Thursday, September 30, 2010

America's Low Orbit Chip On The Shoulder

It may just be the biggest scam in the history of the American military.  "It" is the U.S. national security space programme exemplified by the U.S. Air Force Space Command.   Now top military brass and aerospace officials are waging a campaign for big bucks to restore America's dominant position in space, warning that America's national security space capabilities are at a dangerous "tipping point."
The bogeyman this time, according to the Nuclear Threat Initiative's Global Security Newswire, is China's supposed antisatellite capability and the lack of backup satellites to replace any U.S. assets knocked out by hostile action.
Chalmers Johnson, currently professor emeritus University of California, San Diego, presents a revealing look into American space policy in his recent book Nemesis:
"The head of the Air Force Space command, General Lance Lord, has led the charge.  'Space superiority is not out birthright, but it is our destiny,' he told an air force conference in September, 2004.  'Space superiority is our day-to-day mission.  Space supremacy is our vision for the future.'  'Simply put,' he said to Congress, 'it's the American way of fighting.'  We must have 'freedom to attack as well as freedom from attack' in space.   ...Keith Hall, Clinton's assistant secretary of the air force for space, whom the George W. Bush administration retained, commented, 'With regard to space dominance, we hve it, we like it, and we're going to keep it.'"
Wowee, zowee - if that sounds like something ripped out of the heart of Dr. Strangelove, it is.  Johnson argues that his country's air force's unquenchable thirst to weaponize space is inherently self-defeating:
"Virtually all of the air force's rhetoric about a future space war is ideological posturing, similar to the propaganda it put out at the end of the Eisenhower administration and the beginning of the Kennedy years about a 'missile ga' with the Soviet Union.  ...there can be no rationale for a space war because one unintended but unavoidable consequence would be to destroy our own preeeminent position in space.   ...a conflict in space using antisatellite weapons of any kind would vastly increase the amount of orbiting garbage, which would threaten our whole network of military and commercial spacecraft.  That, in turn, would threaten the whole American - even planetary - way of life.  Yet space debris is a subject that the air force's 'counterspace doctrine' never so much as mentions."
An antisatellite strike in space would create masses of highly destructive debris that would probably trigger the Kessler Effect, a cascade of so much debris that it would pick off one satellite after another, exploding the lot in turn until nothing usable remained.   If you're not familiar with the mathematical basis for NASA scientist Donald Kessler's 1970 predictions, you cannot imagine what your own life would be like the day following an anti-satellite strike.   You would be back to the 1950's in a world that no longer remembers how to function that way.
If the Chinese launched an antisatellite strike of the scope required to blind America and destroy its satellite capabilities, the Kessler Effect cascade is a virtual certainty.   In that case America could have warehouses full of satellites and it wouldn't make the slightest difference.   There would be far too much space junk racing about that the orbital belts would be unusable for upwards of sixty years.
The only conceivable solution is to give up the hyper-aggressive and hopelessly hegemonic Bush space doctrine that undermines rather than enhances anyone's security.   Neither Russia nor China is going to allow the Americans to dominate space or to imperil their access to it.   If there is an answer it must lie in an anti-satellite weapons treaty.    There's too much at stake - for everybody - not to ban these weapons.   We have to establish space as belonging to no country and all countries.

The Pentagon's Family Heirloom

The award has to go to the legendary B-52 strategic bomber.  Boeing's big baby first flew in 1952 and the 8-engine behemoth has been the backbone of American airpower ever since.   Now the Pentagon has inked a $12-billion contract to update its remaining fleet of 85-operational B-52s.  The US Air Force expects these aircraft to remain in service beyond 2040 which will probably be some sort of record or even a bunch of records.   The Americans have B-52s today crewed by the children of fathers who flew them a generation earlier.

Cleanup in Aisle Six - Election Please!

It's time for a federal election.   Harper is going nowhere and it seems the same may be said for the apprentice leader of the Liberal Party.   One or both of them have to go.  I figure if an election returns the same result we have today it might just be both of these characters looking for work.

The Harvard schoolboy has revealed himself as a dog that just can't hunt.   That makes him a mere place holder and that's exactly what the Liberal Party doesn't need.   Iggy can't close the deal.   Harper has done everything but cut his own throat.   His arrogance, ignorance, incompetence and indifference have become this regime's stock in trade.   The mob ought to be running the streets with torches and pitchforks but, instead, they look at the alternative, pull up the covers and drift back to sleep.

It's a vulnerable government desperate to cling to power that should be cagey about revealing policy.  It's the opposition's job, its reason for existing, to lay out alternate policies, to present the electorate with fresh vision.   Instead this timid opposition lays low, arguing that the timing to present policy isn't right, fearful that Harper will grind them under his heel.

This parliament needs and deserves to be put out of its misery.   The slackers and duds are getting the country nowhere.   They obsess over trivialities like the census yet sit moot while Harper commandeers the public service, gagging it to serve his partisan ends.   This isn't an opposition, it's a pathetic joke and it has overstayed its welcome.  The whole flaccid business needs a real good shakeup, a swift electoral boot to the ass.

So let's have an election.   There's less to fear in the outcome of a general election than from the continuation of this miserable farce.

A Hint that Israel is Behind the Cyber-Attacks on Iran

There's speculation that Israel may have left a calling card buried in the computer worm believed to be targetting Iran's nuclear programme.   From The New York Times:

Deep inside the computer worm that some specialists suspect is aimed at slowing Iran’s race for a nuclear weapon lies what could be a fleeting reference to the Book of Esther, the Old Testament tale in which the Jews pre-empt a Persian plot to destroy them.

That use of the word “Myrtus” — which can be read as an allusion to Esther — to name a file inside the code is one of several murky clues that have emerged as computer experts try to trace the origin and purpose of the rogue Stuxnet program, which seeks out a specific kind of command module for industrial equipment.

Not surprisingly, the Israelis are not saying whether Stuxnet has any
connection to the secretive cyberwar unit it has built inside Israel’s
intelligence service. Nor is the Obama administration, which while talking about
cyberdefenses has also rapidly ramped up a broad covert program, inherited from
the Bush administration, to undermine Iran’s
nuclear program
. In interviews in several countries, experts in both
cyberwar and nuclear enrichment technology say the Stuxnet mystery may never be

There are many competing explanations for myrtus, which could simply signify
myrtle, a plant important to many cultures in the region. But some security
experts see the reference as a signature allusion to Esther, a clear warning in
a mounting technological and psychological battle as Israel and its allies try
to breach Tehran’s most heavily guarded project. Others doubt the Israelis were
involved and say the word could have been inserted as deliberate misinformation,
to implicate Israel.

Five Billion People Face Water Security Threats

It's not just the Third World this time.   The U.S. and Europe are in the same boat.   A global study has found the world's rivers are so badly affected by human activity to threaten the water security of almost five billion people.   That's five billion out of the 6.7-billion people currently on the planet.   From The Guardian:

The study, conducted by institutions across the globe, is the first to simultaneously look at all types of human intervention on freshwater – from dams and reservoirs to irrigation and pollution. It paints a devastating picture of a world whose rivers are in serious decline.

While developing countries are suffering from threats to both water security and biodiversity, particularly in Africa and central Asia, the authors were surprised by the level of threat posed to wildlife in rich countries.

"What made our jaws drop is that some of the highest threat levels in the world are in the United States and Europe," said Prof Peter McIntyre, one of the lead authors, who began the project as a Smith Fellow at the University of Michigan.

Canada is much better off than most countries but we don't deserve any credit for our good fortune.  As Maude Barlow points out in Blue Covenant:

"A leaked 2005 Environment Canada assessment of the state of Canada's water for then environment minister Stephane Dion was a scathing indictment of the government's water policies.  'Clean, Safe and Secure Water: The Need for Federal Leadership,' meant only for the minister's eyes, said that a water crisis in Canada was looming, but that no one is in charge."

Unfortunately, we've entrusted the security of our own fresh water to the petro-pols of Parliament Hill, a gaggle of misfits, morons and slackers.   The hard part is that the Tories are only marginally worse than the Liberals in protecting the country and our people.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Why Do Wind Turbines Not Make Italians Sick?

