Monday, January 31, 2011

Whither math departments?

On top of the recent lunacy at the Universities of Alberta and Manitoba math units, there's this from Cal State Northridge:

A Cal State Northridge math professor has been charged with urinating on a colleague's office door during a dispute between the two men.
Awesome. I have to wonder whether this stems from a personal or intellectual disagreement...

F-35 Indefensibility

I really do have to wonder if Lockheed Martin is spiking the Air Force's drinking water, if they're recommending this thing.

The Canadian military does not have the ability to conduct aerial refuelling of the F-35 fighter jet it wants to purchase and is now looking at ways to get around the problem, the Ottawa Citizen has learned.
Options range from paying for modifications to the stealth jets to purchasing a new fleet of tanker aircraft that can gas up the high-tech fighters in mid-air. That option could cost several hundred million dollars, depending on how many new tankers are needed, according to sources.
In addition, because the F-35 would not be able to safely land on runways in Canada's North as those are too short for the fighter, the Defence Department is also looking at having manufacturer Lockheed Martin install a "drag" chute on the plane.
That parachute would deploy when the aircraft lands, slowing the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter down. But some pilots have said that high winds affecting such runways could make using a drag chute tricky or even dangerous.
If there are any blue-suiters reading this and have issue with Pugilese's comments, please do step forward in the comments and offer rebuttal. Because if there's any truth to these claims, one may only conclude that the current mix of Con government and Air Force leadership cannot be trusted to competently manage the air defence of Canada. 

See harebell and impolitical for more!

DND offers a rebuttal- sort of. Major [General] Tom does a Bowie/Shilling and simply states that everything is groovy and the plane can land way up there no worries. At least as far as the CBC report goes, he didn't appear to be listening to ground conntrol and acknowledging that yes, the Canadian F-35 requires substantial modifications to operate with our existing kit and environment. For an aircraft already facing substantial development delays, the requirement for further modifications can only add to the cost and time.

This is getting weird.

1 Feb: MoS in the comments draws attention to the fact that the F-35 is able to use the probe and drogue refueling system we currently use.

I wonder if the probe system on the F-35 is an optional capability that the Cons didn't mention because they wanted to present the fine print 'starting at' cost to the public. Airshow's response on the issue is leaves just a little wiggle room:
"The F-35 will, of course, have refuelling capability and capacity. Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer of the plane, has confirmed that the F-35 can handle different types of refuelling systems, including the one currently used by our forces," MacKay said. "Any modification with respect to refuelling will be done within the current budget allotted for the F-35."

Great, Lockheed Martin states what ought to be common knowledge. Then Airshow comes along and suggests that Canadian aircraft would be modified "within the current budget" (whatever the current budget might be is another question). There is definitely room to conclude that no, the government figure to date might not have included the 'probe and drogue' option...

Egyptian army states that it will not use force against Egyptians


In its statement, carried on Egyptian media, the military said: "To the great people of Egypt, your armed forces, acknowledging the legitimate rights of the people... have not and will not use force against the Egyptian people."

Well that's a relief! Reading between the lines, the armed forces has politely told Mubarak that he might want to urgently start talking to the Saudis about what they've got in retirement homes. A dictator losing the loyalty of the army is no longer a dictator.

Making our own nightmares come true

It occurs to me, as I'm sure it must have to many people, that if the Western democracies would walk the walk instead of just talking the talk and really supported efforts at democracy in North Africa and the Middle East instead of bankrolling dictators because they provide "stability" we would have a lot less to fear from a democratic North Africa and Middle East.
Given that virtually every gun, club, tear gas bomb and armored car being deployed against the huddled masses yearning to breath free in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere in the region comes from the "arsenal of democracy" and given that we have been helping thugs like Mubarak maintain his stranglehold on power, is it any wonder that when the chickens come home to roost, our governments are terrified of the results? What cause to love the West have we given the people of Egypt or Tunisia or Jordan or Syria? Why shouldn't they hate us?
When Castro was still hiding in the hills of Cuba and people were still robbing banks to fund the revolution, Castro approached the United States for help. The U.S. decided to keep propping up the dictator there for the good of the fruit, sugar, rum and organized crime lobbies and so Castro turned to the Russians for help. We know how that one turned out.
The Sandinistas in Nicaragua reached out to the Ford and Carter Administrations for help getting rid of the Somoza dictatorship. Both refused, citing the Roosevelt/Truman doctrine of "He may be a bastard, but he's our bastard." Central America spends 30 years plagued by right wing death squads  trained at the School of the Americas and proxy wars between "leftists" and military-backed plutocrats.
We backed the Shah's bloody kleptocracy, until Iranians finally got fed up and took to the streets and invited the Ayatollah back just to provide some leadership to the angry mob. Then, to fight the Ayatollah, the west decided to cultivate a rival power - a military strongman just next door, who did just what we wanted as long as we kept giving him arms and didn't ask too many questions about what he was doing to his own people. Of course, once Saddam Hussien slipped the leash, things got ugly for him fast.  
Now, the realpolitik braintrust in Foggy Bottom and by extention, Whitehall and Ottawa, is worried that if Mubarak falls, the wrong people might end up running Eygpt and that might be bad for Israel and U.S. interests in the region. Maybe they should have thought of that 20 or 30 years ago.
Mubarak and the other despots of the Middle East and North Africa may be "our bastards" instead of "their bastards," but the bottom line is that they are bastards and we are helping them stay in power and teaching their oppressed people to hate us. The longer we prop up dictators to keep the Islamic world in line, the bigger the potential shitrain we are going to face when those dictators inevitably fall to popular uprisings we've helped them try to suppress.

Crossposted from the Woodshed

Perspectives . . .

"Political correctness is a doctrine,
fostered by a delusional, illogical minority,
and rabidly promoted by an
unscrupulous mainstream media,
which holds forth the proposition
that it is entirely possible to pick up a turd
by the clean end
— Texas A&M

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Perspectives . . .

Remember your first e-mail? 17 years and a century ago . . .

The winds of change . . .

IN EGYPT, THE PRESSURE IS ON, for change and reform. One of the major players in the cluster-fuck is the Islamic Brotherhood. The IB is the best-organized and largest opposition movement, and a major consideration in Egypt's future.

Here in North America, the IB is virtually unknown. Well, the Brookings Institute's Saban Center for Middle East Policy has an article you should read, "Don't Fear Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood", by Bruce Riedel. The site has other articles worthy of your perusal, too.

The prospect of change in Egypt inevitably raises questions about the oldest and strongest opposition movement in the country, the Muslim Brotherhood, also known as Ikhwan. Can America work with an Egypt where the Ikhwan is part of a transition or even a new government?

The short answer is it is not our decision to make. Egyptians will decide the outcome, not Washington. We should not try to pick Egyptians' rulers. Every time we have done so, from Vietnam’s generals to Afghanistan’s Hamid Karzai, we have had buyer’s remorse. But our interests are very much involved so we have a great stake in the outcome. Understanding the Brotherhood is vital to understanding our options.

