Thursday, May 31, 2012

TTTT: Tools To Tweek Tomatoes . . .

THE TOMATO GENOME has been sequenced. According to ScienceDaily: "Tomato Genome Gets Fully Sequenced -- Paves Way to Healthier Fruits, Veggies". The genomes from the "Heinz 1706" and a wild precursor were sequenced.

Of course, from this, improving yield, nutrition, disease resistance, taste and color may be more easily and effectively done. But this implies Genetic Modification, and thanks to Monsanto and other agribiz giants, people are wary, and with good reason.

But GM isn't going away, no matter what. That's the bad news; the good news is that with time, the techniques of genetic analysis and modification become more widespread as costs fall, so benefits get beyond the control of the greedy. As a result, the tomato was sequenced by members of the Tomato Genomics Consortium, an international collaboration between Argentina, Belgium, China, France, Germany, India, Israel, Italy, Japan, the Netherlands, South Korea, Spain, United Kingdom, United States and others.

So it's not just Monsanto or Archer Daniels Midland anymore.

James Giovannoni, a scientist at the Boyce Thompson Institute for Plant Research, located on the campus of Cornell University, and the U.S. Department of Agriculture, said this:
"Tomato genetics underlies the potential for improved taste every home gardener knows and every supermarket shopper desires and the genome sequence will help solve this and many other issues in tomato production and quality."
Sol Genomics Network

Unlike agribiz genetics which are proprietary, this is meant to be shared. To provide access to the gene sequences of the tomato and related species, Boyce Thompson Institute scientist Lukas Mueller and his team have created an interactive website, sol genomics network.

Check it out and GMOD, or the Generic Model Organism Database project: these show the future of genetic research. Just add time . . . why should you care? Well, for starters, with climate change, growing stuff with less water might be a good idea? 

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

State security . . .

VICKIE'S TRYING TO BUILD ONE OF THESE. Inside Moammar Gadhafi’s Secret Surveillance Network: The Internet enabled surveillance on a scale that would have been unimaginable with the old tools of phone taps and informants. But Big Vickie loves us, so it'll all work out, right?

Monday, May 28, 2012

It slices and dices . . .

SLAP CHOP THIS AIN'T. It's a piece of malware called "Flame". And what a piece it is: compared to Stuxnet, the malware that gutted the digital controllers for Iranian uranium centrifuges, a smallest-you-can-make-it 500Kb, Flame is Godzilla-size, a whopping 20Mb. According to the article in WIRED, "Meet ‘Flame’, The Massive Spy Malware Infiltrating Iranian Computers", Flame is like a Cuisinart, with function modules for slicing, dicing.

Vince, baby
doin' his Slap Chop shtick.
A scary amount of creative thought went into building this nasty. While it's "large", it's a high-speed web-world/intranet/LAN/Bluetooth world, so a 20 Mb download can slip through quite easily to a targeted computer. Unlike just about every other piece of malware found to date, Flame has some discretion in just which machines will get a dose in their DOS, so to speak.

Among Flame’s many modules is one that turns on the internal microphone of an infected machine to secretly record conversations that occur either over Skype or in the computer’s near vicinity; a module that turns Bluetooth-enabled computers into a Bluetooth beacon, which scans for other Bluetooth-enabled devices in the vicinity to siphon names and phone numbers from their contacts folder; and a module that grabs and stores frequent screenshots of activity on the machine, such as instant-messaging and email communications, and sends them via a covert SSL channel to the attackers’ command-and-control servers.
The malware also has a sniffer component that can scan all of the traffic on an infected machine’s local network and collect usernames and password hashes that are transmitted across the network. The attackers appear to use this component to hijack administrative accounts and gain high-level privileges to other machines and parts of the network.

Good to know that's all
they're looking for.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (aka I-Need-A-Dinner-Jacket) and the mullahs of Qom must be feeling a little transparent, these days, but chances are they're starting to feel a little better, Iran’s Computer Emergency Response Team just announced that it had developed a detector to uncover what it calls the “Flamer” malware on infected machines and delivered it to select organizations at the beginning of May. Problem is, Flame has been probably burning for over two years; it's not on a lot of computers — they hope. Malware's like murder: the perfect ones you never know about.

Now, why the hell should you care? Well, suppose Vickie's people decided that Canada needed a "Maple Flame" for domestic consumption? Remember, while they may be rude and crude, Vickie and the gang brought us Robo-calls and other digital folderol, and it seems they have a knack for creating enemies lists, and Flame is used in a targeted fashion. Forewarned is five-armed; even paranoids have enemies.



Doug Finnson, the union's chief negotiator, says it's only because the government said it would act that CP management isn't at the table.
"Collective bargaining in this country is under attack, certainly," he said.
"As long as the government intervenes in collective bargaining, and in my opinion, unfairly favours the employer, the employers are going to simply line up, every one of them… knowing that the government's going to intervene, suspend collective bargaining artificially, and get into this return-to-work legislation, which from what I understand in the past two experiences, has significantly favoured the employer," Finnson said, referring to legislation that forced Canada Post and Air Canada workers back to work."

The Lord helps those . . .

WHO HELP THEMSELVES. At least, that's what The Lizard Farmer believes. What a great reason to get a Barrett .50 BMG and a nice variable scope, though for less than 3-400 meters, a nice 7mm magnum or a .25-06 varminter BAR might be quite useful, really flat trajectories, or maybe a ValMet semi-auto AK47 in .308 NATO or an AR-10.

If, as and when the drones start flying over Canadian cities, well, remember to lead the target, and squeeze gently. Canadians have a talent for deflection shooting — the best there ever was, was George Beurling. He wouldn't have liked Stevie, either.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

A dry warning . . .

