Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Did You Hear the One About the F-35?

There's enough stuff in the F-35 to get a comedian through a HBO special.  The latest guffaw - its gun doesn't shoot.  It's there and everything - gun, ammunition, the lot.  Pilots just won't be able to fire it for a while, 2019 at the earliest.

At this point, it's not even funny how much the Pentagon has screwed up the development of its new stealth fighter jet, the F-35. But the latest report that the jet's 25mm cannon won't be operational until 2019 at the earliest is just laughable. Even more laughable is that it probably doesn't even need the gun to begin with.
Unnamed Air Force officials revealed the bad news in a Daily Beast story about the F-35. Apparently the software that will power the four-barreled rotary cannon on the Air Force version of the jet, the F-35A, won't be ready for at least four more years. The Navy and Marine Corps version use a different cannon, but it'll also be years before the software's ready for those guns.
The real kicker here is that the gun is probably just dead weight (read: a waste of taxpayer dollars) anyways. The F-35A's cannon can fire 3,300 rounds per minute but can only hold 180 rounds. "I would be lying if I said there exists any plausible tactical air-to-air scenario where the F-35 will need to employ the gun," one senior Air Force official told the Daily Beast. "Personally, I just don't see it ever happening and think they should have saved the weight [by getting rid of the gun altogether]."
But wait, you need a gun for the close support role, the ground-pounding stuff in support of friendly infantry.  Oh, I get it.  Of course the F-35 with its astronomical price tag and single-engine vulnerability is just too costly and too easily damaged to be exposed to close support missions.  And of course it's too slow and short-range to be much use as an interceptor.  And it's too slow in speed, turn and climb rate to survive as a dogfighter.  And, of course, having just 180 rounds of cannon ammunition is something of an admission that it's not intended for close support or interception or dogfighting.  What does that leave? Oh yeah, that's right, it's a bomber.

No, It's the Environment, Stupid.

David Suzuki once observed that we cannot have a healthy economy without a healthy environment.  It shouldn't require a PhD to grasp that yet it's astonishing how so many well-educated people, including our political leadership, simply don't get it.

In his year-end column, Gwynne Dyer concludes that climate change isn't a major problem.  It's the problem, the threat that supercedes all the rest.  It's the Alpha and Omega, the Big Enchilada, the Sword of Damocles.

...imagine that we are a panel of high-priced medicos reviewing the health status of our most important client, the human race.
The first thing to note is that the client is still piling on weight at an alarming rate—up from two billion units to seven billion in the past 75 years—but continues to thrive, for the most part. And most of the ailments that it worries about are mere hypochondria.

Take, for example, the widespread concern (at least in the media and among what Bob Fisk calls the “think-tank mountebanks”) that the emergence of the so-called Islamic State in the no-man’s land between Iraq and Syria will lead to catastrophe. There will allegedly be a surge in terrorist attacks around the world, a Sunni-Shia religious war spanning the entire Middle East, or even a global religious war between Muslims and everybody else.
...The whole “Islamic State” panic is a tempest in a fairly small teacup. The casualties are small, and the entire region matters little economically or strategically except to its own inhabitants. Even in the unlikely event that a Sunni-Shia religious war should engulf the whole of the Middle East, it would have no more effect on the rest of the planet than the European wars of religion four centuries ago had on the Middle East. That is to say, hardly any.

So in terms of the global system’s health, the rise of radical Islamism is not a life-threatening disease. It’s a local infection that will probably have to run its course. If it really gets bad, some quarantine measures may be needed, but this is not Ebola.
The other great shock of 2014 was a war in Europe. The Ukrainian revolution of last February was a messy and complicated business, but it need not have ended in Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea and in a Russian-backed separatist war in Ukraine’s two easternmost provinces. 
...Western European governments are so divided and introspective that they could not come up with a credible plan to boil an egg, and they care very little about the parts of Eastern Europe beyond the European Union’s borders. The only section of the American population that sees President Obama’s administration as capable of hatching a plot is the extreme right, and they think he’s a foreign-born Communist plotting the overthrow of the United States.
...So far the patient’s health is looking pretty good. There is the usual clutter of minor ailments—a mini-civil war here (Libya, South Sudan), civil-rights protesters under attack there (Hong Kong, Missouri)—and there is a significant possibility that next year will bring another recession. That’s as inevitable as catching a cold once in a while. But there has been nothing really out of the ordinary this year, nothing that sets off alarm bells.

The only big worry the doctors have is the same one that has bothered them for the past 25 years: the patient simply won’t stop smoking. Their increasingly grave warnings are met with empty promises to cut back or quit entirely, but not right now, just some time far in the future. Maybe.
...Climate change is the spectre at every feast, the unstoppable rot that undermines every positive development. The failure at Copenhagen in 2009 bleeds indistinguishably into the fudge at Durban in 2011 and on into the feeble compromise in Lima in 2014, which sets us up for the bigger disappointment of Paris in 2015. And even if by some miracle we get a useful agreement in Paris next year, nothing will actually be done until 2020.

The patient thinks there’s still plenty of time to quit. There isn’t.
2015 is poised to be our "make it or break it" year and, unfortunately, "break it" has a solid lead.  Even if we somehow do achieve a meaningful, effective climate change deal in Paris, one that actually leads to the rapid decarbonization of our economies and our societies, it will only be a first step on our path to find ways that will allow 9-billion humans to live in some rough balance with our environment and what remains of our non-human lifeforms.  
We're in it now, in it up to our necks, and "the economy" isn't going to get us out of this one.  

