Saturday, February 28, 2009

I'm, like, eleventy trillion years old, cont.

This forum makes me feel extremely old. 'What's an arcade?' indeed.

Friday, February 27, 2009

When I saw the cities burning, I knew that I was learning

Ending, but not yet over. President Obama announces today that US combat troops will be leaving Iraq by August of next year, and all US troops will be gone by the end of 2011, as stipulated by the Iraqi SOFA.

It's taken 6 years just to begin fixing the Bush Administration's mistakes, and there's a long way to go yet. But sweet merciful Christ am I happy today.

This calls for a song.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


The President, Vice-President, and Speaker of the House:

And only one is a white dude.

Still hasn't stopped amazing me.

And let me just say (admitting unreservedly that this is not a fair comparison) that this part of Obama's speech:
And dropping out of high school is no longer an option. It's not just quitting on yourself, it's quitting on your country — and this country needs and values the talents of every American.
made me immediately think of this, from Obama's immediate predecessor:
To those of you who received honors, awards and distinctions, I say, well done.

And to the C students, I say, you too can be president of the United States.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Oscars

1) I liked The Wrestler too, but I'm not disappointed by Mickey Rourke losing. I haven't even seen Milk, but Rourke's performance isn't what drives Aronofsky's film the way I'm told Penn's does. Good -- fascinating, even -- but a fair call that Penn was better, I'd wager.

2) "You look like you just left a hasidic meth lab" has got to be the line of the night, from Natalie Portman to Ben Stiller (playing Joaquim Phoenix.)

3) The expression on Anne Hathaway's face when they announced Winslet won may be the classiest reaction to losing an Oscar nomination I've ever seen. She seemed genuinely pleased, actually cheering for Winslet. Far more than the polite clap-and-smile that is standard.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Somebody thought of the children

It turns out, when you think about them, the problems aren't that big:
Report Calls Online Threats to Children Overblown
Oh, and this:
The Myth of Rampant Teenage Promiscuity
Of course, this won't stop the know-nothingness of law enforcement everywhere. In the first story, the Attorney General of Connecticut asks, who you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes?
Mr. Blumenthal said it “downplayed the predator threat,” relied on outdated research and failed to provide a specific plan for improving the safety of social networking.

“Children are solicited every day online,” Mr. Blumenthal said. “Some fall prey, and the results are tragic. That harsh reality defies the statistical academic research underlying the report.”

In what social networks may view as something of an exoneration after years of pressure from law enforcement, the report said sites like MySpace and Facebook “do not appear to have increased the overall risk of solicitation.”
It's worth pointing out that Blumenthal was one of the AGs who pushed to have this task force created, and now that it's coming back with something as shocking as a disinterested, empirical conclusion he's disowning it. What a maroon.

To bring this back to what I was discussing last week: the alleged threat of child predation is one of the planks being used to build the gallows for a free Internet. And it's almost entirely hallucinatory, certainly insofar as it justifies massive new expansions of warrantless surveillance. On top of that, it's also the fig-leaf being used by the (I believe) far more influential copyright lobby, aiming to legitimize the constant surveillance of IP traffic in an effort to preserve a zombie business model.

So if the threat of child predation is a myth, and the only remaining reason to submit to massive surveillance is preserving the profits of large, mostly foreign-owned corporations, why the fuck is this even under discussion?

Elections have consequences

This blog has sucked lately, for which I apologize, but as I think I've mentioned before, there's a surprising amount of work that goes in to a Masters degree. (Who knew?) In the whole minutes that I have both free and awake, I do try to actually speak complete english sentences to my fiancée, and occasionally contribute to the housework. (Imposition of gender roles: bad!)

Still, this is worth breaking radio silence over: it's looking more and more clear that in there will be a de facto, if not de jure, moratorium on any new coal-fired generating stations throughout the US, as a result of a) lawsuits brought during the Bush term and b) the recent change in power in DC.

You should be reading Joe Romm and Gristmill, but the short version (assuming I understand it) is that the Federal EPA has been ordered to regulate CO2 emissions as a result of a Supreme Court decision handed down last year. The EPA regulates power plant emissions by mandating "best available commercial technology", or BACT.

Now, typically BACT for things like NOx and SOx emissions are comparatively minor filters or firing technology that reduce emissions. But CO2 can't be addressed that way, because of the physics of oxidizing carbon.

