May 31, 2011

A bit of climate-change panic juxtaposition

First, the panic:

In a world of climate change, freak storms are the new normal. Newsweek‘s Sharon Begley on why we’re unprepared for the harrowing future, and how adapting to the inevitable might be our only option.
[. . .]
From these and other extreme-weather events, one lesson is sinking in with terrifying certainty. The stable climate of the last 12,000 years is gone. Which means you haven’t seen anything yet. And we are not prepared.

And, in the interests of balance, the eeeevil climate change denier:

Greenland’s early Viking settlers were subjected to rapidly changing climate. Temperatures plunged several degrees in a span of decades, according to research from Brown University. A reconstruction of 5,600 years of climate history from lakes near the Norse settlement in western Greenland also shows how climate affected the Dorset and Saqqaq cultures. Results appear in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [from Brown University] — The end of the Norse settlements on Greenland likely will remain shrouded in mystery. While there is scant written evidence of the colony’s demise in the 14th and early 15th centuries, archaeological remains can fill some of the blanks, but not all.

What climate scientists have been able to ascertain is that an extended cold snap, called the Little Ice Age, gripped Greenland beginning in the 1400s. This has been cited as a major cause of the Norse’s disappearance. Now researchers led by Brown University show the climate turned colder in an earlier span of several decades, setting in motion the end of the Greenland Norse.
[. . .]
The researchers also examined how climate affected the Saqqaq and Dorset peoples. The Saqqaq arrived in Greenland around 2500 B.C. While there were warm and cold swings in temperature for centuries after their arrival, the climate took a turn for the bitter beginning roughly 850 B.C., the scientists found. “There is a major climate shift at this time,” D’Andrea said. “It seems that it’s not as much the speed of the cooling as the amplitude of the cooling. It gets much colder.”

The Saqqaq exit coincides with the arrival of the Dorset people, who were more accustomed to hunting from the sea ice that would have accumulated with the colder climate at the time. Yet by around 50 B.C., the Dorset culture was waning in western Greenland, despite its affinity for cold weather. “It is possible that it got so cold they left, but there has to be more to it than that,” D’Andrea said.

QotD: The paternalistic view of (some) crime victims

Filed under: Government, Liberty, Media, Quotations — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 16:47

. . . there are certain regularities, and one of them is the way in which the victims of men such as Griffiths are described in the Guardian, the house journal of the British intelligentsia and its bureaucratic hangers-on. This is important because it illustrates the way in which a dominant elite — dominant de facto if not always de jure — thinks about social problems.

An article describing the victims of Wright, the Ipswich murderer, was titled THE WOMEN PUT INTO HARM’S WAY BY DRUGS. A similar article about Griffiths’s victims was headed “CROSSBOW CANNIBAL” VICTIMS’ DRUG HABITS MADE THEM VULNERABLE TO VIOLENCE. In other words, these women became prostitutes by force majeure, on the streets not because of choices they had made but because of chemical substances that controlled them without any conscious intervention on their part — no more than if, say, an abyss caused by an earthquake had suddenly opened up and swallowed them.

Now either we are all like this — no different from inanimate objects, which act and react mechanically, as Descartes supposed that dogs and cats did — or we are not. The view that we are brings with it certain difficulties. No one could live as if it were true; no one thinks of himself, or of those about him, as automatons; we are all faced with the need to make conscious decisions, to weigh alternatives in our minds, every waking hour of every day. Human life would be impossible, literally inconceivable, without consciousness and conscious decision making. It is true that certain medical conditions, such as temporal-lobe epilepsy during fits, deprive people of normal consciousness and that they nevertheless continue to behave in a recognizably human way; but if all, or even most, of humanity suffered from those conditions, human life would soon be at an end.

Assuming, then, that not everyone is driven to what he does by his own equivalent of drug addiction, the Guardian must assume that Wright’s and Griffiths’s victims were fundamentally different from you and me. Unlike us, they were not responsible for their actions; they did not make choices; they were not human in the fullest sense. Not only is this a view unlikely to find much favor with women who resemble the victims in some way; it also has potentially the most illiberal consequences. For it would justify us, the full human beings, in depriving such women of liberty. If “their hopeless addiction to heroin, alcohol or crack cocaine led them to sell their bodies in the red light district on the edge of Bradford city centre and made them vulnerable to violence,” as the article tells us, surely we should force our help on them to recover their full humanity, or, if that proves impossible, take them into preventive detention to protect them. They are the sheep, we the shepherds.