Monday, December 29, 2014

Orbital Lapse

European Space Agency astronaut, Alexander Gerst, compiled this breathtaking series of timelapse videos from the International Space Station.

John Oliver on How to Celebrate New Year's Eve - Don't.

Just the sort of thing to appeal to a true Curmudgeon.

What Santa Forgot this Christmas

No, this wasn't under the tree Christmas morning and am I pissed.  The AeroMobil  from Slovakia.  124 mph max speed with 430 miles on a full tank of gas.  29 mpg highway.  Landings might be a little tricky.

Just Three. What Are Yours?

Three will do; not four, not two.

I want you to take a bit of time to dwell on this.  What are the three character traits/flaws of Stephen Joseph Harper you most abhor?

Maybe you see the world differently but I have never known any politician that wasn't flawed in some way.  I suppose that's a function of human nature.  Those from other parties always seem more burdened with personality failures than our own.  Yet even Mulroney made some good calls, several in fact.  He was right on South Africa, standing his ground even against Thatcher and Reagan.  He was right on the environment, especially acid rain.  Some of his policies seemed wrong-headed, sure, and he was an unrepentant tout but, overall, he had the best interests of the country - as he saw them - in his heart.

I don't see any of that in the current prime minister.  At this point I'm tempted to reel off some adjectives of my own to capture how I see Stephen Harper but I'll wait to read your take on the guy.

Take your time.  Think it through.  Go right back to the beginning of the reign of our imperial prime minister.  Compare the things he has done that most irk you and, from them, identify the character traits behind them.  Try to resist the inevitable urge to fall back on pejoratives for it may be within these character flaws that we'll discern Harper's true Achilles' heel and how best to exploit his vulnerabilities in 2015.

Above all else, have fun.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

If It Scares Canadians, It's Manna from Heaven for the Tories

Manipulating the public with carefully tailored fear is despicable.  It's also the entire first chapter in Stephen Harper's playbook.  He's been incredibly successful in using fear as a weapon to motivate his own political base from the outset.

If you own a working television set chances are you've seen the Harper government's anti-marijuana ad.  It's ostensibly the work of Health Canada but the ad bears the imprimatur of the Prime Minister's Office because it's based on falsehoods calculated to scare gullible parents.

An ominous 30-second ad now on YouTube and TV warns that smoking too many joints can seriously harm a teen's developing brain, with the words "Decreased IQ" crossing the screen.

The spot was chosen after that message got the strongest reaction from focus groups of parents who were privately shown a similar ad and several alternatives in cities across Canada in June.
The parents, described by the interviewers as "generally uninformed regarding marijuana health risks," reacted with alarm when told marijuana can trigger psychosis, schizophrenia and a drop in IQ in young, still-developing brains.
The information on the harmful effects of cannabis on mental functioning was "surprising and scary" to them, says a newly released report by Harris Decima, commissioned by Health Canada at a cost of $95,000.
It's been an aspect of HarperLand that the public service has been transformed into a personal partisan agency of the prime minister.  The ad that is being aired was chosen based on focus group reactions according to which they found most alarming.  It's obviously designed to give Harper's anti-marijuana stance more public support in the 2015 election and, best of all, it's electioneering on the public dime.

Is Raul Castro's Cuba the First Big Winner in Cold War II?

Now that Washington and Havana appear to be on the road to kissing and making up, it's worth considering whether the timing is really that spontaneous?

Cuba was always the Soviet's toe hold in the Americas.  It was over Soviet designs in Cuba that the world was brought to the brink of nuclear Armageddon.

The Soviets propped up Fidel Castro by buying Cuba's sugar crop at premium prices.  With the collapse of the USSR, Cuba's economy took a big hit as Moscow withdrew.  Since then Cuba has been mainly important to American foreign policy for the Cuban exile vote in Florida that some, such as Clinton and Bush, shamelessly courted with promises of "get tough" action against the Communist regime.

But, as Obama correctly noted, America's sanctions haven't worked.  The exile vote doesn't command the clout it enjoyed in decades past.  And then there's Putin.

Vlad, the "Russian Impaler," has been responding to Western sanctions with military feints and other provocations: bombers flying at the edge of Western airspace; 'near miss' intercepts, mystery submarines showing themselves in the home waters of European states.

We don't know what has passed between Moscow and Havana lately but, for optics, there could hardly be anything to surpass a renewed Russian presence in Cuba - Russian aircraft deployed to Cuban airbases, Russian ships and subs patrolling in the Gulf of Mexico, that sort of thing.

With Russia's economy reeling from sanctions and collapsed world oil prices and Putin's own position lately in question, this is a truly propitious moment for Washington to do some long overdue Caribbean housekeeping and bring Cuba back into the American fold. It's good for Cuba. It will do wonders to improve America's flagging reputation with the OAS.  It should keep Putin from getting any ideas about parking Russian forces in America's back yard as NATO has done in Russia's.  It almost puts a fresh coat of paint on the Monroe Doctrine for Moscow and Beijing alike.

Smooth move Barack Obama.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Isn't One Century of Muddled Thinking and Mass Mayhem Enough?

World War One, the "War to End All Wars" didn't.  Instead it begat World War Two which, in turn, begat the Cold War (that remained "cold" in large measure due to pure luck).  Now we discover that decisions taken in the wake of Cold War One, just like bad decisions taken in the aftermath of World War One and World War Two, has begat Cold War Two.

This is brilliantly analyzed by economist Jeffry Sachs who played an instrumental role in events that led to the undoing of the Soviet Union and watched as the West stupidly overplayed its hand, paving the way for inevitable conflict we're experiencing today.  In his view, "today's global problems are hangovers from bad, ungenous decisions at the end of previous conflicts."

