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.