as their rationales for invading some country filled with brown people and oil -- any country will do!
[Paul] Berman also likes the idea of Clinton in the war room. "A candidate like Hillary, who participated in the decisions that toppled Slobodan Milosevic, is nicely situated to argue that, on the topic of military stand-offs and far-away dictators, she possesses a superior understanding."
Uh, she didn't participate in any of those decisions. Not a one. She never had security clearance, was never in the Cabinet or Security Council discussions on Kosovo, and I'll bet you $1,000,000 that someday, she'll admit all this on top of the fact that, at the time, she was barely on speaking terms with her husband. I seem to remember something else happening in the 1998-99 time span that preoccupied the Clinton family, something having to do with William Jefferson Clinton's restraint and wisdom.

But if you can justify invading Iraq as "a war of liberation", I suppose you're stupid enough to believe that the much-vaunted position of First Lady gave Hillary the experience necessary to launch those same idiotic wars.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Just how stupid is the US Air Force?

Plenty stupid, apparently. They've taken to arguing that the US Navy and Army are enemy forces. And they're calling the budget battle a "zero-sum gain". Two things here, aside from my contention that it's properly called a "zero-sum game"...

1) A zero-sum game makes no sense in a context of a generally growing resource. If the US military budget grows, as it has every year for more than a decade, and the USAF's budget grows, but doesn't grow quite as fast as the US Army's, this is not a zero-sum game as conventionally defined.

2) Next time the USAF argues it needs F-22 Raptors to shoot down Chinese MiGs, can we now say that "even the US Air Force" admits that the real purpose of these fighters is to fiscally sink US Navy vessels and budgetarily destroy advanced tanks and infantry fighting vehicles?

Sunday, January 27, 2008


I loved this movie so much it's really unseemly. Vicki enjoyed it, but thinks I'm overdoing it a bit by building a shrine to Ellen Page in our apartment.

So I'm cheering for Ellen Page and this movie at the Oscars. But as good as the movie is, the soundtrack is also excellent. One particular discovery is Kimya Dawson, whose Myspace page is here (with links to her songs.)

[Sidenote: I also love the 21st century to an unseemly degree.]

In particular, I can't recommend the song "Loose Lips" enough. Listen to it, it's on her Myspace page. Listen to it now. Oh fuck, here's a youtube clip -- now you have no excuses, just click the button dammit. I'd suggest ignoring the video and pay attention to the lyrics.

But back to the movie. It's not perfect. It fumbles a transition, I think, late in the film from "funny-hipster-teen-comedy" to "romantic-hipster-comedy". But this is such an inconsequential error that I hesitate to even mention it.

Oh, and for those of us who miss our fix of CJ Cregg, Allison Janney is fantastic as Juno's step-mom.

Friday, January 25, 2008

The standards of Fox News

First Churchill, now Lincoln?
I tell you what — he thinks about Lincoln and the tough times that he had during the Civil War. 600,000 dead. The country essentially hated him when he was leaving office.
Uh, moron? There was never a time when Lincoln was "leaving office". There was the time a Confederate traitor shot Lincoln in the head, and he died, but there was never a time when Lincoln was preparing to leave, or when the nation was anticipating his departure. What a tool.

And, by the way: Lincoln's re-election share of the popular vote, 55%

Bush's re-election: 50.7%

Bush's current popularity: 30%.

And Lincoln had already issued the emancipation proclamation, and begun the enrollment of black troops in the Union Army -- actions that were profoundly unpopular even in the North. Oh, and the Union government had, until relatively late, been doing a crappy job of winning the war. And Lincoln still won the election handily.

And I'm Canadian, and was never taught this stuff. I promise, Rupert, I'll work for half of whatever these morons are bilking you for.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Wednesday Afternoon Optimism

A bit of a bouncing ball post here.

George Soros is, uh, not cheery about the economy (but who is?):
Every time the credit expansion ran into trouble the financial authorities intervened, injecting liquidity and finding other ways to stimulate the economy.... Fundamentalists believe that markets tend towards equilibrium and the common interest is best served by allowing participants to pursue their self-interest. It is an obvious misconception, because it was the intervention of the authorities that prevented financial markets from breaking down, not the markets themselves....