Sachs recounts the heady days 30-years ago when he assisted Poland's transition from communism to democracy and a western economy.

As a newly minted economist some 30 years ago, I suddenly found myself charged with helping a small and largely forgotten country, Bolivia, to find a way out of its own unmitigated economic disaster. Keynes's writings helped me to understand that Bolivia's financial crisis should be viewed in social and political terms, and that Bolivia's creditor, the US, had a shared responsibility of resolving Bolivia's financial anguish.

My experience in Bolivia in 1985-86 soon brought me to Poland in the spring of 1989, at a dual invitation of Poland's final communist government and the Solidarity trade union movement that strongly opposed it. Poland, like Bolivia, was financially bankrupt. And Europe in 1989, like Europe in 1919, was at a great hinge-moment of history.

...These were heady days for me as an economic adviser. My wish, it seemed on some days, was the White House's command. One morning, in September 1989, I appealed to the US Government for $1bn for Poland's currency stabilisation. By evening, the White House confirmed the money. No kidding, an eight-hour turnaround time from request to result. Convincing the White House to support a sharp cancellation of Poland's debts took a bit longer, with high-level negotiations stretching out for about a year, but those too proved to be successful.

The rest, as they say, is history. Poland undertook very strong reform measures, based in part on recommendations that I had helped to design. The US and Europe supported those measures with timely and generous aid. Poland's economy began to restructure and grow, and 15 years later it became a full-fledged member of the European Union.

I wish that I could stop my reminiscing here, with this happy story. But alas, the story of the end of the Cold War is not only one of Western successes, as in Poland, but also one of great Western failure vis-a-vis Russia. While American and European generosity and the long view prevailed in Poland, American and European actions vis-a-vis post-Soviet Russia looks were much more like the horrendous blunders of Versailles. And we are paying the consequences to this day.

In 1990 and 1991, Gorbachev's government, seeing the emerging positive results in Poland, asked me to help advise it on economic reforms. Russia at the time was facing the same kind of financial calamity that had engulfed Bolivia in the mid-1980s and Poland by 1989.

In the spring of 1991, I worked with colleagues at Harvard and MIT to assist Gorbachev to obtain financial support from the West as part of his efforts at political reform and economic overhaul. Yet our efforts fell flat - indeed they failed entirely.

Gorbachev left the G7 summit that summer of 1991 and returned to Moscow empty-handed. When he returned to Moscow with no results, a conspiracy attempted to oust him in the notorious August Putsch, from which he never recovered politically. With Boris Yeltsin ascendant, and the dissolution of the Soviet Union now on the table, Yeltsin's economic team again asked me for assistance, both in the technical challenges of stabilisation, and in the quest to obtain vital financial assistance from the US and Europe.

I predicted to President Yeltsin and his team that help would soon be on the way. After all, emergency help for Poland was arranged in hours or weeks. Surely the same would happen for the newly independent and democratic Russia. Yet I watched in puzzlement and growing horror that the needed aid was not on the way.

Where Poland had been granted debt relief, Russia instead faced harsh demands by the US and Europe to keep paying its debts in full. Where Poland had been granted rapid and generous financial aid, Russia received study groups from the IMF but no money. I begged and beseeched the US to do more. I pleaded the lessons of Poland, but all to no avail. The US government would not budge.

In the end, Russia's malignant financial crisis overwhelmed the efforts at reform and normality. The reform government of Yegor Gaidar fell from grace and from power. I resigned after two hard years of trying to help, and of accomplishing very little indeed. A few years later, Vladimir Putin replaced Yeltsin at the helm.

Throughout this debacle, the US pundits blamed the reformers rather than the cruel neglect by the US and Europe. Victors write the history, as they say, and the US felt very much the victor of the Cold War. The US would therefore remain blameless in any accounts of Russia's mishaps after 1991, and that remains true today.

It took me 20 years to gain a proper understanding of what had happened after 1991. Why had the US, which had behaved with such wisdom and foresight in Poland, acted with such cruel neglect in the case of Russia? Step by step, and memoir by memoir, the true story came to light. The West had helped Poland financially and diplomatically because Poland would become the Eastern ramparts of an expanding Nato. Poland was the West, and was therefore worthy of help. Russia, by contrast, was viewed by US leaders roughly the same way that Lloyd George and Clemenceau had viewed Germany at Versailles - as a defeated enemy worthy to be crushed, not helped.

A recent book by a former Nato commander, General Wesley Clark, recounts a 1991 conversation he had with Paul Wolfowitz, who was then the Pentagon's policy director. Wolfowitz told Clark that the US had learned that it could now act with impunity in the Middle East, and ostensibly in other regions as well, without any threat of Russian interference.

In short, the US would behave like a victor and a bully, claiming the fruits of Cold War victory through wars of choice if necessary. The US would be on top, and Russia would be unable to stop it.

...The shadow of 1989 looms large. And Nato's continued desire, expressed again just recently, to add Ukraine to its membership, thereby putting Nato right up on the Russian border, must be regarded as profoundly unwise and provocative.

1914, 1989, 2014. We live in history. In Ukraine, we face a Russia embittered over the spread of Nato and by US bullying since 1991. In the Middle East, we face the ruins of the Ottoman Empire, destroyed by WW1, and replaced by the cynicism of European colonial rule and US imperial pretentions.

We face, most importantly, choices for our time. Will we use power cynically and to dominate, believing that territory, Nato's long reach, oil reserves, and other booty are the rewards of power? Or will we exercise power responsibly, knowing that generosity and beneficence builds trust, prosperity, and the groundwork for peace? In each generation, the choice must be made anew.

