Monday, March 30, 2009

Moral privilege watch

It's really quite simple: Rick Wagoner had to go, but the head of Bank of America will not, because the people at the White House, including Obama himself, have simply decided not to acknowledge the massive, decades-long fraud that's been perpetrated on the American people. When a manufacturer creates an obsolete product and fails to track with the market, that's evidence of incompetence. (I actually agree with the White House on that count.)

The problem is, for the Lords of Finance the market seems to "just happen". We can't blame them, you see, because even though they created all of these problems they won't be forced to face the consequences. That's for the people who actually build things, apparently.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

A song that could use revisiting

Tom Lehrer, We Will All Go Together When We Go:

Friday, March 27, 2009

Watch the assumptions

Kevin Drum writes that banks shouldn't get too small, else they'd be... too small:
So just what would the limit be on bank size? $500 billion in assets? $200 billion? Can a country the size of the United States even have nationwide banks with limits like that?
Why presume that America needs national banks? I'm not trying to be glib here, but seriously -- assuming that they're able to lend and borrow across state borders, why presume that America must have national-scale institutions at all? It's a way of framing a question so as to exclude an answer, and I don't see why we should bias policy in favour of a particular scale. Or, if we ought to be biasing policy, there are strong, positive reasons to bias it in favour of smaller institutions where corruption, if not less frequent, would have less severe secondary effects.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Gee, do you think the opposition can use Google?

Dalton McGuinty, 2007: No new taxes!

Dalton McGuinty, 2009: Suckers.

Two elections, two promises not to raise taxes, two smoking craters in the field where the Liberals kept their credibility.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

In case you think I'm a pessimist

Scientists: We're fucking doomed.

Idiot op-ed writer in the Star: But windmills are ugly, and I like my big house in the country!

You either grok in your bones that we're in survival mode, or you don't. 75% of people, minimum, just don't. So long as they think we're still in debate, our fates are still grim.

If I make it to the current average lifespan, I expect to see a very, very grim part of human history.

My question exactly

via Chet, Rick Mercer has the great unanswered question about Michael Ignatieff:

Dear New York Times

In your last interview with him, you idiotically, credulously, ridiculously called the President a socialist. Last night, he didn't call on you at the press conference.

Please continue pretending these two things have nothing to do with each other. It will 100% guarantee the future of your news outlet.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

In which I sing the praises of Maxime Bernier's documents-handling policies

Okay, they did something right: the change in passport policy that the Conservatives made in 2007 is really much more convenient for those of us who haven't always had regular doctors or other professionals to be a guarantor.

That's, like, one in three years.

(Full guarantor policy here. Getting a passport is now only about 50% more annoying than getting a health card.)

Elegance in utilities

So, one of the most annoying things that everyone "knows" is that renewable energy is intermittent and thus not commercially viable. Wind doesn't always blow, and there's this pesky periodic phenomena called "nighttime" that precludes the widespread use of solar power. This, if you ask any of the people who actually make these decisions, means that Ontario needs as many new nuclear reactors as the politicians will allow them to buy.


Even worse are the pseudo-environmentalists, who argue that because the intermittency needs to be covered by natural gas plants, we shouldn't build wind or solar. (Yes, they've pitched me on coal. Yes, they call themselves environmentalists.) In the context of Ontario it's even more ridiculous because spinning reserve (the technical term for instant-on generation capacity) is provided by such obscure little landmarks as Niagara Falls.

The virtues of hydroelectric generation as spinning reserve are that it's cheaper than gas, is more nimble and quick, and that it doesn't emit CO2. Problem is that in Ontario we've built up all the convenient hydro already.

Solution: build more waterfalls. This is hardly the first pumped-hydro scheme I've seen, but I love the elegance of the solution: rather than filling a reservoir and waiting for demand to empty it, find one of nature's large bodies of water and wait with an empty bowl until demand lets you fill it. When electricity is cheap again, pump the water back to where you found it.

Some of the best solutions involve taking the parts we all know, and just rearranging them a bit. I love it.

