Friday, December 22, 2006

Ye Gods, I've Been Linked!

Welcome, those of you who have arrived here from in the last couple of days. I'm sure there is much here that will make you think I am completely insane.

I'm afraid, however, that there will never be any Langley news, analysis or snarky commentary. I keep the blog seperate from my job as a reporter, so it's international, national or provincial, but not local issues that come up here.

Also, I spend a lot of time thinking out loud about weird, alternative political systems. And dinosaurs.

So again I say, welcome, and enjoy your time here at the Iguanodon.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Trustees, guns and money

Sharon Gregson, New Democratic Party member, COPE Vancouver school trustee and gun enthusiast, has been getting a bit of attention over the past few days.

I suppose that's only to be expected when you loudly announce that women need concealed guns to protect themselves. The NDP is widely (and only somewhat inaccurately) seen as the most anti-gun of all the major parties. And Gregson hasn't just spoken out on this, she's gone and gotten herself a concealed weapons permit in the United States, bought a couple of handguns, including a Colt .45, and taken up target shooting. Gregson says she wants to start a debate.
"I don't think we should be embarrassed or ashamed of the fact that we're legal gun owners who enjoy a sport and want to talk about protection issues particularly if they apply to women."

Her opponents - who were political friends of hers until a few days ago - are taking a different line.
"There is no evidence whatsoever that arming women makes them safer," Cukier said. "In fact, the evidence is quite the contrary, that more guns results in more deaths and injuries."

But Gregson said she's not advocating that women run out and buy guns.

"What I'm advocating for is, at least, a discussion in Canada about where we want to be in the long term around guns, so that we are formulating our public policy based on research and experience, not on an automatic knee-jerk reaction that guns are bad."

Cukier argues that discussion isn't necessary.

"I don't think we need to have a wider debate about carrying concealed weapons and handguns for self protection. It runs contrary to Canadian traditions and it certainly runs contrary to Canadian law."

Eccchhh, evidence and research. Everyone wants more of that, thinking it will back up their own position. I have my doubts that it will, and not just because there's so much bad research out there. Look at John Lott and his much-criticized research methods, his bizarre "Two per cent" assertion and his fake Usenet persona to boost his own side.

I like to think of this as the Switzerland vs. Somlia issue. Switzerland and Somalia both have lots of guns. One is a miserable, war-ravaged country where warlords killed one another until they achieved a kind of nasty detente, and got thrown out by fundamentalist Islamic judges. And that was an improvement for most people. Switzerland also has lots of guns, and is a peaceful, prosperous and boring place. The difference isn't just in the number of guns. It's in the level of prosperity, culture, history, geography and a host of other factors. You can't just magically either take guns away and make people peaceful, or give them lots of guns and, um, make them peaceful, as folks like Lott have suggested.

The most disturbing thing about this Gregson-inspired debate for me is that it seems to be about the bogeyman of the random rapist. I know that women are randomly attacked and raped, on the streets, in their homes, places of work, and schools. But first, how often will they be able to get a gun quickly enough to defend themselves? I have no doubt that if all women were armed, some rapists would be shot in the head. But I also have no doubt that some accidental deaths would result, and that some women would see the guns turned on them.

It also does nothing to deal with domestic violence against women, in which the vast majority of victims find themselves complicit in covering up their abuser's crimes.

The problem is not primarily that women are defenceless. There will always be people who are defenceless, whether because they are children, elderly, disabled or simply unwilling to carry a gun.

The problem is primarily that there are men who prey on women. The gun debate is about a symptom, not the cure.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Tommy Douglas, Enemy of the State

The news that CCF/NDP leader Tommy Douglas was a target of RCMP spying for 30 years doesn't really come as a shock to me. The RCMP, then and now, has its own idea of what makes someone a good citizen and what makes someone dangerous. And those ideas aren't necessarily under the control of the government, or the courts, or the general public. If Douglas were alive today, he and Maher Arar would have a lot to talk about.

As someone who was raised by a Saskatchewan-born, farm-raised NDP supporter, I'm always going to have a certain affection for Tommy Douglas. Universal health care is probably the best thing a government can do for people. The fact that Douglas's programs were seen by the police of the day as essentially a communist plot looks pretty strange from a modern perspective.

The other question this brings up is, who are the RCMP watching today? We know that activists like Jaggi Singh have been under intense scrutiny at times, (Singh has been practically kidnapped by cops to keep him from attending protests) but what other public figures are the target of spying?

If you've ever said anything weird on a blog, there might be a file on you.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Maher Arar, what's he got to cry about?

Hi y'all! I'm professionally folksy US Ambassador to Canada David Wilkins, and I'm taking over this here anti-American blog today thanks to a little help from the good folks at the NSA.

Now I know some of you are as mad as a skunk who's lost his stink about this here Maher Arar fella. I'm sure y'all recall how he was flyin' back to Canada from overseas and he got yanked off his plane in New York, extradited to Syria. And our brave intelligence officials may have stamped "Al Qaeda agent, enemy of Syria" on his forehead along the way.

You fine folks have had yourselves a little commission of inquiry into this, and one of your judges said all that stuff about Maher Arar being a terrorist was a bunch of bunkum, no evidence for it whatsoever. (I think it's just real adorable how you've got your own judges and courts and such up here! Just like real ones!) So if this here Maher Arar was just an engineer with a couple of kids and a mortgage, why did he need to be repeatedly tortured and beaten across the soles of his feet with metal cables for nigh on a year?

I'll tell you why. Because we were right. He is a terrorist scoundrel, a sneaky, enemy-of-America with a diploma from Osama-U. And I don't need to tell you that the pep squad from that institution of higher learning wears dynamite belts! I know you're going to say that your Mounties have admitted to making up a lot of bunkum, and to making up some more to cover their serge-covered backsides. But they were still right, even if it was only by accident.

Yep, we've got information that Maher Arar is a nasty, bad man, and that's why he won't be allowed to enter the United States.

I'm sorry, what was that? I don't hear so good since I got kicked in the head by my best mule. You want to know what that evidence is? Well, I'll tell you, it's the finest evidence there is. I have not seen it, but I have read briefing reports written by people who spoke to the people who say they have it, and that is something you can take to the bank.

My real point is not whether there is or ain't any evidence, or who we beat at Gitmo until he implicated Arar, my real point is that we were right, and you were wrong. And that we won't tell you what we know or how we know it, 'cause there's only one place at the big kids' table.

So I ask Canadians to take heart, and breathe deep of the heady free air that washes across our borders and into your benighted land! The United States is the greatest country in the world, and such a great country could never arrange for the horrible torture of an innocent man without a damn good reason. And we've got one. Maybe I'll tell you what it is someday.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

O Brave New World, That Has Such Worker Safety Regulations In It!


Nearly five Canadians die every day in workplace-related deaths, an unacceptably high level, according to a study released on Tuesday.

The study, Five Deaths a Day: Workplace Fatalities in Canada, 1993-2005, says the number of workplace deaths is on the increase in Canada. In 2005, there were 1,097 workplace deaths in Canada, while in 2004, there were 958. In 1993, the total was 758.

"Canada can do much better," the study concludes.

No shit. Hey, let's do a fun thought experiment! We'll imagine that the death rate will be the highest in the poorest places, where people are most desperate for work. I wonder if that's true...

According to the study, Newfoundland in 2005 had the highest rate of workplace deaths of all 10 provinces, with 11.7 deaths per 100,000 workers, a rate that is nearly double the national average.

Hot damn, it is true!

The Centre for Study of Living Standards, an Ottawa-based non-profit organization that put together the study, looked at workplace fatalities from 1993 to 2005, analyzing the numbers by jurisdiction, gender, age group, industry, occupation, event, nature of injury and source of injury.

I would have liked to also know the difference between union and non-union shops, pay rates, and the average length of employment at sites with fatal accidents versus the national average. I'm guessing there might be a few correlations there, too.

The article goes on to state the obvious for a while, and then:

Andrew Sharpe, co-author of the study, said there is no question that the numbers of workplace deaths in Canada can be reduced through an increase in emphasis on worker safety.

"By definition, if you had a death, something went wrong — lack of proper equipment, or sometimes it's just freak accident. But the more awareness, the more there can be a reduction in the number of fatalities," he said.

You know, the people who get killed are usually aware of the problem that kills them. They're either too afraid to tell their boss, or they do tell him and he does nothing. The problem might be a power imbalance more than "awarness," Sharpe.

My favourite bit is at the end of the article.

The centre seeks to contribute to a better understanding of trends in and determinants of productivity, living standards and economic and social well-being.

Productivity doesn't have much to do with employee well being unless it drops below a variable threshold and their employer goes out of business. Rising productivity does not bring rising gains (the tide does not lift all boats as much) so why worry about it as the first portion of a living standard trinity?

Monday, December 11, 2006

Harper on Chemicals

Let's not be too hasty with the happy-pills, here. Yes, it's better than their pathetic clean-air efforts. And, anarchist principles aside, if the government is doing something I'd rather it was environmental than, say, giving more subsidies to oil and gas firms.

But the website for their plan is weak on short-term specifics. And the "public consultation promised could become a talk-shop for industry to argue for its favourite carcinogens.

Let's keep an eye on this one. Personally, I'd like the results of the seven-year chemical review turned over to the public in full, along with the right to sue any and all companies damaging personal health or the common environment.

That would mean corporations would either have to put warning labels on cancer-causing pajamas, ie "May cause Little Timmy to get the Big C" or they'd be liable for fraud and little Timmy's death.