Sachs captures the cynicism of our age, the darkness that may propel us, even if unwittingly, back into war.  The bony finger of triumphalism still taps the cadence of conflict in Washington, London and Ottawa.  We somehow think that punishing Russia is worth the risk of destabilizing the great Bear and it's this warped thinking that refuses to recognize our duplicity and bullying of Russia, layer upon layer since 1991.  It's a story of hubris and death and mass suffering, again and again and again.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Last Dalai Lama?

I don't get it.  The Dalai Lama thinks this might be a good time to abolish - the Dalai Lama.

In a wide-ranging interview, the 79-year-old Dalai Lama conceded that he may not have a successor.

"The Dalai Lama institution will cease one day. These man-made institutions will cease.

"There is no guarantee that some stupid Dalai Lama won't come next, who will disgrace himself or herself. That would be very sad. So, much better that a centuries old tradition should cease at the time of a quite popular Dalai Lama."

The Dalai Lama has previously indicated he plans to hand his political responsibilities to an elected representative, saying in 2011 that such a move was in the best interests of the Tibetan people.

Maybe the Dalai of all Lamas is losing it.  The way it's supposed to go is that he dies and then is reincarnated in another body of his choosing.  That sets the High Lamas on a search to discover where he's gone.
To start the search, High Lamas may have a vision or a dream.  If  the previous Dalai Lama was cremated, they watch the direction of the smoke to indicate the direction of rebirth.
They often meditate at Lhamo La-Tso, central Tibet's holy lake, and wait for a vision or indication of the direction in which to search.  This relates to a belief that the female guardian spirit of the lake promised the first Dalai Lama that she would protect the reincarnation lineage.
When these visions have been followed up and a boy found, there are a series of tests to ensure that he is the rebirth.  There is a secret set of criteria against which the child is assessed.  In addition to this, the main test consists of presenting the boy with a number of items to see if he can select those which belonged to the previous Dalai Lama.
I'm not religious but I think the Dalai Lama is, like Pope Francis, a good guy and a force for good.  That said, is he admitting that this whole reincarnation business is a scam?  If he's the past, the current and the future Dalai Lama - all rolled into one - how can he see himself transforming into someone stupid or, gasp, a girl?
This is all too much for me.  Maybe he's just messing with our heads.

We Just Keep Getting it Wrong

It's a guessing game and we're not very good at it.  The "game" is trying to work out how quickly the planet's ice fields are melting.  In essence, we're guessing how much time we have before the meltwater hits our shores.

The latest guesstimate to fall is the Greenland ice sheet.  It's melting faster than we anticipated.  What is it this time?  It's these things:

See those dark spots on the surface of the ice sheet?  They're called "supraglacial lakes."  They're surface meltwater and, as the Arctic continues to warm, they're expected to grow both in numbers and in size.  They would be a lot bigger already except that many of them manage to drain down through the ice sheet where the rivers of meltwater lubricate the ice above and speed its flow to the sea.

As those lakes grow and spread they also absorb more solar energy than the ice, accelerating the melt.  Here are some images to show how the Greenland ice sheet is decomposing:

No one has an accurate estimate of what this will mean in terms of sea level rise. What is known is that the estimate of 8 inches of rise by 2100 caused by the Greenland ice sheet is way off the mark.

Let's Hope We Know What We're Doing.

It's hard to know what we really wanted.  When the West slammed Russia with sanction piled upon sanction were we seeking retribution over Moscow's aggression toward Ukraine or were we really trying to bring Russia to its knees?

Western leaders have developed a nasty habit of not thinking things through.  We seem too willing to act without regard for ultimate consequences.  That's how we steered ourselves into wars without end in Afghanistan and Iraq.  It was that sort of geopolitical retardation that allowed us to march NATO right to Russia's doorstep, a risky gambit that gained us - well, on balance nothing.

As Russia's economy staggers toward collapse we need to ask what that means to us.  Of course Russia's problems neither begin nor end with us, the West. Russia's woes can be laid at the feet of the West, Saudi Arabia and Moscow itself.

Western sanctions have hit Russia hard.  The Saudi oil war against Iran, Russia and the United States has hurt Russia badly.  And Moscow's decision to go on the petro-gravy train at the expense of revitalizing Russia's industrial and agricultural economy has greatly compounded its difficulties.  (Canadians might take that last one as a teaching moment)

How bad has it become in Russia?  Bad enough for the central bank to raise interest rates from 10.5% to 17% overnight.  That bad.

The head of Russia's central bank warned Russians on Tuesday morning that they should get used to a new way of life, as the country's embattled currency continued to plummet.  After a brief rally, the rouble hit new historic lows on Tuesday, just hours after an overnight rise in interest rates designed to halt its fall.

"We have to learn to live in a different zone, to orient ourselves more towards our own sources of financing, and to give a chance to import substitution," said Elvira Nabiullina, the chair of the central bank. 

Unfortunately what we have done and the havoc we have caused is the sort of thing that triggers Vlad Putin's nationalistic instincts.  Let's face it, he has to tell his people something.  Do you think he's going to write off the collapse of Russia's economy to mismanagement by Moscow? Hardly. Russians are already well conditioned to distrust the West.  They're steeped in the rich history of Russian resistance to invaders like Napoleon and Hitler. They've seen NATO creep up to their borders. How hard will it be to convince them their current troubles are just another assault by the West?

When Russians fall on hard times they take great pride in their military and the defence of the Rodina.  Right now, with chaos creeping across so many regions, that might not be an ideal place to steer Russia into.


