Thursday, April 30, 2009

I like my commenters My watching of TV.

Zack: Assuming it was TNG, the choice should have been clear.....

Anon: Oh god it was'nt DS9 was it!?

Don't worry everyone, it was TNG. And, in the spirit of my favourite series:

Vicki: Which episode is this?

Me: The one with the alien that turns in to the glowing energy being at the end.


Me: I should be more specific.

It's a good day when...

The most substantial decision you have to make is whether to watch Buffy or Star Trek. Why yes, the semester is over, why do you ask?

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Historical FAIL

Wow. Michelle Bachmann claims FDR used the Hoot-Smalley tariffs as economic policy, but brought about the Great Depression instead. Only a few problems.

1) FDR's Presidency came several years in to the Great Depression, and did not precede it.

2) It was called Smoot-Hawley, not Hoot-Smalley.

3) Those also predated the FDR Presidency, and were signed in to law by a Republican President, one Herbert Hoover.

But then, linear time has never always been a problem for these people.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

9AM is too early to start drinking, right? How about 9:02?

So I just submitted my last paper of the term electronically. 5000 words, the vast bulk of which was written in one 7-hour shot yesterday, because after 6 years of university if you can't write quickly what are you doing here?

This marks the end of the most difficult phase of my Master's degree in Journalism, with a similarly-sized assignment waiting for me... in August. So, for the first time since last August: leisure time!

Now, here's hoping I kept my marks up and keep my scholarship. One more term of this garbage wonderful learning opportunity, and then I enter the marketplace.... oh crap, don't make me leave!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Spring is here, spring is here

So having spent about 8 hours reading Government reports today, I'm looking at a day full of writing tomorrow, probably locked in a windowless room to improve my productivity. So... what do you have for me, weather-wise?


As the weather has warmed, I've been biking almost exclusively again. More than ever, I'm convinced that the mass adoption of the automobile represents one of the biggest, if not the biggest public policy failure of the 20th century. I mean, I suppose the Great Leap Forward still killed more people than the car has directly, but by the time we undo the damage of the automobile I'm not sure that will still be the case.

I'm assuming nobody's going to be making the argument that the rise of the automobile represents the triumph of rational actors in the free market, unfettered by government subsidy or sanction, right? We've played that out for a while at least?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Oh geez

Apparently, it's now unethical for environmentalists to invest in green energy firms, while also advocating for environmental policies.

The modern GOP: dumber than a post. Incidentally -- would this GOP halfwit be concerned about, say, discovering a former or present White House official with ties to the military industry also advocating for higher military spending? Because that list would include, oh, Bush I, Cheney, Powell, Rice, and probably at least a dozen others.

Your facts are no match for our preconceptions!

Interesting. Another publication has published an examination of the predictions of The Limits to Growth, and finds them to be substantially accurate. That makes two in the last 9 months.

But, you know, the authors said nasty things about Bill Nordhaus so they should probably be ignored.

And yes, I'm thinking of the old joke about economists: People who lay awake at night wondering if what works in practice can possibly work in theory.

An Iron Law

Employers suck, always and everywhere. But if you were to suggest that maybe the McGuinty government should stop rendering unions basically toothless in this province, why, you would be a Communist.

(via Chet.)

Wow, even the paid shills were more honest

This is kind of funny:  in 1995, a now-defunct organization called the Global Climate Coalition (in fact, a front for the carbon lobby) hired a bunch of scientists to "examine" climate change science.  Result:
But a document filed in a federal lawsuit demonstrates that even as the coalition worked to sway opinion, its own scientific and technical experts were advising that the science backing the role of greenhouse gases in global warming could not be refuted.

“The scientific basis for the Greenhouse Effect and the potential impact of human emissions of greenhouse gases such as CO2 on climate is well established and cannot be denied,” the experts wrote in an internal report compiled for the coalition in 1995.

Magical Mystery Link Dump

And this is awesome:

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The terror of reality

There's something truly terrifying when far-right nutjob Charles Johnson is the voice of moderation among the American right.

I really have nothing to add to that.