The anti-wind power group will tell anyone who'll listen (that's usually themselves) about just how malevolent wind turbines are.   To hear them talk the damned things can be half a mile away and the noise is so oppressive that it will drive you off your land.   They'll even make you sick, give you a case of what the anti-windies call "wind turbine syndrome."   
They'll make you sick that is unless you're an Italian or an entire Italian village or even 800 Italian villages.
Today's New York Times has a piece looking at the ancient Italian village of Tocco da Casauria (pictured above) where the locals actually have wind turbines right in their back yards and are loving it:
More than 800 Italian communities now make more energy than they use because of
the recent addition of renewable energy plants, according to a survey this year
by the Italian environmental group

Renewable energy has been such a boon for Tocco that it makes money from
electricity production and has no local taxes or fees for services like garbage

A quintessential Italian town of 2,700 people in Italy’s poor mountainous
center, with its well-maintained church and ruined castle, Tocco is in most ways
stuck in yesteryear. Old men talking politics fill gritty bars, and old women
wander through the market. The olive harvest is the most important event on the

Yet, from an energy perspective, Tocco is very much tomorrow. In addition to
the town’s wind turbines, solar panels generate electricity at its ancient
cemetery and sports complex, as well as at a growing number of private

I don't know, you tell me.   Is it the Italians that are different than us or is it maybe their wind?  Or, perhaps, could it be that the anti-wind power brigades are just full of NIMBY shit.

What a Letdown - France Hosts G8 and G20 Next Year, On the Cheap

Nick Sarkozy said he was going to host next year's G8 and G20 summits for just a tenth of the billion-dollar boondoggle foisted on Canadians by Stephen Harper.

It turns out Sarkozy overestimated.   France has now budgeted just $68-million for both events.  That's about $932-million shy of what our own Furious Leader doled out.

According to Reuters, the G8 summit is to be held in the French Riviera city of Nice.   That's nice, non?

When It Comes to Religion, Americans Don't Want to Know

Americans love their religion.  The United States is one of the most religious countries in what we used to call Christendom.   But it seems that Americans may love religion just so long as they don't have to learn about it.  From The New York Times:

Researchers from the independent Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life phoned more than 3,400 Americans and asked them 32 questions about the Bible, Christianity and other world religions, famous religious figures and the constitutional principles governing religion in public life.

On average, people who took the survey answered half the questions incorrectly, and many flubbed even questions about their own faith.

Those who scored the highest were atheists and agnostics, as well as two religious minorities: Jews and Mormons. The results were the same even after the researchers controlled for factors like age
and racial differences.

Re-engineering China

It is said by some to be on a scale to rival the Great Wall itself.   When completed it will be twice as expensive as China's Three Gorges Dam.  It's a massive re-engineering of the People's Republic of China.  From the LA Times:

The Chinese government is planning to reroute the nation's water supply, bringing water from the flood plains of the south and the snowcapped mountains of the west to the parched capital of Beijing. First envisioned by Mao Tse-tung in the 1950s and now coming to fruition, the South-North Water
— as it is inelegantly known in English — has a price tag of more than $62 billion.
"This is on a par with the Great Wall, a project essential for the survival of China," said Wang Shushan, who heads the project in Henan province, where much of the construction is now taking place. "It is a must-do project. We can't afford to wait."

Unlike the slackers on Parliament Hill, the Chinese at least acknowledge what climate change is doing to their country and they're taking steps to adapt.  It's too bad the petro-pols who make up the Tory and Liberal caucuses can't grasp that protecting Canada and Canadians, not lusting after filthy fossil fuel superpowerdom, is their first responsibility.

Even by the standards of a country where moving heaven and Earth is all in a day's work, it is a project of enormous hubris. In effect, the Chinese are "replumbing" the entire country, says Orville Schell, a China scholar and an environmentalist, something "no country has ever done successfully in the

China is plagued by extreme weather. Vast river deltas in the south are inundated each year by deadly flooding, while the steppes of the north are swept by sandstorms. To remedy this, the engineers are creating a vast, hydra-like network of canals, tunnels and aqueducts that will extend thousands
of miles across the country.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

I Guess We Should All Know Victims of Crime

Statistics Canada has come up with a claim that one out of four Canadians was a victim of crime last year.   I'm sure it's just coincidence that this story emerges as Harper is desperate to find some justification for his prison fetish.

One out of four.  That seems like a lot.  Four.  That's a husband, wife and two kids.   Or two parents and just one set of grandparents.   Or a bowling team? Two couples out for dinner.  A golf foursome?  As many Canadians as I could possibly fit into my car.  Four.

I know quite a few fours.   I know three or four fours on my street and a whole gaggle of twos.   I know a bunch of fours in a batch of towns.  I stay in touch with these people.

Of all the fours and part-fours I know, I don't know any one of them that's been a victim of crime in the past year.   Or the year before that or the one prior to that either.   Come to think of it, I don't know any fours that have been a victim of crime in the past four years.

Now I'm sure if one member of any of those fours had been a victim of crime I might not have heard about it.  But I'm just as sure that if one in four people in all those fours had fallen victim to a crime I would have heard about it from a good many of them.   But I haven't.

Sure I live in a peaceful, positively tranquil little island town but I have friends and family who live in all sorts of places including Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa, Seattle, Detroit and Chicago.   I keep expecting the friends in Detroit to at least lose a limb but, so far, they're remarkably intact.

One in four, eh?  Well you wouldn't know it by me.

Sorry to Harp

It just so happens that my favourite magazine goes by a name I've come to loathe, Harper's.  Fortunately while our Harper may not be worth a dam, the American Harper's remains a first-rate read.Here are a few notations from the October, Harper's Index: 
-  Total number of pages in the financial reform bill enactedby Congress in July:  848
-  Number of pages in the bills that created Social Security and the Federal Trade Commission, respectively:  29, 8
-  Percentage of all U.S. railway freight cars that are currently in storage:  23
-  Percentage of Afghans in a July survey who said they believed NATO forces were in Afghanistan to rebuild the country:  1
-  Percentage who said NATO was there to destroy Islam:  9
-  Number of the world's ten largest banks that were Chinese-owned in 2000 and 2010, respectively:  0,4
-  Percentage of this year's federal budget deficit attributable to Bush-era tax cuts and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan:  38.
What I appreciate in the Harper's Index is the ability of just a few simple facts to paint a truly stark picture.  An 848 page financial reform bill?  Remember, that's just the bill.  It doesn't include the operating regulations.  848 pages.   There's an awful lot of junk that's been stuffed into that bill since it was introduced - the sort of junk that litters a truly broken government.
The American people have been told their democracy is under attack.   The Republicans point to Obama and accuse him of plotting a socialist (i.e. totalitarian) takeover.   The Dems blame the Repugs for obstructing the work of Congress at every turn.  Yet almost no one ever talks about the cancer metastasizing through American democracy - corporatism and the emergence of oligarchy.That theme is tackled in this month's Harper's in excerpts from Roger D. Hodge's new book, The Mendacity of Hope:  Barack Obama and the Betrayal of American Liberalism.   Here are a few passages from that book:...Through hard and painful struggles, against daunting odds, our forebears and elders fought so long for voting rights - for unpropertied men, for women, for blacks - that we may perhaps be forgiven the error of thinking that casting a ballot is the perfection of civic virtue, the ultimate and sovereign duty of the citizen-ruler.  Alas... voting is the beginning of civic virtue, not its end, and as suffrage has expanded so has its value been steadily debased.  The locus of real power is elsewhere.  Wealth and property qualifications, poll taxes, and the like are very far from being historical curiosities, they have simply mutated.  Campaign contributions and other forms of political spending have assumed that old exclusionary function, and only those who can afford to pay are able truly to manifest their political will. 
The Atlantic republican tradition that informed the minds of our founding generation had a name for this state of affairs: corruption, a term that suggested far more than mere bribery.  Corruption, in its institutional sense, denotes the degeneration of republican forms of government into despotism, and typically comes about when the private ends of a narrow faction of citizens succeed in capturing the engines of government...  Citizens, like states, are susceptible to the disease of corruption, and in the classical republican understanding a corrupt citizenry is one that has allowed its private and narrow personal interests to trump those of the general public.
Those last two sentences speak to two themes that regularly appear on these pages; the rise of oligarchy to supplant  democracy as well as the institutional and public rejection of posterity.
Oligarchy arises out of corporatism when private money's whispered influence insinuates itself between the legislator and the electorate.   It doesn't work perfectly, at least not yet, but it's getting there.  Never before has corporatism toiled so hard to influence, even warp, the public debate.   The corporations and their rentier classes realize they don't need to own votes, merely to shape them to their purposes.  So long as they can deliver, en masse, the readily manipulated voter to the legislator, their part of the bargain is completed.
The American people and, to a lesser extent (at least, perhaps, for now) our own, are increasingly exhorted to indulge their "private and narrow personal interests" to defeat "those of the general public," the public interest.   It is the public interest that represents not only the existing citizenry but the generations to follow.  It is the public interest that weighs and balances immediate concerns along with concerns for the future.   It is the public interest out of which stewardship of the land and the economy and the national institutions finds the strength of purpose to exist.   