This means that the EPA could be in a position, within 12-18 months, of basically mandating a revolution in new coal generation in America: requiring biomass co-firing (basically mixing in farm or timber wastes with the coal, lowering the net CO2 emissions), cogeneration, and possibly even requiring something like IGCC (the holy grail of coal technology.)

Ah, but it gets better: all of these options (save biomass co-firing, I believe) will raise the cost of coal generation radically. These technologies, some of them in combination, would effectively raise the price of coal to well over that of wind, nuclear, in some cases solar thermal, and in the American southwest possibly even rooftop PV. Yes, coal will be made too expensive to use.

Future improvement of existing plants could be affected as well, I believe.

(Note: the cost of new nuclear generation is going up rapidly as well, so that in particular is a moving target. Still, it's hard to believe that an IGCC plant is going to end up costing less than nuclear when much of the carbon capture and storage infrastructure will have to be built beforehand.)

This is fantastic news, and I daresay will be one of the most consequential acts of the Obama administration if it unfolds well. There's always the chance that the coal industry will manage to have us all conscripted in its defense with some damn bailout of one kind or another (this is particularly a concern with the former Senator from Illinois in the White House, frankly) but at the moment this is my smile for the day.

Thursday, February 19, 2009


President of the United States, unprompted in answering a question today:
"I love this country," the U.S. president said on his first foreign trip, and thousands of onlookers who tried to catch a glimpse of him returned the adoration.
Shit, that's more than our own Prime Minister had on tap when he was asked whether he loved this country.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


Your "read the whole damn thing" for the day


Some key quotes:
I should probably mention why this topic is an important one for me. Young-earth creationism is a particular pet peeve of mine for two main reasons.

The first is that it is not just false, but demonstrably false, and is thus often the place where the collapse begins for soon-to-be-former Christians raised to believe in the fundamentalist house of cards.

This house-of-cards faith is a particularly brittle and fragile belief system that insists, emphatically, that all of it must be true or else none of it is true....

And that very long chain is only as strong as its weakest link (to mix both my metaphor and my quiz show reference). If every item isn't true -- or isn't blindly accepted as true -- then they insist that it all must be false. Thus if it is not true that the world was created in six, 24-hour days about 6,800 years ago, then it is not true that Jesus loves you. Or that you should love others as Jesus has loved you. Or that your sins are forgiven. Or that you are anything but alone and godforsaken when you walk through the valley of the shadow of death.

House-of-cards fundamentalism allows for no distinctions between babies and bathwater, between the central tenets of the faith and the adiaphora and error. So once one part of this belief system begins to collapse -- as it inevitably will since young-earth creationism is disprovable -- then it all has to go.
Much more in there. To have cast the Big Bang as evidence of Satan's existence is probably the stupidest thing American nutter Christians have done so far, but it's early yet. Unless, of course, you're a nutter Christian, in which case it's much too late to avoid the rapture.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Food ramblings

So in my continuing quest to be more useful around the kitchen, I cooked up what I've always thought was a great Sunday dinner -- roast beef, potatoes, Yorkshire puddings, with some assistance on the vegetables. Oh, and a boatload of gravy. Always must have gravy.

This put me in the odd position of having to explain to my Chinese friends and family what various odd foods were. ("You put gravy on it.") Normally, I'm the one asking what X food is and how you eat it. I think, in 8+ years of loving Vicki, I've probably eaten one of every animal on Earth in one form or another. Plus a whole bunch of parts of animals that some people wouldn't consider food.

But I have, by and large, enjoyed everything I've eaten. So I'm always kind of flummoxed when I encounter a certain kind of provinicalism of the gut. Y'know, the kind of person who's repulsed by the unfamiliar, who refuses to eat anything that isn't recognizably from their tribe. But fucking everything is unfamiliar to somebody.

A Yorkshire pudding, literally something I grew up with, is an odd little creation. More than that, it's not immediately obvious why it should go so well with a roast beef dinner. But it does (did I mention the gravy?) and there weren't any left when we started cleaning up Sunday night.

A certain writer, who's already gotten too much attention in past weeks, had some choice words to say about the Chinese, their hygiene, and their food. All I can say is that the sickest (non-alcohol induced) I've ever been in my life was after eating at KFC, and in my years of immersion in Chinese eating I've never seen the kind of pickiness that is accepted as normal in white families but now drives me absolutely batty when I see it.