The Muslim Brethren was founded in 1928 by Shaykh Hassan al Banna as an Islamic alternative to weak secular nationalist parties that failed to secure Egypt’s freedom from British colonialism after World War I. Banna preached a fundamentalist Islamism and advocated the creation of an Islamic Egypt, but he was also open to importing techniques of political organization and propaganda from Europe that rapidly made the Brotherhood a fixture in Egyptian politics.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Melissa's moment . . .

WHILE EGYPT IS IN TURMOIL, the American dream trudges on. According to these reports from The Smoking Gun in the Home of the Brave and the Land of the Free:

"Woman Utters Line Never Previously Recorded In A Police Report"

That's Melissa, over on the right. She doesn't take "No" for an answer, apparently. The West Virginia woman, 41, is facing assault and weapons charges after allegedly waving a knife at two men who declined her demands to engage in sexual conduct at a motor inn.

Meanwhile, in Florida:

"Cops Charge Nine Women In Wild Florida Brawl"

JANUARY 28--Police today issued arrest warrants for nine women involved in a wild brawl at a Florida gas station, a fracas that was caught on videotape and which included some combatants having their clothing and hair torn off during the tussle.

Life its own self, continues . . . ya gotta love it.

Obama's moment

What Obama does here will mark his legacy as an international president. Egypt has just gone web-dark. The ruler, a US backed dictator in power for 30 years, is facing mass and popular uprising. He has dissolved his government but so far shows no sign of accepting his fate and stepping down.

He did want to make his mark I think on finding a peace between the Palestinians and Israel but fate has funny way of thwarting one's designs. Egypt, suddenly, conscripts him to the front.

He is bound because the security of Israel is bound up in the security of her neighbours, which in Egypt's case is underwritten by US arms, money, and tame dictator. He has to balance what I believe is his sincere belief in democracy and rights, with the US role as a guarantor of regional security suddenly dealing with the loss of one of those pillars. And he has to balance whatever he wants to do with the political reaction from the rightwing insane machine at home.

What will the Democrat, constitutional law professor, and US President do? Sit tight, say little, until the dust settles would be my guess. Whatever he says now may come back to haunt him should he and his advisors misread the outcomes.

Go Egypt.

What do dictators do when they're in the shit?

Disable government. Oh sorry, wrong link, I meant this one.

Big Buck Bunny . . .

Done with the Blender open-source prog. Watch to the very end. Great stuff, small budget.

Morning thought

It occurs to me that the ultimate resolution to Palestinian-Israel question will come from outside that binary. The Wikileaks cables, and the radical shift in power and governance that may really be happening in the Arab world, Egypt and Lebanon in particular and potentially other states if the revolution is exported, are game changers for both themselves and Israel.

There is a very real risk of a major war.  Israel's strategic and tactical position shifts if new governments in these places begin a much more active campaign of support for the Palestinians either through arms or threat of, or diplomacy. Israel's response, given the past record may well be military and the outcome likely much less certain than it was in 1967. Suddenly Iranian nuclear facilities seem very far away.

Let's keep our fingers crossed and hope that brains more than brawn are used to work their way through this.

Is your organisation breeding Bolsheviks?

Why do administrators and managers always resist when confronted with employee(s') grievances, no matter how apparently indefensible the formers' position?

Why does it seem that the people who find themselves in these positions often need kindergarten lessons in example setting, sharing, and respect?

Yes, I'm just a little bit pissed at this place these days.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Airshow augers in . . .


OTTAWA—Scrapping a plan to purchase American fighter jets risks leaving the Canadian Air Force grounded in 2020, the defence minister says.

Peter MacKay says opposition to the purchase of 65 F-35 jets, which are experiencing delays and cost overruns, could result in an “operational gap” when the current fleet of fighter jets are pulled from service because there is no guarantee a replacement could be found on time.

"because there is no guarantee a replacement could be found on time" Gee — if we offered coin of the realm to Russia, I wonder how fast we could get a bunch of Sukhois?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

30 years of dictatorship...

...and all the Egyptian authorities manage to do in light of protests that really do seek to overthrow the government isto put 700 people in jail across the whole nation.

In Canada, our goons round up and imprison more than a thousand for protesting a weekend meeting in one city.

Blog-flog: Orion Mind

Orion Mind is the recently reinhabited cyberhome of my good friend Brian. Brian is an human* encyclopaedia on things environment, people, hunting, shooting, conservation, paddling, and Africa. He's writing his dissertation now so he should have lots of time to blog. Keep checking.

*hypothesised, not proven. He is South African after all, and we all saw what happened there in D9.

F-35 extensioneering: Scandal, disaster, mistake; can we use those terms yet?

This has disaster written all over it.

For the government, sticking with the project likely means having to explain to the public and the Air Force in 2016 why the latter must find a way of extending the operational life of the CF-18 into the 2020s. When the Air Force responds by grounding the fleet of CF-18s because they are no long safe to fly, then the government of the day will have to explain to the public why Canada is like New Zealand, and doesn't really need a combat air force anyway.

For the Air Force, selecting the F-35 on whatever paper rationale the sky-nerds at NGFC came up with was an error and they might as well have suggested that the government order X-wings.  At some point soon a competent leader in the Air Staff really should call bullshit and tell the government that whatever it looks like on paper, the F-35 is a fantasy and likely to remain so for many years, thus an alternative ought to be procured.

And the world changed . . .

JANUARY 26, 1983: Lotus begins selling its spreadsheet application for Microsoft DOS, called 1-2-3 and how business is run changed forever. The advent of 1-2-3 and cheap PC's allowed the re-organization of business world-wide.

For example, their appearance allowed all the contracting-out that started in the late 80's, because sole proprietors could now conveniently keep a set of company books. On the government side, it allowed the rise of the VAT, which would have been almost impossible to administer without PC's and 1-2-3. WIRED magazine has a commemoration of this by Dylan Tweney, "Jan. 26, 1983: Spreadsheet as Easy as 1-2-3", that's worthy of perusal.

Spreadsheet software, which seems commonplace and rather boring today, was a major breakthrough for personal computing. Sure, it made it easy to keep track of columns of numbers, such as sales receipts, paychecks, expenses or even athletic records.

But the real power of the spreadsheet was the ability it gave business people to run quick and easy “what-if” calculations. What if we lowered the price of our widgets by $10? What if mortgage rates drop to 5 percent and we refinance? What if we laid off 5,000 workers and shuttered our Kalamazoo plant, then outsourced manufacturing to a Chinese company for less than half the price?