If the damage extends beyond individual users, let us launch unlimited class action lawsuits.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

At least it wasn't Iggy

You know, months ago I thought to myself, Stephane Dion, he could be a good compromise candidate for the Liberals. He's got cabinet experience but without the extra baggage of the front runners.

And then I stopped thinking about that and decided that Bob Rae would win. So I don't get to say I told you so. Nuts.

The recent furor over Dion, and the talking heads babble about Dion vs. Harper has me wondering why people are willing to put so much faith in one man (always a man) to solve their problems. Like there's one magical guy out there, see, and he can fix everything! We just haven't found him yet.

This meme, the nastiest meme in representative democracy, must be stopped. I think I'll call it the Kennedy Disease.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

I'm back, and so are the Neanderthals

Whew, that was a long break. I haven't posted in a while largely because I now write a column for my paper. When you write your opinions every week, along with the odd editorial and a dozen or so stories, you get a little burned out on opinion piece writing pretty quickly.

Hopefully I'll do some more blogging in the future. For now, let's all the just marvel at the fact that scientists are sequencing the Neanderthal genome. I would have said this was very likely impossible about 10 years ago, and so would most scientists.

Of course, now there will be a whole bunch of stories about how this could be like Jurassic Park, cloned Neanderthals, etc. Stupid media, he said self-consciously. Aside from the obvious ethical conundrums of bringing back what is likely to be a sentient, but possibly less intelligent being, the technical challenges would be huge. Don't look for it any time soon.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Beating up another word

George W. Bush popped up on my TV this morning, and declared twice in as many minutes, that Abu Musab Al Zarqawi had been brought to justice.

Now, I would never want to contradict someone whose every utterance comes with a stamped and signed guarantee of truthfullness (Mission Accomplished!) but I think he misunderstands something about the nature of justice.

First, Zarqawi was killed. By two 500 pound bombs. Before he was arrested, tried or convicted of anything.

When I think of people being brought to justice, it involves courtrooms, impartial judges, juries and the introduction of evidence. There are a wide variety of justice systems in the world, each flawed in its own way, but by and large they do not begin their processes with the launching of weapons from F-16 jet fighters.

Do I have any doubt that Zarqawi was guilty of horrible crimes? Very little. I’m even pretty certain that he deserved to die, although I would add that I don’t believe anyone had the right to kill him, if there was another alternative available.

So when Bush claims that Zarqawi was “brought to justice,” he is misusing the very meaning of the word justice. What happened to Zarqawi was a military assasination. Men in uniforms and suits decided he would die, and killed him. The fact that no one cares very much that he is dead does not mean that it was justice.

If the warhawks want to justify extra-judicial killings, there are arguments to be made on that score. Just don’t take the word justice and try to tack it onto a military assault.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Hero Stories

A strange blog item appeared the other day on New World Notes, and will be little noticed by the world at large.

In the online Snow Crash-inspired world of Second Life, a volunteer group of guards has appeared.

They have spontaneously joined together to protect a charity organization: a group that has been using an island in the game to create a simulated refugee camp in Darfur. The group is trying to raise awareness and funding for the refugees. Unfortunately, people on the Internet, seemingly rational adults, sometimes behave like assholes. Someone has "griefed" the site repeatedly, trying to crash the island's simulation, throwing the volunteers around with "push guns."

The guards are now patrolling the area, asking anyone suspiciously hanging around what they are doing there, and trying to prevent future acts of griefing.

The guards? They're the Green Lantern Corps. A bunch of Second Life residents who have been role-playing as members of an alien police organization from DC Comics. They wear green spandex outfits and glowing rings, and they have created little bits of computer code to give themselves special effects related to their comic book alter egos. Now they are playing hero in a tangiable, albeit still virtual, way.

The power of stories is something often commented on, but little understood in the practical sense any longer.

It is not hard to see why not. The sweeping narrative poems of the ancient world are only studied in schools. Shakespeare is admired and revered more often than felt and loved. The didactic stories, the Boys Own tales of the Victorian era, are regarded, by those who know them, as the cheap struts that held up a hypocritical empire.

(Socialists even have a rigid taboo against storytelling. There is a refusal there to imagine future socialist worlds of any kind which I find appalling, but that is a post for another day.)

What is the power of stories? It is ultimately the power of making people find in themselves what they wish to find. If you hold a story inside, you learn from it. Fiction is ultimately a shaping force on the human mind. How many knights rode into battle with the Song of Roland's words ringing in their ears? How many Greeks entered the phalanx thinking of Homer's Achilles? How many American soldiers went to war thinking of Davy Crockett at the Alamo?

Stories, as the above examples indicate, can lie to us, send us cavalierly into combat, make us sell our lives for lying politicians. But they have also inspired some of the noblest actions of human history. Yet when I look around at modern literature (that's capital L literature, books that Matter) there aren't a lot of stories that stir the soul to greatness.

There are a lot of things to be said for modern literary fiction, and the boundaries between that genre (yes, it's a genre) and the fantastic and adventurous ones is thinner than those on either side imagine. But the division is usually seen, by the partisans of each side, as one between fascistic, juvenille power fantasy (SF and superheroes) and carefully studied middle class misery posing as realism (Literature). The raw, inspirational stuff has been left to the genres considered less serious.

The Second Life Green Lantern Corps is not going to save the world. They may get bored with their guarding job next week and wander off. They might never stop another griefing attack. And all in all, it's a pretty insignificant conflict, as we are reminded by the presence of the real Darfur.

But the very fact that it was the Green Lantern role players who stepped in makes me hopeful for the power of story. There are a lot of role playing groups in Second Life, everything from air pirates to furries to vampires. It doesn't surprise me at all that none of them stepped in before the super heroes did. The tales of a bunch of green-clad aliens may not seem very important to the world at large, but to the people who first picked up those comics at the age of ten or twelve, they could be as powerful as the Song of Roland. Those 22-page books taught kids, for the purpose of separating them from the cost of a comic, that the defenceless should be protected, that the good should sacrifice themselves for a just cause, that might does not make right. The fact that they have stepped in to help the Darfur volunteers showed they have internalized that lesson to an extent.

So have we all. Every one of us had an experience like the Green Lantern Corps. We have all read noble, cheap fiction. Maybe clumsily worded, but filled with high ideals.

Warren Ellis is a writer who has made something of a career of stripping comic book archetypes down to their essences. He wrote a brief story in his Planetary series that summed up the Green Lantern ideals: "Be the kind of policeman who works, not for laws or authority structures, but for finer worlds."

We can all do this. If we have ever read a hero's story, we have heroes inside of us. When we play the hero's role, it doesn't matter to the world at large if we are insecure, full of doubt and hidden torment. Think of the stories, pretend to be the hero, and let the fiction become reality.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Quote of the Day

"Actually, if you just went and hired and assembled every bureaucrat who fled in disgust from the Bush Administration, they might make a pretty good government."

- Bruce Sterling, from his blog.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Mercer: Man's got a mean streak

Rick Mercer posted his first blog-rant in quite a while, and it's a doozy. "Priority Six: We are a bunch of pricks" takes aim at the Tories for not lowering the flag to half mast on the Peace Tower to mark the death of four Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan.

I'd love to throw in some profanity about this latest Tory blunder, but repeated typing of f-u-c-k-y-o-u-H-a-r-p-e-r is going to give me repetitive stress injury if I keep it up much longer. So I'll just say that it's the height of hypocrisy for the Tories to get on their high horse about a debate on Afghanistan and then do this.

They've claimed that any Parliamentary discussion or vote on the Canadian military mission in Afghanistan would hurt soldiers' morale. But apparently, ignoring their deaths and doing nothing to commemorate the return of their bodies to Canada is perfectly acceptable to soldiers. Their fatuous toad Lewis McKenzie has been shilling for them on CBC already, saying it's better this way, it's back to the way it was, that lowering the flag for the other slain soldiers before was an aberation.

Maybe so, but I say we should be reminded that our so-called leaders are sending others to die for them, and for that flag. Every time a soldier dies, let it come down.

Jane Jacobs, RIP

I remember reading The Coming Dark Age after reading a positive review of it in the local paper, and with no previous knowledge of who Jane Jacobs was. It struck me how much thought had gone into such a slim volume - almost a lifetime's worth, it turned out.

Ms. Jacobs passed away yesterday at the age of 89.

She talked about creating livable cities before it became a buzzword, was a self-made expert who rejected academic titles, and was generally my favourite kind of powerful person: one who simply spreads powerful ideas.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Second Life Radicals!

I just signed up for Second Life, even though I can't play it from home, as I don't have a high speed connection.

But I couldn't resist. I was checking out the sign up site, and I noticed the last names currently up for grabs include Marx and Proudhon. Someone at Linden Labs must have a sense of humour or a radical background.

Other names currently available include Mill (as in John Stuart, I hope) and Ricardo.

Mat Proudhon, signing off.

Harper's Top 5 Blunders!

Nobody really knew what to expect from Stephen Harper as PM. Not only has Canada been under 13 years of Liberal Party rule, but Harper's Conservative Party is a new political entity. Merged from the purified and slicked-up remnants of the prairie-populist Reform Party and the dregs of the wallowing Progressive Conservatives, it has never held office before.

What most of us weren't expecting was a series of massive blunders in the first four months of government. The latest (number four on the list) has prompted this little exercise. Grab your popcorn, kids, it's time for the highlight reel.

#5: Internal media controls.

