Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christopher Hitchens: Another Over-Rated Boomer?

Some moves that one might not have predicted: The same year he becomes a U.S. citizen, he also writes a book explaining or defending his atheism. It's kind of remarkable for a U.S. citizen to write such a book, while residing in the U.S. It may even be an example of Hitchens' famous courage in defying convention. I think Michael Newdow made some good points in arguing in front of the U.S. Supreme Court that his daughter had a right not to say (or even be present at the saying of) the Pledge of Allegiance, specifically the recently added phrase "under God."
Again, the Pledge of Allegiance did absolutely fine and with -- got us through two world wars, got us through the Depression, got us through everything without God, and Congress stuck God in there for that particular reason, and the idea that it's not divisive I think is somewhat, you know, shown to be questionable at least by what happened in the result of the Ninth Circuit's opinion. The country went berserk because people were so upset that God was going to be taken out of the Pledge of Allegiance. QUESTION: Do we know -- do we know what the vote was in Congress apropos of divisiveness to adopt the under God phrase? MR. NEWDOW: In 1954? QUESTION: Yes. MR. NEWDOW: It was apparently unanimous. There was no objection. There's no count of the vote. QUESTION: Well, that doesn't sound divisive.(Laughter.) MR. NEWDOW: It doesn't sound divisive if --that's only because no atheist can get elected to public office. The studies show that 48 percent of the population cannot get elected.(Applause.) QUESTION: The courtroom will be cleared if there's any more clapping. Proceed, Mr. Newdow. MR. NEWDOW: The -- there are right now in eight states in their constitutions provisions that say things like South Carolina's constitution, no person who denies the existence of a supreme being shall hold any office under this constitution. Among those eight states there's 1328, I believe the number of legislators, not one of which has tried to get that -- those phrases out of their state constitutions, because they know, should they do that, they'll never get re-elected, because nobody likes somebody to stand up for atheists, and that's one of the key problems, and we perpetuate that every day when we say, okay class, including Newdow's daughter, stand up,put your hand on your heart and pledge, affirm that we are a nation under God. QUESTION: You have a clear free exercise right to get at those laws, wouldn't you, that you recited that said atheists can't run for office, atheists can't do this or that? That -- that would be plainly unconstitutional,would it not? MR. NEWDOW: That would be, yes. Those clauses are clearly nullities at this time in view of Torcaso v. Watkins. QUESTION: And is -- MR. NEWDOW: However, they still exist. And the fact that those clauses, I mean, we saw what happened to the -- to -- when the Confederate flag was over the statehouse in South Carolina, they had a big, you know, everyone got, you know, very upset and said, let's get that out. That was a flag that can mean anything to anyone. Could we imagine a clause in the South Carolina constitution that said no African-American shall hold any office under this constitution, no Jew shall hold any office under this constitution? That would be there for two seconds maybe. But no atheists? around, it's been there, in eight states right now today in 2004.
Still, it takes less courage to be an atheist in the U.S. today than it has for many years. What else on Hitchens' behalf? Distancing himself from liberals and the left--over Clinton, over Salman Rushdie, and finally over Iraq? There was quite a bit of money and media play at least in the first and third items on that list. Defending Rushdie on grounds of free speech seems a great thing, but wasn't Hitchens always some kind of Trotskyist or Trotskyite? ( I forget the difference). Doesn't that require wishful thinking (the bringing about of socialist man, here on earth), to the point of insanity? Wouldn't any kind of communist regard all human rights as a bourgeois affectation--an obstacle to progress before the revolution, and unnecessary afterward? Hatred of Kissinger: presumably this goes back to the fact that Kissinger opposed Communist or Communist-leaning regimes, such as in Chile or Vietnam. Worse, I suppose, is that Kissinger was a bit cynical or unprincipled about all this. He didn't want to live under Communism, but he could work with Communist governments if he had to--almost as if the battle between Communism and liberal democracy was not of metaphysical importance, which Hitchens probably thought it was. Another Orwell? Well, maybe. He can have that distinction if he wants it. A brilliant debater and conversationalist, I guess; but what did he actually accomplish? What did he actually know. My son picked up on some of the tributes indicating that Hitchens was a true and fast friend. Maybe like Philip Larkin writing regularly to his mother: an unusual virtue, maybe especially for an intellectual.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Movie Notes

Bert Schneider died, age 78 (born 1933). He and partner Bob Rafelson created the Monkees, and used the money to produce movies in which they gave young, inexperienced directors creative control. Easy Rider cost $300,000 to make, and earned $20 million; so for a while, at least, the studios weren't in charge. Then came Five Easy Pieces, and The Last Picture Show. All independent films that enjoy Hollywood distribution probably owe something to Schneider and his circle of friends. Schneider was one of those people, older than the boomers, who got into popular culture and made money by catering to the boomers, pandering to them, flattering them. (Other/different examples: John Phillips b. 1935, Sono Bono b. 1935, Hunter Thompson b. 1937). Of course the establishment is wrong and you're right. You don't need to read any books to understand that--just drop a few phrases from Marx and Eastern religion. Of course drugs will make you both freer and more creative than your parents--only narrow-minded and stupid people would say otherwise.

Schneider ended up pretty much as a degenerate--as if to demonstrate the truth of parents' warnings that anyone who lived by the cliches of the 60s would end up that way. It may be to his credit that he gave directors their heads--but did he really support any great and lasting works of art? Possibly Terrence Malick's Days of Heaven--which was all Malick's baby, in need of funding when Schneider came along.

Meanwhile, a nice piece in The New Yorker about Clint Eastwood's techniques as a Director. Almost makes me want to subscribe to the magazine American Cinematographer.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Summary on climate

Judy Curry comments on a new IPCC report: natural variability accounts for a lot of change that is observed; er, possibly all?

I think we're getting closer to an agreement by reasonable people that very little is known about the climate of the entire world.

1. Man-made CO2 has gone up--obviously, but probably it is retained in the atmosphere in a way that can be quantified. This was a discovery that took a lot of work, and I believe it was made before the boomers took over the field.

2. There was probably a medieval warming period over much of the globe, comparable to the 20th century. Again, a pre-boomer discovery. Obviously any such warming period would have nothing to do with man-made CO2.

3. A simple high school experiment can demonstrate that with an attempted simulation of the earth's atmosphere, if you increase CO2, the temp goes up. It is not clear that this has ever happened--even once--in the real world. In other words, even before man-made CO2, did CO2 itself ever directly cause a temperature increase net of other contributing factors? Gore's famous graphic, based on Greenland ice cores, shows the opposite--first temp increase, then CO2 increase.

4. The period since 1850 has been possibly the best period ever for human life on earth--at least in a material sense. We live longer--usually the gold standard for measuring the health of a population. Contrary to predictions when I was in high school, we produce enough food for the population. Classic local pollution from factories and vehicles gets better with increasing wealth. Big, non-local environmental scares have tended to be bullshit: acid rain, widespread species extinction, forest extinction/monoculture, global warming. Maybe CFCs/ozone was not bullshit, I'm not sure.

5. Has anything both significant and bad happened even in co-relation with man-made CO2? If not, of course there is no cause and effect.

6. Environmental initiatives have tended to be a transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich. Biofuels is the worst--converting food-producing land to fuel-producing land, increasing scarcity and starvation among the very poorest people on earth.

7. Anything new that has been added to this field by the boomers is largely bullshit.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

The Duke and Waterloo

Inspired by a review in the Spectator, I've read my first novel by Georgette Heyer: An Infamous Army. It is the story of a love affair involving a colonel in the personal staff of the Duke of Wellington, but it goes into great detail about the preparations for the Battle of Waterloo, as well as the battle itself.

One great Wellington line I had not encountered before (I believe he has lent more quotations to the world than any other British PM; Disraeli is second): "Oh! I think very little of soldiers running away at times .... The steadiest troops will occasionally do so--but it is a serious matter if they do not come back." (paperback p. 274)

Heyer is clearly trying to do a somewhat updated Jane Austen; the lady in the case is clearly unsuitable for a proper gentleman: she is a bit wild, a flirt, likely to shock decent opinion by appearing worse than she is, willing to break hearts, even to come between a man and his wife. Yet the hero proposes to her more than once; in between she repents some of her actions, but predicts that something similar will happen again. Maybe Heyer agrees with Austen that this is not the best marriage--that the husband will be to some extent a victim--but Heyer suggests that decent women such as Judth, Lady Worth can be won over to the courage and the fundamentally good heart of the infamous Barbara. Certainly Barbara seems a better person in the end than the apparently quiet, even mousy Miss Lucy Devenish--one might think a Jane Austen-style heroine based on Mansfield Park in particular.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Early man

I love reading about early man, the divergence from Neanderthals and apes, etc. From the New Yorker:

Even now, at least thirty thousand years after the fact, the signal is discernible: all non-Africans, from the New Guineans to the French to the Han Chinese, carry somewhere between one and four per cent Neanderthal DNA.