Next stop, Skynet

Unmanned Aerial Vehicles are getting startlingly effective these days. Contrast the rapid evolution of Predator drones from the mid 1990s to present with the 30-year long battle over the F-22. While it's true that the Predators have been able to rapidly incorporate developments that were originally for manned aircraft, I'm still astonished at how rapidly these drones have advanced. (It's the Pentagon, after all.)

Prediction: the USAF will fight tooth and nail from having drones with serious air-to-air capabilities. This idea is simply too threatening to their ideological assumption of what their core competency is. Meanwhile, their actual core mission -- trucking bombs to targets that can't shoot back -- will be almost entirely supplemented with unmanned planes, for political and economic reasons.

We don't know what the cost of the Avenger will be yet, but I'd bet less than $15 million, easy. That would make it about 1/5 the likely cost of the JSF.

First, admit reality

An interesting article in the NYT about how Flint, Michigan is abandoning all hope of recovering it's past glory, and instead trying to manage its contraction in a more sustainable manner. This is only one of many stories I've heard about old towns in the rust belt, trying this basic strategy. No guarantee of success, but nothing else has worked thus far.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The ticking time bomb was their poll numbers

WASHINGTON — The Bush administration applied relentless pressure on interrogators to use harsh methods on detainees in part to find evidence of cooperation between al Qaida and the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein's regime, according to a former senior U.S. intelligence official and a former Army psychiatrist.

Such information would've provided a foundation for one of former President George W. Bush's main arguments for invading Iraq in 2003. In fact, no evidence has ever been found of operational ties between Osama bin Laden's terrorist network and Saddam's regime.

The use of abusive interrogation — widely considered torture — as part of Bush's quest for a rationale to invade Iraq came to light as the Senate issued a major report tracing the origin of the abuses and President Barack Obama opened the door to prosecuting former U.S. officials for approving them.
But this can't possibly be true. Michael Ignatieff assured me that the people doing the waterboarding weren't sadists or opportunists, so clearly this McClatchy report is wrong.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Quick hit

The fact that the broadcasters implicated in now-Pulitzer-prize winning reporting on their coziness with the military industrial complex have largely managed to stay silent about all of it is really, really, really upsetting.

I don't every want to hear you whine about unions again

Oh, and Dalton McGuinty's a sucker:
Top officials at Chrysler Financial turned away a $750 million government loan because executives didn't want to abide by new federal limits on pay, sources familiar with the matter say.

The government had been offering the loan earlier this month as part of its efforts to prop up the ailing auto industry, including Chrysler, which is racing to avoid bankruptcy. Chrysler Financial is a vital lender to Chrysler dealerships and customers.

In forgoing the loan, Chrysler Financial opted to use more expensive financing from private banks, adding to the burdens of the already fragile automaker and its financing company.
via Pogge. Don't ever, ever tell me these companies are suffering because of their unions. Ever again.

My stupid-sense is tingling

I was trying to figure out what about this was setting off a twinge in the back of my brain, aside from the obvious:
"There is rage at Obama for pushing to raise taxes ("The government wants me to be a slave!" says one hedge-fund analyst)"
That's from an article about how upset the bankers of New York City are to be called nasty names and perhaps punished slightly for turning the economy in to a smoking crater. And God forbid we ask the still super-wealthy to pay 3.6% more in taxes on every dollar they make over $250,000 a year.
The anger masks a deeper suspicion that Obama fundamentally doesn’t respect their place at the table. “I think he doesn’t have an appreciation for how hard it is to build these companies, the blood, sweat, and tears that goes into them,” says a senior executive from a failed Wall Street firm. “It’s just that he has no passion for it. He speaks dispassionately about the whole situation, except when he’s beating up on the Wall Street fat cats.”