Last week Vicki and I concluded that our wedding will have a Chinese banquet, after my step-mother kindly averred that we didn't have to worry that much about her shellfish allergy. We'll still try to not kill her and all, but that was our only real concern -- her allergy, not the quality of the food.

Anyway, bit of a ramble. Chinese food is good, so are a bunch of other foods, you should keep an open mind, and unless you've sworn off any fast food at all, the grocery men on Spadina are the least of your concerns.

Oh, and roast beef is good.

Think simpler

I'm as big a nerd as anyone for gadgetry and technology, but I've always had an appreciation for simpler, low-tech, more analog solutions to our woes. For example, passivhauses > solar power. With that in mind, I have to say I loved this article on masonry stoves. Despite the fact that they're huge and heavy, the basic technology seems adaptable enough to fit in many different home types. (Though you're looking at a hefty renovation, methinks.) Googling around, some companies advertise that the stoves never get hot enough to burn human skin. Or, as one company called them "huggable heaters". Very smart marketing, as my fiancée can't stop squeeing at the idea.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Men of the world, find a woman who grounds you.

So one of those odd little goals I set myself a while back was to bake fresh bread. The first attempts were, shall we say, underwhelming. Whether it was the recipe or my own stumbling, they simply didn't turn out.

So today, I was quite pleased with myself when I produced two nicely browned loaves:

(Note to self: buy two bread pans of roughly the same size.)

At one point, I exulted "Take that, modernity", feeling all akin to some rustic peasant.

Ahem. My beautiful fiancée would have none of it. Roughly transcribed from memory, after I stopped laughing so hard I nearly fell out of my chair.

"Take that modernity? This from the guy who used the electric hand-blender, a microwave, downloaded the recipe from the Internet on one of two computers he has on his desk and used the electric oven to bake it? Shut the fuck up. FUCK YOU. You're an asshole."

It's bad enough that she's right all the time, but how will she raise a child with a mouth like that?

Thursday, February 12, 2009


TVO wants to put Kathy Shaidle on? Really?



Christ, it's like these people don't even know Google exists.

Update: Huh. Just realized that this marks the first ever pair of back-to-back TVO themed posts. Another frontier!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Not today's man

So I'm watching Studio 2 on TVO, as John Tory attempts to justify his alleged leadership of the Ontario Tories. He is, for me, an ambiguous character. On the one hand, I feel like the PC Party would be much better if its membership were closer to Tory's views, instead of the Harris-era neanderthals who still largely fill its ranks. On the other, the man has spent a cumulative 21 months looking for a seat since he took the helm of the Party in 2004. In all likelihood, by the time of the by-election he is contesting, Tory will have spent something like 40% of his time in Provincial politics as a leader without a seat.

But what really kills me is Tory claiming to be a guy who understands the needs and way of life of rural Ontario. Uh.... no. When you got your first and last honest job because your family friend was Ted Rogers, it looks silly to raise the pennant of the salt of the Earth.

Something we need to resolve

Oh goody, the stimulus fight gets worse and worse: now the recording industries want the stimulus bill to include a provision for filtering everything American consumers do at any time, everywhere on the Internet, on behalf of their holy war to protect their business model.

We're in a weird age for the Internet. The closest analogy I can think of is TV during the early-mid 1950s, when everyone was beginning to understand how important the medium would really be, but nobody was sure how far it could be taken.

If you saw Good Night, and Good Luck, this is kind of where the Internet is today, except that Clooney et al. neglected to mention one important fact: at that time, it was not yet a matter of settled law that television broadcasters had the same press freedoms that newspapermen did. That concern weighed heavily on the minds at CBS, who believed that Murrow's broadcasts against McCarthy could very well get the network shut down.

The problem was the ambiguity over what kind of status TV had in the public sphere. Was it like newspapers, which had substantial constitutional rights? Or was it like movies, where the industry was presumed to self-censor for fear of government intervention?

The eventual answer was that TV was more like newspapers, but it took a while. Today, we still have the unresolved ambiguity of the Internet, but the opposition is even more stark: does a person on the Internet have the presumption of innocence? The answer, according to police forces, the recording industry, and the Maude Flanderses of the world, is no. Your behaviour, in private and behind closed doors, should be presumed to be criminal and you should be subject to a permanent, government-mandated wiretap. And if you try to encrypt any of your traffic, you've just proven their point.

