Saturday, October 30, 2010

Columnist calls for the assassination of Julian Assange

Naturally, American right wingers like Jonah Goldberg really dislike Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, and would like something done about this. But what Goldberg says in this National Review article (h/t Ezra at Popehat) is quite disturbing:

So again, I ask: Why wasn’t Assange garroted in his hotel room years ago?

It’s a serious question.

Yeah. What the heck is the CIA for, if not for rubbing out people who embarrass the US?

The new Fatal Shore?

With all the obsession with crime these days, it's hard to even get a word in edgewise about such things as prevention. Just look at what happened in Wednesday's municipal election -- I'm pretty sure that a big part of the outcome was a rejection of anything other than a purely punitive approach to the problem. The thing is, it can't go on forever like this. It costs a heck of a lot to keep people in jail, and doesn't really solve the crime problem anyway -- yet ask the average person on the street how to approach the problem, and they'll likely tell you to get tough, hang 'em high, etc. How will this play out in the long run?

One possibility, of course, is that the general public will come sufficiently to their senses that it will be politically possible to put more focus on rehabilitation. Unfortunately, the likes of Sun Media make it awfully hard to have an intelligent conversation with the average person on this issue, so the "get tough" approach is likely to continue for the forseeable future. But how will society deal with the escalating costs of keeping people incarcerated (not to mention the recidivism rate if convicts' issues aren't properly dealt with while they're on the inside, with is the case now and will only get worse as they incarcerate more and more people). The British found a "solution" to the problem in the late 1700s by setting up penal colonies (most famously Australia, but for a time Bermuda and the American colonies were used for this purpose as well). Of course, that's not so easy to do now that there are no more new frontiers.

Or are there? Recently I came across this story about plans for setting up a Mars colony. What leaps out is this:
Worden's comments prompted speculation that trips to Mars could be only 20 years away. Commentators talked about the difficulties of such a trip because of the cost, estimated at $10 billion US one-way, and the likelihood that the explorers would not be able to ever return to Earth.
My emphasis. It would be tough to get people to volunteer for such a mission, but I bet some will suggest sending criminals. You'd still need a few volunteers to run the place, but the general labourers would be virtually free. This idea is explored in D. G. Compton's 1971 novel Farewell, Earth's Bliss, and I don't doubt that it will be proposed in all seriousness in the years to come. It's not my idea of a good solution to the crime problem, but in one way it would be an improvement on previous penal colonies -- at least in this case it wouldn't involve the displacement and destruction of indigenous peoples, since there are none on Mars.

Friday, October 29, 2010

A sobering look at the public mind

The success of politicians like Rob Ford is bewildering to a lot of people, who tend to expect that a guy who is so obviously a xenophobic, narrow-minded jerk will be repellent to most people. One response seen in a focus group that Smitherman's team put together is revealing:
During one Marzolini focus group, a middle-aged woman explained that she would overlook personality failings in a mayor – as long as he didn’t waste her taxes.

“It was the most powerful thing I’d ever seen,” recalls campaign manager Bruce Davis. “People knew [Mr. Ford] had these character flaws. They knew all that …”

And, by all appearances, they didn’t care.

From the Globe. For lefties like me, this is disturbing; it paints a picture of narrow-minded suburbanites who don't care how bad a politician is to other people, as long as he or she is good to them. Perhaps this also explains some poll results discussed in another Globe story:
A new EKOS Research survey, released Thursday morning, shows voters “are underwhelmed with Canada’s actions on the world stage.” Asked whether they disapproved or approved of the Harper government’s foreign policies, 37 per cent said they disapproved compared to 21 per cent who approve and 35 per cent who don’t care either way.

“The data seems to suggest that the Tories don't have huge problems on foreign policy,” Mr. Graves told The Globe. “Wins like Haiti and losses like UN net out as mild negative.”
And by "mild negative" what they really mean is "it's not going to make the slightest bit of difference how most people vote". After all, Harper's supporters, like Ford's, care more about how much they pay in taxes than whether the government is bombing children and embarrassing us on the world stage.

Thursday, October 28, 2010


So some of my predictions didn't turn out so well. In retrospect, some of it was predictable (Rod Giesbrecht's role as a spoiler in Elmwood-East Kildonan, for instance). The overall makeup of council hasn't really changed much (in effect, the left lost Elmwood-EK but gained Mynarski). And of course Katz was reelected. And the turnout was high in spite of bad weather, which usually indicates an appetite for change, but here it didn't. So what happened?

I'm not sure, but I suspect that those awful shootings in the North End played a role. Yes, they happened under Katz's watch, but that doesn't matter; the right has been extremely effective in branding themselves as the ones who can solve the problem. They've been so effective in this branding effort that people ignore the evidence when they're sufficiently scared. (For similar reasons, deficits seem to help the right, even when they happen under right wing governments). The high turnout is probably partly explicable by people coming out in hope of voting for Judy, but part of it is people from the suburbs coming out to vote out of fear of Judy. Presumably they think that there'd be a veritable explosion of crime if she occupied the Mayor's office. Whatever...