Globalisation allowed the US to suck up the savings of the rest of the world and consume more than it produced. The US current account deficit reached 6.2 per cent of gross national product in 2006. The financial markets encouraged consumers to borrow by introducing ever more sophisticated instruments and more generous terms. The authorities aided and abetted the process by intervening whenever the global financial system was at risk. Since 1980, regulations have been progressively relaxed until they have practically disappeared.
Ah, what about those regulations you ask? William Greider notes at the Nation that there was one law in particular that prevented much of the criminality we've seen since 2000 that was eliminated by pro-business lobbying:
Just as the GOP dreamed for decades of dismantling Social Security, investment bankers campaigned for thirty years to repeal the Glass-Steagall Act, which separated commercial banking from its investment-house cousins. This was the New Deal achievement enacted in response to the double-dealing banking practices that contributed to the crash of 1929. Bankers pushed their depositors into buying the corporate stocks the bankers were hustling, among other malpractices. Wall Street hated the law but failed year after year to win repeal.
The men most responsible for the elimination of Glass-Steagall? Robert Rubin and Bill Clinton. And before you say, "GOP Congress! Republican lobbyists! Not our fault!", when something changes we look at the circumstances that changed, not the ones that stay the same. The GOP always wanted to repeal Glass-Steagall, but they never had the combination of a pliant President and control of Congress. Bill Clinton -- a Democrat, allegedly -- gave them that.

So why am I optimistic? Because despite 8 years of Bush, we're starting to see Democratic bloggers wake up from the unseemly adulation of Bill Clinton, due in no small part to the discovery that, when asked to choose between what's good for the party and what's good for him, Bill is still choosing himself.

I believed in 2000, and believe now, that voting for Nader was idiotic. But I certainly understood the impulse. Oh, did I understand. Hopefully, the Democratic Party can actually learn the lessons of the last, failed, Democratic presidency, and move forward.


Lord, I hope Kady O'Malley is just being cute when she writes:
it does raise the question of whether Manley had already made up his mind long before he took the job.
Of course he had. A-doy. That's why he got the job. And, as O'Malley notes, Harper would have had more than enough time to figure out what Manley's opinions were before he hired him. It was a charade from beginning to end.

As for the contents of the report itself, this too is just another low form of political cowardice. We, as a country, clearly don't want to be in Afghanistan much longer, if at all. But we spent a great deal of effort building up a self-image of not being like those other countries, who leave the Americans holding the bag in their wars. (Here, look at the slanderous treatment of Spain from most corners of Canadian opinion after the Socialists pulled troops out of Iraq.) That is to say, we've invested a lot of energy in building up an irrational image of ourselves.

But, well, war sucks, this war sucks as much or more than most, and we don't have the stomach for it anymore. So how to get our asses out without making it clear that's exactly what we're doing? Oh, I know, we'll stomp our feet and demand other people send their own kids, siblings and spouses to die for a shitty war in a shitty place, or we'll take our bat and go home. And when the rest of NATO quite wisely tells us to shove it up our ass (the Belgians will presumably be more diplomatic) we get to not only get out troops out of harms way (which is what we wanted all along) we get to blame our shiftless allies in the process. Brilliant politics, awful principles.

Honesty (anyone? anyone at all?) would compel us to simply say we have neither the inclination nor the ability to maintain a presence in Afghanistan as long as we have, so long as Canadians lack a national consensus around the war. We are leaving for the only reason anyone ever leaves a foreign war like this: domestic political reasons.

Honest media coverage of the Manley report, that dealt with the context of NATO diplomacy, would have amounted to a two-sentence headline: "Canada will leave Afghanistan, blames everyone else for it"

Not a proud day for the country.

That said, if it brings the troops out of harms way, I'll be happy. I would simply prefer to live in a country that was mature enough to call a spade a spade. Maybe it's time to learn another language...

Me llamo John...

A national treasure, that's who

...though not my nation, Who Is IOZ? on Irene Nemirovsky and an idiotic review in The New Republic:
Franklin laments that the German soldiers in the second half of the book are treated as something other than monsters, an odd complaint, since Nemirovsky was there, and knew them. If Nemirovsky treated some of the Germans with relative sympathy in her portrayals, it is all the more remarkable because even were it not for the fact of the Holocaust, she was neverthelss writing about the occupying power that had just conquered her home. This is an authorial act worthy of praise and wonder, not a cudgel to bash her person or reputation.
Oh, and the same on the so-called stimulus package currently under discussion in Washington:
One-time tax rebates! Oh, awesome. Let me tell you, a few hundred bucks is going to restore my confidence like a clock-eating drive late in the 3rd Quarter. So what if our entire economy is a landfill of unrecoverable debt sitting on top of a lot of second-rate infrastructure with an energy crisis looming on the near horizon? Blood under the bridge, baby. I'm a-gonna buy me some consumer electronics and save America!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Growing the pie

Two thoughts about this story:
For years, Belleville suffered from a severe shortage of family doctors that left thousands of its citizens without a physician of their own.