Technology pundit John C. Dvorak has lamented the effects of the “what-if society,” saying that corporate executives have become slavish devotees of spreadsheet scenarios, failing to make decisions based on what customers actually want. But there’s no doubt that the spreadsheet has given companies, both large and small, a far better picture of their bottom lines. For better or worse, that power has transformed American business and the economy.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Advice for graduate students and those pondering the prospect

1. When looking for supervisors, look beyond any mutual interests an their publication records. Ask about their supervision record. If they are new or have no students, be cautious in how you approach them. Try to get a sense for how they might be as supervisors as much as you can before you commit to working for them.

Develop an email conversation with them. Talk to them if they express interest in mentoring you. 

Meet with them if at all possible before you apply or accept your acceptance to their grad program. Talk to other students about their impressions. You're assessing the profs and departments at least as much as they are, you. Look critically at their research publication record. Are the articles, no matter on what topic or in what quantity, diverse and insightful. Or are they essentially reproductions of the same method and topic? Quantity or quality? This will give you an indication of how open and critically minded the prof is and thus what they may offer you in terms of intellectual mentorship.

Are they good enough to work with you? Do they treat you like an adult? Do they sound like how a used car salesmen treats customers or is there a sincere an engaging professionalism in their dialogue with you?

2. When looking at graduate programs, try to visit the department and gauge the mood or atmosphere in the place. Does it feel stressed or hostile? Or is it friendly and welcoming. Walk away, or risk several years of misery.

3. Funding. Make sure your department and supervisor are unambiguous about the if and how your financials. You should be left in no doubt about the amount, duration and classification of your funding. If you can come with your own, even better. If you sense they are being opaque or unclear on any aspect of it and cannot get clarification, walk away.  This is a dishonest department.

4. If they are clear on funding, double check with the university or graduate student association to see if what they tell you is in line with what the departmetn tells you. The gradstudent association may even have a Collective Agreement with the university over how you're paid. If there is a discrepancy between the your program and the rules, walk away. This is a place that exploits its students and subverts the rules.

5. KNOW the funding rules in advance so you can recognise early enough on when they're trying to exploit you. You may not realise it, but you are likely a member of a union (this often surprises gradstudents) and have clearly spelled out rights regarding your work life.

6. Have a look at the typical completion time of recent degrees in your stream. If they promise you a two year masters or 4 or 5 year PhD, but all the gradstudents you meet have been there much longer than the stated norm, walk away. This is a department that has lost the plot.

7. Just because the supervisor has a really big name in their field doesn't mean that they are a good supervisor. Sometimes their ego is even bigger than their CV and they have come to believe they are the alpha and omega of their field. I remember being at a conference where the BIG NAME keynote spent literally half his talk describing the enormity of his man-organ research grant portfolio. I've also seen this in department council meetings. Stay away from anyone like this because the only voice they'll hear is their own. Unless of course you think  their name on your dissertation will bring you glory and riches, then by all means, pull out the kneepads. 

8. Walk away from and/or call out bullies, liars, thieves, creeps, misogynists, misandrists, misanthropes (well some of them, others are lovely), micromanagers, or any peer, colleague or supervisor who makes you feel uncomfortable in the bad way. Their status or education does not mean they are of better character. And universities hire on CV and grant records, not personality.

9. If you feel your supervisor is coopting the thesis topic they agreed to mentor, to fit into their own paradigm or views, challenge it. You are turning into their research assistant, not their student. If they can't take a respectful intellectual argument from their student, walk away.

10. If your supervisor doesn't understand or is uninterested in your work, they are not mentoring. In some extreme cases, this may represent academic incompetence. Find an alternate arrangement up to and including changing supervisors.

11. Use your committee. They can also critically assess your work if you suspect the number 10.

12. Trust your sixth sense about situations. If you begin to have doubts about the capacity of your supervisor to mentor you effectively, listen to this and suss out a contingency plan should the worst bear out. You won't likely lose your degree but you may have to make some courageously proactive and decisive manoeuvres. Changing supervisors might be an ordeal but there are mechanisms in place to do this. 

13. Start documenting things if your sixth sense starts to tingle. Keep a paper trail of emails, comments, etc. Write summaries of your interactions with the party in question.

14. Understand that if you do decide to challenge an individual or organisation at the university, the institution will likely close ranks and resist. Most professors have a monetary value, graduate students are a dime a dozen. In a neoliberal university, capital holds the immediate power. If they think they can crush you or slough you off, they will try. Assume that unless that prof is universally hated by their colleagues, and/or doesn't bring in much grant money or publications, you might be in for a struggle.  You MUST be prepared to follow through on your course of action.

15. Worst case, you can walk away from your degree. Life might actually get better.

16. In sum, find in as much as possible the best mix of people, place, and institutional atmosphere for your tolerance levels. Understand that higher education is often extremely arduous and filled with stresses, but the difficulty should mostly pertain to the intellectual realm and not the interpersonal, financial, or administrative.

You do not want to commit several years of your life to a place where you'll be miserable and without joy. You'll gain little more than bitterness from the experience. 

Advice for graduate student supervisors

Not exhaustive by any stretch but rooted in observations here over the past few years...

1. Don't ever lie to your student. Lying is not pedagogy or mentorship. When the student finds out about the lie, your relationship with that student is forever poisoned. They may not tell you they found out, but they will from then on regard you with suspicion.

2. Be direct and crystal clear at all times about all things money related. KNOW the university regulations around graduate funding and apply them openly and honestly.

If your student finds out they are doing work for you over and above their contractual funding, you are exploiting them. It doesn't matter how many times you tell yourself or them that you're giving them opportunity.

Be proactive in explaining that any extra work you might want them to do is over and above what their funding covers. Explain very clearly that if they turn down this work, it will have no impact on your supervisory relationship and you will not take petty punitive measures against them.

Pay them according to the rules. If your department is under-paying its gradstudents contrary to regulations, have the moxy to challenge your department. 

3. Do not disparage your departmental colleagues because you are trying to attract a particular graduate student who has expressed interest in working with said colleagues. "Career suicide" is not a term to be used on 22 year old gradstudent who has just described their research and life aspirations to you. Doing such makes you look far worse in the student's eyes than the other prof (or chair with a CV several orders of magnitude greater than yours)  you've just stabbed in the back.

4. If your student has spent an unknown number of hours completing project work for your comments, have the decency to read it, engage with it, and comment critically. The student can tell from your comments whether you read it. If your comments are shallow and uncritical, the student will think the same of you and lose faith in your capacity to mentor. They may not tell you this and you may be surprised to find they've sought an alternative mentor.

5. Bullying your graduate students is unacceptable. Some will cower and keep quiet because they are afraid to jeopardise their degree. Others will take action. 

6. If you take on graduate students because they are feathers in your in tenure cap, do not tell them you need them to "hurry up and finish" so you can get your tenureship. This makes you appear like a self-interested asshole with no interest in them or their work other than what they can do for your career prospects. They will not be happy to continue working for you and some will leave your employ and your tenure prospects will be fucked.

7. Do not say things like "you're not my best student so don't expect as much support from me as I give my other student," or "I'm going to be a holy tyrant and fuck with your life," or "you cannot go away for the holidays because you must work for me."