From the archeological record, it’s inferred that Neanderthals evolved in Europe or western Asia and spread out from there, stopping when they reached water or some other significant obstacle. (During the ice ages, sea levels were a lot lower than they are now, so there was no English Channel to cross.) This is one of the most basic ways modern humans differ from Neanderthals and, in Pääbo’s view, also one of the most intriguing. By about forty-five thousand years ago, modern humans had already reached Australia, a journey that, even mid-ice age, meant crossing open water. Archaic humans like Homo erectus “spread like many other mammals in the Old World,” Pääbo told me. “They never came to Madagascar, never to Australia. Neither did Neanderthals. It’s only fully modern humans who start this thing of venturing out on the ocean where you don’t see land. Part of that is technology, of course; you have to have ships to do it. But there is also, I like to think or say, some madness there. You know? How many people must have sailed out and vanished on the Pacific before you found Easter Island? I mean, it’s ridiculous. And why do you do that? Is it for the glory? For immortality? For curiosity? And now we go to Mars. We never stop.” If the defining characteristic of modern humans is this sort of Faustian restlessness, then, by Pääbo’s account, there must be some sort of Faustian gene. Several times, he told me that he thought it should be possible to identify the basis for this “madness” by comparing Neanderthal and human DNA.

Over the decades, many theories have been offered to explain what caused the demise of the Neanderthals, ranging from climate change to simple bad luck. In recent years, though, it’s become increasingly clear that, as Pääbo put it to me, “their bad luck was us.” Again and again, the archeological evidence in Europe indicates, once modern humans showed up in a region where Neanderthals were living, the Neanderthals in that region vanished. Perhaps the Neanderthals were actively pursued, or perhaps they were just outcompeted. The Neanderthals’ “bad luck” is presumably the same misfortune that the hobbits and the Denisovans encountered, and similar to the tragedy suffered by the giant marsupials that once browsed Australia, and the varied megafauna that used to inhabit North America, and the moas that lived in New Zealand. And it is precisely the same bad luck that has brought so many species—including every one of the great apes—to the edge of oblivion today.
“To me, the mystery is not the extinction of the Neanderthals,” Jean-Jacques Hublin, the director of the Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology’s department of human evolution, told me. “To me the mystery is what makes modern humans such a successful group that they have been replacing not just the Neanderthals but everything. We don’t have much evidence that the Neanderthals or other archaic humans ever led to an extinction of a species of mammal or anything else. For modern humans, there are hundreds of examples, and we do it very well.”

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Quotes "peer" "review"

Why is it possible that peer-reviewed research turns out to be bullshit? Because no one actually checks it.

Here's another one.

See also here.

UPDATE: More here and here.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Running 2011

Tom Taylor Trail Ten-Miler (4T, cute), Oct. 30, 2011 (me in my clown hair again--I'll wait and see if anyone got a photo)

29th place (out of how many? 150? 68% of registrants were female)
Graded time:
Males under 60: 7 of 17
Males 19 of 67

I don't even know what graded time means, but I like it.

So my running year of 2011 comes to a close. Several personal bests.

5K: 22:09 (Terry Fox 2010)
10K: 47:53 (Persechini Easter Seals 2011); 46 minutes or so (not officially timed) (Terry Fox 2011)
10mi: 1:19:31 (Georgina Mini-Marathon 2011); 1:19:30.4 (Tom Taylor 2011)
Half: 1:47:06.6 (Southlake 2011); 1:47:07 (Blue Mountain 2011)
Marathon: 4:00:05 (Waterloo 2010)

Monday, October 17, 2011

Various U.S. interventions

It's beginning to look like: (Democratic) interventions in ex-Yugoslavia and now Libya were well thought out, targetted and focussed, limited, and successful. (Republican) interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq were the opposite in each case, and unsuccessful. Even if an Iraqi democracy survives, it is apparently pro-Iran, pro-Assad in Syria, tied to Islamic fundamentalism (and potentially more supportive of the kind of international terrorism the U.S. is concerned about that Saddam was); it has come about by means of ethnic cleansing and the rise of sectarianism. Baghdad is a less cosmopolitan place, with a worse university, and fewer choices open to women, than was the case before.

Of course there is a huge contribution of chance in all these events. NATO had not claimed to be saving the whole world in ex-Yugoslavia, and the scrutiny of the world did not demand miracles. Ex-Yugoslavs who were given a chance to build democracy, without being pushed, did so; it must always be partly a matter of luck whether such people are available or not. But the Bush administration was extreme in its hubris: trying to create a popular uprising, instead of carefully supporting one that is underway; trusting Ahmed Chalabi, instead of ensuring there is some kind of cross-section of leadership actually available.

I'm inspired by an old article by Nathan Tarcov. How to intervene for democracy in a foreign country (or, more subtly, to help "a people" take control of the country)? Wait until a popular uprising, at least plausibly speaking for the people, is well underway; intervene strategically, only as much as necessary, preferably as part of a coalition of some kind (the role of the Arab League was crucial in Libya).

Half Marathon: Almost PB

Four-tenths of a second off.

AB Courier Southlake Half, Aurora ON, May 1:

31 (out of 108)
Bib 702 Lloyd Robertson Newmarket 1:47:12.0
14 (rank for age) Men 40 - 59
29 (rank for gender)
pace 5:05
chip time 1:47:06.6

Blue Mountain Half, Oct. 16:

43 (out of 184)
1:47:07 5:05 ROBERTSON Lloyd Newmarket
18/34 M40-99
Bib #201
First half 47 53:44 Pace 5:06
Second half 34 53:23 5:04

I'm very pleased. Negative split, and the second half was probably tougher--more uphill to get back from Collingwoon to Blue Mountain.

Oct. 30 will be the Tom Taylor, then I'll update all distances again.

UPDATE: For runners.

By my (Polar) watch, I did the first k in 5:15, and at 6k I was at 32:00, 5:20 pace. At 10k I was at 52:00, for 5:12 pace. So I thought I was slower than they are showing for the first half. On the other hand, I thought I banged off several k's at 5 minute pace: 37 at 7k, 42 at 8k, 52 at 10k, then somehow 1 hour at I guess 12 (not likely), then back to 5 min k's, so I kept thinking if I keep doing 5 min k's I can make 1:45 for 20k. Obviously I struggle to do math while I'm running. I'm supposed to be getting a Garmin in a few days.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Steve Jobs Memorial

I know this is getting old hat, but:

I didn't even know there was an Apple store in our mall until I went there this morning. Photos show the big windows on either side of the main entrance. Lots of sticky notes, some flowers, a real apple with a bit out of it ....

A bit like the roadside memorials you see around--which I think are a kind of unofficial religious observance. There was a murder just outside a local Tim Horton's--a verbal altercation started inside, and turned into a stabbing just outside the restaurant. A memorial, presumably entirely spontaneous, grew up right at the bottom of the Tim Horton's sign, which was also at a point where people in the drive through are forced to turn. Likely to be seen by a lot of people.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

Xerox, Steve Jobs, etc.

The story has been told to the point where it is a legend: Xerox could have been Apple before Apple, and maybe could have beaten HP to the laser printer, but Steve Jobs and others took advantage of their ideas.

According to Malcolm Gladwell in The New Yorker, the story isn't as cut and dried as some people tell it. Xerox was running a research facility (Xerox parc), not a facility to develop consumer products. They had a prototype of a mouse, but it was too big an clunky for an ordinary consumer, and it probably cost something like $16,000. Having seen it, Jobs hired someone to develop a small, lightweight unit that would cost a couple of hundred. Similarly with the windows interface.

The story that I did not know at all before was the one about laser printing. An optical engineer named Gary Starkweather, actually employed by Xerox, was convinced that it would be possible to adapt a photocopy machine to do laser printing. Xerox had little interest in the idea, although they did pay him to move to parc and explore his ideas. A wonderful, supportive employer, but not a market or consumer-oriented innovator in products that we now know were worth a fortune. Xerox took some big steps toward being a high-tech company, but now they seem to have missed out on the biggest developments--including those that came from their own labs and offices. Gladwell defends Xerox--they pursued the business that they had, not some speculative other business.

