Thursday, December 31, 2009

Moosehead Ail

In a lawsuit filed in Manhattan Supreme Court, internet design consultant Raina Kumra alleges that while she was dining and drinking at the White Slab Palace late one night in October, a giant moose head become dislodged from the wall and struck her on the head, the Associated Press reports.

The blow resulted in a concussion, chronic neck pain, fatigue, dizziness, embarrassment and anxiety, the suit alleges.


UPDATE: (H/t reader lenny)

Bring back the Long Parliament

One reaction to the summary prorogation of Parliament by Stephen Harper:

"All we lose is a chance to talk."

That would be John Ibbitson, detached, bemused, with just a whiff of admiration for Stephen Harper's "devilishly clever" assault on Parliament. And thus the very notion of Parliament--which literally means "speaking"--is further degraded.

Happy New Year, everyone.

Are the Tories counting upon popular ignorance of our own system of government? Here is court blogger Stephen Taylor, allegedly a political analyst, uttering politically illiterate nonsense:

Indeed, the Prime Minister asked the Governor General for a suspension of Parliament last year after the coalition government attempt to replace a freshly elected Prime Minister and his cabinet just six weeks after an election.... A gentle reminder to the constitutionally challenged: Prime Ministers are not elected, nor are cabinets. Members of Parliament are elected--those representatives of the people whom King Stephen I is about to send home, standing them down from committees and stopping 32 bills in their tracks. For those who need it, here's Parliamentary government 101.

I will admit that I've been loose recently with my historical references. I compared Harper to Cromwell not long ago; now, thanks to Andrew Coyne, I'm seeing him more as Charles I. (Or Louis XVI.) Coyne has some further insights today. He defended prorogation last year, but the scales appear to have fallen from his eyes.

Charles I, after ruling as an absolute monarch for eleven years, was pressured into permitting Parliament to sit because he needed it to vote him an allocation to pursue his war against Scotland. But he quickly lost his nerve when the members assembled demonstrated theirs:

A flood of petitions concerning abuses were coming up to Parliament from the country. Impatient with their resuming debate where it had left off in 1629, touching the violation of Parliamentary privileges by the arrests of Members in 1629, and unnerved about coming scheduled debate over the deteriorating situation in Scotland, Charles dissolved the body (5 May 1640) after only three weeks' sitting.

The King still needed his money, however, and was forced to recall Parliament shortly thereafter. The Long Parliament stayed in session for nine years. How did it last for such a length of time? Because the members were shrewd enough to pass an Act of Parliament preventing its dissolution without consent:

And be it declared and enacted by the King, our Sovereign Lord, with the assent of the Lords and Commons in this present Parliament assembled, and by the authority of the same, that this present Parliament now assembled shall not be dissolved unless it be by Act of Parliament to be passed for that purpose; nor shall be, at any time or times, during the continuance thereof prorogued or adjourned, unless it be by Act of Parliament to be likewise passed for that purpose; and that the House of Peers shall not at any time or times during this present Parliament be adjourned, unless it he by themselves or by their own order; and in like manner, that the House of Commons shall not, at any time or times, during this present Parliament, he adjourned, unless it be by themselves or by their own order; and that all and every thing or things whatsoever done or to be done for the adjournment, proroguing, or dissolving of this present Parliament, contrary to this Act, shall be utterly void and of none effect. [emphasis added]

Within bounds, such a fundamental reform in Canada, AD 2010, seems long overdue. Obviously we can't have Parliament sitting as long as it pleases, regardless of the electorate's mood: the current constitutional five-year limit would be a necessary check on that. But a similar resolution would right the imbalance that we now observe, in which a government, supposedly accountable to Parliament as a whole, has in essence seized power and relegated the people's representatives to a secondary, at-pleasure status.

Coyne might argue that all of what Harper has done is legal, if wrong: but if it is legal, then we need to change the law. Let the dissolution adjournment or prorogation
* of Parliament be up to Parliament, not the whim of an authoritarian Prime Minister, abetted by a feudal monarch's assistant. Let the talking continue.

*Reader "Morning" rightly notes:
I think you were meaning to say "Let the adjournment or prorogation of Parliament be up to Parliament" rather than its dissolution, which is, as you said, governed by the five year constitutional limit (as well as the toothless four year election act that this government passed in the previous Parliament).
I was. Mea culpa.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Going 'rogue

Stephen Harper keeps out-doing himself. With the connivance of a quaint relic of feudalism, in the person of a pliant Governor-General, the unfriendly dictator is preparing to wave away the inconvenience of Parliament once again. He'll shortly be sending the MPs packing, and stacking that other relic, an unelected Senate, with his political pals, thereby seizing control of the upper chamber and its working committees.

Harper's continuing assault on democracy is by now too obvious for anyone to ignore. On his watch, his MPs were issued instructions on how to subvert the work of Parliamentary committees. Last year he cut and ran when faced with a vote of non-confidence, effectively padlocking Parliament. More recently, he has openly defied Parliament by refusing to produce unredacted documents pertaining to the Afghanistan detainee issue. And with the new prorogation in the offing, that committee will be automatically stood down, its work nipped in the bud.

Under Harper we have seen what I have referred to before as a veritable war on watchdogs. Blatant political interference in the workings of supposedly independent agencies--the CNSC, the SSHRCC, Elections Canada--is almost the order of the day.
High-handed ministers of the Crown, acting more like princelings than representatives, have been actively involved in exiling Canadian citizens and more recently defaming and scapegoating an upstanding public employee and the respected charitable organization KAIROS-Canada.

Democracy in this country, always a stitched-together affair, is under increasingly serious threat
, all hyperbole aside. As I have noted recently, this downward slide did not begin with the Conservatives: Pierre "Just watch me" Trudeau set the tone, and Jean Chrétien centralized all meaningful power in the PMO, ruling the country with an iron fist and the odd burst of pepper-spray.