Theodore Dalrymple, “Murder Most Academic: A British Ph.D. candidate puts “homicide studies” into practice”, City Journal, 2011-05-31

Colby Cosh tweets

Filed under: Cancon, Humour, Technology — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 09:49

Colby Cosh works for Maclean’s, which is owned by the same corporate entity that provides his cell phone service. He’s not been impressed with his employer’s other line of business:

Tue 31 May 04:28 (On the whole, I would rather buy a mealworm-infested phone from a Somali pirate than deal with Rogers any further.)

Tue 31 May 04:32 (A pirate prob wouldn’t tell me how *lucky* I was to get a refurbished battery to replace the inert one in the phone he sold me 4 wks ago.)

Tue 31 May 04:34 (…which I had to relinquish for 2 weeks in order for the incalculably complex operation of “swapping in a working battery” to be executed.)

Tue 31 May 04:34 (…Not a NEW battery, mind you. I bought the PHONE new, but the replacement battery is refurbished. I am explicitly supposed to be grateful.)

How do you say “Doom!” in Chinese?

Filed under: China, Economics — Tags: , — Nicholas @ 09:32

Remember that calm, reassuring phrase “don’t worry”? Okay, time’s up. You can forget it now:

Falling land prices may prompt Chinese property developers to write down the value of their assets, forcing a sober reassessment for those with vast land holdings, according to a survey released Monday by Credit Suisse.

Most at risk are those mainland Chinese and Hong Kong developers who added aggressively to their land banks in 2009 and 2010, the prices of which could come under pressure amid Beijing’s ongoing credit tightening, the investment bank said.

[. . .]

Prices for land sold at auction were down 20% so far this year, the report cited one industry expert as saying. Other data indicated price declines of up to 50% for the year to date, although the figures were affected by slumping transaction volumes in cities such as Beijing, possibly overstating the true rate of declines, the report said.

Meanwhile, the tighter credit conditions are having a “double impact” upon developers, Credit Suisse said.

On one hand, delays in mortgage approvals mean developers are having to wait longer to get paid than they did in earlier times. Today’s leaner environment has also resulted in a rise in buyers backing out of purchasing commitments on new projects because they can’t secure financing.

Remember that old joke about it being time to get out of the market when even the cab drivers have stock tips? It’s been time to get out of the Chinese real estate market since every small-time operator started buying up “choice” plots of land. It’s a classic sign of a bubble (when uninformed buyers are rushing in to get in on the “sure thing”), and those who can read the signs before they become ubiquitous are those who survive the collapse of the bubble in the best shape.

May 30, 2011

Yet another politician has Twitter exposure issues

Filed under: Cancon, Law, Politics, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:47

First, it was the turn of congressman Anthony Weiner to have his Twitter account hacked. Now it’s an Ontario Tory candidate whose Blackberry was stolen, and a picture of his genitals posted on his Twitter account:

Rookie PC candidate George Lepp says he’s embarrassed that a photo of his family jewels was posted on his campaign Twitter account for about 20 minutes before it was quickly unzipped.
Alan Sakach, communications director for the Ontario Conservatives, said the photo was inadvertently taken by Lepp’s BlackBerry when it was in his front pocket. The photo was posted after someone took it from the candidate for the riding of Niagara Falls, according to Sakach.

“He is pretty upset and embarrassed,” Sakach said of a photo that was posted on Lepp’s account Sunday. “It was removed as soon as it came to his attention.”

The Toronto Sun obtained grainy copies of the Twitter page images before they were removed.

The pictures — too graphic to reproduce in the newspaper — are of a man naked from the waist down, showing a close up of his penis and his crossed legs.