Defeat the public interest and you're left with a voting public that never looks to the future, an electorate that constantly chases the shiny thing.  I really do fear that the public today is being put into harness, complete with blinders, like so many draught horses.  We're fed a diet rich in fear and anger and then set to pulling someone else's wagon.
But then again, I'm sorry to harp.

Monday, September 27, 2010

We're Letting Canada Be Transformed Into a Petro-State and Nobody Cares

Stephen Harper doesn't care, in fact he's all for it.  "Special Ed" Stelmach is living the Petro-Sheik dream.  Even Mad Mike Ignatieff drools at the mere thought of Canada as filthy energy superpower. 

To this current crop of underwhelming leaders the Tar Sands are little more than easy money.   You don't have to lift a finger.   The stuff's simply there.   Others, mainly foreign companies, will gladly do all the heavy lifting.  They'll go in and scrape away the forests.   They'll dig the pits and boil the goop out of the ground.  They'll run it through their upgraders.   They'll build the pipelines to carry it away to the south.   All this they'll do and they'll write you a cheque for the privilege.   Hell, foreign nations don't even give you any trade guff.   They want the stuff, as much as they can get.

And that children is how Canada is being reduced to a creepy petro-state.   These pols gush buzz words like "ethical oil" and rave about bitumen as a key to national unity even as they sell our nation and its integrity right down the dirty Athabasca River.   Tar Sands observer, Andrew Nikiforuk, in today's The Tyee, shreds this nonsense that there's anything ethical about Athabasca:

For starters, oil has never been about ethics. It's always about the money and what economists call the paradox of plenty. While oil companies get rich, oil-exporting nations get poor. Louisiana may be a critical oil producer, but it sports outrageous poverty and some of the worst environmental degradation in the United States. John D. Rockefeller wasn't kidding when he called petroleum "the devil's tears." Moreover, oil discourages if not undermines ethical discussions. Oil money typically funds extremists from the left and right including such charmers as Sarah Palin and Hugo Chavez.
(Oil that is mined with shovels and trucks raises even more ethical challenges. As Mark Twain once quipped, "A mine is a big hole in the ground with a liar on top.")

BP and the China Petrochemical Corp., whose executives could use an instructor like Aristotle or Confucius, haven't invested in the oil sands because of bitumen's snow white character. They've done so because Canadian governments give away water for free, facilitate immensely profitable regimes with low rents and offer friendly regulators armed with rubber stamps more flexible than Gumby.
...All oil exporters, whether authoritarian or democratic, rich or poor, Christian or Muslim, share certain troubling characteristics. They typically don't save the money or collect their fair share of the revenue. They overspend and under-tax. They eschew transparency. They entertain hubris such as becoming "energy super powers." And they increasingly concentrate power into fewer and fewer hands. (Many such as Saudi Arabia and Harper's Tories also don't believe in climate change, a real revenue spoiler.) Oil can also give political parties such as Mexico's PRI and Alberta's Tories long and unhealthy regimes. A province ruled by one party for 40 years is not a maverick; it's simply a dysfunctional state where oil revenue has greased the wheels and hindered democracy.

...Unlike Canada, Norway had a vigorous debate about its oil wealth. Parties of both the left and right agreed to take oil revenue off the table and save it for future generations. That's why Norway now has a $400-billion pension fund. (Even the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development has strongly criticized the management of oil wealth in Canada!)

Norway's oil ethics put ours to shame

Unlike Canada, Norway's government doesn't run on hydrocarbon revenue but on a national carbon tax. As a consequence, it morally represents its citizens as opposed to North Sea crude. Incredibly, its environment minister doesn't defend oil but advocates for land, water and trees. In contrast, the federal government of Canada has already pissed away $50 billion worth of tax revenue from the oil sands (mostly to lower the GST) while Alberta has saved next to nothing. To date, no Canadian political party wants to talk about these dramatic ethical lapses.

...Last but not least, let's examine the fundamentally tough and ugly character of bitumen, a non-renewable resource. It's not oil floating on sand or fair trade coffee, but a badly degraded asphalt-like junk crude that requires extensive upgrading. If you spread it on toast, you'll lose all your teeth because bituminous sand is four times more abrasive than diamonds. Steaming hydrocarbons out of the ground requires one-fifth of the nation's natural gas supply and billions of dollars in taxpayer subsidies.

...To date, no Canadian politician has talked sensibly about the oil sands except for Alberta's former premier, Peter Lougheed. The statesman proposed six ethical standards: Behave like an owner. Slow down. Get our fair share. Save the money. Clean up the mess. And approve only one project at a time.

On this appropriate ethical scale, Norway gets top marks. In contrast, the governments of Canada and Alberta remain at the bottom of a very dirty barrel, a step above the worst but a valley below the best.

So maybe you loyal Liberals can explain why your leader wants your party and our country to wallow in the same muck that's the natural home to people like Stelmach and Harper?   Does he have no better vision for Canada than this?

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Water - So Much Less Than We Imagine

What do the United States, India, China and Pakistan have in common?

Well, according to a study from the University of Utrecht, they're the four countries most imperiled from groundwater depletion.   Oh yeah, and they all have nuclear arsenals.

Three of them are facing a freshwater crisis, have nuclear arsenals, and vie for the same Himalayan headwaters.  That, of course, would be India, China and Pakistan.  To complicate matters, those three have various disputes about the others' claims to those headwaters.  From The Montreal Gazette:

"The report from Utrecht University, scheduled for release in the journal Geophysical Research Letters, says the U.S., India, Pakistan and China are the sources of greatest depletion of groundwater resources.

"The drier areas of the world where surface water is scarce, people often make use of pumped groundwater. This groundwater is used for irrigating crops, as water for drinking or for industry," says a news release from the university. "The result is that rivers and wetlands dry up and groundwater levels sink so deep that it becomes impossible to inflate. This depletion of groundwater resources can lead to ecological disasters and even famine."

"It's a funny resource because we can't see it, we tend not to think about it and presume it's OK," John Pomeroy, Canada Research Chair in water resources and climate change at the University of Saskatchewan said. "It's interesting when there's such a massive global reduction of supply and . . . that's a real worry. We're relatively fortunate here that we don't have major agricultural use of groundwater."

Saturday, September 25, 2010

How To Conquer Global Warming

Anthropogenic or man-made global warming really gets to me but that in itself is just a bit curious.

I think the 21st is going to be a pretty tough and challenging century for all living things in our remarkably fragile biosphere, a.k.a. earth.  We're already watching it arrive:  droughts, floods, vicious storms, species migration, oceans heating and acidifying.   Just imagine what our world is going to look like in 2050 when mankind's population is expected to peak at around 9-billion souls.