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Some guesses for the municipal election

Bartley Kives, in this Free Press article, makes some predictions about how things will play out tomorrow (about halfway down, though the whole article is worth reading). In some cases I have opinions on the matter myself.

Charleswood-Tuxedo: With seven candidates and no incumbent, this would seem to be about as wide open as it gets. Kives considers Havixbeck and Hannah to be the top contenders. My money would be on Havixbeck, since the Tory machine will be working for her, and when you have that many candidates it is a advantageous to have a lot of volunteers to pull the vote.

Mynarski: Again, we have a freshly vacated ward with a large field of candidates. Here, though, turnout is traditionally low, and thus having a lot of volunteers is even more critical. And the NDP has never had a shortage of volunteers. For this reason, I'm calling this one for Eadie.

Elmwood-East Kildonan: Kives calls it a three way race. I'm inclined to narrow it down to Robinson or Giesbrecht; Steen might have a better chance if he didn't open his mouth. In theory, Robinson should have this in the bag, but Giesbrecht is doing dangerously well. This could go either way.

Old Kildonan: Kives thinks Sharma has the edge; I don't know enough about that race to agree or disagree.

Daniel McIntyre: Kives goes no further than to predict that "one of the three lefties" (Smith, Bellamy, or Gilroy-Price) will win. Myself I'd give the edge to Bellamy, both due to the aforementioned organizational factor and due to the fact that Wolseley seems pretty solidly in his camp (and face it, Wolseley has a higher turnout than the West End). But Smith is not to be underestimated either.

River Heights-Fort Garry: Kives puts this as impossible to predict. To my mind it mostly turns on how annoyed people really are about those traffic circles; if Orlikow loses River Heights he's done for. But this may turn out to be a case of much ado about nothing; I do see a fair number of letters and comments defending the circles. Tough call.

St. Norbert: Kives figures a major upset would be necessary to unseat Swandel, but he considers this a possibility. He implies that this would imply a shift to the left; however, it could equally happen through a generalized shift against incumbents. In that case, his prediction -- that Swandel could only lose in a situation where the right gets severely stomped -- might be unsound. If Swandel and Orlikow are both defeated in an anti-incumbent wave, for instance, the net effect on the balance of power is zero.

St. Charles: This is another race that I know too little to challenge Kives' comments (essentially that Nordman has the edge but that Dobson has a chance).

Fort Rouge-East Fort Garry: Strangely, Kives lists this as a race where the incumbent could lose, although he thinks it unlikely. Myself, I would have no hesitation about calling it for Gerbasi.

St. James-Brooklands: Kives also lists this as one where there's an outside chance of defeating the incumbent. I call this for Fielding.

Point Douglas, St. Boniface, St. Vital, and Transcona: I can't really argue with Kives' contention that these are "virtually locks", though I don't know enough about St. Vital to say I agree with him on that one either.

OK, but what about the big one? Kives makes no prediction here, but what about me? Maybe I'm overly optimistic, but I'm going to call this one for Judy. The thing is, there's a huge force of volunteers supporting the NDP-backed candidates, and most of the votes they pull will go to Judy. In addition, some of their opponents are as well. For instance, regardless of whether Harvey Smith or Keith Bellamy takes Daniel McIntyre, both of them are going to be getting a lot of people out to vote, and nearly all of those folks will vote for Judy. The situation with existing patterns of voter turnout is a bit murkier; in southern and suburban parts of the city, which tend to favour Katz, turnout tends to be higher. On the other hand, among identified supporters, this poll has concluded that Judy's supporters are more committed to actually getting to the polls than Sam's. Naturally, polls can be wrong (see Ford's margin of victory in Toronto for an example) but I think Winnipeg might finally break out of its long cycle of reelecting mayors until they retire (or die). Here's hoping...

Anti-incumbent sentiment strong in much of Ontario

Notwithstanding the fact that Hazel McCallion was reelected with a huge margin (along with her counterparts in Brampton, Oakville, Markham, Richmond Hill and Ajax) there was quite a strong shift against incumbents. Vaughan's mayor, and several veteran councillors, went down to defeat yesterday, and so did the mayors of Burlington, Hamilton, and Oshawa. Five incumbent Toronto councillors, representing the right as well as the left, were defeated. Outside of the 905, the mayors of London, Ottawa, Greater Sudbury and Thunder Bay all went down as well.

