Thursday, December 20, 2007

Susan Blackmore on drugs

She likes them:
Every year, like a social drinker who wants to prove to herself that she's not an alcoholic, I give up cannabis for a month. It can be a tough and dreary time - and much as I enjoy a glass of wine with dinner, alcohol cannot take its place.
Some people may smoke dope just to relax or have fun, but for me the reason goes deeper. In fact, I can honestly say that without cannabis, most of my scientific research would never have been done and most of my books on psychology and evolution would not have been written.
Some evenings, after a long day at my desk, I'll slip into the bath, light a candle and a spliff, and let the ideas flow - that lecture I have to give to 500 people next week, that article I'm writing for New Scientist, those tricky last words of a book I've been working on for months. This is the time when the sentences seem to write themselves. Or I might sit out in my greenhouse on a summer evening among my tomatoes and peach trees, struggling with questions about free will or the nature of the universe, and find that a smoke gives me new ways of thinking about them.
Yes, I know there are serious risks to my health, and I know I might be caught and fined or put in prison. But I weigh all this up, and go on smoking grass.
For both individuals and society, all drugs present a dilemma: are they worth the risks to health, wealth and sanity? For me, the pay-off is the scientific inspiration, the wealth of new ideas and the spur to inner exploration. But if I end up a mental and physical wreck, I hereby give you my permission to gloat and say: "I told you so".
Source.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Help democratize the UN!

I usually don't waste my time for online petitions, but I really like this idea:

Humanity faces the task of ensuring the survival and well being of future generations as well as the preservation of the natural foundations of life on Earth. We are convinced that in order to cope with major challenges such as social disparity, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the threat of terrorism or the endangerment of global ecosystems, all human beings must engage in collaborative efforts.

To ensure international cooperation, secure the acceptance and to enhance the legitimacy of the United Nations and strengthen its capacity to act, people must be more effectively and directly included into the activities of the United Nations and its international organizations. They must be allowed to participate better in the UN’s activities. We therefore recommend a gradual implementation of democratic participation and representation on the global level.

We conceive the establishment of a consultative Parliamentary Assembly at the United Nations as an indispensable step. Without making a change of the UN Charter necessary in the first step, a crucial link between the UN, the organizations of the UN system, the governments, national parliaments and civil society can be achieved through such an assembly.

Via babble.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Dershowitz on torture: "Hey, it worked for the Nazis!"

Crazy as it sounds, that's pretty much what Dershowitz is saying here:
There are some who claim that torture is a nonissue because it never works--it only produces false information. This is simply not true, as evidenced by the many decent members of the French Resistance who, under Nazi torture, disclosed the locations of their closest friends and relatives.
Via babble. I can't help thinking there's a wee bit of an irony in Dershowitz, who jumps up and down and screams "anti-Semitism" the moment someone criticizes his beloved Israel, citing history's most notorious anti-Semites as exemplars of how to extract information from suspects. Of course he includes the obligatory line "I am personally opposed to torture", but then he seems to contradict himself here:

The members of the judiciary committee who voted against Judge Mukasey, because of his unwillingness to support an absolute prohibition on waterboarding and all other forms of torture, should be asked the direct question: Would you authorize the use of waterboarding, or other non-lethal forms of torture, if you believed that it was the only possible way of saving the lives of hundreds of Americans in a situation of the kind faced by Israeli authorities on the eve of Yom Kippur? Would you want your president to authorize extraordinary means of interrogation in such a situation? If so, what means? If not, would you be prepared to accept responsibility for the preventable deaths of hundreds of Americans?

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

You can't make this shit up

More evidence that The Onion is rapidly being overtaken by reality:
A pampered pooch who inherited 12 million dollars from a late US hotel magnate earlier this year has fled to Florida under an assumed name after receiving death threats, a report said Monday.

Trouble, a white Maltese who belonged to billionaire Leona Helmsley until her death in August, was flown by private jet under tight security two months ago after receiving around 20 such threats, the New York Post reported.

It said the rich bitch was now living at an undisclosed location in Florida, a favorite with retirees escaping the winter, without naming its sources.

The paper did not say who was suspected of being behind the threats, but Trouble is said to have earned countless enemies due to a penchant for biting.

From here.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

The darkest sign yet for the US dollar

Never mind the fact that three of the world's biggest oil exporters (Venezuela, Russia, and Iran) are now demanding payment in euros. Now rap stars are moving in the same direction:
Wads of dollar bills are usually as much a part of rap videos as fast cars, diamond-encrusted jewellery and scantily-clad models.

But in an apparent nod to the low value of the dollar, rapper Jay-Z's new video Blue Magic features another currency.

He is seen cruising the streets of New York in Bentleys and Rolls Royces (now owned by Germany's Volkswagen and BMW) with a briefcase of 500 euro notes.
Time to sell your greenbacks now, folks.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Kevin Rudd admits his fallibility

Kevin Rudd, Australia's prime minister-elect following last Saturday's election, was reportedly in a strip club in New York City a few years back, but was too drunk to remember:

It was revealed yesterday that Mr Rudd visited Scores gentlemen's club in Manhattan in 2003 with fellow Labor MP Warren Snowdon and New York Post editor Col Allan during a taxpayer-funded trip when he was opposition foreign affairs spokesman.

Mr Rudd has apologised but said he has little recollection of what happened in the strip club, because he had had too much to drink.

"I think any bloke who's honest about their lives can point to times in their lives when they've got it wrong," Mr Rudd said today.

"I've done that, but can I say the attitude of the Australian community, their evaluation of me, that's a matter for them and I accept their judgment.
As Gwynne Dyer remarked, "in most countries that would be the end of a political career, but in Australia it was the right answer". For some reason I'm reminded of the Trailer Park Boys episode where Mr. Lahey is running for reelection as trailer park supervisor, and fills his campaign speech with lines like "Who among us hasn't had a bit too much to drink now and then, and maybe ended up passed out in their own driveway pissing themself?"

On an unrelated note, today on Metro Morning I heard Andy Barrie talking about how Jan Wong and Christie Blatchford would be appearing at some library today, and spoke of the opportunity to hear "two very interesting women". Well, Jan Wong, for all her faults, is indeed quite interesting, but Christie Blatchford? She seems to be a one-trick pony, and her trick is advocating for hang 'em high "justice". Her function at the Globe seems to be to make Margaret Wente seem good. What Andy sees in her I don't know, but she used to work for the CBC back in the 80s (I have vague recollections of her vapid monolugues interrupting my enjoyment of the afternoon show) so maybe he knows her. Politically, though, they're worlds apart.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

US using bogus inflation figures

So it seems that for nearly 25 years the Yanks have been using a cooked inflation index, one that leaves out housing:

In 1983 the Bureau of Labor Statistics was faced with an awkward dilemma. If it continued to include the cost of housing in the Consumer Price Index, the CPI would reflect an inflation rate of 15 percent, thereby making the country's economy look like a banana republic. Worse, since investors and bond traders have historically demanded a 2 percent real return after inflation, that would mean that bond and money market yields could climb as high as 17 percent.

The BLS solution was as simple as it was shocking: Exclude the cost of housing as a component in the CPI, and substitute a so-called "Owner Equivalent Rent" component based on what a homeowner might rent his house for.

The result of this statistical sleight of hand was immediate and gratifying, for the reported inflation index quickly dropped to 2 percent. (This was in part because speculators needed to offset their holding costs by renting out their homes while their prices skyrocketed, thereby flooding the market with rentals, which pushed down the cost of renting a house or apartment.)

From here, via this babble thread. Must be nice to redefine inflation so as to be able to say you don't have it...

Friday, November 16, 2007

US bridge world plunged into crisis by team's anti-Bush protest

WASHINGTON (AFP) — The usually sedate world of US bridge has been plunged into an unprecedented political crisis by six little words: "We did not vote for Bush."

Those words were penned on the back of a menu and held up by the US women's team as they stood on a podium in Shanghai, China last month to receive their gold medal at the World Bridge Federation's 2007 Championships.

The US Bridge Federation has decried the impromptu message as "a political statement" and said it was particularly out of place in China, where acts of "political dissent" are frowned upon.

It threatened to suspend the women for a year, but has failed to get them to "grovel" for forgiveness, the captain of the team, Gail Greenberg said.

From here, via babble. Funny thing is, the US Bridge Federation is the entity that's frowning on this particular act of political dissent.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

White anti-racists

In this thread on babble, someone linked to this site. Some highlights:

As a White Anti-Racist:

You Can: Verbally and/or in writing, invoke John Brown as your role model and hero
But You Don’t Have To: Actually do what he did (i.e. pick up arms and forfeit your life)

You Can: Publish an article criticizing white people for trying to “control meaning”
But You Don’t Have To: Actually quit your job as tenured academic publishing your interpretations and critiques of whiteness

You Can: Ritually confess (”own”) that you are a racist
But You Don’t Have To: Let anyone forget that it is an anti-racist act to confess such a thing

… and so much more!