Did I say "our" world?   Well, by 2050 it won't be my world because I won't be here then.  I'll be with the choir invisible, pushing up daisies.   And I won't be alone.   Just about every one of the flakes who are dragging their heels on climate change or even working so hard to sabotage efforts to deal with it will be enjoying the eternal dirt nap with me.   So why are we letting these useless geezers prescribe the fate to be endured by their successors, the younger generations? 

The old farts see climate change as a threat, they really do.   They see it as a threat to their pocketbooks.  For younger generations it's an entirely different threat, a very real threat to their survival.  That puts the elders and the juniors squarely at odds.

Since their interests are divergent, then somebody is going to call the shots and somebody isn't going to like it.  So who should get to make the important decisions and the tough calls?  Once again I have to give it to the younger generations.   Why?  Because my generation and the one before me were instrumental in creating this fiasco and we're also incapable of voluntarily making the sacrifices required to effectively sort out our mess.   We have enjoyed the unparalleled prosperity that has come from our profligate, environmentally destructive ways.  The younger generations, however, bear considerably less responsibility for creating this situation and I'll bet they'll be far more willing to embrace the changes necessary to deal with it.

If I was a 20-year old today (and, believe me, I'm glad I'm not)  I would have a pretty direct interest in what my world was going to look like in 2060 or 2070.  My world, i.e. after all the geezers have become a nice patch of lawn to be watered and mowed.  2050, 2060, those are realities for me.   They're not for that stooge Harper or his water carrier, Ignatieff.   They're not for the boys who stuff themselves with prime rib at Calgary's Petroleum Club.   These guys don't give a shit about 2050 so why should they be calling the shots on what this place is going to look like by then?

It might be another story altogether if today's movers and shakers truly respected posterity.  It might be different if they were genuinely responsible.   But they don't and they're not.   They show that every day in every way.   In some respects they're like a powerful gang of social predators, the environmental equivalent of those Catholic priests we all get so worked up about.

So, how do we pull this off?   We make a specific constitutional enactment giving jurisdiction over all environmental matters to a third chamber - an elected Commons in which citizens between the ages of 20 and 40 would be eligible to sit.   They alone would be allowed to legislate on issues such as global warming, water policy, habitat and so on.   Their legislation would then first be passed in their chamber and then on to the Commons where it could be vetoed and returned.   If passed twice it would then go directly to the Senate for consideration and approval and then become the law of the land.

The fact is I don't trust my own generation with the responsibility for seeing Canada through the 21st century.   We have forfeited the right to prescribe how the younger generations will have to live even three or four decades down the road.  It didn't have to be that way, it shouldn't have been that way, but that's the way it is.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

World's First Pedal-Powered Ornithopter Flies in Canada

It's a goal that has eluded engineers since Leonardo da Vinci's days - a plane that flies by flapping its wings - an ornithopter.  Until now that is.   The pedal powered craft, flown by a University of Toronto PhD student, has proven it can be done.   It's quite amazing to watch.  

Another Holy Roller Sex Scandal

The Southern Poverty Law Centre has called him,  "one of the most virulently homophobic black leaders in the religiously based anti-gay movement."   Now Bishop Eddie Long, pastor of Atlanta's  New Birth Missionary Baptist megachurch is fighting three young men, former members of his congregation who claim Eddie coerced them into having sex with him.  From The Guardian:

Long led a campaign for a national ban on same-sex marriage and his church counsels gay members in an attempt to "turn" them straight. In 2004, he led a march to Martin Luther King's grave in Atlanta in support of amending the US constitution to define marriage as "between one man and one woman" – and so permanently barring gay marriage under US law.

The lawyer for two of the men, BJ Bernstein,
told the Associated Press: "We are taking calls and we do believe, based on what the boys' statements are, that there are other victims."

Although the relationships started when the plaintiffs were older than the legal age of consent of 16 in Georgia, she said Long abused his "spiritual authority" to coerce her clients into engaging in sexual acts.

"I Don't Think You Win This War'

The war is the ongoing Afghan war and the admission that it is inherently unwinnable comes straight from the top, the American Right's darling, General David Petraeus.

Excerpts from Bob Woodward's new book Obama's War reveal something of an insurgency being run by senior American generals intent on undermining the will of their Commander in Chief.

The American people want to wash their hands of Afghanistan.   Obama wants American forces out of Afghanistan.  Petraeus wants to keep the party rolling for a very, very long time.

"You have to recognise also that I don't think you win this war," Woodward quotes Petraeus as saying. "I think you keep fighting. It's a little bit like Iraq, actually … yes, there has been enormous progress in Iraq. But there are still horrific attacks in Iraq, and you have to stay vigilant. You have to stay after it. This is the kind of fight we're in for the rest of our lives and probably our kids' lives."

What Dipshit Dave is overlooking is that, even if we did stay stuck in for the duration of our kids' lives, we'd probably be no further ahead than we are today.   The Vietnamese fought the Chinese occupiers for centuries until they withdrew, just as they fought the Japanese, the French and the American occupiers who followed.

When the Soviets got bogged down in Afghanistan, the Americans looked on with glee.   Anyone think America's emerging rivals aren't smirking at Washington's predicament today?   America is driving itself to the Poor House.   It has to run these adventures on borrowed money.   Where's the return?

After nearly a decade in-country America hasn't consolidated its control or access to anything.  There is no TAPI (Trans-Afghanistan Pipeline, Dick Cheney's Holy Grail before he became vice president).  Oil and gas from the Caspian Basin isn't being piped in.  China has sewn up the rights to Afghanistan's major copper reserves.  American influence over Pakistan is waning as China's presence steadily increases.   Even the legitimacy of America's presence in Afghanistan isn't really accepted by the neighbours, particularly Iran.   Meanwhile the Pakistan security forces are double-dealing, saying what Washington wants to hear while backing the Islamist rebels.   What passes for a central government in Kabul is really a horribly managed, criminal enterprise.   The national army bleeds deserters as quickly as it can recruit newcomers.   The economy is that of a narco-state.   Hey, what's not to like?

And then there's Sad Man himself, ol' hangdog General David Petraeus.   This guy is a piece of work.  Before he got involved in Bush's Middle East/South Asian adventures, his claim to fame was as the American military's counterinsurgency guru.   He assembled a team of military and civilian experts to digest all the lessons of asymmetrical warfare gleaned over the millenia back to the Roman era and compressed all that wisdom into his military's new counterinsurgency field manual, FM3-24.

At the unveiling of FM3-24, Petraeus gave a lengthy interview to the Washington Post during which he recited the cardinal rules of successful counterinsurgency.   The truly remarkable thing is how those sacrosanct tenets have been ignored by every American and Allied commander ever since they were pronounced.

One rule is to flood the endangered country with troops, massive numbers of soldiers.   They're needed in droves not so much to fight the insurgents as to secure the civilian population, protect them and isolate them from the guerrillas.   Instead America went into Afghanistan with a skeleton crew - a garrison operation - that never really attempted to secure the civilian population.  

Another rule is to avoid the use of heavy firepower - air strikes, artillery barrages, etc. - wherever possible.   Heavy weaponry used against insurgents who conceal themselves among civilians winds up killing a lot of civilians and, in Afghanistan, that turns their surviving family members into your mortal enemies.  Another rule honoured far more in the breach.

A third rule is to get in and get out just as quickly as possible.   Petraeus himself told the Washington Post that counterinsurgent forces have a very limited shelflife after which they go, in the civilian population's eyes, from liberator/defender to occupier/oppressor.   A very limited shelflife yet he wants to drag out this war through the course of our kids' lifetimes?

At every turn Petraeus contradicts himself.  Worse still is his willingness to make things up, to twist reality.   He got the American public to believe that his Iraq "surge" actually produced victory of sorts in that country.   That is utter nonsense and Petraeus knows it.   Sectarian violence did subside but it was almost entirely coincidental to the surge.

I don't believe much of what David Petraeus says and I'd bet he doesn't either.    One thing I do believe is his sad admission that, "...I don't think you win this war."  In fact that just might be the most believable thing he's said in years.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Promoting Arms Control in the Middle East Impairs Efforts to Promote Arms Control in the Middle East - Israel

When you have to torture logic this horribly, your head is up your arse.