The argument that Obama has in fact done a great deal to help Wall Street—to the tune of trillions of dollars—doesn’t have much truck with these critics. “If you really take a look at what Obama is promising, it’s frightening,” says Nicholas Cacciola, a 44-year-old executive at a financial-services firm. “He’s punishing you for doing better. He doesn’t want to have any wealth creation—it’s wealth distribution. Why are you being punished for making a lot of money?” As a Republican corporate lawyer puts it: “It’s the politics of envy, and that’s very dangerous.”
What we're getting at, eventually, is that it's not enough that these people be the masters of the universe, and even today it's not enough that their positions are still essentially secure. We aren't even allowed to complain about it. And that's when I realized what was tingling:
The question recurs, what will satisfy them? Simply this: We must not only let them alone, but we must somehow, convince them that we do let them alone. This, we know by experience, is no easy task. We have been so trying to convince them from the very beginning of our organization, but with no success. In all our platforms and speeches we have constantly protested our purpose to let them alone; but this has had no tendency to convince them. Alike unavailing to convince them, is the fact that they have never detected a man of us in any attempt to disturb them.

These natural, and apparently adequate means all failing, what will convince them? This, and this only: cease to call slavery wrong, and join them in calling it right. And this must be done thoroughly - done in acts as well as in words. Silence will not be tolerated - we must place ourselves avowedly with them. Senator Douglas' new sedition law must be enacted and enforced, suppressing all declarations that slavery is wrong, whether made in politics, in presses, in pulpits, or in private. We must arrest and return their fugitive slaves with greedy pleasure. We must pull down our Free State constitutions. The whole atmosphere must be disinfected from all taint of opposition to slavery, before they will cease to believe that all their troubles proceed from us.
That's Lincoln speaking in 1860 at Cooper Union, and I first read that speech in the aftermath of the 2004 election -- remember that? -- when we on the left were being told that the secret to success was to praise the was, hate the gay, and privatize social security. Digby was where I first read that speech, and it sure resonates today.

Of course, despite his pretensions Obama has not learned the lesson that Lincoln imparted at Cooper Union: these people won't negotiate in good faith -- read that passage above, where the wealthy hedge-fundie says the black President is making him a slave -- so we shouldn't bother to try. These people want to protect their prestige and power before all else, even if it means bringing the country down to do it.

Lincoln had a solution to that, and sadly I don't think that Obama has the stomach to pull something similar off.

Monday, April 20, 2009


A while back we wrote a little bit about Ezra Klein complaining about how much academic hate teaching, because Klein wrote in an unusually shabby way. So, here's a columnist/prof writing in a shabby way about how much students are teh sux.

Note in which department he teaches. As a journalism student, I want to grab Cohen by the lapels and shout, "Of course they're lazy, shallow, and entitled! They're preparing to be journalists!"

UPDATE: Another Carleton j-skool prof responds to Cohen, and leaves welts.

I should say that I've had the opportunity in the past to speak with Cohen, and found him to be a very polite and interesting man, albeit one with what I considered to be some odd priorities. The conversation wasn't confidential, but it's all rather insider-baseball, more than I care to put on pixel here.

Not even news

For years the telco industries in North America have argued that distance prevents them from rolling out high-speed fiber in any substantial way because of the lower population density of Canada and the Unites States. This was always kind of ridiculous, because nobody's talking about gigabit fiber in Tuktoyuktuk. The areas where most people on this continent live are actually rather dense indeed, getting denser, and there's no reason why the east coast of the US and the Windsor-Quebec corridor should be restricted to the low bandwidth it is.

So why? Because countries like France and Japan won't swallow telco bullshit, while our governments will, and happily:
cable operators, he said, are concerned that not only will prices fall, but that the super-fast service will encourage customers to watch video on the Web and drop their cable service.

The industry is worried that by offering 100 Mbps, they are opening Pandora’s box, he said. Everyone will be able to get video on the Internet, and then competition will bring the price for the broadband down from $80 to $60 to $40.
So because the modern equivalent of the telegraph companies don't want to risk their core business by actually providing new, innovative services[1], and because the governments of North America have no interest in forcing their hands[2], we're stuck sucking through a stir-stick while other countries get to drink from the fire-hose.

[1] This would be actual innovation, not the fictitious kind that led to sub-prime mortgages.

[2] Is the Canadian government worried about picking a fight with telcos that are heavily invested in companies like CTVGlobemedia and Sun Media? Gee, who would think something so paranoid?