Now I'd be more than happy to see this pattern repeat itself in Winnipeg tomorrow, but there's something about this that makes me a bit uneasy. The fact that this trend has victims across the political spectrum suggests that instead of voting for a clear platform (or even against one) they're voting against anyone they perceive as being too experienced. Under this mentality, once a politician gains sufficient experience to figure out how to do the job, he or she should be gotten rid of immediately. It's no coincidence that "vote out all incumbents" is a common cry from teabaggers, who would like nothing better than to insure that governments are unable to actually do anything. And consider this -- teabaggers are always going on about the need for term limits, but balk at campaign spending limits. Apparently it's better to stop someone from running at all, than to limit the amount they can spend on their campaign. And guess who that tends to favour?

So tomorrow, Winnipeggers, I'd like you to vote out Sam Katz, but don't do it simply because he's the incumbent. Do it because he sucks, and because Judy will be good.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Ford cruises to victory in Toronto, Waterloo decides General Ripper was right

It seems that those polls suggesting that Smitherman was within striking range of Ford were inaccurate:

Rob Ford, the city councillor who campaigned against waste and business-as-usual at City Hall, is the new mayor of Toronto.

With 90 per cent of polls reporting, Mr. Ford took almost 49 per cent of the vote, compared to 34 per cent for former Ontario deputy premier George Smitherman and 11 per cent for third-place finisher Joe Pantalone, the current deputy mayor.

From the Globe. How much damage he can do depends on who gets elected to council; my guess is that he won't have enough allies to accomplish most of what he'd like to, but I don't know. Those more familiar with the makeup of council are encouraged to comment.

Edited to add: OK, this looks bad.

Meanwhile, in Waterloo Region, all three cities have reelected their mayors, and Waterloo itself seems to have voted strongly against any formal talks with Kitchener about amalgamation in a referendum. In a separate referendum, they narrowly voted to discontinue the fluoridation of the city's drinking water.

Also notable is that Brenda Halloran is the first Waterloo mayor to be reelected in 16 years. It strikes me that Winnipeg also has a pattern that could use breaking, namely the fact that we haven't thrown out an incumbent mayor since 1956. In two days we'll find out if the pattern will hold for another four...

Friday, October 22, 2010

A guide to Toronto's mayoral candidates

Courtesy of the Star. Some highlights:

Taxes: Ford wants to abolish the land transfer tax, while Smitherman and Pantalone want to keep it. The situation with property taxes is interesting. As noted previously, Smitherman is actually even more aggressive than Ford on this issue - he wants to freeze them, while Ford merely wants to index them to inflation.

Transit: Ford, much like Katz in Winnipeg, wants to tear up the existing plans and renegotiate. Pantalone wants to continue, while Smitherman actually wants to add to existing plans.

Other environmental issues: Both Pantalone and Smitherman scored high here (20 and 18 out of 20 respectively). Ford didn't bother to answer the questionnaire.

Contracting out: Pantalone wants to freeze it; both Ford and Smitherman want to do it. Of the two, Smitherman is arguably worse than Ford, since he is open to contracting out bus routes in addition to garbage and recycling.

Debt: Pantalone figures there are higher priorities, and that the debt can be kept constant. Both Ford and Smitherman want to actively reduce it by selling city assets.

Hiring of staff: None of them advocate massive layoffs. Pantalone wishes to continue the present policy, which is to simply evaluate whether it's necessary to fill a given vacancy. Ford and Smitherman are much more aggressive here, wanting to eliminate 1,500 and 1,300 jobs, respectively, by attrition.

Size of council: Pantalone and Smitherman want to leave well enough alone, while Ford wants to cut it in half.

Looking at it in this way, Smitherman does seem to be somewhat preferable to Ford overall, and I certainly think the venom that some have directed towards those who advocate tactical voting is a bit excessive. Nonetheless, I still think Smitherman would remain mayor for a lot longer than Ford would if elected, and that could be a negative in itself. So I'd still urge progressive Torontonians to hold out for Joe.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

America rediscovers the bicycle

This is a positive development:

America is known for its enduring love affair with the automobile. But in the last few years cities across the US have reported a surge in bicycle use, as people search for greener, healthier - and cheaper - transport options. The BBC's Daniel Nasaw looks at what Washington DC is doing to push two-wheeled travel.

America is a land of long distances, of thousands of virtually empty square miles of prairie, farmland and baking desert and frozen tundra.

US cities sprawl on a level unseen in Europe, Canada, and Australia, a consequence of transport priorities that have long favoured motor vehicles. And in all but a handful of US cities, it is virtually impossible to get by without a car.

But in recent years, amid widespread concern about US dependence on foreign oil, high petrol prices, signs of global warming and an obesity epidemic, a number of US cities have taken steps to increase bicycle usage.

These cities hope that by adding relatively low-cost bicycle lanes, bike parking and bike sharing programmes and making other city plan adjustments, they can lessen traffic congestion, reduce the strain on public transport, and promote healthier citizens.