Remind you of anyone you know?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Beware of God

Seems that having God on your side may actually be a disadvantage:

Gregory Paul, the author of the study and a social scientist, used data from the International Social Survey Programme, Gallup and other research bodies to reach his conclusions.

He compared social indicators such as murder rates, abortion, suicide and teenage pregnancy.

The study concluded that the US was the world’s only prosperous democracy where murder rates were still high, and that the least devout nations were the least dysfunctional. Mr Paul said that rates of gonorrhoea in adolescents in the US were up to 300 times higher than in less devout democratic countries. The US also suffered from “ uniquely high” adolescent and adult syphilis infection rates, and adolescent abortion rates, the study suggested.

Mr Paul said: “The study shows that England, despite the social ills it has, is actually performing a good deal better than the USA in most indicators, even though it is now a much less religious nation than America.”

He said that the disparity was even greater when the US was compared with other countries, including France, Japan and the Scandinavian countries. These nations had been the most successful in reducing murder rates, early mortality, sexually transmitted diseases and abortion, he added.

Thanks to atomicat for this one.

Friday, November 9, 2007

Sell water to the Yanks or they'll take it, Dyer says

So Gwynne Dyer is now saying that if we don't sell our water to the US, they'll just take it anyway:

Canada must start selling its water to the United States before the Americans decide to take it and the country should also pay Alberta to stop tar sands production amid an emerging global climate crisis, international affairs columnist Gwynne Dyer said Monday.

Global warming and its calamitous fallout coming over the rest of this century is the subject of Dyer's next book. He described the sober picture of what might happen in a lecture to a nearly full house at the Roxy Theatre in Owen Sound.

The London-based, Canadian-born syndicated columnist said British policy makers are secretly worried about a scenario in which even a 2 C increase in daily average global temperatures would turn today's agricultural breadbaskets into deserts.

The American midwest, the Mediterranean basin, the north Indian plain, the Australian wheat belt, "those areas will suffer catastrophic losses of rainfall and will see crop yields fall drastically," Dyer said, clad in his trademark worn brown leather jacket.

Funny thing is, the US is having a hell of a time fighting protracted guerrilla wars at a "safe" distance; having one on their borders would be more than they could handle. Of course, I really hope they're not stupid enough to try, because the consequences would be devastating for both countries.

Saturday, November 3, 2007

More good news about our neighbours to the south

Yikes:

A majority of likely voters – 52% – would support a U.S. military strike to prevent Iran from building a nuclear weapon, and 53% believe it is likely that the U.S. will be involved in a military strike against Iran before the next presidential election, a new Zogby America telephone poll shows.
Via Shakesville. The EnMasse thread on the subject, though, has a better title.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Do the Afghans really want us there?

No doubt my loyal reader(s) have heard of the Environics poll about how the Afghans just love having us there, and really really want us to stay. Of course, we all know that polls are often inaccurate, depending on the methodology. Curiously, some are calling this one into question (gasp!):

This new poll is not the first of its kind to be done in Afghanistan, but the results are striking because they contradict dozens of comprehensive studies conducted by other agencies. For example a remarkable 73 per cent of respondents in the D3 Systems study said that women's rights were improving in Afghanistan. This contradicts the NGO Womenkind Worldwide which found that attacks against women have actually been on the rise since 2001 and that there had been no improvement in the lives of Afghan women as a whole.

Likewise, a whopping 76 per cent of people said that they have "a lot" or "some" confidence in the Afghan National Army and 60 per cent have faith in the Afghan National Police (ANP). This contradicts countless documents from groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch who have consistently found that a majority of Afghans cite the Army and ANP as a chief source of violence. In fact, poll results from December 2006 found 78 per cent of Afghan people believed that the ANP was corrupt and one in four Afghans had to pay bribes to local police for protection. So therefore, the numbers from D3 Systems either represent an astounding turnaround in public opinion or there was some type of flaw in the research.

These strange results aren't surprising given the history of the D3 Systems polling firm. The group, whose former clients include NATO and the RAND Corporation (a virtual who's who of the military industrial complex) is notorious for providing the results that are needed to advance a political agenda.

Tellingly, D3 Systems is the only polling form in the world that was able to consistently show that a majority of Iraqis felt their lives had improved since the invasion of 2003. In 2004 and 2005, D3 conducted polls for media outlets based in the US and found more than 50 per cent of Iraqis were exited about their future. As late as 2006 D3 found a miraculous 64 per cent of Iraqis who felt that their lives were improving.
From here. No big surprise; unfortunately it's also no big surprise that these discrepancies aren't being discussed in the mainstream media (even the CBC, sadly). In fact, I don't recall hearing D3 even being mentioned in the newscasts I heard, just Environics.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

This is freaking insane

Just when you think the US can't get any stranger:

March 19, 2007: A Georgia mother has acquired over $70,000 in legal costs in her ongoing struggle to regain custody of her son, after the child was taken away from her based on her religious beliefs.

Rachel Bevilacqua is a high-ranking member of the Church of the SubGenius, known far and wide as a "parody religion" that engages in satire, performance art, and comedy in a manner widely seen as a spoof of dangerous religious cults. In December of 2005, she became involved in a legal dispute regarding custody of her ten-year-old son, though she and the father of the boy had never been married. Rachel had raised her son with her husband, Steve Bevilacqua, and exercised custody from birth, with the father of the child retaining visitation rights. As with many separated couples, this agreement had been followed by each parent, until the father took steps to request sole custody of the child in December of 2005.

Domestic custody battles take place daily in the court system, but this case took a turn into strange territory on February 3, 2006, when Rachel Bevilacqua's chosen religion was introduced in the court room. Her son's father introduced photos of her performing at the annual SubGenius "X-Day" festival, including participation in an unquestionably adult-oriented parody of Mel Gibson's blockbuster movie The Passion of the Christ. In the SubGenius parody, Jesus Christ is dressed in clown makeup and carrying a cross fashioned in the shape of a dollar sign, while dozens of members of the Church of the SubGenius beat him with sexual toys and objects. This performance was enough to outrage Judge James Punch (Orleans, NY), who subsequently removed custody of Bevilacqua's son and ordered sole custody to be granted to the father.

Source. Land of the free, eh? Not bloody likely.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Fun site of the day

The Bob Jones University Department of Biology:

The biology major aims to provide training which properly captures the breadth of biology while maintaining the necessary depth of preparation needed by graduates who will pursue further specialized training in graduate or professional schools. While most secular biologists are committed to evolution as the basic principle of biology, Bob Jones University trains Christian biologists who see the living world indelibly marked with the fingerprints of a God of limitless wisdom and power.

Uh-huh. I like the bit about the "necessary depth of preparation" for grad school; I guess that's where they teach you the art of compartmentalization.

Friday, October 19, 2007

More signs of America's degeneracy

The profs are now more progressive than the students:

Across the country, the war is disclosing role reversals, between professors shaped by Vietnam protests and a more conservative student body traumatized by the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Prowar groups have sprung up at Brandeis and Yale and on other campuses. One group at Columbia, where last week an antiwar professor rhetorically called for ''a million Mogadishus,'' is campaigning for the return of R.O.T.C. to Morningside Heights.

Even in antiwar bastions like Cambridge, Berkeley and Madison, the protests have been more town than gown. At Berkeley, where Vietnam protesters shouted, ''Shut it down!'' under clouds of tear gas, Sproul Plaza these days features mostly solo operators who hand out black armbands. The shutdown was in San Francisco, and the crowd was grayer.


You've got to wonder what's gone wrong with that place.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Wanna get out of debt? Easy- just get a better job!

So in this week's Echo there was an article about credit card debt. For the most part, it wasn't a bad article, though not news to many people. But near the end, you get this little gem:
As for Ryan, a hard look at his bank statements prompted the consolidation of some debt as well as the hunt for a higher paying job. “That is a key conclusion as well,” reasons Maxwell. “Not all of us have the option of searching out higher paying work, but it’s always an alternative.
My emphasis. Isn't there something a wee bit contradictory about this sentence? In any case, I think the first part of the sentence is the true part. Sure, things aren't too bad for a lot of people right now, but I know a fair number of people who are just scraping by and haven't been able to find better work. For a long time I haven't, though as previously reported there's a decent chance of that changing soon. And come the next recession, it'll just get worse- especially as interest rates tend to be high at times like that. I just wonder why the author of the article failed to pick up on this small detail.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Election post-mortem

Well, the voters have spoken, and as usual they're talking shit. Despite the fact that Catherine is the best candidate we've had in years, and her vote count was substantially increased from previous elections, it just wasn't enough to stop the masses from voting for Elizabeth Witmer. Even more frustrating, the electoral reform referendum was soundly defeated. Yet another reason to move back to Manitoba- at least there, people know how to vote.

