Friday, November 30, 2007

Layton Finds His Conscience?

The Canadian Press story mostly discusses Dion and the Liberals' evolution on C-6 (veiled voting legislation). But it ends with this little nugget:

New Democrat Paul Dewar says the party will not support the bill as written.

A version of the same story from several hours ago, however, gives a slightly different account of the NDP position:

The government bill is likely to pass, however, with NDP support.

Looks like the NDP position has evolved over the afternoon. Half a clap to Jack Layton for doing what was, given the deficiencies of the bill, obviously the right thing. C-6 should fall now. I imagine somebody looked at internal polls or applied some logic to the legislation and realized that there is no point making someone unveil if you are not going to demand photo ID. Its nice to see it that, in Canada, Muslim bashing isn't always a political plus.


Mulroney's been caught in another one! Specifically, the Registrar of Lobbyists is trying to figure out whether his discussions with industry minister Maxime Bernier re Quebecor and the opening of the wireless industry to competition constituted illegal lobbying. You see, at the time, Mulroney was NOT registered as a lobbyist and

"Secret lobbying is a recipe for corruption, waste and abuse of the public interest," [said Duff Conacher, of the public ethics advocacy group Democracy Watch].

Corruption, baby! Corrrrrrrrrrrruption!!! Its rank odor pierces the cold Autumn air. An investigation is surely in order and, indeed, The Office of the Registrar of Lobbyists may soon launch one.

PS. What happened to the Tory agenda? Has anyone seen it? Is that it, sad thing, plastered flat under the mud and goo, and covered in Mulroney fleas? I hear the Harper Tories are down to hassling Muslim women again. How proud they make me as a Canadian!

PPS. Is there a non-racist term for "tar-baby" that I can use in these posts?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

And He Was Lazy Too

Karlheinz Schreiber surprised a Parliamentary committee Thursday by saying the $300,000 he paid to Brian Mulroney was supposed to be $500,000, but the former prime minister didn't do the work that was expected of him.

Its easy to sympathize with Mr. Schreiber. In the 1980s, Canadians hired Mr. Mulroney with the expectation that he would work to strengthen the nation. Instead he spent ten years rolling the dice with it.

From Rock God To Planetary Protector!

SYDNEY, Australia - Peter Garrett - the towering, baldheaded former singer of the disbanded Australian rock group Midnight Oil - continued his long, strange tour from pop star to politician Thursday when he was named Australia's environment minister.

Actually, it looks like Peter gets about half the ministry, as his duties re climate change policy will be shared with senator Peny Wong. This might have something to do with a couple of gaffes Peter made during the campaign, notably raising

...the prospect that Labor would not keep its promises in a "jocular" conversation with a radio presenter.

A long, strange trip indeed for Mr. Garrett. Let me end with a particularly apropos Chinese proverb: Experience is a comb which nature gives to men when they are bald.

Who The Heck Is Roger Pielke Sr.?

Roger Pielke Sr. does not like to call himself a global warming denier, believing rather that CO2 is merely one of the forcings (even merely one of the human forcings) that are having an effect on recent increases in the global mean temperature, which beliefs put him within but at the conservative edge of the international consensus on the issue.

Until recently, however, Pielke Sr. ran a weblog heavily frequented by climate change deniers called "Climate Science", in which he offered his comments on recently released papers, his own and those of other researchers, pertaining to the various aspects of, well, climate science.

This site was discontinued in early September but, and here is the point of the post, it has now returned as an "information service" (comments section closed). Whatever your position on these issues, I would heartily recommend frequent visits. Pielke's personal obsessions aside, there is probably no better or more inclusive on-line source of links to/information about new papers, which are often extremely difficult to track down otherwise.

In his latest post, Pielke discusses some of the projects he and his research team have been working on lately, including:

...a preliminary poll of climate scientists, we have found that a significant minority disagree with the 2007 IPCC conclusions, either concluding that is it too conservative with respect to the risk of human-CO2 caused climate change, or overstates the relative role of this specific climate forcing.

I wrote about this survey here, where I took issue with the way Pielke and his co-authors claimed their findings demonstrated that the "science was not settled". If I were to give my own interpretation of the significance of their findings, I would say they show that:

1) within the community of climate scientists, there are no pure deniers.
2) while a small minority of climate scientists believe that the IPCC conclusions "overstate the risk" of AGW, about 75 per cent believe that the effects are going to be at least as bad as the IPCC position.

...which is the sound of settled science to me.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Agatha Christie, Racist? You Gotta Be Kidding Me!

That was my first thought when I read that officials in Lakota, Ohio had cancelled a high-school production of Agatha Christie's "Ten Little Indians" (also known as "And Then There Were None") because its original name turned out to be "Ten Little Niggers" and its original setting "Nigger Island". In fact I suspected some kind of PC hoax, but no, when you do a quick wiki search, you find that indeed the novel on which the play was based was:

...first published in the UK by the Collins Crime Club in November 1939 under the title of Ten Little Niggers [1] and in US by Dodd, Mead and Company in 1940 under the title of And Then There Were None.

Not only that:

As the years passed by and gradually went out of style, many of the earlier remarks were edited from [Agatha Christie's] mysteries and more acceptable passages used to replace them.