As commenters on that article point out, it’s hard to believe the “official” story in this case:

George Lepp’s pockets are transparent, are they? And the photo was taken while he wasn’t wearing pants, that apparently have transparent pockets?

so wait…this guy’s phone took a picture of his twig and berries from his pocket??!?! Then his phone happened to be stolen…then the thief looked through all the guys pictures on the phone found the shot in question and then uploaded it to twitter…yeah that sounds pretty likely.

what probably happened: this prev took a shot of his junk when boozed up and then thought it would be funny to post it online, some time passed and he remember oh wait, im running for office, this might not look good, so he took it down…unfortunately for him the snake was out of the bag

H/T to “Lickmuffin”, who posted this link in a comment on the original article about Congressman Weiner.

Cory Doctorow: “Every pirate wants to be an admiral”

Filed under: Economics, Law, Liberty, Media, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:09

NASA’s changing goals for Orion

Filed under: Politics, Space, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 09:56

The ever-sarcastic Lewis Page looks at how NASA has been trying to reposition their planned Orion spaceship:

NASA has declared that its pork-tastic Orion moonship — whose primary mission disappeared with President Obama’s decision that there will be no manned US return to the Moon — is now to be a “deep space transportation system”, suggesting that the agency plans to send it on missions beyond Earth orbit.

It remains unclear how the newly-renamed Multi Purpose Crew Vehicle (MPCV) will travel into space, when it will do so and what its destination might be — though a near-Earth asteroid is a likely possibility. A major reason for Orion’s continued survival appears to be ignoble porkbarrel politics — but there is a tantalising possibility that it might fly beyond Earth orbit in the relatively near future.

What Page calls NASA’s “pork map” shows why the MPCV has strong, bi-partisan political support regardless of its actual utility for the space program:

Regardless of the political support, however, the most likely view of US federal government finances indicates that Orion/MPCV won’t be viable in the proposed timeframe. There’s a non-governmental choice, however:

Famous geekbiz-kingpin Elon Musk and his upstart rocket company SpaceX have come from nowhere in just eight years to successfully test-fly their brand new and very cheap Falcon 9 rocket and Dragon capsule, already apparently quite capable of performing the ISS supply mission. Only a few years ago, many in NASA and the established industry were arguing that this would never happen.

It’s also no secret that Musk and SpaceX are working on a new Merlin 2 rocket engine, much bigger than the current Merlin 1 which propels the Falcon 9. A multicore heavy lifter based on Merlin 2 would be in the 100-tonne-plus realm required to mount a Mars mission, and will surely be the cheapest offering competing at the 2015 heavy lift Mars-rocket decision.

Licensing Salem’s witches

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Economics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 09:20

Katie Zezima reports on the surge of witches looking to be licensed in Salem, Massachusetts, after the city council made it easier to get a license:

“It’s like little ants running all over the place, trying to get a buck,” grumbled Ms. Szafranski, 75, who quit her job as an accountant in 1991 to open Angelica of the Angels, a store that sells angel figurines and crystals and provides psychic readings. She says she has lost business since the licensing change.

“Many of them are not trained,” she said of her rivals. “They don’t understand that when you do a reading you hold a person’s life in your hands.”

[. . .]

But not everyone is sure that quantity can ensure quality. Lorelei Stathopoulos, formerly an exotic dancer known as Toppsey Curvey, has been doing psychic readings at her store, Crow Haven Corner, for 15 years. She thinks psychics should have years of experience to practice here.

“I want Salem to keep its wonderful quaint reputation,” said Ms. Stathopoulos, who was wearing a black tank top that read “Sexy witch.” “And with that you have to have wonderful people working.”

Under the 2007 regulations, psychics must have lived in the city for at least a year to obtain an individual license, and businesses must be open for at least a year to hire five psychics. License applicants are also subject to criminal background checks.

Formal review for Canadian defence policies?

Filed under: Cancon, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:46

David Pugliese has word that the “fully funded” Canada First Defence Strategy is going to be reviewed starting in late June:

Some are calling this a “Canada First Reset.” This review would look at what by how much this strategy is underfunded and how should DND proceed in the future on CFDS, according to sources. It was described to Defence Watch as a “step-back to look at the strategy” and an examination of what aspects of the plan — mainly within procurement — need to be dropped (something like….maybe JUSTAS) because of the lack of money.

