Tuesday, March 30, 2010


  • Not sure what I think about this.
  • Hillary and Barack: all is forgiven!
  • While I'm linking to pictures, Michelle Obama continues to be teh hawtness.
  • Creating algae blooms to suck up CO2 could poison the ocean. We should totally keep emitting CO2, because geoengineering will be both cheap and consequence-free.
  • An article about the new Scramble for Africa that doesn't portray China as the sole villain. Amazing!
  • This would ideally deserve a longer post, but in brief: No, Ross Douthat, I don't particularly think clerical celibacy has much to do with the pattern of child abuse in the Church. I do, however, think the church's culture of impunity and unaccountability might have something to do with it. So stop blaming "The permissive sexual culture that prevailed everywhere, seminaries included, during the silly season of the ’70s", you fucking douchebag tool.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

A Little Less catholic Every Day

So I was riding the subway early this afternoon, and noted with the part of my brain that can still recite the Lord's prayer the number, and variety, of people holding palms after apparently leaving church this morning.

That's the reality of urban Catholicism in the 21st century: not just man and woman, but every color and hue getting ready for Easter. The church is still, in an important form, catholic as well as Catholic: universal, at least in its potential. It's been a long time since I felt the urge to join them in the pews, but this afternoon was a little moment of happiness for me. It's like watching a joyous family in the other booth at a restaurant: you're not part of the group, but you can still recognize the happiness other people have on a nice occasion.

The Pope, it seems, had a different revelation on Palm Sunday, and decided to share it in his sermon:
Pope Benedict today risked inflaming opinion as he appeared to round on critics of the Catholic church over the widening sexual abuse scandal, saying he would not "be intimidated by ... petty gossip".

The 82-year-old pontiff led tens of thousands of people in a Palm Sunday service in St Peter's square. He did not mention the scandal engulfing the church directly, but parts of his sermon alluded to it.

The pope said that faith in God helped lead one "towards the courage of not allowing oneself to be intimidated by the petty gossip of dominant opinion".

He also spoke of how man can sometimes "fall to the lowest, vulgar levels" and "sink into the swamp of sin and dishonesty".
This is all of a piece with the general response of the hierarchy in the last weeks, which has basically amounted to a) Other people molest kids, not just priests, so b) shut up, that's why.

Amazing that the disciples of Christ, inheritors to the throne of St. Peter, and a bunch of dudes who literally claim to have the clipboard at the velvet rope of heaven, are reduced to pointing out that they're no better than any other large institution. That they don't see how this undercuts every possible claim to authority -- scriptural, moral, and everything else -- says quite a bit about them.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

McGuinty to Toronto: Drop Dead.

That's basically what this amounts to:
Premier Dalton McGuinty’s government is asking its Metrolinx regional transit agency to find a way to save $4 billion over five years by delaying some of the $9.3 billion worth of transit projects previously announced.

Projects likely to proceed include the Union-Pearson/Georgetown GO Transit link, the Sheppard light rail transit line and the York University line, government officials said.

But the austerity moves could affect five planned projects: rapid transit lines for Finch Ave. W., Sheppard Ave. E. and the Scarborough RT, along with the Eglinton Ave. cross-town line and an expansion of York region’s Viva service.
This is a nice endnote to McGuinty's utter refusal to give Toronto the tools it needs to fix its own problems: managing to screw the city just a little bit more by promising money that, of course, will never be delivered. Amazingly, the Province managed to find money to shovel north, to help an industry that was novel and dynamic back when Canada's main concern was beating the Kaiser:
Yet the government hopes development of the recent discovery of a massive deposit of chromite in the Ring of Fire area, 500 kms northeast of Thunder Bay, will help drive down the $21.3 billion deficit.

“For the 21st century, the discovery of chromite in the Ring of Fire could be as big as the discovery of nickel was in Sudbury in the 19th century,” Finance Minister Dwight Duncan said in his budget speech.
I especially like how the thinking seems to be that creating a few thousand jobs in Thunder Bay is going to pay down the deficit, but helping ease traffic congestion, and potentially giving back millions of lost work-hours (currently swallowed up in traffic) is a non-starter.

Now the only thing that is needed is for Rocco Rossi to win the next Mayor's election, and we can start tearing up our bike lanes too. Then Toronto can be totally, truly, unbelievably doomed, all thanks to centre-right Liberals.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Monday, March 22, 2010

Erm, the hell?

John McCain:
“There will be no cooperation for the rest of the year,” McCain said during an interview Monday on an Arizona radio affiliate. “They have poisoned the well in what they’ve done and how they’ve done it.”
So, according to McCain, "poisoning the well" is equal to:

1) The Senate passing a bill.

