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Home December 2010
December 2010

Wallis Giunta's Star Ascends, Deservedly

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I first noticed Wallis Giunta in last year's Opera Atelier production of The Marriage of Figaro.

And I sure did notice her!

Another find was the newbie Wallis Giunta as Cherubino who stole almost every scene she was in - I hope they can find excuses to cast her again! It is lovely how well this company finds new talent.

Well it seems I am not alone in having noticed her!

When she sang a few months later for star soprano Kiri Te Kanawa as part of a training program at Chicago's Ravinia Festival, Te Kanawa invited Giunta to study with her at a vocal academy in Tuscany this summer. If you're looking for Giunta in July, you'll find her hanging with Kiri.

To top it off, Giunta found out that she will be going to school next fall at the Metropolitan Opera.

It started at the same Chicago training program, when Giunta worked with Brian Zeger, a vocal coach and executive director of the Met's Lindemann Young Artist Development Program. The program, lasting one to three years, offers young singers paid training that includes lessons, master classes with current and former Met stars, advice on career development and the chance to perform small roles at the opera house.

I guess now it will be harder to see her in Toronto!  But congratulations; I look forward to heading for a Cineplex some Saturday afternoon to watch her at the Met!
Last Updated on Friday, 07 January 2011 10:58
 

Michael Vick

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He'll be taking the field tonight with the Eagles shortly, in the game notoriously delayed by the Northeast blizzard.  This will compress the end of season for the Eagles.

I had not watched the Eagles until the recent Giants game, and was delighted to see Vick was still (again?) the incredible scrambler I remember, but also astonished to see what an effective passer he has become.  I look forward to watching further Eagles games this season, though not likely tonight's.

But what the hell was Obama thinking?

"The president wanted to talk about two things, but the first was Michael,'' Lurie told me. "He said, 'So many people who serve time never get a fair second chance. He was ... passionate about it. He said it's never a level playing field for prisoners when they get out of jail. And he was happy that we did something on such a national stage that showed our faith in giving someone a second chance after such a major downfall.''
Good to know we're in such good hands!  THe man clearly knows his priorities.

h/t HotAir, where they pose the very sensible question, which is also clearly rhetorical:

Exit question: Was there really no celebrity with a more sympathetic offense for Obama to make an example of? How many athletes and entertainers have cleaned up after victimless crimes involving drugs?




 

Could We Please Just Have Some Weather?

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Well, actually, here in Toronto, and recently around here too, we have not had much, and that pleases me greatly.  Last weekend we made our Christmas pilgrimage to and from Ottawa, and both trips were almost entirely free of faliing snow; the roads were clear and dry, the sky generally clear.  This trip is always one I look forward to with concern, as we have had some pretty hair-raising instances of it, in some pretty extreme winter weather, featuring all the usual suspects, including whiteouts, ice-covered freeways, roads barely discernible in layers of snow, and the like.  And I am someone who tends not even to start out unless the forecasts are particularly benign.

In any case we were blessed; but on the way up we were treated to radio reports of the weather-created travel chaos in Europe, and on the way home to predictions of similar chaos in the US Northeast (and the Canadian Maritimes).  Meanwhile, Southern California was getting deluged.

Now that is all entertaining but what is disheartening is having to put up with pundits telling me this is all because of global warming, or even other pundits telling me the current weather refutes global warming.  Both positions are largely ridiculous; it's weather, for heaven's sake!  As John Goetz observes on WUWT, this is hardly so unprecedented as to require some major explanation.

He had to be joking, right? There is no way a “director of seasonal forecasting at an atmospheric and environmental research firm” could possibly believe the weather we are experiencing out here on the east coast is in any way different from the past. One need only look through past issues of the New York Times itself to debunk that idea.

I went to the archives section of the newspaper and did a simple headline search on the word “blizzard”, then scanned through the oldest articles first looking for references to blizzards in New York City. A blizzard in mid-March 1888 immediately jumped out as a particularly memorable storm.

You can go amuse yourself with many other blizzards pre-dating 1900.

Roger Pielke, Sr. is even more dismayed at the low quality of the commentary.

This article is yet another one that spins the recent cold extremes and winter storms (e.g. in Europe, the United States), to be consistent with annual global average warming.

...[ed. cites some twaddle from the article]

This is incorrect. The El Niño/Southern Oscillation and other circulation features (such as the PDO, NAO etc) are NOT “annual cycles”. Moreover, as shown by Roy Spencer (e.g. see) these features can result in changes in the global average heat content ( by altering cloudiness).  Also, the recently relatively quiet Sun  (with its alteration of its shorter wavelengths of radiation -e. g. see at Watts Up With That) may be playing a role.

...[ed. cites further twaddle]

First, the statement that while the statement  ”other frozen areas are shrinking”  is correct for Arctic sea ice, it is incorrect for Antarctic sea ice (e.g. see). Moreover, the statement that seasonal snow cover has increased conflicts with the 2007 IPCC WG1 Statement for Policymakers (SPM) where they write

“Observed decreases in snow and ice extent are also consistent with warming……snow cover on average have declined in both hemispheres.”