My reaction? It’s all very interesting to say the least. That’s because the basis of this review team goes against what has been a DND/CF mantra for three years now: that is the Canada First Defence Strategy is fully funded.

Numerous generals and DND bureaucrats are on record stating that in no uncertain terms. No question about it. Period, full stop.

You may remember that a few defence analysts suggested the strategy was not proper funded and that the many projects outlined in the document wouldn’t see the light of day.

But those claims were dismissed outright.

Will a CFDS review committee even get off the ground considering that it has the potential to embarrass the government?

If the minister had been replaced, this might make some political sense: it’s a good opportunity to get in some significant change and the previous minister gets the “blame” for the change being necessary. Peter MacKay stayed on at the ministry, so that’s not the answer. It’s possible that the government, now in safe majority territory, can bear the burden of critically reviewing the CFDS without feeling the risk of triggering an election.

The CFDS was originally drawn up as a plan to address impending retirement of much of the Canadian Forces’ major equipment:

Over the next 20 years, six of the CF’s core equipment fleets will reach the end of their operational lives and will need to be replaced. These include destroyers, frigates, maritime patrol aircraft, fixed-wing search and rescue aircraft, next-generation fighter aircraft, and a new family of land combat vehicles and systems.

The question about whether the CFDS is fully funded, therefore, is key to addressing the real equipment replacement schedule. If the money isn’t there, something has to give.

May 29, 2011

Ace declares his lust for Christina Hendricks

Filed under: Media, Randomness — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 11:42

I dropped by Ace of Spades H.Q. to steal borrow their nifty little “DOOM” graphic to slap on to the last post about the coming collapse of the US dollar, when I happened to read a paean to the lovely Christina Hendricks by Ace. He out-and-out declares his lust for her.

No, I mean he really does:

By The Way: Christina Hendricks Is Hot

I guess I didn’t telegraph this enough, but I was kidding when I said I might not “hit” Christina Hendricks.

I mean: Seriously.

It looks like two polar bears in a Greco-Roman wrestling match.

I didn’t have an “I’d hit that like…” joke so I went the other way and pretended she wasn’t hot. I thought it would be obvious I was kidding.

I’ve written fan fic for an attempted Firefly spin-off series I call Saffron: Intergalactic Space Whore (Moderate Content Warning).

I know I didn’t telegraph this because people are still asking, “Dude, do you not think she’s hot?” So it’s on me.

So, for the record: She’s hot.

I’d hit that with the berserker fury of a dozen Norsemen. I’d hit that so hard she’d sing the aaa-aaa chorus of The Immigrant Song.

As the cool kids used to say . . . THIS.

Are we facing a crash in the value of the US dollar?

Filed under: Economics, Politics, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 11:25

Conrad Black certainly makes a strong case to expect it sooner, rather than later:

When Barack Obama took office, the official normal money supply of the United States was about $1.1-trillion. The $3-trillion in federal budget deficits that have been run up since then have largely, technically, escaped the money supply, though accretions have almost doubled the official total, an unheard of rate of growth (about 40% annualized) in a hard-currency country. About 70% of this debt has been paid by the issuance of bonds to the central bank of the United States, the Federal Reserve, a subsidiary of the United States government. Whatever the balance sheets say, this has produced the effect of a money-supply increase, which has brought pump-priming to a level of over-achievement not seen since Noah felt the compulsion to build an ark. And the annual trillion-dollar deluge is forecast to continue for a decade.

The world’s reserve currency, the fabled vehicle of the “faith and credit of the United States,” is now virtual money — a symbol for all the other massive problems afflicting the U.S. economy. The imported share of America’s oil consumption, for instance, has gone from 20% to 60%. Large suppliers like Iran and Venezuela have become hostile countries. Yet Americans remain neurotic about paying half the gas price of other oil-importing countries.