8. Anything more than 2.5 years, full time study, is an unacceptable amount of time to complete a 2 year masters degree.  If you are planning a 3+ year masters for them, tell them this when they start and be prepared to lose them. Anything less is dishonest - see the first point.

9. If you plan a 3 year degree, and the student knows this, fund them for three years or be very clear if you cannot and help them seek alternative sources.

10. Always keep in mind that you have a significant amount of control over your students' lives. Treat them with courtesy and respect at all times. Failure to do so will leave you wondering why they aren't interested in publishing with you post-degree: you treated them like shit for several years and they want nothing more to do with you. Ever.

11. Not every masters student is interested in a PhD. Or publishing. Or joining academia in any form. Understand this and do not let it impede your supervision. They may well live a much happier life outside of the ivory tower and indeed, their experience with you may well be one of the reasons why they opted out of academia...

12. If the student pays full-time tuition, they are paying to complete their degree, not be your multi-project indentured labour. If you tell them their degree is secondary to the other work they're doing for you, you are in the wrong. If you want a research assistant, hire a research assistant, not a student trying to get out of here in two years or less.

13. Remember what you told your student the last time you met. If need be, keep a journal of your meetings so you can refresh your memory. It annoys your students to no end when you don't remember telling them what you've told them (particularly if it involves copious amounts of work), and your present suggestions are the diametric opposite. Students might start to think that your doctorated mind contains mostly inconsistent bodily waste product.

14. Meet with your students. As often as is necessary. This will vary with students. Deal with it.

15. If you don't know what your students' research is about, you are not supervising them.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Fascinating . . .

STRANGE SISTERS is a curious site, owned by Ryan Richardson, devoted to the artwork found on the covers of "Lesbian" paperbacks published in the 50s and 60s. A marvelously tacky collection. Like ol' H.L. Mencken observed, nobody ever went broke underestimating the taste of the American public.

With very few exceptions, the criteria for my collection are: two women on the cover, painted covers (as opposed to photo covers - there are hundreds), and nothing past 1969. There are some paperbacks on this site that very well may not contain a single lesbian in the text, but as long as the cover artwork SUGGESTS lesbians, they're in.

I feel no need to assign some larger historical importance or deeper social relevance to these books. I can think of no other body of visual art so varied, humorous, outrageous, sexy. That this art was the by-product of an industry pandering to our seemingly insatiable appetite for trashiness makes it all the greater in my eyes.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Here is where we juxtapose

Fictional Mayberry or Toronto?

Barney & Gomer Coming to Your Neighbourhood Soon . . . .

As soon as harperco "improves" their citizen's arrest legislation, we can all live like we were in Mayberry, North Carolina.

Yee haw . . . .

Perspective changes . . .


THE SELF-PORTRAIT MAY BE the most egotistical artistic creation, or not, but the self-portrait allows the viewer an artistic appraisal and an insight into the composition of another's psyche in a fashion that is unique. io9 has an account by Lauren Davis, "The self-portraits of an artist under the influence of meth, PCP, and other drugs" that is worthy of attention.


You see, the artist, Bryan Lewis Saunders explores the effects of various drugs — legal and illegal — on his self-perception by creating self-portraits while under the influence. This is his face on drugs. I wonder what Stevie would look like?


Saturday Morning Cartoons.

“Chapter One: Once upon a time -- great opening, huh?”

This is one of my absolute favourites, boys and girls. Coffee?

Friday, January 21, 2011

Perspectives . . .

Very DEMOTIVATIONAL, very good.


If the judge rules in favour of Lukacs, does this mean that any old prof can challenge a PhD they aren't associated with?

A judge in Winnipeg has reserved decision in the case of a math professor who is challenging the granting of a PhD to a student who suffers from exam anxiety. The case pits the University of Manitoba against Gabor Lukacs, who is upset that the university granted the PhD to a student who failed a key exam twice, and later claimed to suffer from exam anxiety.
Lukacs is asking the Court of Queen's Bench to revoke the degree.
Lukacs's lawyer warned in court on Thursday that the university is risking its academic reputation and could be seen as a diploma mill.
The university, however, is asking the court to dismiss Lukacs's complaint. The school's lawyer, Jamie Kagan, said Lukacs is a "busybody" with no legal right to challenge the degree, because he wasn't the student's professor. The student has an otherwise brilliant academic record, and Kagan insisted that exam anxiety is a recognized disability.

I really have trouble with Lukacs' rationale. The latent question that isn't addressed in the case as far as I've read is the pedagogical merit of the [failed] comprehensive exam. 
Did the failure exam actually detract from the ability of the student, subsequently meeting and exceeding the practical standards expected of PhDs, to perform as math scholar? It would seem to me at least that if the student subsequently performed exceptionally well, then the failed exam is meaningless, thus calling into question the usefulness of comprehensive exams, at least as far as they are deployed in the U of M math department.
Does a ruling in favour of Lukacs and revoking of the doctorate open him up to a lawsuit (or a physical ass-kicking)?
Does a ruling against Lukacs open the door to former students challenging their dismissal after failed exams?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

If you aren't angry, you haven't been paying attention

Ian Welsh lays it out just about right. And David Lindorff further discusses the monsters in our midst.
The Skipper has been criticized by a few under the Godwin's Law argument, but I agree with him and with Welsh that we too often fall into the trap of reasonableness, that by going along to get along we too often normalize extremist opinion and outrageous attitudes by our tacit acceptance.

We grossly overvalue civility when we condemn people for using strong language to describe reprehensible actions and attitudes. Right-wing radio hosts and  tea party activists make horribly racist statements on a regular basis, but somehow calling them racists  is verboten. The American and Canadian government now routinely step all over basic human rights and openly embrace plutocracy, but to call them fascists is somehow considered beyond the pale. Somehow, somewhere along the line it became unacceptable in the mass media to declare the emperor is stark naked.

We, as a society, need to start calling people out and making them take responsibility for the things they say. I'm all for free speech. When someone starts casually talking about murdering people, about 'bombing them back to the stone age," I think everyone else should be free to to call them a monster without being lectured about how its impolite to do so.

Lindorff's example is a classic:

I brought my son and a friend last year to the notorious Army Experience Center, a multi-million state-of-the-art virtual war recruiting wonderland located in a mall in working-class Northeast Philadelphia. Filled with an array of very fast computers and video screens on which kids as young as 14 could blast away in realistic war scenarios, and featuring two darkened rooms that had the real bodies of an armored Humvee and a Blackhawk helicopter where kids could man the guns and operate in a 3-D video environment with surround sound so that you felt like you were moving through hostile territory and had to “take out” the “bad guys” while quickly identifying innocent civilians and avoiding shooting them. My son, his friend and I tried the Humvee out, and at the end of our “mission,” the recruiter, an Iraq vet, congratulated us, saying we were “the best gunners all day!” and that our error rate had been “only 30%.”
I asked him what “error rate” meant, and he said, “Collateral damage--civilians killed.”
“Thirty percent of the peope we just killed were civilians?” I asked, aghast.
“Oh yeah,” he said matter-of-factly. “Don’t feel bad. That’s not a bad percentage.” 