Figure SPM.1c in the 2007 IPCC WG1 SPM illustrates this decline. Thus, the author of the op-ed reports on a major disagreement with the IPCC report, yet neglects to alert the reader to this difference.

...[ed. cites further twaddle]

Even if we ignore whether atmospheric water vapor has really increased over this region during the last two and a half decades, the op-ed writer does not report that, if this effect of added snow cover in a warming world were real, it is a negative radiative feedback which the 2007 IPCC WG1 report (and multi-decadal global model projections) did not recognize.

...[ed. cites further twaddle, this about oceans warming, and really revs himself up]

However, the oceans have not been warming in recent years (e.g. see the 2010 paper by Know and Douglas ). However, I agree that “[m]ost forecasts have failed”. Indeed, I would go further to state that ALL seasonal and longer time scale model predictions have failed to skillfully predict these extreme cold events. One of the reasons, of course, is that these models are unable to skillfully predict the development of large amplitude atmospheric circulations (such as blocking high and low pressure systems, called “Omega Blocks” and ‘Rex Blocks”).

Until, and unless, the multi-decadal global models can show skill in predicting these atmospheric features AND their change in frequency and patterning in the coming decades, they are misleading policymakers and others on their skill. This op-ed, despite seeking to support the 2007 WG1 IPCC perspective, actually raises further substantive issues with the robustness and accuracy of that report.

Usually articles like the Times op-ed Pielke is responding to just assert the consistency of current weather with some notions that the Earth is warming.  This is a reasonable position, not one adopted by this author, who clearly goes way beyond any known science to assert more than consistency but a connection.  Nobody knows enough about the Earth's climate to be able to assert such a connection, and anyone who does so discredits himself in my view immediately.  As for me, neither the weather around me, nor that in Europe, nor that in the mid-Atlantic states, nor that in LA, nor that in Australia (also perhaps a bit different from the recent past) is either proof of or a refutation of claims that the Earth is warming.

But whatever, please please give me another winter like last winter.  It is looking promising, as we are heading into a multi-day thaw now!  The little snow on my back deck is vanishing (there is barely any out in the world here), and that's the way I like it!  But it is early and there is a lot of winter ahead.

 

It Didn't Seem that that would be the Way Someone Would Make a Law in Their Right Mind

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I'll say!

Tim Sandefur fights a ridiculous law in Oregon, and a similar one in Missouri.

Fortunately the one in Oregon is dead meat.

(FWIW I think Oregon still has the ludicrous law about self-service gasoline.  Meddlers love meddling.)

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h/t PLF and Freespace

 

Real People Don't Have Sex in Boxes

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Earlier this month Tim Worstall recommended a book, available free for download for the rest of this month. 

It's Elizabeth Pisani's 'The Wisdom of Whores', and now that I have finally started reading it I want to join in recommending it!

You can get an overview of Pisani's views on her main subject (the epidemiology of AIDS and how to prevent it) from this article.

The book is written with a lively voice, an eye for hypocrisy, and a fascination with life in its many sometimes odd forms.  The title of this post is a key sentence in her journey of intellectual development.

So go download your free copy here!  You have just under a week.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 28 December 2010 15:02
 

That's What I Call Teaching Science!

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Primary school students publish a peer-reviewed paper!

And it all arose because the class was not taught like a normal science class - "here is all the stuff that is known".  It started with something unknown and let the students try to figure out how to come to know more.

The class (including Lotto’s son, Misha) came up with their own questions, devised hypotheses, designed experiments, and analysed data.  They wrote the paper themselves (except for the abstract), and they drew all the figures with colouring pencils.

It’s a refreshing approach to science education, in that it actually involves doing science. The practical sessions in modern classrooms are a poor substitute; they might allow students to get their hands dirty, but they are a long way from true experiments. Their answers are already known and they do nothing to simulate the process of curiosity and discovery that lie at the heart of science. That’s not the case here. As the children write, “This experiment is important, because no one in history (including adults) has done this experiment before.”

Of course it would still be doing science to do the same experiment again, and even better science if you got different results; but that can be a later lesson.

The trick was to get the children to see the scientific process as a game – we play by a set of rules to discover hidden patterns and relationships in the world around us. It’s a viewpoint that Lotto firmly believes in and one that turns science education into “a more enlightened and intuitive process of asking questions and devising games to address those questions.” With games on their minds, the children started talking about how animals see the world, using everything from bug-eye lenses to videos of silly dog tricks. The conversation moved onto bees and how they forage for nectar, and the questions came thick and fast.

It's a great story - read the whole thing.

There is a similar problem with mathematcjs education.  Teaching the subject as an established body of knowledge makes it sterile and rather interesting.  In many ways it is easier to inject hte life of natural science into the subject than it is for mathematics.  But one can and should try to get students to guess, use intuition to find patterns, and then later learn to prove the relationships they have guessed at, and to build counterexamples to refute intuitions.  The problem is that this requires sophisticated teachers, and those sure don;t come out of our eductaion faculties in very large numbers.  A good part fo the problem is that we entrust something as important as education to 'leaders' who seem to me to be moral defectives like those at OISE.