But Harper has taken this trend through a quantum leap in four short years. His contempt for democratic process is never far below the surface. And now, once again, Parliament--Canada's supreme elected body--is about to be flicked away like a mosquito.

We're watching political accountability and responsible government melt away before our unbelieving eyes. As one commentator noted not long ago, "The Prime Minister is now in such command that he can get away with pretty much anything. And he is lauded for his conquests."

But even Harper's fiercest supporters might want to take a sober second look about now, and put Canada before their party for once. At this point there should be no partisans--only outraged Canadians, of all political hues, who want their country back.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The decline of the West

Another day, another Cassandra, another scolding Jeremiah. They stand in an unbroken wailing line, from Oswald Spengler (Der Untergang des Abendlandes, 1917) to George Grant and his
Lament for a Nation in 1965 to perhaps a lesser voice--Robert Sibley in this morning's Ottawa Citizen. We're doomed yet again, for a variety of reasons, but we do seem to be taking our sweet time a-dying.

I confess at this point to a possible error in judgment. Sibley has adorned my blogroll for some time: he is a columnist with genuine aspirations to be a thinker rather than a nattering demagogue. He is an old-school, genteel conservative, impeccably polite in his writing. But all this is superficial stuff. If today's article is anything to go by, I've obviously scanned his previous pieces too quickly, and been captivated more by his listing of sources than by the quality of his discussion. On closer inspection, his array of authors, at least today, turns out to be little more than an extended argument from authority.
Mea culpa.

Hed and deck:

The decade of new world disorder?

50 years of anti-West intellectual thought has robbed us of the will to defend our way of life, writes Robert Sibley.

For some reason, I ploughed right in. Perhaps I was intrigued by the notion that intellectuals have robbed the masses of anything, other than (as a conservative might see it) taxpayers' money in the form of research and publication grants. But somehow all this talk of imperialism and deconstruction and decentering has sapped the strength of folks who read the Ottawa Sun and listen to Lowell Green. Go figure! I read on.

Sibley begins with the election of Barack Obama. He cites a Carleton University professor, Waller Newell, who regards that election as a vain retreat from the grimness of the Bush years: people expressing a naive wish, both at home and in Europe, for a peaceful future. Then James Sheehan, an historian who claims, rightly, I suspect, that Europeans, devastated by two world wars that left the place a smoking ruin, have rather enjoyed their last six decades of peace, and "don't want to study war anymore."

For Sibley, though, this is a sure sign of decadence. We've heard it all before, of course: endless tiresome right-wing commentary about the so-called "feminization" of culture, for example. We're getting all soft and girly. We're sitting ducks for the first barbarians who come along, what with their Allahu Akhbars and beards and penchant for throwing stones at women and bombs at everyone else.

So, inevitably, there is an approving reference to the so-called "clash of civilizations," a phrase coined by Bernard Lewis and popularized by Samuel Huntington, a clash for which we are supposedly unprepared because we are blinkered enough to prefer an "untroubled life."

Paradoxically, Sibley blames the fall of Communism for what he calls "the birth...of a new world disorder." It was supposed to herald the final triumph of liberalism and the end of history. But meanwhile, amid the celebrations, Yugoslavia was being torn apart by ethnic nationalism, and Rwanda by "tribal" (as opposed to "ethnic?") madness, and the Muslims have been busy plotting our demise.

September 11 was the wakeup call, Sibley argues, but so torpid have we all become that we may be incapable of defending, not our civilization, but our "civilization's legacy." Indeed, have we "already surrendered, spiritually speaking?"

Seems so. Our societies are merely "therapeutic," he says, our lives self-indulgent, and our assumptions "narcissistic." And our "intellectual leaders"--whom few on the street could even name--have, he insists, "taught westerners to despise their own civilization." This new "post-modern attitude," with its deep critique of the devastation that has historically accompanied our relative affluence, is, according to Sibley, a Bad Thing.

Like many other commentators, Sibley misconstrues "cultural relativism" (it's a method of studying other cultures, not a value). He downplays the evident enjoyment that most Westerners from all walks of life share in their cultural events and achievements, both high and low. And he mocks without engaging: "As for hard science, well, it's only a western way of knowing."

There's a good discussion to be had about epistemological assumptions here, but he hurries along, confident that he's made his point. And, in case we missed where he was coming from the first time, he quotes William Henry: "It is scarcely the same thing to put a man on the moon as to put a bone in your nose."

Let me argue for a weak universalism when I assert that few human beings in any culture would disagree with that last statement. Henry was a muscular liberal, not a conservative: he was a chronicler of desegregation and a fierce opponent of fundamentalism. But that kind of remark suggests, at least to me, that he shared with Sibley a certain anthropological illiteracy, as well as a tendency to erect straw men.

It was when I came to Sibley's next authority, described as "the historian Keith Windshuttle" [sic], that my hair began to stand on end. Windschuttle is no historian--he has no formal training in the discipline whatsoever--but he made a name for himself some time ago as a far-right polemicist who found fault with some footnotes by Australian historians on the subject of the treatment of Aborigines. He is presently the editor of a conservative journal called Quadrant, and apparently a somewhat credulous individual.

Windschuttle likes his straw men too, arguing that the postmodern critique of western influence is equivalent to regarding western civilization as "little more than a crime against humanity." This is overstating the case just a tad.

But Sibley accepts this unnuanced assertion without argument, asking aloud how to account for our alleged "suicidal mentality." It's our "self-induced guilt," he says, rejecting the notion that colonialism was anything but good for the backward peoples of the world. Heck, it "curbed tribal warfare" and even put "an end to cannibalism."