A White House spokesman announced today that Barack Obama will sign into law a further wave of sanctions passed by Congress on Saturday.   Secretary of State, John Kerry, goes to lengths to wash America's hands by claiming that the sanctions aren't targeted against the Russian people.  Then again, Bill Clinton said the same thing about his sanctions that led to the deaths of countless thousands of Iraqi children.  The hypocrisy is breathtaking.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Gwynne Dyer Explains Why the Lima Climate Summit Failed and Why Paris Will Too.

When it comes to thwarting catastrophic global warming, we won't have it.  It's that simple.  On climate change - as on the companion dilemmas of over-population and over-consumption - the people of the developed world and our leaders will not accept the obvious solutions.

Gwynne Dyer explains why the Lima Summit ended in failure and dooms the Paris Summit next year to more of the same.

This is the deal killer. You cannot get the developing countries to cap their greenhouse gas emissions unless they get subsidies from the rich countries to help them build “clean” energy sources instead. And the developed countries regard this demand for subsidies ($100 billion a year was the figure on the table at Copenhagen five years ago) as outrageous.
It is not really outrageous at all. In view of the history of greenhouse gas emissions, it is quite fair. But almost nobody in the developed countries knows that history.
It’s quite simple. The developed countries are rich because they started burning fossil fuels between 100 and 200 years ago and industrialized early. The developing countries only started burning fossil fuels in a big way 30 or 40 years ago, and are still climbing out of poverty. So 80 percent of the greenhouse gases of human origin in the atmosphere were put there by the rich countries.
The rich countries caused this climate crisis; the developing countries only inherited it. So the responsibility for dealing with it—and paying for it—rests mostly with those who caused it.
Until public opinion in the developed world understands that this deal is fair, no government in the rich world will dare to sign up for it. It would be political suicide. And until that deal is signed, no major developing country will agree to cap its emissions.
In the developing world, everybody who counts politically understands the history of greenhouse gas emissions very well. One does sometimes wonder if the rich world’s apparent ignorance of this history is a little bit self-serving.
It is the same intransigence on the climate change front that will undermine any effective action on over-population and excessive consumption of our planet's resources.  We can't solve any of these truly existential threats without solving them all and no one is willing to accept the peaceful solutions.  We'll mumble and dither and drag our heels as those best solutions, difficult as they may be, those peaceful solutions, one by one slip through our fingers and are foreclosed forever.

BC Liberals Praise Coal and Ask All British Columbians to Feel Blessed.

I guess it's the Christmas Spirit seen through the eyes of British Columbia's neo-Liberal government.  BC mines minister, Bill Bennett, issued a press release, "Stuff Your Stockings with BC Coal."

No matter whether you light the menorah, trim the tree or setup the Festivus Pole, your holiday activities likely have a connection to a lump of coal mined right here in British Columbia.
From the planes, trains and automobiles that are used to transport holiday gifts, to the stores where those gifts are sold - they all require steel. That steel is made using metallurgical coal. Upwards of 90% of the coal produced in British Columbia is metallurgical coal.
In 2013, B.C. exported more than 28 million tonnes of metallurgical coal. Planning to drive to the mall over the holidays? There are approximately three million cars in B.C. and it takes roughly 630 kilograms of metallurgical coal to produce a single vehicle.
Nothing says Canadian winter like lacing up the ice skates for a game of hockey. The steel blades that make breakaway goals possible start out as metallurgical coal. Coal production is a mainstay of the province's economy, generating billions of dollars in annual revenue and supporting thousands of well- paying jobs. Coal production currently represents over half of the total mineral production revenues in the province. 

I guess Bennett never learned that coal in the stocking is for naughty kids.

Harper Races to Abbott's Aid in Australia's Moment of Need

Stephen Harper has pledged that "Australia will not stand alone" as he revealed that Canada's six remaining CF-18 fighters have been dispatched to an airbase "down under" from where they'll begin bombing strikes against ISIS targets in Sydney tomorrow.

Even though the hostage incident ended with Australian police storming the cafe and shooting the gunman, Harper said it's important the cafe be leveled as a warning to Islamic extremists and environmentalists around the world.  He promised reconstruction aid to establish a Tim Horton's in its place.

Harper said while mosques will remain "more or less off-limits" a team of Canadian special forces is already scouring Sydney to identify targets such as fallafel stands or halal butcher shops for future airstrikes.

Canada's bombing mission to Australia is expected to last no more than six months but Harper said he won't be tied down by deadlines.

Harper angrily denied that the deployment will leave Canadian airspace undefended, saying that Canadian sovereignty will be protected by the United States Air Force, "just like they've been doing all along, ya ninny."

The prime minister has also dispatched foreign affairs minister, John Baird, and several dozen aides to tour the devastation.  For his part, minister Baird said he's heard the after hours scene in Sydney is simply amazing.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

The Scots Give Steve Harper a Thistle Up the Kilt.

The Scots are doing it.  Their expansion of renewable energy allowed them to displace fossil fuels by 14% last year.

Joss Blamire, a senior policy manager at Scottish Renewables, added: "This means that not only are renewables now the number one source of electricity in Scotland, but we have achieved this milestone while preventing a record amount of harmful carbon emissions from being released into our atmosphere.
"Renewable energy in Scotland is doing exactly what it was designed to do - creating jobs, securing our energy supplies and, most importantly, reducing our carbon emissions to help limit climate change."
WWF Scotland director Lang Banks said the results were "fantastic news".
'Leading the way'
Speaking from the UN's climate change conference in Lima, Peru, Mr Banks added: "That renewables in Scotland are now helping to displace almost a million tonnes of climate pollution every month is proof that a renewable power sector is the foundation of a truly low carbon economy - keeping the lights on, creating jobs and cutting emissions."
Did you hear that Steve (and you too Justin, ditto for you Tommy) - they're creating jobs, securing energy supplies and reducing carbon emissions.  Jobs and energy security - isn't that what you guys are all about?  Or is it only petro-jobs and fossil energy security?

