June 2nd, 2010

[BLOG] Some Wednesday links

Bed rest can suit me well. You too, apparently.

  • Bad Astronomy reports that it is unlikely that the information suggesting Betelguese will go supernova is incorrect, and that even if it did there wouldn't be any risk to us (but we knew that). I'm disapponited. Is it so wrong for me to want stars to go supernova for my amusement?

  • blogTO lets us know that bus shelters and garbage cans are going to be removed from the downtown during the G20 summit. So, no to shirtsleeves habitability, then?

  • Centauri Dreams has a remarkable article examining how astronomical data went from being closely-guarded to being available to anyone who wants it.

  • Extraordinary Observation's Rob Pitingolo is curious why the poor do not make use of bikes more often. I respond in the comments that it is because of rational concerns over time and effort, and the existential problems with cycling culture in North American cities.

  • Landscape+Urbanism announces a new collection studying the Untied States' "Third Coast," the Great Lakes Basin that incidentally includes nearly all of inhabited Ontario. Yay! to new geographic paradigms.

  • Lawyers, Guns and Money's argues that, based on military budgets alone, Iran is not a regional superpower in the Middle East, with defense budgeting half that of Israel's and a fifth of Saudi Arabia's.

  • Murdering Mouth links to some interesting articles suggesting that Apples proprietary approach to software is going to battle it out with Google's more open model. I'm rooting for Google.

  • Torontoist's Nancy Paiva is surprised that famously combative Torotno mayoral candidate George Smitherman did quite well during his appearance at comedy club Second City.

  • Wasatch Economics' Scott Peterson makes the reasonable argument that Mexicans immigrate heavily to relatively poor regions along the border because of the human connections that they have to labour-hungry economic sectors.

  • Yorkshire Ranter writes about the politics of aesthetics and their influence on--of all things--the efficiency of London buses.

[LINK] "FIREFLY is the #2 Conservative TV Show?"

I have a significant number of Firefly fans on my various friends lists who will have plenty to say about this starting news, as reported by MacLean'sJamie Weinman

Like most lists of this kind, it suffers from several problems. One is the implication that it’s hard to enjoy something if you’re not in sympathy with its message. Another is that it assumes that a conservative character equals a conservative message: sure, Family Ties had Alex, but he always had to learn some liberal lesson at the end of the episode. But the biggest problem is that it takes certain values that are basically apolitical and defines them as “conservative.” I mean, Magnum is a conservative show because it portrays “a well-adjusted, happy Vietnam veteran?” CSI Miami is conservative because the hero is a practicing Catholic? And the argument that Buffy is conservative because it “acknowledges that evil exists in the world and we have a duty to fight it” is actually one I’ve heard in several places, and it makes no sense unless you completely buy into the stereotype of liberals as pure moral relativists. Otherwise, belief that evil exists is not a political value at all (it doesn’t become political until you decide what is and is not evil).

A lot of these lists tend to start from very strange assumptions about what will piss off liberals; another recent example is
Sex and the City 2, where several conservative commentators floated the idea that liberals would hate it because it was against the oppression of women in Muslim countries. The idea being, presumably, that liberals love Sharia law. If you set up a liberal strawman, almost anything seems conservative by contrast. You could just as easily create a conservative strawman to prove that every show ever made is actually liberal, e.g.: 24 has portrayed corrupt businessmen, conservatives love businessmen, therefore, 24 is a liberal show.

The full post is about at the MacLean's site, while the list Weinman is talking about is here.

[LINK] "Brenda Martin in and out of prison since parole"

Almost exactly one year and eleven months ago, I blogged about the story of one Brenda Martin, a Canadian citizen being held in a Mexican prison on charges that she participated in money laundering. Although her pleas for help led to her transfer to a Canadian prison, the judge responsibile pointed out that tens of thousands of dollars were tranrred to and from her account from a Latvian bank.

It isn't fair to judge a person's behaviour in the more distant past by her behaviour more recently. Her adherence to her parole conditions makes it a bit hard for me to avoid coming to certain conclusions.

A week after her return, she was released from the Grand Valley Institution for Women in Kitchener, Ont., and granted full parole. But since then, she has continued to run into trouble with the law, the parole board document obtained by CBC News shows.

Most of the incidents involved drinking and disorderly conduct even though her parole conditions included abstaining from alcohol.

In January, Martin's parole was suspended, and she was sent back to the women's prison after she was arrested for public intoxication. She told authorities she was depressed and lonely because no one had acknowledged her birthday, according to the document.

In March, she appeared before the parole board for a post-suspension hearing where she again denied having a drinking problem.

About a week ago, the parole board decided to again release Martin into the community, but it ordered her to undergo psychiatric counselling. Martin is living at a halfway house of her choosing, the board said.

[LINK] "Prime Minister Layron?"

This news item really amused me.

In one respect, the results of an Angus Reid poll to be released on Monday are not surprising — the Conservatives are at 35 per cent, the Liberals at 27 and the NDP are at 19 per cent; in Quebec, the Bloc leads with 37 per cent.

However, the poll also asked Canadians how they would vote if the Liberals and NDP went to the polls offering Canadians a coalition government, and here things get interesting.

According to the results published in Monday’s edition of La Presse, the Conservatives led by Stephen Harper would defeat a coalition led by Michael Ignatieff 40-34 per cent.

With Bob Rae as Liberal leader, the coalition and Conservatives would be tied.

However, if the coalition were to propose Jack Layton as prime minister, according to the Reid poll, it could defeat the Conservatives by 43-37 per cent.

The reason: Jack Layton is well-liked by Quebecers but they don’t vote for the NDP because they see no chance of the party forming government; with the prospect of Mr. Layton in the prime minister’s office, 44 per cent of Quebecers would vote NDP — 10 per cent more than the Bloc.

[LINK] "Reflections"

I'm starting to think that asteroid mining might be a good idea, after I saw the Gerry Canavan link to a Robert Silverberg essay at Asimov's. If, as Silverberg suggests, the steady expansion and elaboration of our technical civilization means that we will face irretrievable shortages of any number of minerals, we will either have to learn to do without or find them elsewhere.

The element gallium is in very short supply and the world may well run out of it in just a few years. Indium is threatened too, says Armin Reller, a materials chemist at Germany’s University of Augsburg. He estimates that our planet’s stock of indium will last no more than another decade. All the hafnium will be gone by 2017 also, and another twenty years will see the extinction of zinc. Even copper is an endangered item, since worldwide demand for it is likely to exceed available supplies by the end of the present century.

Running out of oil, yes. We’ve all been concerned about that for many years and everyone anticipates a time when the world’s underground petroleum reserves will have been pumped dry. But oil is just an organic substance that was created by natural biological processes; we know that we have a lot of it, but we’re using it up very rapidly, no more is being created, and someday it’ll be gone. The disappearance of elements, though—that’s a different matter. I was taught long ago that the ninety-two elements found in nature are the essential building blocks of the universe. Take one away—or three, or six—and won’t the essential structure of things suffer a potent blow? Somehow I feel that there’s a powerful difference between running out of oil, or killing off all the dodos, and having elements go extinct.

Reserves can be set up to shelter endangered species, Silverberg concludes. But how do you set up reserves for copper?