 

US PISA Results

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They look pretty mediocre until you look at them a little more closely, as Steve Sailer does, to the degree that he is able to.

What he does is disaggregate the results by ethnicity and compare disaggregated results to arguably more relevant populations.

His  starting point is some of the US Educational Establishment's hysteria about the results - basically into major 'give us more money' mode.

And the New York Times headlined Top Test Scores from Shanghai Stun Educators. [By Sam Dillon,  December 7, 2010]

I wasn’t stunned. But then I’m not an educator.

Anyone who is stunned must be paying awfully little attention to China.  Or is just plain stupid.

By disaggregating he makes some pretty interesting points.

  • Asian Americans outscored every Asian country, and lost out only to the city of Shanghai, China’s financial capital.

  • White Americans students outperformed the national average in every one of the 37 historically white countries tested, except Finland (which is, perhaps not coincidentally, an immigration restrictionist nation where whites make up about 99 percent of the population).

  • Hispanic Americans beat all eight Latin American countries.

  • African Americans would likely have outscored any sub-Saharan country, if any had bothered to compete. The closest thing to a black country out of PISA’s 65 participants is the fairly prosperous oil-refining Caribbean country of Trinidad and Tobago, which is roughly evenly divided between blacks and South Asians. African Americans outscored Trinidadians by 25 points.

None of this suggests any call for panic.  Moreover there appears to be a case for NOT spending more on education:

America pays royally for the results we do get. We spend more per student than any country in the world, other than Luxembourg, a small, rich tax haven. We spend about fifty percent more per student than Finland does.

There are all sorts of caveats and there is limited data, as the US government at the moment distributes only a lmited amount of disaggregated information about the results.

I checked Statistics Canada's report, and as far as I could see, the data is not there to do a similar analysis of Canada's results (relatively good even without disaggregation).  But I'd be very curious to see how such results would look, and they seemed to promise more analysis in a future report.  Whether it would be such non-PC analysis as this will be interesting to discover.


 

He's Copied on /var/spool/mail/root

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So be good for goodness' sake!

xkcd gets geekily seasonal;

Last Updated on Friday, 24 December 2010 04:02
 

What a Lovely Christmas Song

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I love the line "And looking down no one would know I wasn't walking hand in hand beside you."

There is clearly a reason to keep listening to the Bare Naked Ladies.

h/t Metro Morning (thanks!) on my drive home this morning.

 

Exception that Proves the Rule

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Well, this is sure not true this week!

And as Paul Kedrosky notes, part of the blame goes to those killer squirrels!

Last Updated on Wednesday, 22 December 2010 09:08
 

George Monbiot's Climate Expertise

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Monbiot's recent excursion in the Guardian asserting that the extreme winter weather in the UK is proof of global warming struck me as so silly that I did not know what to say about it.

So I will outsource the task to Shuggy.

Knowing nothing about this subject myself, I'm quite prepared to go with the scientific wisdom of crowds. But the case needs a better spokesman than Monbiot, what with him being something of an asshole.

If you disagree with this, you are an asshole-denialist and almost certainly a Nazi.

A pretty handy summary.

 

The Joys of the Google Cache - Heathrow Version

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BAA sensibly took this down but no doubt to their regret it is immortal.

With an extra half a million pounds invested in equipment this year, Heathrow’s airside department run constant checks of runway and taxiway areas, applying de-icing and of course clearing any snow and debris away.

For a good laugh read the whole overconfident thing.

It's interesting to note that I saw a local TV news report pointing out that Toronto's Pearson airport has $50 million worth of equipment dedicated to managing winter.  It makes the 'extra half a million pounds' predictably about as effective as it apparently has been.

I still sympathize a bit with the BAA; after all the Met Office tells them year after year that there won't be snow because of global warming so investment in managing winter should not be expensive.

 

WikiLeaks and British Muslim Students

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WikiLeaks is in many ways a gift that keeps on giving, and what it has been giving is probably notexactly what many had hoped when they heard US diplomatic cables would be published.

One particularly chilling cable is described in this Washington Times article.

Nearly one-third of Muslim college students in Britain support killing in the name of religion, while 40 percent want to live under Islamic law, according to a secret cable from the U.S. Embassy in London that reviewed public polling data and government population predictions.

A survey of 600 Islamic and 800 non-Islamic students at 30 universities found that 32 percent of the Muslims believed in religious killing, while only 2 percent of non-Muslim students felt religious murder was justified, the cable said, referring to a poll conducted by the Center for Social Cohesion.

I'd rather had the impression from recent events (like the Christmas Day would-be-underwear-bomber) that some British universities were turning into a breeding ground for barbarism, and this sure seems to confirm that impression.  This sure suggests we have a considerable supply of at-least-fellow-travelers with murderous slime that keep popping up in the West.  (Of course that 2% of the non-Muslims is not inconsiderable, but far less likely to feed on itself and grow.)

There is more to cause some alarm.

The embassy cable, released by the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks, said the same survey revealed that 54 percent of Muslim students want to be represented by an Islamic-based political party.