From the Beeb. The biggest thing that stands out for me is the fact that Canadian and Australian cities themselves sprawl on a level that I'm pretty sure is unseen in Europe, which makes me wonder if American cities are really that much worse than ours, or if the author has a romanticized image of Canada and Australia. There doesn't seem to be a byline on the article, so I don't know if the author is from the UK, the US, or somewhere else. I kind of doubt s/he comes from Canada or Australia, though. Seriously; people commute to Toronto from Waterloo, and I've even heard of people driving from Stratford for crying out loud. That's 150 km each way, five days a week. Are the Americans worse than that??

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

LA County sheriff vows to ignore law if pot decriminalized

As mentioned previously, California voters will be deciding on Proposition 19, a referendum question on legalizing marijuana. The sheriff of Los Angeles County is not impressed:
Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca said on Friday that the voters don’t matter. His deputies’ enforcement of marijuana laws would not change even if voters approved Proposition 19, which would legalize cannabis in California, on November 2, according to the Sheriff.
Source (h/t Ken at Popehat). If this does indeed happen, one hopes the authorities will do something about the matter (my suggestion would be charge Baca with kidnapping if he arrests anyone for this).

Katz in the lead again, but support soft -- poll

The latest poll has incumbent Sam Katz back in the lead:

Mayor Sam Katz has a six-point lead on Judy Wasylycia-Leis as Winnipeg's mayoral race enters the home stretch, but a more committed core of support for the challenger suggests election night may be a nail-biter.

Katz enjoys the support of 38 per cent of Winnipeg voters while Wasylycia-Leis has 32 per cent, according to a Leger Marketing telephone survey commissioned by the Winnipeg Free Press and CBC News.

Source. While this might be good news for Katz, there's a complication:

Survey respondents were asked to rate their interest in the race, on a scale of one to 10. The average interest for a Wasylycyia-Leis supporter was 6.5 out of 10, while Katz supporters averaged 5.4 out of 10, Scholz said.

Furthermore, 25 per cent of Wasylycia-Leis supporters rated their interest at nine or 10 out of 10, compared to only nine per cent of Katz supporters who did so.

"Her voters are significantly more interested in this election than his voters," Scholz said.

"That means her voters are more likely to come out than his are. If there's anything to prevent them, such as bad weather or a TV show, there's a good chance he's not going to get the vote out."

So, if Judy's campaign is able to keep things moving (not to mention the campaigns of council candidates who are onside with her) she has an excellent chance of winning.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

More commentary on the Toronto mayoral race

Much as the prospect of teabaggers winning control of the US Congress is a bit worrisome (but see here for some perspective on that), the prospect of someone who is a teabagger in all but name becoming mayor of Canada's largest city is more than a little stomach-churning. But as noted before, not everyone thinks Smitherman is enough of an improvement on Ford to be worthy of support. The Star's Royston James has this to say:

So, before you hold your nose and vote Smitherman, you should ask yourself: What is it about Ford that scares me? Who and what am I voting for? Why am I voting against someone? Because, holding your nose and voting, well, stinks — especially after the vote.

So what are you want from next Monday’s vote?

If your priority is to get someone at city hall who can stand on the international and national stage and represent Toronto — because he speaks well and “looks like a mayor,” then maybe Smitherman gets your vote hands-down. His years as deputy premier were a rehearsal for the role. He is motor mouth.

If your priority is to continue the legacy left by outgoing mayor David Miller — an ethic of growth in city services and civic staff, bike lanes and European-style streetcars, environmental initiatives and making Toronto the greenest city on the planet — then Joe Pantalone is your candidate.

And if you are concerned about city hall spending and the growth of the city’s budget and the perennial fiscal deficit even after hundreds of millions of tax dollars have been added to the ledger, then Ford has earned a penny-pinching reputation.

Now, if you find Ford’s anti-spending policies so repulsive that he must be stopped, then you might be careful with your dalliance with Smitherman, especially if your concern is the diminution or destruction of city services. On that score, both candidates are closer than the Anybody-but-Ford crowd lets on.

From the city budget perspective, Smitherman may even be worse for you.

That sounds strange given what we already know about Ford, but James makes some good points:

First, he advocates a tax freeze in 2011, turning his back on some $60 million he obviously needs. Not even Ford does that.

Second, Smitherman plans to run up to Queen’s Park for a $100 million subsidy to balance the books. Again, he’s alone on that. And he suggests he will get this money even though his budget numbers show the city with a surplus of $50 million. In other words, his friend Dalton will give him $100 million and add to the province’s ballooning deficit so Toronto can net a $50 million surplus.

These two points are relevant because Smitherman intends to spend more on a range of platform promises than either Pantalone or Ford. So, he needs more “savings” to balance the books.

Now on the other side of the coin, of course, is the fact that Ford is so personally offensive. No need to go over the reasons again and again; the guy is ridiculous. And there's no doubt that the next four years will be rather embarrassing for Torontonians if Ford wins (perhaps even worse than Lastman's final term). Nonetheless, I stand by my prediction that if Ford does win he will either serve a single term, or else moderate his behaviour. And in any case, it's not a case of the entire city council being taken over by Ford clones; I'm pretty sure he won't have the votes on council to do all the crazy things he says he wants to do. So all things considered, if I lived in Toronto, I'd feel fine about casting my vote for Pantalone.