THE ARAL SEA: trashed by the Soviets in the 1960s, it has yet to recover, if that is even possible with global warming. Now, Canada is environmentally threatened by right-wing extremists, with psychopathic greed as their motivation, who are more dangerous, because they have more money than the Soviets did. io9 has a nice article by Lauren Davis, "Abandoned Ships Stranded in the Desert", with some fine pictures of our socialists' failure to ponder, as we wait for the next egregious activity. Be they from the left or from the right, political extremists are bad for your environment.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Dear Leo Bureau-Blouin,

You are speaking about compromise. Stop. Compromise is losing. Why? At a basic logical level, if you hold that you do not want a tuition rise, and the government does, any position that results in increased tuition means that you lose and the government wins.

On a moral level, your adversary has deployed anti-human legislation and extreme police violence to have its way in the face of student resistance. Hundreds have been arrested, beaten, including professors, parents, and of course your members - remember them? In doing so, the Charest government forfeited any right to compromise. Several hundred thousand people rose up and joined your ranks. Do not forget them.

Furthermore, you cannot ignore the larger context of your dispute. This is about intensifying resistance to the neoliberalisation of society. The same force pushing students to pay evermore dearly for their increasingly commodified education is the same force that drives other parties to steal elections, threatens coastlines so they can ship tar to China. The same force that poisons the sky and sea. The same that kills and tortures in the name of trade and democracy.

Your union, together with the others have found themselves a frontline. You've closed ranks and honed your game on the fly in ways that puts a great many of your peers in the rest of the country to shame. Suing for peace now is stupid and undermines everything you've accomplished.

Stand firm.

Movements like this separate the believers from the opportunists. There are people in the leadership of any movement who find themselves in the spot light, dazzled by the bright lights and attention, drawing lessons in manipulation from the experience. They forget who put them there. Some wind up in politics, working for the enemy, who is always keen for that kind of talent.

25th Anniversary . . .

HARD TIMES IN THE LAND OF PLENTY.  (C) 1987 to 2012 — that's twenty-five years of hard times, folks, and Omar's message is even more relevant as time passes. Omar's the king of Strat blues-twang, great chops.

Inmates for Stevie's prisons . . .

YOU DON'T WANT to be old and poor and alone, but thanks to the 1%, that's the fate for a lot of North Americans, if the fascists have their way. Our Head Fascist, Stevie, intends to build prisons for lots of new inmates. Well, when life hands you a lemon, the creative make lemonaid.

Thus this report from Keith Veronese at io9: "If you are elderly and poor, prison is better than a retirement home". Better? Go figure. But Keith does make some cogent points, along with an important tip for Americans: do a Federal crime, so you live in a Federal prison, not a State prison, where things can be ghastly.

Considering the horror stories from retirement homes for the aged indigent, it ain't stupid if it works. 

So there's bars, you probably can't see 'em anyway, without your glasses, and it's nice to be able to hear something shut without your hearing aid, medical care is great in comparison and the food actually isn't toxic, unlike your last retirement "home", where the key to survival was as much take-out and kettle-food as your pension would buy.

This last point I have seen, in a retirement home charging relatively big bucks, believe it or not: wanna stay alive? Don't eat the chow, or drink from any of the institution's cups, glasses, even with your own stuff, without washing first; e-coli's a stone bitch, then there's viruses.

Killing off the clientele to save housekeeping costs is a bit brusque, but there's always more poor old people (aka "tuna" to those in the biz), so from a dispassionate management's view, it makes exquisitely logical sense, besides, it's cold season anyway.

Friday, May 25, 2012

A shattered polity . . .

THE CHRONICLE HERALD has fine editorial cartoonists, Michael de Adder, and Bruce MacKinnon. Check out the gallery, some great stuff!

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

About Bill C-38

So what do you call a government that actively seeks to allow the security forces of a foreign power to operate with impunity within the country it governs?

I'm too tired tonight to say something really insightful about this latest round of Harperian Vichique. Come to think of it, I'm not actually sure there's much more to say at this point.

Yeah, that sums it up.


Monday, May 21, 2012

Son-O-God's perspective . . .

SON-O-GOD. A National Lampoon creation from the early-mid 70's. Oh, how I love the web, haven't seen this since it was printed. The drawing chops are astounding. Go. Visit.

Social perspectives . . .

WHAT DO DEBUTANTE BALLS, the Japanese tea ceremony, Ponzi schemes and doubting clergy all have in common? According to NEW STATESMAN, Daniel Dennett's article "The social cell", they are results of interaction that mimics the behavior of biological cells.

Cells may be the simplest life forms on the planet - even the simplest possible life forms - but their inner workings, at the molecular level, are breathtakingly complex, composed of thousands of molecular machines, all of them interacting to provide the cell with the energy it needs to build offspring and maintain its membrane. Echoes of the design wisdom embodied in this very effective machinery can be found in human culture, which is dazzlingly complex, too, composed as it is of about seven billion interacting people, with their traditions, languages, institutions, occupations, values and economies. Some cultural phenomena bear a striking resemblance to the cells of cell biology, actively preserving themselves in their social environments, finding the nutrients they need and fending off the causes of their dissolution.

Consider four unrelated species of social cell that share some interesting features. What do the Japanese tea ceremony, debutante parties, Ponzi schemes and many Christian churches have in common? They are all variations of an insidiously effective social mechanism that:
1) thrives on human innocence, and
2) nobody had to design, and
3) is threatened with extinction by the rising tide of accessibility to information.

Interesting way of looking at social process; to me, a variation on Transactional Analysis of Eric Berne, but that's just my initial consideration. One's own internal motivation is whatever it is. Human consciousness, the mind, is so complex that it is essentially unfathomable for the precise definition of consciousness as each person is unique — is my consciousness the same as yours, or anyone else's? Certainly we have a myriad of mind-sets and attitudes, and nobody knows why they are what they are.

Generalizations are always suspect, but people repeat behavior if there's a reward. They may be unaware of just what that reward is — and that's where the fun starts. One of the essential components of the standard human mind are the capacities for wishful thinking and self-deception; add them to the behavior-determination process in the mind, and it gets even funner.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Environmental concerns . . .