The poll also showed that 40 percent of Muslim students endorse Islamic, or Shariah, law, which can impose the death penalty for religious heresy and adultery, often by stoning, or the amputation of hands for theft. Since 2008, Britain has allowed Muslims to follow Shariah law in civil cases, but not in criminal trials.

This in the cradle of Western freedoms!  It will be interesting to see in the years to come what the UK does - will it continue trying to co-opt questionable Muslim 'community leaders' and thereby give them legitimacy, and continue suppressing free speech, or will they wake up to the danger, clearly a potential serious threat.

I wonder what a similar poll in Canadian universities would reveal.  If you look simply at the campus leaders, especially of the more hysterical sort, you could fret pretty seriously about the scene.  I'd like to think that most Muslim students just ignore those clowns, get a decent education, and plan to lead a sensible life, free of notions of killing infidels.

Especially around Christmas.  The US and UK seem to have found quite a bunch of little creeps eager to use Christmas as an opportunity for mass murder in the name of Mohammed and his imaginary friend in the sky.

 

Benny Peiser Has Some Fun

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With Headlines Regarding the UK Met Office.

The highlights:

Met Office 2008 Forecast: Trend of Mild Winters Continues

Reality Check: Winter of 2008/09 Coldest Winter For A Decade

Met Office 2009 Forecast: Trend To Milder Winters To Continue, Snow And Frost Becoming Less Of A Feature

“The famously cold winter of 1962/63 is now expected to occur about once every 1,000 years or more, compared with approximately every 100 to 200 years before 1850.”

Reality Check: Winter Of 2009/10 Coldest Winter For Over 30 Years

Met Office July 2010: Climate Change Gradually But Steadily Reducing Probability Of Severe Winters In The UK

Met Office 2010 Forecast: Winter To Be Mild Predicts Met Office

Reality Check: December 2010 “Almost Certain” To Be Coldest Since Records Began

Reading the details makes it all even a tad funnier, especially the quotation at the end about how they measure how warm a winter was.

 

Now That's a Sense of Humor!

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(For context if you lack it search for Antoine Dodson on YouTube.)

Last Updated on Monday, 20 December 2010 13:52
 

Sometimes xkcd Waxes Serious

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...and very effectively.

Of course it's not just that that makes it inconceivable I would turn to religion; it also has to do with the sheer ridiculousness of religious claims, uttered by various prophets about their imaginary friends in the sky.  It's that ridiculousness that makes the world as seen through religious eyes seem a simple and uninteresting place.  And I'm no fan of religious claims on hoiw to live life.

 

Sarah Palin Did Not Kill Anything

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... for a change, in this week's spisode of "Sarah Palin's Alaska".

We did meet some interesting characters, the guy with the gold mine (who apparently died between recording the episode and broadcasting it), the mushers, and the skeet shooters out in the middle of nowehere.

But the highlight for me were animalsl in particular the sled dogs,  Their enthusiasm for running was just wonderful to see.  And the excited howling awaiting their release really is an amazing sight.

Overall it was somewhat flat episode  It is quite sweet to see Trig's 'happy hands'.

Last Updated on Monday, 20 December 2010 06:19
 

Sarah Meet Justin; Justin Meet Sarah

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Only a couple of weeks after Aaron Sorkin's obviously small brain exploded seeing Sarah Palin shoot a caribou (not quite expertly, it seems), we now have a Canadian uprising upset over this lovely picture.

Which is the Christmas Card picture of Justin Trudeau and his family, wearing what is apparently coyote fur.

What the hell?  Coyotes steal pets and kill pet dogs and cats.  Occasionally lately, with their spread into our cities and close to our cities, they are killing humans. 

I'd like to recommend to all the protestors against this lovely family picture that they go try to kiss a polar bear. 

Disclaimers:  I cannot imagine voting for either Sarah Palin or Justin Trudeau for any public office.  Before seeing this picture I did think I would love to have dinner with Sarah Palin and family (and try to provoke Piper to more mischief).  Now after this controversy it almost strikes me that maybe Justin Trudeau and Sophie and kids are people it might be fun to have dinner with.

I am no hunter.  As a child, when my father returned once proud from the hunt with an armful of dead ducks, I was extremely upset.  But I am not so silly as to fail to recognize that hunting is a long-standing human activity and that it would be stupid to fail to recognize how crucial it has been to creating the utterly great world we live in, one where we can have these refined sensibilities that rebel against that killing.

 

The Global Warming Orthodoxy

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This is almost funny.

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And it would be quite funny if it were funny, but it is awfully close to the truth.  And that is NOT funny.

h/t WUWT

Last Updated on Saturday, 18 December 2010 12:44
 

Rob Ford Hits the Ground Running

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Rob Ford had three ambitions for his first full-business Toronto City Council meeting yesterday.  He wanted to kill the vehicle registration tax, a concoction of Miller and crew whereby the city skims an extra $60 for its coffers when those living in the city registered a car with the province.  He wanted Council to vote to cut its own expense budgets by around 20%.  He wanted the Toronto Transit Commission declared an essential service (the city has no standing here but he wanted a vote to ask the province to do this).