In case you're wondering, Canada is actually supremely well-positioned to take advantage of the new renewable energy economy, provided we're willing to spend some money on transmission. (I'm not the only one who says so.) The last ice age left us with an abundance of large lakes and rivers, the prairies actually get a surprising amount of sunlight, and wind is abundant in the prairies and out in the waters of the great lakes. Balancing solar, wind, and pumped hydro storage should not overly tax the resources of even a half-competent manager. Autarky isn't necessary -- if New Mexico is selling cheap solar energy, maybe we can benefit from that too -- but Canada has a real advantage. This basic layout -- wind/solar/hydro -- is basically all you need for a stable electricity system. Or, if you need a headline: CANADA'S ENERGY PROBLEM SOLVED -- GET ON WITH IT.

Not that you'd know it, given what the main business story of the day was. As far as the leadership of this country is concerned, the tar sands are the only asset we have, energy-wise.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Speaking of FM radio...

This week's Dispatches has a good pair of pieces: an interview with Robert Hirsch about peak oil, and then a bit about transition towns in the UK. They're the first two pieces, so if you like download the MP3 here, then start listening.

Products and services, reviewed

--I'm about a month and a half in to using my Sansa Fuze, and I'm loving this thing. I've never been an iPod fan, because of the variety of small ways Apple cripples its gear. The Fuze is small, affordable, and multifunctional. The FM tuner isn't the kind of thing that I would say sells the player, but it's a really pleasant little addition. Being able to listen to CBC podcasts is fine, but sometimes you do actually want to listen to the radio. [Clarification: the FM tuner is hardly unique, but it actually works a lot better and more clearly than other FM tuners on MP3 players I've used. More useability = I use it more.] The interface is relatively straightforward and sleek. If you're the one in 10 people who actually doesn't want an iPod touch, then I strongly recommend it.

--[Warning! Annoying music at link!] One Week is a pretty passable film, actually. Oddly enough, it made me think of a review I once read for the film Dawn of the Dead: "There's something about a bunch of well-armed working class stiffs locked in a mall, fighting zombies, that just says... America."

Similarly, there's something about a cancer patient ignoring the entreaties of his fiancée and the advice of his doctor to drive across the country, knowing that he'll have public health care when he gets home, that says... Canada.

--So far, Watchmen is my favourite movie of the year. But it's also one of only... jeez, four I think I've watched this year.

--U-Haul is just shit all the way down. That is all.

A quiet and polite neutron bomb

China on Monday proposed a sweeping overhaul of the global monetary system, outlining how the dollar could eventually be replaced as the world's main reserve currency by the IMF's Special Drawing Right.

The SDR is an international reserve asset created by the International Monetary Fund in 1969 that has the potential to act as a super-sovereign reserve currency, Zhou Xiaochuan, governor of the People's Bank of China, said in remarks published on the central bank's Web site.

"The role of the SDR has not been put into full play due to limitations on its allocation and the scope of its uses. However, it serves as the light in the tunnel for the reform of the international monetary system," he said.

Zhou diplomatically did not refer explicitly to the dollar.
Kind of a big deal. I know a number of economists have said that the actual benefits the US accrues by being the default reserve currency are minimal, but I'm unpersuaded. (Certainly, if the US had to repay its loans in Euros I think they'd be following a different fiscal course right about now...)

A bit on the nose

So, the new-and-unimproved plan to save the Lords of Finance from any consequence of their actions has been renamed, as have the assets in question:
Note that the assets that people outside the government call “toxic” are no longer “troubled” (as in TARP), they’re “legacy” assets.
Now, it's true that these assets aren't "legacy" in any real sense, as they're about three years old at the outside.

But, if you keep the other words in the acronym the same, this is now the Legacy Assets Relief Program, or LARP. The same word that the nerd crew uses to describe live-action roleplaying, which is appropriate since both live-action D&D and the Obama/Geithner plan involve a suspension of disbelief and the indulgence of juvenile fantasies.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Funny guys (& gal) at Fox News

See, it's funny because four Canadian soldiers died today.

I'm sure the families of the dead appreciate the sentiment.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Pleased to meet you, hope you guess my name

Am I the only lefty who finds this video unsettling?