My son (who is studying to be an engineer) says Gladwell takes his contrarianism (the kind of thing for which Slate is famous) too far. Starkweather was an engineer--he did his job. Somewhere at senior levels in Xerox it should have been possible to apply marketing and business development skills, or hire people with those skills, and develop a laser printer, rather than leaving the business to HP and others.

Cancer screening

One of my interests: screening for cancer among a healthy population may do more harm than good: needless anxiety and additional tests, all too often radical treatments applied as a preventive measure.

The PSA test may be a particularly good example, since prostate cancer is often slow growing, but I believe there is a similar controversy about breast cancer screening. I remember reading or seeing that some time ago diagnostic screening got far ahead of medical knowledge about cancer: doctors were seeing cancers on the screen that they just didn't recognize. Was it malignant or not? Fast-growing or not? A threat of any kind, even to a woman's quality of life, or not? If they don't have these answers, how has the screening done more good than harm?

Even in the case of searching for a gene mutation that makes breast cancer likely, there are trade-offs in doing the test, including false positives and (ironically) increased risk of cancer from the radiation.

Friday, October 7, 2011

First Nations in Newfoundland and elsewhere

Today in the National Post (which my wife took on some kind of free subscription): the federal government has acknowledged there should be an official band of Mi'kmaq first nations folks in Nfld. The Mi'kmaq are more associated with New Brunswick and Nova Scotia, but there are some in Nfld who have an oral tradition that they were there before the Europeans--like the Beothuk. So Harper made the announcement: some folks will have "Indian band" status--the feds predicted about 7,600 people. A federation representing the first nations predicted 12,000. The number so far is 26,000--free tuition for their kids, and what not.

This reminds me of the Métis issue. At what point do people become Métis as opposed to status Indian? How many Métis are there?

In response to an e-mail, my younger brother reminded me that non-French speaking so-called half-breeds used to be called "Country Born" (off-spring of English / Scottish / Irish Hudson Bay Company employees and aboriginal). I believe Métis has more or less become the standard term now.

Dinosaur remains: feathers

Grassy Lake, Alberta--where fossils of feathered creatures, possibly dinosaurs, have been found.

I think my late father, who was born in Grassy Lake, would have enjoyed several aspects of that story.

Saskatoon berries: super?

The Globe has a nice piece on the attempt to make Saskatoon berries into big business. They could qualify as "super-berries" (such as blueberries, pomegranates and the Amazonian açai) some of which are making a lot of money. But: super-berries may only have magic anti-oxidant qualities in their raw form--not juiced or processed, which is how you usually get them. So the wholesome, prairie entrepeneurs of the Saskatoon berry have to consider whether they are being honest in their sales pitch.

A lot of risks in the business. Still, the Saskatoon is one of my favourite berries, and something I miss about the West.

Alberta Tory-leader/Premier

Surprisingly to many, a woman named Alison Redford won the leadership of the party that was recently Ralph Klein's. She worked for some time for Joe Clark, and she is considered to the left among conservatives.

The PC Party in Alberta has devised a system for leadership selection that allows the selling of new memberships between the first ballot and the second. Any non-activists, or people who have not been Tory before, can buy a membership and shape events if they do not like the way they are going. This is not a foolproof way of cutting party hacks out of the process, but it is a major step in that direction. Combined with alternative voting--Redford won on second choices, not first--and you have outcomes that are truly hard to predict.

Colby Cosh here.

[Gary] Mar, who served the Klein government and has more of a family-values persona, had the cabinet, the caucus, and the organizational old guard of the party in his pocket two weeks ago. As in 2006, their votes, in the open-primary system, turned out to be worth exactly the same as those of any other schmuck. But this time, instead of being humbled by an agrarian challenger from the North, the machine lost by a whisker to an accomplished lawyer from Calgary—one who has been careful to keep the oil industry on her good side, as Stelmach wasn’t.

Tom Flanagan on the unique Alberta Tory system here.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Crazy Stupid Love

A pleasant surprise of a movie. As many reviewers note, where the script might have seemed thin or implausible on the page, the actors keep things going-one great scene after another.

My beef: 13-year-old speaking at his middle school graduation, starts to say true love is a rip-off, so his dad (Steve Carell) has to take over to make things right. Yes, this creates a resolution for various threads of the movie, but: once again boomers have to take over an event that doesn't belong to them.

Steve Martin has done this with the Father of the Bride franchise: the children of boomers are planning a big day (wedding or birth of a child). Oh yeah? The boomer parents can have an even bigger day! Hmmm ... even going back to Ronnie Howard's movie Parenthood ...

I've been tempted to go for a rant that the boomers are always wrong about everything. That can hardly be true, although: climate and the environment in general ("We've got to save Bambi! You've got to help us, or you're a bad person!); diet (chocolate good, chocolate bad, salt, sugar--don't worry, it's all in the peer-reviewed scientific literature); drugs in psychiatry and elsewhere (it's a proven fact that many drugs will make you feel better for a short time). They've screwed up the economy--this time they have no one to blame but themselves. But on some things the boomers must be more or less correct, right?

They've always congratulated themselves for being morally and intellectually superior to their parents, and they've always wanted to write books about their experiences. There's a beautiful but nasty line about Theodore Roosevelt that comes from his daughter (only child from his first, short-lived marriage--his wife died at least roughly in childbirth): TR always wanted to be the bridegroom at every wedding, and the corpse at every funeral. That is kind of what I want to say about the boomers.

Terry Fox Run

I've done this run in Newmarket every year since 2006. It's really a 5K, but there's never been anything to stop you from repeating for 10K, and this year the website even mentioned that. It's not officially timed, but they do have the km markings. I did 10K in about 46 minutes--which would be a PB if it were timed.

I met Jeannine O'Reilly who was written up in the local paper when she qualified for Boston. For a while she trained with the marathon group out of the local Running Room store, but she has probably trained more on her own. She said that in her second Boston, she was injured, did not enjoy the run or have a good time (in either sense). So she quit running for a while, but now she's looking forward to getting back to it.

A musician played guitar and sang his song in honour of Terry Fox. I didn't catch his name, so I e-mailed one of the organizers (Laurie Osborne) to find out.

Her reply is pretty great: The relevant part:

Glenn Marais was the singer and he actually had a gig at Sgt Peppers in Aurora last night, I couldn’t make it but if you have a chance you should check him out. He also opened for Jim Cuddy at a recent concert in Richmond Hill. He’s my friend on facebook, if you have facebook do a search on him. Let him know you saw him at our run. He actually wrote a hit song for Snow “Everybody wants to be like you”. He does tons of work for the schools and also aids in Africa and children.

Here is a link all about Glenn.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Downsview United

Downsview United is probably the last real remains from the old Village of Downsview. Very close to my office. In a way this area has had too much prosperity to preserve anything. The Air Force arrived in WWII, and what was already a growing airfield became huge. De Havilland started building planes in about the 1920s; their plant has been bought out by Bombardier, but some kind of Dash-8 or whatever is still built there, and you can see them going for test flights. (Presumably this has to be cleared with the tower at Pearson, which is not far away).

The military is almost completely gone, and the feds are slowly building a park with different kinds of amenities. Ben and I went to an aviation museum, which has a full-size model of an Avro Arrow, among many other things. The city has built a "parkette," which commemorates the manufacture of planes over the years.

Anyway, the village as it was ca. 1939 is long gone, except for the church. Unfortunately, poor photography and camera again, but what I was thinking was: the sign in front says "Established 1830," and the white "headstone" or whatever over the front door says something like Wesleyan Methodist Church, 1870. So the building is 1870, but there was another building on the site going back to 1830.

The English info sign is now complemented by something that looks like Korean underneath, and one in Spanish on the sandwich board closer to the sidewalk. My guess is the United Church crowd is elderly, and dying off--I saw a couple of very elderly people while I was looking around--and they are making arrangements for other groups to use the building.

I don't really give a sense of the depth: it goes back quite far.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

U.S. Election

Hard to believe they're at it again.

I think Rick Perry will run--to some extent--as a Tea Partier in order to get the Republican nomination. He has always been somewhat flexible on actual policy positions--sometimes sounding surprisingly like a liberal (see also here)--and he will become more of a John McCain maverick--angry and tough, enjoying war, rather than having principled positions--as the general election approaches.

I still think Obama will win.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Waugh's War Trilogy

As I started the first of three volumes, I was relieved that I had forgotten quite a bit. With Waugh, there are so few books, and really so few words, there is always a sense that they are so familiar, you almost have them memorized.