Harper has famously sent out directives that none of his cabinet ministers or top bureaucrats can speak to the media without his permission. No straying from the government position, either. This will be a good strategy in the short term, bad in the long term. With a minority government, there might not be a long term, however.

#4: Getting Schooled by Lyin' Brian.

From the Ottawa Citizen (hat tip to Battlepanda):
Mr. Mulroney plans to hold Prime Minister Stephen Harper's feet to the fire, urging him not only to put environmental issues on his government's list of five priorities, but to put them at the top of that list. His message: leadership trumps process when it comes to saving the planet.
Although Mr. Harper's commitment to the Kyoto Accord has, thus far, been vague, Mr. Mulroney intends to sound the alarm on the subject of global warming and the issues -- including the threats to Arctic sovereignty -- from the melting of the polar ice cap.
If that's not enough to make Mr. Harper squirm, the main course is sustainably harvested Arctic char, and the environmental groups behind the gala have printed their top five environmental priorities on the evening's menu.

Holy mother of Jebus!
You know, growing up in the household of a life-long, Tommy Douglas worshipping NDPer, some words are pronounced differently. Social Credit Party is "goddamned Socreds." Progressive Conservative Party becomes "fucking Tories." And I doubt Brian Mulroney's name was ever pronounced without one descriptive adjective or another tacked on either, back when I was a wee Iguanodon.

When the most hated man in Canadian politics is taking you out behind the woodshed, and teaming up with greens to do it, you should start to worry.

#3: Censoring bureaucrats outside office hours.

This one is really going to hurt him. From CP:
A scientist with Environment Canada was ordered not to launch his global warming-themed novel Thursday at the same time the Conservative government was quietly axing a number of Kyoto programs.

The bizarre sequence of events on the eve of the Easter long weekend provided an ironic end-note to the week in which Prime Minister Stephen Harper introduced his first piece of legislation - aimed at improving accountability and transparency in government.

The day began with what was supposed to be the low-key launch of an aptly titled novel, Hotter than Hell.

Publisher Elizabeth Margaris said that Mark Tushingham, whose day job is as an Environment Canada scientist, was ordered not to appear at the National Press Club to give a speech discussing his science fiction story about global warming in the not-too-distant future.

"He got a directive from the department, cautioning him not to come to this meeting today," said Margaris of DreamCatcher Publishers.

"So I guess we're being stifled. This is incredible, I've never heard of such a thing," she said.

Hey, Stephen: fuck you. You do not get to tell people who work for you what they can or cannot do in their private lives. If you think anyone should have that power over anyone else, you are in for a shock when my "Force Harper to wear a French maid uniform" petition reaches Ottawa.

Of course, the government tried to cover its ass and say they only censored Tushingham because he didn't follow "due process," and that because he was identified as an Environment Canada scientist in his press release, he should only speak to the government position.

Nope, still sounds like stupid, autocratic bullshit to me. (The fact that he's going after an SF author really pisses me off. That's MY tribe, you bastard!)

Way to smooth relations with the bureaucracy, the scientific and academic communities and the environmentalists, there.

#2 US relations.

This one came pre-screwed. Harper has no good way to deal with the US. He came in on a promise to fix relations, and obviously he and his supporters believed the nasty Liberals had just fucked everything up, and the Bushies would welcome him with open arms. He is just now realizing - as we get nothing on passports, softwood, anything - that the Bushies have no intention of dealing fairly with anyone. They don't have to. They have nukes.

Harper now has two options: he can copy the Liberals and bad-mouth the US publicly while doing nothing that is really radical, and keep negotiating and using courts to deal with trade problems. Or he can meet the Americans more than halfway, and look like another lapdog.

#1 L'Affaire Emerson.

This one seems to have gone away. It didn't show up much in the polls outside of areas that already hate Harper. But like a dead fish in the furnace vents, the smell is just going to get worse over time. Now, with reports (strongly denied) that Emerson is unhappy with his Glorious Leader, it is coming back again. And it'll keep coming back, every few weeks or months, until the next election.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Poor, poor T. rex...

The big guy gets more competition every year now. This time it's Mapusaurus roseae, a close relative of Gigantotosaurus, which knocked T. rex of its pedestal back in 1995.

This now puts T. rex fairly far down the list of "biggest meat eaters of all time." The current champion, as of a few weeks ago, is Spinosaurus, an early Cretaceous critter from North Africa, featured in Jurassic Park III. Then we've got Mapusaurus and Giganotosaurus, both of which hailed from Argentina in the late Cretaceous. The two giant meat eaters probably used pack tactics to hunt down the mighty sauropods that roamed the plains of Patagonia. Which of the two was bigger? Not sure, but they're both bigger than T. rex.

And both of Giganotosaurus and Mapusaurus were members of the Carcharodontosaur (shark toothed) family of meat eaters. Their African relative, Carcharodontosaurus, may have been as big, if not bigger, than T. rex as well.

So the best case scenario right now is that T. rex is the fourth or fifth biggest meat eating dino ever discovered. Still, he had a 90-year reign at the top. From discovery in 1905 to being dethroned in 1995 is a pretty good run.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Yes, Please Do Bomb Iran

Because oil has spiked towards $70 a barrel already, based on the fact that Iran's halfwit fundamentalist leader (resemblance to US fundamentalist halfwit leader purely coincidental) is mucking about with a bit of barely-enriched uranium.

So yes, please go ahead and bomb the shit out the place. Bomb them with tactical nuclear weapons, because the spectacle hasn't yet achieved the heights of irony I expect from BushCheneyCo. Kill tens of thousands of them, because after all, there might have possibly, according to the best (super secret) intelligence and fuzzy satellite photos, have been a chance that once upon a time the leaders of Iran were photographed shaking hands with Bad People. And from there, we can play Six Degrees of Osama bin Laden, with complete built in post-invasion deniability.

Who knows what could happen if thousands weren't massacred? There might be another terrorist attack! And in the international calculus of grief, the death of one white North American is worth approximately two hundred and seventy four dirty ragheads. So let the bombs fall! We're still thousands short in the Never Forget 9/11 Revenge Super Spectacular, on your favourite channel just before Dancing with the Stars!

And then we can all sit back and drink our beer and watch the carnage on CNN, and we'll maybe feel a little twinge as the international aid workers pull charred things that used to be children out of the smoldering, radioactive wreckage. But before long we'll just switch over to Desperate Housewives again.

It's okay about all those horribly mangled kids, of course. They're not like us, they don't feel pain the way we do.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Killer turkeys and sauropod snouts

Two big dino discoveries this week, one of them much commented on, the other less so. I'm fascinated by both.

The first is the discovery of a seven-foot oviraptosaur in Utah. This critter is both bigger and was found farther south in North America than any other known member of its lineage. So far only a hand and foot (both articulated!) have turned up, but they clinch the identification. It would have been nice to have a skull, too. Oviraptosaurs are notably bizarre in their skull and beak shapes.

The second bit of info is a new study on sauropod skulls and nostril shapes. Paleoblog, as usual, has the info.

Most people don't know that there has been an ongoing, low level debate about whether or not sauropods actually had small trunks. Yeah, like elephants or tapirs. The argument was that the shape of their nostril openings, combined with their browsing habits, would have made trunks both possible and useful.

The new study's short answer: nope, probably not.

This second discovery is actually more interesting to me, in my guise as an SF writer. I've written one (unpublished) story involving time travel and dinosaurs, and I'm likely to write more. It's nice to know that I'm on safer scientific ground if my sauropods don't have trunks.

Still, the field is changing so fast that it's impossible not to get stuff wrong, at this point. Anything you write may be perfectly accurate the day the manuscript goes in the mail, and thoroughly disproved by the time it reaches print.

Jurassic Park is actually the worst victim of this constant revisionism. When Crichton wrote the (execrable yet compulsively readable) novel, there had been a swing in the battle over dinosaur nomenclature. The dinosaur named Deinonychus had been lumped in with it's smaller cousin, Velociraptor. By the time the movie had come out, the Deinonychus had won it's proper name back. So those "velociraptors" in all three movies are actually supposed to be Deinonychuses. Which doesn't really roll off the tongue like "raptor."

Then, just as the first movie came out, the Utahraptor - a bigass sickle-clawed killer - was discovered. So they could have retconned the velociraptors into Utahraptors, but they didn't bother. And we're about 99 per cent sure now that raptors, all of them, had feathers. When Gregory S. Paul and a few others were drawing feathered predatory dinos in the late 1980s, at the same time Crichton wrote his book, they were considered gonzo mavericks. Now, we know that they're giant killer turkeys. Much like the critter dug up in Utah.

At least Jurassic Park III got the Spinosaurus right. In the past month, it has been firmly established as the biggest predatory dinosaur ever discovered, and Paleoblog has pictures of the original specimen up on his site. The story of the original speciment is a sad one - it was destroyed in Allied air raids on Germany. It's discoverer, Ernst Stromer, had argued that they should be removed to safer locations. But for reasons of Nazi war propoganda (the Allies will never succeed in bombing us!) they were left in a Munich museum, which was reduced to rubble.

Friday, March 31, 2006

Too depressing for words.

No comments on this one, from P.Z. Meyers on Pensacola Bible College.

Just the link.

Alternate Economics: Bizarro World is Here

You know, I'm going to kick in the teeth of the next person who tells me global markets are getting more competitive. This hypothetical person is either A) deluded or B) a lying shithead. Which I know, because unlike said shithead, I have actually read a little bit about economics, including books 1-3 of The Wealth of Nations.

Now, what would Adam Smith say about this?