I'm sorry, we know what happens when a Congressman calls on the enemy of the week to name names in a public proceeding, and I have no problem whatsoever with Liddy refusing to answer the question on national television.

Even if this bunch of assholes deserves their fate, principles matter too.

Water pricing redux

Mike dissents:
Perhaps I'm missing something John, but I see it as the exact opposite problem - state laws, some more than a century old, remove the right to private property, not grant it. Holststrom has had the right to use the water on her own property and the title has been granted by fiat of the government to cronies and collectives.

This is more of a government enforced cartel, rather than private property rights. In absence of state laws and regulations, could any of those companies, farmers or developers claim the water as there?

I was rushed in writing the post, so let me elaborate on the argument on why I think this kind of absurdity (prohibiting rain barrels) is an inescapable part of water markets, especially when they succumb to stress like droughts.

Nobody bought the particular right to the water flowing on one person's ranch, roof, or whatnot. The water rights sold in Colorado and elsewhere in the US instead refer mainly to water flowing through rivers, streams, and lakes. (Colorado is usually near the front of the line, while California and Texas go begging. Mexico goes entirely without water from some parts of the Rio Grande, thanks in large part to American ranchers and farmers.) But what the rights need to guarantee, if they mean anything, is that someone can't interrupt that water at a point further up the river -- this is why state and federal laws dictate how much water Colorado can withdraw from a river before it flows downhill.

The legal principle applies on the micro level as well. Whether you own the house is immaterial if you haven't bought the right to the water that falls on it, and if the market is to function well, it can't matter. Else private landholders could substantially interfere with the market to the detriment of the rightsholders.

Of course, I'm deeply suspicious of water privatization on any number of grounds, not the least of which is philosophical: consumers of water neither create it nor add value to it (usually the opposite) so I don't think it's something they should be able to buy a right to. If they want to buy water, they can build a desalination plant and a pipeline and buy shares in that. (The expense of a venture would also guarantee the most efficient use.) But freshwater is something that a) serves innumerable environmental purposes and b) nobody has to invest in, so this is one of those areas where I favour a more command-and-control model of regulation, which to work would probably have to ration out water much more strictly than we do now. I'm obviously skeptical that any of the "market" solutions will work any better than the current pseudo-market that exists in the American west.

Incidentally, one of the clear ways in which solar and wind power are vastly preferable to not only conventional power sources and nuclear power is that they consume much, much less water in their production and operation. Thermal power plants (Coal, gas, and nuclear) all suck in an enormous amount of water, which is one of the reasons they're usually situated near large bodies of water.

Plug-in hybrids, if powered with conventional electricity, could make our global warming problem less dire while making our water stresses much worse. The only solution is the one this blog has been pounding on since the beginning: use electricity wherever possible, and use renewable sources of electricity for everything.

The problem with water pricing short, is that crazy-ass stuff like this is all too likely:
But according to the state of Colorado, the rain that falls on Holstrom's property is not hers to keep. It should be allowed to fall to the ground and flow unimpeded into surrounding creeks and streams, the law states, to become the property of farmers, ranchers, developers and water agencies that have bought the rights to those waterways.

What Holstrom does is called rainwater harvesting. It's a practice that dates back to the dawn of civilization, and is increasingly in vogue among environmentalists and others who pursue sustainable lifestyles. They collect varying amounts of water, depending on the rainfall and the vessels they collect it in. The only risk involved is losing it to evaporation. Or running afoul of Western states' water laws.

Those laws, some of them more than a century old, have governed the development of the region since pioneer days.

"If you try to collect rainwater, well, that water really belongs to someone else," said Doug Kemper, executive director of the Colorado Water Congress. "We get into a very detailed accounting on every little drop."
Welcome, Coloradan environmentalists, to the reality of water privatisation. The people of Cochabamba, Bolivia, can fill you in on the rest.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Afternoon rage

Even I retain the ability to be astonished at the gall of these people. K-Drum:
Now that's a lovely thought, isn't it? If they don't get their bonuses, these guys might not only leave AIG, but turn around and do their best to make things even worse. That's just speculation, of course. But would it surprise anyone if that started to happen?
First of all, it's got to be an open question whether these geniuses actually could make things any worse than they already are. I mean, AIGFP is a black hole sucking in anything that got too close, which unfortunately means a substantial fraction of the world's financial sector. You've created -- and set off -- a doomsday device like a comic-book villain, and the threat is that you might be able to do something even worse? Like what, rape a puppy?