When did it become okay for soldiers to murder civilians? Why is torture, murder  and repression any more acceptable when embraced by Barak Obama than it was when it was done by George W. Bush, or for that matter Stalin, Hitler or Pol Pot. How can we as a society decry the use of gangs of armed thugs and secret police to suppress dissent in Iran, while applauding the same tactics in Toronto?

Bravo for People for Corporate Tax Cuts

Wow, I have to say my hat is off to the people at OPSEU who put this campaign together. They are doing a marvelous job of keeping a straight faee and keeping up the gag. This was in my inbox at the newspaper this morning.

Good Morning -

Are you wondering how you will come up with $500 to pay your share of the Ontario government's proposed $2.4 billion a year corporate tax cut? Today, People for Corporate Tax Cuts unveiled its province-wide campaign to shares tips on how Ontarians can raise the $500 every household must contribute to pay for the corporate tax cuts. The organization will also educate Ontarians on the important role the cuts play in executive salaries and bonuses, and paying for other vital management incentives.

Examples of how Ontarians can raise $500:
– 15 year old Jimmy Palmatier sold his hockey equipment to help his parents pay their share
– Rahid Gupta vowed to give up his health care benefits so the government could put that money towards the corporate tax cuts

For more information, please visit our website.

NOTE: A press release is included below with additional information.

James Stephen
People for Corporate Tax Cuts



(TORONTO) January 20 – People For Corporate Tax Cuts (PFCTC) has launched a province-wide multi-media campaign in support of the Ontario government’s plan to give corporations a $2.4 billion a year tax cut.

“Giving corporations a $2.4 billion income tax cut means that every household in Ontario will have to contribute $500 to pay their share,” announced Nuella Warkworth, PFCTC President, Chair, CEO and COO, at a Niagara Falls press conference held earlier this week. “We’re here to help them do that.”

Through and a media advertising campaign, PFCTC will share tips on how Ontarians can raise $500 to pay their share of the corporate tax cuts.

“The goal of the campaign is to show Ontarians that there are many ways they can come up with their $500 share of the corporate tax cuts,” said Warkworth. “Take Mrs. Muriel Flagle, for example. This 77 year old woman sold her walker to pay her share and is a proud member of PFCTC.”

The organization will also educate all Ontarians on the important role corporate tax cuts play in increasing executive salaries and bonuses, and paying for other vital management incentives.

PFCTC will be giving away $500 prizes to those who submit the best videos or photos showing how they will come up with the money they need to pay for corporate tax cuts. If they are unable to come with the money, entrants may also outline what public services they are personally prepared to give up so that the government can pass the savings on to corporations.

People For Corporate Tax Cuts also wishes to ensure that the Ontario government gets the credit it deserves. Ms Warkworth explained, “Even though Ontario already has about the lowest corporate taxes in North America, our government is proudly determined to cut corporate taxes even further. People For Corporate Tax Cuts recognizes and applauds this well-planned transfer of wealth from the people of Ontario to our corporate friends.”

Nuella Warkworth is a tireless fighter for the rights of corporations and the executives who run them. See her videos at

About People for Corporate Tax Cuts –
People For Corporate Tax Cuts is a grassroots organization, founded in 2000 and led by Nuella Warkworth. Headquartered in Toronto with members throughout Ontario, PFCTC’s mission is to advocate for ever more generous corporate tax cuts. The organization has been very successful as Ontario’s corporate tax rates have fallen significantly in the last decade. A 2010 study by the KPMG consulting firm shows that Ontario has much lower business taxes than the United States and our key competitors.

“Pay Your Share” The People For Corporate Tax Cuts Anthem is available on our website.

- 30 -

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Shameless self promotion

For those who remember the Maple Syrup Revolution podcasts from earlier this year, you may want to check out this post over at The Woodshed. I'll try not to clog this blog with endless plugs for my new project, but I really can't recommend Virtually Speaking strongly enough. It is a terrific listen, whether live or in podcast form and I am thrilled to be a part of it.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Blog-flog: Ms. Marx

Literate, articulate, and engaging on a great many things righteous and just. That'd be a certain Ms Marx, sociology gradstudent, residing out where they pull giant nickels from the ground. Go now, and read.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Attention political strategists

This is how a new media campaign is run. This is how you make a political point in a memorable way. I don't know who the brains are behind this. I'll be amazed if it is something that the provincial NDP came up with, since it lacks their usual earnestness, but if I were in charge of any of the media stuff for any of the parties, I'd be hiring these people yesterday, if not sooner.

Hi fellas!

House of Commons, via the crazyhouse. I wonder who's making a list?

Pet peeves...

I have an issue with people who talk a big line, but when push comes to shove they cower and look away, make excuses, anything really, to avoid addressing the problem at hand in active terms.  A few years ago I encountered a young woman being beaten with a metal pole by another young woman, in broad daylight, on Portage Avenue in the middle of the workday. There were a number of people standing around within 3 to 5 metres, including a hotdog stand and people waiting for the light to change at crosswalk. The young woman was cowering against a bus shelter as her assailant savaged her. Nobody had intervened. Nobody had called the police, and I suspect most passersby were actively looking away. She thanked me profusely and asked for an escort to the bus lest her assailant follow, but she refused police and medical attention despite blood and bruises.

At various times too, I've encountered or heard stories from friends who complain about clearly an unfair practice in a workplace, or a tyrannical, actively homophobic, misogynist, harassing, etc boss or colleague. Yet, they refuse to stand up and do something to something about it despite clear avenues of redress. In more sinister situations they shy away from supporting a "friend" or coworker. Conflict apparently upsets them more than the continued abuse of a mate.

Sometimes, being in an academic discipline that tends to the left of the political spectrum has its merits. One develops a critical awareness of various social negatives and starts looking for solutions. At the same time, all that training in critical thought can blind people the bigger picture and they become absorbed in picking apart ideas that they largely agree with instead of actually discussing a way of effectively solving the problem at hand.

Dave recently chambered and fired a heavy calibre Godwin and judging from the Prog Blog votes, it definitely resonates with large numbers of readers. Still, it hasn't stopped people from parsing whether a Harper-Hitler comparison is apt or not based apparently on the idea that one authoritarian piece of shit needs to mimic to the letter the deed and personality of another.  This shits me. Everytime an Hitler-_____ analogy is made, nice reasonable people run around yelling Godwin and war which in some ways serves as a de facto defence of subject of the analogy. It seems to me to be a way of deflecting from the serious what is actually happening to our country and democracy as a result of current resident of 24 Sussex.

This is not how we win.

