Monday, December 29, 2008

Water Stress

The Telegraph is reporting on a new report from the Environment Agency that some 24 million people in Britain and Wales are in areas of "water stress;" that is, an area where a bad year for rainfall means there simply will not be enough water.
"[The report] warns that many rivers, lakes, estuaries and aquifers are already
being drained so low that there is a danger to wildlife and a risk to
public supplies in dry years." It also warns that these households have less water available per person than the populations of Morocco and Egypt have. Average water use in the UK is 148 litres/day with a high of 170 litres/day in the south-east of England.
And global climate change is just getting started. Here on Vancouver Island, we get plenty of precipitation during the winter, but it must be carefully managed to get us through the two to three months a year when we get no appreciable rainfall. Worldwide, not only do we not have a lot of room to manoeuvre, but in many places we've no room left at all.

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Sunday, December 28, 2008

Boxing Day +2

Woke up this morning and took the dogs for a walk--already the snow was pretty much gone. We met john and Louise for coffee and then the four of us went walking in the sunshine down to see the two kayaks abandoned on the beach (the one Paula salvaged and another). Both have been kicking around since the summer, but both have since been moved and are now clearly abandoned.
The weather has been terrific today. Lots of sun and mild temperatures--not even any wind. A bit of a breeze came up this afternoon--as usual--but it didn't get cold until the new front blocked out the sun mid-afternoon. When Paula and I got home from cleaning one of the cars we're responsible for (as members of the Victoria Car Share Co-op), I wandered down to Gyro Park to get some photos.

Olympic Mountains from a snow-free Gyro Park
The mountains aren't snow-free (although it may be difficult to tell from this distance), but the park is pretty much cleared. There's a lot of melt-water still trying to drain away, but there's considerably less than this morning (by about three quarters).

Wet, sure, but snow-free
The tides have been quite high (not perigeal tide high, but getting close), which makes it difficult for the park to drain. But as the tide goes out, the park empties. The park was originally a salt-marsh (home, I believe, to many harvest mice--which in some countries is how March goes out: like a salt-marsh harvest mouse), and is quite low. I suspect that if I took out a transit and stick, I'd discover that quite a bit of the park is below the high-tide line.

Frozen water in Gyro Park
There are those who are not unhappy with Gyro's slow draining. The photo above shows some of the undrained water in the park, which is appreciated by the local ducks (all fifty or sixty of them), and when frozen (as they are here), by the local kids who rarely get to slide about on frozen ponds. they were having a pretty great time.

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Tar Sands: Dirty Oil and the Future of a Continent

I count myself lucky to have managed to get my hands on this book already. This may be the most important non-fiction book written in Canada this year. Andrew Nikiforuk has shown once again that he is not afraid of the truth, and will report it. Canada's Greg Palast, if you will. He's already won the Governor General’s Award for his writing, and deserves it again.
Andrew Nikiforuk breaks his book down into a history of the oil sands and their development--a history of which we are all too ignorant. In each chapter he details an aspect of the oil sands history and how the exploitation of the sands has proceeded. The book begins with the "Declaration of a Political Emergency"--note, a political emergency, not an environmental one. That the Tar Sands is an environmental emergency is beyond question: alone, the sands account for why the federal government has spent upwards of six billion dollars on trying to reduce the Canadian carbon footprint and has achieved less than nothing (having actually fallen further behind its stated targets each year). But the most important chapter in Tar Sands is Chapter 12: The First Law of Petropolitics. Simply stated, it is this: as the price per barrel of oil rises, the freedoms, transparency, and democratic nature of a society falls. To quote from the book:
Ross examined a number of social and political measurements, such as taxes and military spending, from 113 different sates between 1971 and 1997 and found that a "single standard deviation rise" in oil wealth directly corresponded with a 0.72 drop on a democracy scale.
You don't have to belive any of this. All you have to do is read the suggestions put forward and then look at the Alberta provincial government and (particularly since the election of the Harper Conservatives) progressively the federal government to see the overwhelming linkages between the First Law of Petropolitics and the evidence of our own country's fall into Third World petrostate status. We are already corrupted.
You can see a preview of the book at Google books, and Andrew Nikiforuk's website contains a wealth of supplementary information. This doesn't do justice to the importance and readability of this major book. Go get it. Read it. Get really angry. And then DO SOMETHING.

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Friday, December 26, 2008

Boxing Day

Out to walk the dogs this morning and the mountains across the strait were suddenly so much closer. It may not show too much at this resolution, but with our recent snow, everything is that much higher contrast, has that much more reflected light, so the details visible stand out that much more.

The camera doesn't catch what the eye does, but the eye also fills in detail that may or may not be there. The mountains looked so close this morning that you almost expected to be able to see houses or cars.
This won't last long. The weather is set to change--tomorrow is forecast to be +6°C or better, with rain or sun for the next four or five days. The snow we have left will be gone so fast, along with this morning's view across the water.