So that's why he called it "Operation Condor"

Jackie Chan's opinion on Chinese democracy -- not the G&R CD:
Speaking at the Boao Forum in southern China, Chan said this: "I'm not sure if it is good to have freedom or not. I'm really confused now. If you are too free, you are like the way Hong Kong is now. It's very chaotic. Taiwan is also chaotic."

And this: "I'm gradually beginning to feel that we Chinese need to be controlled. If we are not being controlled, we'll just do what we want."
In this, Chan shares the views of every man of property born before the 1940s or so. And the views of most men of property born before the 1960s, I'd wager. So I'm not particularly keen on finding some deeper meaning here. Rich man thinks the rabble should be kept down -- film at 11!

And if you don't get the reference in the post title, see here then here.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Contrary to rumour, he was never going to be Jesus

So apparently I'm supposed to be disappointed in Barack Obama once again. And I am. But here's the thing -- I never forgot that Obama was going to be elected President of the United States, not President of My Personal Fantasy. (Else, it would have been President River Tam by all 50 states and DC.)

There are two things every President tries to do, with the only real variant being success:

1) Increasing the prestige and power of the United States,

2) Increasing the prestige and power of the President of the United States.

So yes, Obama has not gone as far on torture as I would like. But he's gone a damn sight farther than McCain would have, and lest I remind you that's the whole fucking point.

There are no reasonable critics in the professional right

Time was, you could at least get the think-tankers at certain rightist organs to give honest, reasonable criticism. Not so much today, I guess. Here's what the former Air Force Secretary is saying about a Republican Secretary of Defense, and incidentally the dude who fired him:
Future estimates of demographics indicate that the energy-rich north Asian landmass currently owned by Russia will dramatically lose population; On the other hand as China’s energy appetite accelerates the region’s population is increasingly Chinese nationals. Consensus on peace may well be the talk of the society; but there are near-term indicators that this might not be acceptable to rogue leaders who are more concerned with strengthening their hold on power than achieving international good will. ... In other words, I see this not as a single action stopping the F-22 well below the recommended military level; but as a broader action by a weary Defense Department to limit our sovereign options in the foggy future, by postulating ‘Peace in our Time’.
Nice. Accusing a GOP head of the Pentagon of being a mushy pacifist takes a bit of work, but hey, the former Secretary of the Air Force is a hard-working guy who just wanted to spend billions on a stealth fighter fueled by liquid coal. And he's got a totally legit criticism considering what Gates said:
My hope is that as we wind down in Iraq – and whatever the level of commitment in Afghanistan – that we not forget the basic nature of humankind has not changed.
Oh. So Gates explicitly said the exact opposite of what Wynne accused him of.

So either Gates -- old-school non-batshit GOP -- is lying, or Wynne is. Both men are Bush appointees, but Wynne was fired for incompetence. To repeat: he was so incompetent he was fired from the Bush Administration, the White House that let an American city be destroyed because it had too many blacks Democrats leaky dikes in it.

I call it for Gates.

Worth revisiting

So the Bush regime waterboarded Khalid Shaikh Mohamed 183 times in one month. That's about 6 times a day, on average. (Assuming they didn't take weekends off.) So, after spending weeks torturing this man and others, the CIA (that fount of honesty and open accounting) claims they got "cooperation" out of KSM.