Friday, October 5, 2007

You voted NDP? No cookie for you!

This, pretty much, was what the Tory candidate in a Nova Scotia byelection said in his concession speech, according to the Ceeb:

Even after Kent's win, Eddy reiterated a key theme of his campaign: voters will pay a price for choosing an opposition member.

Yeah, doesn't that just inspire you to vote Conservative? What an arsehole.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Law students anger cops by telling kids how to interact with them

Yes, you read that right:
With more and more unsolved murder cases being hampered by the street-level code of silence that can intimidate entire communities, police seem to have a hard enough time when it comes to gathering crucial information. That's why they were so perturbed when they learned a group of law students have been handing out a pamphlet in the troubled Jane and Finch area called "Survival Tactics: Dealing With Police."
Oh no, it wouldn't do for kids in an area where police tend to hassle kids a lot to actually know what their rights are, now, would it? Of course, the part they focused on was this:
One section reads; "It's no secret, however, that police often cross the line in both obvious (Rodney King) and hidden ways (racial profiling.)"
No, it's no secret, but I imagine the police would like it to be.

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Fears of dollar collapse as Saudis take fright

Saudi Arabia has refused to cut interest rates in lockstep with the US Federal Reserve for the first time, signalling that the oil-rich Gulf kingdom is preparing to break the dollar currency peg in a move that risks setting off a stampede out of the dollar across the Middle East.

"This is a very dangerous situation for the dollar," said Hans Redeker, currency chief at BNP Paribas.

"Saudi Arabia has $800bn (£400bn) in their future generation fund, and the entire region has $3,500bn under management. They face an inflationary threat and do not want to import an interest rate policy set for the recessionary conditions in the United States," he said.

The Saudi central bank said today that it would take "appropriate measures" to halt huge capital inflows into the country, but analysts say this policy is unsustainable and will inevitably lead to the collapse of the dollar peg.

Source. Makes you wonder if our own dollar may rise even further, and what the consequences might be. I know that today I ran into a guy I used to work with, and at the call centre where he still works they're getting a bit nervous. I know that this is currently the main thing that keeps me from going back to call centre work- there's going to be a lot less job security in the near future.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Backyard nuclear experiments

I can't believe I hadn't come across this story before:
What the men in the funny suits found was that the potting shed was dangerously irradiated and that the area's 40,000 residents could be at risk. Publicly, the men in white promised the residents of Golf Manor that they had nothing to fear, and to this day neither Pease nor any of the dozen or so people I interviewed knows the real reason that the Environmental Protection Agency briefly invaded their neighborhood. When asked, most mumble something about a chemical spill. The truth is far more bizarre: the Golf Manor Superfund cleanup was provoked by the boy next door, David Hahn, who attempted to build a nuclear breeder reactor in his mother's potting shed as part of a Boy Scout merit-badge project.
You've got to have some admiration for his cleverness and his determination, that's for sure. Incidentally, the book mentioned in the article (The Golden Book of Chemistry Experiments) can be found in PDF form here, among other places (it's virtually impossible to find a hard copy, and those that do exist cost hundreds of dollars from rare book dealers). I remember that book as a kid; the library at my junior high had a copy, and I did a number of the experiments therein. Many of them, however, would not be considered suitable material for a kids' book in this day and age. For that matter, back in the 1970s I received a chemistry set for Christmas one year, and one of the experiments involved the making of hydrogen sulphide - a gas which, dose for dose, is more toxic than hydrogen cyanide. Of course, at the levels I made it the main risk was its characteristic rotten-egg smell, but I still doubt that you'd see such an experiment in a modern chemistry set.

As for Mr. Hahn's experiments, those thinking of following in his footsteps should check out his picture here.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

The things you learn by having a site meter

Ever since installing a site meter on my blog, I've been able to track hits, including referring pages if any. From the get go, of course, I've received a number of hits as a result of Google searches related to my screen name. In case you were wondering, yes I do have a rough idea as to how it's made, but I've never made it, so you'd best look elsewhere for advice on that front. The good folks at Science Madness might be willing to help you, though. Lately I've also received a number of hits from people searching for information about a homicide in Rockwood on the 8th of September, presumably as a result of this post. I haven't been able to find much information on that, but the Wellington County OPP have a brief summary here, if that's what you're looking for (scroll down a bit for the info). For the lurid details, though, you can look here and here (note that the second article will soon be behind a subscription wall).

In any case, if you've found my blog by accident, I hope you'll consider sticking around.

As far as the rest of the week went, it wasn't too bad. Curiously, though, a load of garbage from an apartment building contained around 100 kilograms of concrete paving stones (that's 220 pounds, for all you old fogies and Americans).

Thursday, September 13, 2007

And it continues...

It doesn't seem quite as bad today, perhaps because it's almost Friday. We are, however, losing one of our temps tomorrow, as he has an appointment with his probation officer. Today went well, albeit in a way that will make another day (yet to be determined) unpleasant. You see, someone with the city failed to give their haulers a holler to let them know not to collect the recyclables from the buildings we're auditing. As a result, we were done by 4 PM, whereas we were expecting to have to carry some over to Friday. The problem is, we still have to audit recyclables from that building, so we'll likely have to come back a third week to do it (we were going to be back next week regardless).

I still feel the usual work-related malaise, but at least I'll be free around 24 hours from now (well, actually a bit more, since 24 hours from now I'll probably be on the 401 driving the piece-of-shit van back to the office and hoping that its faulty speedometer doesn't bring me grief). Then I'll be able to go home and get wasted with my disreputable friends. Hey, I can't really hope for too many higher pleasures, so I might as well get good and high.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

I still hate my job

This job is getting to me. Well no, actually it got to me long ago.

The temps are tolerably competent, but they have a tendency to "duck the fog" unless we are on their asses constantly. It's going to be a long week. Furthermore, next week there's an excellent chance that I'll be spending my evenings finishing a report.

It occurs to me that my attempt to improve my lot by going back to school and becoming an environmental technician has actually led to less job satisfaction than I got out of working in call centres, and hasn't done much for my wages either. Admittedly, I'm now actually doing something useful, but that seems like cold comfort when you're digging through hundreds of kilos per day of congealed shite, and not even able to sleep in your own bed afterwards. I'm going to have to do something about this, though I'm not at all sure what.

One factoid that you hear periodically is that the majority of people nowadays will change careers several times in their lifetimes. What is left unsaid is how many of those people actually experience an improvement in their quality of life as a result of these career changes. I fear it's not very many.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Happy 9/11! (link fixed)

In honour of this occasion, here's a link to good ol' Osama's latest speech (thanks to bugsybrown for the link). Some highlights:

"People of America: the world is following your news in regards to your invasion of Iraq, for people have recently come to know that, after several years of the tragedies of this war, the vast majority of you want it stopped. Thus, you elected the Democratic Party for this purpose, but the Democrats haven't made a move worth mentioning. On the contrary, they continue to agree to the spending of tens of billions to continue the killing and war there, which has led to the vast majority of you being afflicted with disappointment."
Can't really argue with that. Or how about this:
"This war was entirely unnecessary, as testified to by your own reports. And among the most capable of those from your own side who speak to you on this topic and on the manufacturing of public opinion is Noam Chomsky, who spoke sober words of advice prior to the war, but the leader of Texas doesn't like those who give advice. The entire world came out in unprecedented demonstrations to warn against waging the war and describe its true nature in eloquent terms like "no to spilling red blood for black oil," yet he paid them no heed. It is time for humankind to know that talk of the rights of man and freedom are lies produced by the White House and its allies in Europe to deceive humans, take control of their destinies and subjugate them. "
Does this mean that the fact that I have some Chomsky books is going to put me on some sort of shit list?

Edited to add: I fixed the link to the speech. Sorry for any confusion.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Work again

So I'm back at work. No big deal, except that I'm in Toronto, and will be working tomorrow with not one but two temps (Norfolk Dude and Ms N are working on another project). Furthermore, the Human Sawmill isn't feeling too well. I suspect the days are going to drag on terribly.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

The wonders of modern technology

So it seems they've managed to produce a robot cat:



Via atomicat.

The return of Ms McD

Yesterday, after an afternoon of canvassing and a brief visit with the Ps, I went to Pearson to pick up Ms McD upon her arrival from Saint John. Of course, this is Ms McD we're talking about, and bad luck seems to follow her in an uncanny fashion (though perhaps the choice of our once-esteemed national airline as the carrier has more to do with this particular problem). She phoned as I was preparing to leave and said that her flight had been delayed... by around an hour and a half. It was close to 3 AM by the time we got back to town. It was, of course, the same airline that gave me and my boss the luxury of an extended rest in the airport terminal last winter. She's now back at Mr and Mrs Stone's place; I do hope that there are no irregularities with her settling back in.