Silent, but deadly . . . it's tough to be a back-bencher.

The end of trust

A comment I heard the other day nailed it. The speaker lamented that, "all anyone needs to do is demonstrate that they're not out to screw you. We live in a culture where we all fear being screwed by the other guy."

It's been a number of years since I met an employer I trusted, and I am sure many of you might agree.

A generation of Quebec youth, the future of the province, have no more reason to trust their government. The law passed by their legislature is nothing more than a vicious reprisal by a government being taken to task.  

Every Canadian alive to the left of Harper has no more reason to trust their government.  Whether it's destroying communities and risking coast and sea to sell tar to China, backdooring anti-choice legislation, buying ships or fighter planes, using state security forces for political agendas, or the minor little issue of running an honest election, there is no more reason to reason to trust. Like Quebec, objection is met with truncheons and cages. Every word from a politician is a lie until proven otherwise.

It's not like this wasn't the case before. There's plenty of examples. However today I think were running out of the conventions previously held as sacred. Parliamentary supremacy? Elections? Very close to gone. Right to health and education? Nearly gone. Right to question your elected representatives about what they're doing with your trust (in every sense of the word)? Nearly gone.

Without trust, loyalty to governments must be bought or brutally compelled (truly a bizarre circumstance in a place that fancies itself a democracy!). Corporate loyalty is bought with our tax dollars and anti-social legislation. Public loyalty is purchased with lies, and with violence for the disbelievers.

Shredded social contracts are very hard to fix. When they are, it is often through a great deal of struggle.

Evasion under pressure . . .

A monumental idea . . .

Friday, May 18, 2012

Safety glasses are good . . .

TORONTO LIFE reports a Stevie nude. Really. To see it in all its splendor, click on the link. Have bag close at hand. You have been told.


Conservative MP Ted Opitz's 2011 federal election win last year in Etobicoke Centre has been declared null and void in a challenge by former Liberal MP Borys Wrzesnewskyj.
Opitz won the May 2011 election by 26 votes, but Wrzesnewskyj challenged the results over voting irregularities. Justice Thomas Lederer's decision, if appealed, would be immediately heard by the Supreme Court of Canada.
We're finding the range.  

Eidolon rebellion? No glory here.

There's an interesting discussion taking place here , which harebell takes to task over the apparent support of  violence and intimidation by some groups of the protesting students.
But as many people have demonstrated in the recent and distant past, sinking to the methods of those who will oppress you doesn’t work. Ghandi, the US Civil Rights movement etc are fine examples of how an ethical and peaceful resistance effort can have long founded and positive repercussions on a country.
But then that's the problem with all rebellions. They are messy, ugly things. Like any struggle, the victors, and particularly those who weren't there, tell themselves stories about it all afterward and gloss over the awkward facts and uglier moments. The US Civil Rights movement and the Indian independence movement were extremely violent in places, and there were a great number casualties in the latter which weren't a result of Imperial bullets and batons. Had neither of these succeeded, the other side would be telling nasty stories about the brutality of one element or another. Despite noble intentions a pure campaign non-violent resistance is more myth than practice. "Leaders" cannot control the actions of all those who share the share the same grievances. Fear, and the seduction of the moment, and indeed circumstances will drive some to extremes. This cannot be avoided without careful, deliberate, and long-term planning. The running battle of the student rebellion does not have this luxury of time.

We can try as much as possible to not reflect the state's violence, but we are not all people who share our viewpoints. Students in the streets who see their peers bowing their heads and lining up for class are justifiably enraged as this represents a lack of solidarity at a critical time. The success of the rebellion is contingent on a unified front and detractors represent lines of division which the Quebec government will exploit. Indeed, they are doing so now through brutal and potentially unconstitutional legislation aimed breaking the protests and the larger student right to collectively resist. This could get much uglier still.

There's no glory in any of this. Quebec is the latest exemplar after Toronto of the broader and increasingly brutal struggle between citizens and their increasingly alien political class. Progressives, much used to civil deliberation and peaceful protest are learning effective resistance means risking personal security in all its forms. It means friends become enemies when they bow to intimidation and threats from power or simply try to protect themselves when those actions subvert the movement. It means making decisions and taking actions that will hurt people who have done nothing deserve it, such as students wishing for little more than to complete their studies. It means recognising that the state as it stands now simply will not act in good faith and will unblinkingly smash the window and blame you for it if you don't do it yourself. It means much fear, anger, and uncertainty.

It means accepting casualties and preparing for them. There will be more.

A positive step . . .

ACCORDING TO GLENN GREENWALD, at SALON, in an article, "Federal court enjoins NDAA", Judge Katherine Forrest struck a blow for American civil rights. This is a strong first step to fight the legal weasels that brought us Gitmo.
Judge Katherine Forrest

A federal district judge today, the newly-appointed Katherine Forrest of the Southern District of New York, issued an amazing ruling: one which preliminarily enjoins enforcement of the highly controversial indefinite provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act, enacted by Congress and signed into law by President Obama last December. This afternoon’s ruling came as part of a lawsuit brought by seven dissident plaintiffs — including Chris Hedges, Dan Ellsberg, Noam Chomsky, and Birgitta Jonsdottir — alleging that the NDAA violates ”both their free speech and associational rights guaranteed by the First Amendment as well as due process rights guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment of the United States Constitution.”

Now, maybe we can do something about those Star Chamber Security Certificates we use in Canada to put people away without trial?

Thursday, May 17, 2012

They really didn't mean it

Peter MacKay presents his latest bit of bungling.
Defence Minister Peter MacKay's recent written response to questions tabled in Parliament reveal that 2006 federal Conservative promises for 5 Wing Goose Bay are no longer part of the military’s plans.