(Not entirely, of course: medical cannibalism was once all the rage in Europe, and
today there are significant questions to be raised about organ donations and "presumed consent." As for "tribal warfare," I see no reason to withhold that term from the never-ending Balkan conflicts that have continued right down to the present, or from the siege mentality of the antic American Teabaggers.)

More, however, from Windschuttle, who repeats the hoary right-wing canard that, despite the sheer beneficence of colonialism, the silly primitives squandered that benign legacy and have no one but themselves to blame for their current poverty:

Those countries that still wallow in destitution and underdevelopment do so not because of western imperialism, racism or oppression but because of policies they have largely chosen for themselves by socialist planning or had forced upon them by civil war and revolution.

With a snap of the fingers, the entire nature of the global economy, its core and its periphery, the latter condemned to perpetual economic dependency and underdevelopment fostered by neo-liberal trade and structural adjustment policies, vanishes in a cloud of shoddy moralizing.

Another straw man follows, furnished by yet another authority, Pascal Bruckner: so-called "Third Worldism," a doctrine that we progressives supposedly adhere to:

a tendency on the part of intellectuals to worship the primitive, the foreign and the exotic while condemning everything that smacks of science, civilization and the modern.

Wait a sec. I thought we were supposed to be unfairly blaming "the West" for the fallen state of the Third World--now we're holding the latter up as a Utopia? Apparently so. Here's Sibley's paraphrase:

Bruckner regards this fondness for self-flagellation as a romantic turning away from the modern world in all its burdensome complexity. The reality of primitive life -- poverty, disease, slavery, frequent cruelty and superstition -- is ignored in favour of utopian fantasy. In worshipping the non-western, the romantic intellectual is "not looking for a real world but the negation of (his) own."

Third-world fantasies can prove harmful when attempts are made to translate them into unrealistic policies. Western guilt becomes "a convenient substitute for action where action is impossible," says Bruckner. "Guilt is what is left when you have run out of everything else.

"Without the power to do anything, sensitivity becomes our main aim, the aim is not so much to do anything, as to be judged.

In other words, words replace deeds, abstract sentiments -- compassion for the poor, solidarity with the people, etc. -- substitute for concrete action.

There's plenty of action on the Left, of course: far more than the powers that be would like. In fact, those concrete measures--as the recent disgraceful offensive against KAIROS by the Harper government indicates--are something that will inevitably attract the determined opposition of the very people who are otherwise accusing us of inaction.

Finally, from a person who makes his living with words, comes an attack on Barack Obama for using words, and then the inevitable call to arms. No more "lifestyle satiation" and Obamian lassitude in the face of the Muslim threat. Off the recliner and into your armour, boys! Time to rise up and defend civilization as we know it.

Well, there may be signs of hope, despite the alleged intellectual bankruptcy of the West. After all, Sibley has managed to track down a small army of intellectuals on his own side of the fence to defend the proposition that every younger generation in history has heard from every older one. No voice in the wilderness, he. "You people have it easy... Softies...When I was a kid...Those were the good old days." He's the old grouch at the family dinner-party with whom we are all too familiar. Bitter, pessimistic, thoroughly enjoying himself.

Spare no tears for the man, then, as members of his sceptical audience continue to satiate their lifestyles, studiously avoiding intellectual ping-pong and asking him to pass the potatoes. There will always be those who are impatient for the world to come to an end. Waiting for it drove Jeremiah mad. It's making Sibley increasingly testy.

For the rest of you, Happy New Year, and may we all have an untroubled 2010.

Monday, December 28, 2009


Anyone with lingering doubts that the signifier "Muslim" has become a stand-in for "race," not religion, hasn't been paying attention lately.

The capture of a would-be plane bomber on Christmas Day has had its predictable consequences: even tighter security precautions, endless line-ups, abandonment of passengers by Air Canada--the usual. And, inevitably, a slobber of hatred has broken forth on-line, as the young jihadist recovers in hospital after setting fire to his underwear.

Here's a blogging award-winner, suggesting "a few minutes of combustive companionship in a two-seater" for another blogger who dared call for a "rational and measured" response to the botched bombing. (As it happens, I knew two people who died screaming in a burning two-seater, so perhaps I'm overreacting. It was just a joke, right?)

Then this:

Stop Muslim immigration to Canada.

And then start the deportation process.

And here's one blogger who wants to get right down to the serious business of Endlösung:

Terrorism could actually be solved in one easy step, that should go something like this:

* every time Muslims attack an embassy, an airliner, a hotel, or any other Western target, a prominent mosque somewhere will be demolished.

* one such mosque will be leveled to the ground for every 100 people killed in any terrorist attack by a Muslim; since there were close to 300 people aboard the Northwest flight, if the Muslim terrorist aboard had been successful in his plot, that would have been 3 mosques somewhere in the world that would have been burned to the ground in retaliation.

* mosques in shopping centers or in the suburbs aren’t high-profile enough: we’re talking these lunatics’ most holy, sacred sites…leading all the way up to the Dome of the Rock, Haggia Sophia,* and all the sites in Mecca and Medina ultimately, if these people don’t get the message and stop hitting Western targets.


We want the West to fight back. If governments won’t do this, then the marketplace demands an answer to Al Queda in the form of a new Knights Templar, or something of that sort.

Ah, yes, the Knights Templar. Time once again to recall Umberto Eco's warning:

The lunatic ... doesn't concern himself at all with logic; he works by short circuits. For him, everything proves everything else. The lunatic is all idée fixe, and whatever he comes across confirms his lunacy. You can tell him by the liberties he takes with common sense, by his flashes of inspiration, and by the fact that sooner or later he brings up the Templars.