The secret to defeating a bully or a monster is to be willing to lose more than they are. If Harper manages to retain power and turn the Opposition into a stable of eunuchs, how far are you willing to go to defeat him? Will you lose your house? Are prepared to sleep in a ditch? Will you risk jail? Beatings and perhaps even shootings? Police already routinely harass and beat known activist leaders as part of their regular campaign of monitoring and intimidation. Are you willing let that happen to you? Will you stand up and participate in the next Salt March, which promises to be bloodier than the first?

Or will you cower and compromise, turn your face away and make excuses? Shut down your blog, stay off the streets, disown your friends? Will you parse and equivocate when you can't find your name on electoral roles, and strange official looking letters of threat appear in your mailbox? Will you let that bully-child in the Prime Minister's chair use your country and fellow human beings as punching bags as he works out his Loughnerian adolescent rage issues?


Will you recognise that your very living breathing body and mind are weapon systems?  Will you get aggressive, and refuse to let that snivelling little fuck own your future?

The misery continues . . .

IT'S BEEN FIFTY YEARS since Patrice Lumumba was murdered in the heart of darkness. A million murders later, the misery continues. RIP, Patrice. You can find a concise history in the NYT article by Adam Hochschild, "An Assassination’s Long Shadow". And the CIA was up to its neck in the slime:

A slight, goateed man with black, half-framed glasses, the 35-year-old Lumumba was the first democratically chosen leader of the vast country, nearly as large as the United States east of the Mississippi, now known as the Democratic Republic of Congo.

This treasure house of natural resources had been a colony of Belgium, which for decades had made no plans for independence. But after clashes with Congolese nationalists, the Belgians hastily arranged the first national election in 1960, and in June of that year King Baudouin arrived to formally give the territory its freedom.

“It is now up to you, gentlemen,” he arrogantly told Congolese dignitaries, “to show that you are worthy of our confidence.”

The Belgians, and their European and American fellow investors, expected to continue collecting profits from Congo’s factories, plantations and lucrative mines, which produced diamonds, gold, uranium, copper and more. But they had not planned on Lumumba.

A dramatic, angry speech he gave in reply to Baudouin brought Congolese legislators to their feet cheering, left the king startled and frowning and caught the world’s attention. Lumumba spoke forcefully of the violence and humiliations of colonialism, from the ruthless theft of African land to the way that French-speaking colonists talked to Africans as adults do to children, using the familiar “tu” instead of the formal “vous.” Political independence was not enough, he said; Africans had to also benefit from the great wealth in their soil.

With no experience of self-rule and an empty treasury, his huge country was soon in turmoil. After failing to get aid from the United States, Lumumba declared he would turn to the Soviet Union. Thousands of Belgian officials who lingered on did their best to sabotage things: their code word for Lumumba in military radio transmissions was “Satan.” Shortly after he took office as prime minister, the C.I.A., with White House approval, ordered his assassination and dispatched an undercover agent with poison.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Why don't we just sew a swastika onto the flag now?

Let's get it over with.

Stephen Harper is just plain dangerous. He has not just cowed his own MPs, senators and the civil service; he has been allowed to run free by the so-called independent media. The only reason Harper gets away with his antics is because the Fourth Estate is far too accommodating. They fear that if they hold his feet to the fire they will lose what little access they have now. Start asking tough questions and you'll be eliminated.

Better the staged photo-op than no access at all.


Harper is proceeding on an incremental program of power and control which is little different than what happened in Germany in the 1930s. He has disrupted, ignored and violated the conventions and traditions of our parliamentary system like no other Canadian prime minister before him. And the Fourth Estate, upon which an obligation to question such behaviour rests, has, with few exceptions, failed.

If Harper had his way, all power would be vested in him. Head of state, head of government, ministerial decisions; all of it. Parliamentary committees would be neutered completely.

And now, Harper has taken another step outside his jurisdiction. He is setting out to politicize the Canadian system of Honours and Awards and take control of something which quite rightly belongs in the hands of the Governor General.

In the Prime Minister’s Office, under officials working with House Leader John Baird, the most publicly partisan of all ministers, a review is under way of the nation’s honours system.
The aim is to associate the Prime Minister with more national awards, perhaps at the expense of the Governor-General, with whose office so many awards are now associated. All honours and awards, up to and including (if you can believe it) the Order of Canada, are under review to see which, if any, might be more closely associated with the PMO, and which new ones might be created that are tied to that office and, by definition, to the occupant of that office.
No big deal, some will say. It has no effect on the majority of Canadians who spend more time wondering when to cash in the empty beer cans than they do about the award their neighbour received or what it's called.

Except that it is another incremental shift of power and control from outside the PMO into Harper's hands. And it's deliberate.

The political opposition? Right where Harper wants them: Useless and far too comfortable. Media scrutiny? Right where Harper wants it: Sparse, tame and far too comfortable. Public action? Crushed: The G8/G20 lockdown of Toronto proved that Harper could impose what amounted to martial law and, not just get away with it, but have people accept it.

It is well-known that Harper is not content with democratically defeating his political opposition; he is intent on destroying it. All of it. If he ever achieves a parliamentary majority that destruction will include those who support his political opponents. He will polarize politics and demonize anyone who opposes him. He has already proven that he is willing to engage in orchestrated smears of anyone who criticizes him.

Canadians won't allow it?

The Germans didn't allow it either. German voters consistently denied Hitler a democratic majority. While leading a minority government he grabbed power in places which the average German thought inconsequential. They allowed him to nibble away at the prerogatives of the head of state until the head of state was folded into the same office as the head of government.

Think Harper isn't attempting the same thing? The evidence says otherwise.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Saturday Morning Cartoons.

Good morning, darlings -- after the last few weeks, I think this is exactly what everyone needs.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Fraud as a business model . . .

WASHINGTON'S BLOG is a relatively new blog, wherein contributors anonymously post articles of some probity without being flamed personally. Probably a Good Idea. Why? Well, the article, "Government Says No to Helping States and Main Street, While Continuing to Throw Trillions at the Giant Banks" is a ghastly lay-out of the Great Rip-Off. I knew it was bad, but this is appalling. Well worth the read. An amazingly detailed article with all manner of links, just have a bottle of Scotch or something to take the pain away. H/T to Helmut, who sometimes uses this sage piece of advice as an e-mail signature:

If you see a game going on
and you cannot figure out
who the patsy is,
you are it.

Homeland insecurity . . .

Homeland Security has forced WalMart to run in store ads asking Americans to report suspicious activity of other Americans.