Let me take a brief moment to revisit the stupidest thing Michael Ignatieff has ever written, something that frankly disgusted me more than his support for the Iraq war:
While some abuse and outright torture can be attributed to individual sadism, poor supervision and so on, it must be the case that other acts of torture occur because interrogators believe, in good faith, that torture is the only way to extract information in a timely fashion. It must also be the case that if experienced interrogators come to this conclusion, they do so on the basis of experience. The argument that torture and coercion do not work is contradicted by the dire frequency with which both practices occur. I submit that we would not be "waterboarding" Khalid Sheikh Mohammed—immersing him in water until he experiences the torment of nearly drowning—if our intelligence operatives did not believe it was necessary to crack open the al Qaeda network that he commanded. Indeed, Mark Bowden points to a Time report in March 2003 that Sheikh Mohammed had "given US interrogators the names and descriptions of about a dozen key al Qaeda operatives believed to be plotting terrorist attacks." We must at least entertain the possibility that the operatives working on Sheikh Mohammed in our name are engaging not in gratuitous sadism but in the genuine belief that this form of torture—and it does qualify as such—makes all the difference.
The Time account that Ignatieff refers to ran in the March 24 issue of the magazine, and KSM was apprehended early on March 1. That means that (assuming that Time instantly put the Bush Administration's leaks to press without so much as spell-checking, not out of the question given the mood around March 2003) KSM was waterboarded at least 7.6 times a day. You can change the math in your assumptions as you will.

But it seems reasonable that KSM was tortured intensively for at least a week before he gave up anything -- so there's the "ticking time bomb" scenario out of the way. (Alternately, he cracked early and the spooks kept torturing him for shits and giggles.) But what of the accusation that it was nonetheless effective? Emptywheel has more for us:
...from there, the IG Report says we can't conclusively determine whether enhanced interrogations have provided information that has prevented specific attacks (note, the wording of this discussion is very vague, perhaps intentionally so; it could mean any number of things, including that we have zero evidence that torture has prevented attacks, or that we just don't have evidence one way or another). Then, the IG Report appears to elaborate on this difficulty, noting that, "there is limited data on which to assess their individual effectiveness." Again, this quotation is unclear, but it appears to refer to the effectiveness of one enhanced interrogation method over another. That is, the IG Report appears to be saying it has no way of assessing whether waterboarding is more effective than sleep deprivation than persuasion. Finally, the IG Report admits that enhanced interrogation--or perhaps just waterboarding--is tied to an increase in the number of reports (though it appears to have already dismissed any possibility of assessing the quality of these reports).
So the CIA's own investigator validates what the critics of torture have always said: that you may eventually get more information from torture, but there's no reason to believe it will be any use, and since manpower is finite chasing down useless lead can even be counterproductive. Oh, and it's grossly immoral.

It turns out that we don't, actually, have to entertain the idea that people who really, really want to torture are motivated by much other than sadism. Hm. Who could have predicted? Not the man whom the Great Canadian Centre would like to be the next PM:
If they are right, then those who support an absolute ban on torture had better be honest enough to admit that moral prohibition comes at a price. It is possible, at least in theory, that subjecting interrogators to rules that outlaw torture and coercive interrogation, backed up by punishment if they go too far, will create an interrogation regime that allows some interrogation subjects to resist divulging information and prevents our intelligence services from timely access to information that may save lives....

Those of us who oppose torture should also be honest enough to admit that we may have to pay a price for our own convictions. Ex ante, of course, I cannot tell how high this price might be. Ex post—following another terrorist attack that might have been prevented through the exercise of coercive interrogation—the price of my scruple might simply seem too high.
I note with interest that Ignatieff has never disavowed this essay the same way he disavowed his support for the war. His reasoning for disavowing the war has a relevance here:
The philosopher Isaiah Berlin once said that the trouble with academics and commentators is that they care more about whether ideas are interesting than whether they are true. Politicians live by ideas just as much as professional thinkers do, but they can’t afford the luxury of entertaining ideas that are merely interesting. They have to work with the small number of ideas that happen to be true and the even smaller number that happen to be applicable to real life. In academic life, false ideas are merely false and useless ones can be fun to play with. In political life, false ideas can ruin the lives of millions and useless ones can waste precious resources. An intellectual’s responsibility for his ideas is to follow their consequences wherever they may lead. A politician’s responsibility is to master those consequences and prevent them from doing harm.
Ignatieff not only failed to master the consequences of his ideas (giving valuable rhetorical cover to sadists from one of the anglosphere's prime human rights academics) nor, clearly, did he prevent them from doing harm.

So can we finally say that, even by his own standards, Michael Ignatieff is a failure as a politician?

Didn't see that one coming

Apple working with the military-industrial complex.

Where this shit leads

Kathy. Go read.