Teabagger doesn't understand the Constitution

You'd think people who are constantly ranting about the importance of upholding the Constitution would have bothered to read it. Apparently not:

The US constitution has its quirks but it is crystal clear on one issue: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," begins the first amendment, adopted in 1791. But more than 200 years later, its meaning appears to be lost on Christine O'Donnell, the Tea Party favourite running for a US Senate seat.

At a debate today for the Delaware Senate seat once occupied by Vice President Joe Biden, O'Donnell appeared to be nonplussed by the wording of the first amendment, repeatedly returning to the subject and sounding incredulous after her Democratic opponent Chris Coons attempted to explain it to her.

When Coons told her the text of the constitution prohibited government from establishing any religion, O'Donnell replied in apparent bewilderment: "You're telling me that's in the first amendment?"

From the Guardian. Rather strange. It gets better, though, because the teabaggers, for the most part, subscribe to a school of constitutional thought known as originalism, the idea that when interpreting the Constitution, every effort should be made to see what the Founding Fathers intended when they wrote it. Well, in this case we have some good evidence for the intention:
Not only is the first amendment perhaps the most famous part of the constitution but the "establishment clause", as it is known, is the subject of legal precedent stretching back into the 19th century. No less an authority than Thomas Jefferson, one of the constitution's authors, declared the clause's aim to build "a wall of separation between church and state".
My emphasis. Things are going to get rather interesting for some of these people when they find themselves actually getting elected (and I suspect far to many of them will for my liking). Gwynne Dyer thinks, though, that this might not be the disaster that some fear:

If all of the retired white people vote, and only the usual midterm proportion of all the other demographics does, then the Democrats will lose both houses of Congress.

So why isn’t Obama more worried about it?

He will certainly regret that so many long-serving Democratic senators and congressmen are going to lose their seats this autumn, but it really does not much matter to him who controls the Congress for the next two years.

He can’t hope to get any more legislation even through the current Congress since the Democrats lost their “super-majority” of 60 seats in the Senate last January, so what’s the difference?

Nor does Obama actually have to get more legislation through Congress right now. It would be nice to have a tough climate-change bill, no doubt, but from a political point of view, there is no new law that he simply must pass before he faces reelection himself in 2012.

Indeed, he stands a very good chance of winning a second term in 2012, in large part because of what is going to happen this November.

From the Georgia Straight. Essentially, Dyer thinks that the teabaggers will show their true colours, yet be unable to actually accomplish anything:

Getting majorities in both houses of Congress will leave the Republicans nowhere to hide on the critical issue of cutting the huge federal deficit. They have already said that they will not raise taxes—even for those earning more than $250,000 a year—and they have pledged not to cut defence spending.

What’s left? The only other big-ticket items in the budget are entitlements: health care and pensions.

The United States has not yet gone through the painful debate about how to tame the deficit that has already happened in most European countries, but it will have to do so soon.

That poses a particular problem for Republicans, because if they will not raise taxes on the rich or cut defence spending, then they have to support brutal cuts in health care and pensions or lose all credibility as deficit-cutters.

But cutting entitlements would alienate the Republicans’ own most important demographic: older white people. They will not risk that.

Dyer also points out that any ridiculous piece of legislation that they come up with, even if it passes both houses of Congress, is subject to presidential veto. The one thing he does not mention is that if the Republicans get supermajorities in both houses, they will be able to override his veto. Hopefully -- and probably -- that won't happen.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Teabagger strategy for midterms revealed

It's called voter suppression:
What was once an isolated story of one Republican group trying to suppress the Democratic vote is now turning into a much larger effort on the part of the entire Republican Party. Numerous stories have now emerged of various Republican candidates and conservative groups engaging in practices which they say are designed to stop voter fraud, but liberals claim the real goal is to keep legitimate Democratic voters from going to the polls.

The first evidence of a voter suppression effort came in the form of an audio tape of a Tea Party meeting in Wisconsin. In the meeting, one leader describes a concerted effort on the part of the Tea Party, the Republican Party, and Americans for Prosperity. The plan involved sending mailers to voters the group considered suspect voters. The mailer would warn the individuals that if they did not respond they may not be able to vote. That strategy has been used before as part of what is called the "voter caging" strategy. Under the strategy, many voters are effectively discouraged from voting because they believe (falsely) that they had to return the mailer from the private organization. In addition, the Wisconsin conservative group stated that they were planning to send a "team" of lawyers to districts where the mailers would possibly be used to challenge the votes of some citizens.