From the Global Security Newswire:

Arab states' campaign to have the International Atomic Energy Agency call on Israel to sign the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty is likely to impair efforts to promote arms control in the Middle East, a senior Israeli official said yesterday.

Israeli Atomic Energy Organization Director General Shaul Chorev harshly criticized what he described as the "continuous ill-motivated efforts to single out and to condemn the state of Israel."

He said the resolution was "incompatible with basic principles and norms of international law."

"Any approach that ... singles out the state of Israel not only weakens the ability of the international community to confront (nuclear) proliferators and violators but also defeats the prospect for advancement of arms control measures in the Middle East region," Chorev said.

Well maybe Israel is getting singled out because, in the Middle East, it alone (as in "single") possesses a nuclear arsenal.

What Is Going On With the Commonwealth Games in Delhi?

The 2010 Commonwealth Games may turn into a hyper-expensive Indian track meet.   The games were supposed to be India's opportunity to showcase the country as a modern, emerging economic superpower but the image that is being presented is not quite what the organizers hoped for.

We, in North America, didn't hear much about it but the Delhi games have turned into a world-class boondoggle.   Originally budgeted for 6.5-billion rupees the games are now scheduled to cost 115-billion which is a 98-billion rupee overrun.   When the overrun is itself 14-times the entire original budget you can pretty much assume a lot of corruption in the works.

For that kind of money, however, you would expect world class facilities.   So far, no.   Yesterday a pedestrian overpass built to link the athlete's village to the venues collapsed.   Not exactly a confidence builder.   And then there's the village itself.   Representatives of several Commonwealth nations have slammed the buildings as incomplete, dirty and unfit for human habitation.   That last one is the kicker.  Indian organizers have two days to rectify problems some observers claim would take at least two weeks.   The problems are bad enough that some teams are theatening to stay home while others are delaying travel plans for their athletes until they see if the Indian organizers can pull a rabbit out of their...  well, you know.

And, of course, there's been a devastating monsoon deluge and a spike in terrorist attacks to weigh on visiting athletes' minds.  Australian swimming great Dawn Fraser advises her compatriots to consider
boycotting the event as she fears the security situation could turn the Games into "another Munich", referring to the 1972 Olympic attacks in which 11 Israelis were taken hostage and subsequently killed by Palestinian gunmen.  Three time Olympic champion Usain Bolt is giving the Delhi games a pass.   So is four Olympic gold medalist cyclist Chris Hoy.

Canada, Scotland, Ireland and New Zealand are balking at participating in the games that begin on October 3rd.

Imagine a country where less than a third of its people have access to a basic toilet squandering 98-billion rupees on 'overruns.'   It truly is mind-boggling.

A Curious Look Inside British Military Intelligence

What did noted authors Graham Greene, Arthur Ransome, Somerset Maugham, Compton Mackenzie,  Malcom Muggeridge and philosopher A.J. 'Freddie' Ayer all have in common?

They all worked for Britain's MI6 during WWII.

From The Guardian:

They are among the many exotic characters who agreed to spy for Britain, mainly during wartime, who appear in a the first authorised history of MI6. The book even reveals that the intelligence agency's deputy chief, Claude Dansey, was seduced by "Robbie" Ross, said to have been Oscar Wilde's first lover.

It describes the antics of Ecclesiastic, mistress of a German Abwehr military intelligence officer in Lisbon run by "Klop" Ustinov, Peter Ustinov's father. It also tells the story of how a Dutch MI6 agent, Peter Tazelaar, was put ashore on a beach near the casino at Schevening, The Hague, in evening dress, smelling of alcohol and wearing a specially designed rubber oversuit to keep him dry while landing.

Greene, Mackenzie, Muggeridge and others who have written about their secret work make it clear they were reluctant spies approached by MI6 because of their access and knowledge of exotic parts of the world.

(Grrr - Internet Explorer 9.  Too many bugs yet to iron out.  Some features of Blogger won't work.  My advice - wait a while)

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Pope's an Atheist? Who Knew?

Joe "The Rat" Ratzinger, a.k.a. Pope Benny Ex Vee Eye, has compared "atheist extremism" with Naziism.  From BBC News:

The pontiff praised Britain's fight against the Nazis - who "wished to eradicate God" - before relating it to modern day "atheist extremism".

Afterwards his spokesman Federico Lombardi said: "I think the Pope knows rather well what the Nazi ideology is".

Now ol' Joe indeed "knows rather well what the Nazi ideology is."  He was a member of the Hitlerjungend at 14 and later blasted away at allied bombers as a flak gunner in Munich before deserting at the end of the war.  I guess you don't have much time for bible thumping when you're thumping away on a Flak 88.

How Federal Politicans Sell Out Canadians on Climate Change

If you want to feel lousy about the state of climate change policy in Canada all you need do is look at the dialogue underway elsewhere.

As far as I can tell we should be doing at least as much as Britain yet they're light years ahead of us as we stand in one spot with our heads firmly buried in the sand, our best and brightest government climate scientists tightly muzzled by Harper with the disgraceful acquiescence of the Opposition.

Britain's former Labour environment secretary Ed Miliband pushed to get his country's climate change initiative rolling.   He understood that the process began by getting people informed and starting the discussion.   To kick start things he had Britain's best and brightest prepare and distribute summaries of what residents in various regions of the U.K. should expect in the way of climate change impacts during the 21st century.   It wasn't a PR gesture.  It was intended to assist residents and their local authorities to consider what lay ahead, to begin evaluating options and strategies and to lay the way for implementing solutions.   One example would be sea level rise and storm surge inundation.   By getting an idea of the problems that could be coming, local authorities could revise zoning accordingly.

Naturally we've had nothing of the sort from this emerging petro-state, Canada.   Our government, like the governments of all bent petro-states, doesn't want to talk about it and it sure as hell doesn't want to do anything to get us talking about it either.   Fortunately for the British, their government doesn't operate like a petro-state.

The UK has a national climate change watchdog, the Climate Change Committee.    Today the CCC's adaptation subcommittee released a report warning that British homes and infrastructure are at real risk unless urgent action is taken to "future proof" the country.    From The Guardian:

The UK's homes, power stations, roads and water supplies are at risk from flooding, drought and heat waves unless the government takes urgent action to "future-proof" the country, the national climate change watchdog warned today.

..The report, by the Climate Change Committee's adaptation sub-committee, also calls for speedy action by the government to introduce regulations and funding before it is too late. Recommendations include ensuring new buildings have better insulation and protection against heat waves and flooding, consideration of compulsory water metering to conserve water, "grey" water systems for homes to replace purified tap water with recycled water for gardens and toilets, and better emergency plans to protect vulnerable groups such as the elderly.

...The report suggests five "priority areas" for action: land-use planning, such as not building homes on flood plains and better surface water drainage; infrastructure, such as building roads to cope with "typical Mediterranean" summers; buildings, including the construction of new homes and retrofitting old housing stock to be better insulated cool in hotter summers; natural resources, such as setting up "wildlife corridors" so species can migrate to more suitable habitats as conditions change and "making space for water" when there is flooding along coasts and rivers; and better emergency planning.

We need to bear in mind that we have nothing to lose by learning about, discussing and evaluating what's coming.   This is a lengthy process that can take years to translate into action.  It's precisely because it takes time to learn, evaluate and implement adaptive measures that there are real risks from putting it off or even, as in Canada's case, ignoring it altogether.

Our leaders, all of them, owe us better than this.

What's So Wrong With Ontario?

I've decided to poke a sharp stick in the eye of what I call Wind Power Witch Hunters, especially the gang from Ontario who are waging a relentless assault on wind turbine electricity with every joule in their bodies.

Some of their arguments almost seem to make sense.   That's mainly true when those arguments are taken at face value in isolation of troublesome things like facts.   It's when you pick your head up and look around at what others are doing that the Wind Power Witch Hunters' arguments begin to wobble and collapse under their own weight.