Friday, April 17, 2009

My turn as a patriot

Pity the poor tea-bag patriots of America. All they want to do is protest Obama's policies in a totally reasonable and not-at-all-racist way, but the liberal media won't give them a fair chance.

I know exactly how they feel. You see, not too long ago me and some friends decided to organize a nationwide day of action against the Harper government's telecom policies. Because we feel that the current policies are hurting Canadian companies like Research in Motion, the maker of the Blackberry, we were going to call it "RIM Day". But, some of my compatriots use iPhones too, so to honour the ailing CEO of Apple we decided on "RIM-Jobs day". Pamphlets were printed, faxes were sent.

And the reaction of the MSM? Silence where there wasn't ridicule. Clearly, the Canwest-CTV conspiracy to support Harper extends far and wide.

I tried to explain how serious we RIM-Jobsers are, and a reporter at a major daily wouldn't even stop laughing to hear me out. I tell you, the rise of the Army of Davids can't come soon enough.

So I'm not surprised you didn't hear about the RIM-Jobs day of action -- the media blackout was pretty complete. But we're still here, waiting for the right moment to really stick it to the man. And we will.


Shit, my parents are going to read this.

Do tell

Y'know, I'd have a lot more time for Liberals squeamish about allegedly "undemocratic" forms of Proportional Representation if their current leader had ever, just once, actually prevailed in a competitive political process.

Note to Liberals: your guy -- the guy you all hope will be Prime Minister -- had to be parachuted in to the (Liberal-safe) riding he now holds, lost a contest to Stephane Dion, and then had to rig the succeeding process so that nobody could challenge him.

So please, do continue to tell us all about how problematic PR is because it makes MPs "unaccountable". Really. I'm all ears.

Finally on track...ish

As of last night, I've finally handed in my last paper... from the semester ending in December.

Oh yes, it's been one of those years.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

George Will self-parody

I mean, that's what this has to be, right? Deliberate self-parody?
It is, he says, a manifestation of "the modern trend toward undifferentiated dressing, in which we all strive to look equally shabby." Denim reflects "our most nostalgic and destructive agrarian longings -- the ones that prompted all those exurban McMansions now sliding off their manicured lawns and into foreclosure." Jeans come prewashed and acid-treated to make them look like what they are not -- authentic work clothes for horny-handed sons of toil and the soil. Denim on the bourgeoisie is, Akst says, the wardrobe equivalent of driving a Hummer to a Whole Foods store -- discordant....

Edmund Burke -- what he would have thought of the denimization of America can be inferred from his lament that the French Revolution assaulted "the decent drapery of life"; it is a straight line from the fall of the Bastille to the rise of denim -- said: "To make us love our country, our country ought to be lovely." Ours would be much more so if supposed grown-ups would heed St. Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, and St. Barack's inaugural sermon to the Americans, by putting away childish things, starting with denim.
So by wearing the jeans I have on now, I'm endorsing the guillotine and the Reign of Terror? Because that's kind of awesome, really.

In which I overthink things. Again.

The problem with taking 6 years of post-secondary education that specialized in studying mass communications is that you cannot read, watch, or listen to much without thinking about paper topics. So when Vicki passed me the link to Susan Boyle singing "I dreamed a dream" from Les Miz, I immediately considered the following:

1) The use of mass culture to reinforce social norms of fairness and non-discrimination;

2) The heavy-handed narration of even and especially reality television;

3) The use of a song from melodrama to create and amplify a new, different melodrama.

And yeah, if I wanted to I could bust out the Adorno/Horkheimer or Gramsci. But you know what? Sometimes awesome TV is just that. (Something those authors never conceded.) So go watch. (Youtube embedding disabled.) Don't skip forward, and watch it to the end.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Try again. Or don't.

Really? Really?
Realizing that she probably wasn't going to get anything coherent from this guy, Roesgen then spoke to another man, who proceeded to ramble on about why Obama should be more like Abraham Lincoln, who didn't try to take taxpayers' money.