This is especially astonishing when you consider how absurd this would be if we took it offline. Propose that the government should be able to open every piece of mail in order to snuff out child porn and copyright infringement, and you'd be laughed at. Suggest that police no longer be required to produce search warrants if they suspect you've got a collection of child porn in your basement, and the courts would dismiss you before you knocked down your first door.

But people don't take the Internet seriously, the way they do phones, mail, or their own homes. There's no reason this should be the case. I simply could not do any of the things I do to support and educate myself, much less keep in touch with friends and family, if I didn't have the Internet. Even if I tried to go entirely old-school, none of my friends would follow me.

So the choice we've been offered is a simple one: participate in the commons and face constant surveillance in the name of ridiculous, arbitrary special interests, or a modern version of ostracism. It's an absurd situation, and one that the west needs to reverse, before we find ourselves sleepwalking in to something awful.

A Parable

So imagine a car company -- or better yet, the entire American automobile industry -- has spent years growing in wealth and influence, to the point where major auto companies or their representatives control most of the government positions that are nominally there to regulate their conduct. (Shocking image, I know.)

Then, one day, it turns out that almost every car built and sold in the last 10 years will explode. Not may explode, will explode. This leaves tens of millions of people either dead, wounded, or in the best possible case poor and without something they need to contribute to the economy. Worse still, these cars -- call them sub-prime engines -- have been dispersed throughout the global economy, leading the entire planet to swoon in a major recession.

Now imagine that the government, with hundreds of billions of dollars at its disposal, and trying to avert a further catastrophe, proposes not to fire the managers and board members who caused this catastrophe, nor even to punish the shareholders who profited from this crime, but simply to buy up the existing inventories of sub-prime cars, and extract meaningless promises from the businesses involved that they won't do it again.

Of course, no such thing will happen in the automobile industry, because there are unions to bust and nobody really likes unions anymore, except for people who belong to them. (Fun fact: most right-wing newspaper columnists belong to surprisingly strong unions.) This will happen in the banking industry in the US not because it's the most efficient use of taxpayer's money, but because Timothy Geithner is the Secretary of the Treasury, and if he were to execute a rational plan (either managed bankruptcy or nationalization) he wouldn't be welcome at the dinner parties and country clubs any more.

Some of you are no doubt convinced there's more to it than that, that policy isn't decided on such petty, venal concerns. You are mistaken. Geithner and Obama will throw away hundreds of billions of dollars for the very simple reason that it would never occur to them to do otherwise.

All the news that's fit to print

Monday, February 09, 2009

What's this, what's this?

Is this the best thing ever on the Internet?

Yes, yes it is.

Did I just screw with the settings on Vicki's computer so that standard error sounds have been replaced with the President of the United States using foul language?

Yes, yes I did.

On self-negating hypotheses

1) Whine about the under-powered rental Kia you've got for the weekend.

2) Get nailed by a polite, courteous OPP officer for, uh, substantially exceeding the posted speed limit.

Still, it's very difficult, when the officer asks "why were you going so fast?", to not respond "because it's awesome."

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Nice to see

In the barrage of candies and flowers thrown at Ignatieff's feet for supporting the Conservatives, it was nice to see Tom Walkom get it right.

Some energy stuff

Hey look, there's a role for command-and-control, big-guvmint policies in climate change after all. (Queue the usual chorus of "carbon tax only!" from the back.)

One of my fave bloggers has some advice for Obama.
Cargo-cultism and ghost dances are alive and well in America today. You can "drill here" all you want, but dry holes benefit no one. You can start the "shovel-ready" road projects, but people who drive less and less every year will get no use out of them. You can make ethanol out of corn, and watch the nation's best topsoil wash down the Mississippi to expand the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico. All of these cults have their constituencies. All of them will want more mandates, more money, more power. If you're going to be the one to fix this mess you've inherited, all of them must be told "No."

And I got a different read from this, which annoyed Dave Roberts at Grist.
The bottom line is that nature has given us hydrocarbons in the form of fossil carbon and biomass, and their energy-mass and energy-volume densities are superior to the thermodynamic limits of nearly all conceivable alternatives. Thus, it's quite likely that hydrocarbons of one form or another will be humanity's primary energy storage medium for quite a long time.
Intriguingly, the authors don't use the words "fossil fuel" exclusively, instead choosing the clinical "hydrocarbons" and referring explicitly to biomass as well. I think it has to be read as a factual description of the inherent advantages of hydrocarbons, not necessarily an advantage of fossil fuels. Propane is a simple, versatile hydrocarbon and could be synthesized relatively easily. Nothing from that follows that we'll continue using oil and coal.