Now I've always felt badly for Ontarians because they don't live in Beautiful "Supernatural" British Columbia.   But I've never thought the worse of them for it.   Somebody has to live there and parts of the place do have some charms.   And I do believe that Ontarians have shown that, when it comes to technology, they're as good as any.

But, if you listen to the Wind Power Witch Hunters, wind turbine energy in Ontario doesn't work.  It's a disaster.  It's inefficient.  It's expensive.  It only works when it's not needed.  It causes spasms and fits to anyone within eyeball distance of it.   Shit, oh dear.

So I figured if wind turbine energy doesn't work for Ontario, high-tech Ontario, it must be just as disastrous for other jurisdictions that use it, right?   When I started looking I found out that was - wrong.   The Asians are showing it's wrong.   The Europeans are showing it's wrong.

Let's take France for example.   The French have an ambitious programme to wean themselves off fossil-fuel generated electricity.   That entails relying on wind, solar and nuclear power.  The were at 7% renewable energy in 2004 and they expect to reach 20% by 2020.   Their target is to have 20% renewables, 25% nuclear and 55% coal power by 2020 with steady reductions in coal afterward. 
The French are also big on another renewable, biomass.   After Finland and Sweden, France is the biggest user of fuel wood.   Some 40% of their residential heating is wood fueled.

To help the transition to renewable energy from coal-fired generators the European Union is shutting down coal production.   Well it's not actually shutting down coal mines.    What it is doing is banning subsidies for coal production.   Without substantial state subsidies, coal makes a lot less sense.

Subsidies.  The Wind Power Witch Hunters like to point accusing fingers at wind turbine energy subsidies.   It's funny how they totally ignore subsidies for coal and oil just as they like to keep associated costs such as climate change and health consequences off the fossil fuel books.

The New York Times has an interesting piece today on coal subsidies in Europe and how America's fossil fuel industry is furiously fighting Obama's plans to end generous tax credits and subsidies in the U.S.

“If we want to lower our carbon emissions, why on earth — of all industries — does the coal industry get this preferential treatment?” asked Connie Hedegaard, the European Union’s commissioner for climate action. Coal is often referred to as a “cheap” fuel, but that designation is not always accurate, energy analysts say. In some places where coal is used, cheaper resources are now available, and the label does not take into account the pollution caused by burning coal.

The European Union’s emissions trading system effectively forces power companies to pay for some of coal’s excessive emissions. But even in the United States, where no such penalty exists, generating electricity from wind turbines, which draw on local resources, may be cheaper than importing coal in some places.

I guess it shouldn't be surprising.   The fossil fuel industry - Big Oil, Big Gas, Big Coal - have waged a massive and dirty campaign to undermine global warming science.   Is it realistic to expect them to sit by and not use the same dirty tricks on alternative energy development?   I'd love to find out if they're involved in this virulent anti-wind power campaign in Ontario.   I just find it hard to believe that Ontario is the only place that wind power isn't viable.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Calling "Bullshit" on the Wind Power Witch Hunters

There's a supposedly "progressive" blog called Wind Concerns Ontario that has caught my attention in recent months.   It exists for one purpose and one only, to decry the Ontario government's development of wind turbine power.

I've found WCO kind of weird.  If you believe what is posted there, Ontario's wind power programme is the greatest hoax ever.  Wind turbine energy is, we are told, horrible - inefficient, unworkable, costly, utterly destructive of the environment.  It attracts a flock of the faithful who, typically, turn out to be rural folks who don't want windmills in their backyards.

Garry Wise of Wise Law Blog initiated a discussion on wind turbine power that generated the expected outpouring of horror stories.   One commenter lamented that a wind turbine had supposedly caused a young child to get a bloody nose.   Another said it did nothing to reduce carbon emissions because it was so unreliable all the coal-fired electricity plants had to be kept running full bore anyway.   On and on and on.

If you read my post yesterday on "epistemic closure" this is a perfect example.  WCO presents every possible bit of information it can glean on wind turbine power so long as it's negative.

Now let me begin by saying that I don't have a dog in this fight.  I have nothing whatsoever to do with wind energy nor am I threatened by the prospect of some mega-turbine landing in my backyard.  I also have nothing to do with the fossil fuel industry that's potentially threatened by alternative energy options.

But I do have experience.  About four or five years ago I had to travel to Ontario for a reunion in Muskoka.   While there I stopped off for a few days to visit a relative in Leamington.  On Day 2, I went to the emergency ward thinking that I'd developed pneumonia.   I didn't want to go to the reunion if I was seriously ill.   I was treated and given a couple of tests.   Eventually the physician came in to announce I didn't have pneumonia but I had developed a bad case of asthma.

I asked the doctor how a non-smoker, 56 years old could suddenly, out of the blue, develop asthma.  He said "welcome to Ontario."   Apparently the air quality was so foul that I contracted asthma and had to be put on a steroid puffer and pills.

I can recall driving to Toronto and gazing at distant stands of trees that should have been green but were, instead, grey.   I saw the CN Tower, or at least the silhouette of it, through the smog.   It took me about six months after I got back to the island before the asthma disappeared.

When I got home I mentioned the asthma thing to my neighbour.   She told me her nephew, an incredibly fit Coast Guard lieutenant and daily runner, had exactly the same experience when he was sent on a 2-week training course to Toronto.   He had to be hospitalized with asthma, he was put on steroids, he too took about six months after getting back to recover fully.
Now, when I engaged with all these wind power opponents at Wise Law Blog, it quickly became apparent they wanted to stick with fossil fuel-generated electricity.   One advocated "clean" natural gas which is somewhat better than coal but only so long as you don't have to think about shale fracked gas and the groundwater nightmare that causes.   Not one of these critics had a viable alternative.   When pressed they just set up straw men and knocked them down.

That kid with the nosebleed that somebody told somebody about?   Kids get nosebleeds.   Without any proof that wind energy had anything to do with this kid (if he even existed) and his nosebleed they latched on to it as conclusive proof of the evils of wind turbines.  Say what?   And exactly what do they think is happening to this little bugger's lungs from successive summers of inhaling toxic air contaminated by carbon emissions?  Oh, we won't worry about that.   Epistemic closure says to ignore any facts that don't suit the narrative.

As I have explored these anti-wind power sites (there are several) I've found a feature common to the climate change denialist community.   They simply take whatever they can get and throw it all into the mix.   The climate change denialists offer up a melange of lunacy.   Some say global warming exists; others say it's a hoax.   No matter.   Some say it's natural, others say it's sunspots.   On and on and on.  As long as you speak against it, you're okay.   It matters not in the slightest that one's theory is inconsistent with or even contradictory of the others.   The more the merrier.   As I mentioned to my friend, Scruffy Dan, when you have 16-people in a room, each espousing a different reality, what you actually have is an asylum.

The wind power witch hunters indulge in the same sophistry.    They go from kids with nosebleeds, to no reduction in carbon emissions, to utterly punitive and industry destroying costs.   Curiously enough, a lot of the sources they cite lead back to the fossil fuel industry.   But what they scrupulously avoid is the slightest mention of the other side.

At the head of the "other side" I'll put German Chancellor Angela Merkel.   She's a PhD physicist and I'm guessing she won't be knocked off stride by woeful tales of some kid with a nosebleed.   I receive periodic reports from Chancellor Merkel's climate change advisory panel, the WBGU.  It turns out that Germany is a leading nation in the development of wind turbine energy.   Now the wind power witch hunters maintain that the German experience has been a total disaster.  They're lying.

They're lying at least if you believe that hotbed of leftie radicalism, Bloomberg Businessweek.  Here is part of a story BB ran back in April about Germany's wind turbine experiment:

"Since 2002, Germany has doubled its capacity to generate wind power and has 21,000 turbines producing 7.5% of the nation's electricity. That compares with only about 1% in the U.S. The use of wind has lowered wholesale electricity prices in Germany by as much as 5 billion euros some years, says a study by Poeyry, a Helsinki-based consultant. Spanish prices fell at an annualized rate of 26% in the first quarter due to surging wind and hydroelectric production.

