Sunday, August 31, 2008

Raining repuglicans . . . .

Much to their dismay, their god did not send rain showers down in buckets on Barack Obama's parade Thursday night in Denver.

Per Crooks and Liars:

Last week, however, Focus unveiled a new video, asking politically-conservative Christians to pray for rain on Aug. 28, in order to disrupt Barack Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention.

Shepard called for “abundant rain, torrential rain … flood-advisory rain.” He adds, “I’m talking about umbrella-ain’t-gonna-help-you rain … swamp-the-intersections rain.” Explaining why he wants everyone to pray for rain, Shepard explains, without a hint of humor, “I’m still pro-life, and I’m still in favor or marriage being between one man and one woman. And I would like the next president who will select justices for the next Supreme Court to agree.”

In other words, Obama disagrees with the religious right on culture-war issues, so Focus on the Family wants God to smite Obama with rain. Got it.

Now, we all know that didn't quite happen.

However, now we have this bit of news, courtesy of The Guardian, UK:

Republican convention thrown into chaos by Hurricane Gustav

* Ewen MacAskill in Minneapolis-St Paul * * Sunday August 31 2008 20:30 BST

Hurricane Gustav has thrown America's political agenda into chaos with the biggest casualty being the Republican convention, which was due to open tomorrow in Minneapolis-St Paul, Minnesota.

John McCain and his strategists have been forced to partially scrap a four-day schedule that has been months in the planning in the face of the storm. It is the first time in living memory that a Republican or Democratic convention has been disrupted by a natural disaster.

McCain, in an interview broadcast earlier today, said it would be inappropriate to have a "festive occasion" against the backdrop of a disaster.

It appears that their god is not happy with them for some reason.

Sort of Divine Retribution, don't you think ? ? ? ?

H/T "drf"

(Cross-posted from Moved to Vancouver)

blogwhoring: Long Road

Visit Long Road. The author is known to forests, cities and libraries and goes well with coffee, beer, and rainy afternoons.

The Honourable VP Hockey Mom -- I'm Gabberflasted, Are You Gabberflasted too?

Over on the Angry Bear blog, there's a thread discussing McCain's VP choice, Alaska governor Sarah Palin.

With an utter lack of shame, I have hoisted this from the comments. It is, of course, mine. --NM

This choice, seen as a serious attempt to fill an important team position, is decidedly odd. Forget her gender -- there are mayors of medium sized towns who would be vastly better suited for the role, and more experienced, than Palin is. I'm thinking of our last Winnipeg mayor, who legitimately took his mayorhood to the level of statesmanship.

But under another lens, this choice is exactly to the pattern pursued over the past eight years by Rove, Cheney & Co -- a pattern of placing, or trying to place, manifestly unsuitable candidates in pivotal positions. FISA Brownie ring a bell? Alberto Gonzales, Monica Goodling, Dr. Susan Orr, William Wehrum, Hans von Spakovsky, John Bolton and don't forget Paul Wolfowitz at the World Bank (that really worked out well).

And then there are the ones who aren't as familiar. How about George Deutsch, briefly a press officer at NASA. Deutsch, 24, had worked in the Bush/Cheney 2004 campaign "War Room", and was appointed to the NASA position by Bush in 2005.

Like others we have heard of in Bush-influenced science/PR positions, he tried to blur the science and insert religion, as in an e-mail telling a NASA web designer to add the word "theory" after every mention of the Big Bang, saying the Big Bang is "not proven fact; it is opinion... It is not NASA's place ... to make a declaration such as this about the existence of the universe that discounts intelligent design by a creator..." He finally got the boot because his résumé falsely said he had a B.A. in journalism.

These questionable appointments started early. In March 2001, only 60 days into Bush's first term, they caught the attention of the Washington Post. They detailed Bush's appointment of Iran-Contra veterans to key posts -- naming Elliot Abrams, John Negroponte and Otto Reich. None of those guys is clueless, but they're none the better for that.

The pattern seems to be either clueless appointees or lawless ones. I would not be surprised if this VP was a one-two deal -- clueless Palin first as a placeholder, and then in October, after a *sob sob* family emergency, a Rovian or Cheynesque ringer lined up to step into Palin's place.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

One possible soft path solution

THE LATE Dr. Robert Bussard may have developed the path to fusion. Researchers have finished the first phase of an unorthodox, low-cost nuclear fusion experiment that has generated a megawatt's worth of buzz on the Internet – and they are now waiting for a verdict from their federal funders on whether to proceed to the next phase. You can read about it on MSNBC's Cosmic Log page.

Richard Nebel, leader of the research team at EMC2 Fusion in New Mexico, declined to detail the results of the project, saying that was up to the people paying the bills. But he did said “we have had some success" in the effort to reproduce the promising results reported by the late physicist Robert Bussard. "It's kind of a mix," he said.

The Bussard fusion design, also known as inertial electrostatic confinement or Polywell fusion, is radically different from the multibillion-dollar mainstream approach to the fusion challenge. The idea behind it is that a specially designed high-voltage electrical field can drive ions so closely together that they spark fusion reactions, ideally releasing more energy than the device expends.
In 2005, Bussard said his last test device (named WB-6 because its design was reminiscent of a Wiffle Ball) produced results so promising that he felt he was on the right track toward a breakthrough in low-cost fusion power.

a test plasma inside WB7

Google Video has a 92-minute video of the late doctor giving a lecture in 2006 about the efforts of his research team. I recommend it highly. Dr. Bussard outlines the basics, shows where they went wrong, what they learned, and why the Tokamak approach is futile. He calls them "Superconducting Cathedrals", I call them billion-dollar boondoggles.

Let's hope for a positive report and increased funding, which had been supported by the U.S. Navy. IMHO, it's an approach that Canada should follow, for less than a Candu re-build. The problem is the AECL scientific orthodoxy that permeates the outfit, so that's not going to happen.

The big thing about the Bussard approach is that it does not produce radiation. Why? Watch the video and find out. Also, check out the little company that was created by Dr. Bussard, EMC2 Fusion Development Corporation for extra articles.

With a little luck, the soft path will be well-lit.

Get Out of the Gulf Coast and Stay Out For 2 Weeks

And maybe more.

Gustav is being rapidly followed up another storm called Hanna.

Hanna has yet to attain hurricane force but is expected to sometime over the next day or therabouts.

And off against the coast of Africa is Invest 97 just beginnning to assemble.

But just to give you an idea of how the gulf looks and a bit of what may yet come to pass look at this.

Who would jump off Everest if they could find the stairs?

Hard path versus soft path solutions

I was out hiking in the Whiteshell Provincial Park last week, enjoying the beauty of pine forests, ankle-deep moss underfoot and broad warm shoulders of granite everywhere. The Whiteshell is located on the western edge of the Canadian Shield, which Wikipedia tells us is “the first part of North America to be permanently elevated above sea level … almost wholly untouched by successive encroachments of the sea upon the continent. It is the earth's greatest area of exposed Archaean rock,” about 2.5 billion years old.

Most of the granite, heated by hundreds of thousands of summers, is pretty flat. There are plenty of places, in fact, where areas of granite are used as makeshift parking lots for campers to leave their vehicles while they go fishing or hiking.

But not all of it. Quite a lot of places, you will find vertical drops or fissures in the rock, so it is not altogether wise to walk along dreamily looking up at the hushed cathedral of pines above you. Too much of that, and the cathedral could suddenly echo with unbecoming shrieks.

Unbecoming shrieks are definitely coming up over the next few decades, unless we look at where we're going and take care to find a soft path down.