Following the Wisconsin story, another story came out concerning Republican senatorial candidate Mark Kirk. In an audio tape leaked to the press, Kirk can be heard telling his audience about his campaign's plan to send teams of lawyer to districts in Illinois which are dominated by African-America, Democratic voters. Kirk referred to these areas as "vulnerable districts" which would need to be monitored closely by his lawyers, but he did not feel the need to monitor areas dominated by white, Republican voters.

From here (h/t jblaque).

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Could a coat of paint make wind turbines safer for wildlife?

Opponents of wind turbines often point to reports that they are responsible for significant mortality among some animals, especially birds and bats. There's controversy over the accuracy and significance of those reports, but it's certainly worth looking at ways of reducing wind farms' impact on wildlife. Which makes this a valuable discovery:
A study has revealed that a wind turbine's colour affects how many insects it attracts, shedding more light on why the turbines occasionally kill bats and birds.

Scientists say that turbines, most commonly painted white or grey, draw in insects. These then lure bats and birds - as they pursue their prey - into the path of the turbine blades.

Support for the idea comes from another study showing that bats are most often killed by turbines at night and in summer, when insects are most abundant.

"It had been speculated that insects may be attracted to turbine structures for some reason and this then could attract insectivorous species, such as birds and bats, to forage in the vicinity," said PhD student Chloe Long of Loughborough University, UK.

However, she added, "no other study has looked in detail at what specific insect species might be attracted to turbine installations or why".

So Miss Long and her Loughborough colleagues, Dr James Flint and Dr Paul Lepper, conducted the first empirical study of insect attraction to wind turbines, the results of which are published in the European Journal of Wildlife Research.

From the BBC. Apparently painting the turbines purple would be the best way to minimize the number of insects attracted to them.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Yet more water troubles

This time it's in Syria:
AR RAQQAH, Syria — The farmlands spreading north and east of this Euphrates River town were once the breadbasket of the region, a vast expanse of golden wheat fields and bucolic sheep herds.

Now, after four consecutive years of drought, this heartland of the Fertile Crescent — including much of neighboring Iraq — appears to be turning barren, climate scientists say. Ancient irrigation systems have collapsed, underground water sources have run dry and hundreds of villages have been abandoned as farmlands turn to cracked desert and grazing animals die off. Sandstorms have become far more common, and vast tent cities of dispossessed farmers and their families have risen up around the larger towns and cities of Syria and Iraq.
From the New York Times. This should be a familiar refrain to regular readers of this blog (see for example this or this). And we're not likely immune to this stuff either. Danny Blair, a climatologist at the University of Winnipeg, thinks we should be preparing in advance for trouble:
It's time for Canadians to wake up to the reality of climate change. Many already do understand that the consequences of climate change for our part of the world and the world as a whole are profound, but many do not. Of course, there are both positive and negative aspects to climate change, but it is increasingly clear the climate trends that will almost certainly prevail throughout this century will leave us with a world in which the benefits of climate change will be swamped by its environmental, economic and humanitarian costs.
From the Free Press. And what might some of these costs be?

On the other hand, insects and weeds will also flourish in a warmer world, perhaps necessitating an increase in the use of pesticides. Warmer summers will also increase the demand for energy to cool our buildings and will increase the frequency of heat-related health problems. Forest fires will become more frequent and the winter recreation season will be shortened. Importantly, the network of winter roads across Manitoba will become even less reliable than is already the case, causing significant and costly impacts.

Impacts related more directly to water are likely to be even more significant. Climate change will likely result in higher annual precipitation totals across Canada, but they also show that the summers will be drier. With more of the annual precipitation falling in the winter and more heat available to evaporate surface water, it is quite likely that the Prairie provinces will have to suffer through more frequent and more severe droughts. Ironically, it is also likely that floods will become even more problematic than they are today, as the hydrological cycle kicks into a higher gear. Thus, the survivability of the settlements of the southern prairies already stressed by the ups and downs in agricultural productivity may become even more tenuous.

It's worth noting that when scientists try to predict the fine details of the effects of climate change there is an element of speculation involved (and it should be noted that Blair is cautious himself, using words like "likely" rather than making definitive statements). Climate is pretty complicated stuff, and we should be preparing for a number of eventualities.

One eventuality that Manitoba should definitely be preparing for, though (and yes, I've harped on this in the past) is the melting of the glaciers in the Rockies. Right now, the Saskatchewan and Churchill Rivers are flowing very nicely indeed, fed by the melting glaciers... but in a few decades the glaciers will be gone, and then those rivers will be a lot smaller. The probably won't dry up entirely, since it will still rain and snow periodically, but Manitoba Hydro should be planning for this now by getting other clean energy sources online as quickly as possible. Ideally, what we should have is enough solar and wind capacity to keep Jenpeg closed enough of the time that Lake Winnipeg can be kept near its current level. Will we do it? That remains to be seen...