Thursday, January 13, 2011

Two minutes for interference and a game misconduct for being a dick

This piece in the Toronto Star lifts up a rock and shines a light on the worst aspects of kids' sports. Briefly, asshole hockey dad decides that the his son's competitive peewee hockey team is having any fun because they aren't winning often enough, so he decides that the kid he thinks is the least talented player should either be kicked off the team or at least be given less ice time and -without the coach's approval-goes ahead and calls a meeting of the team's parents to discuss this.
I have no idea whether the player in question was the worst player on the team or not, but since this is a competitive team, the player did have to try out to make the team, so they can't be that much worse than the other kids on the squad. Looking at the case in this light, the dad is just plain being a dick, right?
Well, let me add one more piece of information. The player in question was the only girl on the team.
So in addition to being a major dick, I suspect there may be more than a little sexism at play here.
As for the headline on the Toronto Star article: "Should hockey dad be 'ashamed' after girl's humiliating departure?" I would argue that he should have been ashamed well before she left and that the league should ban this clown from ever entering the arena again just on general "for the good of the sport" and "no assholes allowed" grounds. I think the coach, while not wanting to hold the asshole's son responsible for his asshole father's assholery, should at least ban said asshole from the dressing room and any other team affairs, simply on the grounds that deciding who to put on the ice and when is the decision of the coach and only the coach.

Politically-correct BS . . .

ACCORDING TO THE GLOBE & MAIL, Dire Straits' smash hit "Money for Nothing" has been BANNED on Canuck airwaves. Why? Because of the word "faggot". Really.

The 1980s song Money for Nothing by the British rock band Dire Straits has been deemed unacceptable for play on Canadian radio.

In a ruling released Wednesday, the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council says the song contravenes the human rights clauses of the Canadian Association of Broadcasters’ Code of Ethics and Equitable Portrayal Code.

The panel noted that Money for Nothing would be acceptable for broadcast if suitably edited.

Well, here's a great version, with ol' Slowhand to help Mark out. Aw, that ain't workin', you play yer guitar on the MTV . . .

Monday, January 10, 2011

A trial of two academies

1. The University of Manitoba.  A math professor and academic prodigy at the UofM sues the university and finds himself suspended over protesting what he felt was the illegitimate awarding of a PhD to a 3rd party given that party had failed one of their comprehensive exams twice after an acknowledged learning disability was not addressed, and despite the fact the candidate had subsequently successfully defended their dissertation. And despite the fact that Dr. Lukacs was not involved in any way in this PhD (can you say 'none of his fucking business'?).

For lay readers, comprehensive exams are sometimes known as candidacy exams and are what most North American PhD programs require their students to pass before being allowed to call themselves PhD candidates instead of students. The remaining stage of the PhD after this is generally the completion and successful oral defence of the dissertation. There is no universal standard of comp exam, and departments and universities set their own criteria. In some cases, the student has an option to pick one among several forms of examination. In others, the department has a single set type. Some universities, such as those in the UK or Australia, often don't have any sort of comp exam. North American PhD programs also tend to require the completion of graduate course work before comps are attempted and research undertaken. A PhD in my department requires the student complete 10 courses (think 2 to 3 years of full time study). An analogous department across campus where students can do the same research requires three, often shared with their cousins in my neck of the woods. The standard required for comps differs too. My department keeps their Phd students in house completing course work (a whole other post is need to deal with the issue of masters labour like me) for 3.3 times longer than the TWO comparable departments on campus where a PhD student could do the exact same research.

At the end of the day the PhD is awarded largely based on the successful completion and defence of an original (as much as that's possible now) piece of research, the dissertation, not a gatekeeping exam no one will ever ask you about and which most PhDs I know have, like most students and exams, long forgotten. However, that does not stop people like Dr. Lukacs and others from making grand arguments about the reputation of schools and rigour demanded by comp exams and the apparent "worthlessness" of a PhD from UofM or whatever school has a bit of a hiccup. I mean, the mathematician in question DID do very well with their disseration and had an above average publication record coming out of his PhD: How much by those realworld standards was the failed comp actually worth? Yes, I can seriously see a hiring committee (and I've been part of one) turning him down because "well, despite your outstanding publication record for a new PhD and your excellent references, you failed one of your comps 6 years ago so we're not going to hire you." Sure. Although UofT might, but that's another story. Is there an actual pedagogical value to comprehensive exam? If so, is it universal across disciplines? Hmmm...there's an education dissertation in there somewhere.

I've lost track of how many people have told me that I'd never get hired with an Aussie or British PhD because they don't require coursework or comps or whatever like Canadian or US doctoral study , nevermind the really outstanding research that gets produced in those apparently inferior institutions and the scholars in my field under which I would be very fortunate to study. Or what my CV looks like, you know the things that matter, like refereed publications, after a PhD. Oxford or Cambridge are apparently acceptable. Maybe LSE. Seriously, I hear this line frequently.

2. The University of Alberta. A math professor is asked to resign after he asked his students to protest the departmental lowering of class average GPA from 2.16 to a positively evil 1.79 on a 4.0 scale, and a 29% failure rate in a first year course.

Back in May, Kovalyov received an email from an associate chair in the Department of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences informing him that grades for his first year math course had been lowered, resulting in a change in class average from 2.16 to 1.79 on a 4.0 scale. Other sections of the same course had averages that ranged from 2.13 to 2.95, according to documentation obtained by Maclean’s. The math professor says that he had already failed over 20 per cent of the class before these changes were approved. University guidelines suggest an approximate mean average of 2.62 for first-year courses, with only six per cent of the class failing. When faculty services officer David McNeilly, who is also responsible for reviewing final grades, first proposed the changes to Kovalyov in April, he explained in an email that the department’s proposed grades for Kovalyov’s class were “more generous than the typical exam cutoffs.”  He also pointed out that in Fall 2009, the department failed 29 per cent of students in one section of the class. “In particular, we are being consistent,” McNeilly wrote. Kovalyov responded to McNeilly that if so many extra students deserve to fail, then they should never have passed and received credit for math courses in the previous semester. “If we were consistent, all these students would have never made [it] through” the prerequisites, he wrote.

I hate bell curves. Profs will tell you that your grade may change between the final they send you and what appears on your transcript after the senate or whatever body is deemed responsible, reviews course marks; they simply can't have too high an average. The awarding of final marks has much less to do with the quality of work from the class, and much more to do with the idea of conforming grades to a bell curve. Yes, by and large, a bell curve will emerge in grading around a particular mid-range average, usually, in my experience in the 65%/C to 75%/B range (although 75%/B is usually considered too high). The final grade is thus an administrative decision, not an academic one, based on the idea that a class should conform to a curve and the curve conform to specific letter grades and somewhere down the logic chain that the work from the students rate would rate accordingly or something. 

Rank and file profs do not want to explain to the dean why their grades are too high but, according to colleagues, it isn't usually a problem to have high failure rates in the courses so there is downward pressure on grading which has nothing to do with quality of instruction as it is reflected in student work, as the UofA case shows. Having worked as a TA, however, I have seen dramatic improvement in students as they address  comments in their work and start to 'get' university. An outstanding instructor, one with a gift for teaching, can do wonders for improving the quality of work from lagging students and thus raise overall averages. God forbid that undergrads actually learn something from their instructors and consequently show improvement in their marks. 