Now, no one should really be surprised by this kind of reaction. Our tendency, when threatened, is to categorize and generalize. It's an evolutionary imperative, in fact: bitten by one lion, we are cautious about approaching others. We learn to hate and fear that which causes us harm, and we invent corresponding categories. The problem is, though, that the categories are too often vague and easily manipulated.

We are not under attack by "the Muslims." We are under threat by a handful of terrorists who embrace an extreme form of Islam, and that threat is very real. Our response,
however, has been bizarre. Mostly Saudi Wahhabists destroyed the Twin Towers: so the West lurched off to Afghanistan. Then came the forcible removal of an admittedly brutal and corrupt, but entirely secular, regime in Iraq. Now Iran is on the menu, and possibly Pakistan.

Here at home, we passed badly-drafted anti-terrorist legislation, and exiled fellow-citizens, while our neighbours to the south thickened their northern borders, adopted torture as a standard interrogation technique, and even tried to abolish habeas corpus.

Reflexively, we lashed out in all directions. There has been nothing less than general institutional panic, and sown by so few. As much as it has become a cliché in certain quarters, the terrorists have won, at least in the short and medium terms. We were, and are, decidedly terrorized.

We're in danger, in fact, of pulling apart the fabric of our own society all by ourselves,
becoming "rigid, obsessive, compulsive, ritualistic and paranoid... 'filled with ancestral memories'...repeating the same behaviours over and over again, never learning from past mistakes."

Sound familiar?

If we're going to win against the atavistic, ossified, early-mediaeval mindset that defines what we're up against, we have to fight smart, not become what we're fighting. That means standing up for our society, not dividing it by screeching for scapegoats. It means being strategic, not turning on ourselves in blind fear with knee-jerk legislation, official heavy-handedness and the seething anger of a lynch-mob.

So, at the risk of being counselled to take a ride in a burning airplane, I would second my fellow-blogger's suggestion that we use our collective ability to think and reflect instead of giving in to reptilian brain-spasms. It's called civilization, and it's what we're supposed to be defending.
Isn't it? Aren't we?

[H/t and bow to Balbulican]

*Sure, why not bomb a museum in Turkey that was a Christian church twice as long as it was a mosque, and hasn't served as a mosque for three-quarters of a century? That'll teach 'em!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Made my day

This alone makes my recent foray into the columns of the National Post worthwhile.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Bark us all bow-wows of folly

What season of joy is without its naysayers?

1 Hear ye the word which the LORD speaketh unto you, O house of Israel:

2 Thus saith the LORD, Learn not the way of the heathen, and be not dismayed at the signs of heaven; for the heathen are dismayed at them.

3 For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe.

4 They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not.

5 They are upright as the palm tree, but speak not: they must needs be borne, because they cannot go. Be not afraid of them; for they cannot do evil, neither also is it in them to do good.

Pay no attention to that sour old prophet's War on Christmas. 'Tis the season to be jolly, dammit!

And so I wish my friends and my sparring partners alike* the very best of that season, whatever your tradition. Merry Christmas, to those who share mine.

Now: to last minute racing around, gift-wrapping, turkey-brining, a bit of poetry, a glass or two of wine, and warm anticipation of the arrival of family. While singing my favourite Christmas carol, of course.

Do feel free to sing along.

*Of course, the categories overlap quite a bit!

"A circus of nationalists"

To my surprise (am I the only one?), I learned today*, fourteen years after the fact, that the constitution of Bosnia-Herzegovina, cobbled together at Dayton Air Force Base in 1995 to put an end to a three year old genocidal tribal war, prohibits Jews and Roma from running for parliament.

The truth is, it doesn't prohibit them specifically, as suggested by the blogger I linked to. But the only people permitted to sit in Bosnia-Herzegovina's parliament are Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks (Bosnian Muslims). Those even glancingly familiar with the seething ethnic nationalisms of that area of the world will understand the rush to ensure that the main players in those bloody rivalries are appropriately represented in parliament, in a fundamentally unstable balance, to be sure, but a balance that suited short-term needs.

Nevertheless, this could not hold, and it hasn't. A decision by the European Court of Human Rights may serve to jump-start stalled talks on Bosnian constitutional reform: it has made the only possible ruling in the circumstances. Excluding some citizens from running in elections because of their ethnicity is a ludicrously backward concept. If Bosnia-Herzegovina wants to enter the European Union someday, adherence to basic human rights is a sine qua non.

Could that spell the end of this ongoing "circus of nationalists" that has infected politics in the Balkans since the days of Kara-George? One would have to be foolishly optimistic to imagine that this might happen in the near future. As proof, take a look at France.

Here is a political culture that gives every appearance of being founded upon civic, rather than ethnic, national principles (to employ Michael Ignatieff's useful distinction in Blood and Belonging). And yet, in France at the moment, the government has initiated a public debate on Frenchness. There is even a minister of "national identity." When these metaphysical, essentialist notions become public policy, we can expect nothing but trouble.

Isn't there something deeply ironic about a debate about French identity led by a person of
immediate Jewish and Hungarian ancestry (Nicolas Sarkozy), and driven by an immigrant from Morocco (Eric Besson)? The two men should be poster-children for the blendings and accommodations that mark the current global culture. And yet Sarkozy, likely for the crassest of political reasons, has ignited a national debate that simply reeks of ethnic nationalism, including fractious town hall meetings where such divisiveness is incubated.

The ugliness is already erupting:

When Muslim worshipers showed up at the Bilal Mosque early Sunday morning, they found two pig's ears and a poster of the French flag stapled to the door; a pig's snout dangled from the doorknob. "White power" and "Sieg heil" were spray-painted on one side, they recalled, and "France for the French" on the other.