The three make up a sad and beautiful work (Sword of Honour consisting of Men at Arms, Officers and Gentlemen, and Unconditional Surrender). The protagonist, Guy Crouchback, is a bit like Waugh; he enlists in the British Army as World War II begins, in a regular regiment, even though he is old for the infantry. His simple patriotic duty; and yet: Crouchback has had a long dry spell in his life since his wife left him, and he is counting on the war to bring him back to life. The trilogy is his story of self-discovery, of realizing that he had got into a bad place before the war by his own decisions, and he had foolish notions of the war making everything better.

Towards the end he hears from a Jewish refugee, a woman named Mme Kanyi. "It seems to me there was a will to war, a death wish, everywhere. Even good men thought their private honour would be satisfied by war. They could assert their manhood by killing and being killed. They would accept hardships in recompense for having been selfish and lazy. Danger justified privilege. I knew Italians--not very many perhaps--who felt this. Were there none in England?" Crouchback replies: "God forgive me ... I was one of them."

For many pages, very little seems to happen. After the British Army was driven out of France at Dunkirk, there was little opportunity to fight for many years. Crouchback gets a bit more than a glimpse of the coast of Africa, some time later he gets to Crete in time for a horrifying retreat, and then he is in Croatia, practically in the middle of nowhere as the Communists take over, getting plenty of aid from the U.S. and Britain, and begin the ruthless disposal of their enemies. Much of war is ludicrous and cruel, yet it matters who is brave and who is not, and who is on what side. A golden aristocratic type named Ivor Claire escapes from Crete by abandoning his men and hiding. Crouchback's departure is similar, except that he asks if any of his men want to take one of two places on a hopeless small boat; when none of them speak up, Crouchback embarks, and although he nearly dies before they are rescued, he both survives and avoids prison camp. Claire knows that there is gossip that he was a deserter and a coward. Crouchback, while still blaming Claire (being unable to remain his friend) has a somewhat different perspective.

Unconditional Surrender, p. 127: 'Ivor doesn't believe in sacrifice. Who does nowadays? But he had the will to win.'

This causes Crouchback to reflect that he may be the opposite: lots of quiet, suffering sacrifice--becoming lonelier and lonelier--but not much will to win. Is one really better than the other? Well, the willingness to sacrifice is related to moral virtue, and even to ancient Greek virtue.

Monday, August 22, 2011

LIbya and Iraq

The obvious contrast: U.S. intervention in Libya more restrained than in Iraq in 2003, but also vastly more effective. Partly this is luck; one could say neither Obama nor Bush knew that much about what they were getting into--despite the daily intelligence briefing, access to more info than anyone has ever had, etc.

But: Obama did a lot better than Bush. First, he intervened when an actual armed rebellion was underway, with the rebels showing great courage and determination, and some success. Bush was hoping to start a rebellion from scratch--or else he believed Ahmed Chalabi's lies about people just waiting for the U.S.,etc. Secondly, Obama didn't make vast promises about regime change or making the world a better place; he simply took practical steps to help the rebels, and cooperate with NATO. Finally, he's not pulling a "Mission Accomplished" stunt.

So Glenn Reynolds, who has been singing Hallelujah over Iraq for 8 years, is very restrained, and finally links to a rather snarky piece in the LA Times. Not very classy.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

A Nice 26K Run

From the Running Room store in Newmarket: north on Yonge then "old" Yonge (there are three generations of Yonge Street up there), to Holland Landing, all the way to Doane Road, East across 2nd Concession to Leslie. Much of Doane is a real country road--rough asphalt, very narrow, thick trees on both sides, lots of views of beautiful country, quite hilly.

South on Leslie to Mount Albert Road, south on Grist Mill, cutting through a couple of paths to the river, river trail to 2nd Concession, a short jog to continued trail, all the way to Davis Dr. in Newmarket. Lots of nice things to see.

Davis West to Main, North to Bristol, West to Yonge, back to store adding a bit to make sure I made 26K. Beautiful weather, some scenery I have not seen before, some scenery I was glad to see again.

On Leslie, a funny ad for a dentist that says "We Cater to Cowards."

On Mount Albert Road, one of the few remaining Drive-In theatres within miles of Toronto.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Aussie sea level


Professor Tim Flannery owns two pieces of seafront property, and lacks compelling answers as to how to reconcile this with his public statements.

Flannery on Wikipedia.

Judy Curry on the whole sea level issue: "I have a hard time finding much empirical rationale for a relationship between global average surface temperature and global sea level that makes sense over the range of sea level for the past several thousand years."

Saturday, August 6, 2011

The End of the Official Warming Dogma?

A perfectly reputable climate scientist named Murry Selby has a paper coming out soon. Summaries have circulated.

He will apparently argue:

1. 96% of the C02 increase that has been observed results from natural causes, which are "only marginally predictable and not controllable."
2. C02 increases have little if any effect in increasing temperatures; but conversely, increasing temperatures cause an increase in C02 (as Gore's famous graph actually indicates).
3. It is difficult to detect any effect of human activity in global temperature or climate.

h/t Anthony Watts and Judy Curry.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Local Real Estate

UPDATE August 14: The golf course proposal has been turned down. I'm guessing the infill with streets and houses is more unpopular than high-rises on Davis, but we'll see what happens. A small proposal nearby to turn one lot into two, with a big house on each lot, has been turned down. And now there is a date for a public meeting on proposed high-rises two doors from us: one tower 17 stories, the other 12. The meeting is August 29--that should be fun.

Newmarket, Ontario, where I live, has seen relatively modest changes over the last few years. True, the last "quadrant" of town to be developed--the north-west corner--has filled up with houses, and this has increased traffic on certain roads, but it is really not that noticeable unless you drive through the new neighbourhoods, and remember the farmland that was there. A few low-rise buildings have been built, some for seniors, maybe one high-rise, and that is about it. Of course the recession has had an effect. With maybe one or two exceptions, there has probably not been a new high-rise built since 1995. Of course, the hospital has been building constantly for many years.

Now several projects seem to be moving forward. Not far from us is the presentation centre for Eagle Heights town homes. This stretch of Eagle is an old street, with houses set back from the street much farther than would be typically allowed today. The developer obviously plans to tear down several houses and have a good-size piece of land, with trees in back, to work with. The tree are part of a conservation area.

We received a flyer a couple of years ago saying there may be a high-rise right at Millard and Yonge, a few doors from us. And there has also been a proposal for several high-rises at Yonge and Davis.

I was at a meeting last week where people were discussing planned changes to the Glenway golf course--the only course that is entirely in Newmarket. Owners are proposing to keep 9 holes for golf, with a new club house to the west, then build high-rises along Davis Drive, some medium-density townhouses a bit further in, then some single family homes and new streets where there are fairways now. Some folks who have been living there are not thrilled, and some thought it was part of the agreement when the golf course was built that it would stay golf course. But: there was some fine print allowing for infill, and the province and region are all in favour of high-rise development on certain strips, including Davis Drive.

Some of this is supposed to go with new Bus Rapid Transit lanes. We'll see.

Old Houses

Culligan came last week to install a water softening system. This is something we should have done years ago--hard water here. Over two grand to purchase the system--could have rented, free installation, salt included, for $30 per month. I don't know--do you really want to own the system? Anyway, we do. Sadly, Culligan now includes a system to improve drinking water in their sales pitch. Reverse osmosis, weird chemical tests, etc. Someone on TV said: if a person who comes to your door says your water has as much chlorine as a swimming pool, they are lying. I think a lot of people distrust their tap water now, some companies were exploiting this without bothering with water softening, so Culligan went into the business as well. A crazy world.

Also the Culligan guy quoted something like $2400, and when we hesitated, he knocked off $200. Great, the prices are really meaningful.

The weirdest part: the Culligan man cut some of our copper water pipe, in order to replace one length with his own plastic tubing. He pointed out to me that when the two copper ends touched, there were sparks. He could also make the lights flicker.

I called the electrician in kind of a panic. The good news was that this wasn't a big shock, like the main household current--instead a very small current. The electrician left a message back: probably a ground problem inside or (worse) outside, no big deal. It's fun to look it up on the internet.

So last night all the living room lights (plugged into non-grounded outlets) were flickering from time to time. This morning I taped together two pieces of copper pipe--one of which is no longer carrying water. Problem seems solved. Weird. Old houses.

Vacation coming to an end

Usually my wife schedules some work around the house and yard for my vacations, and I do my best to schedule other things. We got a weekend in Ottawa at the mid-way point of the two weeks. Very enjoyable. Not much done before that, but we slowly got going during the last week. We installed two bathroom sinks--the plumber did the basement one, with me watching, and then I did the main floor the next day. It's a good thing I watched the plumber--I had to build a new U-shape trap for underneath, and I had an idea what I was doing.