As the meeting opened there was much skepticism that this could be achieved in one day and many expected the session to extend into today.  In the end it did not and Ford prevailed.  I watched all of the meeting that I could (interrupted by a couple of teleconference calls, though I could watch with diminished attention enjoying the rather flaky closed captioning - my favorite rendition was 'bylaw' as 'boy law').

The old guard did do its best to bafflegab and stall, but it is clear that council's mood, no doubt reflecting that of the voters, was profound.

The vehicle registration tax battle I view as largely symbolic but telling.  When Miller found himself unable to spend to his desired levels, which to many of us seemed profligate, he got the province to give him new taxing powers and immediately jumped upon them and installed two new taxes, this being one of them.  It was easy to collect - the province agreed to administer it.  And it showed that Miller's council, faced with financial exigency, tilted strongly to simply gouging the citizens a little more.  So Ford's powerful commitment to killing this tax right away is a strong statement that he plans to play it the other way in the next four years.

On the other hand, just as he did in the campaign, Ford kept his explicit message simple and repeated over and over - "we can do this without cutting services".  Council voted down one old guard amendment to commit to no cuts in services, and I was impressed at one councillor (I did not record his name) who commented that the voters had asked for change and 'no cuts in services' is a synonym for the old ways.  (Ford said nothing close to this.)  The councillor for my ward proposed a referral of the move to the Budget committee - this was a simple stalling effort, voted down enthusiastically by Council.  In this effort and many others, she really failed to impress me; however does she get elected in my ward?  One answer is that nobody else runs.  At least seriously - when I studied my ballot in October, I recognized only her name, so voted for some unknown Muslin name partway down the list of candidates.

His message on expenses was twofold.  First, as an example, he had cut his own office budget from Miller's by 25%.  He may now not be abl;e to afford to jet off to various environmental conferences.  Secondly - he harped on one of the more egregious past uses of councillor expense budgets sure to raise the hackles of people like me; outgoing councillor Kyle Rae, realizing he had not spent his whole 'office' budget, used $13,000 or so to host a farewell party for himself!

Adam Vaughn decided this was an issue to whine about at lengthl I wonder how long these old guard councillors will keep using up council time just to get TV time (when few are watching, and many of them, like me, just find him increasingly annoying and far less impressive than he is in tiny doses, which is also not much).  In any case the optics of not passing this were pretty clear and council passed it.

I missed much of the discussion of the TTC as an essential service.  Council passed the request to the province, but less overwhelmingly.  This issue is rather more complex than the first two.   But Ford got his way.

So three for three in the first meeting thought it took almost twelve hours, which is just ridiculous.  And this is through no fault of the new Speaker, Frances Nunziata, who runs a pretty tight ship, and is fun to watch.  (I gave up watching council meetings because of how annoying her predecessor was - fortunately residents of the Beach had an usual paroxysm of good sense and voted that one out of office.)

Of the three I am heartly for the first two (even when the cuts in service start coming, and my local councillor finds she cannot attach her name to as many little local projects as she has in the past).  The third is one I still have no real opinion on.  Well, I do have one opinion; public sector monopolies should not be unionized - it creates an incredible rent-seeking opportunity, as a strike has the unique effect of shutting a service down completely, as the state has mandated there should be no competitive offering of the same service.  This is a very significant distinction form a private sector union and it is a telling one.  Once you have such a union, how to manage it becomes extremely difficult, and every approach has problems.

There is no council meeting now until February.  Too bad - I look forward to the next one.

Last Updated on Friday, 17 December 2010 05:12
 

I've Heard of Breast Pumps

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... but for an Orca?  Yikes!

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There is a method to the madness; Mom won't directly feed the baby.  It takes quite some bottle!

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h/t ZooBorns, where you can find a few more details.

 

Hey I am not Alone in my Confusion!

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I was rather surprised to note the precipitous rise in 10-year Treasury Rates (amazingly they are noiw higher than those of 10-Year Canadian Bonds).

I had thought QE2 was supposed to drop 10-year rates.  And then yesterday I read an article that said the rate rise was proof of the success of QE2 - QE2 has increased confidence in the economy and so people are borring as investment, and this drives the long-run rates up.. OK makes sense.  And then on BNN this morning a bank economist said the rate rise was clear proof that QE2 was failing.

So I was confused.  But at least I am not alone!

Moreover, it's an economisty who is confused with me.

I do love this though, commenting on the view that QE2 is working:

As my good friend Doug Nelson likes to say, "you have to be a very highly trained economist to come to that conclusion".

Last Updated on Friday, 17 December 2010 05:12
 

Tune in to CBC Radio Tomorrow Morning

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And you can hear Eclect Econ discuss his role in trying to eliminate the penny, a worthy cause.

I am assuming that whatever your morning show is, he`ll be on it.  In Toronto, it`s Metro Morning and I will likely miss it, but hope they have a podcast I can hear later.

 

Your Federal Government is Pushing a Crappy Copyright Bill

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And the CBC points out a couple of problems, very nicely.

As usual, it's supporting powerful special interests against ordinary citizens (nothing new here - any government is bound to do crap like that).

h/t Michael Geist

Last Updated on Monday, 13 December 2010 15:56
 

The Boehner Era Begins

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Next month John Boehner becomes Speaker of the House, and third in line for the Presidency.  (This is not trivial - though it was not by the prescribed rules of succession, Gerald Ford moved from this role quite quickly to the Presidency.

