Saturday, December 26, 2009


You're going to hear this a lot, but there's really no other way to say it: 'Avatar' is a mind-blowing and thoroughly entertaining immersion into another world, unlike anything you have ever seen before.

Much has been said about the groundbreaking 3-D technology created for the film, but what makes it so astonishing is that the effects are utterly seamless - so much so that after a while you are barely even conscious of them. The real breakthrough comes when the Na'vi and the creatures that inhabit their world become just as real to us as the humans.

Yes, the story is overly earnest at times, and the dialogue could really have used a few shots of Cameron's trademark humour. But in the end, Avatar has everything you could want from a movie plus a few things you never even imagined possible.

Even with the script's flaws, I'll give it five stars.

(Wow. It seems that, despite his best efforts to hate it, Murray loved Avatar as much as I did!)

Monday, December 21, 2009

Our Government's Work Ethic

I'm blogging to you tonight from Georgetown, Kentucky, just north of Lexington, on my way down to Florida with the family.

We lost CBC somewhere near Toledo, but we've managed to keep the radio on a sequence of NPR stations, thus avoiding the canned pop music and right-wing talk that dominates the rest of the dial.

The big news down here, of course, is the health care bill passing in the U.S. Senate last night. While the question of whether or not this bill will actually improve health care remains unanswered, the point that caught my ear was this:

All 58 Democrats and the Senate's two independents held together early Monday against unanimous Republican opposition, providing the exact 60-40 margin needed to shut down a threatened GOP filibuster.

The vote came shortly after 1 a.m. with the nation's capital blanketed in snow, the unusual timing made necessary in order to get to a final vote by Christmas Eve presuming Republicans stretch out the debate as much as the rules allow.

Wow. I can't remember our MPs ever being late for dinner, let alone sticking it out into the wees.

No, our government is a little more laid back. Like those Conservative members of the Special Committee on Afghanistan who gave themselves an extra-long Christmas break, thanks to this note from Official Afghanistan Obstructionator Laurie Hawn:

Dear Ms. De Pape,

I am writing to inform the committee that Conservative Party members of the Special Committee on Canada's Mission in Afghanistan will not to be attending Tuesday's meeting called under Standing Order 106.4.

The Christmas and Holiday Season is a time to spend with family, friends, and loved ones. One would hope that only the most serious of emergencies should interfere with these moments.

There is presently nothing urgent needing study on the subject of Taleban prisoners. The alleged events in question took place over 3 years ago under two different Governments. Subsequently, Canada's prisoner policy was improved by the present Government and remains the "Gold standard" of our NATO allies.

Please pass this correspondence along to opposition members so they do not make unnecessary travel arrangements during this Christmas and Holiday season.

I would also like to wish yourself and all committee staff a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays over the coming weeks.

Oddly enough, that reads exactly like the note my son forged last week to get out of school on Friday. Except his said "Social Studies" and not "Taliban Prisoners".

Thursday, December 17, 2009

No Surprise: AECL Officially on the Auction Bloc

Shorter Lisa Raitt:

“Nuclear energy is experiencing a renaissance around the world that will reap huge profits for the industry, and our government is committed to ensuring that the Canadian public won't see a penny of it."

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

G&M Shuts Down the Haters

Jane Taber ran a piece on the Globe & Mail website this afternoon about Scott Brison's Christmas card, which has a lovely picture of him with his husband and their dog:

Right below it you will find the following:

Comments have been disabled
Editor's Note: Comments have been closed due to an overwhelming number of hateful and homophobic remarks. We appreciate that readers want to discuss this issue, but we can't allow our site to become a platform for intolerance.

First, kudos to the Globe & Mail for not just shutting down the comments but for saying in no uncertain terms why they did it.

Second, this is an extreme example of something I've been noticing over the past six months or so: commenters on news sites are lunatics who simply cannot be reasoned with.