Then, in less than 12 months, the eastern Ontario city suddenly recruited 10 medical students or residents, who will all but close Belleville's gap in service as they finish their training and set up practice over the next four years.

Just down the highway, Hastings County has similarly beaten the odds in this time of doctor drought, convincing nine physicians-in-training to practice for at least five years in the community.

Both are pleasant spots with lots of recreational opportunities and the like, but their recruitment success seems tied to something more practical. Each municipality is offering physicians up to $150,000 for a promise to work there at least five years.
It turns out that basically amounts to free medical instruction if you agree to serve five years in the community.

So like I said, two thoughts: 1) Why isn't the Province of Ontario doing this already? Clearly, we value doctors. They're especially valuable in smaller communities. Problem is, doctors usually don't mind making tons of money, but they like to live somewhere where they can spend it. It shouldn't be up to cash-strapped municipalities to do this, the Province should be targeting communities that need new doctors the most and offer this exact kind of incentive.


2) It seems to me this is really wrong:
"I think it's unethical," said Bob Shepherd, Mayor of the Toronto-area township of Uxbridge, which eschews such tactics. "You get this endless spiral of one community trying to outdo the other…. You're stealing doctors from communities that need them as well."
Well, that's possible, but what it really does is make it easier to become a doctor. Belleville wants to pay my tuition to go to school and become a doctor? Well, that would be great if I wasn't already pursuing another avenue, but five years ago free tuition for medical school would have been... worthless to me because I'm woefully underqualified. But the long-term impact of these kinds of ideas is obvious: rather than robbing Peter to pay Paul, you'll see the pool of talent to draw from grow, meaning all municipalities will be better off.

Tonight, on double standard watch

Just consider, for a moment, what the press would be filled with if this dude was a Muslim:
In a statement of fact agreed to by the defence and the prosecution, the Terrace court heard that Blair Donnelly was under a lot of stress at the time, and believed God wished him to kill both his wife and daughter.

Stephanie Joy Donnelly was an accomplished figure skater who coached local children. Stephanie Joy Donnelly was an accomplished figure skater who coached local children.

His 16-year-old daughter, Stephanie Joy Donnelly, was found stabbed to death in the family home by her mother on Nov. 23, 2006.

The father was found praying outside a local church with blood on his hands, the court was told.
We accept that this guy is probably mentally unbalanced (as, you know, a murderer must be almost by definition) and that it wasn't "really" God's voice in his head. Because he's a white Christian. Slap a beard on him and have him outside a mosque with blood on his hands, and we'd have a different -- and altogether more hysterical -- reaction, wouldn't we?

See, this story was all about how Muslims are adjusting, or not, to Canadian society. Whereas this horrible story from Kitimat is all about how unbalanced this one individual was.

Two stories where the facts are almost the same -- father murders daughter, religious belief is the immediate factor blamed in both cases. But in one case we indicted a whole religion and culture (because we were already prepared to anyway) while the other religion and culture (North American white Christianity) escapes more or less unscathed.

Way to go, everyone.

Saturday, January 19, 2008


So my beloved proof-reads for a major publisher. And sometimes she gets real stinkers.

Her exact words: "They called this book 'C_______y'*. There's no 'C_______y' at all! They should have called it stupid bitch who gets her sister in to a dumb-ass murder, and then wakes up and it was all a dream."

I didn't think they could still make books that bad, but apparently...

*Title changed to protect her and myself.


I defy you to read this, or any other obituary for those lost in this damn war, and not hate George W. Bush more than you already do.

Journalists don't always get to write beautifully, but congratulations to David Montero.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008


NYTimes, Yesterday:

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan — Pakistan’s premier military intelligence agency has lost control of some of the networks of Pakistani militants it has nurtured since the 1980s, and is now suffering the violent blowback of that policy, two former senior intelligence officials and other officials close to the agency say.

Islamic militants surrendered in July after Pakistani authorities stormed the Red Mosque in Islamabad. Government officials reported more than 100 deaths; militants insisted that thousands had been killed.

As the military has moved against them, the militants have turned on their former handlers, the officials said. Joining with other extremist groups, they have battled Pakistani security forces and helped militants carry out a record number of suicide attacks last year, including some aimed directly at army and intelligence units as well as prominent political figures, possibly even Benazir Bhutto.

