Friday, October 23, 2009

Worse suckage than usual notice

Moving tomorrow, to a house that does not yet have Internet access. Blogging will be even worse than usual, as the title of this post implies.

It's been a busy week -- painting the new place, packing the old place, and my Convocation was yesterday. Here's the funny thing: I don't really blog under a pseudonym -- my name really is John. So it was kind of surprising when, about to cross the stage and shake the hands of the Chancellor, the announcer calls out "Joshua..."

Bonus points: when I corrected the announcer, she double-checked her paperwork, as if I was punking her.

Luckily, the correct name was printed on the diploma.

Will (post-)Kyoto climate action keep the poor in the dark?


I'm tempted to write, "that is all", but apparently the latest talking point is that a lack of electricity is killing the poor, and trying in any way to forestall climate change will prolong the misery or make it worse.

To put it bluntly, this is crap, and not even well-formed crap. Kyoto allows low- and medium-income countries to continue growing their carbon emissions. Any conceivable successor agreement to Kyoto will allow substantial growth in CO2 emissions from the global poor, or it will not come in to being.

More than that, for this idea to be credible, you've got to believe that the Prime Minister of Namibia or his equivalent is sitting around, with tons of spare cash to build coal plants, but isn't because of the fear of Greenpeace or a stern talking to from... someone.

In reality, the poor have bad access to quality sources of energy because... they're poor. Grow their economies, and you'll give them more choices for energy. The way the costs of fossil fuels are going, maybe they'll choose renewables, or maybe they'll go with some legacy energy system. But nothing about the fight to reduce carbon emissions in the industrialized west will be a material factor in their decisions. At all.

Monday, October 19, 2009


There are, of course, reasonable debates to be had on any number of aspects of e-books and e-publishing. But when you find yourself writing that e-books represent a threat of "holocaustal proportions" and that books are the new Jew (!) you should probably just find a pillow to put your head down on.

There are book snobs, who I'm basically okay with -- hell, I am one in a lot of ways -- but book supremacists, for whom text in the form of, say, graphic novels, magazines, or the web are inferior speciments... man. I just don't get it. To cut yourself off from the firehose of human expression because of narcissism. Sad.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

A gloomy reminder

No, I don't write cheery things about climate change often. The reason, quite simply, is that I'm pretty well convinced we're doomed. I wasn't this gloomy in the mid-1990s, when I started learning about climate change, because the pre-Kyoto process seemed to be working towards a political solution. I wasn't even that upset in 2000, when it looked more and more like Kyoto was a dead letter, because I read books like Natural Capitalism and it seemed like, irrespective of government policy, it made good business sense to adopt energy-efficient and carbon-free technologies.

But by mid-decade, it became clear to me that the political and economic obstacles to a truly free energy market (one, I hasten to add, that I believe would truly favour renewable technologies) were too substantial, and the science of climate change became more and more alarming. (I started blogging in late 2004 -- you can, if you like, peruse the archives and watch my slow transformation from "hey, neat technolgy will save us" to "oh fuck oh fuck oh fuck".)

It's not that I don't still believe that technical, economical solutions to carbon dioxide emissions exist and could be implemented with relative speed. It's that the political will to encourage such a deployment -- or even to stop hindering it! -- is simply non-existent in the largest emitting countries.

So what would it take to keep the planet safe, and limit our risk to a 2-degree change in global temperature? via DL, the answer:
The WBGU study applies the per capita principle to the world population of 7 billion people and arrives at an annual emissions quota of 2.8 tons of carbon dioxide per person. That's harsh news for Americans, who emit twenty tons per person annually, and it explains why the US deadline is the most imminent. But China won't welcome this study either. China's combination of high annual emissions and huge population gives it a deadline only a few years later than Europe's and Japan's.
The WBGU study, available here, says that we can avoid surpassing what it calls "the 2 degree guard rail" IF: we implement a perfectly-implemented globally pervasive cap-and-trade program which allows the United States to emit only 10% of it's current emissions, and has to buy permission to emit any more than that from countries like Burkina Faso. And even then, America's real-world emissions have to come down 90% by 2030.

So, in 20 years -- relatively speaking, a vanishingly short window -- we not only have to a) mandate a global carbon ration (something I strongly support!) but b) commit the western economies to a decarbonization regime that is presently unthinkable.

Oh, that's all then. What're you having for lunch?

The alternative, of course, is a planet where increasing numbers of poor, angry countries are consigned to starve while the wealthy countries of the world hoard what they have and buy up everything they need. And we've made it clear that yes, we will fight you for things you have that we want.

We should reconsider previously held beliefs

The guys who wrote Freakonomics have written a sequel focusing on climate change. And everything, it seems, is wrong. Not "I disagree with it", but provably, factually, empirically incorrect. Worse, they seem to have gotten here exactly the same way as they got to their last book -- by being delightfully "counterintuitive."