Friday, September 7, 2007

The Globe gets nasty

You probably all remember the furore that arose when Globe and Mail reporter Jan Wong wrote an article on the Dawson College shooting, suggesting that the shooter, as well as two other well known mass murderers in Quebec, had been rejected by Quebec society as not pure laine, and that the resulting alienation helped drive them to commit their crimes. I can't defend what Wong said, but the response has included racist caricatures and death threats. And, if this article in Toronto Life is accurate, it sounds like her editors knew in advance roughly what she was going to say and did nothing to discourage her- and then left her to take all the heat. If this is true, her employer has wronged her far more than she ever wronged anyone she had lunch with.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

The long weekend is over; resume normal suffering

The weekend itself went quite well, though busy. On I drove Mr Stone to Breslau, where he needed to pick up a piece of equipment at a store there (his stepson's car has died). I then managed to get my new computer working (and it's like night and day compared to my old PIII). The latter is going to be scrubbed of data and then lent to Catherine's campaign.

On Sunday I went canvassing, and in the evening I met up with Lee's son (who was back in town to retrieve stuff from her house) and a friend of his. This led to a rather late night. On Monday I helped run the NDP table at the annual Labour Day picnic in Waterloo Park.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Is credulity adaptive?

This past Tuesday, while my boss and I were driving out to the sort centre, there was a feature on The Current about a self-help film called The Secret. It's really a rehash of old ideas like "the power of positive thinking" (as touted by the "deep philosopher" Norman Vincent Peale). My boss likes most of the proponents quoted on the show. One thing that he mentioned in passing is the fact that most of the proponents of this sort of thing are quite religious (as he is) while most of the critics are atheists or agnostics (like yours truly). This seems to be true (Peale, for instance, was a preacher) and it got me to thinking about why this might be. There's nothing obviously wrong with the idea of positive thinking, though I agree with the critics that, pushed too far, this could lead to a blame-the-victim mentality (Lost your job? Got mugged? Raped? You must not have been thinking positively enough!). The thing is, though, if you're an atheist or an agnostic, your beliefs are going to depend on such annoying little things like evidence- and if so, you're likely to have a hard time thinking positively about yourself unless you're already doing well. I know that I do.

Given this, it's not too big a stretch to suggest that a certain amount of credulity might be adaptive. Not too much, obviously (otherwise everyone would take advantage of you) but some. This might go some distance towards explaining why so many people fall for shit like this, this, and this.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Better late than never...

Steven Truscott has been acquitted by the Ontario Court of Appeal, a scant 48 years after his wrongful conviction for the rape and murder of a 12 year old girl.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Life continues apace

Friday I had to bring my car to work, because I had to pick up the temp and drive to the sort centre while the others were out collecting in the van. The van only seats two, and the shitmobile is away on another project (not broken down, amazingly enough), so I had to use the car. They're supposedly going to pay mileage, though. In the evening I went to see Paprika with the Ps and a friend of theirs. A very confusing movie; maybe I should have been in a different state of mind or something.

Today I tried to set up the new computer I picked up this week. It's an Athlon 64-bit machine, except this one is effectively a zero bit machine. No video, either from the onboard socket or from another video card I tried sticking in there. I suppose I'll have to take it back and whine to them. I also went to pick up the roll of black and white astrophotos I dropped off at one of the few remaining places in town that does black and white, only to find that I'll have to come back next week because the technician who does B&W is on vacation.

Tomorrow I'm doing some canvassing, then going to the company social gathering in the evening. Oh well, I imagine I'll survive that.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Quebec police admit they went undercover at Montebello protest

You've probably heard about the reports that the Quebec may have had agents provocateurs at the protests against the recent "Security and Prosperity Partnership" summit in Montebello, Quebec. If you haven't, here's a YouTube video:



Now, it seems that the cops have admitted that there's some truth to the claim:

Quebec provincial police admitted Thursday that their officers disguised themselves as demonstrators during the protests at the North American leaders summit in Montebello, Que.

The police came under fire Wednesday when protesters accused the force of planting undercover officers in the demonstration to provoke violence. A video surfaced on YouTube that appeared to depict disguised police in the crowd.

Source.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Mid-week report

On Monday I worked in the office as usual, and CL and Ms P came over for a while in the evening. Yesterday we were to do roadside collections in Wellington County, and we did indeed do the collections and bring the material to the sort centre. However, there were serious discrepancies in the sheets telling us which houses to collect from. Eventually the order came to abort the sort and return to the office. Both the Human Sawmill and I were worried that we might have somehow been at fault; on arrival the HS was asked about how the sheets were put together but nothing seemed to come of it. We're in the office again today, to resume collections tomorrow.

Yesterday evening I went to Catherine Fife's place for her campaign kickoff, and ate a couple of veggie burgers. Nice evening, and Catherine is pumped for the campaign... now all we need is for Elizabeth Witmer to bite the head off a rat on live TV or something.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

A good weekend

Saturday morning I biked to the market, picked up some staples, bought some photo supplies at the soon-to-be defunct Heer's Camera Shop, checked out the NDP office, and biked around a bit for the heck of it. Today I cleaned my apartment (or rather, cleaned the living room and kitchen), visited my grandma, and hung out with Ms P. Nothing really spectacular, just a general feeling that it was a weekend well spent.

And you just have to watch this:


Via atomicat.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Is this the start of a new Great Depression?

Maybe, maybe not. I'm no expert. But this article is a bit ominous:

"In short sales," Shapiro explained, "you don't own the share you sell; instead you borrow it. Then you replace it when you cover the short. If you're right and the price has gone down, you replace it at a lower price, and the difference between what you sold it for and what price you replaced it at is your profit. The problem with a naked short is that you don't borrow the share you sell. You sell it without ever borrowing it. In effect, you invent a share."

If this is beginning to sound like a game of Monopoly built on fake money, that's because it is. By injecting so many invented shares into the market using naked shorting, hedge funds have not only created an economy in which they can manipulate the stocks of companies smaller than Microsoft and Wal-Mart, but they have also created a market in which there are more shares than actual stocks. And that's about as hyperreal as an economy can get.

Confused? You're not alone. This could simply be yet another correction, but if you walk down Bay Street (or Wall Street), it wouldn't be a bad idea to bring a good sturdy umbrella, just in case it starts raining brokers.

Edited to add: They just said on the radio that even though Canadian companies aren't seriously exposed to the subprime crisis directly, their stocks are falling because they're being sold by US hedge funds, who are trying to cover their losses from the crisis.

I should be upfront here and say that in a very small way, I contributed to the crisis. You see, a few years ago I worked for a call centre that dabbled briefly in selling subprime mortgages to American consumers. I hate to admit it now, but I was actually quite good at it.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Weekend summary

The weekend was OK. Saturday I ran some errands in the morning (including the purchase of a new hard drive for my laptop); in the afternoon CL and I went to the Kitchener Blues Festival, and caught David Wilcox (not to be confused with David Wilcox). We went back later and caught another show (Sugar Ray Norcia and the Bluetones), then went out to Snyder's Flats to watch the Perseids; it wasn't bad, and I took a number of photos at various exposures. If the pictures turn out OK I'll post some.

Yesterday I didn't do a whole lot except that in the evening I went to visit Lee's son (he's been staying at her house in town, but he's going back to Montreal for a while). He's holding up ok under the circumstances. Also present were two of his childhood friends; interesting guys.

Today I'm either working in the office or in Wellington County. I'll find out when I get there; I'm to come prepared to hit the road, but in all likelyhood I'll be in the office.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Home again, home again, friggety frig

Just to be clear, the "friggety frig" part is not about being home (I'm very happy about that), but rather about the conditions under which we worked. We drove out to the MRF near Newmarket, only to find that while our ever-reliable contractor Ms. N was there as expected, the temp agency had failed to fill our order for extra help. Fortunately, the Human Sawmill (who was in charge of the audit) was able to get hold of his girlfriend, and despite the fact that unbeknownst to him (I hope) she was running on 3 hours' sleep, she graciously agreed to come in on that day... but was unavailable the next, and the agency wasn't able to fill our order that day either. So on Thursday the three of us (the HS, Ms N, and myself) put in a ten-hour day, sorting through 400 kilograms of garbage from a seniors' residence (i.e. chock full of Depends) after which we left without packing the scales into the truck. I discovered this just as I was climbing into bed in the hope of getting a decent night's sleep. Immediately my head was filled with visions of some of the crackhead temps they often use at the MRF finding the scales and failing to realize that they don't have the level of precision that your average street-level dealer needs. They'd steal the scales, the audit would be ruined, and I'd be canned and end up pushing a shopping cart around town with a sign saying "I Need Two Dollars". Since the HS was out having dinner with his girlfriend in Toronto, it was up to me to hop in the truck and drive out to the MRF (getting briefly lost on the way) to retrieve the scales.

