May 28th, 2010

[LINK] "At least they'd be able to work can-openers"

james_nicoll has a poll up at his blog asking the important question which types of animals are cuter, cats or cephalopods.

You will be unsurprised to learn that I selected "cats," but really, it's a very close thing. I might go so far as to say that the two groups are more alike than they are not alike, what with their astounding flexibility and their pragmatic predatory intelligence. And the cuteness, of course. 59 of the 119 participants said that a monstrous hybrid of cat and cephalopod would be cutest, for whatever its worth.

(Yes, cephalopods can be quite cute. See below.

You have to admit that's cute for a marine intertebrate that we last shared an ancestor with at least a half-billion years ago.)

(Now, to bed. I am so tired . . .)

[LINK] "Seal cull on Sable would cost $35 million"

Just last week I blogged about plans to make Sable Island, a giant sand dune located in the North Atlantic Ocean off the Nova Scotian coast, into a national park, so as to protect the unique and fragile environment. Just yesterday I learned massive seal cull.

The windswept beaches of Sable Island would become a scene of slaughter if the federal government adopts the results of a study that explores in chilling detail how 220,000 of the island’s grey seals could be exterminated over five years.

The 2009 feasibility study, compiled for the federal Fisheries Department, says the first year of a proposed cull would target 100,000 seals, requiring a team of 20 specially trained hunters with silenced rifles to kill 4,000 seals per day during the dead of winter.

"At this production rate, a tandem dump truck would be filled with seals approximately every 10 minutes — seven hours per day for 25 days," says the 68-page study, drafted by engineering consultants at Halifax-based CBCL Ltd.

The hunters' rifles would be equipped with silencers to avoid spooking the herd, the report says. Since silencers are a prohibited device in Canada, the federal government would be required to get a special permit to import them from the United States.

[. . .]

The slaughtered seals, some of them weighing more than 350 kilograms, would then be grabbed by one of 30 modified heavy loaders and carried to portable incinerators at five work camps set up across the island.

Why this industrialized slaughter? Supporting the seal industry and protecting the cod are cited. As you might expect, the evidence that the seals are decimating cod stocks is rather weak.

Nova Scotia's fisheries minister, Sterling Belliveau, says the province's NDP government is not opposed to a cull on the island, which is destined to become a national park.

"That's a federal issue but I can assure that we have always appreciated the traditional hunting methods of a humane hunt and will continue to support the seal industry," he said.

"I would point out that there is hunting and different activities that goes on in other national parks."

While many Canadians regard Sable Island as a wild and unspoiled oasis worthy of park status, commercial fishermen in Nova Scotia see the island very differently.

They say the grey seals that frequent the island are responsible for eating too many commercially valuable fish, particularly cod. The seals are also blamed for ruining many of the fish that are left by leaving them infected with parasites called sealworms.

"A important industry in the region believes that there is a problem," the study says, noting that the east coast grey seal population has grown from 20,000 animals in the 1970s to more than 300,000 today.

About 80 per cent of all grey seal pups are born on Sable Island, about 300 kilometres southeast of Halifax.

I can only imagine the international reaction.

[LINK] "'How Did We Become So Poor?'"

Over at IPS News, Vesna Peric Zimonjic writes about how the peoples of the former Yugoslavia are coping with the fact that their economies collapsed so thoroughly, such that GDP per capita and income are still well below 1990 levels.

Experts and analysts agree that the region, now comprising the newly independent nations or territories of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Kosovo, Macedonia and Montenegro, went through a "painful transition" into market economy.

It began more or less at the time when the 1991-95 wars of disintegration tore the country apart and ended a brand of relaxed socialism that had existed since the end of WW II.

Except for Slovenia, once the most developed part of former Yugoslavia and which became a member of the European Union (EU) in 2004, the economic performances of the rest are dismal when compared to 1989, a benchmark for the region.