Prior to the election that brought the Tories to power, Prime Minister Stephen Harper promised to station a new, 650-member rapid reaction army battalion at CFB Goose Bay, plus a new long-range unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) squadron at the base.
Oh yes, the territorial battalion group promised for St. John's? Just kidding. They will be located, according to MacKay, from Vancouver to Halifax, although I wouldn't be setting up bleachers anytime soon for that one either.

Curiously though, MacKay, in attempting to offer yet another excuse for not doing what the Harperites promised to do, (all previous excuses involved Afghanistan and that was the standard excuse for everything that didn't happen CF-wide), shone the light on another program which he has typically covered in mud. JUSTAS.
“As part of the [defence strategy], there will be a surveillance ‘system of systems’ that will be comprised of sensors, unmanned vehicles and satellites that will keep Canada’s maritime approaches safe and secure, including in the Arctic,” MacKay’s response notes.
JUSTAS stands for Joint Unmanned Surveillance Target Acquisition System and just so we're clear here, DND has messed that up nicely. Like every other project the Harper government has gotten their fingers into, it has slid well past the delivery date, has been started and restarted several times and has caused potential suppliers to throw their hands in the air, turning away from the project in frustration.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

China and Harper, updated with Godfather?

Nice one, Harper.

The opposition is demanding to know what steps have been taken to address security concerns over foreign companies operating in Canada's telecommunications industry, in the wake of a CBC News report about a Chinese firm's contracts in Canada.
On the surface it is rather hilarious to see this government get its trousers yanked down on the topic of foreign espionage.

Deeper, there's something of a stench here. Harper seems pretty freakin' keen on turning China into Canada's biggest trading partner, particularly around tar sands oil. That's probably a strategic problem for the US even bigger than communications security, but the comms angle may sound more exotic to various audiences. But whatever, China isn't really an enemy, so why should we care?  It is strategic rival for our key and very paranoid ally. It's just stupid to ignore their concerns on things like this, and really really stupid to openly flirt with China in front of them. I bet there's a few interesting conversations happening in Virginia and DC regarding our policy ninjas in Ottawa.

What'll Harper do when the US political rhetoric starts to paint Canada as 'soft on China' and safe haven of their spies? Half those clowns already think we're crawling with swarthy men and AK47s. Popcorn anyone?

Mound of Sound finds quotes from a former Chinese general regarding Australia's need to find a godfather. 
"Australia has to find a godfather sooner or later," Mr Song told the Herald yesterday. "Australia always has to depend on somebody else, whether it is to be the 'son' of the US or 'son' of China. [It] depends on who is more powerful and based on the strategic environment."
I don't know about Australia (although I think I hear some faint cursing on the Pacific breeze), but I think our prime minister has found his godfather. Does anyone else find this just a little creepy?

Your government doesn't like it when you know things

So much for anything resembling freedom, freedom of information or freedom of the press. The Harperites don't like it when you know stuff.
The Harper government called in the RCMP to investigate a politically embarrassing story involving the decision to sole-source the purchase of the F-35 stealth fighter, claiming it was a breach of national security, The Canadian Press has learned.

The Mounties conducted a five-month review into an alleged leak of cabinet documents under the Security of Information Act, recently used to charge a naval intelligence officer in an apparent spy case.

Records obtained under the Access to Information Act show investigators had doubts almost from the outset in July 2010 that any laws were broken in the Globe and Mail story.

The story revealed angst within government about possible alienation from Washington if a competition was held to replace the air force's CF-18s.

Still, the review pressed ahead and drew in one of the RCMP's four Integrated National Security Enforcement Teams, whose job it is to chase terrorism threats.

It was shut down in December 2010 for lack of evidence.
Oh yes, it gets better.
The case file shows the complaint was laid by Wayne Wouters, clerk of the Privy Council, the country's highest-ranking civil servant and adviser to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, shortly after the article appeared on June 11, 2010.
On orders from His Grace, you can bet. When a Harper hack moves on something like this it's because Harper issued a command.

So, to conclude ...
The RCMP closed its file in November 2010, but was forced to "re-activate" the case and "investigate further" because it was noted no one had talked to Wouters.

The file "should not have been concluded at this time before the complainant was met and had a chance to explain why he thinks there was a leak of 'secret cabinet documents,"' said a Dec. 22, 2010, notation.
The investigator apparently tried to contact Wouters, seeking clarification and was rebuked by the National Security Criminal Operations Branch, which noted the complaint had been filed by letter through the commissioner's office.

It took Mounties in charge of the case two-and-a-half months to get their hands on an actual copy of the letter, which had been "kept at the commissioner's office."
Any questions about who and what we're dealing with here?

Dear Jim,

EI is not welfare, it is insurance against loss of income due to unemployment and it is paid for by Canadians. It is incredibly valuable in a struggling economy.

"That means we are going to have to encourage more persons with disabilities to work, more seniors to work, more aboriginal people to work, including young people. We need to get rid of disincentives in the employment insurance system to people joining the workforce."

Disincentives like retirement ages?

I'm presently looking for work that matches my education and experience. I work at one of your "no bad jobs" that pays me at more than minimum hourly wage, but not by much. I am employed casually meaning I never really know how many hours I might get in a week. I have only once hit 40. It is very possible that I will look at next week's schedule and have no hours. This has happened once already. Many employers hire this way, or via temp agencies, through short-term contracts. EI fills in the gaps.

With my advanced education and several years of interesting experience it takes me somewhere between five and eight hours to apply for a job at my level. I must tweak my CV and write new cover letters, and sometimes prepare extra materials to meet little MHRM/MBA braingasms like 'motivation statements' (what the hell was my cover letter for?). I need to research organisations I apply to because I want to at least sound like I am familiar with them. If I were working the low-paying full-time plus hours, it would be much more difficult to find the time to search and apply for other positions. Jim, I'm not sure when you last had to look for a job like the rest of us, but EI provides the time to search and apply. 