Toronto mayoral race now also a dead heat

Perhaps Torontonians are having second thoughts about Ford:

A new poll conducted over Thanksgiving weekend shows a dead heat between Toronto mayoral frontrunners Rob Ford and George Smitherman, with the former deputy premier edging the Etobicoke councillor by one percentage point.

Of the 400 people surveyed in the Ipsos Reid poll, conducted for Newstalk 1010, 31 per cent said they plan to vote for Mr. Smitherman – and 30 per cent supported Mr. Ford. Deputy mayor Joe Pantalone garnered 11 per cent of the vote, while 4 per cent of those polled said they’d vote for Rocco Rossi if the vote were held tomorrow.

From the Globe. I guess the "Ford is scary" message is starting to sink in (the fact that Ford actually is scary might have something to do with it).

In any case, it's worth noting that this is still anyone's race:
The poll also indicated a sizable number of voters are still on the fence, however: A quarter of those polled said they still have no idea whom they’ll vote for come Oct. 25. And while the majority – 54 per cent – of those polled said they intend to cast a ballot on election day, voter intention was highest in Etobicoke, (73 per cent), followed by Toronto (60 per cent), East York (53 per cent), Scarborough (51 per cent) and North York (38 per cent). Mr. Pantalone’s supporters said they’re the most likely to vote, with 72 per cent saying they intend to cast a ballot. He’s followed by those supporting Mr. Smitherman (65 per cent), Mr. Ford (57 per cent) and Mr. Rossi (37 per cent).
The fact that Etobicoke's residents are the most likely to vote might favour Ford; on the other hand the fact that Ford's supporters are less likely to vote than Smitherman's counters this.

By the way, in this post, I somewhat downplayed the evils of Ford. I still more or less stand by that, but it's worth remembering that on environmental issues, Ford and Smitherman are polar opposites:

Mayoral candidates Rob Ford and Rocco Rossi both received failing grades from the Toronto Environmental Alliance because they declined to fill out the green group’s survey.

But the campaigns say they refused because TEA passed out a biased survey.

George Smitherman and Joe Pantalone, meanwhile, both garnered A+ grades.

Source. I might add that Smitherman does have another advantage over Ford -- namely, Torontonians won't have to be quite so embarrassed to be represented by him.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Katz starting to panic?

Our esteemed mayor has failed to show up for a debate, and he's clogging citizens' voicemail with allegations that Judy is going to take your house away. Gee, do you think he's worried yet?

Friday, October 8, 2010

Some bad news about the world's food supplies

A couple of stories today are worthy of concern. The first is this from the UK:

In a study published in the journal Environmental Research Letters, the scientists warned that rising temperatures would make crops mature more quickly, reducing their yield, while extreme temperatures could also significantly reduce yields.

More droughts would affect crops, while more intense monsoon rains could lead to flooding and crop damage, the researchers said.

If nothing else, it's noteworthy that a paper as conservative as the Telegraph is covering this. Of course, they also happily report the proposed solutions:
But they said the worst effects of climate change could be limited by investment in better farming and the development of new drought resistant or heat tolerant crops. This could be done by aid money, breeding and new technologies like genetic modification (GM).
Hmm. While I'd support GM if it really turns out to be necessary, I'd prefer to see enough of an effort made to fight climate change that we can get by without it. But that's another story.

The second story on this issue is what's happening to the vast Murray-Darling Basin that spans four Australian states:
Farmers and small business owners are predicting the Murray-Darling Basin Authority's recommendation for massive water cuts will force a mass exodus from their communities.

The authority predicts the reductions in water allocations may result in losses of up to $1.1 billion a year to irrigated agriculture production, 800 job losses and significant social impacts across the basin.

But business leaders in the New South Wales Riverina town of Griffith say cuts of 43 per cent for their area mean, at worst, a loss of 5,000 jobs across the region.

They say there will need to be a big investment in mental health facilities for not only irrigators, but the wider community.
From the ABC. The Murray-Darling basin today, the American southwest tomorrow...

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Tory lead evaporates in Manitoba

The NDP and the PCs are now essentially tied:

The provincewide poll results show the NDP and the PCs remain statistically tied, with the PCs now sitting at 42 per cent (up slightly from 40 per cent in June) while the NDP now have the support of 40 per cent of Manitoba's decided voters (down slightly from 41 per cent in June).

While the PCs are ahead of the NDP for the first time since December 2008, it doesn't mean much because their lead is within the poll's margin of error of +/- 3.1 per cent.

From the Free Press. Interesting that the article says the Tories are ahead "for the first time since December 2008"; it implies that the author doesn't put much stock in Angus Reid's methodology for their online polls. In any case, this is good news for the NDP. Even better news is this:
Nearly one-half of voters in Winnipeg (46 per cent) said they would vote for the NDP while about one-third (35 per cent) would vote for a PC candidate. Only 14 per cent said they would vote for the Liberals while five per cent preferred other parties MacKay said in its polling.
And of course, if you win Winnipeg, you win the province.