You can of course draw your own conclusions, but I'm really grateful I didn't shell out for the hardcover of either book. Meanwhile, Daniel Davies had their number from early on.
"When future generations ask the economics profession 'What were you doing while the great bubble built up ahead of the Second Great Depression?', and we have to reply 'Lots and lots of quirky little working papers about sumo wrestling and speed-dating', it is going to be really, really, fucking embarrassing"

And we did, and it was; thank God nobody told the truth to HM The Queen, or the high brows of the economics profession might be decorating a series of pikestaffs outside Traitors' Gate.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Shut up, that's why

Antonin Scalia, religious scholar:
He looks particularly queasy when Peter Eliasberg—the ACLU lawyer whose client objects to crosses on government land—suggests partway through the morning that perhaps a less controversial World War I memorial might consist of "a statue of a soldier which would honor all of the people who fought for America in World War I and not just the Christians."

"The cross doesn't honor non-Christians who fought in the war?" Scalia asks, stunned.

"A cross is the predominant symbol of Christianity, and it signifies that Jesus is the son of God and died to redeem mankind for our sins," replies Eliasberg, whose father and grandfather are both Jewish war veterans.

"It's erected as a war memorial!" replies Scalia. "I assume it is erected in honor of all of the war dead. The cross is the most common symbol of … of … of the resting place of the dead."

Eliasberg dares to correct him: "The cross is the most common symbol of the resting place of Christians. I have been in Jewish cemeteries. There is never a cross on a tombstone of a Jew."

"I don't think you can leap from that to the conclusion that the only war dead the cross honors are the Christian war dead," thunders Scalia. "I think that's an outrageous conclusion!"
Silly lawyer. Whether they believed in Jesus or not, they died for him. Because that's what Jesus was all about. Other people dying on his behalf.

To think that a justice of the Supreme Court needs to have it explained to him -- a Catholic -- that a cross is a Christian symbol, and really exclusively so. The narcissism of the American right still manages to shock me, every once in a while.

Products and services, reviewed

--The Saga of the Seven Suns, by Kevin J Anderson. I wouldn't go so far as to recommend these books. That would be a bit much. But IF you have an unquenchable love of spaceships, things that go zoom, and aliens, then this series is decent fodder. But not much more than that -- pretty mediocre SF, really, though never bad enough to make me put it down. And it manages, in seven books, to tell a less interesting story than Dan Simmons told in one. Still, there's some gold in there if you're willing to pan through to get it.

--Rubicon, By Tom Holland. As I said in my post a while back about the Roman Republic, this book is excellent. Insanely readable and well-written, Holland manages to convey the end of the Republic with all the relevance that it has for the modern era too. But two things really sold me on it. One, it was recommended at Balloon-Juice with a hillarious quote. Two, Holland's introduction to the book describes the problems that face a modern historian really eloquently:
Even the narrative of great events and exceptional men, however magnificent it may appear, is in truth a mutilated ruin, like an aqueduct on the Campagna, arches striding, and then, abruptly, fields.
Holland's narrative comes across with a rare mix of power and humility.

Man, it feels nice to read for pleasure again.


Lordy. When I wrote -- not even a full week ago -- that I wondered if it was possible for a Liberal leader to go south of 25% in the polls, I didn't actually think we'd get terribly close to it. In all honesty, I actually assumed 27% was the floor for Liberal support -- and further assumed that the 27% was an outlier.

Apparently, I was wrong.

Again, obsessing over every poll is a waste of time -- albeit an amusing one -- but those of us who would like to see Prime Minister Harper be joined by the prefix "former" can be forgiven for wondering when, exactly, the Liberal comeback will start. If is right, then the Conservatives are now in majority territory, just barely.

One interesting note from the poll is that the news is at least as bad for the NDP as it is for the Liberals. Some have described the trend as the NDP voters switching to Conservatives, but outside of a few areas I don't think that's literally true. Instead, what's probably happening is that conservative Liberals, eager to back a winning horse (and one whom they agree with anyway) are bolting from the party, and the decline in Liberal fortunes is forcing NDP supporters to consider voting strategically, especially in Ontario where the NDP support is still mostly old enough to remember Mike Harris.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Well, now he's sure to win 200 seats

The only thing I'm going to say about Stephen Harper's little piano ditty is that, when I see the leader of the Conservative Party of Canada playing the Beatles all I can think of is this:

If you want more intelligent commentary, I endorse Andrew Potter's comments here.

Totally random question

I saw a university syllabus recently (for a course in third year) that, as part of an essay assignment, expressly forbade the use of sources other than the three (!) textbooks required by the instructor. This is totally foreign to my understanding of what a university paper should be, especially one for a later year.