2) The House passing said bill.

3) ???


One side accused the other of wanting to kill grandma and institute Gulag Archipelago 2: Electric Boogaloo. But yeah, the Democrats "poisoned the well."

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Some things you never shake

I come to my environmentalism in a roundabout way -- via reading tons of science fiction as a boy. They're not always easy fits, as a lot of SF authors have a very technophilic view that cannot possibly imagine a problem with which newer and better technology cannot cope. Obviously, there are exceptions, but the authors I read when I was younger all definitely fell in to this category.

Which is all a long way of saying when there's news about EMC2 Fusion (the brainchild of the late Robert Bussard) I still squee up like a schoolgirl gazing longingly at a Robert Pattinson poster. There's nothing quite like the promise of fusion power to make me dream of maglev trains, undersea colonies, and crewed missions to Jupiter.

There's not much to say yet, but apparently EMC2 has now passed the point where they left off when Dr. Bussard died, and are now moving on to the construction of a larger model to test the possibility of getting net power from the device. This, if I'm reading it right, is the last step before building a prototype full-power 100 megawatt plant.

EMC2 has run pretty quietly, which frankly adds to my confidence. Their results are also being monitored by the US Government, who are footing the bill, so that too makes me a bit more confident. Not that the US Govt. doesn't have a history of backing whackadoo claims without merit, but this doesn't *seem* to be that.

Before he died, Bussard wrote about what fusion power could do for applications in space, and the short answer is basically 1000x better performance than all of the current best technologies.

Monday, March 15, 2010

I think this is an underestimate

Maybe later then

So I thought I'd give Tom Hanks' new series The Pacific a try. And I will, when I can get over the opening narration. But being told that Pearl Harbor was America's "greatest military disaster" and that Japan's successes in 1942 won it "one of the largest empires in history" made me shoot milk out my nose.

First off, Pearl Harbor? I'm not going to bother checking this too thoroughly, but I'll guarantee you that any objective measure would put America's biggest military disaster in the Civil War, especially in the first two years as the Union spent tens of thousands of lives and failed to capture Richmond, Virginia. I'd also point out the obvious point that the Civil War was a threat to the territorial integrity of the United States, which World War II only was in the most fantastical sense.

Secondly, 1942 Japan as one of the largest empires in history? Okay, in terms of surface area maybe. But land area? Turns out, controlling 10 million hectares of salt water is relatively useless, especially when the US can drive aircraft carriers through it. This Wiki page has Japan's land area in 1942 as 7.4m km2, substantially behind the British and, oh-ho, the United States at 9.8m km2.

And unlike the United States, very little of that conquered territory was economically and politically integrated in to the imperial core, meaning that most of it was a net cost, not a net benefit to the economy. Hell, by 1942 the Japanese had been fighting in China for 5 or 11 years (depending on who you ask) and still failed to win the war on the front that was always more important to them.

There's a number of ways in which the US actually did start the war from behind, and a number of ways in which the first year of the American war in the Pacific was really dicey. But there's a historical illiteracy at work here that bugs the crap outta me.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


Tyler Cowen asks/is asked:
If you were offered a true statistic about an alien civilization, but only one, what would it be?
My response would be simple: per capita energy use, but you have to show your work. I want estimates of population, energy use by income quintiles at least, sources of primary energy and conversion efficiencies, not to mention a decent summary of the market. I think we'd get a very good idea of what kind of people/insects/mobile rocks we're dealing with.

Nothing here, move along

Amazing. The spouse of a cabinet minister is pulled over speeding while drunk with blow in his car, gets a $500 fine, and the reaction of one of the Globe and Mail's most prominent bloggers is to say that he doesn't owe anyone so much as an explanation for why he and not other dark-skinned males pulled over with controlled substances get such luxurious treatment.

This isn't a little question: cocaine possession is punishable by up to 7 years in prison, under Canadian law. Frankly, if Jaffer had been a black man from Scarborough, he'd be eating at least some of those years, I'm sure.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Man, I called that one

In another forum about this time last year, I wrote a blog post to which I can no longer link. But the text of the post is still on my hard drive and I was rummaging through it and the last paragraph was this:
I think it's clear now that the election of 2008, having begun in 2006 sometime, will probably continue until 2010 or so.
Well, it's 2010 and the media still can't stop covering President McCain and Vice President Palin. So I think I win.

Thursday, March 04, 2010

It's been a while since I've put some terrible news up on this thing

Hey, look:
Climate scientists have long warned that global warming could unlock vast stores of the greenhouse gas methane that are frozen into the Arctic permafrost, setting off potentially significant increases in global warming.