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Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Even Britain is Having Trouble

Government buildings emit more CO2 than all of Kenya

The Houses of Parliament seen during a rain shower
The Houses of Parliament and the Bank of England together consumed enough
electricity and gas to emit 21,356 tonnes of CO2 a year.
Photograph: Russell Boyce/Reuters

According to the Guardian, public buildings aren't doing that well at reducing their carbon footprint. Buildings in England and Wales cost more than 11m tonnes of CO² yearly. And the Brits actually kind of get Global Warming. Even the Energy and Climate Change Secretary, Ed Miliband, is embarrassed--his department's head office in Whitehall Place one of the worst offenders, costing some 1,336 tonnes of CO² a year.
"Earlier this year, the government's own architecture adviser, the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment, said the majority of government departments were "failing to make their new buildings and refurbishments sustainable" and that those operating them had little idea how to improve their efficiency," reports the Guardian.
the straightforward and brutal method for reducing carbon emissions is, I'm starting to become more and more convinced, a hard cap for the country (I'm speaking of Canada here, but the idea is translatable). The allowed amount of carbon is set, auctioned off to industry (or, frankly, whomever wants to buy it) and the income generated is returned quarterly directly to the taxpayer. The cap decreases yearly until it sits at less than half of our current emissions by 2015, and if you use your share of the revenue to reduce your own carbon costs (your footprint), you end up ahead of the game. If you don't, the revenue won't begin to cover your increased carbon costs. Everybody plays by the same rules, carbon-expensive projects just won't get built, while greener, or zero-emission projects, will get built. Imports can be dealt with through a series of tariffs that account for manufacturing and shipping carbon costs, the revenue is directed in the same way as the national auction revenue, and with any luck, we can make a real difference. If the US really wants our horribly polluting bitumen-based oil (and the tar sands projects are, if not the number one, certainly in the top five most polluting point sources in the world (see Andrew Nikiforuk's new book Tar Sands: dirty oil and the future of a continent). Will this solution be brutal? Damn right. But we're about 200 years behind where we should be at the moment, and waiting has its costs. The infrastructure we need to build isn't fucking roads, its green energy projects. I'd even be willing to see a transitional use of nuclear power to get us out of this carbon death trap. Gaia has no patience left with us--she's a self-correcting system, and if we keep shitting where we eat, we are gone. There might be twenty or thirty thousand of us left--we are a very tough animal, after all--but the rest of us are worm food. Kiss tomorrow goodbye.

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Monday, December 22, 2008

Not Expecting To See Them

...but you never know.

Nasa hunts for its rubber ducks

Sailors, fishermen and cruise passengers should be on the alert. If anybody spots a yellow rubber duck bobbing on the ocean waves, Nasa would like to know.

The US space agency has yet to find any trace of 90 bathtub toys that were dropped through holes in Greenland's ice three months ago in an effort to track the way the Arctic icecap is melting. Scientists threw the ducks into tubular holes known as "moulins" in the Jakobshavn glacier on Greenland's west coast, hoping they would find their way into channels beneath the hard-packed surface, to track the flow of melt water into the ocean.

"We haven't heard anything from them yet," Nasa robotics expert Alberto Behar told the BBC.

Also missing is a football-sized floating robotic probe equipped with a GPS positioning transmitter and powered by hi-tech batteries. It has failed to communicate its position. "We did not hear a signal back, so it probably got stuck under the ice somewhere," said Behar.

The experiment was intended to examine the movement of glaciers, which has speeded up in recent years. Scientists believe that melting water lubricates the bases of glaciers.

Although low-tech, the $2 ducks were chosen for their buoyancy and for their ability to withstand low temperatures. Nasa is offering a modest prize of $100 to the first person who finds a duck. The ducks have an email address stamped on them, together with the word "reward" in three languages, including Inuit.

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Sunday, December 21, 2008

Nope, no bad news

Plankton captured in stunning close up photographs - Telegraph
Just an article about a scientist photographing plankton. Once you've read the article, see more of the pictures:

Plankton captured in stunning close up photographs - Telegraph

Ah, the world. "It's such a brilliant place. Boom de ah dah, boom de ah dah...."

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Snow Day

Yes, the rest of Canada is in a deep freeze. No, we really don't understand winter on the West Coast. Fine. But I'm still going to walk you through a day in the snow in the land where it's still exciting when snow falls (just like Vegas *giggle*snort*guffaw*teehee*).

Twisted hazel tree in the snow
Twisted Hazel Tree

This twisted hazel is near Paula's parent's place. We were over there this morning having brunch with them and then walking home.

Paula in the parking lot

Paula, standing here wetsuit free again, was well dressed for the weather. Unfortunately, the weather had warmed overnight and into the morning, leaving her somewhat overdressed. I was wearing a microfibre base layer and a fleece pullover. With a toque and gloves, I was dressed well enough for the day. I did have a windproof coat in my pack, but never had to pull it out.

Mt. Tolmie from Cedar Hill Xroad

the city really isn't prepared for snow like this. A light dusting, maybe a centimetre, but not fifteen centimetres. Things tend to shut down.

The Snow Fight

Not everything, mind. These kids, on their way from somewhere to somewhere, decided that a snow fight was in order. And were having a lot of fun. Just like this guy:

Another cool day

Or these two making a snowman:

Snowman 1

It may not be obvious, but this snowman sported a moustache made of candy canes (a bit Snidely Whiplash, but soooo cool!) and is holding his 1 Wood for a game of snow golf. They were having quite a giggle, too.
We continued our walk-- a bit longer than usual, as the university hadn't got 'round to clearing the sidewalks yet, so we had to go around--past our kid's old elementary school

Campus View Elementary School

and back to MacKenzie Ave. Everywhere we walked today, at least a half dozen people had walked before. This didn't mean that the sidewalks were clear, or even well-packed, but I was impressed that so many people were out walking.
By the time we headed up MacKenzie toward the house, the wind was picking up a bit. Or maybe just getting better at picking us out. Whatever, it meant that it did get a bit colder as we walked.