Wo Bist Du, LeDaro?

It's been a while since I've seen anything from friend, LeDaro.  His last post was on 26 October and he had been a regular commenter on several other blogs - but he seems to have fallen silent?

Anybody know what's up?

Not Like They Weren't Warned

"The means of defence against foreign danger
 historically have become the instruments of tyranny at home."

                                                                   - James Madison

Americans revere their "founding fathers."  Their Supreme Court constantly cites them as authority for its decisions.  Their politicians rely on their words to defend their actions and attack those of their rivals.  The only thing nobody seems to have much interest in is listening to their actual words.


Oops, sorry - that's the Wehrmacht

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Reflections on a Nation Brought Low From Within pundit Andrew O'Hehir looks at the week's revelations on American torture and sees in it the demise of American democracy.  O'Hehir asks, "Can we quit pretending torture is some huge aberration?  It fits into a larger pattern of America's imperial decay."  He says it's convenient to blame this on Cheney and his consorts but "that's bullshit."

Torture is a symptom of America’s cultural and political disease, not the disease itself, and the fact that we turned to torture so rapidly and willingly after a single spectacular terrorist attack is evidence of a generalized infection. When Darth Cheney opened his robes, in that infamous “Meet the Press” appearance five days after the 9/11 attacks, and invited us to join him on “the dark side,” we went willingly, even gratefully. It’s not as if Cheney dissembled or tried to mislead anybody; say what you will about the guy, lying isn’t really part of his M.O. “We’ve got to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world,” he said. “A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion … That’s the world these folks operate in, and so it’s going to be vital for us to use any means at our disposal, basically, to achieve our objective.”

We can claim now that we didn’t know what Cheney meant by “without any discussion” or “any means at our disposal,” but not to put too fine a point on it, that’s bullshit. Sure, there were a handful of civil libertarians and lefty journalists who sounded the alarm, but most of us just nodded knowingly: It was a new world with new rules, and it came as a great relief to ditch the old-fashioned, unattainable ideal of American exceptionalism – the notion that we were special because we represented something new and revolutionary in human history. The new version of American exceptionalism is not based on any such delusions. Cheney set us free from the legacy of daylight Thomas Jefferson, who saw that the chattel slavery that made him rich was a curse that might never be expunged; free from the legacy of Lincoln at Gettysburg, or King on the National Mall. Screw government of the people, by the people and for the people. What a pain in the ass! If we’re exceptional now, it’s in an obvious and brutal way we can all get our heads around, because we’ve got the biggest guns and the most stuff. (That won’t last, of course.)

..U.C. Berkeley professor Mark Danner observes that war architects like Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld appear blissfully unaware of a fact obvious to everyone else: Their Iraq invasion, meant to forge a Pax Americana in the Middle East and cow “rogue nations” into submission, has had exactly the opposite effect. It has exposed American military might as a paper tiger, possessed of the magical power to create more enemies in every country it touches, and has encouraged the rise of a new adversary, more sophisticated and culture-savvy than al-Qaida ever was. It has made us look both weak and evil.
Torture apologists fall into the same epistemological error — and the same existential nihilism, you might say — when they announce that they don’t care how many eggs get broken as long as we are kept safe. (Then there’s the wimpier, “moderate” Obama administration version, which is every bit as offensive: Without quite endorsing what did or did not happen, we’re going to agree never to think about it again.) First of all, we’re almost certainly less safe. More important than that, the criminal acts meant to keep us safe have stripped us bare before the whole world as a lawless and decadent empire that doesn’t look as if it’s worth saving.
In order to save democracy, the torturers had to destroy it. Somewhere in Nietzsche’s discussion of “decadence,” an important concept in his philosophy, he defines it as a quality that leads people or societies to seek their own deterioration and destruction. (Nietzsche was certainly no fan of democracy, but he also noted that decadent societies were characterized by severe social and economic inequality and a lack of moral and intellectual leadership.) I don’t suggest that Dick Cheney and his Fox News acolytes harbor a conscious death-wish; they lack the imagination and insight for that. But their nightmarish fantasies all point toward that outcome. It’s as good an explanation of America’s insane response to 9/11 as any. What kind of society produces physicians who will supervise waterboarding and “rectal feeding,” or psychologists who spin the supervision of a secret torture program into an $80 million government contract? What ideal of America is being preserved by such methods, and will it bear their mark forever?

The Dads of Christmas

How many of us haven't ever had to wear a Christmas sweater at some point? These fellows simply do it better.

And here's Sainsbury's 2014 Christmas ad.  You'll like it.

NATO Commander Says Key to Defeating ISIS Isn't Bombing

US general Philip Breedlove and Liberal leader Justin Trudeau seem to be on the same page when it comes to tackling the Islamic State.

The NATO supreme commander says the key to defeating ISIS (and other Islamist extremists) is to get at the root causes of their radicalism.