Secondly, MattY:
We’ve somehow managed to construct something of a post-shame society, in which elites have convinced themselves that the rational agent model of human behavior is not just a useful modeling tool, but an ethical guidebook. There’s something to be said for the idea of a sense of honor and personal responsibility.
Uh, yes, there's something to be said for honour and personal responsibility. That these kinds of sentences even need to be written down shows how much we've forgotten -- or rather, how successful the Reagan-Gecko brainwashing campaign has been over the last generation and a half.

To go back to something I've written about before, it's astonishing how unwilling we've been to talk plainly about the national culture in the US. I tried to get at it when Alan Blinder wrote what I thought was a stunningly stupid op-ed, about how the professional class deserved the kinds of job protection and supports that neoliberal economists like Blinder are almost universally unwilling to grant to, say, industrial workers or the poor. We talk about who "deserves" assistance without ever acknowledging that what we're talking about is moral privilege. That's if we talk about it at all -- hundreds of billions of dollars are being handed out to financial giants without so much as pausing to reflect, because the consequences are alleged to be to dangerous.

Of course, whatever their faults autoworkers have 1) produced products that are vastly more successful on the marketplace than AIG, 2) with the need for less direct support from the government, and 3) with manageable impacts on the broader economy. (It's true that I think too many people own cars, but the economy isn't collapsing right now because of that... yet.)

We had this discussion during the 1980s, and we basically decided that unions were the devil, and that there was nothing they could do that was worthy of the respect we decided to lavish on the lords of finance. I'm wondering: how does that set of priorities look right now? By the time we're done, the lords of finance will probably have cost us something like a trillion dollars or more, putting them at #3 behind climate change and the Iraq War for most expensive clusterfuckups in history. I'd wager that there's nothing GM could possibly do, even if we asked them to, that could be that expensive.

(To state the perhaps-not-obvious: I've spent, and will spend, a lot of pixels criticizing GM for it's decisions over the years. But in our current dilemma they're practically angels.)

I'd feel a lot better about all of this if it was clear that the public discussion was moving towards punishing these fuckers for what they've done. Don't kid yourself -- in the end, we'll find out that these people knew exactly what they were doing. We will find the Enron tapes of this debacle. You know, the ones where they're recorded joking about robbing grandmothers blind and stealing from whole governments? Yeah. Those. I guarantee you that those recordings, emails, memos or whatever exist, and will come to light. This wasn't an "accident". It was premeditated felony, and so far the accused have the gall to demand we continue to pay them, or they'll steal even more from us.

To their credit, they picked their marks well: we're stupid enough to keep paying.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Save us!

Clay Shirky has an excellent post up about the revolution underway in the media, and why anyone who thinks they know what's going on (including myself, after reading it) is wrong.
Back in 1993, the Knight-Ridder newspaper chain began investigating piracy of Dave Barry’s popular column, which was published by the Miami Herald and syndicated widely. In the course of tracking down the sources of unlicensed distribution, they found many things, including the copying of his column to on usenet; a 2000-person strong mailing list also reading pirated versions; and a teenager in the Midwest who was doing some of the copying himself, because he loved Barry’s work so much he wanted everybody to be able to read it.

One of the people I was hanging around with online back then was Gordy Thompson, who managed internet services at the New York Times. I remember Thompson saying something to the effect of “When a 14 year old kid can blow up your business in his spare time, not because he hates you but because he loves you, then you got a problem.” I think about that conversation a lot these days.
Because of the institution and program I'm attending for my Masters, I've had a lot of these "how will we save the news?" conversations lately. And one thing I've personally said a few times now is this: "News" will do just fine. Some of the earliest recorded texts we have amount to gossip or notes for public consumption. The human lust for information is not going to die, nor is it even going to slacken.