Experts say that the processes of privatisation and transition to market economy here differed profoundly from what happened in the former East European nations after the Berlin wall fell in 1989 and that today's poverty is not a sudden event caused by recent global downturn.

"We did not see former cunning communist managers or murky international businesses being engaged in privatisation," economy analyst Misa Brkic told IPS in an interview.

"We had devastating wars, used by local elites to grab power and introduce people close to them into economy, where, as the time went by in the 90s and in this decade, they did not and could not play by market rules."

The wars left more than 120,000 people dead and economic damage worth tens of billions of dollars in devastated factories, companies, state or privately owned real estate, and in production and export losses of the former common market that collapsed.

[. . .]

Croatia and its 4.3 million people reached 69 percent of its 1989 GDP in 2003, while Serbia and its 7.3 million reached the same point only in 2009.

As for Bosnia-Herzegovina with an estimated population of 3.5 million, and its specific post-war construction of two entities, Republic of Srpska, the Serb entity, and Muslim-Croat Federation, things stand definitely worse.

As Broadberry and Klein note in their 2008 paper "Aggregate and Per Capita GDP in Europe, 1870-2000", Yugoslavia has suffered massively. In 1990, thanks to its long history of integration with western Europe, Yugoslavia was in a relatively enviable place: GDP per capita in Serbia comparable to Poland, Croatia was well ahead of Slovakia and Hungary (31), and Yugoslavia as a whole was reasonably well positioned (27). If Yugoslavia had followed Polish growth trajectories in the 1990s and later, Yugoslavia would have the second-large economy of the new accession states, with Serbians and Vojvodinans enjoying living standards comparable to their Hungarian counterparts and Croatia being right up there not far behind the Czech Republic. Even the country's poorest regions, like Bosnia, Kosovo, and Macedonia, would be substantially advanced. Instead, these countries have fallen far behind, and with the exception of perhaps Croatia I doubt that they'll have the chance to regain their relative positions.

[LINK] "Unpleasant Medicine"

Charlie Stross has written a post that pretty sums up my thinking on repairing the environment. We'll do it, we're capable of doing it, but we won't until we incentivize it.

There's a deeply embedded piece of primate behaviour, common to almost all of us: when someone shoves you, you shove right back. If you're being hammered with an unacceptable instruction, a very common response is denial or argument. And the louder the instruction is repeated, the more extreme the reaction.

For fifty years now we've been hearing warnings about pollution and resource depletion; for thirty years, about AGW and atmospheric carbon dioxide. Because these messages are interpreted as carrying an unpalatable payload (stop flying, stop driving, consume less, repent, sinner!) people stop listening and shove back, hard (drill, baby, drill!).

The solution should be fairly clear, and I'm probably displaying my own cognitive biases when I say that giving up on the environment isn't an option. But if action to reduce environmental impact is desirable, then it needs to be framed in terms that don't threaten the intended audience, but promise rewards for behavioural change. Instead of us all consuming less, we're going to consume differently and make huge profits off environmental energy. Instead of being punished for dumping waste, we're going to make money from recycling. Played right, a shift to a sustainable economy should see a net
increase in wealth because the wealth-producing activities shift with the demand for sustainability. Hair shirt puritanism is not only unnecessary; it's positively damaging to our future, and I wish the greens would drop it right now.

[LINK] "LessMusic"

Canada's MuchMusic station has played a huge role in Canadian popular culture as Canada's indigenous version of MTV, from the mid-1980s on broadcasting music videos by Canadian musicians (and by non-Canadians, too), helping to jumpstart careers and promote Canadian music. Now, as Torontoist's Christopher Bird notes, MuchMusic wants to follow MTV in jettisoning that innovative heritage entirely.

The largest and most obvious change in Much's proposed new licence? The videos. Specifically, Much wants to drop their minimum airing time of music videos from 50% of airtime to 25%. They also want to count "music video programs" for that 25% requirement, which would presumably include shows like Video On Trial, which have music videos in them but are not really a vehicle for airing the videos per se. Given that Much currently airs Video on Trial in between three and six hours almost every day of the week, this is a big deal for them.