There used to be some semblance of rational discourse and debate on these things, similar to what you usually find on the 'real' blogs. But now the voices of reason have been completely drowned out by the haters, the fanatics, and the most intransigent of partisans all trying to shout each other down.

I used to think that posting the occasional sane comment on news sites somehow helped to balance the debate and maybe win some hearts and minds. But now I understand that doing so only encourages the bedlam, and I refuse to participate any more.

Consider this my early New Year's Resolution: I will no longer post comments to any newspaper or television news website.*

Let them have it.

*just for clarification, I am not including Maclean's in this boycott - at least not yet. It's a magazine, they have real bloggers over there, and the discourse hasn't quite descended to the 'pissing in the wind' level yet

Making forest preservation worth more than forest destruction

In amongst the stories of pessimism, pranks, and angry mobs of frost-bitten delegates, there was a little ray of hope in the news from Copenhagen today.

An agreement has very nearly been reached on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation (REDD), a mechanism by which developing nations would be compensated with cash or carbon credits for preserving their carbon-storing forests. The idea is to make the world's forests worth more alive than dead, thus giving developing nations a strong financial incentive to favour forest preservation over mining, grazing, or other less carbon-friendly land uses.

Think of it as the carrot side of the carrot-and-stick approach to carbon pricing.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Chaos in Copenhagen

They waited. Hundreds of them, standing out in the freezing cold. No lines, no instructions, no organization, just a mass of people standing outside the Bella Centre in Copenhagen waiting to get in.

They waited for nine hours before they were told to go away and come back tomorrow.

These were not protesters. These were delegates and official observers and press waiting to be accredited so they could attend the conference. They were invited to be there.

They were... upset.

(H/T to Halton Does Copenhagen)

Sorry, Rocco

You know I love you, man... but you lost me at "fire sale":

The latest contender for Toronto's mayoralty said he would whip the city's finances into shape by selling Toronto Hydro and other city assets if elected.

"I'm big, I'm bald and I've got bold ideas for this city," said Rocco Rossi, who until last week was the Liberal party's national director in Ottawa.

..."We're going to sell assets," Rossi told reporters. "We're going to start with Toronto Hydro."

Nope. Sorry. Been there, done that, didn't like it.

Happily, I don't live in Toronto.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Who Are You People?

Between the Copenhagen Conference and the so-called 'Climategate' emails, it appears that the population (or at least the volume) of climate change deniers on the internet has increased exponentially over the past few weeks.

Once relegated to conspiracy sites and the editorial pages of the National Post, these warriors of the web now descend like a plague of locusts any time an article or a blog post mentions climate change or global warming, drowning out any productive discussion with the same old tired, discredited theories.

But who are these people really, and what motivates them to argue such an irrational position so vehemently?

I use the term 'irrational' quite intentionally, and with the full expectation of having the locusts descend on this post. Like most of the rest of us, your average online climate change denier has absolutely no education or training in the relevant sciences. But while most of us accept the conclusions of the overwhelming majority of those who DO have such training and knowledge (not to mention certain unavoidable physical evidence), they choose to believe people who have obvious and overwhelming financial and ideological motivations to lie to them.

To me, that seems irrational.

Those employed or funded by the oil and coal industry, or companies whose profit margins would be hurt by action on climate change, all have rational reasons to sow the seeds of doubt - just as Big Tobacco had sound financial reasons for insisting that their product didn't really kill people. It's despicable, but it's logical.

What I still don't fully understand are the motivations of the seemingly ordinary Canadians and Americans who spend their days screeching online about Climategate and solar flares and how pleasant Canada will be when we can grow bananas here. I'm fairly certain they don't all work of ExxonMobil. But I could be wrong.

There does seem to be quite a bit of the paranoid anti-government sentiment of the American 'Tea Bagger' movement evident in the denier camp. But it seems to me that the intensity of their passion more closely resembles a religious delusion of the sort experienced by proponents of 'Creation Science'. They even use the same narrative as the Creationists: "Scientists believe in science the same way we believe in God, and since their belief contradicts ours, therefore the science must be questionable; therefore, the fact that it is accepted as the truth by just about everyone is proof of a vast conspiracy between 'intellectuals' and the government/athiests/socialists/whoever."