What the heck is a soft path? It is an idea -- an idea that could save us a lot of pain and trouble as we make our way into a very different future.

It consists of knowing where you are, knowing where you are going to be or where you want to be in the future, and then charting a path between those two places, a path that does as little damage and costs as little as possible.

Although parts of a properly planned soft path may look expensive, or even look absurd, at the endpoint a disastrous, chaotic transition will have been avoided, preserving rather than risking the fragile resources which might otherwise be lost. Metaphorically, jumping down the crevice is likely to lose you your radio, your flashlight or your flask of brandy. Climbing down, though slower, will ensure when you're camped that night you'll still be able to have a quiet drink while listening to As It Happens and studying your map.

Right-wing thinkers often say that change is inevitable, and that destructive change can even be a good thing -- "creative destruction", leading to a new, cleaner, more efficient social or business structure. While this is sometimes true, a study of economic history over the past two or three hundred years might lead a careful reader to wonder how much of that destruction was actually necessary, and how much of it fell upon the shoulders of those ill-suited to fight back. A truly cynical reader might ask herself if the concept of creative destruction was most useful for persuading people that their personal destruction was both necessary and good.

In the 90s Canadian philosopher John Ralston Saul gave the Massey Lectures, with his topic titled "The Unconscious Civilization". The lectures, and the book which included them, were well worth reading (and still are), but like some other influential books, the title itself is sufficient to pull a lot of the weight of his arguments.

Exactly how much of the decision-making of nations is actually conscious? We see glimpses of it here and there, and one of the things I love about Canada is that I believe our government acts consciously somewhat more often than others. I offer as proof our health care system, the CBC, and in a twisted way that most peculiar element of our Charter of Rights and Freedoms -- the Notwithstanding Clause.

But how helpful is it, really, to be conscious for a few minutes a day, while spending the rest of the time running on pure reflexes? If you are not a morning person, I will cut you a lot of slack before you've had your coffee. But morning person or not, staggering around driven by emotions, primate social competition, or your own misconceptions is going to drop you right into the Canadian Shield.

Back to the soft path. How do you apply this simple concept to the big, apparently intractable problems facing Canada right now? Let me take one -- the crisis facing rural and farming communities.

Many of these communities are tottering on the edge of a tipping point into ghost town status. Taken to its logical conclusion, if Canadians who live in rural communities don't have enough income or the resources that they need to get to the store, to church and to their friends homes, if they don't have a large enough population density to support schools to educate their children, hospitals to serve their health needs and care homes where the elderly can retire in their own communities -- then they won't.

My nightmare vision of a Canada without a rural presence is one where if you want to drive cross-country you would pack supplies, a GPS emergency beacon and extra fuel. It's a vision that sees enormous expanses of Canada the de facto domains of unregulated factory farms. It's a vision that makes me ask -- if Canada consists of a couple of dozen large cities with nothing but greenery or corporate enclaves in between, exactly how secure are we?

Luckily for the rest of Canada, rural people are amazingly stubborn and resourceful. But there are limits even to rural stubbornness.

The hard path we might tread by not consciously facing the problem of rural depopulation includes possible outcomes than I, for one, find unacceptable. We are a long ways along this path -- Canadian population shifted from 80% rural to 80% urban over the past 70 years or so. (Although I believe most of this change has to do with the rural population staying the same while most of the population growth happened in cities.)

A soft path approach to this depopulation problem would begin by establishing (for the sake of planning) what level of population seems to be desirable, and looking at what services and supports would be necessary to keep such communities prosperous.

There is no time in this post, which has already gone on way too long, to lay out even a rough draft of such a plan. Such a draft all by itself would probably take a couple of years, even with the assistance of a multitude of studies which have already been done, and a wiki of planners.

However, remember a few paragraphs up where I talked about absurd or even apparently expensive parts of a soft path plan turning out to be actually necessary? A sample of one of these counterintuitive initiatives might be biodiesel and ethanol production.

In terms of energy production, both of these are silly. Growing crops in order to turn them into cooking oil in order to put that in a car's engine and burn it as fuel is as goofy as raising, slaughtering and drying out chickens to use as firewood. Ethanol production is much the same. I don't have the statistics right at hand, but the energy balance -- the amount of energy you have to put in in order to get an equal amount out again -- is much too close to level to make any sense in addressing climate change.

But in the short term, both of these provide a way of ensuring a steady income for a multitude of farmers, even if the crop suffers a poor year and lousy quality. Yeast doesn't care if grain doesn't make good pasta, it doesn't even care (I think) if there is all manner of grain smut, mold, mouse droppings or ground-up blister beetles in it. I could be wrong about this, but I would think that so long as you can scrape it up off the field, you can ferment it.

As part of a soft path plan to support rural communities until a new balance can be established, biodiesel and ethanol production deserve a blue ribbon.

Not too many people talk about soft path planning. But they should. Otherwise, in years to come all the shrieking is likely to keep us awake, and we won't even have brandy to get us back to sleep.


Correction 6:30 a.m. "Charter of Rights and Freedoms", not "Constitution". --NM

Friday, August 29, 2008

Holy Harper

OK so this is important. One more and then I'm going to bed.

"Harper, the 48-year-old leader of a minority Conservative government, virtually never talks publicly about his Christian beliefs. As a result, those who are curious about his spiritual views resort to visiting Harper's friends, such as Trask, and congregations like RockPointe -- which belongs to the Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination, with which Harper has been connected for about two decades."

Douglas Todd in the Vancouver Sun writes about Harper's evangelicalism.


Online Threats

There is a commenter popping up on some blogs who calls himself "Jonathan" and sometimes "Tom Robinson" and maybe other aliases as well for all I know.

This individual is threatening and advocating violence against people he doesn't agree with.

The IP address of at least one of the posts by this person is

That shows up as being assigned to Cogeco Cable and is located in Welland, Ontario .

If there are other IP addresses associated with this individual it is likely the result of dynamic IP assignments rather than static.

At any rate, all incidents of commentary by this individual (or any other individual for that matter) either threatening or advocating violence of any kind should be immediately referred to your local police department, your local Crown Council office (for assurance and proof) and/or the RCMP, OPP, or QPP.

Each time you receive a threat you should also use the tool I linked to above and identify the location of the IP. If it is in your town call the authorities at once with no delay at all.

Unbalanced people should not be humoured. (Thanks for the catch Noni)

Striking the Stupid Speechless -- Yes!!!11!!!!

I bookmarked Mark Morford's column "Notes and Errata" (San Francisco Chronicle, here) a couple of years ago, because he is often pretty funny. Lately I haven't read him as much because of adjective overload, but this caught my attention and stirred a little teacup of hope in my heart.
Purging The Stupid

Finally, software that zaps the most obnoxious Web chatter...

Are you a terrible speller? Mentally primordial? Mean-as-a-snake Republican? Dick Cheney?

Are you fetishistically fond of posting puerile, unreadable, horribly punctuated, grammatically insane or otherwise indecipherable mental chyme all over the Web's now-ubiquitous comments boards, filling the public areas from here to Metafilter with OMG!! And !LOL!!! and ALL-CAPPED GIBBERISH that means absolutely nothing and is the conversational equivalent of dragging Ann Coulter across a chalkboard?

Well, the world has had just about enough of you.

Behold, as today's entry for the most brilliant-yet-unassuming innovation that just might change the planet: the YouTube Comment Snob, created by a humble Lutheran programmer named Chris Finke.