The desecration of the main mosque in Castres, a tranquil provincial town 50 miles east of Toulouse, was an ugly exception in generally easygoing relations between the native French population and a pocket of about 10,000 Muslims, mostly Algerian immigrants and their children, who in recent years have made Castres their home, according to Muslim as well as native French residents. Mayor Pascal Bugis was quick to condemn the outrage, visiting the scene to express dismay, and police vowed a swift arrest of those responsible.

But for Abdelmalek Bouregba, head of the Castres Islamic Association, which administers the mosque, the vandalism was a troubling sign of the times. Signals are flashing everywhere that France is increasingly uneasy with its more than 5 million Muslims, he said, and the atmosphere has soured particularly since President Nicolas Sarkozy's government last month began what it calls "a great debate on national identity."

Hearings are being held to decide if women in France should be banned from wearing burkas--a wacky proposition that, raised recently here at home, gained no traction whatsoever, and is thankfully meeting opposition in France as well. And petty state oppressiveness seems to be the order of the day: a legislative initiative is presently underway to ban foreign flags at immigrant weddings in city halls.

France would have a long, long way to go before approaching Balkan-style nationalism. But it is disturbing, nonetheless, to watch a state so obviously playing with fire.

Some wise words from the editor of Respect magazine:

"The problem is that the way the question is posed, it makes people like me think that we are always going to have to prove our Frenchness."

Framing the debate as an exploration of national identity was too limiting, he added. "I have the right, with my multiple origins, to be proud of all my identities," said Mr. Cheb Sun, who was born in France to an Italian father and Egyptian mother. "We have to transmit the idea that we are all a product of this country's history, including its colonial past and the diversity and fusion of cultures it produced."

It's hard to imagine a better refutation of ethnic-based politics, and a more precise definition of civic nationalism in the 21st century.

*[H/t "shlemazl," who has since blocked access to his blog]

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A starting point

After the politics of Copenhagen and the CRUHack, I think it is a good time to get back to some basic science. I want to look at the argument that “adding CO2 will not change anything” or that “adding CO2 will only cause a small warming”. In fact, I am going to try to establish that doubling CO2 alone will cause between 1 and 1.2 C temperature increase.

While there are a number of scientific papers and books that look at this, I am hoping to do it without math or physics. Instead, I will look at what some of the sceptics say.

Any branch of science will have a number of people who are interested in the given topic. For this post I have (somewhat arbitrarily) divide the AGW sceptics into the following categories: the established expert, the up and coming new comer, and the talented amateur. From these people I was looking for a clear statement about the effects of CO2 only. Something like “X increase in CO2 concentration will cause Y change in global temperature”. For an established expert I took Richard Lindzen. Dr. Lindzen is the Alfred P. Sloan Professor of Meteorology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology – you don’t get much more established than that. While many people disagree with Dr. Lindzen’s editorial comments, his scientific statements and contributions are still respected. In a presentation to CEI in November of this year, he stated that (on slide 44):
Remember, we are ultimately talking about the greenhouse effect. It is generally agreed that doubling CO2 alone will cause about 1C warming due to the fact that it acts as a ‘blanket.’ Model projections of greater warming absolutely depend on positive feedbacks from water vapor and clouds that will add to the ‘blanket’ – reducing the net cooling of the climate system.
So that is the first statement – a doubling of CO2 will cause a 1C rise. (I suppose it could be argued that he is only saying this and that he doesn’t believe it – but nothing in his presentation contradicts that view. He is more concerned about the feedbacks that follow from this rise). For the new scientist on the scene, I am going to use Dr. Nir Shaviv. Dr. Shaviv was born in 1972 and received his PhD in 1996 so he is one of the newest people on the scene. He has received a number of prizes and awards based on his scholarship. In regards to the issue of global warming his contribution was the idea that climate is controlled by cosmic rays (through their ability to generate seed nuclei from which clouds can grow). Looking at his site, he goes through an analysis which shows “This sensitivity translates to an equilibrium CO2 doubling temperature of about 1.2°K.” His analysis is based on the earth being a “grey body” – i.e. albedo is taken into account - but he does not include feedbacks.

Finally, we can look at the work of a talented amateur and as far as I am concerned the best person for this role is Canada’s own Steve McIntyre. No one can doubt Mr. McIntyre’s mathematical skill or his persistence in defending what he believes as correct. In Mr. McIntyre’s case I could not find any actual explicit statement that he made in regards to the effect of doubling of CO2 alone - probably not surprising since he tends to avoid the physics and concentrate more on the statistics. However he has stated a number of times that he accepts a great deal of the IPCC work, while having serious issues with the statistics and handling of the data. Most recently he wrote on a blog at the Spectator (the UK magazine)
.... but the most important outstanding scientific issue appears to me to be the amount of "water cycle" feedback, including clouds as well as water vapor. This controls the "climate sensitivity" to increased CO2. To me that would imply that he accepts the IPCC’s analysis of the effect of a doubling of CO2 alone (which is between 1 and 1.2C). However if anyone believes I have misrepresented his views feel free to provide a counter argument in the comments.

So, here we have 3 individuals who are among the best and the brightest in the sceptic world. They all seem to feel that the effect of CO2 alone is well established, it will cause warming and the warming will be between 1 and 1.2C. If you ever find yourself in a discussion about the effects of CO2, the starting point is that a doubling of CO2 alone will cause a 1C temperature rise. If anyone disagrees, tell them to take it up with Lindzen.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

And for the second time today...

...I am sick at heart.

Is there not a shred of morality left in the US judiciary? A rhetorical question.

The Supreme Court, by refusing (on the Obama administration's request) to hear a case decided by the DC Circuit Court and leaving that judgement intact, has placed its imprimature upon the following propositions:

1) Guantanamo prisoners are not "persons";

2) "[T]orture is a foreseeable consequence of the military’s detention of suspected enemy combatants."