Cadboro Bay from Sinclair Hill

But there are things that make the cold fall away. Like this view; I stop almost every time that I walk down the hill, astonished that I actually live here (actually, right down at the bottom near the water). And people like our neighbours:

The Giant Snowman

Here they are building a snowman in front of their house. Seldom have I seen a snowman this tall. Even Curtis was impressed with what he and his daughter had done. It was over 2 metres tall!
Did Paula go kayaking today? Well, here's a photo of her Eliza:

Eliza in the snow

Yeah, not so much. Don't you love the way the snow has warmed over the day and slumped off the front of the Eliza?
The walk was almost enough exercise, but instead of going out on the water, we walked over to our local (in this case, Starbucks rather than the pub) and read for an hour or so over coffee/tea/whatever and chatted with our various neighbours who dropped by.
That's Victoria--snow days are days that are still fun. We don't get them that often, so when we do, we take the time to enjoy them. Don't you wish you lived here?

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Censoring Science

HuffPo is reporting that "[a] high-ranking Interior Department official tainted nearly every decision made on the protection of endangered species over five years." Apparently, according to a new report, Julie MacDonald, the former deputy assistant secretary overseeing the American Fish and Wildlife Service "did pervasive harm to the department's morale and integrity and may have risked the well-being of species with her agenda, Interior Inspector General Earl Devaney said." More from the story:

The Interior Department last year reversed seven rulings that denied endangered species increased protection, after an investigation found that MacDonald had applied political pressure in those cases. The new report looked at nearly two dozen other endangered species decisions not examined in the earlier report. It found MacDonald directly interfered with at least 13 decisions and indirectly affected at least two more.

MacDonald, a civil engineer with no formal training in natural sciences, resigned in May 2007. Department employees reported that they used her name as a verb _ encountering political interference from senior managers was called "getting MacDonalded."

Devaney said "MacDonald's zeal to advance her agenda has caused considerable harm to the integrity of the ESA program and to the morale and reputation" of the Fish and Wildlife Service, as well as potential harm to animals under the Endangered Species Act.

"Her heavy-handedness has cast doubt on nearly every ESA decision issued during her tenure," from 2002 until 2007, the report said. MacDonald was deputy assistant secretary from 2004 to 2007 and a senior adviser in the department for two years before that.

This is not unusual. When it comes to climate change and science, the Bush administration has done a great job of keeping scientists in line. Earlier this year I read Censoring science : inside the political attack on Dr. James Hansen and the truth of global warming (©2008 by Mark Bowen)

which talked about how NASA was pressured to keep Hansen's work and views away from the public. Much of this is typical; governments don't want information to be free for mostly political reasons. Studies are buried, polls disappear, all this is old news. But what we are seeing--both south of the border and here--is a new attempt to simply deny anyone access to the basic information on which we can make informed decisions. This is not disagreement on what information means, or whether a study is at all important. What it does mean is that the essential information is being repressed (in allegedly open and democratic societies). this is not an argument, for example, over whether stuff falls at 32 feet per second squared in a vacuum, but is closer to an attempt to repress the knowledge that stuff falls at all. Our governments--particularly south of the border, but I don't except the harper government (particularly after the lies and hysteria they spread when their hold on power was recently threatened)--currently most resemble the Catholic Church during the intellectual struggle over the change from a Ptolemaic to Copernican systems of thought. It is a situation where ideology is far more important than observable facts or even consensus reality. We've seen where this has left Bush (wondering why people are throwing shoes at him, and believing that his legacy will be awe-inspiring--clearly de-linked from reality). What we don't pay enough attention to is where this is leaving the public, both here and in the US.

Where it leaves us is in deep trouble. The world is being badly thrashed by environmental problems, religious problems, and a host of issues that are at heart, political. And the public is being harshly mistreated by our political and corporate masters, brainwashed, brain-damaged, and being left drowning in a stew of incoherent ideology and magical thinking. When we finally come to terms with the need to do something about a problem, magical thinking is all we're left with. Which is great for the Overlords--they get to keep doing whatever they want, free of any threats to their dominance. There is, over on Finlayson Road a garage door that must make the neighbours crazy: brightly painted with a large peace symbol and the words "peace now!" But a couple of years back, the door was changed. The peace symbol was painted over with a large "No" bar (the circle with a slash symbol), and the words "peace now" crossed out and replaced with "Revolution Now!" Can't say that I disagree.

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There is an explanation

for so much buried in here. This White House xmas video takes stupid to a whole new place. Though it does help to explain Bush's complete disconnect from consensus reality.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

From Russia Today

Comes this intriguing story:

December 16, 2008, 14:54

Anachronous discovery: Swiss watch in ancient tomb

Chinese archaeologists have found a tiny Swiss watch in a tomb dating back to the Ming dynasty, which they believed has been intact for four centuries.