WASHINGTON (MarketWatch) -- U.S. corporate profits have increased 21.3% in the past year and now account for the largest share of national income in 40 years, the Commerce Department said Thursday.
Strong productivity gains and subdued wage growth boosted before-tax profits to 11.6% of national income in the fourth quarter of 2005, the biggest share since the summer of 1966. See full story.
For all of 2005, before-tax profits totaled $1.35 trillion, up from $1.16 trillion in 2004 and just $767 billion in 2001.
Meanwhile, the share of national income going to wage and salary workers has fallen to 56.9%. Except for a brief period in 1997, that's the lowest share for labor income since 1966.
"It's a big puzzle," said Josh Bivens, an economist for the Economic Policy Institute. "If this is a knowledge economy, how come the brains aren't being compensated? Instead, the owners of physical capital are getting the rewards."
Despite the flood of cash coming in the door, corporations are investing comparatively little in expanding their operations. Capital spending has been below average, especially considering the strength of the economy, the level of profits and the special tax breaks given to boost investment.

Now, I may not remember too clearly, but in a competitive labour market, aren't profits supposed to fall? In fact, shouldn't they fall until the owners of capital have to manage it directly, as a full-time job? I'm sure there's some bullshit excuse people can come up with to explain the ever-increasing wealth disparity in the west between the workers and the owners, but I'm not buying it.

Could there be an explanation for soaring profits while real wages remain stagnant or fall? Could it be that big businessmen are colluding with one another and with their buddies in the government to create a favourable business climate (read: oligarchy of rich bastards).

On a related note, I just finished reading Barbara Ehrenreich's book Nickel and Dimed, about working crappy low-wage jobs and trying to make ends meet. And this morning on CTV, I saw Jan Wong interviewed about how she tried a similar project, getting a job as a maid in Toronto and trying to live on $20 a day, for all expenses after rent, with her kids. They started getting faint from lack of protein, in case you were wondering. Her series of columns on the experience starts running tomorrow in The Globe and Mail.

Which, ironically, is part of a big media conglomerate with CTV, and which no doubt pays its own janitors such crap wages that their kids feel faint from hunger. Not that anyone will appreciate the irony.

We are all such fucking idiots to let this go on.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Book Review: StormWatch: Change or Die

A superhuman flys over New York City, alighting in front of the United Nations building. Tearing the flags of every member nation down, he burns them while television cameras roll.

"Consider this symbolic of our greater intention," he says. "Do please film this."

It's the defining scene in what is one of the best anarchist storylines in mainstream comics history. Yet because the words "anarchy" and "anarchism" are never spoken, it has passed without the notice given to it's more famous counterpart, V for Vendetta. I should warn readers that numerous spoilers will now follow.

The storyline, Change or Die, was written in the late 1990s by Warren Ellis for the conventional superhero comic series, StormWatch. It capped off the first segment of Ellis's run on the series, and was a key precursor to his much more famous series, The Authority.

The story is essentially a tragedy. Two groups of heroes face off against one another, while cynical manipulators from among their own ranks sabotage a chance for peace, and possibly utopia.

StormWatch was a comic created during the mid-1990s, and was one of many Wildstorm company titles which, frankly, were pretty derivative of each other and of Marvel's many mutant X-team books. StormWatch was slightly different, in that its heroes were employees of the United Nations. As superhuman blue helmets, they hailed from many nations and fought superhuman terrorists, alien invasions and so forth. When Warren Ellis, a thoroughly insane British comic scribe took over the title, he revamped it thoroughly. Many of the superfluous team members were axed, and Ellis began creating his own strange characters. The oddest was Jenny Sparks, a London-based superhero with the ability to transform into and control electricity. Born at midnight on January 1, 1900, Sparks is the "Spirit of the 20th Century." There was also Jack Hawksmoor, a man who could communicate with cities, and Rose Tattoo, a beautiful, mute female assassin.

At the storyline's beginning, a masked vigilante tries to assassinate Jenny Sparks. She survives and demands a meeting with StormWatch's leader, Henry Bendix, the "Weatherman." Bendix is busy with his own crisis, however. The High, a former superhero who has been sitting motionless on a mountaintop for a decade, has vanished. Bendix believes The High plans some kind of attack.

The High has in fact joined a group of like-minded superheros for a major project. They want to end poverty and government at a stroke. Tired of fighting the same problems over and over, they want to strike at the root of what is wrong with society.
His message is simple, and not only needs to be heard, but needs to be incised into the Earth -

"Think for yourself and question authority."

And if you can think for yourself, what do you need authority for?

Comic book enthusiasts might not have recognized the underlying ideology of the story, but they recognized The High and his compatriots immediately. The High has all the powers, and a similar origin to Superman. His allies include the vigilante Blind (Batman), Rite, a female warrior (Wonder Woman), The Engineer, a nano-tech specialist who can make anything (Green Lantern) The Doctor, a shaman (Dr. Fate) and others. All are recognizeable comics archetypes, and together, they mimic the Justice League of America.

Ellis uses the comparison to both satirize the JLA (whose members have never questioned the authority of the world's governments) and to contrast the outsized idealism of Golden Age superheroes with the realpolitik of the StormWatch team.

The High and his league announce they will give away their power and knowledge - handing over the ability to make anything with nanotech, teaching magic and sharing new ways of living. Bendix, an idealist long since turned authoritarian, sends his team after The High's on a killing mission. Things go badly despite the efforts of some of the StormWatch team to defy their orders and ally themselves with The High. Rogue members of both teams have committed atrocities to reach their goals. In a violent confrontation, heroes are killed and the knowledge and promise The High offered is lost.

There are a few plot holes and artistic gaffes that mark the book. Ellis seemed to lose track of what some of the characters thought about Blind, in particular, and whether or not The High expected him to use torture. It's still worth reading. StormWatch: Change or Die is collected in the trade paperback collection of the same name.

I have no idea whether Ellis considers himself an anarchist or not, but he definitely has an anti-authoritarian streak that resurfaces again and again. Check out his Transmetropolitan stories too, they're the best thing he's ever written.

Update A quote attributed to Ellis, about Transmetropolitan (from Wikiquote): I have attempted to reflect this in TRANSMET: the understanding that the world can be neither perfect nor doomed. But that it can be better. And the people who get to decide if it's going to be better or not are the people who show up and raise their voices.

Monday, March 27, 2006

In which the godless commie throws in his lot with the capitalist running dogs

I've just added my name to an open letter to the people of France over at Brad Spangler's blog.

Spangler is supporting the students who have been demonstrating for the past few weeks, over a new proposed law that will allow employers to fire workers with little or no reason given during their first two years of employment. In France, job security is government-mandated, but getting a job in the first place is bloody hard. The idea of the new law is to encourage more hiring, because firing will be easier if a situation changes for a business.

Obviously, a lot of employers are going to abuse this law, by hiring and firing people within the two-year limit, then hiring again. It will save them having to keep the employees long term and give them little things like proper benefits and pensions. Hiring lots of new employees is also a tactic widely used everywhere to stave off unionization drives.

A few things of note: I consider myself a socialist, Spangler is an anarcho-capitalist. The letter encourages genuine free-market reforms and revolution in France. So why is Spangler supporting the students and workers on strike? Why sign on?

Here's a bit of the text of the letter:
Students and Workers of France,

Professor Roderick Long once wrote:

“When Marx called the French government ‘a joint-stock company for the exploitation of France’s national wealth’ on behalf of the bourgeois elite and at the expense of production and commerce (’Class Struggles in France’), he was only echoing what libertarians had been saying for decades.”

France and all other nation-states remain so today. You and we live in a world where freedom and economic opportunity exist only at the sufferance of a political class that allows us only some small amount of them for sake of their own convenience and take the rest from us by force and coercion for sake of their own parasitism.

Under such circumstances, state-sponsored market liberalization is a cruel joke. The legislation you protest and rebel against seeks only to increase the latitude given your overseers, while maintaining the overall restrictions on your own liberty that, if abolished, would empower you to seek your own prosperity. We believe you and we would be very good at that, mixing both cooperation and peaceful competition, if we were not slaves.

Spangler insists he is a capitalist, but he's of the agorist school of anarcho-capitalism, the one that has managed to work its way almost back into individualist anarchism. Along with many of the signatories, Spangler is a self-proclaimed member of the Movement of the Libertarian Left, which has been reaching out with an olive branch to the Old and New Left for several decades now. So, in the spirit of solidarity, I have signed his letter.

Which leads to the perfect opportunity to write something I've been thinking about for a while: my socialism includes capitalism.

In a free world, there will be people who choose to compete for their daily bread, and those who choose to cooperate. I am one of the latter, but I categorically refuse to aim a gun at anyone's head and insist that he or she join me. I would prefer to rely on non-market means of acquiring my food, shelter and health care, not because I think markets are inherently evil, but because I don't particularly trust them. If others wants to put their well being at the mercy of the invisible hand, that is entirely their business, and I wish them luck.

I'm hoping to expand on this in a future post. But next up will be a review of what I consider the other great anarchist comic book series.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

A Wedding Toast

Today I raise my glass to my friends John and Kirstin, as they prepare to walk down the aisle. I know they will find happiness with each other, and I hope their happiness is accompanied by good fortune, good friends and long life.

To Kirstin and John!

Friday, March 24, 2006

Saint Ralph, and the story of the little oil-based economy that could

Yay! Thanks to the Alberta Advantage(TM) and the totally coincidental fact that there are 180 million barrels of proven oil reserves beneath it's territory, Alberta is well on its way to another massive budget surprlus this year. The Globe and Mail has the details.