On Friday the temp agency finally came through. The guy they sent was, however, a few grams short of an ounce. The HS assigned him to metals and glass, seeing as he had previously worked on the regular sort line at that very same MRF. Then he said, "OK, so you sort the metals and glass, plastic goes to Nitroglycol, paper to Ms N, and the other stuff to me". A few minutes later he had to explain who the different stuff went to again. Then a few minutes later he had to explain it... again. Oh well, the guy did have a genuine work ethic, and the day was slightly less long (even considering the time spent packing the truck).

Wednesday, August 8, 2007

Newmarket, Newmarket, to serve the fat pigs

Yep, I'm off to Newmarket this morning. I have to be at the office at 6 AM to drive there, and will be there till Friday. I fully expect to work long days as well; this particular project involves multi-unit waste, which is typically the worst sort.

I sent Ms McD a hundred bucks (at an additional cost of $14). The folks at Western Union must rake in huge amounts this way.

Unfortunately I'm still too groggy to say anything more substantial. I probably won't post at least until Friday, either; my laptop still isn't working. In the meantime, try making sense of this story.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Christopher Hitchens may be a jerk, but...

... he's really good at skewering other jerks:

If anyone should be gloating at the collapse and disgrace of Lord Black of Crossharbour, the absurd title with which Conrad Black invested himself on being raised to the British peerage, that someone should be me. In the mid-1980s he boasted to a reporter that he was going to buy the London Spectator in order to fire me as its Washington correspondent. When I heard the news, I thought: Here we go again, another newspaper tycoon gone clean off his trolley with megalomania. Next thing we know, he'll have to build himself a revolving room, like Lord Northcliffe of the Daily Mail, or announce that he's a poached egg and demand a large piece of toast to lie down on, or build an opera house in which his untalented girlfriend can sing.


From here.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

The funeral

Lee's funeral was yesterday. It went as well as can be expected; the weather was beautiful, the service was low-key, secular, and celebratory of her life. After the funeral her son invited people over to the house, and it was a nice gathering; he said his mum would have been proud of the party we had in her honour. I met a couple of his childhood friends who, it turns out, live only a few blocks away.

Ms McD has emailed me saying she's lost her purse and needs money. I'll see what I can scrape up for her, but I won't be able to send much. These things are sent to try us...

Saturday, August 4, 2007

And now, the long weekend

I went to the Agile Like This show last night. As usual they were a riot. I was also very impressed with one of the other acts, the New Peshmergas. This act consists of two people, a drummer and a singer/guitarist. The singer is amazing; she can sound like Ani DiFranco one moment and PJ Harvey the next. They covered PJ Harvey's song "Down By The Water", but they also did a bunch of originals, which I also liked.

The Agile performance was marked by one weird incident. Midway through their most obscene song, "Dimefront" (aka "Two Inch Dick"), a friend of theirs, the_thaw, came in with three young boys (ages maybe between 10 and 14); apparently they're her cousins. Not the most family-friendly show to bring them to, perhaps, but apparently she'd already shown them Borat, so they were already hopelessly corrupted. I imagine, though, that if this had happened in Alabama, everyone involved would probably be in jail now.

Today I have a funeral to go to, and will hang out with the family afterwards. It will be a sombre occasion, but c'est la vie. Or rather, c'est la mort.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Maybe there is hope for academic dropouts after all...

... just so long as they become rock stars first.

Guitarist Brian May is to spend two days studying the night sky in the Canary Islands as he completes the PhD he abandoned in 1971 to join Queen.

May is going to La Palma to observe the formation of "zodiacal dust clouds".

The subject forms the basis of a thesis for London's Imperial College, where he had been studying before deciding to pursue a career with the rock group.

Of course, if you're a more ordinary dropout (like me for instance) you generally have more pressing issues on your mind... like making a living.

Iggy admits he was wrong

Better late than never, I guess:
Michael Ignatieff, whose Liberal leadership ambitions have been hampered by his early support for the invasion of Iraq, is moving to cauterize that issue by admitting he was wrong.

The MP for Etobicoke-Lakeshore and deputy Liberal leader says in an article to appear in The New York Times Magazine on Sunday that his backing for the U.S.-led military action in 2003 was a mistake.

"The unfolding catastrophe in Iraq has condemned the political judgment of a president," Ignatieff writes in a reference to George W. Bush. "But it has also condemned the judgment of many others, myself included, who as commentators supported the invasion.

I guess I have to give him credit for this; it's more than Bush and his cronies will likely ever do.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Sad news, and plenty of chaos

Ms B-D, it turns out, died on Saturday evening. Naturally, her family is taking it pretty hard. I finally got hold of her son yesterday; he's better than he was, but it's been pretty rough on him. The funeral is on Saturday.

Tuesday was a chaotic day. Ms McD was originally going to take the train to Brampton and stay with her half-sister who just rediscovered her through Facebook, then catch a flight to Saint John on Wednesday. Well, her sister decided that she didn't want Ms McD staying with her on that day. Ms McD decided that she wanted to stay in a hotel in Toronto and catch the airport shuttle in the morning. Sound enough idea, and she figured (correctly) that I'd be enough of a sucker to lend her money for the hotel. (I do hope she didn't order a few hundred bucks worth of room service, but hey, if she did at least I get a few extra Air Miles for using my Amex).

Then yesterday her ex called me, wondering where she was. At her request I said I didn't know (not strictly a lie, since at the time he called she was at some indeterminate location, probably somewhere over Quebec or New England). I've emailed her to inform her of this; I don't know what she'll do with this information, though.

Agile Like This are playing at the Button Factory on Friday; I'm looking forward to that, at least.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Still no news about Ms B-D. No news is usually good news, but when you're waiting to see if someone will ever regain consciousness, it doesn't work that way. Perhaps this whole situation is responsible for the weird headspace I was in all weekend.

I met with Ms McD again yesterday, and we watched Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. Even after repeated viewings, I still catch things that I'd missed previously.

My situation later this week is still up in the air. Today and tomorrow I'm working in the office, but later in the week I'm likely going to either Guelph or Markham; presumably I'll find out which today.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

An eventful weekend

On Friday I canceled the Mosaik card, along with three other cards. I now just have a MasterCard and an American Express, which give me more than enough credit for now. Canceling the cards was easy enough (the folks on the other end of the phone didn't push too hard to get me to reconsider), although it hurt to cut up all those pretty pieces of plastic.

The aforementioned Ms B-D is not doing well. Apparently she suffered a massive stroke as a complication of the surgery, and has not yet regained consciousness. Her son and daughter-in-law have said they'll get back with additional information as soon as it's available, but this definitely does not look good at all.

Yesterday I spent the day with Ms McD, and the whole day had a surreal quality to it (perhaps because of massive substance abuse). She has suddenly decided to go out to New Brunswick for the wedding of a friend that she just reconnected with on Facebook. She's leaving on Tuesday and plans to stay there for most of August. As far as the day's activities, we hung out with a friend of hers (who we'll call Buddy); he's a former cab driver, about 50 years old, now living in a rooming house in downtown Kitchener. We played a wargame that he's developed; it's a lot of fun, though it takes a very long time to play. The whole scene, though, just felt weird for some reason.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Credit gone wild

I returned from the field this evening, ran out to an NDP meeting, and then hung out with Ms P afterwards. In my mail I found an official looking package which, when opened, turned out to contain my shiny new WestJet Mosaik MasterCard. And therein lies a tale.

You see, last month when I boarded my return flight from Winnipeg, it was around 7 AM and I was wretchedly overtired and hung over from being up late drinking with Half Muppet Half Mucus and some mutual friends of ours. On the way to the gate I was accosted by someone trying to get people to apply for one of these cards. I was in no mood to say no to anyone, so I did. After all, it has all kinds of cool shit. Extra Air Miles when you buy WestJet flights! Companion flights after you spend $3000 in flights! Deals on car rentals! Deals on hotels! Cash advances! Amazing!

Nothing, however, amazed me as much as the one piece of cool shit that I didn't learn about until I actually received the card. They have given me more than a third of my gross annual income in credit. And that's not including several grand in credit that I already have from my other cards.

Just think about that for a moment. For the simple act of turning up hung over in an airport early in the morning, I have been given the ability to piss away thousands of dollars on all manner of shite in very little time. Want a Wii? Step right up, mister. Plasma TV? No problem. And look at all the cool Air Miles I can collect! Hey, a few flights to Winnipeg or the Dominican Republic and I can afford a flight to Europe! There's an airline that flies to England right out of Hamilton. Or hey, I could just get thousands of dollars in cash advances and go to the casino. I could get lucky, right?

Of course, if I were to do this I would be saddled with enormous payments soon after. Many, many people do this. Naturally, if it got really bad one could declare bankruptcy, but that makes it awfully hard to get credit in the near future.