But he says that we shouldn’t look to Europe to save the day:

Meanwhile, the European Union is a water-logged vessel in a tempest, frantically bailing. In the six weeks since French finance minister Christine Lagarde last bravely proclaimed her personal fantasy that Greece would not default, the interest on Greek government notes has risen from 20% to 26%. Germany will not indefinitely remain so encumbered with guilt for the Third Reich that it will go on eating the costs of the false prospectus Goldman Sachs assisted Greece and others to file when they joined the Euro. The Germans have only tolerated it up to now because the strain Greece, Portugal, Ireland, Spain and eventually others put on the European banking system and the Euro,keep the Euro in fairly close downward mode with the U.S. dollar, which assists German exports. What a splendid irony that Germany, reviled as the rampaging hun in olden time, is now being entreated by genuflecting masses of its former ungrateful subjects to occupy and dominate them again, at least economically. (The Bundesbank’s uniforms are less stylish than those of the Wehrmacht.)

The EU is in hot contention with the United States as the Sick Man of the Great World Economic Powers, because less than 40% of Eurozone citizens work and over 60% are on benefits of some sort. But not to be discounted in this gripping Olympic contest for total fiscal immolation is geriatric, debt-ridden, stagnating Japan, a great but terribly beleaguered and demoralized country.

How’s that for your daily dose of DOOM? Pretty DOOM-ish, isn’t it?

Jim Treacher calls for investigation into hacking of Rep. Anthony Weiner’s Twitter and Facebook accounts

Filed under: Law, Politics, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 11:13

He’s quite right: this sort of thing must be stopped:

I don’t agree much with Rep. Weiner politically, but he’s a congressman and this is a serious crime he’s alleging. Not to mention that identity theft can happen to any of us at any time. Therefore, Rep. Weiner must call for an official investigation. He owes it to himself, to all other victims of cybercrime, and to his fellow members of Congress who might also be at risk. Defrauding someone’s online accounts in order to embarrass and defame them is unconscionable. The culprit must be brought to justice.

And if Rep. Weiner doesn’t want an investigation, somebody should ask him why not.

If you haven’t been following this, the smart money is betting that he won’t want any such investigation to be launched.

QotD: The Yale fraternity prank and the feminist response

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Education, Liberty, Quotations, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 10:55

That wise precept, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me,” has obviously long disappeared among the sisterhood, however. So, too, has the idea of keeping things in perspective. The DKE brothers’ tasteless pledge prank was just that: a tasteless pledge prank. What is the most provocative thing you could say on a college campus today, the thing most likely to outrage the largest and most influential power bloc? “No means yes.” To inflate this incident into a symbol of anything beyond an unfunny effort at transgression on the part of a trivially small (and marginalized) number of individuals requires a willful blindness to the reality of Yale. (The administration doesn’t even recognize fraternities.) The university constantly sends the message that “no means no,” whether through such formal bodies as its Sexual Harassment and Assault Resources and Education Center, its Sexual Harassment Grievance Board, and a 24-hour sexual-assault hotline or through informal channels such as freshman orientation and public pronouncements. Yale president Rick Levin and Yale College dean Mary Miller condemned what they called the pledges’ “appalling language.” “We will confront hateful speech,” they stated in a press release, “in no uncertain terms: No member of our community should engage in such demeaning behavior.” Last week, Yale banned DKE from conducting any activities on campus, including use of campus e-mail, for five years on the ground that it had engaged in “harassment, coercion or intimidation.” Yale also announced that individual frat members had been disciplined for their speech. If the pledge chant represented official thinking on campus, or was in any way sanctioned by the authorities, obviously there would be cause for concern. Clearly, that is not the case.

To the civil rights complainants, however, the DKE incident and Yale’s allegedly inadequate response to it “precludes women from having the same equal opportunity to the Yale education as their male counterparts,” in the words of signatory Hannah Zeavin. (The signatories also want to gut further Yale’s already ludicrously inadequate due-process protections for those accused of sexual assault or harassment.) Yale has one of the greatest library systems in the world; it showers on students top-notch instruction in almost every intellectual discipline; it lavishes students with healthy food, luxurious athletic facilities, and rich venues for artistic expression. All of these educational resources are available on a scrupulously equal basis to both sexes. But according to the Yale 16 and their supporters, female students simply cannot take full advantage of the peerless collection of early twentieth-century German periodicals at Sterling Library, say, or the DNA sequencing labs on Science Hill, because a few frat boys acted tastelessly. Thus the need to go crying to the feds to protect you from the big, bad Yale patriarchy. Time to bring on the smelling salts and the society doctors peddling cures for vapors and neurasthenia.