AP, Today:

DERA ISMAIL KHAN, Pakistan -- In an embarrassing battlefield defeat for Pakistan's army, Islamic extremists attacked and seized a small fort near the Afghan border, leaving at least 27 soldiers dead or missing.

The militants did not gain significant ground, but they did further erode confidence in the U.S.-allied government's ability to control the frontier area where the Taliban and al Qaeda flourish.

So the Taliban are beating the Pakistan Army on the ground in company-sized engagements. Meanwhile, NATO is totally failing to put out the fire next door in Afghanistan. And Iraq, uh, let's not talk about that. You know what I think would be funny? (Not ha-ha funny, you understand.) If between Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan, the only country that boasted a stable (or exisiting) government by January of 2009 was the one that explicitly rejected US "assistance".

Fancy being 800 years old?

It's difficult for me to express how much this scares me:
Researchers have created baker's yeast capable of living to 800 in yeast years without apparent side effects. The basic but important discovery, achieved through a combination of dietary and genetic changes, brings scientists closer to controlling the survival and health of the unit of all living systems: the cell. "We're setting the foundation for reprogramming healthy life," says study leader Valter Longo of the University of Southern California.
I don't relish death, and don't usually wish it on people, but it's not too much to say that death has some useful social purposes, right? Frankly, I don't want Mr. Moneybags sitting around, growing ever-richer and ever-more-powerful for 800 years -- one twentieth that time is more than enough, thanks. Seeing as the only real check we've left ourselves with the rich is that they'll eventually die, leaving their estates to people less worthy and hopefully more inept with the family fortune, doesn't the prospect of an 800-year old Bill Gates scare the crap out of anyone else?

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Vista sucks

Good GOD does it suck.

I have to use it for school, because the addle-minded monkeys that run the computer labs apparently lack the sense that the good lord gave a jar of mayonnaise.

Give me XP, or ME, or (shudder) a Mac any day of the week.

Update: Maybe it's time for another round of "John uses Ubuntu, and likes it (mostly.)"

A few weeks ago I discovered that the copy of Windows that shipped with my Laptop doesn't allow me to rip CDs to MP3 at a reasonable bitrate - less than 128! So I booted up the trusty linux box, installed GRIP, and after spending an evening noodling with the settings (which is just another form of play for computer geeks) got it set up to do what I wanted.

I've also been tooling around with avidemux for video editing, but so far I haven't made the switch from using mostly Windows on my laptop to using Linux on my desktop. Partly this is because I've got the Windows install set up pretty much like I want it, and partly because when I've got a laptop that runs silent and efficiently, I can't bear to turn on the big clunky desktop.

Oddly, I've found that instead of using Linux for the usual stuff I do on Windows -- the kind of thing Linux has been capable of doing for years, the kind of stuff partisans say proves Linux is ready for the mainstream -- I'm using Linux for the exceptional stuff that Windows either won't let me do or wants to charge me to do. This, to me, shows that Linux is much more than ready for prime time, but that's just me.

I have some gripes about things not working right, but they're pretty minor and I suspect I could fix them if I could find the time to delve deeper in to Ubuntu forums.

Eventually, I think I'll work up the courage to install Ubuntu on the laptop too, and see how that works.

About time

Ontario is preparing to lift a controversial moratorium on the development of offshore wind projects in the Great Lakes that has been in place for nearly 14 months, the Toronto Star has learned.

A Ministry of Natural Resources official says the department is "getting ready" to make an announcement and that new minister Donna Cansfield is "anxious to demonstrate leadership in the area."
The potential for wind in Ontario is simply enormous. I'd say it's a mystery that the McGuinty government has blockaded this as long as they have, but it's really not a mystery at all.


Matthew Yglesias, on Ezra Levant Jonah Goldberg:
He's a steadfast supporter of the political party representing the dominant ethnocultural group in the United States, the party that supports torture and unlimited surveillance, the party that supports a larger and more aggressively employed military, the party that supports a more punitive criminal justice system at home, the party whose backers are prone to fretting about low birthrates, the need to police gender roles more rigidly, etc.
Not-very-much-shorter Conservative Blogosphere: Respecting religious traditions is so important that gays cannot possibly be allowed important legal rights like marriage, nor can women be allowed to choose the fates of their bodies, but religious respect is so unimportant that Ezra Levant cannot possibly be asked to spend an afternoon answering questions in a meeting room after deliberately seeking to offend the religion of hundreds of thousands of Canadians.