These changes triggered some housecleaning. I took a load to the recycle/waste center--$10 for a car load, including two old sinks, a stinky old rug, and lots of other things. We made several trips to Value Village and the Salvation Army, one to the hazardous waste place that takes paints, two to ReStore (Habitat for Humanity) with ceramic floor tiles and some Portland Cement.

Zip sent us the movie The Invention of Lying, with Ricky Gervais and Jennifer Garner. Quite good, a bit weak toward the end. One idea is that if everyone told the strict truth, those who are ugly, incompetent and old would suffer the most--they really are losers, and everyone would tell them so. They tend to become suicidal until a liar cheers them up. This overlaps with Housesitter (Goldie Hawn, Steve Martin), in which lies generally make people feel better about themselves. Liar, Liar (Jim Carrey) I think has a similar idea. As someone says on the internet, Gervais takes a risk presenting the invention of a religion, a bit like Christianity, as the work of a liar who eventually says "there is no man in the sky." No one ever got rich preaching atheism to Americans.

In Ottawa we started to see The Tree of Life in a theatre, but my wife, finding it depressing, insisted on leaving after a few minutes. I very much want to see it all.

We took the baby who is staying with us to the Elmvale Zoo.

Just before the vacation, I got a couple of writing projects in better shape than before. I'm hoping to hear back from some more or less friendly critics. I'm planning my next project, and there are still some odds and ends of family tree to work on.

Running is not going particularly well. I have yet to really achieve the weekly schedule I need to prepare for a marathon, and I have a sore hip, and I'm just not enjoying it very much.

I had thought about going to Abstract Expressionism at the AGO--there's still time. I may try to access in a public library for some family tree stuff. Tomorrow is a funny kind of civic holiday, and friends are dropping by on their way from Ontario back to New Brunswick.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Missing the best part of a story

The obit for Elwy Yost in the Globe: OK OK the guy was much beloved in Ontario because he made a lot of old movies seem familiar must-sees (before VHS to say nothing of DVDs made movies so easy to find); he brought a true childlike joy to his work ...

But he was a bit of a vain fool--and that became part of the fun. Someone in Maclean's or some other Canadian magazine said his problem as a reviewer was that he had never seen a movie he didn't like. He actually wrote a letter to the editor defending himself--he thought it was his job to emphasize what was good in a movie--maybe the cinematography, maybe a particular actor's performance ....

But the best was the Frank Pranks. Frank magazine would get celebrities to comment on current events, or would pretend the individual was being considered for appointment to the Senate, or for the Order of Canada, or maybe even for Governor General. Many of them would fall for these suggestions completely, revealing the extent of their vanity--they had actually been wondering why appointments like this hadn't come along already. Elwy fell quicker, and harder, than anyone, and more than once. Supposedly on two different occasions he was caught either in the tub or on the john. "Can you just wait for one minute while I get some clothes on?" Again, somehow the joy he brought to everything made all this all the sweeter.

I once came across a fairly creepy interview with Graham Yost, Elwy's kid (writer of the movie Speed (bus making a jump), etc. Graham said his dad once kept him out of school for a day so they could watch King Kong together. The interviewer, a bit taken aback, said something like "that's quite a story," and Yost the younger said, now in tears, "that's a very cool story." Again, before VHS etc., but yeeks. King Kong? A profound exploration of man's relationship to nature, or science vs. nature, or how stereotypes of a black man raping a white woman can fit into these narratives? Give me a break.

Robbie Alomar: by all means, congrats on making it to the Hall of Fame, and thanks for some great years in Toronto. I actually dreamed during the ACLS that Alomar would get a big hit against Eckersley--and then it happened. But: wasn't there a point where Robbie was drafted lower than his brother Sandy, even though Robbie clearly had more talent, because of concern about his attitude? He'd show off making the difficult play, then blow the easy play? I can't find a source for this quickly ....

Peter Guber, Hollywood producer? One of the funnier famous stories about him is that he always looked for the happy ending, and he would use "research"--showing the movie to a local audience in LA--to support the idea that a happy ending would be popular. He tried this in the case of Rain Man, but Director Barry Levinson, who had retained creative control, would have none of it.

The Winnipeg Jets are using a picture of a CF-18 as part of their logo--partly because a squadron is based there. But: what about the famous maintenance contract that did not got to Winnipeg?

Then an opinion piece by Jeffrey Simpson: the federal Tories under Harper keep wanting to focus on crime, even though the crime rate is falling steadily. Are they not reality-based? But is has been pointed out (I believe by Carol Goar in the Star) that the poorest Canadians are often the ones who have to deal with crime--and crime makes it more difficult to do things like get jobs and decent housing.

If newspapers are dying, this is probably in part because they make everything a bit blander than it has to be--they miss the most interesting parts of a story, perhaps to avoid giving offence.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Mental Ilness

The Alan Bennett book, A Life Like Other People's, is quite interesting.

There is a sort of central story, that he chose not to tell to much of anyone until fairly late in his life. His parents retired to a village where they had never lived before--supposedly a dream for both of them, but especially for his father. His mother started to have episodes of severe depression. Unable to do much of anything, tending to sit in one place--often on furniture that was not really meant for sitting, with a touch of paranoia--I can't go out there, they're watching. Who's watching, mother? If I told you, you wouldn't believe me. Bennett's father starts taking her to shrinks, and eventually he puts her in various institutions for various periods--generally the periods get longer over time, and she ends up with full-blown dementia, in yet another place where she's never lived before, but not far from Bennett's brother. For years her depression actually responds to some combination of 1. getting away from it all; 2. talk therapy; 3. drugs; 4. ECT or shock. Bennett says he believes ECT really helped, and he's unconvinced by critics of this therapy--too often, they just seem to say the family has to live with whatever it is, no matter how grim.

This whole story opens up another story, about the previous generation. During one of the "intake" type conversations--what symptoms has Mrs. Bennett been displaying, how long, has she been sick physically, etc., some shrink asks: how did her parents die? Alan says without hesitation "her father died of a heart attack," and describes the location and so on. Alan's father, sitting beside him, tries to give him a poke or something to get his attention. On the way to the car his father says: actually, your grandpa Peel committed suicide. The heart attack business, including the location, was a family legend.

Bennett makes it clear he never "figured out" any of his mother's depressive episodes. Did they have external causes, like moving to a strange place, feeling that "everyone was watching her" because she was new in the village, no longer having much to do because her retired husband did so much housework? Was there something chemical/biological going on, which would explain the apparent response to drugs and ECT? Did she have issues her whole life, which came to the surface rather late in life, which might explain talk therapy doing some good? He obviously starts to wonder: was there a genetic component?

Bennett reflects on the fact that both of his parents were painfully shy, and although they were certainly "nice" people, this almost prevented them from having friends. They truly never wanted to be the centre of attention--they almost didn't want to be noticed, named much less asked to speak in front of a group, etc. As an adult Bennett learned the story of their wedding. His mother had two sisters, much more outgoing than herself. As the wedding day approached, it became clear that these two as bridesmaids would take over, and thoroughly enjoy themselves. The bride-to-be said to her affianced that she would almost do anything to avoid a "big" church wedding (not that it was ever going to be all that big). She just couldn't do it. She'd call of the wedding, etc. So the young man--Bennett's father--went to a priest to ask if they could have a small ceremony at 7:30 a.m., so that he could drop his new wife at home and go to work as always. The priest said it was against the law to say the actual vows before 8:00. They eventually worked it out that all but the vows were said before 8:00, the vows themselves sharp at 8:00, then the day unfolded like any other day.

So: painful shyness. Bennett concludes that his painfully shy parents have something in common with his outgoing relatives: they believe wrongly that everyone is looking at them, or is inclined to do so. There is a kind of egomania in both, in comparison to the truth that most people are indifferent to us, most of the time. True, it is possible to do something in company that is so embarrassing, people talk about it for years, but that is very exceptional. Can these fairly common phenomena be steps on the road to mental illness? (Some of the shrinks keep insisting that depression is not mental illness--Bennett thinks they just don't want to admit that something so common is in fact an illness which they know virtually nothing about). Eeyore is sort of the depressive character in Pooh, and in Peanuts, the original children all tend toward depression or anger; the dog is about the only one who's entirely upbeat, and he eventually takes over the strip. Critics have said "the dog ate Shultz's homework." I think Shultz himself had trouble with depression.