Or, I could simply store the cards away for emergencies. Not a bad idea, but I've been told (I can't confirm this, but the reasoning seems sound) that having lots of credit that you don't use is actually bad for your credit rating, because it becomes riskier for others to lend you money. After all, your existing credit is virtually a time bomb- given a whole bunch of available credit, sooner or later many people will suddenly go deeply into debt. Anything could stimulate this- losing your job, having a nervous breakdown, falling in love with the wrong person... the possibilities are endless.

So I'm not going to activate this new card, and I should probably cancel at least three of my existing five cards as well. I haven't had any real need for them for a long time anyway.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Technical difficulties... please stand by

I didn't get around to fiddling with my laptop this weekend, but I brought my Windows CD as well as a Linux live CD in the hope of getting it working properly. Unfortunately, when I tried to fix Windows it ended up getting worse, to the point where it no longer boots. The live CD works, but I can't get it to recognize the hotel's network. So I'm reduced to using the public terminal in the hotel lobby. Annoying, and I hope that the bosses don't pick this week as the one where I have to work on some important document, else I'm screwed.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Shocked but not that surprised

Well, after visiting Ms B-D (who, incidentally, is holding up reasonably well under the circumstances), I met up with Ms McD and Ms P. As we were coming back to the building, we ran into the caretaker. Since my neighbour across the hall hasn't been around for several days, and another neighbour had been asking after him, I asked the caretaker what he knew. It turns out he's in jail, charged with sexually assaulting a young woman from the back of the building. I'd always picked up a weird vibe off him, but until now I'd given him the benefit of the doubt. In retrospect, though, this doesn't seem out of character at all. In any case, I don't expect to see him again (no great loss).

Today Ms McD and I are going to the Ps' housewarming, then I have to leave for Bracebridge again at 6 PM.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

A busy weekend

I hung out with Ms McD last night, and we watched a number of episodes of The Young Ones. Today I'm going to Toronto to visit a friend of my parents' (who we'll call Ms B-D here). She's in Toronto Western with an aneurysm, albeit a relatively mild one. She's slated to go in for surgery on Monday.Then on Sunday I have the Ps' housewarming, and after that I have to leave for Bracebridge. Not much time to simply relax, but that's the way it goes.

Friday, July 20, 2007

The week in review

As expected, our days were somewhat longer than usual for this project, owing to the absence of the van as well as the fact that a lot of cottagers who weren't around in the winter and spring are out now. However, it was still pretty light.

This week I had one of those periodic bursts of increased dream activity (or rather, dream recall). In one dream, I was at a social gathering in Winnipeg, and someone who I knew from the U of Winnipeg suddenly cornered me and said, "I heard you're working in a dump! Are you an idiot?" The only response I could come up with was "no, more of a loser." In real life, this person is quite nice and would never have said something like that, but it got me thinking about my job situation, and cost me a couple of hours' sleep brooding over it.

And my laptop is on the fritz. Damn. I hope I can get it working properly before we go back on the road on Sunday night.

Monday, July 16, 2007

A decent day, as workdays go

The absence of the van didn't seem to hurt us too much; we were done by 2:30 PM. We ate out (there's a food allowance on this project, so we're milking it for all it's worth); after supper we went to a cafe called Marty's which is renowned for its butter tarts (not to be confused with butter queens, cf. the Mad Dogs and Englishmen movie). They were indeed first rate butter tarts; indeed I can't recall having had a better one. Notably, the place also sells what they call a "Big-Ass Apple Pie", which presumably describes the consequences of eating too many of them.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Yes, I am most definitely back at work...

...as evidenced by the troubles that arose almost immediately. We brought two vehicles, the shitmobile and the van, to facilitate collection. Strangely, the shitmobile has not lived up to the name so far on this trip (mind you, there's still four more days). The van, however, lost power somewhere near Orangeville and we were forced to move all of Norfolk Dude's and the co-op student's bags into the truck. As the smallest person in the vehicle I ended up crammed into the back seat surrounded by stuff. The bosses are apparently going to try to rescue the van tomorrow morning (which probably means having it towed somewhere). But hey, they got it so cheap! It's worth having a few problems if you can get it so cheap. Right?

Another weekend bites the dust

On Friday I was scheduled to work in East Gwillimbury, but when we arrived our trash wasn't there. We waited around for around three hours before the boss decided to pull the plug, then went back to the office.

Friday evening I ended up hanging out with Ms McD and the Ps. They'd never met before, but they got along extremely well. Ms McD told us a rather unsavoury story about her crackhead upstairs neighbours. It seems that they got evicted for non-payment of rent, and decided to take a stand for tenants' rights by smearing shit along the walls in the upstairs hallway. Ms McD says she suggested to the caretaker that it might have been a kid who had an accident, but the caretaker said no, the hand prints were adult sized. Yes, hand prints. I don't know about you, but I can't see myself being spiteful enough to smear shit with my bare hands. Then again, I don't smoke crack, so maybe I just can't understand.

Saturday morning I donated blood for the first time since the needlestick. In the afternoon I was going to go to an NDP barbecue with Ms P, but we were deterred by the rain, so we just hung out and watched a movie. Later I met up with Ms McD again, and we watched two more. Not the most productive way to spend a day, but oh well.

Tonight, unfortunately, I have to leave at 6 PM for Bracebridge. C'est la vie...

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

The more things change...

Nikolai Lanine was born in the USSR, and served in Afghanistan in the Soviet army in the 1980s. He has a strange sense of deja vu about the current mission:

I identified with the Canadian soldiers at the funeral mourning the loss of their friend. Like them, I went to Afghanistan believing in "fighting terrorism" and "liberating Afghans." During my first mission, we were protecting refugees escaping an area that was under attack by the mujahedeen. I was deeply affected by their misery, and by the poverty and suffering of the Afghan people in general. In my mind, our presence was "helping Afghans," particularly with educating women and children. My combat unit participated in "humanitarian aid" -- accompanying doctors and delivering food, fuel, clothing, school and other supplies to Afghan villages.

It was only later that I began to wonder: Did that aid justify our aggression?

From here.

Has Ricky moved into my neighbourhood??

Monday, July 9, 2007

Happy birthday, bro

So it's my brother's birthday today. Coincidentally, Jian Ghomeshi interviewed him briefly at the Winnipeg Folk Festival, and it was played today.

I'm finding Facebook oddly fascinating. I've come across people there that haven't even been too keen on computers till recently (the Gravolmeister is there, for instance).

Saturday, July 7, 2007

I dodged a bullet

Actually, I dodged it last October, but only got confirmation today. At that time (and no, I wasn't doing much blogging at that time, so it's not mentioned there) I was working on a project in Toronto and got pricked with a little lancet of the type diabetics use to prick their fingers to test their blood sugar. I was never too concerned (I'd have been much more worried if it was a syringe from the high-rise blocks at Jane and Finch, for instance) but it was lingering in the back of my mind for the last seven months or so. Since the incubation period for HIV and hepatitis is long, I had to wait until now to verify that I'm okay. I was never worried about HIV (the virus' life expectancy when exposed to air is measured in minutes) but hepatitis B and C can last months, or so I'm told, so the risk was there. But I'm clean, so for better or for worse my existence is likely to continue for quite some time (unless I do something stupid like, say, getting a fatal case of heat stroke this weekend).

Friday, July 6, 2007

Just one more thing to feel guilty about

I suppose I should have mentioned this Monday, since that was when it was rubbed in my face. On the Current they interviewed George Monbiot on the topic of climate change, and he said that you should never do what I just did and hop on a plane to take a week's vacation. The Bishop of London (the big, far away one, not the medium-sized one an hour's drive from here) has gone further, saying that flying to take a holiday is a sin. According to Monbiot, it's not just the fuel consumption (the consumption per passenger kilometre isn't too much worse with some jets than with cars, at least if they're fully loaded) but the fact that they release water vapour at high altitudes where it lingers and acts as a greenhouse gas (and a more powerful one than CO2, at that).

I guess that means that the next time I go to Winnipeg I should take the Greyhound. Which would suck, being a 33 hour trip and all, but I guess that's one of the ways we have to adapt.

It's Friday already?

Man, time has flown considering how little fun I've had this week. Work has been okay, though a bit stressful at the start of the week. Other than that, I've had a bit of a relapse on an old addiction- Nethack. I have yet to beat the current version. Ms. P says her significant other has been known to spend weeks on a single game, so maybe I'm too impatient and get myself killed as a result. Good game, though.

Tuesday, July 3, 2007

Sometimes the best thermostat is one that doesn't work

Is keeping the peace with placebos fair game?

The secret's out—many thermostats just trick building occupants into feeling more comfortable and in control. Here's why they're so effective.