I guess I'm lucky I'm single and in pretty good health and don't need much in terms of living space, so I can survive on the sporadic hours and unpredictable income I get. These allow me the time to search for other jobs and apply to them and do things like try to publish my research (and let Taylor and Frank reap the profits of my labour), which will hopefully build my CV enough to land something a little more secure and better-paying. I'm also lucky the student loan people have given me a payment reprieve because I cannot afford to repay my loan at my current wages. Note that I am only just surviving. It is not fun and it is not an experience I would wish on anyone else.

I'd be in a real spot of trouble if I was disabled, or in poor health, or had young children, or an invalided partner. Even at predictable full time hours, I could not provide for anyone else and have enough trouble doing it even for myself. If you tell me I have to change provinces, relocate a thousand kilometres away to take shitty work in a strange city or town, I might lose my family due to the stresses that long absences and unfamiliar cause. And who knows what that'll do to my mental health even if I managed to keep my family. And that's assuming I have the financial means to relocate. If you ask the elderly and the disabled to take jobs, you're going to have to create some criteria about who can actually work and who cannot. Knowing your party, I doubt you'll be consulting medical professionals on that one. Those folks won't give you the answers you want.

I wonder what you'll do if if people cannot find employment. They won't you know, because finding employment is not just contingent on ability to work. There's a whole economy that ebbs and flows, creating and shedding jobs in deepening cycles (yes, the thing your leader apparently went to school to learn about). Are there workhouses along the way? Will you create special employment categories that allow corporations to employ Canadians under what are now illegal conditions? We don't trust you.

The EI you want to curtail saves people and families by keeping them in communities and among people they know and love. Take those things away and you destroy lives.

But then I don't suspect you give two obsolete pennies about people's well-being. What you're doing, whether you frame it that way or not, is destroying the middle-class and creating a nation of corporate serfs "doing what they have to do to get by." This I suspect will please your corporate masters' and China-drunk party leader's desire to turn Canada into a raw materials and energy maquiladora.

We're angry, Jim.

Education policy in Canada...

...consists of riot cops sicked on unarmed teachers, parents, and students should these cohorts object to the state raising the cost of education. 

And today at UQAM, students march in masks against the scabs in their ranks. Maybe this is getting way out of hand, but then what do you call beating students in the street and confronting their parents and professors with truncheons?

I'd say the students are learning quite a bit more sociology and political science now than they would in their lectures. I particularly like this:
Courchesne told reporters this morning the meeting demonstrated that the student leaders have actually hardened their position on tuition hikes and she feels they are leaving no room open for compromise.
Yes, well Mme. Courchesne, your police beat and tear gassed them: Why the hell do you think they'd still be open to any sort compromise?

I don't blame the last Quebec education minister for resigning. I'd want nothing to do with this either.

Canada's war on the future continues apace.

An issue of great import

North Van's Grump does a critical experiment, the results of which may change how you think about certain products. With the help of an old pickle jar and the advice of one of the world's leading toilet manufacturers, NVG reveals some surprising stuff.

Monday, May 14, 2012

You weren't there Doc. You can never know

Damn, I wish there was a magic bullet. I really, really wish that. The times where that wish becomes most enduring is at about 2 am when I know I have a class to teach six hours later.

That's now my life, and the 2 am sweat ensoaked wake up is pretty much normal for me now. I'm intelligent enough to know that those wake ups are training induced - not the result of combat. The fearful feeling is the combat part.

I was terrified by combat. I was not Sgt. Rock. I was, however, a leader and it meant I had to do one thing above all else - suppress the obvious terror.

I had been through selection, and passed. I had been through leadership training and passed. I had been through endless exercises and received accolades for my tactical sense. None of that prepared me for real bullets coming downrange nor the need to put myself and my troops at risk to achieve the objective set out in an operation order.

The truth is the training, constant and consistent, kicked in and while I always had to adapt to any situation, I could go back to "wrote" for the basics. I did that a lot, and I suspect my superiors felt very good about that. They could read my manoeuvres, watch the actions of my formation and accept any losses based on some obscure formula to which I was never privy.

Except that I didn't have any losses. Wounded? Yes. Unable to fight? You must be fucking kidding. (That doesn't diminish the fact that those wounded men should have been medevaced out of the action).

I can share a lot with my fellow combatants. We connect. We can visualize what each other might have seen and felt at any given moment. We can accept the horror and the fear. We can feel the overwhelming urge to end everything by behaving stupidly (heroism to a politician). But I can never be exactly where my brothers-in-arms have been.

It may come as a surprise to many but each combat situation for every individual is personal. You can never be there for one simple and enduring reason. You weren't there.

That doesn't make you bad. It just means you can never understand.

So, why try? Why not just accept that, in a combat, killing situation, the whole event becomes something with a deep personal attachment?

It never goes away. It doesn't even fade.

I killed kids who should have been preparing for their first year of university or taking on an apprenticeship in a trade. At the time, it is what I had to do to stay alive. That will never give me a feeling that I contributed to the world. I denied the world of an otherwise good human being.

I'm OK with that to a limit. He was going to kill me, I thought then, and it was him or me. I was much better trained and, if I have to say this, I was a professional warrior.

I did it without really thinking about it.

The thinking came well after the fact. It haunts me to this day and not a day goes by where I don't think about it. As much as I was comfortable killing kids ten years younger than me in the desperate circumstances of combat, nothing can make me feel good about it now. I feel, for some perverse reason, that the world simply has to accept the personal struggle of knowing that I will never accept that the act of  killing of my fellow man had any value.

I watched a missile move over the horizon and blow the living hell out of a ship that was our saviour throughout the night. They had saved us and they paid a huge price. I have had the counselling over that incident and not one of those professionals gets it. When it happened it took a few seconds; when I relive it, it happens in slow motion. They never, ever, get that.

Can I say that it pisses me off?