Perhaps now would be a good time to note that Tea Baggers should probably stop looking to Lincoln as a role model. Not only did Lincoln vastly expand the power of the federal government -- up to and including suspending habeas -- he also was the first president to impose an income tax. Worse, it was a progressive income tax, that charged wealthier taxpayers more.
Then there's the whole "using the force of the massively-expanded military to seize property without compensation" thing.

So, yeah, Obama should totally be more like that, and the Republicans will be just cool with him.

My friends are odd, cont.

Overheard at the bar last night:

X: You jackass...

Y: Did you just call me an objectivist?

X: No, I called you a jackass.

Y: Okay, that's much better.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Other pirate thoughts

1) One of the reasons the US Navy concluded this incident so, uh, forcefully is that the MV Maersk Alabama is a US-flagged ship and the captive was a US citizen. Merchant shippers have broadly moved away from western flags for their vessels, preferring instead Flags of Convenience. They've also moved away from hiring western crews, preferring instead to recruit from the poorest of the developing world.

FoCs were once actually quite helpful, as it allowed the US to legally ship war materiel to Europe without technically aiding the UK before Pearl Harbor. They have, to say the least, outlived their usefulness. Given the rise in piracy around Somalia (one of the worst places for us to create a failed state, from a maritime perspective) will we see a return to more rational flagging of merchant vessels?

2) One of the reasons more ships are transiting south along the Somali coast is that currently fuel is so "cheap" and the Suez Canal is congested and expensive. At the expense of some time, companies like Maersk-Moller are running their ships around Africa and, oddly, saving money. Except, oops, sometimes you need the US navy to send a destroyer, frigate, and amphibious assault craft to rescue the captain.

3) I'm not entirely unsympathetic to these kinds of arugments, but I will say I'm unconvinced. (Thx Liam for the link.) Hari quotes Rediker's scholarship on piracy, some of which is very interesting, but whether it's actually relevant to today is another thing entirely. (Seriously though, do read Marcus Rediker.)

Yes, European fishing fleets and illegal dumping have harmed the already-miserable state of Somalia. But the reality is that these attacks on merchant shipping, by their nature, are basically predatory. The nature of maritime travel is that these small boats have to be out far in to the ocean waiting for a likely target. They're not striking a blow against imperialism, they're hyenas waiting for a sickly antelope to limp by.

I'd be more sympathetic if they were actually firing on European fishing vessels, for a whole host of reasons.

Gear lust

I want one. If they can meet the price point they talk about, I suspect it's au revoir Kindle.

Things we learned this weekend

The United States Navy, with more tonnage in hulls and ammunition than anyone else this side of the Oort Cloud, can handle 4 guys with AK-47s in a liferaft.

John Cole is right: the outcome of this incident neither denigrates nor elevates Barack Obama's martial reputation. Everyone, please stop.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

How racist was the past?

This racist:
Yet the BBC's Document programme has seen evidence that black colonial soldiers - who made up around two-thirds of Free French forces - were deliberately removed from the unit that led the Allied advance into the French capital.

By the time France fell in June 1940, 17,000 of its black, mainly West African colonial troops, known as the Tirailleurs Senegalais, lay dead.

Many of them were simply shot where they stood soon after surrendering to German troops who often regarded them as sub-human savages.

Their chance for revenge came in August 1944 as Allied troops prepared to retake Paris. But despite their overwhelming numbers, they were not to get it.

The leader of the Free French forces, Charles de Gaulle, made it clear that he wanted his Frenchmen to lead the liberation of Paris.

Allied High Command agreed, but only on one condition: De Gaulle's division must not contain any black soldiers.
Now, there's one -- slight -- reason I can think of to do this in wartime, and that's the objective of not providing the Nazis with more propaganda along the lines of "the allies are using blacks to come and rape your women". That said, the Nazis probably did that anyway (too rushed to Google!) so the Allies should have done the right thing.

Oh well.