On Jan. 15, The Wall Street Journal revealed that the HVAC industry has an unconventional way of attending to the comfort needs of building occupants—using thermostats that aren't configured to have an effect on the HVAC system.

"Looking for an office thermostat that actually works? Good luck and Godspeed," wrote Jared Sandberg. "You may never find it…If you do spy a thermostat, it's probably locked, or encased behind shatterproof glass."

"Even worse, HVAC experts acknowledge what millions of office workers have suspected all along: A lot of office thermostats are completely fake—meant to dupe you into thinking you've altered the office weather conditions."

Some may say "dupe," but the purpose of installing nonfunctional thermostats is to keep building occupants feeling comfortable and in control, say many engineers, contractors and wholesalers in the HVACR industry. Still, some manufacturers do not approve of their intentional use—or non-use for that matter.

And even though these thermostats do not actually provide a direct interface to the mechanical system, by giving the illusion that they do, they act as a placebo in many cases.

Source.

Back to the grind

I returned from Winnipeg on Sunday afternoon, and had a relaxed couple of days. Last night I was in bed by 9 PM in anticipation of having to be at the office for 6 AM today. When I got up I found an email and a voice message (the latter left literally minutes after I drifted off to dreamland) saying that I don't have to be in till 9 AM. Oh well.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Back to the city

A nice couple of days at the cottage. The weather was a bit lousy (at least until we had to leave) but we played some Trivial Pursuit and retrieved my dad's sailboat from winter storage. Unfortunately the weather was not conducive to sailing- too rough and dangerous, then dead calm on the last day. We did go for a canoe ride though.

Yesterday Mr F and I went to a Goldeyes game. Final score was 3-2 Calgary (unchanged since the end of the third inning). Mr Katz may be a questionable mayor, but he definitely knows how to run a minor league baseball team (notwithstanding their loss). And a seat right behind home plate for $15 is hard to beat.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Cottage bound (finally)

The weather has improved, so we're leaving in around two hours. It should be a nice time.

Last night I met up with a friend who I hadn't seen in some ten years. She's doing well, has a two year old daughter, and is working for the regional health authority here. It was nice to just have a couple of beers and talk about old times. Neither of us has heard from most of the people we knew from those days; I'm rather curious to hear what's become of the Trashcan Man in particular, specifically whether or not he's in jail (he probably should be).

Monday, June 25, 2007

Arrival

I arrived in Winnipeg yesterday evening after an uneventful flight, to find out that CL had called my mum to check up on me. It seems that after dropping me off at the airport, she'd gone home and turned on the TV to see this. Fortunately it didn't hit the city, nor did the several others that touched down yesterday in various parts of the province. I called to reassure her, but there was no answer, so I left a message.

Our cottage plans are on hold till tomorrow, owing to continued thunderstorm warnings for the Kenora area. Since the cottage is only accessible by boat, we figured it might be a bad idea to cross the lake in an aluminum boat in a thunderstorm, so we're going to wait till tomorrow.

My effing laptop is acting awfully sluggish right now, so that's it for this post.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

T minus 4 hours 20 minutes

Well, I'm packed and more or less ready to leave. I'm really looking forward to this. My parents and I (and perhaps one of my brothers) will be going out to the cottage from Monday to Wednesday, something I haven't done in four years. I'll get to hang out with friends that I haven't seen in years.

Needless to say, I won't be posting from the cottage, and my posts may be pretty sparse in general while I'm away.

Friday, June 22, 2007

My holiday begins...

I spent most of today hacking through the extra changes they want on that report, but I also had my review. It went well; I got another raise. They were generally very complimentary; the only criticisms they had were connected to my tendency to get flustered easily (perfectly fair). Now I feel a bit guilty for having dissed them so often in this blog.

Tomorrow I help set up the NDP table at the Multicultural Festival, and help run it for a few hours. On Sunday CL will drive me to the airport, and as usual will get to use my car for the week.

Preston Manning flays Cons' environmental policies

You know it's a weird and scary time when Preston Manning sounds far better than the present government:

There's an irresistible parallel between this and Manning's earlier life, which he spent hectoring an un-conservative Conservative government about its budget deficit, which was this gigantic problem that grew and grew and grew because nobody in office, least of all Tory prime minister Brian Mulroney, had the guts to take it on.

Manning had the guts. The party's got to end, Manning said. He was shrill, he was a scold, he was right, and he smashed the Progressive Conservatives in the West.

Now he's talking about the environment, with the same message: party's over, and somebody's got to pay the bill, even on the sacred oilpatch. A lot of Albertans are very worried indeed about the environmental degradation they can see -- the open-pit oilsands-extraction operations; the gas flares that light the night within minutes of the legislature in Edmonton; the diminishing Athabasca River, which gave its name to the biggest oilsands deposit.

Specifically, Manning is talking about water, and how wrong it is that oil companies can take four barrels of water from finite rivers to steam one barrel of oil and sand apart without paying for it. He proposes "full-cost accounting," the idea that an industry that uses up a public resource should pay for it.
From here, via bugsybrown.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

And it continues...

This week at work has been slow, not that that's a bad thing. I've been compiling a list of municipalities (i.e. potential clients), which means going to a lot of provincial government websites and getting the contact info for every municipality in the province. One interesting fact that has come up- Ontario currently has 445 municipalities, including upper tiers. Manitoba, with less than 10% of Ontario's population, has 200, all single tiers. Saskatchewan has even more, many of which are villages with fewer than 100 residents. I tend to be leery of municipal amalgamations, but when you're a village of 25 people, three of who are on the village council (one reeve and two councillors) it seems kind of silly.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Ever seen one of these?

Here's a couple of pics of a car that I've seen parked in the lot at William and Regina. Anyone know the make?





Monday, June 18, 2007

The countdown begins

This time next week I expect to be in Winnipeg; my vacation is next week. I'm to fly out Sunday night.

The weekend went well, though it was busy. On Friday I went with CL and DL to a performance by Amanda Martinez; the performance was good but the venue left a lot to be desired (it was a big tent in Victoria Park, with terrible acoustics and way too much talking. On Saturday I hung out with Ms McD, and on Sunday I worked with Ms P on some stuff for the NDP's table at the Multicultural Festival next weekend.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

the week continues

Notwithstanding my last post, this week is actually going fairly well, work-wise. I'm in the office, and most of the last few days have been spent with a report, plus a bunch of generic tasks (inventory, cleaning equipment, etc). I also met up with the Ps on Monday and Ms McD on Tuesday; other than that I haven't been doing much with my spare time other than surfing the net and reading Kip Thorne's Black Holes and Time Warps (a much easier read than The Road to Reality, which is now lingering on my shelf again till I get a bit smarter).

Saturday, June 9, 2007

More unwanted expenses

While I was away, I left my car with Cat Lady, and she noticed that it seemed to have occasional handling issues at high speeds; she'd noticed it the previous week too. It was significant enough that she thought that it might pose a safety problem. After it was pointed out to me, it did seem that its ride was a bit odd. I'd previously checked the tire pressures, and topped them up, but there was no noticeable change. So I brought it in (it needed its tires rotated anyway) and found out that the rear shocks were shot. The way shocks generally fail, though, is gradual, so I didn't notice the change the way she did. I suspect that it would also have been much more noticeable if the front shocks were bad; as it was, the oscillations that result from bad shocks were relatively mild from the perspective of someone sitting in the front (and I haven't ridden in the rear of the car in a long time). So I forked over around $350 for the repair. Oh well, the car is much nicer to drive now. Not to mention safer; all that would have to happen is to hit a pothole while rounding a curve at high speed, and I could have been sent hurtling into the path of a Mack truck. While this would likely have solved the problem of what to do with my future, it seems like an awfully drastic solution.

Incidentally, the recently purchased work van is showing itself worthy of being owned by our company. As mentioned previously, the instrument panel has been working erratically almost since we got it, and more recently we found that the air conditioning, which worked when we received the vehicle, no longer worked. It was taken in last weekend. The A/C was fixed (for the time being at least; Norfolk Dude suspects that they system has a slow leak and was simply charged up before selling the van to us); the instrument panel problem was attributed to (and I'm not making this up) a supposed tendency for the dashboards to warp in this model of van. My boss lapped this explanation up with his usual credulity (much like he raved about how this particular guy was so good at restoring insurance writeoffs, he could take two cars of the same make with damage at opposite ends and weld together the good halves of each to make a perfectly sound car). How a warped dashboard is supposed to cause all the erratic behaviour of this instrument panel was not made clear; I suppose a warp could conceivably cause some electrical component to contact metal when it shouldn't and cause a short, but in such a case I'd expect it not to work at all, rather than to behave as it does.