Already it is projecting a record surplus — $4.1-billion, but government officials admit that figure will likely climb as oil and gas royalties flood into provincial coffers. Last year's budget finished out with a surplus surpassing $10-billion.

Awesome! Wow, I guess if every province adopted Alberta's economic formula, they would enjoy equal success! What's that, you say? Manitoba has no oil? PEI is made of sand, clay and compressed layers of Anne of Green Gables figurines which contain little to no petroleum reserves? The Canadian Shield is three billion years old rock, and notably deficient in tar sands?

Quitters! Did Albertans quit when the price of oil shot up past $60 a barrel, imperilling the finance minister's life with a tidal wave of cash? No. Did they quit when Hurricane Katrina drove prices even higher, and exports from Canada to the United States were permanently increased as a result? No. Did they quit when Stockwell Day was their finance minister? No!

Even the National Energy Program couldn't make Albertans quit. It just turned them into constant whiners, who apparently believe they live in the only part of Canada that was ever fucked over financially by the federal government. That's right, Albertans launched their own Quiet Revolution, but unlike those small-thinking types in Quebec, they dispensed with the culture, the gay-friendly society and the excellent music scene. Who needs that when you have a western alienation-based party to start!

And now that party is in power. What can we expect from the federal government, now? More Alberta Advantage(TM)! So our best information about the future of the country will be found in the Alberta budget. What'll it be, Globe and Mail?

The bulk of the tax cuts in the budget are for business, with the province cutting the general corporate rate to 10 per cent, costing the provincial treasury $265-million this year and $300-million after that. Alberta currently has the lowest corporate tax rate in the country.

Personal tax cuts are minimal — $10 a person from an increase to basic personal deductions — although Alberta is raising the income threshold for health-care premiums, a break for low income earners.

Well, there you have it. You'll be $10 richer, and your boss will have a shiny new car. Maybe he'll let you wash it someday, and you can surreptitiously smell the fine leather interior through the sunroof. That's the Alberta Advantage(TM).

Congratulations and thanks

First, to Harmeet Singh Sooden, James Loney and Norman Kember, rescued this week in Iraq after spending months as the hostages of a group of militants and/or gangsters. I'm not only pleased that they were rescued, but that it resulted in no loss of life to anyone.

Second, to the people of Hartley Bay. The fishermen of the tiny native community pulled the victims of the Queen of the North sinking from the water, brought them into their homes and literally gave them the clothes off their backs in some cases. The disaster has also left an oily slick on the water that may damage the seafood stocks that are their livelihood. I can only hope the government, owner of the ferry, will do the right thing and compensate them for any losses.

Monday, March 20, 2006

What I Did On My Spring Vacation

Well, I read a lot. I obviously didn't post anything for a week. I spent a lot of time with my girlfriend, She Who Is Both Wise and Beautiful. I saw the Brian Jungen exhibit at the Vancouver Art Gallery, which was fascinating, and suffered through the explanatory tour of the exhibit, which was not.

The exhibit was great. It gathered together all of Jungen's Prototype for a New Understanding pieces. These are the famous masks he made out of Nike Air Jordan sneakers, starting in the late 1990s. Jungen created items that, from a distance, look like authentic North West Coast aboriginal masks. The black, white and red Air Jordan colours and the round and oblong shapes of the sneakers lend themselves to coastal-style artwork.

Along with the masks, there were three whale skeletons made from plastic lawn chairs, a birdhouse made from IKEA magazine holders (with finches in residence) a teepee made entirely from 10 "skinned and dismembered" leather couches, and some cargo pallets handcrafted from cedar planks.

All of Jungen's work seems - to me - to be kind of funny. Making masks out of sneakers? Great joke! Teepee from sofas? Hilarious! I think the best one of all is the cargo pallets, lovingly varnished and joined together without visible nails.

Is any of this humour acknowledged by the VAG? Nope. Not a damn bit of it. I know there's a very serious subtext to everything Jungen is doing here. He's deliberately conflating Native stereotypes with consumer junk, or rebuilding cheap Canadian Tire furniture into works of fine art. But as far as I can tell, it's actually supposed to be funny. (Most of it, anyway.)

Look at the lawn furniture-whales. They are actually the least funny part of the exhibit. First of all, they are amazingly crafted sculptures in their own right. It takes a real craftsman (I prefer craft to art 90 per cent of the time) to take a pile of lawn chairs and envision them carved up and rebuilt into a skeleton. Instead, they are at first elegant. When you realize what they are constructed from, they are both funny and all the more impressive. Jungen has drawn beauty out of a pile of plastic junk. It's really worth seeing.

The museum spiel is all about consumerism and the natural world. And yes, I agree that you certainly can see it that way. But it's also possible to look at the whales as an object of great beauty, and to marvel at the materials used for its construction. Hell, maybe Jungen is trying to make us see what can be created from the detritus around us if we can see with fresh eyes. I'd like to ask him some day.

(At this point, there will be a brief digression for ranting. In a nook near the whale skeletons was a "kids corner" that contained a glaring scientific error. It was a series of ideas for discussion with children about the exhibit, which said that whales die, fossilize, and then their fossils turn into oil, which can then be turned into plastic, for example, lawn chairs. No, NO, NO! First of all, most animals don't fossilize at all. Second, the process of fossilization is one of mineralization. The matter composing bones [or skin, feathers, leaves, bark, fur, etc] is removed and replaced by minerals. Fossils of this type are made of stone. They do not, at any point, magically turn into oil! Most oil comes from microscopic animals and plants that decay and are compressed under seafloor sediment. Coal is composed mostly of trees. To the VAG: learn some fucking science, you goddamn arrogant liberal arts majors!)

The essence of many jokes is the sudden and unexpected juxtaposition of two unrelated, concepts. If one of them is scary or "unclean," even better. That fits what Jungen is doing perfectly. My first reaction when I see his stuff is to laugh. And then to think. But it's the laugh that draws me in. Without the humour, it's just another pretentious museum exhibit.

The Power of the Mind!

Clearly, this is the most amazing thing going right now. Forget all the advances in materials science, in nanotech, alternate energy, computer networks, all of it.

This is awesome.

For those of you too lazy to click the link, it's an article in New Scientist about the latest mind-controlled computer. These things have been around for about a decade now, in increasingly sophisticated versions. This one is just the latest in the phylogenetic tree of mind-machine interfaces, but it looks like the one that could break out into wide use. It allegedly takes 20 minutes to acclimate to a user - watching what areas of the brain are trying to control a cursor - and then is fully operational. The system could allow people to type, operate games or click through the net without touching a thing.

The major use for the tech at first will be for individuals with severe paralysis - spinal cord injuries at the neck, motor neuron diseas sufferers and so forth.

But how much would you like to bet that everyone from fighter pilots to game console geeks owns one of these helmets within 20 years ?

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Some Clarifications, for Peter MacKay

Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay says the government stands behind Canada's troops in Afghanistan and won't do anything to cast doubt on that support.

"The last thing that we want to show is any wavering or any backing away from the commitment of our Canadian troops," MacKay said on CTV's Question Period on Sunday.

"We have to be 100 per cent behind them. We have to demonstrate in every way that we support the important work that they're doing. And to that extent, this government is 100 per cent behind our troops and appreciative, incredibly appreciative of the effort that they're making."

MacKay was responding to critics who suggest Canada's commitment to Afghanistan should be taken to a parliamentary vote.

It seems Mr. MacKay has some misconceptions about when a debate would or would not be appropriate on a military deployment. Let's clear this up right now. When is it the right time to debate a life and death military mission?


It is always appropriate. To debate the nature of a military mission, to examine whether circumstances have changed, to talk about what the role of Canadian troops is or should be, about what resources they have or need, about the effect they are having on the daily lives of Afghans, about what long-term psychological impacts the mission is having on the troops themselves. We can't solve a damn thing without first talking about it. We can't even know if there are problems if we don't talk about it.

To hide behind "supporing the troops" is cowardly. Calling for the troops to come home could be supporting them. Calling for more money, more troops, new training, better gear, a change in mission; all these things can be legitimately supportive of the troops. Leaving a bunch of guys in the desert half a world away, with no public political discussion of why they are there is not supportive.

But wait, there's morale! What if talking about the mission, maybe even raising serious doubts about their ability to impose peace on a fractious landscape (one with the British Empire twice failed to subdue, followed by the Russians, followed by the Americans) weakens their resolve?

What is morale, anyway? It is the common spirit of a team, and its members willingness to do their tasks. So yes, I can see how actually talking about their chances of success might damage that crucial element of readiness.

If we were talking about a T-ball team, that is.

These are soldiers! They aren't six fucking years old, people. They're grown adults who chose a profession that involves being shot at. They've been attacked with roadside bombs, mortars, grenades, by the friendly fire of their allies, and most recently, with an axe. We expect them to take daily danger, harsh living conditions and seperation from friends and family with equanimity, but a little bit of talk about why they're there will have tears pouring from their eyes? Give me a goddamn break.

You know what would be good for their morale? Giving them some input in the debate. Bring soldiers who've served in Afghanistan and let them speak to Parliament, directly to the MPs. Let them talk about what they really need, what they think the mission is, what they believe in. Let's listen to the privates and corporals and the front line officers. Let's hear from their mothers and fathers, and their husbands and wives, too. Let's hear from Afghans, not just the ones they've helped, but the ones who want them the hell out of their country.

And then, let's have that debate.