Bennett is unable to find out much about the grandfather who committed suicide, except that the whole family kept the secret, and kept repeating the bullshit--even the relatives who would love to show off, and tell a good story. There were external factors to explain the suicide--a couple of bankruptcies, the whole family sliding down the social scale at a time when the Brits were excruciatingly aware of even small degrees of upward and downward mobility. But: it is hard to avoid thinking depression was an underlying problem.

Then there is the aunt. One of the two outgoing ones, she remains unmarried until fairly late--in fact, retired from a job she had always enjoyed. She marries an Aussie who fit in rather poorly in the family. He kept wanting to move to Oz, she clearly did not want to do so. She loses her address book, which she used to keep in touch with many acquaintances, and what had always been her endless stream of talk and note-writing became much accelerated, yet senseless. She eventually wandered out of a home she was in, and died of exposure.

Of course if we start saying that all kinds of "ordinary unhappiness" are mental illness, then we may be re-naming the human condition. Bennett seems to agree with Kingsley Amis (Memoirs--see Aunt Dora in "Family," and the chapter called "Shrinks"; Stanley and the Women) that when you encounter actual mental illness, you know it even if you can't name it. Crazy people aren't fascinating as some authors (including Freud) make them out to be; they don't shine at cocktail parties. (That would be Tourette's syndrome--an actual neurological disorder). They don't immediately raise the possibility that they have some deep insight that the rest of us lack. Rather, then tend to be almost unbelievably repetititious, simple-minded, monosyllabic, and tedious. Their world is limited and grey--and holds out no promise of anything better--and their conversation reflects those facts.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Cop and the PM in Britain

Amazing stuff. Sir Paul Stephenson, the London police commissioner (head of Scotland Yard?) resigns over the "phone hacking" scandal. He employed Neil Wallis to do PR for the police for about a year, from September 2009 to September 2010. This was after Wallis had lost his position with News of the World over the earlier phone hacking scandal--apparently confined to celebrities and royalty. Earlier this year Stephenson accepted hospitality from a spa or resort (he was recovering from surgery), and by this time, Wallis was working on a contract with this spa. The Daily Telegraph has diligently worked out that:

Sir Paul was offered hospitality by News International on 15 occasions between April 2007 and March 2010 - accepting 14 of the invitations.

What's amazing is that in his televised statement on his resignation, Stephenson pointed the finger right at Cameron. At no time did Stephenson hire Wallis, or have business dealings with him, knowing the extent of his involvement in the hacking scandal--or perhaps, knowing there was any involvement. The PM hired Andy Coulson after a much wider scandal was well known.

The Globe and Mail:

Mr. Stephenson resigned Sunday over his ties to a former News of the World executive editor who has been arrested over the scandal. In his resignation speech Stephenson made pointed reference to Cameron's hiring of Andy Coulson, a former editor of the shuttered tabloid who was arrested earlier this month over hacking.

Mr. Cameron said the situations of the government and the police were “completely different,” because allegations of police corruption “have had a direct bearing on public confidence into the police inquiry into the News of the World and indeed into the police themselves.”


Mr. Stephenson said he did not make the decision to hire Mr. Wallis and had no knowledge of allegations that he was linked to phone hacking, but he wanted his police force to focus on preparing for the 2012 London Olympics instead of wondering about a possible leadership change.

“I had no knowledge of the extent of this disgraceful practice and the repugnant nature of the selection of victims that is now emerging,” Mr. Stephenson said. “I will not lose any sleep over my personal integrity.”

The Spectator focuses in a bit better here and here.

It seems that British politicians in general sucked up to the Murdoch empire, accepted favours, etc., and senior police do so to some extent as well. But it's beginning to look like no one did so more than David Cameron. Now: an emergency debate in the British Commons. Fun.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Microsoft and Patents

The Android system involves perhaps one million pieces of code that were more or less new with that system. Do any of them violate someone's patent? The Google folks don't know--they don't take the time to check such things as they develop a product--they simply hope their lawyers can take care of any problems that develop. So now Microsoft can squeeze money out of a lot of companies using Android, saying: for all you know, you are in violation of one of our 18,000 patents; to avoid the hassle of checking and/or fighting it out legally, pay up. And they do. This has become almost traditional: IBM used to do it a lot. Not encouraging innovation; more like stifling it.

Microsoft may once again be the evil empire. h/t Instapundit.

My son e-mails in response to this: "Don't hate the player. It's not microsoft's fault, they're just taking full advantage of a really dumb system." He and I have talked before about how the patent system does not seem able to keep up with new technology.

Psychiatry: is the dam breaking?

Ian Brown writes in the Globe: psychiatry seems more controversial with the passing of time, rather than less, and there seem to be more rather than fewer sick people to deal with--because the categories are broad, hard to define, possibly meaningless, and spreading.

The beginning of the piece seems fairly devastating: One guy, Robert Spitzer, had a lot to do with writing the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) that has been in increasingly widespread use.

The manual’s flashy exactitude, however exaggerated, dovetailed profitably with the interests of drug companies, which were further revolutionizing psychiatry with psychoactive drugs, starting with the tranquillizer Thorazine in 1954 and by no means peaking with Prozac in 1987. It all helped popularize the theory that mental illness is caused by chemical imbalances in the brain.

Brown hedges a bit as to whether the drugs are more or less harmless, like a placebo, or positively harmful, especially in the medium to long term. And towards the end he lets mainstream psychiatrists speak, saying they base their work more and more on objective evidence, and their science is at an early stage compared to other branches of medicine. There is little elaboration of the possibility that somewhat eccentric people are going to be branded as somehow not normal, and encouraged to take dangerous drugs; nor that psychiatry is causing or worsening an epidemic of serious mental illness.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Meech Lake: Quietly Now in Place?

A provocative piece by Chantal Hébert in the Star: "Meech Lake foes won the battle, lost the war."

When he stood up in the National Assembly to comment on the demise of the Meech Lake Accord in June 1990, then-Quebec premier Robert Bourassa could not have imagined that two decades later, one of his successors would be negotiating the social transfer for health care one-on-one with the prime minister of the day.

Nor could Bourassa have predicted that Quebec would spread its international wings to stake out positions independent and, sometimes, different from the federal government on issues as wide ranging as trade and climate change . . . and that the other premiers would follow suit.

The risk that the accord negotiated by Brian Mulroney at Meech Lake would neuter future federal governments was uppermost in the arguments of its vocal opponents, with the defence of provincial equality coming a close second.

Two decades later, it seems that in winning the battle, the Meech detractors lost the war.

Not only did the demise of the accord not prevent power from shifting from Ottawa to the provinces but the notion of provincial equality accelerated the movement.

The most famous "foe" of the Meech Lake Accord was Pierre Trudeau. It seemed at the time that he had once again inspired the Liberal Party to rally behind his leadership, and the Party would remain opposed to the provisions of the Meech Lake Accord. What actually happened?

Over the second half of Jean Chrétien’s tenure, billions of federal surplus revenues were transferred to the provinces and/or spent on tax cuts. With that money went the federal capacity of initiate a top-down expansion of Canada’s social infrastructure.

In Chrétien’s wake, Paul Martin negotiated separate child-care funding agreements with each province. In the name of asymmetrical federalism, he offered Quebec different modalities in the 2004 Health Accord

The federal government genuinely cut spending, and reduced its own role in various areas of public policy. The provinces gained responsibility, often with federal agreement.

What all did Meech provide for?


The accord was negotiated at a meeting between Mulroney and provincial premiers at Willson House at Meech Lake in the Gatineau Hills in 1987.[1]
It identified five main modifications to the Canadian constitution:
a recognition of Quebec as a "distinct society"
a constitutional veto for Quebec and the other provinces
increased provincial powers with respect to immigration
extension and regulation of the right for a reasonable financial compensation to any province that chooses to opt out of any future federal programs in areas of exclusive provincial jurisdiction
provincial input in appointing senators and Supreme Court judges

The deal-breaker at the time seemed to be "Quebec as a distinct society." What happened?

After the 1995 Quebec referendum, the federal government under Jean Chrétien did endorse recognition of Quebec's distinct society.[4][7] That recognition asked institutions of government "to take note of this recognition and be guided in their conduct accordingly."[8] The term is still absent from the Constitution.

(This was a motion passed by the House of Commons).

In November 2006, the House passed another motion, this time introduced by Stephen Harper, reading "That this House recognize that the Québécois form a nation within a united Canada."

In 1996, the First Ministers of Canada, again with Chrétien in the lead, adopted the Social Union Framework in order to move away from unilateral federal action on health and social policy.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Increasing confidence: the so-called progressives are wrong

1. The warming record of the twentieth century has probably never passed elementary tests of statistical significance. It remains possible that the progressives have fastened on one of the few centuries since the last Ice Age when there was no significant warming. Douglas Keenan, a longer version of a piece that appeared in the WSJ. h/t Bishop Hill here and here.