When modern professional journalists talk about "saving the news", what they're basically asking for is some way to preserve the large newsrooms, paid vacations and well-vested pensions that they got used to over the last 40 years or so. This is not going to happen. Or rather, it will be such a small, privileged breed that making it the objective of your career is a form of self-delusion, like starting a band in the hopes of being the next Rolling Stones or U2. Sure, it could happen, but you ought to go in to this business because you love doing it, not because it'll be a secure retirement.

Journalists who think that there's some intrinsic value to newspaper reporting or broadcast television ought to consider the fate of newsreels, vaudeville, or radio plays. There were intrinsic values to all of those forms, too, but none are relevant in the media landscape today. Trying to stand in front of the oncoming train and whimpering about how important newspapers are to democracy makes you look old, timid, and frankly demented.

Shirky again:
During the wrenching transition to print, experiments were only revealed in retrospect to be turning points. Aldus Manutius, the Venetian printer and publisher, invented the smaller octavo volume along with italic type. What seemed like a minor change — take a book and shrink it — was in retrospect a key innovation in the democratization of the printed word. As books became cheaper, more portable, and therefore more desirable, they expanded the market for all publishers, heightening the value of literacy still further.

That is what real revolutions are like. The old stuff gets broken faster than the new stuff is put in its place. The importance of any given experiment isn’t apparent at the moment it appears; big changes stall, small changes spread. Even the revolutionaries can’t predict what will happen. Agreements on all sides that core institutions must be protected are rendered meaningless by the very people doing the agreeing. (Luther and the Church both insisted, for years, that whatever else happened, no one was talking about a schism.) Ancient social bargains, once disrupted, can neither be mended nor quickly replaced, since any such bargain takes decades to solidify.
There's a decent movie from the early 1990s called The Paper, starring Michael Keaton and directed by Ron Howard. The plot is interesting in retrospect because, with the exception of a few technological nods, the screenplay could be lifted almost wholesale and dumped backwards to any point in the previous 50 years without much tweaking. Now, 15 years later, it's almost entirely irrelevant to how news is actually gathered and produced. The word "web" is not mentioned at all, computers exist solely as word processors and 1 publishing appliance, cellphones are rare, and the photography is entirely celluloid-based.

(I should say that, despite its obsolescence, I still love that movie.)

This is an indicator of an industry in a maelstrom. When our basic understanding of how it works is changing so quickly that a 15-year old movie bears basically no detailed relation to reality, beyond "news happens and reporters tell us what it is", then efforts to save it are probably bound to fail, like asking how we'll make port on time when water's coming over the decks.

I don't think reporters have really grasped how much trouble the industry is in, given that the two basic functions of news organizations have been distribution and analysis. People talk about "stenography journalism", but it is a legitimate function simply to say the government is saying X, so long as there's also analysis, context, and a bit of opinion too.

This gets us to the interminable press vs. bloggers debate. So let's put it this way. Economist and financial bloggers have done a hell of a job writing about the recession we're in, and if you asked me to choose between the newsroom of the Wall Street Journal or the 3 dozen best econobloggers out there relying on an AP feed, I'd pick the bloggers in a hot second. Yes, we'd lose some value. But distribution was only a viable business plan when there were all sorts of geographical and temporal difficulties attached to news distribution. As for context, analysis, and opinion, well, let's just say that when I had to pay for the New York Times, I read Brad Delong instead.

The news distribution business is going to keep getting a lot smaller. Fewer papers, more concentration, less people paid to to analysis. But in an age where Google News is linking up AP, Reuters, and AFP feeds, it's hard to argue that people will actually go without. Local news, meanwhile, is exactly the kind of thing that's easiest for amateurs to replace. Being local, it's also most relevant to the audience and thus the most likely product people might be willing to pay for in the future.

As for context, analysis, etc. I think the one thing the blogosphere excels at is that, in aggregate, it provides a far more diverse, interesting, and often more accurate analysis of events than the paid-for media is able to. And then there's Nate Silver, who does it better alone than most of us could together. It's similar to the MSFT vs. Linux debate, with a few caveats, that I thought was always best answered with Torvald's question: "If it's a job for you and a hobby for us, why do you suck so much?" (I could be getting the wording, but not the sentiment wrong.)