We can let Peter MacKay sit this one out. He wouldn't want to be seen wavering, after all. I'm sure total, blind-eyed ignorance is the best way to stand behind the troops.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Book Review: The Cassini Division

The Cassini Division was the first Ken MacLeod book to be published here in North America, so I suppose it's strangely appropriate that I'm reading it last, out of all of his so-far published novels.

The Cassini Division is one of the four Fall Revolution novels MacLeod wrote, and is the only one of the four that is a direct sequel. It follows directly on the events of The Stone Canal, in which a pair of uploaded humans on anarcho-capitalist New Mars travelled back down a wormhole path to the Solar System. Those humans - Jonathan Wilde, aka Jay Dub, and his artificial intelligence wife - get a walk on at the beginning of the novel, then vanish. The torch is passed to Ellen May Ngwethu, a 200 year old leader in the titular Cassini Division. The elite of an egalitarian future, the division guards humanity from what is left of a civilization of superhumanly intelligent uploaded minds that fell into the atmosphere of Jupiter during the events of The Stone Canal.

While this kind of thing - superhuman AI and uploaded humans, threats from godlike posthumans, wormhole travel - are relatively familiar to SF fans, the milieu isn't. The Solar Union that Ngwethu fights for is a communist utopia, in which the state really has withered away and humans are prosperous, free and happy.

MacLeod is, by his own admission in many forums and interviews, a long-time socialist and former Trotskyist. He has taken the various criticisms of central planning made by people like Mises very seriously, however, and the Fall Revolution books never shrink from alternate political points of view. Indeed, Ngwethu is probably the least political of his protagonists in the series. Jonathan Wilde, of Stone Canal, is an individualist anarchist shit-disturber, Myra Godwin of The Sky Road is a Marxist politician, and Moh Kohn of The Star Fraction is a Trotskyist himself, living in a libertarian enclave. Along the way in MacLeod's various other books, everything from anarcho-syndicalism to agorism to various forms of townhall democracy show up, often in wild combinations.

The communism of The Cassini Division is presented both very sympathetically - I wouldn't mind living in such a system - and with its few flaws readily apparent. Although 30 billion people live under the Solar Union, there are a fringe of "non-cooperators" or "non-cos" who live in a grubby free-market society on Solar Union fringes. The Solar Union mostly ignores them or co-opts their best people. In a typical American SF novel, the non-cos would be the heroes, fighting against the monolithic Solar Union. Here, it's a lot more complicated. (There are jokes about this, of course. A solid gold statue of Mises stands in the chamber the Solar Union once used for central planning meetings.)

Ngwethu, like Clovis in The Sky Road, is a character who seems to be living in one of the times when humans have convinced themselves that history, per se, is over, and the right side has won. As is always the case, she is proved wrong. The Jovian intelligences have become more active and organized, and Ngwethu is convinced they are a threat. She enlists a famous non-co physicist to try to solve the mystery of the wormhole the Jovians created, then travels through it to the other side. The anarcho-capitalists of New Mars begin to flit back across, looking for new markets - something that is anathema to the Solar Union.

Meanwhile, the Jovians have resumed contact with humans, and claim they are no longer hostile. Ngwethu wants them exterminated anyway, saying beings that think and live a thousand times faster than humans can't be trusted to keep agreements. Only life can hold a real consciousness, she believes, never a machine.

Many reviews of the book have found it dissatisfying, and I've seen it ranked frequently as the least interesting of the Fall Revolution series. I have to disagree. Except for the ending - which seems to go against everything MacLeod was aiming at - I found it very gripping. The milieu is fascinating, and is one that I don't think has been seen much outside of hopelessly utopian political fiction. It was a lot better than The Sky Road, which never really came together as a coherent whole, and which I felt left dangling plot threads all over the place.

On the politics of the book, I'd say that it was long past time that someone started writing science fiction in which socialism matters, whether it's triumphant or simply at the margins. (Kim Stanley Robinson can't do this alone!) I've seen people argue that The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress created more libertarians than Atlas Shrugged ever did, simply because it's a better book, and because it's lessons go down easier with a nice coating of adventure, fun, and likeable characters. Similarly, I'd love to know how many people will find their attitudes to socialism changed by The Cassini Division. The Solar Union is attractive enough that a vast majority of humanity has joined, but it is flexible enough to allow dissidents and outright criminals to avoid it. It has no laws and is fundamentally a huge, voluntary organization. But MacLeod is honest enough to point out the flaws of his vision - it's a bit dull and parochial, and its people carry around prejudices that they don't often recognize as such. The Union also has a "might makes right" approach to solving external problems: there is the unspoken assumption that if the non-cos ever became powerful enough to be a threat, the Union would have few qualms about wiping them out.

The book has also added a few phrases to the Standard SF Quote Lexicon. The most frequently repeated is the one about uploading being "Rapture for the nerds." My favourite, though, is MacLeod's description of humans as "fish wearing space suits."

My last word is: read The Stone Canal first. Despite the fact that it uses MacLeod's dual-track narrative, which drives me crazy, it is the better book of the two. And it will help you understand what happens in the second half of Cassini Division.

Friday, March 03, 2006

A better blog than mine...

Most of the blogs I frequent are political, scientific or science fiction-related. This one is not.

It's the ongoing story of a superhero called the Velvet Marauder, who lives in a suspiciously Seattle-like Evergreen City, where he fights crime, has a crush on a co-worker and shares his unique insights into life, superpowers and everything. It's well written, often funny, and feeds my need for superhero related stuff. I'm slowly working through the massive backlog of entries, in chronological order, as it tells an ongoing story. Will he ever get together with Margo, his attractive co-worker? Will the Exploder return to blow up another one of his cars? Are his bosses really supervillains, and what is their diabolical plan?

In between saving the world (well, not the world, but the greater Evergreen City area), Velvet Marauder drops in little nuggets of superhero info like this one:

When you've got mid-range super strength like me, it affects your entire physiology. I weigh a good thirty pounds more than a normal guy my height and build, because I've got thick bullet-resistant skin and dense muscles. A lot of people don't think about this, but when you've got super-strength, every part of your body is super strong. You see where I'm going with this? For instance, if I want to I can pee a good twenty, thirty feet. Seriously, I can piss from one side of my back yard to the other because of my powerful internal muscles.

The main page of the blog is here, but I recommend you start here, with the first post.

Someone, get this man a comic book writing job!

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Dear Albertans, what is wrong with you?

Why do you re-elect this man over and over and over again?

Premier Ralph Klein has apologized for throwing a booklet at a teenaged page in the legislature during a debate yesterday over Alberta's health-care reforms.
The 17-year-old page, Jennifer Huygen, had delivered a soft-covered, 80-page booklet of Liberal policy proposals to Klein's desk in the assembly, when the premier grabbed it and tossed it at her. It wasn't clear if it hit her.
Klein was heard to say, "I don't need this crap," referring to the Liberal booklet. Klein later rose and apologized to the page and to the Liberals for calling the booklet "crap."
The incident occurred during question period, in front of a packed gallery of schoolchildren.

It's not like you have't had enough excuses to kick him out in the past. Like that time he drunkenly yelled at a man in a homeless shelter. Let's repeat that: He drunkenly yelled at a homeless man. And yet I think this one has actually topped the old record for Crazy Ralph's antics. The presence of the schoolchildren pushed it over the top for me. It's a definite winner if it hit the girl.

Are you worried that you will see your economy take a sudden downturn? You sit on a fucking lake of oil! It would take an army of fuckwits to ruin your economy! In short: what is wrong with you? Can't you even find a Conservative more competent than this moron?

Up next: Alberta wants in, the rest of Canada wants you to shut up.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Three Political Cultures

The David Emerson screw up has done something interesting - it has revealed the three primary strains of Canadian political culture. Not mere party politics, but the ways in which people relate to their government and their elected officials, the way they expect those institutions to operate, and the ways in which they believe democracy should work.

Emerson's traitorous jump has revealed this, both in those calling for his ouster and in those defending him. Let's call them the Political, the Representative and the Tribal responses.

The Political attitude is the view that is probably shared by most actual members of political parties. This is the view that people are elected not just on the strength of their own personal character and experience, but because of their party and its platform. Political voters weigh the records of each party and pick the one that they feel will do the best job of governing the country, whether on moral, economic or justice grounds. Note that this means that people who vote for the Tories because they oppose gay marriage, and people who vote Liberal or NDP because they favour it, are essentially in the same class here.

Political voters have been quite angry at Emerson because they expect their politicians to advertise their allegiance beforehand, and to stick with it as closely as possible afterwards. Broken promises are especially hated by this group.

The second group, the Representative voters, essentially favour a kind of direct democracy. They want their MP to do whatever the majority of the voters in the riding want, essentially as a remote-controlled representative of their collective will. This is the purest, democratically speaking, of the three schools. It's actually fairly close in philosophy to the anarchist ideal of recallable delegates, who would essentially have no ability to change their minds without consulting with the group they represent. It was the old Reform Party which upheld this view, although it hasn't been tested until now because of their status as an opposition. I suspect it will crumble under the heady influence of governing.

The Representative voters tend to have a fair bit of overlap with the Political voters, and many people, of course, believe in a bit of both. Most Political types would probably veer into the Representative camp if their MP did something that really offended the sensibilities of a large fraction of the community.