The watch was discovered by scientists making a documentary, reports website. The out-of-time piece of jewellery was pressed into the soil covering one of the coffins. The watch is stopped at 10:06, and there is the word “Swiss” on its back.

Work at the archaeological site has been suspended and experts from Beijing have been called in to help solve this mystery, which appears to belong in a sci-fi flick.

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Another View

Snowflakes are really pretty cool (no pun intended). Caltech has posted some amazing pictures through a specially designed snowflake photomicrograph.

Check them out here.

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Monday, December 15, 2008

What is this, Alberta?!

You have to wonder, what with the snow and windchill and the snow and the windchill.
It's not really that much snow--somewhere between five and ten centimetres. But this is Victoria, so the city pretty much shut down yesterday.

About 10:30 am we were walking over to the in-law's place for Sunday brunch. Lila was leaving for Edmonton (and, snicker, -30ºC) and this was going to be Christmas brunch for the 5 of us.

I thought it was kind of pretty--even if it was bringing back too many memories of Alberta. What's worse, though, is that Greater Victoria doesn't really have a lot in the way of snow removal experience--or snow removal equipment, for that matter. though things have improved since the Great Snow of 1998 (no, seriously. A metre of wet, heavy snow fell overnight. Cars disappeared. It really was insane).
We had brunch with the folks, and Lila eventually made her way over (Sunday transit service and very slippery streets do add up to a certain amount of traffic tie-ups). I picked up the Victoria Car Share pickup we'd reserved, and picked her and Paula up for the trip to the airport. It took ten or so tries, but I eventually got out of the parking lot at the condo. Not much of a rise, but the snow that had fallen was very wet (typical here on the West Coast) and when the temperature stayed below zero, the water--particularly where the snow had been driven on) began to freeze. Quite different from the much drier snow of Alberta.
The trip to the airport was uneventful, except for the fact that on the highway people were actually driving at the speed limit or below. Anyone who's driven out to the airport or ferry knows just how unusual that is!
Lila went through security into the holding cell boarding area, and Paula and I returned to the city--again at or below the speed limit. We picked up groceries (stuff in volume, like rice, that I didn't want to carry the 3 km home on my back), and then I dropped off the truck.
The 3km walk back to the house was not too bad. It would have been better had I been able to find my toque or fleece hat, but nooo. Trip over them every friggin' day, but when it snows? Gone.

Seriously, McKenzie Ave by UVic looks like any winter scene in Edmonton--especially if you could see the blowing snow in this shot. the only difference is that Edmonton is usually sunnier than Victoria was yesterday.
Walking down from the university, where McKenzie turns into Sinclair Hill, you could catch glimpses of Mt. Baker.

I pointed it out to a couple that came up while I was taking the photograph, and they stopped, suprised, to look at the mountain glowing through the trees. "What, you can see Baker from here?!" "Sure can." As we looked, another couple of girls stopped, somewhat suprised to see the mountain. Do people never look around them as they walk? Sure it was icy and you did have to pay attention, but this was four people suprised to see a mountain that I look for pretty much every trip down the hill.

When I got back to the house, Paula and I went out on the beach. I wanted to find a set of stairs off the beach I'd found (from the top) the other day.

The beach didn't look normal. Something was subtly different. Not the driftwood or logs, not the trees. Hmm. Oh, the way Paula is dressed! No wetsuit!

Great Chain looked a bit different too, and not just because of the perigeal tide. Somehow it showed up better across the water, reflecting more light.

But I'm not kidding about someone overfilling the ocean. this is a bit past high tide, and a day past the highest tide of the weekend, but even so, the water's been washing over the gravel you see, and up to the snow line. That's a lot of water. Oh, and you can see the snow blowing through the park (centre-left).
I did find the bottom of the stairs.

Hard to imagine that I've consistently missed them. I've seen them a couple of times, but they keep falling off my mental map of the area. So this time I climbed them.

It's a darned nice view. Not the usual look I get at Cadboro Bay. The boats at the mooring buoys by the yacht club are clearly laid out in rows, not randomly as they appear from the beach or water.

While Paula and I were walking through the uncharacteristic snow and below zero temperatures, we spotted something in the water.

Yup, that's a kayak. Didn't look like one at first, but once we saw the red of the upper deck, it was pretty clear. This was a kayak in trouble. And, if you know us, that's just going to be the beginning of the story.

It was late, getting dark, and cold. The fastest way to get this kayak salvaged was for Paula to go out in her Dragonfly. She got changed, and I carried her boat down to the water through the (very cold, very strong) wind, and she prepped her lines. I don't fit in the Dragonfly (that's my excuse and I'm sticking to it!), so it would be up to Paula to get a line onto the bow of the sunken boat.

After some struggles with the wind and line, Paula got attached and hauled the other end back to me on the shore (it's true, I'm the muscle, she's the brains). It took a little while, and the sky kept getting darker while the wind kept a-blowin'. Thankfully it wasn't kicking up too much chop--the wind was coming more from the north, which doesn't let it get too frisky with the water in Cadboro Bay. Eventually, I got my hands on the line and slowly dragged the sunken kayak into shore.

Brutally heavy, filled with water, it took quite a while to get it up on the beach. It didn't help that once the water was out, I was still trying to move a boat with 20 kilos of wet sand in it.
We tied the boat off to a log--hoping the wind doesn't shift while the tide is still in--so it doesn't get pulled back out. I wasn't in a real hurry to haul it back to the house, and there's a reason for that.