"Until we have addressed the root causes of these kinds of issues, we can expect to have to deal with these kind of issues," he said, referring to the current U.S.-led mission against the jihadist group ISIS.
Breedlove said the way to address these root causes is by focusing on bringing jobs, education, health and safety to vulnerable places, as well as figuring out how to make governments "responsive to their people."
Hmm, he seems to be saying that you can't bomb extremism out of existence. That's one of the reasons why our All the King's Horses and All the King's Men approach in Afghanistan and Iraq was such an utter failure.
Now this may come as a shock to most Tories and a good many Liberal loudmouths but you don't bring jobs, education, health and safety to vulnerable places with airstrikes and 1,000 pound precision guided bombs.  That's just playing "whack a mole" and the bad guys have shown, again and again, that they can always outlast you.
And one more thing for those Liberal ankle-biters.  Remember, it was Jean Chretien who unequivocally backed young Trudeau's opposition to RCAF air strikes in Iraq. And, please, don't refer to the Iraq conflict with loaded and inappropriate terms such as "genocide."  Genocide was the Central African Republic and the Congo where more than 5-million people were butchered.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

When Steve Carell Channeled Marvin Gaye

In these times we need more of this, a lot more.  Enjoy.  From the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon.

Government's Own F-35 Report Demolishes Myth of F-35 Superiority

A report commissioned by the Harper government concludes that the F-35, stacked up against the competition, is no clear winner except in one area, open state-versus-state warfare, which it concludes is "highly unlikely."

Tabled in the House of Commons on Wednesday, the report represents the culmination of the Conservative government’s F-35 “reset” after Auditor General Michael Ferguson blasted its handling of the stealth fighter project nearly three years ago.
Overseen by an independent panel of experts, defence officials spent a year re-examining the F-35 as well as the Eurofighter Typhoon, Dassault Rafale and Boeing Super Hornet to determine if the aircraft could adequately replace the military’s aging CF-18s.
The report identifies six missions Canada’s next fighter jet will be expected to fulfil. Those include defending Canadian airspace, participating in a Libya-style bombing mission, responding to a terrorist attack, and assisting in a humanitarian emergency or natural disaster.
However, the report says historically, domestic and North American missions have accounted for at least 90 per cent of the work done by Canadian fighter jets.
“Moreover, 80 per cent of the missions flown by the fleet have related to the ability to protect Canadian air space from intrusion,” it adds. “This function is projected to continue to be the most important role of the Canadian fighter capability.”
The report shows all four aircraft were capable of protecting Canadian airspace and performing four of the other missions with minimal risk. “This was due to the fact that most of these missions involve relatively low level of threat and are less onerous for fighter aircraft,” the report says.
Dassault has welcomed the report, saying that the only way for Canada to now move forward is with a "full, open and transparent competition."  Yes, what would be better than a genuine fly-off with the contenders put through their paces in a grueling competition.   That would make Canada the first country to evaluate the F-35 on a "fly before you buy" basis.

Expect Lockheed to do everything in its power to derail any possibility of an open and transparent competition.  Not only might that imperil Lockheed's current lock on the Harper government but it could also reveal to other wary markets just what they're really getting for their defence dollar.  The F-35 is already at a cost disadvantage.  A flying competition could threaten its "wunderplane" publicity.

Is Michigan the Most F_cked Up State in the Union?

Ever since the conquest and occupation of the City of Detroit, the Michigan state government has done some pretty quirky things.

The Boys of Lansing wasted no time passing a union-busting, "right to work for less" labour law in 2012.

Last year the far Right legislature enacted a law that bans all insurance companies from covering abortion costs unless a woman's life is in danger. Women who want that sort of coverage are required to buy an extra rider.

Now working its way through the legislature is a controversial "religious freedom law" that critics claim will clear the way for denial of service to gays and other minorities.

“In many religions, it’s OK for a man to beat his wife,” Brooke Tucker, staff attorney at the ACLU of Michigan, told msnbc. “Based on language in this bill, all he has to say is my religion allows me to do this.”

If you still have any doubts about how unhinged Michigan's state legislature has become, look no further than a bill to amend its renewable energy act to allow the burning of old tires, industrial waste and used oil to be classified as "renewable energy."

Is the Militarization of Cops the Last Straw?

The line between law enforcement and the military is, sadly, blurring.  Today's cops are being equipped with combat weapons and gear, even armoured military vehicles.  They're being trained to operate in military formations - squads and platoons - and they're skilled in some aspects of counter-insurgency.

The bottom line is that this evidences a fracturing of the relationship between governments and their people.  For the public, this may be the last straw as a recent article by Johanna Mendelson Forman of the American University's School of International Service from The Globalist contends:

The appearance of armed personnel carriers, Humvees and other military equipment reveal to Americans – and the world – that U.S. cities are indeed the new war zones.

A key part of the problem is the pervasive access to heavy weaponry by local law enforcement after 9/11. Instead of focusing on community policing – getting closer to the people – law enforcement has actually distanced itself and “tooled up.”

It is scant comfort that local law enforcement agencies sell this as their approach to “homeland security.” Their weaponization – and indeed the militarization of civilian security, as their actions to “defend” themselves against protestors show – is a bridge too far.

...The brutal and violent use of excessive force to arrest Eric Garner, an unarmed citizen, in New York City was inhumane. The illegal chokehold that ultimately killed Garner despite his screams, “I cannot breathe,” reflect two trends that policy analysts have known for a long time.

First, U.S. cities are the newest zone of conflict. And second, this new type of urban warfare mentality has gone hand in hand with a greater tolerance by the U.S. legal system when it comes to holding police accountable for their actions.

Unless we are completely blind, we Americans must urgently realize one painful global reality: What we now see – and practice – at home is precisely the impunity which we Americans so frequently deride in places like Mexico.
There, we know that preservation of the rule of law is often the exception in cases of police corruption or complicity in murder.