Oh wait. It's wrong to offend Christians, but practically required to offend Muslims at this point, isn't it?

And this comment from Ron kind of summed up the problem:
Would you be so willing to accept this sort of tribunal if it was establised to ensure right-wing ideology was imposed on the unwilling?
Is the right now openly calling basic respect "left wing ideology"? Sure seems like it.

Monday, January 14, 2008

First they came for Ezra Levant, and I made popcorn

So I spent the weekend watching a number of bloggers spill a lot of pixels over the issue of Ezra Levant's appearance before the Alberta Human Rights Commission. This violates the first rule of Canadian blogging:
Whatever Ezra Levant is doing/saying at any given moment, it's not worth talking about.
I mean, really. This guy couldn't even run a successful conservative rag in Alberta. He competed in the Special Olympics of North American publishsing -- and lost. Memo to all Canadian bloggers: he's not worth it.

Sadly, the quest for martyrdom that Ezra's involved in has managed to gull in some of the brighter lights of the American blogosphere in to using him as an example of why Hate Speech laws are teh evil. Reading some of them, you'd think Levant was being brough before a star chamber and tortured in to a confession. It's really a ridiculous situation -- the HRC isn't able to compel Levant's appearance, and its rulings can be appealed in court whatever the outcome -- but apparently we in Canada are a bunch of jack-booted proto-fascists. Weirdly, Glenn Greenwald essentially adopts the Goldberg thesis -- liberals are just fascists in drag!

See, I agree with Warren Kinsella on this one:
Firstly, let me say that I am a censor. I believe there are reasonable and proper limits on human expression.

Secondly, I believe that words and images have power. Words and images have the power to wound and hurt and, sometimes, persuade people to kill.

Thirdly, I believe that we are entitled, as a society, to sanction (civilly or criminally) those who use words and images to deliberately or recklessly inflict harm on others - as with laws relating to the propagation of hate, or laws prohibiting child pornography, or defamation codes, or laws designed to sanction pornography that promotes violence against women and children...

"Don't you think there is a difference between a young guy painting a happy face on his school wall - and a skinhead who paints a swastika, and the words 'DEATH TO THE JEWS' on the front of a synagogue? Isn't there a qualitative difference between one action, and the other? Hate laws are designed to address that difference, aren't they?"
I suppose you're free to argue that no, there's no difference in those two acts that should be addressed by law. You could also argue that there's no difference between a black man being killed and a man being killed because he's black. I'd disagree strongly with you, and in fact I generally argue strongly in favour of hate crime legislation. Motive is a key element in any criminal prosecution, and there's an old saying that goes something like "even a dog knows the difference between being kicked and being tripped over." What's in your head when you commit a crime is actually very material element to any crime, and it's totally within our conventional understanding of what the law should do.

All of this, of course, is outside of the issue of whether or not Ezra Levant is being oppressed (he's not) or whether he's in any danger of suffering any penalty from the state (highly, highly unlikely.) Because, well, see Canadian blogging rule number one, above. If we absolutely have to talk about this, I'd prefer to talk about more serious related issues than the pathetic wailing of wealthy white conservatives who occasionally learn that they can't, in fact, shit all over Muslims and their faith ad infinitum without consequence.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

My (latest) problem with the Clintons

I'm actually reticent to make additional specific criticisms of Hillary Clinton. Basically, she's had so much slime slung at her undeservedly, and I really don't need anything more than her (continuing) support for the war in Iraq to not support her. But I think her candidacy -- and more specifically, her husband's role in it -- makes a strong argument for basically forbidding the spouses of former Presidents from running for a party's nomination. Basically, President Clinton can't not come to Senator Cinton's defense, and can't not do so with all the ammo at his disposal. So you get disingenuous attacks on Barack Obama's opposition to the war, which will inevitably be recycled by the GOP if the Senator from Illinois wins the nomination: "Look, even Bill Clinton says you were lying about your opposition to the war..."

There's a long history of Dems using talking points in the primaries that get used against them later in the general. But it's a different thing entirely when a former President -- and the most successful politician from his party in a generation -- engages in these kinds of attacks.

What an age we live in

Researchers grow a beating heart from stem cells. No, really.
The researchers took dead animal hearts and stripped them of everything except the blood vessels, valves and connective tissue. These scaffolds were then seeded with cells from newborn and foetal rat hearts and, after four days of growth, the organs started to contract. Within eight days, the hearts were beating.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Holy snap - 80% efficient solar power!

via Gristmill, this just blew my mind:
Researchers at Idaho National Laboratory, along with partners at Microcontinuum Inc. (Cambridge, MA) and Patrick Pinhero of the University of Missouri, are developing a novel way to collect energy from the sun with a technology that could potentially cost pennies a yard, be imprinted on flexible materials and still draw energy after the sun has set.