Yeah, the bottom is badly damaged in at least three places. Once the cold weather settles down (probably not tomorrow), I'll head back down to it and see if I want to repair it. Or maybe just salvage the skeg setup out of it. I wouldn't complain about another kayak in the quiver, but I have to guard against having for the sake of having--after all, that's how I got our latest kayak....

We heard from Lila after dropping her at the airport; her flight to Vancouver had been cancelled. Air Canada finally flew her over about 7:00 pm and she was shunted onto a 10:30 pm flight to Edmonton. From what we've heard, the incomparable Quinn picked her up at Edmonton International after 1:00 am--when he had work that morning at 6:00am. It is true, we know the best people.

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Philosophy of Science: A Very Short Introduction

Philosophy of Science: A Very Short Introduction #67
Samir Okasha
Oxford ; New York : Oxford University Press, ©2002
144 p. Includes bibliographical references and index

    It has been a particular pleasure to read this Very Short Introduction, as many of the philosophers mentioned in it I haven't thought about for quite some time. So to remake their acquaintance has been fun.
    This is not so much a book about scientific investigation as it is an open question about how we know what we know from those investigations.  So I read with delight how David Hume (who's alcohol consumption is apparently legendary, allowing him to out-consume  other philosophers) says simply that we cannot rationally justify inductive reasoning, and although we use inductive reasoning regularly (the sun's come up every day up until now, so it should come up tomorrow), that doesn't make it right.  The idea that arguing in favour of inductive reasoning is, in itself, inductive reasoning and quickly develops circularity, is exciting to me, reminding me that big questions are still out there to be debated.
    Samir Okasha leads us through these Big Questions with assurance ind intelligence. His goal is not to argue in favour of any of them, but to explore the history of ideas and the criticisms of those ideas.  His illustrations are generally deceptively simple and clear, illuminating the philosophical problems under discussion with grace and ease.
    As an example, he presents the problem of  what exactly is scientific explanation? And what does it mean to say that a problem can be explained by science?  Okasha begins with a philosopher I hadn't previously encountered; Carl Hempel. After a brief recap of Hempel's “covering law” model of explanation,  Okasha develops a schematic of Hempel's model:

General laws
Particular facts
Phenomenon to be explained

To quote  Okasha, “...Hempel's model is called the covering law model of explanation. For according to the model, the essence of explanation is to show that the phenomenon to be explained is 'covered' by some general law of nature.”  So far, so good. But there are critics of Hempel who suggest that his covering law model allows in things that should be excluded. As an example,  Okasha writes out a thought experiment:
    Suppose you are lying on the beach on a sunny day, and you notice that a flagpole is casting a shadow of 20 metres across the sand. So why, someone asks, is the shadow 20 metres long?
    The answer is fairly straightforward: The elevation of the sun in 37°, and light travels in a straight line (straight enough for the purposes of this discussion, anyway). The flagpole is 15 metres high. The trig calculation indicates that the shadow will be 20 metres long.
    So far so good. General laws= light travels in straight lines and trigonometric laws. Particular facts= angle of elevation of the sun and height of the flagpole. Phenomenon to be explained=the 20 metre long shadow.
    But what if we change the explanandum (the phenomenon being explained)? Let's change it to the height of the flagpole.  In our case above, this simply swaps the length of the shadow into the “particular facts” group and the height of the flagpole into the “phenomenon being explained” group.  But something odd happens—the explanation doesn't really fit. Mathematically it is true. But as an explanation as to why the flagpole is 15 metres high, well, it falls down. The flagpole is what it is for completely different reasons: the contract to install the flagpole specified the height, that was the only flagpole available, whatever. So while the “answer” conforms to Hempel's model, it allows something to stand as a scientific explanation that is clearly incorrect except mathematically.

    So we have questions raised about whether explanation and prediction are simply two sides of the same coin, or radically different concepts.  And  Okasha opens these questions with a simple example that allows us to see the underlying philosophical questions.   Okasha does this again and again, asking whether a theory is really to describe hidden facts (ie.  gases really do contain molecules in motion) or  are they just a way to predict observations? And what is the difference? Or do we trust scientific paradigms or treat them with a certain amount of scepticism? After all, they do change, and they do change radically (think of the change from the Ptolemaic to Copernican paradigm).
    Reading  Philosophy of Science gave me the feeling of being at play in the realm of pure thought—a lovely place to be, and one I haven't visited all that recently.  Quite the delightful Very Short Introduction.

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A Time Frame

George Monbiot is reporting that in an interview with Fatih Birol, the lead author of the latest International Energy Agency (IEA) report on global supplies of oil, the IEA is now predicting Peak Oil.
From Mr. Monbiot's website:

Then I asked him a question for which I didn’t expect a straight answer: could he give me a precise date by which he expects conventional oil supplies to stop growing?

“In terms of non-OPEC [countries outside the big oil producers’ cartel]”, he replied, “we are expecting that in three, four years’ time the production of conventional oil will come to a plateau, and start to decline. … In terms of the global picture, assuming that OPEC will invest in a timely manner, global conventional oil can still continue,
but we still expect that it will come around 2020 to a plateau as well, which is of course not good news from a global oil supply point of view.”