Reporters, columnists, and paid media people of all kinds will all have to find their own answers to that question.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Can't escape the habits

The fiancée always complains that I blog all the good conversations, so all I'll say is you should read her blog, and this is totally true.

Superbatteries and megasolar

Cheap, durable solar power and lithium batteries with the power of ultracapacitors. I was asked on the weekend whether I knew anything new about EEStor, and had to say that no, I didn't, but I was no longer convinced that EEStor was as important as I once did. Frankly, the frontier keeps being pushed back, faster than even I had believed possible.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Not-so-deep thought

In a few months time, Star Trek: TNG will have been off the air for 15 years. (I pondered this while watching a rerun, and had to find out.)

I could probably do the math and figure out exactly when it happened, but at some point in the very recent past a) more of my life had been post-TNG than concurrent- or pre-TNG, and b) for some odd reason this seems like a meaningful marker in my life.

I suppose I can console myself with the fact that I'll be collecting a pension before my life is majority non-Simpsons... if then.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Well now I have to kill myself

Thanks, Nonynony:
School actually is the "real world" in a lot of ways. Promoting people to the level of their incompetence isn't the only example either - there are also those wonderful "group" projects where one person does all the work but the credit gets shared evenly across the group. When I was an undergrad I always thought those were the most frustrating assignments imaginable - and then I started working in the "real world" and found out that they were just tutorials for my later life.
That so wasn't the deal I signed up for.


Can anyone here play this game? Anyone at all?

Unbelievable, except that it was the roaring Nineties and anything that appeased corporate America was unquestionably right in those years.
WASHINGTON - The federal agency that insures bank deposits, which is asking for emergency powers to borrow up to $500 billion to take over failed banks, is facing a potential major shortfall in part because it collected no insurance premiums from most banks from 1996 to 2006.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which insures deposits up to $250,000, tried for years to get congressional authority to collect the premiums in case of a looming crisis. But Congress believed that the fund was so well-capitalized - and that bank failures were so infrequent - that there was no need to collect the premiums for a decade, according to banking officials and analysts.
This is one of those things where all you can say is yes, we are as stupid as we look. The only saving grace is that the FDIC's hands were pretty much tied by the law, so we can "only" blame Congress for reckless neglect, not all-out malicious insanity.

Actually, that doesn't follow

Despite the little blow-up we had a while back when a blogger shit-talked professors, I really enjoy academic whining about their stupid students. Sometimes, they whine about the students with learning disabilities, which endears them a bit less to me, but this really misses the point:
"This kid's been patted on the head and socially promoted for 13 years -- but not by me. How can I pass her? How can she possibly take and pass an essay test?" My chair sympathized, intervened with the father and all went by the board. The kid dropped and I never heard anymore about it.

But, I wondered -- who would do this to someone? She has no hope of making it on her own in the outside world if she can't even put a coherent sentence together.
Um, what makes this prof think that the "real world" works any different than academia? The number of places I've worked where obviously incompetent people were kept around, or promoted, even when it clearly hurt the company is exactly equal to the number of places I've worked, ever.

It's called the Peter Principle. You're a prof -- look it up.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009


Stephen Suh blogs at my other home, Cogitamus:
Forgiveness for a rapist I can handle. We are none of us perfect or good or holy. But forgiveness for that monster while consigning a nine year old girl to eternal damnation? Because that's what excommunication is. Oh, pedants will tell us that reconciliation is possible, but unless this young lady begins a career of denying the Holocaust, there's little chance of that happening.
If you haven't been keeping up, this is what riles him so.
A senior Vatican cleric has defended the excommunication of the mother and doctors of a nine-year-old girl who had an abortion in Brazil after being raped.... He also said the accused stepfather would not be expelled from the church. Although the man allegedly committed "a heinous crime ... the abortion - the elimination of an innocent life - was more serious".
So... At what point do we get to start spitting when we walk by Roman Catholic churches? Admittedly, when your history includes the Inquisition damning a 9-year-old girl for submitting to medical necessity is pretty small fry. Nevertheless.