Q. What is the greatest enemy of Western civilization?
A. Western civilization.

[H/t Stageleft]

Truth is a defence

...even against the accusation of "Blood Libel."

Readers will be aware of that hoary anti-Semitic trope, current in mediaeval times and more recently, that Jews murdered Christian children and made matzohs with their blood. The Nazis played this up, of course, notably in pornographer Julius Streicher's rag, Der Stürmer.

Like the word "anti-Semitic" itself, however, the phrase "Blood Libel" has been bent out of shape in the on-going Middle East debates. It has been used, for example, against those who refer too incautiously to the civilian carnage visited upon Gaza and Lebanon by the Israeli Defence Forces.

At other times, however, the label has been used with unfortunate accuracy. And one clear example of a genuine Blood Libel, or so I thought at the time, was a report in the Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet this past August that Israel was harvesting organs from Palestinians, a story that naturally became conflated with vile rumours being spread elsewhere. I have to say that I was completely on-side with commentary like this.

Now we discover that
the tale, although exaggerated, was not entirely made up. And, to be honest, I am now at a loss for words, and sick at heart.

UPDATE: Jehudah Hiss, the former forensic pathologist in the middle of all this, turns out to be quite a piece of work. Organ harvesting was apparently done under a "presumed consent" law that was, to put it mildly, loosely interpreted in the 1990s. I am advised that the law has since been tightened up.

[H/t Kateland b/c]

UPPERDATE: The Guardian has put out a retraction.
As the links I cited indicate, this was equal-opportunity non-consensual organ harvesting. It's easy to see, though, how the Palestinians got the wrong idea. Wouldn't you, if your dead kid was returned missing some organs, by an occupying power?

[H/t Jay Currie, b/c]

UPPESTDATE: Frequent commenter Marky Mark draws my attention to this thoughtful article by Jonathan Cook in Counterpunch. Hiss has been involved in scandals since the 1950s, at which time he was implicated in an alleged child-stealing scheme.

Kiss me, Kate

Aw heck, it's Christmas shopping week, and blogging is necessarily light. I must needs fall back, therefore, on that old standby, internecine blogospheric contention.

Kate McMillan, of Small Dead Animals, sends me a threatening note:

Without prejudice

Via google alerts, as I don't actually read your site:

"I've already noted Best Blogger Kate McMillan's approving reference yesterday to the murder of journalists..."

You'd better find evidence of my "approval" pretty damned quickly or retract that statement.


To which I responded:

Re: Without prejudice

Hey, Merry Christmas, Kate!

The reference is here:

That post, its title and the many comments that you permitted, make the
inference plain. I shall plead fair comment if you really want to go to war
over this.

Your comments at my place are always welcome.


And then, for the hell of it:


Sorry, Kate, forgot to add: when will you be issuing a retraction for this?

"Terrorist sympathizer," eh?

I won't if you won't.


An end-of-year confession, though: the truth is, I can't help liking the sheer brass of this bike-drivin', go-kart-paintin', dog-breedin', deer-huntin' momma. There, I said it. Sarah Palin with a brain. Lucky for all of us progs that she isn't in politics.

Anyway, let the chips fall where they may. I promise not to install a Pay-Pal button. :)

UPDATE: Kate bites back:

I have to say I now wonder why anyone on the right gave you so much as a passing snort when your wife passed away. I know I certainly regret it now. I had assumed you were a human being.

Monday, December 21, 2009

And the Winner Is!!!

The posting from my end has been a little light - life has been interfering. Thought provoking discussion outsourced to Eli Rabett for today.

However there is one housekeeping item that needs to be announced! That is the winner of the first ever annual Dawg's Blawg climate prediction contest. It was a tough fight but Catelli and Lenny both were spot on for the December - November prediction, and were both only 2 hundredths of a degree off for the November prediction. So as stipulated in the rules, the winner is Catelli, who posted 2 hours ahead of Lenny (sorry Lenny, but in my opinion that still qualifies you as having bragging rights, you just won't be able to brag while sipping from your pirate's mug).

A very big thank you to all who entered.

Catelli, can you please contact me at john dot croix at hotmail dot com.

Now I can start to set up next years. Does anyone have any ideas about the next one?


"I'm still standing and I'm not going anywhere." --Michael Ignatieff

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The mask slips again

I've posted about the fascist "Long Live Death" sensibility before: it includes a lip-smacking love of violence, a doctrine of eliminationism, racial and/or cultural exclusionism, and crazy-ass paranoia about "Others."

And I've noted that, certainly on the fringes, there is no longer a clear demarcation between fascists and far-right conservatives--if there ever was. Charles Johnson of Little Green Footballs, for one, has finally had to acknowledge that bitter truth.

Just a short update then, if I may, before I attempt to rekindle my Christmas spirit.

I've already noted Best Blogger Kate McMillan's approving reference yesterday to the murder of journalists--68 in 2009 alone. It behooves one to read the comments of her regulars, as well: loyal psychopathic footsoldiers, for the most part, relishing violence and death--essential elements, it seems, of their diseased politics.

And here, unsurprisingly, is Nick Packwood (Ghost of a Flea) cheering on the beating of unarmed, passively resisting demonstrators in Copenhagen by Denmark's finest. He expresses his strong agreement with the UK Telegraph's Gerald Warner, a man whose pro-fascist leanings extend to defending the bombing of Guernica, and who put matters thus:

There was one good moment at Copenhagen, though: some seriously professional truncheon work by Danish Plod on the smellies.

Interesting how the allegedly anti-State folks--among whom we must number several Speech Warriors™--go all soft and gooey when the State brutalizes those with whom they happen to disagree, and happily applaud the murder of journalists who tell them what they don't want to hear.