I do think the writers ignore the biggest point in favour of batteries: the fact that while hydrocarbons are incredibly energy-dense, we throw away the vast majority of the energy they contain by burning them in ridiculously inefficient engines. Meanwhile, we use batteries far more efficiently. (90% vs. 20%)

Pictures, Words, and the relative value of both

Exhibit A: Bush is a whiny pouty baby.

Exhibit B: Oh, and he was a total asshole for women. And men. And all primates. Mammals, really.

Come to think of it, I'm pretty sure all cellular life save tuberculosis bacteria ended up worse over the last 8 years.

I've yet to canvass the viruses.

Deep Thought

For a President who idolizes Lincoln so very much, Obama seems to have not internalized the lesson of Lincoln's near-defeat in the 1864 election: you can literally be handed a national catastrophe on your first day in office, and the people will hate you and blame you and demand your death until you win. Even then, your enemies will maintain for more than a century that the catastrophe was all your fault to begin with.

I'd particularly like to see an Obama ready to be hated, until he wins.

Monday, February 02, 2009

They're all going to laugh at you!

About the only thing that salves the pain and rage of the Bush administration's tenure is the fact that these masters of the universe actually turn out to be pathetic, broken men of no importance, intelligence, or even basic aptitude. These might be the best 32 words ever written in the English language:
Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, who managed to invade a country and serve four terms in Congress, tried to ride a bus last week but failed, according to a report Monday.
And it's not even the Onion.

Since the election, I've felt an emptiness in my soul

The boys at LGM have a poll up on the most pressing issue of the moment: President Laura Roslin -- freakishly abysmal failure, or mere Bush-level incompetent?

Seriously, for BSG fans out there: imagine what you'd actually think of Roslin if you had no more information than a reasonably well-informed colonial citizen might have. You haven't seen the inside meetings, you don't know too much about the Cylons, except that they killed your puppy, and Laura Roslin is a kind of religious nut under whose watch the remnants of humanity have had a pretty rough time.

Indeed, her tenure really only looks good by comparison to her immediate successor (whose defense policies were apparently so piss-poor that the Cylons were able to achieve total surprise, eliminating all but 0.002% (?) of the human species, or in the Baltar years where humans actually lived under Cylon occupation.

But by that standard, Dubya looks good when compared to Buchanan, under whose watch the Confederacy actually seceded. That buys him nothing, and Roslin's colleagues buy her nothing. Especially when you consider how that whole "everything will be fine when we get to Earth" plan has worked so far. And all of this is in the context of some pretty staggering war crimes against the Cyclons.

So: Laura Roslin should be impeached and replaced by Tom Zarek, the Spiro Agnew to Roslin's Nixon.

Your favourite podcasts

The immediately preceding post wasn't exactly a requests thread, but I have to agree with Mr. Muhlberger here:
So next you'll get hooked on podcasts. Problem solved.
Now, I've already subscribed to some CBC podcasts (Quirks and Quarks, Ideas) and some NPR ones (Planet Money, This American Life, The I'm OOOOOOOOLD program) but always welcome suggestions.

So: favourite podcasts, and why. Have at it in comments.

Modern dilemmas

My beloved fiancée bought me an early birthday present earlier tonight (er, yesterday night): a new MP3 player to replace the somewhat dated one I got several Christmases ago. So I've of course been up all night loading music on the comparatively-whopping 8 gigs it affords me. Problem: I'm not actually that interesting, nor are my tastes in music varied or knowledgeable enough to fill 8 gigs with stuff I would call my favourites. So I apply a more liberal standard of what I want on my MP3 playlist: basically, anything I've been able to scrounge up over 10+ years of downloading and ripping music to my computer (I almost never delete anything, ever) that's even barely listenable.

Sure, I've got Arcade Fire, Feist, the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and other hipster-cred-earning tracks on there. But then there's the worse stuff.

Bryan Adams? Sure. Abba? Abba-solutely. Sonny and Cher? I got that, babe. Old school GNR? Let's just say, I'll be the dude mouthing "nothing lasts forever, even cold November rain" on the TTC tomorrow morning.

Results: An 8 gig player that's only half full, and 1/3 of that is stuff I'd probably skip through if it was on the radio.

Our grandparents didn't have these problems.