Much's argument for changing the licence in this regard is twofold: first, that people can watch music videos through other sources (i.e., Youtube), and second, that there just aren't as many music videos as there used to be. We're going to come back to that second point a bit later on, but let's focus on the first for now.

One of the reasons people generally watch music videos on YouTube? Here's a thought: maybe it's because the vast majority of programming MuchMusic uses to fulfill its music video requirements happens overnight. All of the famous MuchMusic "specialty shows"—shows like The Wedge, RapCity, Loud, and MuchVibe—now air at 3 a.m. on weekday nights, which is of course the perfect time for a discerning young music fan to learn about new bands in their favorite genre. The generic MuchMegaHits now airs at 2 and 7 a.m. daily. UR11, the internet-themed vote-for-your-fave-videos show complete with lolspeak title and lack of respect for the younger generation's intellect, airs at a comparatively accessible 11 p.m.

What's on Much during the daytime? Well, today, you can watch My Date With... (it's Fall Out Boy!), Love Court, Video on Trial, Punk'd, Pimp My Ride, My Own Show, Styl'd, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, When I Was 17, The Vampire Diaries, an airing of the movie Centre Stage, and then The Vampire Diaries again. The only show with actual, uninterrupted videos in it is MuchOnDemand. That's one hour of videos, between 1 p.m. through to midnight.

[. . . M]uchMusic, a channel that was once defined by its Canadian content, a channel which sold its Canadian content in numerous foreign television markets successfully, now thinks that Canadian content is too hard to produce at current levels! Hence, they request a 5% drop in the amount of Canadian content airtime (from 60% down to 55%), and to entirely abolish the requirement that half of their programs from 6 p.m. through midnight be Canadian. On the bright side, this might mean a lot less Video on Trial in prime time (but then again that's about the last entertaining show MuchMusic still bothers to make).

[. . .]

But so long as we're discussing the stimulation of culture, let's talk about MuchMusic's other stated reason for pursuing this licence amendment: the argument that there aren't enough music videos for them to easily fulfill their airing requirements. You know what's interesting? In addition to wanting to cut half of of their video airing requirement, they also want to cut half of the money they're required to contribute to MuchFACT, the fund that assists emerging Canadian talent to produce music videos. Much is quite upfront about their reasoning: since they won't have to air so many videos, they shouldn't have to spend so much money.


[URBAN NOTE] On the upcoming horrors of Toronto's G20 summit

Yesterday, the local newspapers featured two news items about next month's G20 summit pretty prominently: the Toronto Star observed that Toronto police have bought sound cannons to use against potential rioters, while the National Post lets us know that the federal government is not going to compensate Toronto businesses for any damage during the summit. There have been any number of other stories of late, like the news that the estimated security costs have ballooned to one billion Canadian dollars and will probably keep on rising, or that graffiti and vandalism has started already , with one group that firebombed an Ottawa bank promising to be here in Toronto. Torontoist, in the meantime, maps out the areas of Toronto to be overwhelmed by the summit, showing that basically the entire downtown is going to be downtown, implying that the whole city is going to be wrecked.

What did Toronto do to deserve these horrors? Is Stephen Harper trying to get back at Toronto for not voting in enough Conservative MPs? The whole affair isn't going to have anything like the ambiguously positive spinoff effects that (say) a major sporting event might have, and the understandable and necessary security arrangements for the summer are going to wreck life in Toronto for a good chunk of the summer. Why hold these kinds of summits in metropoli?

[DM] "On the dialogics of cultures and populations"

I have a post up at Demography Matters that borrows from Bakhtin to make the point that populations are never hermetically sealed off from each other, that the people who belong to populations influence each other and others besides and that projecting population figures indefinitely into the future without assuming culture change is profoundly ill-thought. Go, read.