The final category is the only one for which I have no sympathy. The Tribal voters just want someone to bring goodies back to their riding, and don't give a shit what party or person is in power. It's naked pork barrel politics at its worst, and not surprisingly, these amoral opportunists have been Emerson's staunchest defenders. They say that having an MP in cabinet, regardless of party, will be good for the riding, for Vancouver or for British Columbia. There are usually then defences about the 2010 Olympics, about job growth and similar garbage. This type of voter can just crawl into a corner and die, for all I care. All they want is for the government to hand them goodies, and damn any principles along the way.

The Liberal voters of Ontario and the Maritimes have been accused of being this type of voter by many Conservatives over the past 12 years. Those crooked easterners were clearly just voting in a corrupt party so they could cash in with new infrastructure, federal agencies and Employment Insurance weighted toward their industries, the Tories said. Now that tribalism benefits the Tories, the shoe is on the other foot, of course. Many candidates, of all parties, openly campaigned along these lines, promising that if they were to be in the coming government, everyone in their riding would wake up after election day to find themselves living in the Big Rock Candy Mountain.

And that is probably the sickest part of the whole deal.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Look! I'm not a complete waste of carbon!

You Passed 8th Grade Math

Congratulations, you got 9/10 correct!

Of course, I did get one wrong. And frankly, there were two where I really wasn't sure, and now I don't know in which direction my ignorance lies. Damn, that's frustrating!

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

I'm a Carnivalista!

My post on math education (below) has been linked from the Carnival of Education!. Thanks to the Education Wonks.

All posters are now on notice: teachers are present. Bad spelling and grammar will get you slapped across the virtual knuckles with a digital ruler!

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Out, out damned spokesman!

And now, a special announcement from Mount Tory. From

William Stairs, Prime Minister Stephen Harper's director of communications, has been replaced about two weeks into the new government's mandate.

It's not clear whether Stairs has been terminated or whether he voluntarily left.

Now, as a reporter, I know that the person who wrote this story can't outright say what we all know. So I'll just provide a helpful translation here: He got the boot. He isn't saying anything because he is a loyal party hack but... boot. Big time.

A statement from Harper's office said Stairs will be replaced by Sandra Buckler, who served as a spokesperson for the Conservative party during the election campaign.

Stairs declined to comment when contacted late Monday.

"William played an important role in the creation of the Conservative party and the recent campaign," Harper's chief of staff Ian Brodie said in a statement.

"Sandra brings a wealth of communications experience to her new post."

Brodie also says that he is looking forward to working with Stairs as he moves on to new opportunities, CTV's Rosemary Thompson reported Monday night.

It's unclear, however, what those new opportunities entail.

"Don't worry, Billy, we'll find you some cushy lobbying job, maybe land you on a Bay Street board of directors. Want to be a consultant? All the cool kids are doing it!"

Stairs, a fluently bilingual Nova Scotia native with a PhD in political science was a longtime presence on Parliament Hill.

Read: future potential party leader. Harper is well rid of this guy, he was about two terms away from planting a knife in his dear leader's back.

e became Harper's chief spin doctor last year, and had previously held the same role for Peter MacKay under the now-defunct Progressive Conservative party.

The shake-up follows complaints that Harper has avoided the media since being sworn in as prime minister on Feb. 6.

"I think what this means is obviously that the prime minister is recognizing that they have had some communication problems in the first couple of weeks of his mandate, and that's why they are making a big change at the top of their communications staff," Thompson said.

"Hey, maybe we should have said something about that whole David Emerson fuck up? Other than that the people who were complaining were shallow? Maybe."

Several Conservative aides, including at least five from the media-relations wing of Harper's office resigned or were forced out over a period of several months last year.

In August, 2005, Stairs insisted the departures were not a sign of dissension in the ranks.

"This is a high-turnover business," he said at the time.

"When people do decide to move on, to pursue careers elsewhere, they usually choose to do it in the summer so that (new) people can move into their jobs with a minimum of disruption."

"Bitter recrimination goes down easier with cool lemonade, and after a few hours playing on the Slip & Slide, you'll hardly remember the bloody political battles that ended with you kicked from the halls of power! Hey, everybody, it's the Night of the Long Knives, Nerf-style!"

Now back to your regularly scheduled government, already in progress.

Friday, February 17, 2006

On Math Education

Yet again, I long for a time machine, in which I could travel back to talk to my younger self. Not to save myself from embarassment or pain, but to deliver a simple message, just a few words long.

It's my Grade Eight self who needs to hear this message. He's about to completely slack off and send me (us?) into a spiral of lower and lower math grades, culminating in flunking Math 12, avoiding Chem 11 and 12 and Physics 11 and 12. And for no reason at all, besides laziness and apathy.

Well, there is one more reason. No one, not one person in high school, ever told me that math was fun. That's the message I'd take back, if I could.

My girlfriend (she who is both wise and beautiful) has recently started a math course, as one of the prerequisites she needs to get a teaching degree. When she signed up for it, she was worried, because she had always thought she was bad at math. I assured her that she was bright in every area, and of course, I was proved right. She has flown through the course so far, and is getting a mark in the mid ninetieth percentile.

The course is essentially every type of math you might teach in elementary school, from basic addition and subtraction to algebra, factoring and geometry. It includes not just what the students have to know, but the basic ideas and concepts behind the elementary school lesson plans. The entire course is crammed into one semester.

I've been following along in the textbook, so she'll have someone to study with. It's made me realize some things about the way I was taught math, and where I went wrong.

When I was a kid, I consistently did well in every elementary school subject, As and Bs predominating on every report card. When I was in Grade Six, I was plucked out of my regular class and with about 15 or 20 other kids, I was tossed into an advanced math class, the only class taught by our principal. He was a great math teacher, a man in love with the subject, and that love was infectious. I did pretty well, although I was far from the brightest kid in the group. Two years later, most of my advanced math classmates and I went to high school and jumped straight into Grade Nine math.

This is where I started to falter, and it was almost entirely my own fault. I'd done well in just about everything in elementary school, but I'd known since I learned to read that words were my first love. History, English and especially writing was where I could really shine. And everything else was boring. I started to slack off in math.

Again, I was lucky enough to have a teacher who loved his subject. He really encouraged everyone to take math all the way to Math 12, and Calculus, even though neither is required for graduation or even (back then) for entry into university in some arts programs. But I didn't care at the time, so my grades slipped and slipped, until I was failing a subject in which I'd once been considered gifted. My teachers deserve none of the blame, and the majority certainly rests on my shoulders.

My teachers, of course, tried the usual tactics to get me to do better and stay in the course. They told me about how many jobs need math, about how hard it is to get into some college courses without certain courses and grades. The thing is, I knew it didn't matter. I had decided by Grade Eight that I would be a reporter. It involved writing, and it would only require a two-year diploma, and then I could be out there working instead of sitting in another classroom. And my plan worked perfectly, in fact. I've been working full time since I was 19 years old. And no, I didn't need the higher math I missed out on.

I did, eventually, learn to miss the fact that I hadn't taken the math courses more seriously. I'm a science fiction nerd, and sometimes I knew I was missing things when I read SF or popular science books. I've picked up the odd mathematical fact here and there, but nothing systematic. Not until my girlfriend (who is both wise and beautiful) started her course.

Now I've discovered the joy that comes with getting it. The pleasure that comes from finding a solution to a seemingly unsolveable problem. I'm enjoying math in a way I haven't since I was in elementary school. (The fact that I can hash out the solution to problems with a loved one does not hurt at all, but I suspect it isn't strictly required.) Why am I discovering this now, and not then?

Because no one is forcing me to do it. Because I'm not being given purely utilitarian reasons for doing it. Because I can yell at the textbook when it deliberately obfuscates things, because I'm free to ask why a certain problem should be done a certain way.

While my teachers are not to blame for my failures, a part of the blame has to rest with the system they find themselves in. The entire high school educational system in Noth America is geared towards producing either basic high school graduates or college entrants. The requirements for both are basically arbitrary, at this point. The courses you take are either completely unneccessary for the unskilled, low wage jobs at the bottom of the barrel, or they are inadequate for the high-skilled jobs, which will require either technical or academic training at another institution. Everyone involved, from teachers to students, knows this. As students, we know there are a set number of hoops to jump through. You must have X, Y and Z courses from the humanities stream, and A, B and C from the sciences side, to graduate at all. Add in D, E and F courses to qualify for your postsecondary stream of choice, whether it's a trades apprenticeship or a university entrance. Our teachers, the better ones, try to get us interested in the course material for its own sake, and we take a course we like when we can, but mostly we're just trying to get to the next hoop. (I never took English Lit 12, either, because it conflicted with another course I needed more, but enjoyed less.)

Most importantly, I don't remember anyone ever telling me that math is fun. It was suggested that it was needed to make me a well-rounded individual, that it would be useful for so many, many careers. But those strictly utilitarian arguements don't work on students who already have their own utilitarian plans for graduation and career lined up.

I'm not dismissing utility in education, of course. But we expect life to be more than the mere utility of eating, sleeping and passing on our genes. We have the best toybox in the history of life between our ears, and math is one of the toys inside. It's criminal not to tell students that, at least once. At least then, the system and the teachers would have tried.

Others have noticed that something is wrong with the way we teach and learn. A system that is supposed to teach us skills, doesn't. A system that desires to make us well rounded doesn't ask us what "well rounded" is. A system that should show us the pleasure of learning offers only dull utility as an explanation for all its courses.

Progressive Review has this story about the roots of the modern American education system. Kevin Carson has commentary on that article on his Mutualist Blog and on this article on a similar theme.