2. Decision-makers are not acting as though they actually believe in the global warming orthodoxy--despite all the moralistic speeches from many of the same people. If they decide it is a problem, they will probably build some nukes, which have been rejected by some environmentalists. The real future of energy is methane--a fact which progressives are trying to either ignore or attack with bogus logic and science. Michael Lind in Salon; h/t Instapundit.

3. Paul K from good old Lucia's site: where does the official estimate of "forcing" caused by man-made CO2 come from, and how good are the models? I believe the lay person's description of this phenomenon is: garbage in, garbage out.

4. Let's not forget Judy Curry. Apparently she still believes warming is a problem (you don't have to be a cynic to say it would be difficult to keep the grants flowing if you didn't say that), but she is refreshing in her insights into the problems with the orthodoxy.
- there is probably no convincing evidence of a link between extreme weather events and man-made climate change;
- Lord Turnbull makes a very intelligent case for lukewarmers--including this passage:

We should concentrate on those measures which are no regret, which improve resource productivity, improve security of supply and with it our commercial bargaining position, and which do not depress living standards. In my book these are stopping deforestation, raising the energy efficiency of our buildings and our vehicle fleet (though the effect of greater energy efficiency on CO2 reduction may be limited if consumption is sustained by lowering the effective price of energy), investment in nuclear power, an expansion of energy from waste and, if we are going to adopt CCS, and the economics has yet to be established, it would be better to attach it to new gas-fired stations rather retrofitting old coal-fired stations. It also means much less wind and solar energy, and an end to current encouragement of biofuels.

- She may be careful of the feelings of climate scientists--she still attends conferences with them--but she is hilarious when other Ph.Ds make fools of themselves:

So there it is, from Nobel laureate Paul Krugman. Joe Romm has “translated” all this for us in several posts. Here is a quote from Krugman on this, in response to the book “Superfreakonomics” (note I haven’t read the book). As Krugman explains:

Yikes. I read Weitzman’s paper, and have corresponded with him on the subject — and it’s making exactly the opposite of the point they’re implying it makes. Weitzman’s argument is that uncertainty about the extent of global warming makes the case for drastic action stronger, not weaker.

Ok, so Krugman is apparently accurately representing what Weitzman meant. I guess my poor little brain had a difficult time letting that Nobel-level economics pass through its filter when I read Weitzman’s paper.

So, lets think about some of the perhaps unintended implications of this statement. Two implications that jump immediately into my mind are:

1. The accusations made against the “merchants of doubt” is that they are talking about uncertainty so as to delay action. So, now are we to infer that that the merchants of doubt are now climate policy action’s “best friends”?

2. Consider a potential asteroid strike: far greater economic impact and also far greater uncertainty than climate change. So the implication of this is that we should be focusing more on the potential asteroid strike than the potential catastrophic climate change?

- lots of nice specific points, including:

JC comment: if it warms and there are no confounding factors like coastal subsidence and isostatic causes and sedimentation in deltas, then yes sea level will rise. However in many locations geological factors swamp eustatic sea level rise, and sea level is actually decreasing. The scientific and socioeconomic impacts of sea level rise are fundamentally local, and emphasizing the global rather than local sea rise issues isn’t very useful IMO.

More personal bests

Persechini Easter Seal Run (10K), Newmarket ON, May 29:

55 (out of 353)
Lloyd ROBERTSON 47:53
Pace 4:48
M55-59 4/15 (rank among my age/gender)
46/172 (rank among males)

AB Courier Southlake Half, Aurora ON, May 1:

31 (out of 108)
Bib 702 Lloyd Robertson Newmarket 1:47:12.0
14 (rank for age) Men 40 - 59
29 (rank for gender)
pace 5:05
chip time 1:47:06.6

I'm having a great year. These runs felt great from beginning to end. Coming up: Georgina 10-mile on June 18, and the second Tom Taylor 10-mile at Halloween. In between, possibly a marathon?

For previous personal bests see here.

Updated list:

5K: 22:09 (Terry Fox 10)
10K: 47:53 (Persechini Easter Seals 11)
10m: 1:22:20 (Acura Toronto 09)
Half: 1:47:06 (Southlake 11)
Marathon: 4:00:05 (Waterloo 10)

Update June 18 2011: Georgina Mini-Marathon: (10 Mile): 1:19:31, and they report a pace of 4:57, but that seems too fast to me. A new pb anyway.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

What happened to Bin Laden?

This is some of the most interesting speculation I've come across--and it doesn't seem too far out into conspiracy world. (h.t. Atrios).

The Saudis are concerned about the rise of Iran. (This piece doesn't say so, but Bush's invasion of Iraq contributed greatly to the rise of Iran). The instability in Arab lands, especially if it creates new havens for terrorists, concerns the Saudis as well. They may need to ally themselves with Pakistan--but again, they would seek a terrorist-free Pakistan, as opposed to, er, present-day Pakistan.

So: maybe somebody in Asia decided to give up bin Laden, and that's how he fell into U.S. laps?

One wrinkle in the official U.S. story interests me. There were supposedly no electronic connections at all to bin Laden's hideout--no internet or cell phones. This suggests they are convinced that U.S. technology can trace any electronic link. Yet, in the end, the very electronic silence of this large comfortable house was one thing that attracted attention. So: the U.S. can track your internet use, listen in on conversations, follow key words, etc., and they may also notice if you're not in the ether at all.

The Canadian Election

One result that surprised me a bit: the Conservatives winning a big majority. I was one who thought there would be little change in party standings (hah!) and when the NDP gained in the polls, I thought this might hurt the Conservatives to some extent, not only the Bloc Quebecois and Liberals.

Big surprises: the virtual destruction of the Bloc, and the reduction of the Liberals to 30 seats. I had a very sharp student in my class a few years ago who explained that in Quebec, it's never about left and right--it's about culture, language, etc. As a Canadian I would like to think that Quebeckers have rejected the sovereignty option. Maybe Jack Layton of the NDP got his big gains in Quebec by talking about trying to get Quebec to "sign on" to the Constitution--which was Brian Mulroney's major goal with his Meech Lake and Charlottetown initiatives to amend the Constitution. From an interview with Layton:

But beyond his own Quebec background, he spoke of how the NDP platform’s focus on hiring and training more family doctors, creating jobs and improving retirement security resonate in the province.

Layton even suggested that making progress on those sorts of issues might be the first step towards getting Quebec to sign the Constitution. “If we could be addressing those issues,” he said, “then we might find ourselves creating the conditions where we could come to that discussion about how to bring Quebec fully into the Canadian family.”

Beyond his core platform on economic and social policy, he defended the NDP’s proposal to extend French-language rights in Quebec to federally regulated industries. The NDP has drafted a bill that would amend the Canada Labour Code, which applies to sectors like interprovincial transportation, banking and telecommunications, to guarantee the right to work in French in those industries.

But Layton denied that would mean Ottawa effectively legislating against the use of English, the other official language. “That’s not what it’s about,” he said, describing the proposed law’s aim as “ensuring the rights of a French-speaking person to be able to work in that language.”

Issue are important. But polls indicate it was more Layton's personal appeal that made a difference.

There is already talk that the rise of the Harper-led Tories, and the decline of the Liberals, indicates that Canada is moving away from a brokerage system where the major parties are ideologically flexible, and ideological parties remain smaller, to a classic two-party system of left and right or something similar. The Liberals consciously chose to stay away from left/right and focus on process--they'd be better listeners, etc., and this was a complete failure. It does no good to run in the middle if voters don't think there is a middle. (A political science argument here).

Harper has done a brilliant job. He has exploited Liberal weaknesses. He understands the multi-cultural country that the Liberals built, and is better than they are at winning ethnic ridings. He picks conservative issues that "cross cut" across a number of demographic factors: low taxes, a focus on intact families, national defence and law and order as core government functions, in comparison to which many things are frills. He knows how to attract the evangelical vote without acting on abortion, capital punishment or same-sex marriage.

I saw a brief reference somewhere to an argument that the Liberals have experienced a very long-term decline--since Mackenzie King. I can't find it now.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A Pretty Good Joke

I've told a variation of this joke for probably twenty years. This may be close to the original.

From a bio of Edward Heath, PM of Britain in the 70s. Heath negotiated Britain's entry into the EU, or whatever it was called at the time. There was a disappointment on the part of other Europeans with the way the Brits dealt with some of the important nitty-gritty of finance.