Since October 2008, the abundance of wind power has led to periods where German customers were paid rates that sometimes reached 500.02 euros ($665) a megawatt-hour, or about as much power as used by a small factory or 1,000 homes in 60 minutes.

One solution: Tying power markets together, allowing temporary surpluses in one area to flow toward electricity-poor zones. That's now done between the Netherlands, France, and Belgium; Germany plans to join them on Sept. 7.

Storing electricity may be another fix. In Scandinavia, Danish wind power pumps water into Norwegian and Swedish reservoirs; the water is later released to drive hydroelectric plants. Until there's more integration like that and better transmission grids, expect more Germans to sleep with the lights on.

The bottom line: As wind power generation grows, it can create regional surpluses of electricity. That makes power prices fall, hurting wind profits."

Yes, European wind profits have dropped but so what? That didn't stop IKEA from just making a huge investment in a wind farm. And, as for the cost of electricity dropping, do you think fossil fuel is going to be getting any cheaper?

And then there's China, the People's Republic of.  They're going massively into wind turbine power.  Why?  Because they're easily duped?  You pull a supposed hoax of this magnitude on the Chinese you wind up with a bullet in the back of your neck.
There's more, a lot more.   Unfortunately the Wind Power Witch Hunters are so swept up in the erotic throes of NIMBYism and so entrenched in epistemic closure that none of this is going to matter to them.   But if you're not one of those WPWH types, at least approach wind turbine power with an open mind.   Don't buy into their nonsense because there is another side to this story, one they're not going to mention.

You Might Look Fearsome Too

If you suddenly went hairless.   Officials at the Leipzig zoo in eastern Germany are trying to figure out why their female, spectacled bears have shed their shaggy fur.  I'll bet you wouldn't be happy to run into one of these in the woods:

As Dumb As It Gets - Washington State Man Gets 3 DUIs At Once

Blaine is a little backwater town on the Washington side of the Peace Arch border crossing.  It's where Tommy Ryser lives and, until recently, drove.

On Monday night, Ryser was driving his pickup truck when he ran it into a utility pole.   He left on foot.   Police were investigating when they got word of another vehicle, a VW Golf, that had also been crashed and abandoned.   When they got there they found that the VW was registered to the same family as the crashed pickup.

While at the scene of the VW crash, Tommy Ryser shows up driving his tow truck to retrieve the Golf.    Apparently Ryser was still pretty inebriated and admitted to the cops that he'd been behind the wheel when the pickup and the VW were crashed.

Ryser was whisked off to the local jail, given a breathalyzer test and charged with three counts of driving under the influence.   That's gotta be some kind of record.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

How Is Your Kid Going to Get Ahead?

In The Know: Are Tests Biased Against Students Who Don't Give A Shit?

He's Back! Bill Maher Puts in a Promo Appearance on HuffPo

The Republican Menace

America has come unglued.   The Republicans who ushered in the very ruin that afflicts that country are set to reclaim control of the House of Representatives in November.

That's a real problem for those concerned about climate change and an effective, global response to a looming global threat.  If the Republicans get control of the House they'll probably be able to block any initiative to introduce can and trade policy.

How bad is it?   Well, according to Grist, you merely need look at the Republicans candidates for the U.S. Senate. 

"...of the dozens of Republicans vying for the 37 Senate seats in the 2010 election, only one -- Rep. Mike Castle of Delaware -- supports strong climate action. Even former climate advocates Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Rep. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) now toe the science-doubting party line. If Castle loses his primary to Tea Party candidate Christine O'Donnell, the GOP slate will be unanimous in opposition to a green economy.

Many of the Senate candidates are signatories of the Koch Industries' Americans For Prosperity No Climate Tax pledge and the FreedomWorks Contract From America."

The pernicious doings of the billionaire Koch brothers was the subject of a recent article in The New Yorker.   If you want to see American corporatism on the march and the 'bought and paid for' Congress that does its bidding you should get your hands on a copy.

Grist points out that 97 per cent of climate scientists agree that man is causing global warming while 97 per cent of Republican Senate candidates disagree.  Man, that's trouble.

Update - Republican Mike Castle lost his bid for the Delaware Senate nomination tonight.   Make that 97% of climate scientists agree that man is causing global warming.   100% of Republican Senate candidates know better.

The Right's "Epistemic Closure"

I first heard the term "epistemic closure" just a few days ago.  Maybe it's new to you too.   Some call it a phenomenon, others a trend that appears to be sweeping the Right.   One explanation of it is a process whereby one simply rejects all facts that don't correspond to a chosen narrative.

Julian Sanchez explored its application to the American media - the mainstream, slightly left, and the full bore, hard right:

"...The output may have varying degrees of liberal slant, but The New York Times is not fundamentally trying to be liberal; they’re trying to get it right. Their conservative counterparts—your Fox News and your Washington Times—always seem to be trying, first and foremost, to be the conservative alternative. And that has implications for how each of them connects to the whole ecosystem of media: Getting an accurate portrait is institutionally secondary to promoting the accounts and interpretations that support the worldview and undermine the liberal media narrative."

Grist's David Roberts looked at the Right's epistemic closure on climate science, using a typical Rush Limbaugh rant:

"We really live, folks, in two worlds. There are two worlds. We live in two universes. One universe is a lie. One universe is an entire lie. Everything run, dominated, and controlled by the left here and around the world is a lie. The other universe is where we are, and that's where reality reigns supreme and we deal with it. And seldom do these two universes ever overlap. ...

The Four Corners of Deceit: Government, academia, science, and media. Those institutions are now corrupt and exist by virtue of deceit. That's how they promulgate themselves; it is how they prosper."

The "four corners of deceit" incorporate basically everyone who knows something and all their institutions.   Roberts points out that the Right's quest, "over the last 30 years has been to dismantle the post-war liberal consensus by undermining trust in society's leading institutions."  He points to recent studies showing the American people have indeed lost much of their trust in most of their institutions save for just two - the police and the military.
"The decline in trust in institutions has generated fear and uncertainty, to which people generally respond by placing their trust in protective authorities. And some subset of people respond with tribalism, nationalism, and xenophobia. The right stokes and exploits modern anxiety relentlessly, but that's not all they do. They also offer a space to huddle in safety among the like-minded. The conservative movement in America has created a self-contained, hermetically sealed epistemological reality -- a closed-loop system of cable news, talk radio, and email forwards -- designed not just as a source of alternative facts but as an identity. That's why when you question climate skepticism you catch hell. You're messing with who people are.

Consider what the Limbaugh/Morano crowd is saying about climate: not only that that the world's scientists and scientific institutions are systematically wrong, but that they are purposefully perpetrating a deception. Virtually all the world's governments, scientific academies, and media are either in on it or duped by it. The only ones who have pierced the veil and seen the truth are American movement conservatives, the ones who found death panels in the healthcare bill."

Surely no one in his right mind could fall for that.   Surely just thinking it through logically would quickly reveal the hoax in these claims.   How could all those tens of thousands of scientists keep their conspiracy secret?  You would have to be insane to believe that but only if you asked yourself the question first.    If you reject the possibility that you're even possibly wrong you can accept illogic.  If you indulge in epistemic closure and simply reject any facts that don't fit your narrative you can believe almost anything you're told.

I don't think there's anyone who grasps the reality of global warming and AGW-driven climate change who doesn't wish it wasn't true, that it wasn't happening.   I'd love to jet around the world just like the old days.   I'd love to get behind the wheel of a real muscle car and blast down the nation's highways.  I'd be delighted not to have to feel some responsibility for the plight of the vulnerable afflicted by our excesses.   But, unlike FOX News, I can't contrive the facts to fit that narrative.  I simply cannot close off facts that I'd rather not hear.   And if you've read this far, neither can you.

But we have to be aware that this devious sleight of hand does work and it has practitioners at the highest levels of the Right.   It was never just Dick Cheney.   It was never just Stephen Harper.  It was all the Dick Cheneys, all the Steve Harpers, all the FOX News media, all the CanWests.