Both groups even have their own documentaries.

There is, however, one significant difference between Creationists and Deniers: creationism is almost entirely ideological. Nobody is making billions dissing Charles Darwin - certainly not Ben Stein. The Climate Change Denial PR machine, on the other hand, has some very, very wealthy backers with a vested interest in the outcome.

Still, it doesn't really explain why people without that financial motivation would take up the cause and so vigorously defend the interests of oil companies and strip miners in their spare time.

Rick Salutin has his own theory: "Politics makes people crazy."

You can already see this on the level of mundane electoral politics, and I'm not even talking about the pros – I mean regular citizens. Many people follow their party or cause the way they follow their favourite team: Their spirits rise and sink with each game. They think about it (party or team) before falling asleep and first thing when they awake. Maybe this comes from a need to feel part of something larger than one's circumscribed self. But it leads to weird behaviour. There's a reason that “fan” derives from fanatic.

Now extend onto less average terrain and you get the “truthers,” who say 9/11 was a U.S. government plot masked by myths of hijacked planes; and the “birthers,” who insist that Barack Obama was born in Kenya. I use both since they are taken to represent the left and the right. I think it's worth hearing their arguments but, when you do, you sense that nothing anyone says can shake them. This is symptomatic of non-medical craziness.

While there is certainly an argument to be made that most 'civilian' defenders of anthropogenic climate change are just as unmovable in their beliefs as those on the other side, I'm not convinced that you can equate their motivations. After all, when you compare the most unhinged worst-case scenario of the "warmers" (millions dead, millions more displaced, mass extinctions, drowned coastlines, etc.) with that of the "deniers" (my taxes will go up and the rich will become less rich for no good reason), it really hard to see how the latter can inspire the level of sound and fury we're seeing.

Crazy? I dunno. I think I'll stick with irrational.


Note: While I usually discourage the more lunatic avid denialists from commenting around here, since I've said so many disparaging things about them I figure it's only fair to give them free rein and let them respond - on this post only (not you, bocanut - your ass is still banned). However, in the interest of gathering data for my thesis, I would ask that you tell me a bit about your background and you motivations for posting before you make your comments. Who are you that I should believe you?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

About that report...

There is a vital Opposition motion before Parliament right now, in which the Liberal Party has demanded the release of all documents requested by the Afghanistan Committee "in their original and uncensored form".

One of those documents was read aloud by Gen. Natynczyk during his press conference yesterday. This single report, made by an anonymous section commander with no political axe to grind, has not only forced Natynczyk to completely reverse his (and therefore the government's) position that the person in question was not, in fact in Canadian custody and therefore didn't count - it actually vindicated Richard Colvin's testimony on several other points.

This passage struck me in particular:

"There were three individuals in a white van and they got a very weird feel from one of them. I had the interpreter along and he verified that an individual was in all probability enemy Taliban, due to his accent and his false story about being from Kandahar City."

Now, a soldier's life will quite often depend on acting on a "weird feel", and it may well be that the man in question was, in fact, Taliban - although even now that has not been made clear. But still, I would tend to think that if a "weird feeling" and an interpreter's assessment of someone's accent was all these guys were going on when they picked up some of these detainees, it would not be unreasonable to assume that they would come up with a fair number of false-positives.

This is actually something that Colvin has claimed:

In fact, Amrullah Saleh, chief of Afghanistan's National Directorate of Security, told Canadians most prisoners were later released – meaning they weren't likely high-value captures, according to the memo.

Mr. Saleh told Canadians that rank-and-file soldiers weren't very good at identifying the bad guys when rounding up suspects. “He suggested that, in general, conventional forces are not necessarily the best instrument for identifying high-value combatants … most of those detained by Canadian forces, he guessed, would subsequently have been released,” Mr. Colvin wrote in a memo.