So, because I know at least a few practising academics read this thing, some questions, coming from a total and honest lack of understanding:

1) Why would an instructor make a requirement like this?

2) Is it common to have a three-source paper in Ontario universities?

My assumption is that a professor might do this because larger class sizes have meant papers need to necessarily get smaller just to be marked. I entered University right before the double cohort, and pecking around it seems like first year students at Carleton have to produce much smaller papers (1/2 length) than I did in first year, but they're at least required to have outside sources.

So, input anyone?

Converging on zero

David Olive's take on the fall of the House of Asper is, I think, spot-on: an obsessive quest for convergence (which turned out to be disastrous everywhere it was tried, as intelligent observers realized years ago) and a reckless collection of vanity projects doomed CanWest. The only thing I think Olive underplays is the purchase of Alliance-Atlantis. While there's no one thing that you can point to and say, "that was what killed CanWest", the purchase of AA is the single biggest source of debt on the company's books.

This is an all-too-common sentiment among CanWest's supporters, and it's kind of funny:
"There is no doubt that in this environment, CanWest had too much debt," Asper said. A seismic understatement. "However, you should not confuse operational excellence with our balance-sheet issues."
As if there's a bright line between the operational side of the company and the balance sheet. The debt was piled on to the company expecting "operational excellence" -- massive profits extracted via efficiency and reduced consumer choice. You can't say the company has too much debt without saying what "too much" means, in this case: the company isn't making enough money. In turn, the company isn't making enough money because... not enough people are reading the newspapers and watching the TV channels.

It's not fair to say that CanWest is doing much worse than any other network -- indeed, BBM data suggests that CanWest is doing pretty well in terms of nightly viewership, thanks to its heavy spending on US programming -- its just that competitors like CTV or, yes, CBC either didn't get in to the convergence game or got out of it much, much earlier before doubling down on the stupid.

And you all caught the bit about CBC and the National Post sharing content, right? If the Public Broadcaster had reached a similar deal with either the Globe or Star, wouldn't we expect the Post to describe the agreement as... welfare? A government handout to a business that's failing in the market?

Okay, so a lot of this is schadenfreude on my part. But I lost all respect for the NatPo when they reprinted Jonah Goldberg's "Bomb Canada" screed in 2002, which was tasteless and should have been beyond the pale even for the Post. Goldberg, you'll recall, was saying that the US should slap Canada around to man us up -- nevermind that Canadian soldiers were already fighting with the US in Afghanistan, and we had already suffered casualties... at the hands of the US Air Force.

Friday, October 02, 2009

It's official

Michael Ignatieff: welcome to the Dion Zone.

Interestingly, the Coderre Contretemps seems to have really hurt Liberal fortunes... in Atlantic Canada. In Quebec, the voters have made their displeasure known... by punishing the Conservatives. Canadian politics is weird.

The big question is, has Ignatieff found the basement yet? Or is it possible for a Liberal leader to go below, say, 25% in national polls?

Stay tuned!

BONUS CRUELTY UPDATE: Alternately, we can now say that Michael Ignatieff is about as appealing to the electorate as Alan Keyes, 2004 -- what was once called the crazification factor. But let me give my Liberal friends a freebie here: Jack Layton is as bad as three Ralph Naders!

*silent tear*

I know we'll all have a quiet little moment of mourning when the Aspers lose control of Canwest. Truly, no family has done more to elevate Canadian discourse than this clan, and it's a shame that something as petty as "obligations to shareholders" could humble such upstanding believers in free markets.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Politics is a skill, and a hard one at that

Jim Travers writes one of the clearest, most brutal explanations for why the Liberals find themselves floundering in the polls:
Three times they failed to stare at themselves while looking for a leader. Three times Liberals opted for expediency over renewal.

In each case the party was so consumed with crowning a winner that it ignored red flags waving. It was so sure in 2003 that Paul Martin would sweep the country that it didn't stop to consider shaky leadership campaign performances that forecast his dithering as prime minister. It was so sure in 2006 that voters would soon dump Stephen Harper that it spared itself the tough choice between Ignatieff and Bob Rae by compromising on the obviously inept St├ęphane Dion. It was so sure in December that Ignatieff was the new saviour that it aborted a leadership contest that would have hardened the winner and might have exposed the organizational and policy weaknesses now plaguing the party.
I find myself in the odd position of being kinder to the Liberal Party than a columnist for the Toronto Star, but I don't think Dion was anyone's decision -- I really think the party establishment assumed Ignatieff would win in Montreal, 2006, and was as shocked as anyone when Dion pulled out a squeaker.

That said, the entire column is worth reading. The last sentence should be seared in the the eyes of the Liberal leadership:
But should Ignatieff fail, blame will rest squarely on deluded Liberals who persuaded themselves that returning to power was inevitable and no more demanding than a beauty pageant.