The new approach, which garnered two 2007 Nano50 awards, uses a special manufacturing process to stamp tiny square spirals of conducting metal onto a sheet of plastic. Each interlocking spiral "nanoantenna" is as wide as 1/25 the diameter of a human hair.

Because of their size, the nanoantennas absorb energy in the infrared part of the spectrum, just outside the range of what is visible to the eye. The sun radiates a lot of infrared energy, some of which is soaked up by the earth and later released as radiation for hours after sunset. Nanoantennas can take in energy from both sunlight and the earth's heat, with higher efficiency than conventional solar cells....

The team estimates individual nanoantennas can absorb close to 80 percent of the available energy. The circuits themselves can be made of a number of different conducting metals, and the nanoantennas can be printed on thin, flexible materials like polyethylene, a plastic that's commonly used in bags and plastic wrap. In fact, the team first printed antennas on plastic bags used to deliver the Wall Street Journal, because they had just the right thickness.
80% efficient harvesting of infrared energy. If this pans out, this hasn't just made solar the default choice for new energy, but it's possible that we could double the available power from existing thermal plants without increasing fossil or uranium inputs.

Most thermal plants (coal, gas, nuclear) are between 30-40% efficient. This throws away most of the energy as waste heat. The conventional way of getting around this loss is by building a CHP network -- piping the waste heat in to other buildings instead of heating them directly. But if you don't have a steam network handy, the investment can be daunting.

If this nanoantenna technology turns out to be legit (please, let it be so!) that means that every power turbine in a thermal power plant is going to be rapidly obsolete. As one striking example, going to 80% heat conversion would double the output of Ontario's nuclear reactors, meaning that they alone could power the entire province's electrical demand. Or, better idea, Ontario could phase out its nuclear power plants (which will still be old, expensive and wasteful) slowly, while the remaining stock provide double output to cover any shortfall -- while the growing solar sector provides a growing base. Throw in the hydroelectric power and Ontario would be back to having a power surplus for the first time in decades.

The other interesting thing we're seeing here is the potential for the economics of solar power to flip -- solar power would be the cheapest power available, instead of being the most expensive. Fuel and labour costs would make biofuel thermal plants more expensive, but kept around for reserve power.

Add in those silicon nanowire batteries for energy storage, and we're close to having this whole energy thing licked.

Baseless Speculation, cont.

Exhibit # 4,327 as to why I will never be hired by a political campaign with any desire to win.

(Interesting fact: the last candidate I did any work for lost.)

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Neat energy news

Silicon nanowires: the new carbon nanotube!

Apparently, the use of silicon nanowires has boosted the energy density of a lithium battery in the lab. Potentially, the use of SiNW could boost the energy density by an order of magnitude.

Stumbling blocks: Using a high-power anode requires a high-power cathode, and some researchers are skeptical of the data. But if it turns out to be true, we might see a full battery EV that can finally beat liquid fuels: the cars that currently get 200 miles to a full charge could conceivably get 2000. At that point, the only part you need to worry about exhausting is the car's driver.

I may be misreading the research, but it also seems that the SiNW gives longer lifetimes as well.

Baseless speculation

Early reports say that Dems are running out of ballots in New Hamphsire. I'm gonna take a flyer and say Obama by 15.

Friday, January 04, 2008

How 'bout that?

Me, Oct 30 2006:
The 500-gig iPod is not too far away, I think.
Hitachi, yesterday:
Hitachi's upping the notebook 2.5-inch storage game to the 500GB level...
Not quite there, yet -- the first iPods were 1.8" drives, sez Wikipedia -- but damn we're getting close.

Apparently, the record for the 1.8" category is held by Toshiba, with a 160-gig version. And apparently, you can buy the latest generation iPod in a 160-gig version.

Still, this is why I'm skeptical of people talking about how MP3s have ruined music, like that Rolling Stone article I blogged last week. The capacity to hold uncompressed, high-quality video clearly exists. On a 160-gig drive, you could hold more than 200 CDs, lossless and uncompressed. (More than 400 if you use FLAC.) And the only physical difference would be you'd have to be willing to carry around exactly the size iPod most people were wildly excited about five years ago.