Who is John Boehner?  CBS' 60 Minutes and Lesley Stahl profile him, and to my astonishment this is not a hit piece at all but quite a sympathetic portrait.  It's well worth watching.  As Boehner himself says at the end, "Welcome to America".  Too true indeed.

Last Updated on Monday, 13 December 2010 05:31
 

Sarah and Kate Go Camping

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We've all known for a while that this week's episode of 'Sarah Palin's Alaska' would feature a camping trip with Kate Gosselin and her eight that is abandoned by Gosselin when she finds it is wet and cold.  I did wonder a little whether there would be much to watch in the end,

But was there ever!  One thing I had not paid much attention to was the reaction of Gosselin's kids to the camping experience; they appeared to be having just a great time, especially padding around after Palin's father, a retired science teacher, who still contains that teacher and naturalist that Alaska clearly nurtured.  And it was heartbreaking when Gosselin decided to leave herself and she polled the kids about whether they wanted to leave with her or stay; several appeared initially to say they wanted to stay, until she rather cruelly told them, "Well, you're a Palin now, not a Gosselin."  Unfortunately the kids were too young to recognize that for the enormous compliment it is.

I am coming to really enjoy watching Piper; she tries to be somewhat impassive in her self-presentation but there is a lot going on behind those eyes.  She was excited about the Gosselins as she is apparently a big fan of 'Kate plus Eight'.  She had some hilarious facial expressions this week; nothing quite as withering as her comments on Mom's capabilities as a hunter last week, but this is one independent kid with her own views and she is fun to watch.

Kate's litany of miseries from her camping shelter were a riot; I especially loved the complaint about hand washing.  Good God they're camping in the middle of nowhere and they forgot the Purex!  Also cute was Kate's reaction to her education on the use of guns to address bear attacks.  Her head did not explode as Aaron Sorkin's tiny one did last week when Palin shot a caribou (something millions of Americans do every year).  But she was extremely uncomfortable.  Urban life sure can be misleading.

Only three more episodes.  I look forward to next week's whitewater rafting.

Last Updated on Monday, 13 December 2010 05:21
 

Woo Hoo It's Nat and Kat!

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...who win The Amazing Race!

First all-female team ever to win, and they were followed into second by another all-female team, Brrook and Claire.

I am delighted; these two teams were so much fun to watch.  And Nat and Kat sure took some amazing steps to win.  I was impressed at their note-taking that sped up the game show portion of their leg.

Congratulations and thanks so much for the spectacle.

I loved Claire's "We literally laughed our way around the world."  I will never forget her being hit in the face by a renegade watermelon flying at high speed.

Poor Jill and Thomas fell prey to a rather unhelpful taxi driver (I have commented in the past on how critical taxi drivers around the world can be in affecting outcomes on this show); as Thomas commented in a clipped way, roughly, "You get on home soil and hit your first language problem".

Now, on to episode 5 of Sarah Palin's Alaska.

 

Havel Speaks out on the Nobel Peace Prize

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h/t Norm

Of course Havel is a writer so you would expect a certain eloquence.  And you get it, this from a letter from Havel to Liu Xiaobo:

Like probably all the signatories of the Czechoslovak Charter 77, I am naturally touched that our campaign provided inspiration for the Chinese Charter 08. I am touched not only because it recalls our own efforts of many years ago but because it is confirmation of something I have long believed, namely, that fundamental human rights and freedoms are universal values that are shared in their basic outlines by all nations and civilisations in today’s world. I have had the opportunity to meet dissidents from many different countries and been surprised how similar their ideals, experiences and concerns are. And even the repertoire of persecutory skills of the authoritarian governments in their countries was strikingly similar and was totally unrelated to whether the governments in question went under a right-wing or a left-wing banner. There simply exists a sort of moral minimum that is common to the entire world and thanks to which people from countries as different and far apart as the Czech Republic and China can  strive for the same values and sympathise each other, thereby creating the basis for true – not simply feigned – friendship.

"A moral minimum".  What a beautiful phrase, and what a great way to express the notion of basic universal human rights.  (As Canada, rhetorically citing human rights, slowly rolls many of its back out of existence.)

 

Another Dimwit Strikes

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A bombing in Stockholm, clearly inspired by Islam.

The agency said the warning, which was also sent to Sweden’s Security Police (SAPO), also referred to caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed by the Swedish artist Lars Vilks.

It 's a good thing that this level of devotion to Muhammad and his imaginary friend seems mostly to be distributed among mental deficients who cannot even manage a simple suicide murder.

One of these days even such morons will succeed, of course; there seem to be a lot more of them around than anyone in his right mind would want.

 

More on Anthropology's Self-Destruction

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I posted earlier on the suicide of the discipline of Anthropology that is underway.  Ophelia Benson quotes Alice Dreger on the subject and has some valuable comments of her own.
She distinguishes between the 'fluff-heads' and those who value data and science:

Wait, I have an idea – they could split, and the fluff-heads could all move to Women’s Studies departments. Meanwhile the non-fluff head WS people could move to departments that actually value data collection, though that could include history as well as scientific fields.