Like most genius ideas, The Snob is almost frighteningly simple: It is merely a tiny Firefox browser extension that works to filter out the most childish, overpunctuated, all-capped, horribly grammared, or otherwise useless comments that clog up the YouTube comments boards.

I know what you're thinking: Who the hell cares about YouTube comments boards? Hell, if you've ever taken even a cursory glance into that teenage e-wasteland, you know: the place is an intellectual pit, pure verbal slop, quite possibly the lowliest repository of moronic comments on the entire Interwebs, all seemingly designed for the sole purpose of making you feel very sad indeed about the state of grammar, mental acuity and the English language in America.

[...see what I mean?... -Noni]

But this column is not about YouTube. This is about the Comment Snob filter itself -- or rather, the idea it inspires. Because let us imagine that we -- and by "we" of course I mean "some other brilliant software engineers out there who are clearly not me" -- develop the Snob's idea a bit more fully, make it into a free product, and give it away to a desperate and wary world.

It's a sad truism: With the exception of the most heavily moderated sites, much of the new wave of user-generated e-media has become a giant conversational dumpster. ... Despite years of defending the Web as an egalitarian free-for-all wonderland, I now tend to agree with "West Wing" creator Aaron Sorkin, who said, "Nothing has done more to make us dumber or meaner than the anonymity of the Internet."


... imagine a customizable filter set on your end. Something that lets you adjust how many times you see "ROTFLMAO!!!!" or OMG LOLCATS!?!?" or entire posts written in those SCREAMING CAPS, or even those right-wing nutjobs who gleefully try to bait you and talk up "yoo commie liberal faggits are ded go McAinn!!!!." All gone.


"So unless I spell and punctuate and use grammar correctly, I get punished," says one timorous commenter in response to The Snob's existence. Well, yes. Then again, it also means the exact opposite: Write more clearly, spell check, use your brain and a single exclamation point instead of 12, and you get the "reward" of participating in a conversation among reasonably intelligent adults. Call it an incentive.

"OMG, this software is so elitist!" whines another. And OMG sweetie, you're so right -- if, by "elitist," you mean "coherent." Or "intelligible." ... Sweet Jesus with a dangling modifier, when did it become desirable to lower intellectual standards to pond level and allow all manner of grunt and spit and screaming verbal troglodytes into the conversation? Oh right. Bush 43.

Lest you think such a product too draconian ...consider: The religious right has been doing this for millennia... Now it is merely the smart people's turn to filter out the unintelligible and the incoherent and the useless .... And I think we have a far better chance of success. Why? Well, because it's already here.

Behold: The StupidFilter Project. Oh my yes.

StupidFilter is designed to do everything the Snob does, only better, faster, cleaner -- and maybe, just maybe, for the entire Web itself.

Its creators are apparently quite serious. StupidFilter is open-source, usable on any blog or wiki or media site anywhere. There's an official site. There's source code under GNU General Public License. There appears to even be some venture capital funding. Best of all: It's already in beta. Isn't that beautiful?

Could it work? Could anti-imbecile software radically improve the very quality and nature of conversation on the once-glorious Net for all time everywhere? OMFG, let us pray.

I second that motion.

Rebranding Israel : Babes in bikinis vs. the coronary stent

The Israeli consulate in Toronto is gearing up for "Brand Israel" , a $1M 10-month ad blitz campaign which will be displaying positive images of Israel in Toronto bus shelters, on billboards, on radio and TV starting in September. The ad here features the "Innovation Israel" coronary stent.
Consul general Amir Gissin promises the campaign will be "an attack on all the senses".
Given that it is sponsored by Sidney Greenberg of Astral Media, Canada's largest radio broadcaster; Joel Reitman of MIJO Corporation; and David Asper of Canwest Global, I'm sure it will be.
"The way to fix negative images of Israel is to present Israel in a positive light elsewhere," Gissin said. "Never has there been this [scale] of combination of business and philanthropy for Israel."

Well, that might be true if you don't count the last seven years of the Brand Israel campaign in the U.S.
ISRAEL21c boasts it "has placed more than 5,000 stories with positive images of Israel and Israelis in mainstream American media" and "tens of millions of eyes see ISRAEL21c reported stories, yet most of them don't know that ISRAEL21c is the source".
Their most famous stories include a former Miss Israel in a bikini on the covers of Maxim and the New York Post, and the Newsweek photospread "Babes in the Holy Land", financed in part by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

The president of ISRAEL21c, formerly national president of AIPAC, explains the strategy :
"All the recent research on Israel's image or brand in America indicates that the one demographic group that has the least positive knowledge of Israel in America is men under 30. To them, Israel is a place of armed military conflict and little else."
David Saranga, the Israeli consular official based in New York who initiated the Babes in the Holy Land photoshoot, agreed :
"We have to find the right hook. And what's relevant to men under 35?
Good-looking women."
So this is what they got :

Figures, doesn't it?

The Americans are targeted with Babes in the Holy Land; Canadians will be getting the coronary stent.

P.S. Dear Jerusalem Post : All the wonderful goodwill generated by your report on the Branding Israel campaign is unfortunately somewhat diluted by your having a "Bomb Iran? Vote now!" NewsMax poll on the comments page accompanying the article.
Cross-posted at Creekside

Thursday, August 28, 2008

A Reminiscence and a Reason for Joy

In the summer of 1960, when I was 12 years old, my family moved from Calgary to Regina. We took over a month to do it because we drove to Atlanta, Georgia on the way. Down diagonally across the great plains to the eastern seaboard and into the south through Mississippi and on into Georgia where my father had been born.

We had a car break down somewhere in South Carolina. It took the better part of a day for the car to be fixed and we went to a movie. During the movie one of my little brothers went off to the bathroom and didn't come back for a long time. My dad went looking for him and found him sitting up in the "colored" section at the back talking to a little guy about his own age. Dad brought him back to where we were sitting and tried to explain that, in the south, my brother was putting that little boy in danger.

At the gas stations and restaurants we saw the washrooms. Men's, Women's and Coloreds. The Coloreds washroom usually had a door that was filthy and peeling and wouldn't close properly. Same with water fountains.

During a stay with my father's cousin, a preacher in Columbus Mississippi and his family, my two two older male cousins took me for a ride in their pickup truck. The ride included a high speed, screaming with laughter, side to side rip through what they called "nigger town". I was scared to death. When we got back I told my dad about it and he decided that was enough of a visit with his cousin and we left the next morning.

When we were in Atlanta we stayed with my dad's uncle who was quite a wealthy man. Dad's parents had come over from Hawaii for the visit too and stayed there too.

Dad's uncle owned a very large roofing company. At the time the biggest in the US Southeast. They put the first roof on the Space Center and the Astrodome, or so I was told. At any rate Uncle Ledus (yes, they did have names like that) was rich as Croesus. His residence in Atlanta included a 1/4 mile riding track and stable of Shetland and Welsh ponies.

The only permanent stable hand he had was a very old black man whose name I can no longer remember. His parents had been slaves. He'd been dad's uncle's lead stable hand almost all both their adult lives. He lived in a pretty nice little apartment that had been built out beside the big stable building and took all his meals in the house. But he wouldn't sit at the table with the white people. Not even when my dad was visiting, who was one of his favorites among the extended family. He would eat where he always did, where he felt comfortable. In a cleared, swept out part of the attached garage where my aunt set his table. The adjoining door was always kept open and conversation wasn't all that difficult if you spoke just a little louder but that's where he always sat and took his meals

This evening in Denver, Colorado something is going to happen that I never thought I would see in my lifetime. My dad is gone now but I know from conversations we had that he thought such a thing wouldn't happen for a few more generations yet. The old enmities were just too deep he thought and maybe they are still too deep for a black man to be elected president of the US.