UPDATE: I misread, the girl is not being excommunicated, only her mother and doctors. Doesn't change the anger.

Link dump

1) Top 10 sustainability myths.

2) Climate deniers even more isolated and sad than normal.

3) This deserves more than just a quick hit, but it's all I've got time for writing just before 1AM. Engaging, sympathetic, and quickly tells you why it's important. It's not that I want to say "YOU SHOULD READ THIS ARTICLE ABOUT DEAD BABIES IN CARS", but that's what I'm saying.

4) This one's for the nerds.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Scenes from a bar

My friends are... odd. And consider the source of that statement. First initials only, to protect the guilty.

Scene 1:

M: Yeah, my boyfriend's a year and a bit younger than me.

J: Cradle robber, cradle robber, you're a cradle robber.

M: Did you just use a Britney Spears song to call me a cradle robber?

J: Yes. It worked well.

Scene 2:

E, talking about her boyfriend's living arrangements: Yeah, M might move in with him later in the spring. Then they'd do nothing but play WoW all day.

J: How about you, don't you want to move in?

E: Not if M's there. I don't want to to be the third wheel in that relationship.

Scene 3: (All of us running from the bar to catch a bus)

Drunken bystander: What're you runnin' for?


And the winner is...

Scene 4:

L, speaking to her husband: Real-world lesbians aren't that good-looking. Probably the hottest lesbian I know is your mom.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Inventions whose existence makes me sad

1) Automatically flushing toilets. Because the most basic aspect of sanitation eludes us, 100+ years later.

2) Escalators. I actually don't think these things improve human traffic as much as people assume. Aside from very long staircases, I suspect we could all do just fine without them. (They aren't even useful for people in wheelchairs or parents with strollers.)

3) These things. Because our laziness knows no bounds.


It has spaceships, thats why

I'm oddly more excited about the new Star Trek movie than Watchmen. I want to see both, but I think I've lowered my expectations for Watchmen because it would break my heart more if it sucks.

Also, well... SPACESHIPS.


If you don't think this is funny, you're wrong.

Friday, March 06, 2009

Is it too much to say...

That Dalton McGuinty just won his third government? A bit, but not too much. We've seen this story before: odds are that the Tories pick somebody from the Neanderthal caucus to replace Tory, and it will be too easy for the Liberals to say, in 2011, that the new guy is too new, too crazy, too radical, whatever.

(Alternative hypothesis: the only man or woman Tory ever beat will return to Provincial politics to try and reclaim the Harris throne.)

Meanwhile, I'm relatively confident that McGuinty will, in fact, lead his party in to 2011. I've heard rumours that he's mused about leaving after his second term, but I don't buy it. These jobs suck men in, and even when you think you should leave, you convince yourself that the next guy will be even worse.

So yeah, I think McGuinty/Crazy Person 2011 is going to be a win for the Liberals, yet again. It's a shame, because as I've said before I think John Tory is as good a Conservative as one can hope for. The problem is that he's leading a party that doesn't particularly like him, as evidence by him losing what was supposed to be a safe Tory seat.

So, prediction time: by the time the 2015 election rolls around, the Liberals will have been in power for 12 years. The provincial Conservatives will have endured two more leadership campaigns, and continue to wallow in crazytown, wondering why they can't get elected.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Weird Science

What's this?:
[GOP Rep.] WAMP: Listen, health care a privilege. […]

MSNBC: Well, it’s a privilege? Health care? I mean if you have cancer right now, do you see it as a privilege to get treatment?

WAMP: I was just about to say, for some people it’s a right. But for everyone, frankly, it’s not necessarily a right.
Now, if you've been exposed to any schooling in your life, you might have been under the impression that "rights" were distinguished from "privileges", often to the point of direct opposition. For example, we don't talk about the privilege of free speech, and to construe it as such would be offensive to many.

That said, it's a typical GOP logic: belief in small, unobtrusive government, unless you happen to have an unplanned pregnancy. Belief in the sanctity of individual rights, unless you'd like to call your family back in Peshawar without hearing a click on the line. Belief in fiscal responsibility on every matter except the most expensive one, military spending.