Pompidou [of France] told Brandt [of West Germany] that Britain was eager to express opinions on the larger geophysical decisions about Europe's future but left the detailed issues of economic integration to France and Germany. 'It is like a husband who leaves all the questions regarding the apartment, the children's education and the holiday plans to his wife--and only wants to concern himself with whether to open diplomatic relations with China.'

Source: Philip Ziegler, Edward Heath, p. 296, citing Marsh, 'Blood, Gold and the Euro.'

I heard it as a husband bragging in a bar, and the punchline being "nuclear war," but still.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Paul Ryan and Obamacare

Republican Paul Ryan proposes phasing out Medicare--the U.S. federal program for seniors, with few limits on costs--and replacing it with a system in which the private sector will compete on price, but also have the ability to impose cost controls.

Some progressives say this is political suicide; after all, Tea Partiers campaigned in 2010 saying something like "Medicare is a sacred trust; Obamacare is evil."

But: others are suggesting that the Paul Ryan plan is actually very similar to Obamacare when it comes to people under-65. See here and here. The fear of Obamacare is that it would weaken Medicare in order to improve Medicaid (for the poor, with doctors often not reimbursed enough to make them take Medicaid patients), and extend it to more people.

Maybe this is a developing consensus--ensure a huge increase in the people who are assured some access to the health-care system, but allow the private sector to impose price controls.

UPDATE: the wonderful Kaus:

So the difference between Obama’s Medicare and the Ryan Plan, according to Paul Krugman is whether you get your coverage denied by “insurance company executives” or by ”health care professionals.” To the barricades! … P.S.: Like I said, Obama and Ryan are on the same side when it comes to abridging Medicare’s promise to pay for “any care that helps.” …

Read more:

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Climate: The Science is Interesting, but Not Settled

Zeke at Lucia's Blackboard site has a great thread going on which aspects of the AGW view are highly likely, less likely, etc. Judy Curry weighs in on her own site. I think one thing that can safety be concluded is that the science is not settled.

Settled Science Or, Er, Not

This time the "thrifty gene" that was supposed to be found in First Nations and aboriginal peoples around the world.

But now, with obesity and diabetes shaping up to be a global pandemic, the theory appears to be dying – raising the prospect that prejudice more than proof gave it such a long life.

... A bevy of researchers now questions it. Even true believers such as Dr. Hegele are losing faith; some dismiss it out of hand. Not least because, after four decades in search of thrifty genes, no one can find them.

... Given the weight of evidence against the theory, a post-mortem has already begun, raising uncomfortable questions about why, with no real proof, it has been so popular for so long.

... Dr. Szathmàry suspects that because it was regarded as “settled science,” the theory may have compromised efforts to investigate other causes of the diabetes epidemic.

Anthropologists regard a (peer reviewed) theory which is still widely accepted in medicine and public health as bullshit.

Monday, February 21, 2011

True Believers

Paul Haggis, uber Hollywood writer, is more or less officially an apostate from Scientology. Great work by the New Yorker in writing up this story, and investigating several specific charges against the Church.

I was struck by the fact that Haggis now says he never quite believed the "highest teachings" of the Church, accessible only to initiates who have climbed through several levels of awareness by way of expensive courses.

Privately, he told me, he remained troubled by the church’s theology, which struck him as “intergalactic spirituality.” He was grateful, however, to have an auditor who was “really smart, sweet, thoughtful. I could always go to talk to him.” The confessionals were helpful. “It just felt better to get things off my chest.” Even after his incredulous reaction to O.T. III, he continued to “move up” the Bridge. He saw so many intelligent people on the path, and expected that his concerns would be addressed in future levels. He told himself, “Maybe there is something, and I’m just missing it.” He felt unsettled by the lack of irony among many fellow-Scientologists—an inability to laugh at themselves, which seemed at odds with the character of Hubbard himself. When Haggis felt doubts about the religion, he recalled 16-mm. films he had seen of Hubbard’s lectures from the fifties and sixties. “He had this amazing buoyancy,” Haggis says. “He had a deadpan humor and this sense of himself that seemed to say, ‘Yes, I am fully aware that I might be mad, but I also might be on to something.’ ”
Haggis finally reached the top of the Operating Thetan pyramid. According to documents obtained by WikiLeaks, the activist group run by Julian Assange, the final exercise is: “Go out to a park, train station or other busy area. Practice placing an intention into individuals until you can successfully and easily place an intention into or on a Being and/or a body.”
Haggis expected that, as an O.T. VII, he would feel a sense of accomplishment, but he remained confused and unsatisfied. He thought that Hubbard was “brilliant in so many ways,” and that the failing must be his. At one point, he confided to a minister in the church that he didn’t think he should be a Scientologist. She told him, “There are all sorts of Scientologists,” just as there are all sorts of Jews and Christians, with varying levels of faith. The implication, Haggis said, was that he could “pick and choose” which tenets of Scientology to believe.

I was reminded of a line in the Father Ted series, but I can't find it on line. It's one of the times when Ted wonders how Dougal, his young sidekick, ever made it through the seminary. Dougal says something like: "Well, I could see that no one could believe what we were being told, so I looked around to see how the other fellows were taking it. They were obviously prepared to pretend they believed it, so I decided to pretend as well."

Another comparison: Scott Carrier on Brian David Mitchell, the man who kidnapped and repeatedly raped Elizabeth Smart.

Temple Square [in Salt Lake City] attracts religious wackos like moths to a flame. They stand outside the wall yelling condemnations, calling for repentance, quoting from the Bible. Or they pose quietly in costumes, such as the young man with his face painted silver and dressed as Little Bo Peep. Or Worm, who sat naked below the Brigham Young statue with the letters W-O-R-M tattooed across his forehead. Or Brian David Mitchell, the man who dressed like Jesus Christ and stole 14-year-old Elizabeth Smart from her bed in the middle of the night. We knew him as a temple moth and thought he was crazy but harmless. This is why we didn't suspect him, even when he walked around downtown with Elizabeth in tow, her face covered by a veil. It's about the strangest thing that's ever happened in Salt Lake City, and it could only have happened here, in this place and time, perhaps caused by the aura emanating from the temple itself.

I can't help thinking of Life of Brian. Link.

Prophet I: And the bison shall be huge and black, and the
eyes still of red, with the blood of living creatures! And
the whore
of Babylon, shall ride forth on a red-headed serpent, and
throughout the land shall be a great rubbing of parts. He
and wib...
Prophet II: ...the demon shell carry a nine-bladed sword!
Nine-bladed! Not two, or five, or seven, but nine, which he
wield on all wretched sinner-sinners, just like you sir,
there! And the horns shall be on the head...
Prophet III: ...through Hebediah, his servants. There shall
in that time be rumours, of things going astray. Ehm...and
shall be a great confusion as to where things really are.
And nobody will really know where lieth those little things
wi...with a
sort of rackey work base, that has an attachment. At this
time, a friend shall lose his friend's hammer, and the young
shall not
know where lieth the things possessed by their fathers, that
their fathers put there only just the night before, 'bout
Prophet IV: Yea, it is written in the Book of Cyril: "That
in that time shall the turds"...

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Peer Review vs. Amateurs

The case of Anil Potti.

Once again a supposed expert builds up a big reputation based on peer-reviewed publications, and then critics who are "only" trained in statistics take the work apart, with the author and his home institution refusing to cooperate every step of the way. There is an obvious analogy to climate issues.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Trenberth in the middle

I'm disappointed in Kevin Trenberth. In his professional work he has been stressing that there is a lot of uncertainty in all the major findings about global climate--and the next IPCC report, if it truly follows reputable scientific work, will reflect greater uncertainty, rather than less uncertainty, than earlier reports. (Link is to Fred Pearce). The more mature the science, the less it knows? Or were a lot of people dishonest about what they knew before?

Rather than face these questions, Trenberth in his more "media friendly" role confuses, probably deliberately, the consensus that temperature is going up with the nowhere-near consensus that human actions are responsible to an important extent (Willis Eschenbach). He has made a name for himself by identifying a specific percentage of a "natural" disaster that results from AGW or climate change. Go on, don't try to kid a kidder. Then he smears any and all skeptics. Grow up, for crying out loud.

I like some of his comments in the Climategate e-mails. Communicating with a few friends, not thinking these messages would ever become public, he says there are big gaps both in what is known, and is what has been explained to lay people. So why not give some credit to intelligent lay people who are trying to explain things?

See also here, here, here.

On sea level, which apparently remains on the shrinking list of "proofs," it is worth repeating that the original, headline-making article has been retracted by its original authors. They didn't say: things may be worse than we said; they retracted the whole thing.