Meanwhile, over at Pharyngula, P.Z. Meyers is plenty pissed about a Washington Post column that suggests no one needs math for a fulfilling life, and that algebra might just be too hard for people. The comments section vigorously defends math, with mostly utilitarian arguments again. But some of the posters are questioning the way students are taught in the first place, which is a good start.

So funny... it hurts...

Still holding my sides in. But it's a good hurt.

Joss Whedon.

Warren Ellis.

Comic/science fiction/comedy gods. Together, for the first time.

Go read it. Now!

And then start the petition to have them do this as a talk show, five nights a week.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Take that Emerson!

It's nice to see the Liberal Party has taken my suggestion so quickly, and are asking David Emerson to repay the $97,000 they spent on his election campaign.

Emerson, of course, is just digging his hole deeper by saying he earned lots and lots of money for the party, so why should they complain that now he's thoroughly betrayed them? I guess the theory is that if you pay off someone, you can use, abuse and then dump them. Another famous Tory once put it thusly: "There's no whore like an old whore." It's good that we can look back to such great statesmen as Brian Mulroney in times of political turmoil like this.

Meanwhile, in today's Vancouver Province, Emerson is complaining that his kids are the target of taunts at school because of his actions. I do feel bad for the kids - it's not their fault their dad is an asshat - but what the hell did Emerson think would happen?

The right wing blogosphere and pundits remain divided, although the bloggers and streeter interviews are much more critical of Harper. It's just a few court eunuchs who are supporting this, and the appointment of Harper's campaign manager to the senate is even worse in many estimations.

I've revised my estimate of how long this government will last sharply downward. I give it less than a year, now.

Crested killer

The oldest relative of Tyranosaurus rex has been discovered in Jurassic strata in China. Check out this CBC page which has not only a pretty good description of the critter, but a nice artist's rendering.

They're wrong about it sharing the trait of being three-fingered with T. rex, though. T. rexes were famously two-fingered.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Have A Tall, Cool Glass of Links

Now that I'm slightly calmer about David Emerson (urge to kill receding...) I thought I'd put up a few links to some of the best stuff of recent days.

First, Pharyngula's P.Z. Meyers is threatening horrible violence to a Bible unless people link to him. I really don't care that it's a Bible, per se, but my book-protecting genes are kicking in. Don't do it, P.Z.! Think of the binding!

If it was a copy of a new China Mieville novel, I'd be even more upset.

Then there's my good friend Mr. Misanthropy, who has a Danish-Canadian perspective on the recent Mohammadtoons mess.

Meanwhile, Kevin Carson has two delightful posts up, which tear apart a pair of corporate management books. They're about how to feel good about being a downsized, overworked or frustrated drone. I for one welcome our new corporate overlords... Wait, you mean they've been screwing me all along?

And back to Emerson (urge to kill... returning!), I'm pleased to see that quite a few Tories are pissed about this. Babbling Brooks is mad as hell, and so are all his blogging right wing friends. Of course, they're just regular right wingers. They actually have morals, unlike their leaders.

Monday, February 06, 2006

Emerson: What the #@*!

Hey, Dave, remember this?

"I'm going to be Stephen Harper's worst enemy. We're going to stir the pot and you better believe we are going to make a heck of a lot of noise."

-- David Emerson, on election night [Jan. 23, 2006], when he was elected as a Liberal.

Here's a pithy quote for you, Emerson: Fuck off.

Why am I so mad about this? After all, my ideal world is an anarchist one, without elected representatives, just direct democracy. But at the same time, I've always, before I ever had any anti-state leanings and since, been a strong advocate of voting. In the absence of a workable anarchy, a constitutional democracy is the next best thing, and within that framework, some governments are clearly better than others. Many, if not quite all politicians are moral, well meaning folks. People should vote, if only to elect the party that won't try to screw them over. If everyone with a progressive agenda withdrew from voting, we'd be abandoning the levers of power to people who believe that gays and adulterers should be stoned to death.

But now, I'm considering not even voting in the next election. Emerson has really brought it home for me just how fucking miserable some politicians can be, how easily they'll betray everything they supposedly stand for. He's the latest in a recent string of defections from every side of the political spectrum.

Ujjal Dosanjh, former NDP premier, runs for the federal Liberals.

Belinda Stronach, former Tory, turns Judas for a Liberal cabinet seat.

Keith Martin, who jumped from Alliance to Liberal.

Scott Brison, Tory to Liberal in one easy step.

Bob Rae, another fromer NDP premier, of Ontario, rumoured to be seeking the Liberal leadership.

Notice something about that string of defections? Every one of them (except Rae) was toward the immediate centre of power, which for 12 long years has been the Liberals. Your basic backbench MP can't just jump from party to party either, they just have to sit tight and do what they're told. They're the toiling class of the politicians, just trying to scrape up enough patronage to get another community centre or highway overpass built in their riding.

Above them are the political elite, the literal ruling class. They are marked out by wealth, influence and charisma, and they feel free to jump from party to party, always seeking power and influence. Stronach, a silver-spoon sucking millionaire who hung out with Bill Clinton, engineered the merger of the Progressive Conservative and Alliance parties into the new Conservatives, and then switched sides when she didn't find herself on the winning team, is the classic example. She's even managed to get re-elected after that stunt. These high-class pols always claim to have the best interests of the country in mind, of course. I'm sure that they think they do. But the effect is that they dilute their own ethics, or show that they had none to begin with.

I'm not writing this rant because I'm a fan of the Liberals, but because I get angry on behalf of the voters in Emerson's riding.

He ran as a Liberal. He ate their salt, and then he stabbed the party in the back. But worse than that, he assumed that he knew better than every single person who marked his name on a ballot. Without asking them, without consulting, without a meeting or a poll, he has invalidated their decision of just two weeks ago.

Some of those people who marked their X next to Emerson, David, voted for him because they liked him. Some were voting strategically, to keep out another party they didn't like. And the majority voted because they supported the platform of the Liberals themselves, because they had weighed the platforms and the records of the various parties, and found the Liberals the least wanting. Now, he'll be supporting the Tory platform, the Tory party line and the Tory cause.

Until they're out of power, presumably. If the Liberals win with a minority in the next election, they'll let him right back in, all forgiven. The need for collective power and the need for individual power feed off one another, perfectly incestuous.

Meanwhile, the voters have no power.

Not all is lost. There are any number of ways we can return more power to the electorate, short of burning the constituency offices of every MP in the land. Retiring NDP MP Ed Broadbent suggested a package of corruption fighting reforms that included a ban on switching parties in mid-stream. Any MP who wanted to change his or her colours would be forced to step down and fight a by-election. It's a good start.

Another good idea would be very tough recall legislation. We need a way to pull these guys out of there when they get out of hand. And the requirements need to be easy enough to make it a meaningful threat. If even a few thousand people think the bum should go, he should go.

I'd also suggest that every time there's a defection like this, of a sitting MP, that the party he or she left should sue the living shit out of the traitor. Sue for every dollar they invested in lawn signs, newspaper ads, hot dogs at the party fundraisers. And every volunteer should join a class action lawsuit, to sue for the time they invested as volunteers. Does $30 an hour for their time sound good to you?

Finally, we badly need to reform the way we elect these people in the first place. Some form of proportional representation (I'm a fan of the Single Transferrable Vote, but I'm open to other options) is badly needed.

None of those reforms would make it a perfect democracy, but we'd be a bit closer. The high and mighty need to feel some anger from the voters, and they need to feel it now.

And to Emerson, once more: Fuck you.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Who the heck is left?

John Manley won't run.

Frank McKenna won't run.

Brian Tobin won't run.

Now, Allen Rock won't run either.

The Liberal leadership race is staring to look rather sad. It's like a seventh grade dance, with everyone lined up against the wall, refusing to take to the floor. (Fears of complete social humiliation are appropriate for both settings.) If someone had asked for a list of the top five Liberal leadership candidates a year ago, those names would have been four of the top five, with maybe Sheila Copps rounding out the list. I'm guessing that at least some of these guys actually would like to lead the party (I'm looking at you, Brian) but they want to let the flames of political scandal consume some other sacrificial leader first. They'll come back to "save" the party eventually.

The odd thing is, this has left us with a pack of highly unlikely "frontrunners" right now.

The CBC's website has a list of possible leaders, and three of them are turncoats for other parties. I know the Liberals are supposed to be a "big tent" party, but this is ridiculous. Scott Brison, Belinda Stronach and Bob Rae! The only remainder is Michael Ignatieff, who has spent most of the past two decades in the US and England.

My two pennies?

Stronach hasn't got a hope in hell. In fact, given that she was one of the major behind the scenes people who created the current Conservative Party, which just tossed the Libs onto the Opposition bosses, I'm surprised they even talk to her. Plus, she jumped ship in exchange for a cabinet post and a chance at more power, whatever she claims. I doubt she'll even launch an official leadership campaign.

Ignatieff was in favour of the war in Iraq. In favour of that mess - that sort of damages your credibility. The nasty little apologist for US imperialism is probably the frontrunner just because all those other long-time Libs have already dropped out. Sad. Just sad.

Brison is in a better position than Stronach despite the fact that he also defected from the Tories. He was a red Tory of the old Progressive Conservatives, who refused to join the new Reform/Alliance dominated Tory caucus because of their views on gay rights (as he is a gay man). A principled stand like that is at least better than a naked power grab, but a lot of Liberals are more than a bit homophobic themselves, and so are their voters.

And then there was Rae. Seriously? Bob Rae? What the fuck happened there? I suppose he's my preferred choice to win... Better than the warmonger.