This evening as I watch Barack Obama accept the nomination I will remember the little boy in the movie theatre in South Carolina and the frightened people scattering from the speeding truck in Columbus Mississippi and I will remember my great uncle's old stablehand.

I expect I'll weep.

Build it first; Name it after

Harper is getting a little ahead of himself here.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper summoned up the jowly ghost of one of his Conservative predecessors Thursday, announcing that John Diefenbaker would be both the name of Canada's new anywhere, anytime icebreaker and the inspiration for his vision of Arctic development.
Yes, well there's only one problem. Nobody has even started cutting steel for this non-existent icebreaker.

Although, the "name" is rather appropriate, don't you think? I mean, Diefenbaker was the Conservative who started a tradition of introducing big projects and then cancelling them before they were finished. Say, AVRO Arrow.

And I can see where Harper gets his inspiration. Dief could spin a lie with the best of them. Say, BOMARC. And, if you're so inclined, listen to Dief tell you how rosy things were going to be.

In the end, the RCAF ended up with U.S. supplied F-101 Voodoos (which remained in service until the Trudeau government replaced them with F-18 Hornets) and highly dubious BOMARC-B missiles under U.S. control. But I digress.

Harper, in declaring Diefenbaker his inspiration, may be trying to duplicate what Dief pulled off in 1958. Diefenbaker was uncomfortable with his minority government and called a snap election. His slogan for that campaign? Canada of the North, and he proceded to shovel tax money off the back of a truck for northern development and subsidies.


There is, however, something Diefenbaker did during that campaign which Harper is never likely to do: Diefenbaker increased funding to social programs, a move which a majority of Canadians welcomed. It got Dief his majority (a big honkin' majority) and then he led Canada into an ugly recession. He ended up firing the Governor of the Bank of Canada, (with whom he disagreed on economic and monetary policy), further exacerbating the economic problems of the country and virtually killing off foreign investment in a tattered Canadian industry.

Anyway, back to this yet-to-be-built icebreaker. Don't count on this happening too soon. The Harperites have already underfunded the program and, unless they're prepared to cough up more money, a lot more money, it's going to go the way of the navy's Joint Support Ships.

The last Conservative fiasco around this very same type of ship goes back to the last Conservative government, led by Brian Mulroney. In 1987 they were pounding their chests telling us all that we were going north with the largest conventional icebreaker in the world. But they had seriously under-estimated the actual costs, having allocated only $320 million in 1985 for the project. It was known by experts in 1986 that the cost was more like $750 million. So, when the prime contractor told the government that it would take more than twice what the government had allocated to complete such a ship, (which was only a lofted plan at this point), Mulroney cancelled the project.

How much have the Conservatives allocated for the newest attempt at an icebreaker? Why, $720 million, virtually the same amount it would have cost to build the Polar 8 in 1989. Since then, the cost of building the same vessel today, with improvements of course, would be in the neighbourhood of $1.4 billion.

Predicition: This ship will never be built. If the Conservatives continue in government there will be a late Friday night announcement and it will die, although the minister making the announcement will state that the government remains committed to the project.

This all so fits. Harper naming empty air and vacant northern seascapes with a name that started a Conservative legacy of grand ideas and failed capital projects. But at least it has a name; the right name. Because when it gets cancelled because "costs have unexpectedly exceeded the allocation" we can smile and say, It's what Diefenbaker would have done.

Wow! 58 new CFIA inspectors!

While Tony Clement dines in excellence at Denver and ponders how to diddle with the safety of Canadian food, this announcement hits the street.
The Conservative government promised yesterday to hire 58 more food inspectors and said discussions are under way about the merits of adopting more rigorous U.S. meat safety measures.

Facing allegations from opposition MPs that federal ministers have been less than forthright in explaining their plans for food inspection reform, Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz said his government continues to improve food safety.

"We are targeting another 58 people to be on the front lines," said Mr. Ritz, as he and federal officials briefed reporters in Ottawa.

So, a little look at Maple Leaf Foods produces the following:

MLF production plants: 29

MLF distribution centres: 29

Number of MLF federally registered facilities: 58

What a coincidence!! After an attempt by the Conservatives to de-regulate the industry, (something McCain of Maple Leaf Foods is against) it looks like MLF is going to get 100% on site inspection. But what about all the other major, centralized food producers? Y'know, Lilydale, Kraft, etc.

Something which has a few food industry insiders* raising questions is the content of the CFIA website. According to some of them the CFIA should have, by now, posted detailed instructions to retail outlets about the proper disposal and cleaning procedures of recalled foods. At the time of writing, I couldn't find it.

* Direct source

Tony's overwhelming sense of urgency

So, how are things in Denver today, Mr. Health minister? Having fun are we? Did you get some good face time with Harper's oil industry buddies?

Don't let a major national health crisis get in the way of your itinerary. Why worry about it? Once they're dead, they're of no further use to you.

I could not possibly add to Impolitical, POGGE, BCer in TO or Accidental Deliberations. Except to point out that this detached, imperious behaviour is becoming something of a habit among the Harperites along with bouts of dereliction of duty.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Adding to the disaster...

This comes from CBC and makes the Listeriosis outbreak an even bigger problem.
Two brands of Quebec-made cheese have been pulled from store shelves after provincial health officials found contamination from a strain of listeria.

Quebec's Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food ordered the recall Tuesday of two soft cheeses - Riopelle and Mont Jacob. Listeria was discovered in a Riopelle sample from a Quebec City store, as well as in Mont Jacob sold at a deli in Jonquière.

Officials said the strain is different from the one found in meat products from Maple Leaf Foods that has been linked to a nationwide listeriosis outbreak and 15 deaths.

Horatio Arruda, Quebec's public health director, said there are at least nine suspected cases of listeriosis associated with the recalled cheeses.

There are two important points to be brought out here:

1. This is in no way related to the problem with Maple Leaf Foods. It is completely separate.

2. This is a product sold solely in Quebec. It is not subject to federal regulations and is inspected by provincial authorities.

That doesn't make anybody feel any better, does it?

Hat tip reader Cat

Deja Vu All Over Again

Remember what happened at the end of August three years ago? Her name was Katrina.

Well it's about to happen again, a day or two later than in 2005, only this time his name is Gustav.

Barring some changes in pressure systems between now and then things do not look good.

If you know people in New Orleans and the Louisana/Alabama Gulf Coast call them and tell them to prepare to leave on Friday or Saturday to avoid the panic and rush.

Get Out The Pipecleaners Part III : Your Ears Aren't Big Enough

Now -- on to the other end of the bottle is the other bottleneck -- the reader.

The day has 24 hours. You have one visual input, one audio input, both duplexed, and you're accessing news for perhaps an hour a day. What passes through the two gates of your understanding in that hour? Compared to your two eyes and ears, the information buffet is infinite, so how do you decide?

A lot of it is the wildberry punch of the information buffet. It may be flavorful, but it's not food. In the Entertainment section there's a birth, a death, an argument, an arrest, and what difference does it make to you and me? But our primate social instincts tell us these things are important, so we avidly read about Brad, Angelina and all the others -- strangers we will never meet. (And what's a wildberry, anyway?)

Then there's the opposite end -- the high density, good-for-you news that the buffet can't even give away except for a few health food nuts grazing around the margins. Important international trade agreements camouflaged in the opaque lectures of boring guys in suits. Equivocal research on the cell chemistry of a protein whose function is still not known. A dull back-page paragraph on the convoluted ties between two industrial giants, which if understood, would explain why a one-industry town just lost its factory. Too dull, too abstract, too hard to grasp -- a lot of it effectively embargoed to us because to understand it, you first have to understand a dozen other things.