Got that? Peak oil about 2020. Go read the rest of GMs article.

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Sunday, December 14, 2008

Just Got Typealyzed!

And the Typealyzer analysis indicates?

INTP - The Thinkers

The logical and analytical type. They are especially attuned to difficult creative and intellectual challenges and always look for something more complex to dig into. They are great at finding subtle connections between things and imagine far-reaching implications.

They enjoy working with complex things using a lot of concepts and imaginative models of reality. Since they are not very good at seeing and understanding the needs of other people, they might come across as arrogant, impatient and insensitive to people that need some time to understand what they are talking about.

There's even a chart that claims to indicate what parts of my brain were active during the writing of my blog (yeah, I hear you: "You're brain was active?" piss off....).

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The 1950s--Suspended

You know, I really don't mind saying that I, like millions of others, really dug Bettie Page.

Bettie somehow personified the true nature of sexuality for me. In Dan Savage's terms she always appeared to simply be 3G--good, giving, and game.

Even in the "dark world" of bondage, Bettie was clearly in it for the fashion. She always had a look about her that said it was just about having fun. Fun that was in painfully short supply in her life.

Bettie liked kitsch--leopard prints, for example, figure repeatedly in her work.

She made many of her own costumes (yeah, I know, she's frequently naked), and for a period was a fixture in the world of New York "camera clubs". Groups of amateur photographers would pitch in to hire a communal model to pose for them. Occasionally the shutters clicking would be fronting empty cameras, as film was an additional expense that could be foregone, but here was a real model willing to get naked in front of you. The number of photographers (many of whom have hidden their shots of Bettie away to this day) made her arguably the "most photographed woman in history." Search the web for pictures of Bettie and you'll see what that means.

Bettie's bangs have become iconic, as iconic as Bettie herself. In front of the camera, Bettie was in control--something sadly lacking in her personal life. She was somehow the consummate model, different for every shot, and yet letting the "real" Bettie shine through.

Whether in fetish gear, leopard prints, or nothing at all, Bettie always gave off an aura of comfort with herself and her body in front of the camera. This sense of sexual positivity cost her--most obviously when she was called upon by Congress to explain the bondage films and stills she appeared in for Irving Klaw.

Bettie eventually left modelling and spent time in Angola as a missionary, spent time in an LA mental institution, and generally dropped out of sight. Eventually she found her way back to those who still loved her, still idolized her.

She even made a few bucks off her image (and who better!?). But she was clear on one point: no pictures. She didn't want to be remembered for who she'd become, but for who she'd been.

She wanted us all to stay in that lovely world she and her photographers had created, and I, for one, am happy to acquiesce. The world is not smaller for her leaving, it remains the same--a place where Bettie happily performs for the camera, we are happy to be complicit in the act, and Bettie is happy to have us watching.

What Was It About Bettie Page?
The Radiance of Bettie Page, 1923 - 2008
Bettie Page

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Saturday, December 13, 2008

One Step--Just One--That Can Help Us Now

White roofs could lower global emissions

Changing the color of roofs and pavement worldwide could potentially offset nearly a year’s worth of global CO2 emissions, according to a study released this week at the Conference on Climate Change in Sacramento, Calif.

Painting a single 1,000 square-foot dark roof white would reduce carbon emissions by 10 metric tons, according to Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory scientists Hashem Akbari and Surabi Menon and California Energy Commissioner Art Rosenfeld. And changing the color of roofs and pavement in 100 of the world’s largest cities could reduce global emissions by 44 billion metric tons, the researchers said.

The world produced 49 billion metric tons of emissions in 2004, according to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

"This simple and effective idea can organize the world into taking measured steps to mitigate global warming,” Akbari said in a news release. “Our findings will help city leaders and urban planners quantify the amount of CO2 they can offset using white roofs and cool pavements.”

White roofs could cut energy use by buildings by 20 percent, the researchers said. The equivalent energy reduction would save the U.S. $1 billion a year in energy costs.

California has already adopted energy-efficient roofing standards. It has mandated since 2005 that flat roofs on commercial buildings must be white.

In 2009, the state will expand the regulation to require cool-colored roofs for flat and sloped roofs on residential and commercial buildings, as well as retrofitted buildings. The state has no similar regulations for the color of pavement.

And you can find the report here.

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Thursday, December 11, 2008

Keep Reading--It Just Gets Better

This is from the CBC:

A documentary that takes a critical look at the oilsands is raising a big stink at the Alberta legislature.

It turns out that Downstream, by U.S. documentary maker Leslie Iwerks, was funded in part by the provincial government.

That's prompted the government to take a closer look at how films get funded in Alberta.

Downstream features the story of Dr. John O'Connor, who blew the whistle on the health effects of the oilsands on residents of Fort Chipewyan, a town downstream from the project.

The film is on a shortlist of documentaries nominated for an Academy Award in 2009.

Like Passchendaele, which recreated Calgary during the First World War, and the steamy love story of gay cowboys, Brokeback Mountain, it got financing through the Alberta Film Development Fund.

All the films that are approved under the fund are signed off by Culture Minister Lindsay Blackett.

Blackett told CBC News he may have to rethink how he approves films for funding.