The fluff-heads would undoubtedly feel at home in Women's Studies.  Seems to me Sociology would be a good place too, though there is the very odd sociologist who values data.

 

NASA Circles the Wagons

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Well, at least Felicia Wolfe-Simon does, in a statement, cited in this post by Larry Moran, and in a statement worthy of the people of the CRU in East Anglia who at times laughingly call themselves scientists:

"Any discourse will have to be peer-reviewed in the same manner as our paper was, and go through a vetting process so that all discussion is properly moderated," wrote Felisa Wolfe-Simon of the NASA Astrobiology Institute. "The items you are presenting do not represent the proper way to engage in a scientific discourse and we will not respond in this manner."

Now this is just ridiculous, especially from someone who, as Moran points out, misrepresented the actual contents of the paper in a press conference highly touted in advance by NASA (which press conference was surely in no way 'peer-reviewed').

Invoking the priesthood is a standard out for scoundrels who want to avoid debate; it is analogous to all the religious folk who refuse to engage with the likes of Richard Dawkins because he has not wasted his life on 'scholarship' on the subject of the various imaginary creatures (God, Allah, etc.) and  therefore is ignorant of the truth about these Santa Claus figures.

I cannot see how this will end well for Wolfe-Simon or for NASA, both of whom should be deeply embarrassed.  As Moran says:

My own impression of this fiasco is that the scientific authors of the paper can be accused of bad science and the lead author, Felisa Wolfe-Simon, is guilty of grossly misrepresenting her work at the press conference. There really can't be any excuse for that behavior if you want to call yourself a scientist. Those who think this is impolite and unethical are dead wrong. It's an absolute requirement of good science that we point out to the general public when scientists are behaving badly, otherwise we lose all credibility.

And you do not have to be a priest to read the paper and discover the emperor is wearing at best only skimpy underwear, not the golden suit that was advertised.  There are intelligent people who are not scientists, and furthermore have not signed up for circling the wagons with the rest of the priestly wagon train.

Last Updated on Saturday, 11 December 2010 05:49
 

Anthropology Sinks into the Toilet

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So reports Nicholas Wade in the New York Times, in other words.

Anthropologists have been thrown into turmoil about the nature and future of their profession after a decision by the American Anthropological Association at its recent annual meeting to strip the word “science” from a statement of its long-range plan.

What's the issue?

He attributed what he viewed as an attack on science to two influences within anthropology. One is that of so-called critical anthropologists, who see anthropology as an arm of colonialism and therefore something that should be done away with. The other is the postmodernist critique of the authority of science. “Much of this is like creationism in that it is based on the rejection of rational argument and thought,” he said.

This should make it easy for Universities to cut their budgets.  There's clearly no further use for an anthropologu department.

h/t Steve Sailer, who notes:

This implied dichotomy between anti-science anthropologists who write about race, ethnicity, or gender and scientific anthropologists who don't study those topics is a bit misleading. The are also anthropologists who study race, ethnicity or gender scientifically (several of whom are on my blogroll). The work of Darwinian anthropologists of sex differences like John Tooby and of ancestral differences like Henry Harpending are the hidden key to this controversy. The anti-science anthropologists fear that if anthropology is allowed to be a science, then all sorts of politically incorrect scientific knowledge about humanity will emerge. The pro-science leaders try, publicily, to pooh-pooh those fears.

Oh I hate that evidence stuff!  It makes me SO uncomfortable.  Let's just fuggedaboutit.

Last Updated on Monday, 13 December 2010 06:05
 

Rob Ford Wins Two Battles

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Yesterday`s council meeting was rather entertaining, at least the parts I watched.

I did miss one of the key battles, the battle of the buffet

Toronto city council voted Wednesday to scrap snacks and beverages for councillors during all meetings for the next four years.When dealing with the meeting schedule for the new council, city officials asked politicians if they wanted “beverages and light refreshments at council and committee meetings.”As a councillor, Ford had unsuccessfully waged a buffet battle, trying to end the perk.“I have been fighting this issue for years, so it feels pretty good,” Ford said.

Actually I don`t think the provisioning is unreasonable; I am director of a consortium and it feeds us directors when we meet over lunch or supper hours.  Mind you the pay is zero.  But the symbol is a clear one for Ford. `Respect for the taxpayer`.

And I rather ;ose my respect for councillors who whine like this:

Councillor Shelley Carroll told reporters she was shocked her two cups of coffee weren’t at her council desk when the meeting started.She sent out one of her staffers to fetch her a big cup of Starbucks coffee.

Talk about entitlement!  She is `shocked`.  Moreover, her staffer has to go to Starbucks.

I did get to see much of the discussion of the committee assignments proposed by Ford`s transition team.  Those councillors who had been on the inside for the last many years suddenly find themselves on the outside, and are unhappy, and boy did they whine.  Some even moved their inclusion on pet committees.