But you'll get some profs and deans wax on about the need to maintain rigour and standards and the bell curve is the master of all that, but in reality they're playing a numbers game, not a learning game. The final grade curve is adjusted by people who have nothing to do with the course or students in question.  The students, out of pocket thousands of dollars a year usually via debt, come to play the latter. Some faculty will complain to no end about the seemingly perpetual declining quality of incoming students, yet when students show marked improvement, there is pressure to keep them 'in their place.  C student first year, C student 3rd year: why would an instructor even bother to grade by 3rd year? Just look at the student's past transcripts and give them a suitable number or letter that fits within their GPA. After all, the university wants them to remain within their grade-class as too much larnin' upsets their perfectly mowed little grade-mounds and deans get the vapours.

It's a Wonderland here at times. Any thoughts on my little rant? I might have more soon.

Seriously, folks . . .

Medicine for melancholy.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Pc Green....

Sometimes...good things happen.

The trial of six green campaigners has collapsed after an undercover policeman who had infiltrated their group offered to give evidence on their behalf.

Funny thing about hanging around green types, one does start to learn and love the planet a little and notice that the people who care for it ain't so bad after all.

US rightwing fantasy vs. reality

The US right, fortunately, mostly still inhabits a world of rhetorical violence. You see, despite the rhetoric and the history, precious few wingnuts are actually willing to move beyond talk and engage in real political violence.

Theirs is an unreality where, despite their relative wealth and affluence, they live under a tyrannical government run by [circle one or more: gay/feminist/communist/Islamist/____]. They get high on the metheteric from Beck and Limbaugh, wank to the pornstar from Alaska, collect AR-15s and crates of ammunition, talk about liberty trees over barbecued steak and urine-beer. Their chat rooms are full of implicit and explicit anti-left and anti-government threats. Yet by and large, these people are palpably unwilling to act on their rhetoric.

So they get the odd fringe terrorist like a McVeigh or Loughner but, thankfully, the bulk of the right haven't managed to organise themselves enough to pull a Fort Sumter. Instead, the real fanatics in their ranks that end up detonating truck bombs or squeezing triggers are immediately parsed and disowned, thrown to the wolves, or associated with the left in some way. Their cowardice is a marvel but it is understandable. Crossing the line into an organised campaign of political violence destroys their personal security in real terms, not their imagined hardship under the policies of a Clinton or Obama.

They are much more comfortable then to elect a Bush or a Palin: No immediate personal risk but all the rhetorical crack they can consume. For now.

The danger, I think, rests in the near future should the US continue its socio-economic decline. Prolonged recession, higher oil prices, changes in social structures all deepen fracture lines in society and more organised and coherent campaigns might emerge as people have less and less to lose. But then by that point, it's probably game over of the UNITED States of America. However, in the meanwhile they are unable to walk their talk and that is a very good thing.

The future comes closer . . .

Nano loom: Carbon-nanotube webs are pulled and twisted to make yarns. The four webs here are 5.5 centimeters wide.
Credit: Science/AAAS

MIT'S TECHNOLOGY REVIEW has an important report by Katherine Bourzac, "Spinning Nano Yarns", which highlights several important advances in nano-material fabrication. Up til now, nano-fibers have been laboratory exotics, "unobtainium" expensive. It seems there are going to be changes:

Many important technologies—from battery electrodes and superconducting wires to the catalysts in fuel cells—rely on materials containing powdered particles, which can be tricky to manage. Now, in a feat that could simplify the production of many such technologies and might point the way toward some radical new ones, researchers at the University of Texas have demonstrated a way to spin yarn out of nanotubes infused with useful powdered materials.

The researchers have used the method to make strips of yarn that function as a battery electrode, others with superconducting properties, and self-cleaning yarns.

Now, why should you care? The advent of nano-materials is going to be as revolutionary as the transistor and will affect every aspect of life in 2020 and beyond. How so? For starters, cars will weigh 50%, maybe even less than what they weigh now. Then there's medicine, electronics — you ain't seen nuthin' yet.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Skunked . . .

Pépé Le Pew under your porch and they blow you away as you answer the door. Seriously, folks, according to the CBC:

A Gatineau, Que., man is demanding an apology from police after his home was raided at gunpoint Thursday.

Oliver MacQuat said around 7:30 p.m. Thursday a team of armed police officers entered his rural home on Montée Paiement with guns drawn, on the assumption they were busting a marijuana grow-op.

Thankfully, it wasn't the RCMP, they would have tasered him and the skunk, and the skunk would've gone ballistic, if they missed it.

Friday, January 07, 2011

WikiLeaks . . .

ACCORDING TO THE NYT, in a report by Kim Severson and Robbie Brown, "WikiLeaks Cables Make Appearance in a Tale of Sunken Treasure and Nazi Theft". Like Tom Clancy and Clive Cussler, but this is real. Sumbitch. The US gov't. seems mendacious. It appears Spain wants a big chunk of a treasure galleon found by some Americans off the coast of Portugal, and State is against the Americans. Then there's the Nazi swag . . .

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Consult your schedule . . .

Now, you know.

Is there some kind of intelligence test you have to fail to be on FOX?

Shorter Bill O'Reilly:
"Fucking magnets - how do they work?" (for the meme-challenged, go read this)

One of my father's favorite jokes goes something like this:

"The Thermos is one of the greatest inventions of modern man and also one of the world's great mysteries. It keeps hot things hot and cold things cold, but how does it know?"

To you and me and my dad - and anyone else who managed to pass science class in elementary school - this is a funny joke. I suspect it might be the kind of conundrum that would keep Bill O'Reilly up all night.

I know, I know - someone on FOX News saying something stupid is so rare it only happens on days that end in a 'Y' - but big bad Bill outdid himself this week, further proving that the Enlightenment of the 17th century hasn't quite caught on in some segments of North America.

Leaving aside O'Reilly's usual abrasiveness and tendency to ask a question and then refuse to allow the guest to answer it, and his boneheaded, reducto ad absurdum insistence on blaming the victims of every con artist in history, and his eagerness to take offense at a campaign by a group of atheists that is obviously intended to provoke controversy and encourage people to admit the emperor is stark naked, let's look at his oh-so-clever dismissal of atheism.

Quoth the Billo:

"I'll tell you why [religion is] not a scam. In my opinion -- alright? Tide goes in, tide goes out. Never a miscommunication. You can't explain that. You can't explain why the tide goes in."

 To quote a prominent political figure "Yes, we can" - I guess Bill's unfamiliar with the old adage that it is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt. This is shooting fish in a barrel with a grenade launcher. I can't believe I have to point this out, but we've known how and why tides work since Newton laid it all out in 1682. Maybe this a result of Bill's antipathy toward Islam - he just doesn't trust math because it is all done with arabic numerals - or maybe he thinks gravity, like evolution is just a theory. And yet, Billo makes an obscene amount of money talking on the TV and is considered by millions to be a smarter than those pinhead liberal eggheads.

Hat tip to the Booman Tribune