The shrinks were supposed to be our saviours. Nothing against the shrinks but, jebus H. christ, Doc, if you weren't there, you simply do not fucking know!

I feel a brotherhood with US Viet Nam veterans which the shrinks don't seem to get. It's not about the war, or the environment or, as we Brits at the time had to suffer, the politics. It's about regaining our humanity.

So few of us going to war were killers, yet we became that. So few of us actually intended to give our lives for a political dispute, but so many did.

Every single death in Afghanistan chewed a horrible hole in my consciousness. But in the darkness of my mind, I worried, and still worry, about the people who have had to do things which they will come to realize revolt them and will eventually attack them. That fear for them won't go away. Their feelings will grow.

PTSD is not about the physical wounds. Godammit, it's about making us do things we would never have done under normal circumstances. Seeing things we couldn never have believed possible. Watching others get maimed or killed.

It's not about me. It's about where we were and what happened all around us. It's about a corporal with a bleeding wound telling me he agrees with calling fire on our own position. It's about watching a dead comrade being hoisted out of the battlefield, feet first, and then carry on with the patrol. It's about watching an Exocet missile slam into a ship and knowing you have no time to warn them.

You cannot make that into a cartoon.

But, hell, you guys have done such a shitty job of it so far, give it a try. If it fails, you're 0 for ten and you've got nothing to lose.

And, I am not your fucking experiment.

Sage advice . . .

THE OATMEAL has a page you must visit: "What we should have been taught in our senior year of high school".

the rot

I got started late and had other lives before university, so I'm a decade or more older than most of students in Quebec. But that makes little difference as I share the same debt burden and the rising costs education. I cannot see the day when I will be free of student loans and I will be still be paying interest long after my tuition tax credits run out. That pisses me off.

I fully support the marches in Quebec and wish some of the student groups in my provinces had the moxy to take it to the streets beyond their well meaning but symbolic "Day of Action" and the occassional meeting with the minister.

I am angry. I'm angry at the cost of education, sure. But I'm even angrier at the attitudes of non-students toward students.

It is bad enough to hear friends and colleagues in increasingly rare university teaching positions whinge endlessly about the apparently ever decreasing quality of students they are paid teach.

"They can't spell. They can't figure out mark percentages. 
They can't write an essay. 
It's because they're lazy. They don't care anyway.
They think they're entitled to As.
They should have learned it in high school. 
It isn't my responsibility to teach them 
what they should have learned before they got here."

Yes, I've graded papers and even taught a few classes here and there. I've groaned at the poor quality of student work and fielded the assinine questions. But I've also graded excellent work, and observed students who struggle with the material make leaps and bounds with a little more encourgement and a little less condescension from teaching staff. I'm amazed at how fast new professors and the sessional army, only a short time from their own student years, absorb departmental cultures and seem to forget how hard it was for them and how much students pay for their time. If I am paying you thousands to teach me, then my god, you had better teach me. I am not entirely sure which one of us is being ungrateful. The subject of what is happening to academics themselves is another post.

Now I'm watching as a good many of the Canadian public attack students for daring to challenge the conditions of the situation.

"Lazy and ungrateful. 
Culture of entitlement."

I now hear the same lines from the public and media opinionists as I hear from teaching staff at universities about the protesting students. At least the teaching staff do not openly advocate corporal punishment on their charges. Who speaks for the students? Apparently not many of their faculty, and not large swaths of the voting public who are also the mothers and fathers, aunts and uncles, cousins and siblings of most of the students in the streets.

I'm half surprised someone hasn't yet called for increased tuition fees as a punitive measure for those daring to speak out.

There's something wrong here that I think is particularly Canadian. I've been trying to put my finger on it for a while. Years ago when I was backpacking around the world I got talking to the Australian farmers whose fruit and vegetables I picked. The award rate at the time for agricultural work was something like $11.90/hour. Much of it was piece-rate like treeplanting here and I could do very well in a day. Farmers often paid me more than that and did so cheerfully as they understood the backbreaking stoop labour. Wage policy mandated something like a living wage for agricultural workers. There's talk about higher cost of living in Australia and correspondingly inflated wages, but had little trouble saving money there. I tried the same work when I got back to Canada a couple of years later and found I did worse than break even. It makes sense. Canada does not have the Aussie cultural narrative of a 'fair-go'. As much as we talk about the rewards of hard work here, we're not actually all that keen on rewarding it. Yes, your pay-raise or tuition freeze has to come from somewhere, but just not me or the government I pay taxes to. Why else would we have guest worker programs for some of the most physically demanding work out there, and propose that the underpaid workers for the global South who come here ought to be paid even less than Canadian minimums?

This isn't an absolute, but there's a vicious countryclub mentality in this country that has been allowed to flourish under Harper. 

But I'm babbling too politely. Montreal Simon on the other hand, nails it to the fucking door.

The Armoured Engineering Vehicle rats nest

I was going to write a longer piece as to why the gluey-looking Armoured Engineering Vehicle/Armoured Recovery Vehicle (AEV/ARV) acquisition may or may not be worth getting one's knickers in a twist over.

Essentially, most people would be concerned over two things: The amount of money going out the door; and, are we hearing the truth from the political headliners. To the former it can be presumed, (if you can work your way through the mess this project has become), that the costs are close to the budget estimates. To the latter, you need ask no further. MacKay is a serial liar and rather than lay out the Force Mobility Enhancement project in clear terms for parliament and the public, he has allowed the whole thing to become a confusing mess. 

We don't call NDHQ The Puzzle Palace for nothing, you know.

The Sixth Estate has done a lot of heavy lifting on this and, in keeping with the spirit of not duplicating a successful effort, that's where you should read more. For what it's worth I agree with the conclusions there. (If you're past or present armoured crew and the terminology used by T6E makes you're stomach tie up in knots, get over it. Most Canadians don't know a RCEME from a tank transporter).