We are told (and not just by libertarians) to be wise consumers, to judge carefully and research before we invest. And most of us are smart people and can wisely study one or two topics in depth. But life's too short to do this for every topic important to us.

Our eyes aren't big enough, our brains aren't fast enough, our hours aren't long enough to sort through all the confetti and junk food and find the data to understand our world. We need intermediaries to do this for us and make that condensed data available at the instant we actually need it. Without researchers and reporters, periodicals and libraries and now the internet, especially the blogosphere, we are blind, deaf and helpless.

Here's a true story -- many years ago when salad bars were a new phenomenon, I was one of a group of poor college students who would get together every week or so to visit one of these salad bars as a treat. One of our number was Rocky, an intelligent fellow with a very direct approach to life.

The salad bar was laid out with low-cost items at the beginning, medium cost and less often chosen items in the middle, and finally at the far end three big bowls holding minced roast beef, ham, and chicken.

Most of us did the usual salad bar thing, adding from each of the bowls until we got to the far end, and then taking a garnish of one or two kinds of meat. But not our friend Rocky. He might put a little cottage cheese or a hard-boiled egg in his bowl, but for him the lettuce was just something that slowed him down on his way to the meat. It was the meat that rose like an island in his salad bowl, proudly carried to the checkout by a carnivore who really believed in getting value for his dollar.

Thanks to Rocky, the salad bar changed their policy pretty quickly.

Predators take advantage of the hard work herbivores do in turning grass and leaves and lichen into energy-dense things like meat, fat and marrow. A cow has to graze morning and evening and then chew for another few hours every day. They need bushels of feed and a lot of time. Predators only need a couple pounds of cow and no time at all for chewing.

We have too little time to process our news, and our ears and eyes aren't getting any bigger. So, to avoid the need to genetically engineer bigger ears, here is an action plan.

Step one: Remember Rocky. Be an apex predator, because you don't have time to be a four-stomached ruminant, except in one or two areas specifically important to you.

Be as picky about your sources as you are about your dinner. No Cheetos, no wildberry punch, but honest meat and drink.

Have the sources you're considering lied to readers? Do they cite references, and how far can you follow their sources to the raw data? Do they misinterpret other people's experiences? How much of their content is unsupported opinion, how much is solid stuff you can take to the bank? If their content is challenged, do they respond to the challenge and defend it, or honourably admit error and supply a correction?

And spend the least time possible with sources dedicated to any sort of propaganda.

"Propaganda is the deliberate, systematic attempt to shape perceptions, manipulate cognitions, and direct behavior to achieve a response that furthers the desired intent of the propagandist." (I include in this category most advertisers.) It is the enemy of clear thought, and almost always the enemy of the people it's aimed at. Eschew it.

Step two: encourage the herbivores. You have all read the research showing population booms and crashes between rabbits and bobcats. The predator/prey cycle is a commonplace of biological research, less often applied to media. But if the papers, the magazines, the TV and radio news sources can't afford to keep paying their reporters, their writers, their footsoldiers, then what will the rest of the food chain feed on? Responsible news sources are expensive, and irresponsible ones are funded by, surprise, propagandists.

So you should subscribe (yes, spend real money) to at least one major newspaper and two magazines. Buy a good magazine off the newsstand once a week. Support your library. Support good blogs, they don't grow on trees. Write to the good sources and compliment them, write to the bad sources and tell them why you avoid them.

Step three
: be an herbivore. In the things that you yourself know and care about, become an honest source. Then when indicated make that information available to others who don't have it. Make sure it's solid and as well defended -- factually, logically -- as you can. And if you find you are wrong, stop defending it.

Luckily for us, and unlike the rabbits and bobcats, we can live at both ends of the information food chain. The internet has given us a network where we can be both dinner and diner. We can have it all -- we can fill our bowls with all the beef we want, and then if we want and have the time, we can add some Brad pasta salad and Angelina pickles and some spicy Britney spears.

But no wildberry punch ever again.

This is part III of III.

Part I, Get Out The Pipecleaners Part I : You Can Hear Your News Arteries Narrowing, is here.
Part II, Get Out The Pipecleaners Part II : Robbie the Robot Can't Do News , is here.

Petroleum Puveyor's Profit Payout . . . .

Per The Globe and Mail today:

Exxon to pay out 75% of Valdez damages
August 27, 2008

SEATTLE — — Exxon Mobil Corp. [XOM-N] has agreed to pay out 75 per cent of a $507.5-million (U.S.) damages ruling to settle the 1989 Exxon Valdez oil spill off Alaska, the Anchorage Daily News reported on Tuesday.

Citing both Exxon and the plaintiff's lawyer, the Anchorage Daily News said the oil giant will release about $383-million for distribution to the nearly 33,000 commercial fishermen and others who sued Exxon after the worst tanker crash in U.S. history.

Gee, I hope it doesn't hurt the company's profit margin too much.

After all, they are in a very unique position for world corporations.

Shall we all break out the tissues for the tears that will be shed by the Board and shareholders?

Somehow, I think not . . . .

Free market food safety

Inspectors failed to adopt more rigorous U.S. measures reads the G&M headline and the accompanying article includes this statement from Steve :
"Prime Minister Stephen Harper has said that the massive Maple Leaf meat recall highlights the need for Ottawa to overhaul its meat-inspection regime.
"It's necessary to reform and revamp our food- and product-inspection regime after some years of neglect," he said yesterday. "As you know, in the recent budget, we put considerably more inspectors and resources into this."

But scroll down to read former CFIA inspector Bob Kingston :

"Under the old system, inspectors had a more hands-on role on the plant floor, did more of the tests themselves and had more freedom to investigate.
Under the new rules, instead of heading to the plant floor to inspect with their own eyes, inspectors are sent to the office to confirm that the meat packer has performed the required tests and the results are satisfactory."

"We don't swab for listeria any more. The industry does all that themselves," he said. "They just document all this stuff. We read their reports. If their reports say they do everything fine, then they do everything fine."

The Maple Leaf Toronto plant was one of the plants where the CFIA began testing the new industry-based inspection system a year ago. To date 15 victims of listeriosis have died.

Health Minister Tony Clement :

"Government policy was to hire 200 more inspectors, that's what we've done since we achieved power in January '06," he said from the U.S. Democratic National Convention in Denver, Colo.

"When it comes to health and safety, you can't scrimp and save; you've got to do your job on behalf of Canadians and that's what we're doing."

What you're doing, Tony, is privatizing food safety as outlined in the SPP and lying about it.
Presumably a full scale government assault on CFIA for being unable to deliver under these conditions is now underway and more industry-based oversight will be recommended.

SPP : Outsourcing food safety to industry - Part 1 and Part 2

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Meetings, Alberta drivers and things with HEMI on them

I'm sorry. Did the title make you defensive? Don't be so touchy.

Meetings. I had a million other things to do and a million other things I would rather do, but this week, or rather tomorrow, will be consumed with meetings.

This is the electronic age. Meetings should be a thing of the past.... unless there's a money transfer involved and that means banks and that means, even though I'm not borrowing a penny, having to provide more information than anyone is entitled to. Because there is a bank involved. And somehow, this will defeat the terraists. It's all very confusing to someone who saved, (remember those bank ads about teaching your kids how to save their allowance?), and invested conservatively, (note the small "c"), paid off the mortgage early and spent months (cumulative years) away from home. Not to mention the fiscally conservative partner who kept a set of pristine books that would make Diefenbaker envious, who squeezed more out of a dime than Harper can get out of a million bucks and can still look at the world and say, "We're the luckiest people on the planet."