So yes, health care exists in some kind of Schroedinger's Cat-box in the GOP imagination where it can be both a right and a privilege. Odd.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Somebody called it early

Martin Peretz, a very wealthy young man who has used his money sometimes wisely and always enthusiastically but not always with satisfying results in politics, contributed to the last campaign of Senator Ralph Yarborough. Yarborough had courageously tried to be an authentic liberal all his life, but because the effort had had to be made within the twisted and oppressive confines of Texas politics, he had himself become somewhat twisted and paranoic. He hated intensely and he admired intensely; after receiving his money from Peretz and talking with him for a while, over beers, Yarborough slammed an arm around his new patron's shoulder and expressed his admiration: "Marty, I like you. I like you lots. Your motivations in politics are the same as mine -- spite and revenge."

--Robert Sherill, New regime at the New Republic. Columbia Journalism Review, Mar-Apr 1976 p. 23

Hysterical whiners on our side

Seriously, if you find yourself writing an angry email to Tom Tomorow of all people, whining that he and the MSM (how they were aggregated, I'll never know) deserve to die in a fire, you need to find some cool stream and jump in to clear the cobwebs. Because something with your brain has gone horribly, horribly wrong.

And while I'll bow to no one in my contempt for the worst failures of the media, I've never understood the logic that said unpaid part-timers could replace paid labour in journalism. The difference between having 8 hours in a day to follow a story and having 3 hours after work and before bed is kind of easy to grasp, yet the blog triumphalists have never really grasped that.

Monday, March 02, 2009

I don't want anyone happy right now

I've been reading Randy Shilts' And the Band Played On, so I am of course feeling suicidally depressed. If you haven't read it, it's a fantastic and detailed recounting of the early days of the AIDS epidemic in the United States, complete with horrifying descriptions of young gay men dying suddenly and without warning.

It's a useful reminder that when the pandemic was first detected, it was not the slow, chronic killer that AIDS is now. Rather, the onset of the disease was detected by the appearance of Kaposi's Sarcoma and otherwise healthy young men would find themselves felled by common infections sometimes only months later. Drugs like AZT lengthened that, but it was only the introduction of the anti-retroviral cocktails in the mid-1990s that really meant AIDS was no longer a short-term death sentence.

I bother to write this because it occurred to me that many of my fellow grad students -- and probably all of the undergrads at my place of learning -- probably do not remember the palpable fear of AIDS in the early 1990s the way I do. I was very young, but was also a young news consumer early on. (Ask my dad about me keeping up with the collapse of the USSR.)

In a sense, AIDS has become another malaria: something that kills people in Africa. New infections and deaths have been on the decline for years in the US, though of course there are always setbacks. But the real horror of AIDS seems to be something we've swept out of the public consciousness since a few years after Tom Hanks won his first Oscar.

The other powerful impression from AtBPO is to further reinforce my belief that western societies have basically lost the ability to deal with crises rationally and effectively. We've lost a form of resilience -- the ability to put petty concerns aside when disaster looms -- and certainly Shilts had no time for any of the villains in his book, including some of the more useless leaders in the gay community of the time.

SEE ALSO: Paul Krugman, here:
The sickening feeling of drift — the sense that policymakers are refusing to face hard facts, and are dithering while the world economy burns — just keeps getting stronger.
This inability to actually move forward, due to parochial issues like not punishing Tim Geithner and Larry Summers' friends because, uh, just because, is exactly what I'm talking about. The fastest road to recovery -- to controlling the crisis -- is being blocked not by inability or ignorance, but because of insufficiency: Obama, Geithner, Summers et al. could move towards nationalization and liquidation of the Wall Street zombies, but won't because they don't have the stomach for it.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

No wonder

Bush got what he wanted -- that is, he only ever got what he asked for, and when he didn't ask for dissent he never got it.

As for the GOP defense, that you don't get a lot out of pressing people for answers if they haven't volunteered them, I can only assume that Gillespie has never, ever had a discussion with more than 3 people.