Even the Right isn't entirely immune to this scourge.   David Frum challenged the Right's epistemic closure and was bounced from that supposed "think" tank, the American Enterprise Institute, for his troubles.   The irony is beautiful.   Dumped from a think tank for having the gall to think.

As Roberts urges, we cannot simply take this as a "species of theater."   It's far too sinister for that and it can cause far too much damage if it's not confronted and exposed at every turn.

Albertans Set Up By Tories for a Beating

Ah the bountiful Athabasca, source of Alberta's "boom & bust" prosperity.  Or is it?

The Pembina Institute has issued a report saying that the cleanup of the Tar Sands could cost billions.  In fact they've worked the cost out to upwards of $6,300 for every man, woman and child in the Wild Rose province.

Hey, you really didn't think the oil companies were going to cover that, did you?   Did you?

As Andrew Nikiforuk points out in his book Tar Sands, the Tar Sands own water boy, Alberta's permanent Tory government, has deliberately let Big Oil off the hook by requiring minimal security deposits for reclamation that are just a small fraction of the actual cost.

The Pembina Institute report says the government has roughly $820 million set aside in its Environmental Protection Fund for almost 69,000 hectares of disturbed land.

"It seems that number of quite low," said Nathan Lemphers, one of the report's authors.

He estimated the total cost of reclamation may be in the range of $10 billion to $15 billion. The liability works out to $4,300 to $6,300 per taxpayer, the report says.

"The government isn't being honest about the cost of reclamation," Lemphers said. "This leaves Albertans open to risk."

The Alberta government not being honest with its people?   Really?   Isn't that exactly what every other petro-state does?   Of course it is.

Right now that $6,300 a head is the good news.   The overall cost if one of those large tailing ponds fails would be astronomical.

Climate Change Could Make Canada a Major World Power

UCLA geographer Laurence Smith sees global warming bringing Canada a rosey future.   We're going to do great thanks to climate change melting the north.   We'll be raking in fortunes from Arctic resources, really living large.

"In many ways, the New North is well positioned for the coming century even as its unique ecosystem is threatened by the linked forces of hydrocarbon development and amplified climate change," states Smith

The book, to be released Sept. 23, suggests Canada and the other "NORCs" — Northern Rim Countries — are poised to become polar tigers similar to how several smaller Asian countries emerged in recent decades as powerhouse Pacific Rim economies.

Arctic oil and gas deposits are seen as key to catapulting Canada into a higher income bracket in the global community. Projected population growth — expected to be proportionally greater in northern latitudes than elsewhere, according to Smith — is also seen as central to the rise of his "New North" on the world stage.

"As worldwide population increases by 40 per cent over the next 40 years, sparsely populated Canada, Scandinavia, Russia and the northern United States will become formidable economic powers and migration magnets," states the UCLA summary of Smith's vision. "While wreaking havoc on the environment, global warming will liberate a treasure trove of oil, gas, water and other natural resources previously locked in the frozen North, enriching residents and attracting newcomers."

..."In many ways, the stresses that will be very apparent in other parts of the world by 2050 — like coastal inundation, water scarcity, heat waves and violent cities — will be easing or unapparent in northern places," Smith states. "The cities that are rising in these NORC countries are amazingly globalized, livable and peaceful."

"NORCs will be among the few places on Earth where crop production will likely increase due to climate change," the UCLA summary states, and "NORCs will become the envy of the world for their reserves of fresh water — which may be sold and transported to other regions."

Now I realize Smith is a geographer but he plainly hasn't factored in what the rest of the world will look like while we're basking in our new northern paradise.   Smith seems to assume that the rest of the world will just lay down and die.   Studies done by the Pentagon and Britain's Ministry of Defence don't see a climate change ravaged world nearly as benign as geographer Smith imagines.   As Gwynne Dyer points out in his book Climate Wars, it isn't global warming that will kill us.   We'll be swept up in wars long before we get to that point.   If we want to live in peace and prosperity, we'll have to be prepared to do an awful lot of killing to defend it.

No More Schoolboys

When you look through the ranks of successful Canadian prime ministers, there's a common thread.

What do these leaders have in common - Martin, Chretien, Campbell, Mulroney, Turner, Trudeau, Diefenbaker, St. Laurent, MacKenzie King, Bennett, Meighen, Borden, Laurier, Thompson, Abbott and Macdonald?

They were all lawyers.   Admittedly a few of them were controversial and a few weren't great but most of them did pretty well for the country.   The telling fact is that all the really great Canadian prime ministers save for Pearson were lawyers.   That's not coincidence.

So my Liberal friends.   When you're casting about for your next leader, forget about the university schoolboys.   You've tried that twice.   Find yourself a really good lawyer, someone who comes to the job trained to fight.   In fact I've got just the one for you - Louise Arbour.  If you can get her aboard, she'll be dandy.

And Now They're Apologizing?

The Japanese waited until just about everyone was dead but how they've apologized for the "inhumane treatment" they doled out to U.S. POWs during WWII.

Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada met with six surviving former POWs on Monday.   Thousands of Americans died on the infamous Baatan Death March.   Many who survived were put to work as slave labour in plants owned by what are today some of Japan's major manufacturers, outfits like Mitsui, Mitsubishi and Kawasaki.

Some of the former POWs remain bitter that these Japanese industries have never offered them so much as an apology.   They're angry that these manufacturers denied them proper food or medical care and allowed employees to beat them for no reason.   Yeah, well, that's Japan and, besides, you did get to nuke them.

Taliban-US Talks Making Progress

Can We Trust Them?
Asia Times Online has been reporting on clandestine negotiations between the United States and the Taliban leadership conducted through intermediaries Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.  The news service that the process is "gaining momentum" as the U.S. and its allies look for ways to get out of Afghanistan.

In principle, the Taliban have agreed to clearly state their position on several issues so that formal talks with Washington will be internationally acceptable. In particular, the Taliban will explain their stance on al-Qaeda.

Asia Times Online has learned that the backchannel talks have to date resulted in the Taliban agreeing to issue a policy statement on their relationship with al-Qaeda. They will clarify that they provided protection to al-Qaeda in Afghanistan in line with Afghan traditions of being hospitable.

The Taliban will spell out their position of decrying international terrorism and of not supporting violence in Muslim countries. Above all, they will clearly state that the Taliban are an indigenous movement struggling against foreign occupation forces with no agenda outside Afghan boundaries.

...During this Ramadan's talks in the UAE, Taliban representatives indicated a willingness to accept a more broad-based political setup in Afghanistan.

...During the talks in the UAE, it was clarified that the Taliban would not allow any training camps for international terrorism on their territory.

Can the Taliban be trusted to keep these promises?   Probably not.   Does that really matter?  Probably not.   The idea for Washington and its allies is to get out of Afghanistan with something, anything that provides a suitable appearance or narrative to justify an inconclusive, decade-long war.

Asia Times Online earlier reported that the deal being discussed might see something resembling a quasi-partition of Afghanistan with the Pashtun south going to the Talibs.   Curiously enough, that might be the only deal that would be acceptable to the Tajiks, Uzbeks and Hazara tribes of the north.

What was that line Nixon coined?   Oh yeah, "Peace with Honour."

Within the United States the PR machine is already getting up to speed.   According to the LA Times, even some of the Afghan war's biggest boosters are now changing their tune:

"The current strategy isn't working, and it's costing roughly $100 billion a year," Haass, a former aide to then-Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, told me last week. "It's time for a major recalibration: not an immediate withdrawal but a significant scaling down of our ambitions."

And last week, a group of 46 foreign policy experts issued a joint report arguing that the goal of building a unified, stable Afghanistan is beyond the ability of the United States, and unnecessary to boot. The panel, the Afghanistan Study Group, included both longtime critics of the war and some who supported U.S. policy until recently.

"A U.S. military victory over the Taliban is simply not necessary to protect U.S. interests," said one of its members, Paul R. Pillar, a former CIA counter-terrorism official.