Still, meetings. And that meant driving to them... over the mountains.... again.

It's not a bad drive. It's August. The same route in January is a nightmare of ice, avalanches and truckers who are working on the same "just on time" delivery schedule as they are when the roads are dry and the only impediment to continuous 110 km/h travel is a young summer employee with a traffic control sign and an unpoliced section of highway where, apparently, traffic fines double in work zones. Which brings me to the next point.

Alberta drivers get a bad rap on BC roads. They're accused of being notorious speeders. Let's clear that up.

They are. At least some of them are.

But they're not alone. They were accompanied today by at least an equal number of BC drivers. The truth is, three out of every ten vehicles on the highway were driving dangerously. The overwhelmingly obvious ones had an inuksuk on the license plate. Go figure. Alberta plates are rather artless in that regard. (You're not off the hook yet.)

There is one maneouvre, however, that seemed to be exclusive to that barren white and red plate: failure to signal a lane change. Is that a big deal? No... not really... unless you're going to tear off my front license plate as you pull in front of me and that was almost habitual today. The worst part is that I was using cruise control set exactly for the speed limit. Silly me!

And then there was the pick-up that zoomed by. No big deal, but before he pulled into one of the other two lanes (three lanes each way) the driver decided to inspect the small flaw in my rear bumper. He then pulled in front of me and slowed enough to allow me to reciprocate, although I was occupied with an emergency braking at the time.

Once he had slowed to 60 km/h (in a 110 zone) I decided to pass. Loved his dashboard decorations! You could return most of them to a recycle depot for a nickel apiece and pocket a few dollars. After I passed, he took another close look at my bumper, then pulled the same maneouvre, giving me a good long look at the HEMI sign on the side of his highway machine (it would get dirty if he really took it off-road) and a clear view of his license plate.

I have a new love for cell-phones.

"Hi! I'm at (location) southbound, and I've got a vehicle driving.... erratically." (A few details)

Thank you, Sir!

Y'know, that same silver-grey truck with the HEMI symbol looked so much better bathed in the loom of red and blue strobe lights.

I'll save the story of my latest trip on BC Ferries for another time. I'm still trying to absorb it myself.

Until then, I have meetings. Thank the FSM, I have Bloggerpalooza II to make it all better.

Oh yeah, mellow out.

And helicopters. Will there also be helicopters?

Ottawa wants Vancouver organizers to include Afghan veterans in torch relay

"Ottawa is urging the Vancouver Winter Olympics organizing committee to put the Afghanistan war at the heart of the symbolically laden torch relay, saying that the first torch carriers could be veterans of the seven-year-old conflict."

Well at least now we know what was meant by that 2010 Federal Secretariat memo revealed last week : the one in which the Harper government provided $20-million for the opening ceremony of the Winter Games and $25-million grant for the torch relay to "ensure that the event adequately reflects the priorities of the Government and helps to achieve its domestic and international branding goals."

There's no reason the veterans shouldn't be part of the relay if they want to; it's the part about "international branding goals" that's going to piss off those of us who don't support Operation Enduring Freedom delivered as a Really Big Red Friday Event.

The memo from the 2010 Federal Secretariat also urges the Vancouver Olympics organizers to have two torch bearers, presumably the final torch bearers -- one French, one English.
What, no First Nations?

This bit amused me, though : there will be a total of 12,ooo relay torch bearers and "VANOC says it will select each torch bearer based on their articulation of Olympic ideals...."
Now why does that sound like the Miss America Pageant?
"Well, I want to be an actress or a neurosurgeon and have a pony and um, work for world peace."

Fun Fact : The tradition of the Olympic torch relay originated at the Berlin 1936 Olympic Summer Games as a propaganda exercise.

Cross-posted at Creekside

50% Canadian Beaver!

Ah, marvellous, last week, the CRTC approved an Alberta porn channel that will offer 50% Canadian production, without any government subsidy. Mind-boggling; the fundies'll go berserk.'s newspapers are a great example of the reactions:
The Calgary Herald holds this development to be "an abomination".
The Edmonton Journal sees "An unlikely partner in fighting crime" and
The Ottawa Gazette sees that the "Network to give artists new exposure".

A Canadian digital station in the world of adult entertainment is actually a perfect match for the multicultural- and diversity-promoting philosophy of the CRTC.

Unlike mainstream program offerings, there's no shortage of multi-ethnic productions in this genre, including "I Love 'em Asian," "Black Street Hookers" and "Barely Legal Latinas."

But it's the homegrown content that should really be titillating. How about an erotic sports drama, "He shoots - he scores - and he shoots again"?

And what Canadian wouldn't get more than a little sentimental sitting back to enjoy the raunchy feature "Debbie does Moose Jaw"?

And the "I like it rough, eh" reality series is surely destined to become a classic.

Hoo-weeeee!!! This is going to be sumbitch fun to watch: the self-appointed morals Proctors in paroxysmic outrage.

Georgia on my mind

Some interesting aspects to the Russian/Georgian brouhaha.

First, it appears that the McCain campaign has a connection. This is discussed with acidic clarity by the inimitable Pat Buchanan in an article titled "And None Dare Call It Treason" on the Creators Syndicate site.

Who is Randy Scheunemann?
He is the principal foreign policy adviser to John McCain and potential successor to Henry Kissinger and Zbigniew Brzezinski as national security adviser to the president of the United States.

But Randy Scheunemann has another identity, another role.
He is a dual loyalist, a foreign agent whose assignment is to get America committed to spilling the blood of her sons for client regimes who have made this moral mercenary a rich man.
From January 2007 to March 2008, the McCain campaign paid Scheunemann $70,000 — pocket change compared to the $290,000 his Orion Strategies banked in those same 15 months from the Georgian regime of Mikheil Saakashvili.
. . . . . .

U.S. backing for his campaign to retrieve his lost provinces is what Saakashvili paid Scheunemann to produce. But why should Americans fight Russians to force 70,000 South Ossetians back into the custody of a regime they detest? Why not let the South Ossetians decide their own future in free elections?

Then there's The War Nerd, aka Gary Brecher. A self-deprecating chap

who has wit and perception. Gary can be found on a site called The Exiled. His article, titled "South Ossetia, The War of My Dreams" adds a sort-of-gonzo flavor.

There are three basic facts to keep in mind about the smokin’ little war in Ossetia:
1. The Georgians started it.
2. They lost.
3. What a beautiful little war!
For me, the most important is #3, the sheer beauty of the video clips that have already come out of this war. I’m in heaven right now.

. . . . .

But for me, right now, I say let’s stick to the action. This is the war of my dreams—both sides using air forces! How often do you see that these days?—so I’ll skip the history. Just remember that South Ossetia is a little apple-shaped blob dangling from Russian territory down into Georgia, and most of it has been under control of South Ossetian irregulars backed by Russian “peacekeepers” for the last few years.

The Georgians didn’t like that. You don’t give up territory in that part of the world, ever.

The Georgians have always been fierce people, good fighters, not the forgiving type. In fact, I can’t resist a little bit of history here: remember when the Mongols wiped out Baghdad in 1258, the biggest slaughter in any of their conquests? Nobody knows how many people were killed, but it was at least 200,000—a pretty big number in the days before antibiotics made life cheap. The smell was so bad the Mongols had to move their camp upwind. Well, the most enthusiastic choppers and burners in the whole massacre were the Georgian Christian troops in Hulagu Khan’s army. Wore out their hacking arms on those Baghdadi civilians.