The problem isn't MP3s, so much as people's dramatically changed expectations about how much music they should be able to tote around with them. And the small matter of nobody wanting to reconvert their entire libraries...

To restate another thesis: this is why trying to lock down the Internet is a sucker's game -- with a 160-gig iPod, my two feet are a "fatter pipe" than my Internet connection.

One final question: with Toshiba already introducing a desktop-sized 128-gig flash drive, at what point will flash overtake old platter HD technology? Will it happen at all, or will platter continue to stay a step or two ahead of flash?

I suppose I should reconsider

I generally haven't been reading articles titled "George Bush goes Green" or any variation thereof, so I missed this from the Washington Post (via Dave):
He [Bush] has found the science increasingly persuasive and believes more needs to be done, especially after a set of secret briefings last winter.
What a narcissist. You think Bush would believe that water was wet before he got a secret briefing telling him so? This is a man who's desperately in love with the job he currently holds.

Here's a tip: most of us don't get "secret" briefings, and we figured out global warming long ago. So can I be president now, retard?

Thursday, January 03, 2008

I need to listen to my redneck friends more

So, last night I was talking to an older friend of mine. This friend, shall we say, is neither inclined to be kind to Democrats, moderates, leftists, or blacks. Er, he's basically a cantankerous old man who like the occasional racist joke. He doesn't tell them around me much anymore, after a few shouting matches...

So anyway, he tells me last night that of all the candidates from either party, the only one -- only one -- he thinks is a decent guy is Barack Obama. This pretty much blew me away, and apparently I should have taken this as a sign of things to come. Congratulations to Mr. Obama. I was hoping for a stronger Edwards win, but it looks like both Edwards and Clinton were overtaken by the huge wave of new voters that Obama brought in -- and good for him, too.

I have a number of severe reservations about Obama, but if you're going to win a tangibly meaningless electoral contest, this is the way to do it. A lot of the commentary around an Obama win has been about America's image in the rest of the world, as if terrorists are going to put down their guns and bombs because a black kid from Chicago made it big. I think the reality is a bit more pedestrian -- the most important change will be in America's view of itself. Some of this is going to be good -- black kids knowing in their core that they can make it, hopefully -- and some of it will be bad -- the inevitable "see, we've got a black president, racism is over."

But now John Rogers really, really needs to get those t-shirts made.

One other thing: Clinton has just lost -- badly -- the most important thing she had going for her. A whole bunch of her supporters are going to be rethinking things if she's still in 2nd after New Hampshire. Edwards is expected to do much better in Nevada and South Carolina, meaning Clinton could end up racking up a few more 3rd-place finishes. If Obama wins in South Carolina -- not, ahem, the most African-American-friendly state in the Confederacy Union then it's pretty much over, isn't it?

Moments of transition

David Olive has a piece from a few days ago about the fundamental shift that's going on in the world economy:

It became more apparent than ever this year that the U.S. is no longer the world's lone superpower. Instead, there are five superpowers that will define the world for at least the next half-century: the U.S., China, India, Russia and a united Europe.

The news came home to Americans on Main St. from tainted Chinese products to the fact that practically every toy sold in America comes from Red China. Boston seniors on group tours of the great capitals of Europe were humbled to discover that their greenbacks had shrivelled in value to 60 per cent of the local currency. And New Yorkers were taken aback that the credit crisis arising from cascading defaults on U.S. subprime mortgages had so weakened the balance sheets of leading financial institutions in the Big Apple that the likes of Citigroup and Merrill Lynch had sought bailouts from state-owned investment funds in Singapore and the United Arab Emirates.

On a related note, G. John Ikenberry writes in Foreign Affairs:

But not all power transitions generate war or overturn the old order. In the early decades of the twentieth century, the United Kingdom ceded authority to the United States without great conflict or even a rupture in relations. From the late 1940s to the early 1990s, Japan's economy grew from the equivalent of five percent of U.S. GDP to the equivalent of over 60 percent of U.S. GDP, and yet Japan never challenged the existing international order.

Sure, the US and UK never went to war, but I continue to think that was a closer thing than most. (I once heard a historian say, “Sure, the Washington Naval Treaty failed to stop the Pacific War, but it did a really good job of stopping the Anglo-American war of 1940...” Clearly, that was kind of a joke, but it's worth remembering that Hitler and the Japanese weren't the only ones engaged in armament production pre-war.