But now the shoe is on the other foot: The failure of grand juries to indict policemen in both Ferguson, Missouri, and now in New York City all point to a dangerous conclusion: We Americans are now treating our policing activities as acts of war, and thus hold any offending acts committed in the pursuit of that broader goal to different standards than the civilian ones used to prosecute criminal acts.

Unfortunately, the urban wars of 2014 are not armed conflict as we know it. Instead, they are manifestations of ideological divides like the racism of the police in Missouri or in New York.

These actions are but a mirror that reflects the deeper divides that are rearing their heads all across the country. Whether it is a matter of color or class, all these actions, from Iguala to Ferguson to New York, send a powerful message of exclusion and hopelessness.

And, lest we want to blind ourselves, we must recognize that it is precisely this type of sentiment that lays the groundwork of unrest and instability in any political system.

,,,The result is a potentially dynamic international movement of citizens who have had enough of the status quo and are taking to the streets to make their voices heard.

The demonstrations yesterday in New York City and Washington, DC over the failure to indict police for acts of violence will only grow stronger – unless citizens regain a sense of legitimacy in our criminal justice system.

Of course this sort of thing could never happen in politically stable Canada, eh? That doesn't seem to be how the Canadian Forces see it.  They've even developed an urban warfare camouflage designed to best blend in with the urban setting in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal.  I wonder if they'll add patches with the logos of Enbridge or Kinder Morgan?  Our friend, Lorne, from Politics and its Discontents has supplied a link to a very useful article from The Walrus.  It's a thought-provoking essay, especially in this era of the most secretive, authoritarian government in Canadian history.

Here is an article from AlterNet that also ponders how much more authoritarianism Americans can tolerate and the country's emerging, pro-authoritarian culture.

Welcome to My (Soggy) Neighbourhood

We've been getting soaked lately.  A series of torrential rainstorms often called the "Pineapple Express" has been bringing flooding to Vancouver Island and parts of the Lower Mainland.

Hardest hit has been drought-stricken California.  Unfortunately these squalls can do far more harm than good.  This isn't the sort of precip California needs.

This graphic, depicting the past 72-hours, shows the atmospheric river coming out of the central Pacific to the North American coast.  They call it an atmospheric river because it delivers precip equivalent to 15 times the flow of the Mississippi.

A report in Scientific American explains how these atmospheric rivers can be devastating - and deadly:

 In 1861 an atmospheric river that brought storms for 43 days turned California’s Central Valley into an inland sea 300 miles long and 20 miles wide. Thousands of people died, 800,000 cattle drowned and the state went bankrupt. A similar disaster today would be much more devastating, because the region is much more populated and it is the single largest food producer in the U.S.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

What Madness Looks Like

It's said to be a done deal, just the matter of a few centuries at the outside.  That's how long it's expected to take to melt all the great ice fields of the Earth.  The Arctic sea ice will disappear first, followed by the world's glaciers and then the Greenland ice sheet.  All the while the Antarctic ice sheet will continue to melt into the sea.

So, what's that going to look like say to the average Vancouverite?  Maybe something a lot like this:

As we lose those ice sheets and glaciers we can expect sea level rise of about 80 metres, maybe more.  That would leave the Lower Mainland looking something like this.  The waterfront cities of North and West Vancouver, gone.  Stanley Park, ditto.  The superprime downtown area and the toney communities along what once was English Bay, Jericho and the north shore of the Fraser, completely submerged.   No need to dwell on already low-lying municipalities like Richmond, Delta and White Rock.  They would have been among the first to succumb, their populations evacuated presumably to high ground in the interior.

It's madness yet this is the path we are taking.  Madness.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

We're No Longer Number Last!

Stephen Harper owes his Aussie boyfriend, Tony Abbott, a word of thanks.   The Abbott government's reversal of Australian climate policies has allowed it to displace Canada as the "worst performing industrial country on climate change."

Isn't It Time You Gave the Geezers a Push Back?

I don't like it, not one bit.  If you read enough decent newspapers and journals over enough time you may catch an unwelcome awareness of changes underway across our world.  You may come to the conclusion that we're living in highly perilous times.

Our environment is in peril.  Democracy is in peril, battered by the dual scourges of neoliberalism and the rise of illiberal democracy.  Human, social and political rights are in peril, especially the shredded remnants of privacy.  Our economies are in peril, the world teetering on the cusp of another massive global collapse. Equality - of wealth, income and opportunity - is succumbing to the onslaught of inequality.  Global security is in peril, beset by the spread of insurgency and terrorism, utterly intractable "new war," nuclear proliferation and major regional arms races, and the rise of Cold War II.   Every node of peril grows even as it builds on every other node.

Put another way, the forces of stability and peace seem to be trending rather negatively with no sign of reversal on the horizon.  There's no leader, no political movement that seems remotely up to the task.  In other words, you're screwed and you're on your own.

People of my vintage hope we're sufficiently on in years that we'll miss the grande finale.  We like to imagine there's a 15 to 20-year safety corridor to see us through.  I'm not as assured of that as I once was.

I tell my children that they have to look after themselves.  Don't count on my generation to do the right thing.  We've had plenty of opportunities already and the record speaks for itself.  We do the right thing when it's right for us and, for us, that means right today not necessarily right for the medium or long haul.

Younger generations have to take inventory, figure out what they need of us today and demand it.  Our political institutions have to rein in the geezer bias. This country has to work for everyone, not just old farts because they're more likely to vote. Until we have righted that keel, younger Canadians have to realize there's an inter-generational conflict in play just beneath the surface and they're on the losing end of it.