"Even though all the projects come to me for my final signature, you get a couple of lines as to what that film is and … we're looking at now how do I get more information about it because — oh, it's a film about Alberta, it's a film about the oilsands — but who knew what it meant at the time?" Blackett said.

Blackett said he might have considered withholding funding if he'd known how critical the film would be of the oilsands.

Downstream comes at a time when the government is sinking millions into improving Alberta's reputation around the world.

However, there is no mechanism in place now that would allow him to deny funding.

The Alberta Film Development Fund offers money to films that use Alberta producers actors or technicians.

Now it's considering adding an element of creative control to the criteria.

"Because if I'm going to actually invest money on behalf of Albertans into a film, the whole idea is to show Alberta in a better light, to create an economic diversification to help them, so anything that's going to be negative is only going to be a negative impetus on this province," he said.

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A Leaf From the Greenpeace Playbook

In an asymmetrical power situation, there are ways to get your points out in front of the public. In the US, the EPA is getting the shit kicked out of it. So what do they do? Again, from The Guardian:

More than half a century after the FBI launched its "Most Wanted" list, the US environmental protection agency has produced an eco version. Its criminal investigation division yesterday listed 23 fugitives accused of anything from dumping hazardous waste to importing excessively-polluting cars.

"Do not attempt to apprehend any of these individuals," warns the EPA website in red letters. Concerned citizens are invited instead to file an online Fugitive's Location form.

The list is a "brazen universe of people that are evading the law", an agency official told the Associated Press. "They are charged with environmental crimes, and should be brought before the criminal justice system and have their day in court," said the agency's Pete Rosenberg.

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Give Him (or Her) Their Props

Because, let's be frank, this was a hell of a feat. Knowledge, forethought, and nerves of fucking steel, it doesn't matter which side you come down on, this was amazing. From The Guardian:

The £12m defences of the most heavily guarded power station in Britain have been breached by a single person who, under the eyes of CCTV cameras, climbed two three-metre (10ft) razor-wired, electrified security fences, walked into the station and crashed a giant 500MW turbine before leaving a calling card reading "no new coal". He walked out the same way and hopped back over the fence.

All power from the coal and oil-powered Kingsnorth station in Kent was halted for four hours, in which time it is thought the mystery saboteur's actions reduced UK climate change emissions by 2%. Enough electricity to power a city the size of Bristol was lost.

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What Do You Want To Bet

that this will get their attention?

People affected by worsening storms, heatwaves and floods could soon be able to sue the oil and power companies they blame for global warming, a leading climate expert has said.

Myles Allen, a physicist at Oxford University, said a breakthrough that allows cientists to judge the role man-made climate change played in extreme weather events could see a rush to the courts over the next decade.

He said: "We are starting to get to the point that when an adverse weather event occurs we can quantify how much more likely it was made by human activity. And people adversely affected by climate change today are in a position to document and quantify their losses. This is going to be hugely important."

Allen's team has used the new technique to work out whether global warming worsened the UK floods in autumn 2000, which inundated 10,000 properties, disrupted power supplies and led to train services being cancelled, motorways closed and 11,000 people evacuated from their homes - at a total cost of £1bn.

He would not comment on the results before publication, but said people affected by floods could "potentially" use a positive finding to begin legal action.

Of course this is from The Guardian. Somehow this isn't a story in Canada....

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Monday, December 8, 2008

The Eternal Feminine

This is a lovely video by Philip Scott Johnson

500 Years of Female Portraits in Western Art

Music: Bach's Sarabande from Suite for Solo Cello No. 1 in G Major, BWV 1007 performed by Yo-Yo Ma

Nominated as Most Creative Video
2007 YouTube Awards

There is also a list of the paintings featured at:

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Sunday, December 7, 2008

Very Big Animal

Doing some very atypical actions. Humans will do the damnedest things to animals--and the funny thing is that the animals will respond. I'm left shaking my head.

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Thursday, December 4, 2008

Oh My Funny Ghod!

Jack Black--what a guy! What a role! What a hoot!
Seriously, this is funny funny stuff. This is what we need to deal with the "crisis" in Ottawa.

See more Jack Black videos at Funny or Die

Harper Speaks

Prorogue has been granted. Harper will stay for the next while. Parliament will resume on January 26th/09, and a budget will immediately be introduced.
Harper will not discuss why it took two hours with the GG to get his prorogue.
This is still a poor decision on the GGs part. So we can expect the lie machine to go into overdrive for the next 7 weeks.  No indication that any limits were put on Harper by the GG. harper doesn't sound the least humbled or understanding that he is in a minority situation. This guy really isn't the person we need for PM at this time--we might have trouble surviving him.
Harper is defending his decision to withdraw public funding from political parties. He indicates that he is still intending to remove public funding from political parites--why not just give up, Stephen, and put the corporate assholes in charge of Canada? We know you'd be happy with that.

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So Just What's Up?