So: hard people on every side in that part of the world. No quarter asked or given. No good guys. Especially not the Georgians. They have a rep as good people, one-on-one, but you don’t want to mess with them and you especially don’t want to try to take land from them.

The Georgians bided their time, then went on the offensive, Caucasian style, by pretending to make peace and all the time planning a sneak attack on South Ossetia. They just signed a treaty granting autonomy to South Ossetia this week, and then they attacked, Corleone style. Georgian MLRS units barraged Tskhinvali, the capital city of South Ossetia; Georgian troops swarmed over Ossetian roadblocks; and all in all, it was a great, whiz-bang start, but like Petraeus asked about Iraq way back in 2003, what’s the ending to this story? As in: how do you invade territory that the Russians have staked out for protection without thinking about how they’ll react?

Saakashvili just didn’t think it through. One reason he overplayed his hand is that he got lucky the last time he had to deal with a breakaway region: Ajara, a tiny little strip of Black Sea coast in southern Georgia.

This is a place smaller than some incorporated Central Valley towns, but it declared itself an “autonomous” republic, preserving its sacred basket-weaving traditions or whatever. You just have to accept that people in the Caucasus are insane that way; they’d die to keep from saying hello to the people over the next hill, and they’re never going to change.

The Ajarans aren’t even ethnically different from Georgians; they’re Georgian too. But they’re Muslims, which means they have to have their own Lego parliament and Tonka-Toy army and all the rest of that Victorian crap, and their leader, a wack job named Abashidze (Goddamn Georgian names!) volunteered them to fight to the death for their worthless independence. Except he was such a nut, and so corrupt, and the Ajarans were so similar to the Georgians, and their little “country” was so tiny and ridiculous, that for once sanity prevailed and the Ajarans refused to fight, let themselves get reabsorbed by that Colussus to the North, mighty Georgia.

Well, like I’ve said before, there’s nothing as dangerous as victory. Makes people crazy. Saakashvili started thinking he could gobble up any secessionist region—like, say, South Ossetia.

As well, Gary has another article on the lunacy, called "Georgia Gets Its War On…McCain Gets His Brain Plaque…"

Second annual west coast blogger meet-up

Join us Ink Stained Wretches from the Beaver, RossK at the Gazetteer, Frank Frink from ACR, Choice Joyce and I don't know who else yet for pizza and beer this Saturday at noon in Vancouver's West End.
Just leave us a note in comments and we'll get back to you with the details.

Speaking of details, is Dana gonna do Richard the Third in puppets again this year? Coz I'm guessing we could probably charge admission for that...

Monday, August 25, 2008

British advertising regulator find Shell Oil ads misleading

Bouphonia picks up the best stuff. Like this bit which finds Shell Oil having to answer for misleading advertising.
A Shell suggestion in advertising that oil sands were a sustainable energy source has been ruled out of order by the UK’s Advertising Standards Authority, upholding a complaint lodged by WWF-UK. [...]

The ASA said that the use of the word "sustainable" throughout the advertisement was defined as "primarily in environmental terms". Because Shell had not provided evidence that it was "effectively" managing carbon emissions from its oil sands projects "in order to limit climate change", the ASA deemed that the advertisement was misleading.

The ASA came to the same conclusion about Shell's claims about the redevelopment of the Port Arthur oil refinery and said the advertisement should not be shown again in its current form.

In short, oil companies won't be allowed to "greenwash" their product in the UK. Too bad we let them do it here.

What could possibly have motivated them?

When Justice minister Rob Nicholson cut loose Bill C-484, the Unborn Victims of Crime act he didn't stop there. He added this:
I'm announcing that the government will introduce legislation that will punish criminals who commit violence against pregnant women but do so in a way that leaves no room for the introduction of fetal rights.
That's nice, but what suddenly motivated the Conservatives to so blatantly abandon the heavily coded bill in the first place? It was playing into the demands of the base. As much as all of us were aware of what C-484 was all about (an incremental bill to eventually criminalize abortion), the Conservatives' nutball religious followers were also identifying it as that.

It could be that the embarrassing question being put to Harper by Stephane Dion was causing a lot of discomfort. Harper still hasn't answered, but he did vote in favour of C-484 at first and second* reading.

April Reign provides the answer. And yes, it because the last thing the Conservatives need is a leader in charge of a party who has a question hanging over his head like the Sword of Damocles. Get rid of the reason for the question because something of a light just went on in the head of some Conservative strategist.
With all the rumours of war election, it is hard to see this as anything but an abusive government suddenly recognizing that women have the vote and that vote is unlikely to go their way after forcing themselves into Canadian womens’ private parts.
Which then begs the question, why didn't the idea get dropped completely? Why the reference to a "new" bill?

Easy answer. They have to play back to the base... with something. Nicholson is providing reassurance to the fundie wingnut element that this whole thing will get revisited. That means the fight against this lot, on this subject is far from over.

Nicholson's suggestion is still focusing on the presence of a fetus. Judges already have the power to impose stiffer sentences on those who do harm to others who are either pregnant, incapacitated or otherwise likely to endure increased aggravation as a result of a personal condition.

By Cheryl:

Why single out pregnancy? If Nicholson felt a compelling need to do this he also needs to include elderly women, elderly men, disabled people and anyone else who could be considered weak and unable to remotely defend themselves.

The thin edge of the wedge is still there.


* Corrected - Thanks skdadl.

Kudos to the Democratic Convention

See for yourself.

Download and install the media player they're using and you will see the cleanest and clearest HD web broadcast I have yet encountered.

Time will tell if they have enough server space to handle the load but initial impressions are very good.

Plus a beautifully designed set.