Defending vicious homophobes and neo-Nazis against the fearsome Human Rights Commissions is, we are told, a matter of principle. It's all about freedom of expression, not the substance of that expression. Odd, then, isn't it, that those who crush that freedom with guns and truncheons attract the cheering support
of these erstwhile libertarians?

You don't know what you've got till it's gone

When the community abandons the church, the church may abandon the community--literally. And so a church is being shipped from Nova Scotia to Louisiana, but not everyone is happy about it:

Even worse, they were shocked at the scale of local backlash when news of the sale leaked out.

"We've taken a fair amount of abuse around this issue," said Canon Vaughan.

Although heritage advocates say that they want to keep open respectful lines of dialogue they do not accept that the criticism was unfounded.

“The church was not about to fall down, it's fantastically sound,” said Peter Coffman, a fellow in the history department at Dalhousie University and vice-president for the Society for the Study of Architecture in Canada. “The amount of time it took to take it apart shows that.”

And he said that Canon Vaughan's initial assertion that the building would replace one destroyed by Hurricane Katrina, an error the cleric later blamed on miscommunication with the contractor, hurt the parish's credibility.

“The misinformation … certainly seemed to me an attempt to sugar-coat the whole transaction,” Mr. Coffman said. “The church does not give the appearance of dealing in good faith.” [emphasis added for the hell of it --ed.]

This reminded me of a video that I first saw some time ago at David Thompson's fine blog. Here it is, for your viewing pleasure. It induces odd feelings, at least in me.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Friday, December 18, 2009

"Nobody in Canada gave a crap"

A credible report of Canadian mistreatment of an Afghan detainee has emerged.

The prisoner, in Canadian custody, was kept cooped up in a tiny cel
l, at a temperature of 140°F. To their credit, soldiers attempted to alleviate the screaming man's suffering with frozen water-bottles, but Ottawa HQ resisted moving him.

Sgt. Carol Utton, interviewed by the Military Police Complaints Commission:
"We felt (Ottawa HQ) didn’t care....Nobody in Canada gave a crap."

Remember Rachel Marsden on waterboarding as a swimming lesson? Watch the Usual Suspects compare this to a resort sauna.

The new McCarthyism, cont'd.

The floating signifier "Communist"--which, back in the day, could mean anything from supporting fluoridation of water, promoting rock music or even throwing a beanball*--has now been replaced with "anti-Semite," but the thuggish tactics of government remain unchanged.

The well-respected Canadian charitable organization
KAIROS recently had a sizeable grant cancelled by Bev Oda, the Tory Minister of International Cooperation, abruptly ending the agency's 35-year partnership with CIDA . Allegedly, this was a mere restructuring of government international aid priorities.

But today we learn from immigration minister Jason Kenney that KAIROS has been blacklisted as an "anti-Semitic" organization, for being critical of Israel. It has also allegedly supported the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign.

This is indignantly denied by the Canadian branch of KAIROS, although there is a small group of KAIROS Christians in Palestine which has embraced it. (Here is the latter's "anti-Semitic" statement: a passionate defence of the Palestinian people.)

But to Kenney, they all look alike.

KAIROS Executive director Mary Corkery injects some plain common sense into the controversy:

[She] said Kenney's statement was based on incorrect information about her group's positions and raises serious questions about the politicization of the aid process by the Conservative government.

"If any group that criticizes an action by the government of Israel is called anti-Semitic by the government of Canada, that's very serious."

"You cannot label someone anti-Semitic because they criticize a government," she said.

"That's outrageous."

Well said, Ms. Corkery, although yes they can. "Outrageous" works for me. But we can expect little else from a government whose Prime Minister has stated plainly that criticism of Israel is "anti-Semitic."

And so a four-year assault on Canadian democracy continues on many fronts, from subverting responsible government to the targeting of ordinary citizens and now to the suppression of charitable human rights groups.

How many more people and organizations are on the government's "enemies list?" And what will it take to put a stake through the Witchfinder General's black heart?

UPDATE: Oops! Someone forgot to give Vic Toews the new talking points.

UPPERDATE: Oops! Jason Kenney has been caught in a lie. Commenter Scott Tribe links to KAIROS-Canada's position on the BDS campaign, and to a press release that KAIROS-Canada has just issued. Check them out.
*I'm forced to go on memory alone here, but I believe that the commentator in question had some connection to the San Francisco Giants.


The Globe and Mail's Paul Koring has won the 2009 Amnesty International Canada's Media Award for excellence in human rights journalism, for his coverage of the Abousfian Abdelrazik affair.

Koring just never let go of that one, and his digging played a major role in creating public awareness about that shameful episode in our recent history--one that has not yet ended. Now he's on Torturegate like a badger, and well might the Tories tremble.

Globe and Mail editor-in-chief John Stackhouse knows what a fine resource he has:

"Paul's dogged and highly skilled reporting is the single most important reason the government paid any serious attention to this case," Mr. Stackhouse said. "His work took time, tenacity and the support of a media company that believes in international reporting. I can't think of a better illustration of why professional journalism still matters."

Neither can I. Congratulations, Paul.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

An infandous Ottawa Cromwell

[Cromwell] commanded the Speaker to leave the Chair, and told them they had sat long enough, unless they had done more good, crying out You are no longer a Parliament, I say you are no Parliament. He told Sir Henry Vane he was a Jugler [sic]; Henry Martin and Sir Peter Wentworth, that they were Whoremasters; Thomas Chaloner, he was a Drunkard; and Allen the Goldsmith that he cheated the Publick: Then he bid one of his Soldiers take away that Fool's Bauble the mace and Thomas Harrison pulled the Speaker of the Chair; and in short Cromwell having turned them all out of the House, lock'd up the Doors and returned to Whitehall. --Thomas Salmon, Chronological Historian

Plus ça change. Prorogation--suspension--of Parliament by Stephen Harper is almost a dead certainty by now.