But even if the US/UK transition is the “correct” way to see the transition between hegemonic powers, it's not like Americans have a lot to look forward to. Does nobody remember the role the Americans played during Suez? Can we look forward to the day when the Chinese call up American loans in order to stop the invasion of Nigeria?

Not to overstate things, but the transition between US and UK hegemons was pretty rocky for the British, even if it did manage to avoid a major war. Which, really, it didn't: the UK “won” two major global wars in extremely costly ways, and was so exhausted by victory (and nascent human rights movements) that its empire collapsed.

So even if we extend the Ikenberry metaphor, we can expect a major war between the US and some ascendant power, while the power that sits out the conflict ends up sitting pretty. I dunno – does the EU sit out a war between China and the US? China wins out while the US and Iran slap each other? This is the problem with analogies – even when you use them, they aren't really good at predicting squat.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

I'm gay for Eric Flint

Okay, I've never read his books -- and they don't really seem like my cup of tea, really -- but his columns on the madness of DRMs, and why Baen Books publish "unprotected" ebooks in the first place, is perfect and makes me want to bear his lovechild.
Jim Baen and I do not want books with little chips in them that the authorities can track. We do not want computers or computer equipment to have to be registered. We do not want legal spyware placed in all computers and scanners so that the authorities can make sure they are being used "legitimately"—with penalties attached if anyone attempts to remove the spyware.

Is this really difficult to comprehend?

DRM is madness, politically speaking, and that's why Jim and I are flat against it. Period. You start with principles, and then figure out a way to make money. Not the other way around.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Heighten the contradictions!

Given that (in the real world, at least) I prefer my villains to be of the obvious, nasty, mustache-twirling kind, I'm actually quite happy to see the RIAA change its tune and now say that copying your CDs to MP3 is illegal.

Lies and the lying liars

My lack of faith in a just and caring God can really be derived from two things: 1) The nun in my kindergarten class who told me that God made the Space Shuttle Challenger blow up, and 2) Richard Cohen's continuing presence on the Washington Post opinion page.
What concerns me is the lie or fib or misstatement -- call it what you want -- involved in Obama's assertion that more young black men are in prison than in college. It is a shocking statistic -- and it is wrong. But when The Post's lonesome but formidable truth squad, Michael Dobbs, brought this to the attention of the Obama campaign, he not only got the brushoff but the assertion was later repeated.
What did Michael Dobbs write?
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 106,000 African American men ages 18 to 24 were in federal or state prisons at the end of 2005. An additional 87,000 were temporarily held in local jails in mid-2006. According to 2005 census data, 530,000 African American men in this age group were in college.... Black male college students outnumber black male prisoners even if the age group is expanded to 30 or 35.
I have a few problems with this. Namely, Obama's words are a sound bite, and it's not like he's operationally defined the words "young", "black men", or "jail". If a kid gets pulled over for DWB, spends a night in a cell, but charges are never laid, that doesn't show up in federal statistics.

But it's telling that this is the kind of factual error that would boil Cohen's blood. Because there's nothing -- absolutely nothing -- that makes Richard Cohen madder than anyone, elected or not, casting an even mildly critical eye on America. Point out the obvious and inhuman difference between the treatment of blacks and whites in America? You're a liar, and don't deserve the presidency.

It's also telling that the obvious, provable, and repeated falsehoods of the GOP candidates, or the other white Democratic candidates, don't pop a vein in Cohen's forehead. Nope, black men lie, and only Richard Cohen is brave enough to tell us all what he believes.

One last thing: there was another lie that was told once to the American people once before. It was told to the American people even though the speaker in question, one George W. Bush, had been repeatedly told that it was false by his own staff. Nevertheless, he lied to the country and started a war over a factually incorrect statement. Richard Cohen's reaction? To say, in columns that are no longer online at, that Bush was "trapped" by the need to deal with the "obvious threat" that Hussein posed, and that Europeans who wanted to deal with Israel-Palestine first had a "whiff of anti-semitism" about them. (Cohen, "Bush the Bad Guy," January 28 2003)

And then, in July of 2003, when the lie was revealed by Joe Wilson's NYT column, Richard Cohen did the honorable thing and... blamed George Tenet and the CIA, just like the Bush administration wanted. (Cohen, "Sword Passing", July 24, 2003)

Amazing. Bush lies, gets a million Iraqis killed and tens of thousands of US soldiers wounded or killed, and Cohen can still be relied upon to put the blame elsewhere. But God forbid your grasp of obscure federal statistics be slightly off, because that means you need to bow and scrape before Richard Cohen, altar of responsibility.