There is another element to this whole thing and it is related to another issue. That is the subject of a future post.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

We're going blind

Literally. We have, over the past five decades, gone from being in awe of space-based instruments to relying on them as an everyday piece of the picture of life.

Except that we're letting them die.
Ninety is the combined number of Earth-observing instruments on NASA and NOAA satellites that are currently monitoring our planet. And that number is about to plunge, according to a National Research Council report released in May 2012. By 2020, there could be less than 20 instruments in orbit, and the total number of missions is expected to fall from 23 to just 6.
I can make book on the fact that you don't care. The technology, the data and the knowledge is, as far as most people are concerned, well outside their daily limits of concern. 

That's not wrong-headed, unless the weather is of concern to you. Or perhaps the fact that your house may be swallowed up by salt water in the next 50 years. Or, maybe, you need to know when a volcano erupts. Forget it. You'll know about it when the ash kills the engines on your trans-Atlantic flight.

If you're so inclined, take a read of this paper. A Midterm Assessment of NASA's Implementation of the Decadal Survey. If not, well, be assured that the authors are issuing a dire warning - without proper space-based instruments we will have no idea of what is happening on our little blue planet and we will have no idea how to deal with changes. (The global warming deniers can go find another place to suck their thumbs). 

Funding, from all countries, for space-based research is drying up because the legislative bodies of those countries see little political value in supporting it. It gets to the bottom line - it's too expensive to know how this planet is doing.

But they do support spying on you. Big time. It's never too expensive to ignore the health of the planet and develop the capability to read your last email instead

So, while the US lets NASA starve, and the Harperites fail to fund space-based research, we go blind while the government gets big new ears. 


   "Hey, Coxswain!"


   "If boatswains play with boats all day, what to do coxswains play with?"

(h/t A)

Future imperfect . . .

THE GOPPERS WELCHED last week, according to SLATE, and things could get really crunchy next year:

House Republicans just reneged on the debt-ceiling deal, making a default in 2013 almost inevitable.

Well, when it comes to economics, the Goppers are Greek-style, it seems.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Ms. Redford, that's not a bad idea. Too bad the product is crap

Alison Redford would like to create a National Energy Strategy™. Of course, to a huge bunch of people stumbling out of Ceili's on 8th Ave in Calgary that sounds awfully like National Energy Program. That causes a collective penis shrivel amongst the soft-handed downtown lot crawling into their BMWs (after falling out of Ceili's).
“Our country is a global energy player in a world market, but can no longer operate as individual provinces and territories as we head into that future,” Redford said in a speech at the Shaw Conference Centre.

“Every Canadian jurisdiction must have control over its own resources and I would never propose any plan that would take away provincial sovereignty over those resources. I think we in Alberta know far too well how important that is to us as a province. But we also know we can’t get our products to market without infrastructure the crosses other provinces.”
All very well and good, except that what Redford is suggesting is that we all get behind Alberta, it's tar extraction industry, its shitty environmental stewardship and its ability to make tons of money.

And the idea makes a lot of her own downtown Calgary crowd very nervous.
Redford’s comments come days after prominent Calgary economist Jack Mintz publicly attacked the idea in a speech, saying it was“highly dangerous” and should be abandoned.

Mintz, who heads the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy, said the plan could “backfire on the provinces that jealously guard their constitutional rights over resource development,” the Globe and Mail reported.
Jack Mintz. Where have I heard that name before?

Oh right! That Jack Mintz!

What Redford really wants is right-of-way legislation. For pipelines. And she has already figured out that is going to come at a hefty price if she expects other provinces to get onboard.

The goo-grabbers aren't going to be all that enthused with that idea. They would rather that every barrel of crude, tar, ashphalt or anything else that qualifies as a refinable liquid carbon is, after the royalties are paid to Alberta, theirs.

What Redford wants to avoid, aside from the nasty looks she gets from Ontario and Quebec, is the strategy of people who believe that, given the political makeup of the country today, the pipelines are coming anyway.

What's the threat?


You want to ship your dirty product across my territory and out of my seaport? You pay and you pay big.

The vilest thing I've seen in some time

Dear human race,
I am very, very disappointed in you.

P.S. Is it something in the water in parts of the country? Does repeated exposure to loud bangs cause some kind of subtle brain damage? Is it blood poisoning from sucking on lead bullets? Seriously, what the fuck is wrong with you people?

Just knowing that someone was sick enough to make this shooting range target make me furious.

Knowing that they were sold out of them in two days makes me wonder if the Chinese communists weren't on to something with their idea of re-education camps, because until these kind of people learn the error of their ways or are sent away somewhere, Western society is completely screwed.

MacKay feeds us another line of bull

This guy really does beat all.
Last October, MacKay told CBC Radio's The House the Libyan mission had cost taxpayers less than $50 million.
"As of Oct. 13, the figures that I've received have us well below that, somewhere under $50 million," MacKay said.
"And that's the all-up costs of the equipment that we have in the theatre, the transportation to get there, those that have been carrying out this critical mission."
Except that he committed the great sin of omission. He knew the estimates were much higher and he withheld the information - intentionally.
Maj.-Gen. Jon Vance said MacKay did not mislead the public and pointed out senior military leaders referenced the figures publicly during Senate committee hearings.

But he concedes the minister would have known the estimated cost at the time and did not speculate on why MacKay chose to go with the lower figures exclusively.
Allow me to speculate for the general.

MacKay is a serial liar. 

Prêt-à-Porter . . .

The Mulroney question

#Cdnpoli - 

It took a shortage of parkas, winter tents and basic all round cold weather gear for it to finally sink in.
Six years after the Harper government declared the Arctic to be a new operations area for the Canadian military, the army has struggled to find enough parkas, cold-weather tents, lanterns and heaters to equip forces that take part in its annual summer exercise.