Heather Mac Donald, “Sisterhood and the SEALs: How can women join special forces when they can’t even handle frat-boy pranks?”, City Journal, 2011-05-26

More on the Anglo-Danish Marmite affair

Filed under: Britain, Bureaucracy, Europe, Health — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:34

Colby Cosh rounds up the details on the Marmite affair:

Nothing stirs the blood of the British like a nice slapfight over European regulation, and this goes double when food is involved. The UK press has found its latest excuse for tut-tutting and finger-waggling in the unlikeliest of places: at the bottom of the squat, distinctive little jar in which the vile breakfast spread Marmite is sold. This week, English-language journals in Denmark reported that the Scandinavian kingdom’s food regulator was having the dark brown yeast extract cleared from the shelves of shops which serve Brit expatriates.

The British reared up as one, displaying a spirit of indignant unity. “What have the Danes ever done for global cuisine?” thundered the Belfast Telegraph, breaking Godwin’s Law into splinters over its knurled Ultonian knee. (Unfortunately, a good answer might be “Not given it Marmite, at any rate.”) Fans of the quasi-foodstuff gathered on Facebook to form a “Marmite army”. Social campaigners used the ban to call attention to dubious patches in Denmark’s record on human rights and environmentalism.

As he points out, nobody at the Danish food nanny office suddenly issued a ban: technically Marmite had never been cleared for import at all. So it’s just a matter of filling in a form or two and Bob’s your uncle? Not quite:

Marmite’s status as a “fortified food” has apparently only just been noticed, and the DVFA says that “it has not received an application for marketing in Denmark of Marmite or similar products with added vitamins or minerals.” A glance at the DVFA’s procedure for obtaining approval to market these foods reveals why brand owner Unilever might not be in such a hurry to file. (And it also reveals that free-trade fanatics like me should probably rein in their admiration for the EU’s trade barriers just a little.) The agency not only requires compliance with EU-wide regulations, but insists that each product pass an “individual risk assessment” performed using a made-in-Denmark scientific procedure.

May 28, 2011

Jack Layton: “I’m proud to call myself a socialist … But I don’t go around shouting it out.”

Filed under: Cancon, Politics — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 12:29

Chris Selley takes a longer look at Jack Layton, the man who would be king prime minister:

Ask a socialist with revolutionary tendencies if Mr. Layton is a socialist, however, and the answer will probably be a resounding “no.” Mr. Layton, writer Stan Hister complained on Rabble.ca in 2004, “is a political doughnut. All sugar icing on the outside (or make that maple glaze) and a big hole in the middle.” The doughnut hole ought to be filled with “an alternative to capitalism,” he argued. “But it’s been a very long time since the NDP even pretended this was on its agenda.”

He’s right about that. And good heavens, just look at where it’s gotten them. Nobody inside or outside the New Democrats saw 103 seats coming on May 2, of course — 44 of them purloined from the Bloc Québécois, 17 from the Liberals and seven from the Conservatives. But if you ask those who have followed Mr. Layton’s political career since his days as a left-wing standard-bearer in Toronto municipal politics, be they friend or foe, you’ll find they don’t put much past Mr. Layton’s political abilities.

“There’s no question that Jack became leader of the NDP not because he wanted to forever lead a band in the wilderness. He took on the leadership of the NDP because he optimistically believed the NDP could be a major, if not the major force in government,” says Myer Siemiatycki, a professor of politics at Ryerson University and long-time friend of Mr. Layton.

Circumstances had to conspire in Mr. Layton’s favour, of course. Even he won’t admit to doing anything much differently on the campaign trail this time around. (Was his smile bigger, perhaps? “My mouth is the same size,” he laughs.) Reasonably centrist people had to be fed up enough to vote for a party that had once been to the left as Reform was to the right, and that had never governed federally. And it was nice of the Liberals to release a platform calculated to woo NDP-leaning voters, inadvertently making Mr. Layton’s party seem even more anodyne.

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