Now researchers at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, and elsewhere say this change is under way in a little-studied area under the sea, the East Siberian Arctic Shelf, west of the Bering Strait.

Natalia Shakhova, a scientist at the university and a leader of the study, said it was too soon to say whether the findings suggest that a dangerous release of methane looms. In a telephone news conference, she said researchers were only beginning to track the movement of this methane into the atmosphere as the undersea permafrost that traps it degrades.
The story of the last week that's probably gotten the most play in energy circles was the unveiling of Bloom Energy, allegedly manufacturers of a solid-oxide fuel cell stack with impressive economics and a hellagood marketing firm on their dime.

Advances like these are nice little feel-good moments, but I increasingly feel like they're irrelevant, like German engineers congratulating themselves on the V-2 while the heart of the Wehrmacht gets destroyed in Russia. Impressive, but vastly too little and too late.

Not that I don't think there are practical solutions to the climate crisis. It's just that the obstacles to proper deployment are so vast that arguing about how we'll we're doing misses the point. If you were a German general and you defined victory as "destruction of the Red Army", well you were out of luck -- the outcome of the war was decided once the Russian lines began to hold. Put another way, there was no way to win the war in the way that the German leadership had framed it.

Similarly, if we define solving the climate crisis as "finding some cheap, plug-in solution that allows us to continue our meat-eating, automotive-obsessed lives in our 3000 square foot homes", well, we're out of luck. If you define that as the victory condition, then defeat is inevitable.

The only way to win is to change the victory conditions. The good news is that, unlike the implacable Red Army, the Earth actually doesn't give a damn about us one way or the other. There's plenty of reason to believe that if we can change our preferences, we'll find the room we need.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Did my property values just increase?

Vicki and I bought a house in the east end of Toronto last year, and one of the points that sold me on the house was its proximity to the ravine system of parks that are a real gem in this city. So the idea that the city is moving to lock-in the Don and Humber parks as part of the provincial green belt makes me very, very happy.

It probably won't change much in real terms, but it's nice to see.

The good old days

So we're in the run-up to a municipal election here in Toronto, and so far most of the headlines (if not most of the polls) have been dominated by a clown named Rocco Rossi. Specifically, Rossi has grabbed the spotlight by slamming bike lanes, claiming that the creation of the Jarvis bike lane (removing a redundant 5th car lane from a major arterial road and turning in to bikeways) was "undemocratic" despite having been approved in a full council vote.

Rossi ran John Tory's losing campaign for mayor of Toronto in 2003, and seems to largely be trying to get a do-over: pile the outer boroughs of Toronto against the city core to eke out a win. This plan is dubious enough mathematically (the core of the city make a large plurality of voters, who vote more enthusiastically than their outer-borough brothers and sisters) and politically the reasons it probably won't work can be summed up by saying John Tory is a better politician than Rocco Rossi and lost trying to do exactly this.

The larger question is of course whether Toronto has learned anything from the last fifty years or so. The Miller years have been some of the best for cyclists, transit users, and pedestrians in this city for a long time. Car drivers have face some new, relatively trivial obstructions, but the real problem for drivers is simply that there are too many to reasonably fit in to the city core -- there's no car-based solution to the problems for car drivers anymore.

Nevertheless, Rossi and his not-inconsiderable followers are happy to play on the resentment of the not-quite-privileged-enough: the wealthier, whiter residents of the outer boroughs who, disdaining the city they work in so much they would never live there, choose to spend hours in the hermetically sealed cultural environments of their cars.

Christopher Hume, one of the best city writers for the Toronto Star, put it rather succinctly.
Despite all this, Rossi's desire to eliminate change rather than promote it amounts to little more than a vain attempt to turn back the clock. It's easy to understand the lure of nostalgia, of the good old days, but they are finished, over, caput. And never should it be mistaken for public policy. That would be disastrous.

Needless to say, Torontonians know better than this. Support for transit as well as the Jarvis remake is overwhelming. That's why Rossi will lose.

As long as there have been politicians, they have appealed to our most selfish instincts. Rossi's pitch is just more blatant and unashamed than we're used to in Toronto.

Though it's early days still, already it's clear that if Rossi wins, the city loses.
I know they say there's no such thing as bas publicity, but youch.

Monday, March 01, 2010


Moving day -- not mine, a friend's.  Really glad that I don't plan to move again for the next, um, generation or so.

At one point, I thought: "Geez, this wasn't this hard when I was younger."  Then I remembered: "Oh hell, I wasn't the one moving bookshelves and couches when I was little." Then I felt vaguely sorry for my father's spine.