There's nothing wrong with going on a gut feeling in a place like Afghanistan, of course. Better safe than sorry. And yet the government and the military generals are fighting even this obvious point, insisting that every single person picked up and handed over "posed a real threat to Afghans, and more than that, in some cases, had Canadian blood on their hands".

Clearly, if our soldiers are picking up people based on a "weird feel", it should be impossible for the military or the government to state with any assurance that they are all guilty. And yet they continue to do so.

The report also puts lie to the notion that this was an isolated incident:

"We then photographed the individual prior to handing him over to ensure that if the Afghan national police did assault him as it happened in the past, that we would have a visual record of his condition."

I had an interesting conversation with a Conservative friend a few nights ago. He's had a lifelong (if somewhat peripheral) involvement with the Canadian military, so of course he has opinions on all of this.

He doesn't see what the big deal is. Prisoners have always been abused and tortured and executed throughout the history of war, particularly by regimes as corrupt and uncivilized as that of Afghanistan. That's just the way it is, and civilians should get over their Pollyanna belief that these 'rules of war' actually apply in the real world.

(for the record, I don't think he's ever been in an actual battle)

This of course led to a philosophical argument on the nature and efficacy of war as a means of conflict resolution. But thinking back on it, I'm starting to believe that it's this sort of attitude that is really informing the intransigent position of the Conservative Government and people like General Hillier. They won't say it out loud, but you can hear it behind every sneering dismissal.

Apparently, human rights are for wimps.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

"Survival of the Fattest"

Wow. As a long time believer in 'art as visceral communication', I'm impressed.

From the artist:

The sculpture ’Survival of the Fattest’ is a symbol of the rich world’s (i.e. the fat woman, Justitia) self-complacent ‘righteousness’. With a pair of scales in her hand she sits on the back of starved African man (i.e. the third world), while pretending to do what is best for him.

Climate changes are caused by the western world, but the consequences hit the third world hardest. Even so, we are not willing to give up our way of life or make real changes. The poor countries are willing to do, comparatively, far more to lower CO2 emission than the western world. Still, the west all too often argues that they will have admissions and promises of further CO2 reductions from China, India, Russia and other countries that emit (and always have emitted) far less than the western world.

Monday, December 7, 2009

Copenhagen Conference Kicks Off With a Greenpeace Protest in Ottawa

I don't always agree with everything Greenpeace does, but you gotta love it when a protest makes it to the top of the news:

How did protesters scale Ottawa's Parliament Buildings?

OTTAWA — The RCMP are investigating how 19 Greenpeace protesters in blue jumpsuits and white climbing helmets were able to scale two buildings on Parliament Hill undetected and unveil huge banners from the roof.

It's believed the 14 protesters who climbed to the roof atop the West Block used scaffolding at the back of the building to gain access at about 7:30 a.m. Monday.

I do find it amusing that CTV is desperately trying to make the story about the security breach and the mechanics of how they got up there.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Clean, Green & Prosperous in Milton

I just got back from the "Clean, Green & Prosperous" meeting, which was hosted by our two young Liberal delegates to Copenhagen: Ashley Bigda and Matt Juniper.

It was a fun event, with two guest speakers and about 20 people attending. The presentations were interesting, although a lot of it was pretty familiar to anyone who has seen 'An Inconvenient Truth'. But the unfamiliar material was pretty shocking.

The first speaker was Lee Norton from The Climate Project Canada. Using the now familiar Al Gore PowerPoint format, he showed us some of the updated climate modelling that is both more precise and more ominous because it's taking into account feedback effects like reduced glare from polar ice and methane release from permafrost and now the arctic seabed. On the bright side, sulphur ajavascript:void(0)nd soot released into the atmosphere as plain old air pollution are having a slight cooling effect (great - smog will save us!)