Yet another fuel cell advance

Huh. A few (dozen) more of these, and I might have to rethink my pessimism on fuel cells in general.
A new synthetic route yields inexpensive iron-based catalysts for fuel cells that are nearly as active catalytically as the expensive platinum catalysts normally used in those electrochemical devices, scientists in Canada report in Science (2009, 324, 71). The study advances efforts to come up with low-cost substitutes for precious-metal catalysts and may help lower the high price of fuel cells for automotive applications.

A key obstacle to widely commercializing hydrogen-fueled electric automobiles is the cost of the fuel cells that convert hydrogen into electric power. Polymer-electrolyte-membrane (PEM) fuel cells, the type widely studied for powering cars, generally include carbon-supported platinum (Pt/C) catalysts to mediate reactions at the electrodes. For years, researchers have worked on lowering overall costs by replacing platinum with less expensive substitutes such as iron, which is generally considered a leading candidate. But until now, iron-based catalysts have remained too sluggish, especially for driving the oxygen-reduction reaction, which converts oxygen to water at the cathode.
The main drawback so far is that while the performance is initially almost as powerful as more expensive platinum-based FCs, they degrade rather quickly. However, the researchers believe that a stable iron-based catalyst should be possible, given that similar arrangements are found in nature.

The Seventh Seal has been opened

...that's all I can assume, based on my agreement with none other than the scourge of Eurasia, Jeffrey Sachs:
Two weeks ago, I posted an article showing how the Geithner-Summers banking plan could potentially and unnecessarily transfer hundreds of billions of dollars of wealth from taxpayers to banks. The same basic arithmetic was later described by Joseph Stiglitz in the New York Times (April 1) and by Peyton Young in the Financial Times (April 1). In fact, the situation is even potentially more disastrous than we wrote. Insiders can easily game the system created by Geithner and Summers to cost up to a trillion dollars or more to the taxpayers....

Several news stories suggest some grounding for these fears. Both Business Week and the Financial Times report that the banks themselves might be invited to bid for the toxic assets, which would seem to set up just the scam outline above. What is incredible is that lack of the most minimal transparency so far about the rules, risks, and procedures of this trillion-dollar plan. Also incredible is the apparent lack of any oversight by Congress, reinforcing the sense that the fix is in or that at best we are all sitting ducks.
I'm now going to assume that there's nothing left except for a rider on a pale horse to show up.

(For an explanation of Sachs' role in the deindustrialization of Russia, I'd highly recommend this Nation article from way back. Sachs has always maintained that his role was merely advisory, but he was one of the leading voices calling for the shock therapy that many countries underwent in Europe. In some places, it even worked out relatively well. Not so much in Russia.)

Monday, April 06, 2009

I suspect rape

Just sayin': The most likely reason that the GOP has declared that the sun shall never shine on a new batch of torture memos is probably that they detail American servicemen or government employees sexually assaulting detainees. Seymour Hersh has already said there's evidence of as much out there, so I figure that's what we're waiting on.

This was my weekend. How was yours?

So I have recently gone back to work after taking some time off to complete the worst part of my Masters Degree program. It wasn't supposed to be a big deal -- I had a chunk of savings from Christmas, and I was able to stretch it until I went back to work. But really just barely. I was going to be fine, however, so long as work paid me my first paycheck on time.

They didn't. A paperwork snafu means I won't see my pretzel moneez until sometime later in the week, and, well I have bills to pay.

So you say, hey John, don't you have a credit card like most bipedal hominids? And yes I do, but here is part 2 of our funny story: on my most recent bill from my credit card company were a whole bunch of charges that I never made. The credit card company was very good about it, but step 1 is they immediately cancel my old credit card, leaving me temporarily bereft of credit. Now I know how the global economy feels.

A note: While I can't tell you for sure who is responsible for this minor identity theft, I can absolutely tell you that, after years of me using my card sparingly with a few well-known and reputable merchants, these fraudulent charges started appearing on my bill immediately after renting a U-Haul van from the franchise at Mulock, just south of St. Clair in Toronto. Stay the fuck away -- this is just the most egregious reason.

There's no tip jar on the blog, nor do I intend to put one there. My problems are an annoyance, but a relatively minor one. They will pass in short order, and we can get back to the content you all crave -- dismal predictions about climate change and the global economy!