The "critical equipment shortfalls" were so bad last year, the head of the army approved a request by area commanders to buy missing gear themselves, say internal briefing documents.
University of Calgary Associate Professor, Rob Huebert, who pays keen interest to Canadian Arctic operations was, well, shocked. (Emphasis mine)
"The most likely scenarios they need to respond to are a ship going aground and an airliner going down up there. I mean, that can occur any day now, and so to say we don't have enough equipment, even to keep our own troops warm, says a lot about the priority the government places on the Arctic."
And then the Mulroney shot.
"Are we back to Mulroney's time period, when it was a lot of talk and no action?" said Huebert.
Actually, Mr. Huebert, the current crop of self-adoring Conservatives are much worse. The Mulroney gang didn't parade about in uniforms they hadn't earned or take salutes to which they were not entitled. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Nasty origins . . .

HOW MITT ROMNEY BULLIED A GAY STUDENT. An analysis of the story first reported in the Washington Post, done by Amy Davidson, who is a senior editor at The New Yorker. The question is, will this get traction?

Rush to judge . . .

Bennie and Stevie . . .

The Pope and Stephen Harper are on the same stage in the Maple Leaf Gardens in front of a huge crowd.

The Pope leans towards Mr. Harper and said, "Do you know that with one little wave of my hand, I can make every person in this crowd go wild with joy? This joy will not be a momentary display, but will go deep into their hearts and they'll forever speak of this day and rejoice!"

Harper replied, "I seriously doubt that! With one little wave of your hand....Show me!"

So the Pope backhanded him and knocked him off the stage.

AND THE CROWD ROARED & CHEERED WILDLY and there was happiness throughout the land!

Kind of brings a tear to your eye, doesn't it?

Modern Conservative reading and research

In which Conservative higher education blatherer Naomi Schaefer Riley entitles a post:
The Most Persuasive Case for Eliminating Black Studies? Just Read the Dissertations. 
Gets fired for it

Then appears in the Wall Street Journal whining that she was being held to far too high a standard in being expected to do herself that which she ordered us to do in the title of her offending post. (Emphasis mine).
Scores of critics on the site complained that I had not read the dissertations in full before daring to write about theman absurd standard for a 500-word blog post.

TBogg evisceration follows. 

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

Another Harper procurement fiasco

#Cdnpoli - 

They keep on coming and now, after totally screwing up the Joint Support Ship project, we have one of Harper's own hobby-horses being stuffed into the quicksand and now it's the navy looking want. (Emphasis mine)

The Conservative government's list of troubled multi-billion-dollar military procurement projects continues to grow as a plan to obtain a fleet of armed vessels to patrol Canada's Arctic waters has been hit with a three-year delay.

The Defence Department had been expecting to take delivery of Canada's first of between six and eight Arctic Offshore Patrol Ships in 2015.

But documents tabled in the House of Commons on Tuesday show the timeline has been pushed back to 2018. In addition, the $3.1-billion project is now expected to cost $40 million more than anticipated.
Well, isn't that brilliant? Here's something you probably didn't know: There is no real statement of requirements for these ships because the RCN really didn't want them. Until Harper invented the idea, the RCN had no requirement for an ice-breaking fleet.

Ice-breaking in the Arctic is a Coast Guard function. The RCN is a war-fighting, deep water, deterrent force. They project power. Constabulary, patrol and navigation safety responsibilities in the Arctic fall within the province of the Department of Fisheries and Oceans, the RCMP Marine Section and the Canadian Coast Guard.

Surveillance and defence? The Canadian Armed Forces do that.

What's the worst possible way to do that? A surface ship crunching through Arctic ice, occasionally ice-bound, often unable to go where it needs to go. Not to mention that even new Arctic ice can be deadly to protruding electro-acoustic transducers and pressure transponders - the stuff that makes a warship a high tech detection system.

But that didn't matter to the one-dimensional thinking Harperistas. Some clot in Calgary envisioned a light grey ship in the middle of an ice-floe with an off-the-shelf gun mounted on the focsle and it became "policy".

A permanently fixed passive acoustic surveillance network would ultimately provide the best early warning system in the Arctic but that has not worked for the same reason an Arctic patrol ship would not have serious effect. The ice is continually moving and it eats everything in its path, including the antenna required to forward a signal.

That means that the best way to patrol the Arctic, with the assurance of detecting any activity, is a submarine capable of under-ice operations. Canada doesn't have any and it was a Conservative government which cancelled the only program which would have provided them. 

The navy, having never asked for these ships, has another problem. There are no crews. Unless the Harper government increases the established personnel strength of the RCN, the only way to staff these mythical ships will be by way of the naval reserve who have no Arctic capability, no ice-breaking expertise and most definitely do not possess the refined professional qualifications to operate a full-time flotilla of 21st Century warships. (That's not knocking the RCNR. The reservists do a great deal of the current maritime coastal defence work). Can the reservists be trained? Sure they can. But at that point you might as well make them regulars because it will take at least three years to develop a properly trained force, in full time training and then fully employ them.

Of course a big part of the plan to build magical Arctic patrol ships included building an Arctic base from which to operate. So much for that idea.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper's much-ballyhooed plan to build a naval facility at Nanisivik, Nunavut shrank dramatically last month, when Department of National Defence officials told regulators about big cutbacks to the project.

"The planned changes result in a significant reduction of the site layout and function plan that was submitted for review in 2011," DND's project manager, Rodney Watson, said in a Feb. 24 letter to the Nunavut Impact Review Board, which is now screening the project.
Under DND's new scheme, the Nanisivik naval facility on Baffin Island would become a part-time summer-only fuelling station for Ottawa's proposed fleet of Arctic offshore patrol ships, along with other federal government vessels.

"The facility will only be operational during the navigable (summer) season. All facilities will be shut down and secured when not in use. On-site support will likely be reduced to an as-needed basis," Watson said. 
The Harperites talk large. They deliver something completely different. Nothing.

Hat tip Kevin. (Yes ... we in the swamp are a team).