Like  so many others, I've spent the last way too long watching pictures of a door on television. Harper has spent the last two plus hours talking with the Governor General, Michelle Jean, and word has just come out that she has granted a proroguing of this parliament. The PM hasn't addressed the public yet--although a couple of minutes ago a podium was set up!!!!! (see what watching a door will do to you?)--so we still don't know if any conditions were set on the prorogue.
I don't think this was the best decision on the part of the GG. If Harper has received his proroguing, it means that any subsequent PM, facing a confidence vote in the house that s/he is expecting to lose, can approach the GG and, by precedent, get a prorogue. This means the primary element of democratic accountability will have been removed from parliament and, by extension, the Canadian public.
The GG may have set limits on what Stephen Harper can do during the next however many weeks--similar to during an election campaign when there can be no major spending or laws passed. We shall see. Harper is not known for allowing rules or laws to stand in his way....

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Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Crisis? What Crisis?

I am, I confess, something of a political junkie. Not quite hardcore enough to watch CPAC when the house is sitting, but certainly trying to keep up with much of what is going on in Ottawa at any given time. So the last week has been, well, a lot of fun for me.

The only current “crisis” that I see in the capital is that the Harper Conservatives have been humbled. That's pretty much it. That the current governing party may no longer be governing after the 8th of December, well, that's not a crisis. The circumstances may be almost unprecedented in Canadian parliamentary history, and the uncertainty surrounding the current Prime Minister's ability to govern may be a problem, but this is not a crisis for anyone except the Harper Conservatives.

This has happened before: the King-Byng affair, as it is called, occurred when Mackenzie King's Liberals fell in 1926. They were a minority government supported by the Progressives and lost a confidence motion (based around a scandal). King moved to dissolve Parliament and go to an election, but Byng, the Governor General, refused King, and instead allowed Aurthur Meighen to form a government with the support of the Progressives. The coalition fell five days later on a motion questioning the legitimacy of the government and an election was then called, resulting in King returning with a bare majority (128 seats, with 127 for all opposition parties). To quote Claude Bélanger of Marianopolis College:

"The Canadian people had vindicated King who had claimed that Meighen and Byng had acted improperly and had undermined responsible government in Canada. The electoral decision might have been politically wise but it was constitutionally unsound. The Governor-General might not have acted wisely but there is no doubt that he had the right, given the circumstances, to refuse to follow King's advice. It is one of the royal prerogatives that, given certain circumstances [...] it can refuse to follow the advice of the Cabinet to dissolve Parliament and can choose an individual who has a reasonable chance to be supported by the House to lead the government. “

A Liberal/NDP coalition would be perfectly legitimate—even and especially because they would be formally supported by the Bloc, who would not be a part of the government, but have signed a formal agreement not to vote against the coalition on a confidence motion over the next year. What our current Prime Minister seems confused about (as do most Conservative and conservative commentators) is that in Canada we do not elect a Prime Minister, we elect a parliament. Prime Ministers are expendable and replaceable—witness Westminster where Gordon Brown has replaced Tony Blair without an election. Both were sitting members, but the party lost confidence in the sitting Prime Minister and replaced him. The government didn't fall (nor did the sky), just the Prime Minister.

The biggest problem faced by the country now is not the legitimacy of the government—that will be dealt with by a confidence vote in the House and, should the sitting government fall, by the Governor General—but by the attacks by the Conservative party on the legitimacy of the coalition. We will see and hear things like this quote (from the Sydney Morning Herald): “We will be fighting this with every legal means at our disposal," a senior government official said. "It's an attack on Canada. It's an attack on Canada's democracy. It's an attack on our economy.” This is, of course, total bullshit. A lie, if you will. A falsehood. A knowing misstatement of the truth. But a lie that will get traction.
When our current PM says: ''We will use all legal means to resist this undemocratic seizure of power,'' [Harper] told Conservatives at their annual Christmas party at an Ottawa hotel. ``My friends, such an illegitimate government would be a catastrophe, for our democracy, our unity and our economy, especially at a time of global instability.'' (quoted in the Miami Herald), he is lying. Such an action will be a catastrophe for him personally, as he will no longer be PM and, one assumes, very quickly no longer leader of the Conservative party as well, but the formation of a coalition government is neither illegitimate nor is it a catastrophe for the country. (Said coalition may be a disaster, but until it has had a chance to govern, it is an open question as to its competence). If anything, such a coalition could be seen as being more legitimate, as the member parties of the coalition will represent a larger percentage of the popular vote in Canada than do the currently-governing Conservatives. But what we face is not a crisis of government, but rather a crisis of truth from the Conservative propaganda machine in full panic mode.It has already begun—John Ivison wrote in The National Post that Canada's about to become "the world's coldest banana republic." What a load of horsecrap. The proposed coalition has been aboveboard (or at least as aboveboard as such things tend to be) in their decision. They have announced what they intend to do, have formally signed agreements about what the Canadian public can expect from the coalition, and have laid out in those agreements a division of powers and responsibilities ahead of their proposed action.
It should be noted that the BQ has no part nor representation in the proposed governing coalition. What they have formally agreed to do is to not defeat the coalition on a confidence vote for a set period of time. That's it. That's all. That there is a quid pro quo is certain--just as there was between the BQ and the Harper Conservatives during the Martin government. In this case, the BQ will expect a certain amount of input into plans made by the coalition—as it should. As should the Conservatives for that matter; a minority government cannot and must not govern from an ideological basis, but rather from one of co-operation and consensus building. That is one of the reasons why Canadians like and elect minority governments.
Most certainly, this is not over. Monday will prove to be a very interesting day—particularly for political junkies like me.

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