Lawrence Martin's dreary catalogue of Stephen Harper's war on Canadian democracy over the past four years should be required reading for every citizen. He nails it here:

The Prime Minister is now in such command that he can get away with pretty much anything. And he is lauded for his conquests.


The key is that once you've established such a pronounced degree of control over the levers of power, you're in position to strong-arm your way past anything. And so the government has halted hearings on the detainee file by boycotting them. And so the government is threatening to prorogue Parliament again so it doesn't have to face more detainee music.

It's more evidence from a stockpile of how the system's been brought to heel. It's democracy Canadian-style.

But Martin is leaving out something vital. The primrose path down which Harper is galloping at full speed really originated with Liberal prime minister Jean Chrétien, if not earlier. By the end of le petit gars' autocratic rule, he had concentrated so much power in the PMO that, as
public administration expert Donald Savoie suggested in 1999, even his Cabinet had become to some degree a mere focus group.

Columnist Jeffrey Simpson once called Chrétien "the friendly dictator." The old man
shrugged that off in an unintentionally ironic manner:

'I was friendly but I certainly was not a dictator,' said Chrétien, adding that it's much more important to decide; consensus can come later.

Or, as an unidentified US officer said during the Vietnam war, "Grab 'em by the balls and their hearts and minds will follow."

Harper, it seems, learned his lessons well from that seasoned ideological antagonist. Savoie renewed his concerns more urgently last year:

In his latest book, Court Government and Collapse of Accountability in Canada and the United Kingdom, Mr. Savoie says Canada is run more like a kingdom than a parliamentary democracy, with power concentrated in the hands of the prime minister and a coterie of political advisers, cabinet ministers, lobbyists, pollsters, friends and a couple of senior bureaucrats.


Similarly, senior bureaucrats are like courtiers in a king's court, modern-day fixers and inner-circle confidants whose jobs are to help the government of the day look good and stay in power.

"Make no mistake, we have court government, and in shifting to court government, we have redefined the role of public servants for them to be responsive to their political masters and fixers. That's what courtiers do. They go around fixing things on behalf of their masters. But is that the role we want public servants to have?" said Mr. Savoie.

"Public servants play the game because it takes a very brave soul to be a Sir Thomas More. If you want to be beheaded on Sparks Street, then stand up and say 'I don't think the government should do this'."

The uncanny foreshadowing of Torturegate will not be lost upon readers.

This has all been taking place in front of an apathetic, even somnambulistic, Canadian public. The Rubicon was crossed, in my view, when Harper defied parliamentary supremacy a few days ago, threatening the very basis of responsible government. Suspending Parliament is the next step.

How fragile, after all, is our democracy; how easily is it subverted. What can we ordinary citizens do? Just watch while power is unlawfully seized, and, depending upon our various political proclivities, cheer, boo or yawn?

Or do we organize and actively resist?

If the latter, how?

Two solitudes

Courtesy of the Associated Press: I have left some paragraphs out and moved others around, but the story--a double-sided, morally lopsided narrative--needs no further elaboration. I've added occasional emphases.

Shiloh was the first settlement in the Qariout area, founded in 1979. Since then two other settlements have sprung up nearby, along with six smaller wildcat outposts, which are illegal under Israeli law but get electricity, water and protection from the government.

Together, they surround the village on three sides and deny it access to about two-thirds of its land, according to Yesh Din, an Israeli rights groups that tracks settlements.

Dror Etkes, of Yesh Din, said the Israeli government has officially allocated 28 percent of the village's original 840 hectares (2,100 acres) to nearby settlements.

Another 35 to 40 percent of the village's land has been taken unofficially by settlers or the Israeli army, he said.

Sometimes, settlers fence off or cultivate plots, chasing off Palestinians who try to reach them, he said.

Other times, Israeli authorities seize plots to build army posts or roads between settlements. Once a road is built, villagers can rarely reach the land beyond it, Etkes said.

At the same time, Israel refuses to let the village pave the two-kilometer-long (1.2 mile) road to the highway and regularly bulldozes it shut, calling it "illegal" and forcing villagers to make a 22-kilometer (13-mile) detour.

Mohammed Muqbil, a farmer born in Qariout in 1939, said he has lost two of his three plots to settlements. The army confiscated one in 1982 and settlers now grow grapes on it. Settlers chased him from another in 2003, then planted olive trees, he said.

His remaining plot, near the Shvut Rachel settlement, has been a battleground since 2000. Settlers have plowed up his wheat, harvested his olives, prevented him from working and even beat him up, he said. In 2007, a settler uprooted his 300 trees with a bulldozer, he said.

Back in Qariout, Bedawi says true peace would require settlers to leave.

"How can you make a state when there are settlements all over the West Bank?" he said.


From a grassy hilltop in one of those settlements, Shiloh, Batya Medad sees a different story in the settlers' red-roofed houses: She calls it the return of the Jewish people to land God promised them in the Old Testament.

In Shiloh, a town of 2,200 people, billboards advertise new homes, and foundations have been laid for about 10 new buildings that remain exempt from the 10-month construction freeze. The community has two schools, a seminary, three synagogues and a swimming pool, said Medad.

The Bible gives Jews the right to live in Shiloh, she said.

"In most of the Western world, when you swear on the Bible, you are swearing that Shiloh is Jewish," she said.

Medad and her husband immigrated from Great Neck, New York, to Israel in 1970. She said when they came to Shiloh the hills were covered with wildflowers because "nobody had ever walked here, nobody had cultivated it, nobody owned it."

She is 60 and vows no peace deal can make her leave.

Medad denied her Arab neighbors had history in the area and said she rarely thinks about them. "If they want to live in peace with us, they can stay," she said. "If they don't want peace, then they should go."