Bombing them back to the throwing stones age

CRAWFORD, Texas (AFP) - "The United States expressed regret Sunday for any civilian deaths from US-led military operations in Afghanistan, without confirming reports of nearly 90 killed in one incident this week.
"We regret the loss of life among the innocent Afghanis who we are committed to protect," White House spokesman Tony Fratto said as US President George W. Bush spent time on his Texas ranch."
Initially "US-led coalition forces denied killing any civilians" in Thursday's airstrike.
The next day they thought there might be five.
An Afghan minister who visited the area put the civilian death toll at 90, a human rights group at the scene estimated it at 78 and the Interior Ministry reported 76 noncombatants dead, including 50 children.
The attacks sparked angry protests on Saturday from locals, who set fire to a police vehicle and waved banners reading “Death to America”.
A school principal and police official said Afghan soldiers tried to hand out food and clothes Saturday in Azizabad — the village where the U.S.-Afghan operation took place Thursday. But villagers started throwing stones at the soldiers, who then fired on the Afghans and wounded up to eight.
Karzai responded by firing two top Afghan commanders for "negligence and concealing facts". The operation was led by Afghan National Army commandos with air and ground support from the coalition, including a US C130 gunship overhead.
Meanwhile, as reported over at The Hill Times, in an article you should really read in full ...
The Sunday Times reported on Aug 17 that the U.S. is planning an 'Iraq-style troop surge' after Americans take over the Afghanistan mission in January.
Janice Gross Stein, director of the Munk Centre for International Studies at the University of Toronto :
"What the United States is talking about is integrating the missions. They recognize that there are serious difficulties arising because there are two separate missions in Afghanistan now, and have been from the beginning: Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF), and the International Security Assistance Force. Right now there are two Americans in command of both, and what they are talking about is integrating the bulk of the American troops, who are in Operation Enduring Freedom."
Chris Sands, a senior fellow at The Hudson Institute, a Washington, D.C., [rightwing]think tank (italics mine):
"Canadians are rather conflicted about why they're in Afghanistan. Some people saw this as an apology for not going to Iraq [and] some people actually genuinely think that being in Afghanistan is about helping the Afghan people, and if that's your position then I'd think this is all good, because it's going to be more help and more substantive help."
Some people actually genuinely think it's all about helping the Afghan people, he says.
Mr. Sands goes on to explain that the Americans will bring "U.S. professionalism" and "some of the success from Iraq into the Afghan theatre as well" because they've been doing it "longer and better".
NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar said he "believes an increased American presence will have "disastrous" results on the ground that will have long-term implications for the people of Afghanistan" due to "the American tactic of aerial bombings where there are civilians" because "that's the way they do things".
He also expects "the Conservative government to "lowball" the degree of American involvement."
Uh-huh :
"The Hill Times inquired with communication shops at both the Department of National Defence and the Department of Foreign Affairs about an increased American presence in the NATO-led mission, however neither responded. Conservative MP Deepak Obhrai (Calgary East, Alta.), the Parliamentary secretary to the Foreign Affairs Minister, and Conservative MP Wajid Khan (Mississauga-Streetsville, Ont.), a member of the House Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, were also contacted, but staff for both MPs said they were unavailable for comment."
But in Calgary, Harper had a statement :
"I join with Canadians who stand proudly in support our men and women of the Canadian Forces as they courageously risk their lives every day to bring peace and security to the people of Afghanistan. Their sacrifice will not be forgotten. We will honour their sacrifice by continuing on with this vital mission. Canada's commitment to peace and security in Afghanistan remains resolute. We will not allow the Taliban to deter us from continuing to help Afghans rebuild their country."
Or bombing them back to the stone age.
How long are we going to let Harper maintain this charade of pretending to be one of the fools who "actually genuinely think that being in Afghanistan is about helping the Afghan people"?

Air Canada shaves more weight from Jazz flights.

And they've done it at the expense of your safety.
The race by airlines to shave weight and save fuel is now reaching safety equipment.

Jazz airlines, Air Canada's regional affiliate, recently removed life vests from all of its planes – including those that fly over water – to reduce fuel consumption and save money.

Transport Canada regulations allow carriers that fly within 50 nautical miles of shore to use flotation devices instead of vests. Safety cards in seat pockets will now direct passengers to use the seat cushions, which float.

Air Canada Jazz will still be flying over open water, and in case you haven't experienced it, 50 miles is a long way from land.

Jazz planes criss-cross Canada and the U.S., flying over the Great Lakes and up the Eastern seaboard from Halifax to Boston and New York.

"We operate within Transport Canada regulations and in this case we're within their regulations for operations over water," says Jazz spokesperson Debra Williams. A number of east coast routes were adjusted to bring them within the 50-mile boundary.

They also fly over the Strait of Georgia between Vancouver Island and the BC mainland.

Take a look at that seat card (click it to expand). Do you see the obvious problem? Imagine yourself surviving an in-water air crash but with one broken arm, or a dislocated shoulder, or a snapped wrist. You couldn't possibly hang on to a seat cushion, even if you could get it off the seat. Never mind what would happen if you had two broken arms.

Unconscious survivors? Totally hooped. You're going to die, even if someone straps you to one of these cushions. The design of inflatable life vests is such that it will roll you out of a face-in-the-water attitude within five seconds and then support your head while keeping your face out of the water. The graphic presentation on the seat card has the survivor backwards from where he should be to prevent drowning and unable to assume a heat escapement loss prevention posture. In other words, when a survivor needs every possible calorie of heat retained to slow the effects of hypothermia, Jazz has just eliminated one small advantage... to save money.

It's not just fuel they're saving either. Inflatable life vests are not cheap, so, while you may never hear about it, someone at some board meeting will be announcing a savings to the company in passenger safety equipment.

In a water ingress emergency passengers (and crew) suffer from water immersion shock upon entering the water. For several minutes a person entering cold water has limited control over their ability to move and react. Grasping a seat cushion would be struggle in the Strait of Georgia or the Gulf of St. Lawrence for the first five minutes after entering the water. That's enough time to drown. Given the position of the survivor on this cushion, if the weather is rough and the water has any significant chop, the survivor will likely drown.

Shall we discuss the problem of small children and infants? Nah. They're dead.

So there you are. Jazz's attempts to shave costs at the expense of passenger safety gives a whole new meaning to "bums in seats".

Hat tip Cheryl.

Acceptable losses

That's the term a military or naval planner uses to excuse the cost in lost troops and material to achieve an objective.

Tony Clement, in suggesting that the government response to the listeriosis outbreak at Maple Leaf foods is in any way a success, is telling you that he subscribes to the idea that four dead are acceptable losses. Further, his language indicates that he doesn't give a red rat's ass about it. (Emphasis mine)
Health Minister Tony Clement says Ottawa's response to a deadly listeriosis outbreak shows the health system is working the way it's supposed to -- even though it appears to have taken a month from the time the first suspicions arose until a recall order was issued for tainted meat from Maple Leaf Foods. [...]

Clement acknowledged, when pressed, that there's always room for improvement. But he maintained that once Ottawa was notified of the problem it acted as quickly as possible.

"In those terms, certainly, I think this was a success," he said of the federal response.

"When there's a loss of life involved it is always tragic . . . It should force us to review our protocols, review how we deal with things and see if there are better ways we can do things.

"But once we were aware of the situation (federal officials) acted very quickly."

Catch that last line?

It's not that Clement is minimizing the deaths of four people - he's dismissing them to pump life into his "success story".

Old adage about the word "but". When and where the word "but" appears in language is an indication of what in a sentence or paragraph is actually relevant to the speaker. Whatever is spoken before the word "but" is meaningless to the speaker; whatever is spoken after the word "but" is what the speaker really means.

By way of an example, I'll reorder a sentence and you decide what information is relevant to both the speaker and the listener.

a. I think you're good looking but you dress funny.

b. I think you dress funny but you're good looking.

What part in each sentence has the speaker dismissed as irrelevant? And what part in each sentence do you, the listener, take away as having the greatest meaning.

Clement did that and made it clear that four dead is acceptable losses in his attempt to make himself look like the leader of a "success".

Impolitical puts it a different way although the meaning is the same:
Good to know that the automatons of the federal government are noting the deaths and chalking them up like canaries in the coal mine that help to illustrate how the system is working.
Precisely, and this is the same mob that will feed you a line on the free market system being better able to regulate itself in consumer food than be subjected to government inspection. The premise being that since the corporation wants desperately to hang on to you as a customer they will go to extensive lengths to prevent things like the listeriosis outbreak from happening, and if it does happen, they will quickly resolve the problem.

Really? That doesn't jive with the fact that Maple Leaf McCain only expanded the recall of their products after government testing of the Toronto plant identified that production facility as the problem.

Four dead, many more ill and the cases are expected to grow. The "wish we were unregulated" free market response? Sorry.

Here's an idea for Tony "I'm not in the pocket of Big Food" Clement. When the Maple Leaf Foods, Toronto plant is up and running again, let's have Tony Clement become the official food taster. A different sandwich every day, perhaps with some spinach and some imported tomatoes. Later on, a hamburger or two. If he dies... oh well. At least we'll know the stuff was bad and we'll chalk his corpse up as an acceptable loss.