Toronto's day of reckoning approaches

The latest polls still show that Rob Ford has a five point lead over George Smitherman in the race for mayor. Given what an idiot Ford appears to be, this is rather unsettling, and this is no doubt why nominally left-leaning Joe Mihevc has endorsed Smitherman. Nonetheless, this has led to a strongly worded response:
Dear Joe Mihevc,

This election is all about jobs and services, ethics & principles and who we trust to take us through the next four years. For you, it should have been all about the marginalized sectors of Toronto, and how collectively to provide protection for what we all worked so hard to create, protect and then re-create after the provincial Harris/Eves & Toronto Lastman years.

This election is very important for Toronto’s working class, un- and under-employed workers, poor families, new Canadians and senior citizens,
all of whom have a lot to lose if Rob Ford or self-identified “compassionate cutter” George Smitherman are elected.

For many of us, neither can be a choice: Door A promises no less than 6,000 jobs eliminated while Door B, your candidate, will see the elimination of 4,000 jobs by attrition. Whether you like it or not, both candidates objectively will destroy the programs and services we all need. Unlike these candidates, we cannot “buy” our way out of the problems we face like wealthy people are able to do.

Telling you how angry, disappointed and betrayed many of us feel doesn’t properly convey the depth of emotions being experienced by community members today.

You made this part of the election ‘all about you’. In three weeks, the election will be over. You may have helped elect a Mayor who will attack our quality of life. Likely you will still have your job, as not much can happen to you in the election at this late date

This endorsement isn’t about principles, ethics, or solidarity.
If your candidate is elected, you will be among the chosen inner circle. We, on the other hand, will have to continue to fight for the values, programs and services we all supported.

Can you really wonder, then, why so many are cynical, ‘apathetic’ and disengaged in the election process?

Katie McGovern
Recording & Corresponding Secretary
Local 4400
Now I'm kind of an outsider in this whole thing, having left the province 2½ years ago (and my main source before that was Metro Morning). Nonetheless, I see a lot to agree with in McGovern's letter, though I don't think I'd have worded it so harshly.

The thing is, as noted in that letter, while Ford is a huge jerk, Smitherman doesn't come across as much of an improvement, except with regards to the environment. Now as Audrey McLaughlin once said in a different context, "that's a pretty big except", but my fear of Ford is also tempered by my belief that he probably won't last more than a term; Smitherman, on the other hand, might hold on for as long as he wanted. And if Ford does hold on for multiple terms, it will be by moderating to the point of being no worse than Smitherman would have been. So in the end, I'd probably go ahead and vote for the best candidate, who in this case seems to be Joe Pantalone. On the other hand, I wouldn't be quite as judgemental as McGovern is about people who hold their noses and vote for Smitherman.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Manitobans split on Hydro line

Looks like it may not be the killer issue the Tories hoped:

There is no consensus among Manitobans where Hydro should build its new transmission line.

Global News' exclusive Ipsos Reid poll shows 31% say it should go on the west side, 39% feel the eastern route is better while 30% have no opinion.

From Global. Sure, more people oppose the selected route than support, but not by a huge margin, and the number of "no opinion" responses suggests that it's not going to be a hot issue. That doesn't mean the NDP doesn't have to worry (there have been enough negative polls to make one wonder) but it does mean that the Bipole isn't likely to be the deciding factor in next fall's election.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Throw good lives after bad - families

Sorry if that sounds callous, but that's more or less what the families of some deceased soldiers are asking us to do:

Frederick McKay, whose son Private Kevin McKay was killed earlier this year, said it’s wrong to think victory is impossible in Afghanistan.

He said Canadian troops are winning small battles, such as allowing children to go to school, and those victories will likely come to an end if the troop withdrawal goes ahead as planned next summer.

“Over the course of the years to come, all these small victories will make the sacrifices that our guys are making here in Afghanistan worthwhile,” McKay said.

“You can’t do that if we bring them home.”

From the Hamilton Spectator. Guess what? Those small victories are almost certainly temporary. This war was lost a long time ago, and wasting more lives isn't going to make the losses that have already occurred any less futile.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Katz's lead vanishes

For the first time, the incumbent has a serious fight on his hands:

THE race for mayor of Winnipeg is now a statistical dead heat. Incum­bent Sam Katz has lost the polling lead he held all year and is now even with challenger Judy Wasylycia-Leis.

According to a Probe Research poll conducted in late September exclu­sively for the Free Press, Wasylycia-Leis is the preferred choice of 50 per cent of Winnipeg voters. Katz sits three points behind with 47 per cent support and Brad Gross and Rav Gill garnered the remaining three per cent. The mar­gin of error for these results is 4.7 per cent.

From the Free Press. Suddenly, Katz looks like he could actually lose, and in any case the campaign will be a lot more interesting from this point on.