The second speaker was Prof. Jay Malcolm from U. of T. He's an ecologist specializing in biodiversity, and he had some pretty disturbing things to say about exactly what effect even just a two or three degree global temperature increase would have on bioregions here in Ontario. The optimistic scenario would have southern Ontario looking like Georgia. The pessimistic scenario involves our climate changing too fast for plant and animal species to shift north, resulting in mass extinctions and the destruction of nearly all of our forests.

At that point, Matt and Ashley opened things up to the floor. It was a pretty lively discussion, with people talking about everything from local urban planning to green economic incentives to the relative effectiveness of traditional political engagement vs. environmental activism. Lots of smart ideas, lots of interesting perspectives.

It was really a terrific event, and I'm pretty sure everyone in that room will be following Matt and Ashley's Excellent Copenhagen Adventure very closely.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

ForestEthics Pays a Visit to Lisa Raitt

As a follow-up to their recent full page ad:

Hundreds of postcards sent to Raitt

Hundreds of Halton residents are calling on Halton MP Lisa Raitt to take a leadership role at the upcoming UN Climate Change Summit.

On Friday a dozen local citizens hand-delivered more than 830 postcards to Raitt’s constituency office in Milton urging her to take a stand on global warming and ensure clean energy for future generations.

The postcards were collected as part of ForestEthics’ ‘Your Vote, Their Future’ initiative, which encourages voters to push the federal government to tackle global warming.

“At doorsteps across Milton I’ve been hearing that people, in particular parents, are worried about what global warming could mean for them,” said Ian Carey, ForestEthics’ Halton outreach co-ordinator. “I have not heard a single person say they want more tar sands extracted and less action to tackle global warming, which is the current approach of the federal government.”

The UN Climate Change Summit will start this coming Monday in Copenhagen, Denmark.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

This is not my Canada

Respected British writer and activist George Monbiot has joined the pile-on of individuals, organizations and nations who are horrified by Canada's increasingly obstructionist approach on the climate change front.

So here I am, watching the astonishing spectacle of a beautiful, cultured nation turning itself into a corrupt petro-state. Canada is slipping down the development ladder, retreating from a complex, diverse economy towards dependence on a single primary resource, which happens to be the dirtiest commodity known to man. The price of this transition is the brutalisation of the country, and a government campaign against multilateralism as savage as any waged by George Bush.

Until now I believed that the nation that has done most to sabotage a new climate change agreement was the United States. I was wrong. The real villain is Canada. Unless we can stop it, the harm done by Canada in December 2009 will outweigh a century of good works.

I'm starting to understand how progressive Americans have been feeling for the past eight years. Stephen Harper has been in office for less than half that time and has already turned our country into an international embarrassment.

All of which makes me wonder: what do you do when the country you love, the country that you have been a proud citizen of all your life, starts becoming... something other? How long before all this stops being just about the actions of one Prime Minister and his government, and starts being about the choices made by the country itself?

I feel a little sick.

Ted Chudleigh on the HST: What a Difference a Year Makes

Halton MPP Ted Chudleigh was ejected - again - from the Ontario Legislature a couple of weeks ago for using unparliamentary language in criticizing the McGuinty government's plan to bring in a Harmonized Sales Tax (HST):

“This HST thing has been building,” said Chudleigh.

“They’re totally misrepresenting this. They’re talking about this bill being revenue neutral and what a good thing it is for the people of Ontario. It does have some merits, as far as business is concerned, which we are very aware of, but it is not a revenue neutral bill. It’s a $3-billion tax grab. It’s going to take a lot of money out of people’s pockets at a time when the province is still in desperate straits.”

But is it possible that, like many of his fellow Conservatives, Mr. Chudleigh might have been for the HST before he was against it?

Quick, Sherman, into the Wayback Machine!

"Taxing businesses for their input costs is also a negative thing to do in an economy. It would be far better if we could find a way to harmonize the PST with the GST." (October 2, 2008 - Legislative Assembly Hansard)