In a little while I'm going to track down flyingbuttress of Agile Like This; she's got a booth at a craft sale today, and I want to buy some additional copies of their CD for people. Let me say it again- they rock.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Yet another week comes to an end

Yes, it's Thursday, but we actually get tomorrow off! I suspect it has something to do with the fact that the bosses have agreed to give us "banked time and a half" for overtime (i.e. the time and a half would be used to book vacation time and the like). So, they have to give us some time off, especially given how long our hours were in Pembroke.

Today's load was small; we were done by around 2 PM despite the fact that we stopped to allow the Human Sawmill to read to us from some letters we found in the garbage. It was a collection of love letters between a teenage girl and some guys (the letters they sent along with some of her rough drafts). It was amusing at times, but got uncomfortable when she started mention stuff like cutting herself. At that point I started to feel rather guilty for listening, especially given how unsympathetic my colleagues sounded. Unfortunately, being the meek sort that I am, all I was able to do was to point out that the guys she was corresponding with seemed pretty messed up themselves. My colleagues seemed to acknowledge the point but quickly forgot it and went back to going on about how crazy women are.

On Sunday I bought an MP3 player, but found that it didn't work. I took it back to the store, intending to exchange it, but they didn't have any more of that model, and the next model up was around $20 more, so I asked for a refund. Fortunately they didn't make me fight for it, because I don't think I would have done a very good job. I'd probably have forked over the extra $20 and slunk out of the store. Both this story and the previous one suggest that I ought to be more assertive than I am. Actually a lot of aspects of my life suggest that, though I don't know what to do about it exactly.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

The end of the week approaches

As expected, this was a short day sorting, though I had several more hours of data entry afterwards. But that's over, and tomorrow might not be too bad either. Better still, we get Friday off. I think I'll have yet another crack at making sense of Penrose's The Road To Reality, though the stuff covered in that book is pretty damn difficult.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

And so it continues...

I have a great idea for an online game. I'm not tech-savvy enough to actually create it, but someone should take this idea and run with it. It would work like this: You would upload a photo of your boss, enter with some general details (age, sex, height, weight, etc) and some fancy-schmancy software would generate a 3-D model based on the photo and data you provide. Then you would be able to inflict whatever torment your fantasies can provide (bamboo shoots under the fingernails, a jalapeƱo and LSD enema, cutting off bodily parts, etc) without the annoying legal repercussions that would result from actually fulfilling your fantasy.

As you might guess, I'm again feeling rather sick of my job. The actual sorts haven't been too bad, but the last couple of evenings have been spent working on other projects (mostly data entry, but there's been some additional shite from that project that was plaguing me up in Pembroke). The whole career change idea keeps coming back into my head, though I kind of think I should try to find another job in my current field first. But I'm coming to believe that fieldwork is a young person's game, and so I'm currently looking at office jobs that are related to the field I'm in now. Unfortunately, most of the ones on the job boards are either jobs like my current one, or else call centre jobs that happen to be specialized in this field (hooray, I could be the person who answers the phone when you call to whine about your garbage collection being late). Even that, though, seems like it would be an improvement. It wouldn't offer much room for advancement, but I have to wonder how much room I have for advancement where I am now.

I've gone as far as checking the library science programs at universities that offer them, but they seem to want someone with a 4-year degree, not two 3-year degrees and an incomplete masters' degree. They might be willing to make an exception, though, so I intend to look into it further. The thing is, that would require going further into hock with OSAP, as well as relocating (the nearest schools that offer such a degree are in Toronto and London; and neither of Winnipeg's universities offer it either). And I'd like to think I'd be employable in the field afterwards- after all, there are so many schools, universities, and municipalities in this country that surely one of them would hire me. Sure, it might mean living in a place like Dauphin or Meaford, but I think I could live with that... at least for a while.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Preparing to leave town again...

Yeah, it never ends. I'm to leave for Bracebridge tonight at 6 PM. However, at the end of the month I'm going to get a week's vacation, which I'm going to spend in Winnipeg. I'll be there from the 24th of June through the 1st of July, and I'm really looking forward to it.

The Agile Like This show was great. I bought their CD Take Our Load (a 5 track EP) and have been playing it quite a bit this weekend. They're apparently going to have a bunch of shows this summer, so anyone in the Tri-Cities should check them out. (Don't bring your kids, though, unless you want to have to explain some pretty perverse shit to them).

Yesterday I helped the Perfects move. They're now in a nice highrise, and they seem pretty happy with it. It was a very hot day, but the move itself went very smoothly (they had a fair amount of help). Or rather, it went smoothly except for one little thing- they clipped a parked car with the U-Haul. No serious damage, but embarrassing for them.

Friday, June 1, 2007

My choice for the Perfect Post of the month

So there's this thing called the Perfect Post award, run by Suburban Turmoil and MommaK, and it occurred to me that this post from fruchick is at least as worthy of the honour as any other post I've seen this month. Much of her blog is locked, but the post in question was deliberately left unlocked, and we must thank her for it, since it's a well placed "fuck you" to folks who sound like they sorely need it. As you might gather from the open post, most of her blog is devoted to comedy (particularly Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert); I have to admit that as a cable-free person I have only a passing familiarity with those guys, but I always enjoy reading what she has to say.

And, in other news, my site meter has finally reached three digits!

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Back to some sanity

We finished before 2 PM, but it was after 6 by the time I came in my door for the last time. We were stuck in traffic on the 400, owing to the fact that a semi had burst into flames. By the time we passed it the fire was out, and they were in the process of removing the remains of the truck. All there was to see was the chassis, wheels, and engine; the body, tires, etc had melted away from the intensity of the fire. No trailer attached, but there was a bunch of stuff we passed before we got to the truck, and so I missed the details. The radio merely said that there was a delay on the 400 owing to a truck fire; no word on casualties.

It seems that dropping celebrities' names definitely brings hits, though the way I tend to drop names it's not the sort of thing that encourages people to stay. Yesterday's post brought one hit from someone searching for a certain rock star, and I also just got a hit from another Ottawa-area searcher (perhaps the same one; same ISP, anyway) who was looking for info on the dishonourable member for Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke. The former was very short (registering zero on Sitemeter's clock) while the latter lasted 45 seconds. I guess if I want meaningful traffic, I'll have to have something that encourages people to actually stay.

Nevertheless, I'm going to drop one more name in this post- the band Agile Like This. They're playing tonight at the Circus Room, and they're friends of mine, so I'm going to check out the show.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Improving...

This week has so far been a lot better than last. For one thing, the surroundings are nicer. Pembroke and Bracebridge are about the same size, but the latter is incomparably more appealing than the former in almost every way. (But then, it's a tourist town, so that is to be expected). Secondly, the expected plagues of mosquitoes have not materialized (at least by my standards... but then I was raised in Manitoba, so perhaps I'm more desensitized to these creatures than folks from southern Ontario are). Best of all, the loads have been much smaller, as will be evident from the time of this post. It's only 1:30 PM and I'm comfortably back in the hotel room. (Tomorrow won't be quite as good, but will still be better than last Friday, and it's a much shorter drive home afterwards). And the bins finally arrived at the work site (we'd been bagging the recyclables until now, terribly wasteful but we had no choice).

The actual work site is at Muskoka airport, which is remarkably busy this time of year. Most of the traffic has been single engine piston aircraft, but there have been a couple of business jets as well, perhaps owned by the various celebrities (Cindy Crawford, Eddie Van Halen, etc) who are reputed to have cottages in this area. The bins we've been provided with are supposed to be closed to avoid attracting bears and seagulls, but they don't have lids, so the possibility exists that a bear will show up and devour some celebrities as they get off their Learjets. While I certainly don't wish Ms. Crawford or Mr. Van Halen any ill, there's a part of me that wants this to happen (for purely selfish reasons; if this were to happen our company would likely be bankrupted by the ensuing lawsuit, and I'd be able to go on EI to search full time for a better job).

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

More of same... piled higher and deeper

For better or worse, my existence continues. The loads weren't too bad today. I was in a lousy mental state for most of the day, as per usual (see below) but as usual the feeling has lifted somewhat. Actually I think it lifted a bit around the time we discovered yet another problem with the shitmobile. The vehicle was parked outside the building, its rear facing us with the garage door open, and ND noticed that a bolt was hanging lower than the others of its type. Inspection showed that it was actually one of the U-bolts that hold the rear axle housing to the leaf spring, and that it was actually broken. Following a couple of phone calls, the Human Sawmill got in the truck and drove it to a dealership in Orillia (the nearest place we could find that carried the part). In the course of the repair they discovered that at least one leaf of the spring itself was broken, but for the time being they've just replaced the bolt; one hopes that the bosses will see fit to replace the spring when we get back. I suppose I should feel guilty for being amused by the situation, but I don't. As far as I can see, the more things that go wrong with that thing the better- maybe they'll finally see fit to get rid of the damn thing. I'm not holding my breath, though.

And you've got to see this video:


Make sure you watch the whole thing- you'll be amazed at how it ends. Certainly not your typical nature video.