Councillors loyal to former mayor David Miller spent much of the day lamenting they were shut out from important committees. Several grumbled that not one downtown councillor was placed on the TTC.Three councillors tried and failed to get council to add them to their committees of choice.Mihevc wanted to add himself to the TTC by creating a new commissioner position. Coun. Glenn De Baeremaeker wanted to create an extra seat on the Toronto Zoo board for himself while Counc. John Filion failed in his bid to create an extra seat on the planning committee so he could serve there.

Baeremaeker was hilarious and was speaking as I tuned in the meeting; I could not figure out why the heck he was going on about pandas and elephants.

In the end the Ford slate was approved with a small and inconsequential change.

It will be fascinating watching this go forward.

On a side note, at one point a woman in the gallery started ranting about our black boys being shot in the streets or the like.  Ford, as meeting chair, asked her to leave her name and contact information, promising he would talk with her face to face.  She continued ranting a while, and FOrd kept saying mildly, `Thank you`.  She finally did go silent; I am not sure why.  As for her black coys being shot in the street, she might have words with the black boys who are shooting them.

Last Updated on Thursday, 09 December 2010 16:25
 

Ducks in the Wind

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Real Toronto content.

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I did think of the line "All we are are ducks in the wind," but then I noticed it in the comments to the video so let me credit Demauscian.

 

WikiLeaks

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I've been stewing, like many others, over the last while, on the topic of WikiLeaks (and secondarily, Julian Assange (who is far less important).

I've slowly developed some views, but stumbled across this essay by Clay Shirky (who has clearly thought longer and more effectively about it than I have), which very effectively summarizes the views I have been intellectually stumbling towards.

My personal view is that there is too much secrecy in the current system, and that a corrective towards transparency is a good idea. I don’t, however, believe in total transparency, and even more importantly, I don’t think that independent actors who are subject to no checks or balances is a good idea in the long haul.

If the long haul were all there was, Wikileaks would be an obviously bad thing. The practical history of politics, however, suggests that the periodic appearance of such unconstrained actors in the short haul is essential to increased democratization, not just of politics but of thought.

Shirky has my reaction to the Obama administration's heavy-handed strong-arming of private businesses to try to shut WikiLeaks down.

The Unites States is — or should be — subject to the rule of law, which makes the extra-judicial pursuit of Wikileaks especially nauseating. (Calls for Julian’s assassination are even more nauseating.) It may be that what Julian has done is a crime. (I know him casually, but not well enough to vouch for his motivations, nor am I a lawyer.) In that case, the right answer is to bring the case to a trial.

In the US, however, the government has a “heavy burden”, in the words of the Supreme Court, for engaging in prior restraint of even secret documents, an established principle since New York Times Co. vs. The United States*, when the Times published the Pentagon Papers. If we want a different answer for Wikileaks, we need a different legal framework first.

And ofcourse what is most appalling is that this pursuit (apparently executed largely by Biden) is utterly extra-legal, with no basis in law; it is Chicago thuggery, and typical of the Obama team`s lack of interest in actual law.

Though I don’t like Senator Joseph Lieberman’s proposed SHIELD law (Securing Human Intelligence and Enforcing Lawful Dissemination*), I do like the fact that it is a law, and not an extra-legal avenue (of which Senator Lieberman is also guilty.*) I also like the fact that the SHIELD Law makes it clear what’s at stake: the law proposes new restraints on publishers, and would apply to the New York Times and The Guardian as it well as to Wikileaks. (As Matthew Ingram points out, “Like it or not, Wikileaks is a media entity.”*) SHIELD amounts to an attempt to reverse parts of New York Times Co. vs. The United States.

I don’t think such a law should pass. I think the current laws, which criminalize the leaking of secrets but not the publishing of leaks, strike the right balance. However, as a citizen of a democracy, I’m willing to be voted down, and I’m willing to see other democratically proposed restrictions on Wikileaks put in place. It may even be that whatever checks and balances do get put in place by the democratic process make anything like Wikileaks impossible to sustain in the future.

The key, though, is that democracies have a process for creating such restrictions, and as a citizen it sickens me to see the US trying to take shortcuts. The leaders of Myanmar and Belarus, or Thailand and Russia, can now rightly say to us “You went after Wikileaks’ domain name, their hosting provider, and even denied your citizens the ability to register protest through donations, all without a warrant and all targeting overseas entities, simply because you decided you don’t like the site. If that’s the way governments get to behave, we can live with that.”

Thanks, Clay.  I more or less thought this way, but that nice short essay has stabilized my thinking, at least until the next excellent essay challenges this view.  The irony is that I, who would never have contemplated donating to WikiLeaks, am now inclined to.  Hope and change!

As for Assange, he is a sideshow.  Whether his entertaining sexual hijinks amount to rape in Sweden, I hope time  will tell.  Certainly the story, if it comes out in more detail than I have so far seen, will be saucy and entertaining.  Certainly excellent fodder for the tabloids.  This is all irrelevant, of course, to the debate about WikiLeaks.

Last Updated on Thursday, 09 December 2010 16:01
 

Fortunately They are Still Mostly Stupid

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Or at least still stupid back in May 2008, despite the opening text in this video (note that the video camera has the date).

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Last Updated on Wednesday, 08 December 2010 16:43
 
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