I should say that Christie wrote more than 80 detective novels in her long career, and I must have read about 50 of them from between the time I was 15 to the time I moved out of the house (mom and I used to buy them at the local book exchange and swap them back and forth). I don't remember anything at all racist in them, but perhaps I was getting the later, cleaned-up editions. Interestingly enough (maybe), the same process of retroactive censorship was applied to The Hardy Boys series. The first books (about pre 1960, lets say) contained language similar to Christie's, which got expunged from succeeding editions. I also remember that in one of them a dog belonging to the villain is shot. Happily, in later versions, the dog is allowed to run free.

Looking back on some of the other material that I encountered as a child, I kind of sensed that the underlying Colonial politics of Babar were pretty doubtful, and my first encounter of the Tin Tin stories were in their serialized forms in kids magazines, so I don't know if these were the more or less prettied up versions that followed. I do remember reading "Tin Tin in the Congo", though, which was one of the books in that series that got creator Georges Prosper Remi (Hergé) in a certain amount of trouble recently. I don't remember thinking twice about it at all.

And, as for the Lakota Board's decision, well I suppose its up to them. But I'm not sure how the material can still be offensive if performed under one of the newer titles. And while Christie's novels are not high literature, they are hardly disposable public art, either. For example, "The Murder of Roger Ackroyd" is structurally innovative and heavily influenced the mystery genre, although when originally published many people felt the twist ending was a cheat. If the Jewish community has historically been able to get their heads around Antonio in The Merchant of Venice or Barabas in The Jew Of Malta, then you would think the folks at Lakota would be able to handle a bowdlerized version of Agatha Christie.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The Jackson 5 Are Back

...with Michael, and the rumor is they'll be touring with Boyz II Men, because Michael thought they were some kind of delivery service.

A clip from when Michael was a little boy (and before he started collecting them).

Elizabeth May And The Nazis, Redux

Elizabeth May has once again compared Harper to Neville Chamberlain for his behavior at the recent Commonwealth summit:

There are hardly words for the scandal this represents. For the dreadful irresponsibility of the Harper government. George Monbiot said that the triumvirate of Harper and Bush and Howard blocking action on climate represented a moral failure more culpable than that of Neville Chamberlain.

And of course cranky Steve Janke is all upset and demanding that opposition leader Stephan Dion denounce Ms. May:

...if he doesn't, then he's guilty of failing the same key leadership test not once, but twice.

But before Steve gets his shorts in a knot (if they aren't permanently in that condition already) lets all remember how this played out the first time back in May. Several writers, including Aaron Wherry, Philippe Gohier, and myself took a spin through the old Hansards and found any number of Neville Chamberlain vs. The Nazis references, made by members of all the major parties. I wrote:

...I can state with near certainty that there has been at least one Neville Chamberlain analogy made in every parliamentary session back to at least 1998.

In fact, my favorite one occurred on December 14th, 1995, when Reform Party Leader and spiritual godfather to today's CPoC Preston Manning announced:

Mr. Speaker, the minister provides no rational answer because there is no rational answer.

Any government that can talk itself into believing that a separatist veto over the Constitution of Canada helps national unity can talk itself into any other kind of concession. It is the Neville Chamberlain approach to constitutional negotiation: unity in our time through irrational concessions...

I am all for laying off the Nazi analogies, not because I think they are inappropriate but because I think they're getting a little bit stale. There must be some equally hideous if perhaps slightly less famous totalitarian state/slash movement that Harper could be said to be (analogously) aiding and abetting with his climate change policy.

(Although, come to think of it, I myself am actively campaigning to have the term "climate change denier" replaced with "warmocaust collusionist", because I think that one really lays the holocaust link on thick. So I guess I am not entirely innocent either.).

Monday, November 26, 2007

Now That's Not Something You See Everyday

Found a lovely blog by the name of Oddee: A Blog of the Oddities Of Our World which had this post on "7 Incredible Natural Phenomena you've never seen", one of which turned out to be the the tree climbing goats of Morocco. (Actually, I had seen some of these guys before, although I might have been stoned at the time (or it might have been on tv).)
Another of the 7 is shown in the Youtube clip below. The Pororoca happens twice a year (in February and March) when the tidal bore at the mouth of the Amazon drives the "world's longest wave" upriver for miles, destroying trees, houses, and anything else in its path. Naturally, some people feel a need to surf it.
Another of my favorite posts on the site concerns "10 Real Life Superheros", and includes a long quote by a guy that goes by the name of "Mr Silent".

Why Don't They Just Make Sushi?

Aquaculture off the Northern Irish coast has been devastated by a swarm of jellyfish that left 100,000 salmon dead. Stock worth £1million were suffocated in their cages by the swarm, which is estimated to have covered 25 square kilometres of sea and been up to 10 metres thic...Some reports say there may have been billions of the mauve stinger jellyfish.

Another effect of AGW? I can just hear Lomborg now! "Adapt, you assholes! Adapt!"

PS. The above is indeed a sample of "Kurage" (jellyfish) sushi.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Poll By The Pollster Nobody Believes, For the Newspaper Nobody Reads

Looks like CanWest has quit trying to stuff their latest Federal Poll:

"The poll said that the Tories had dropped to 39 per cent support - a decline of three percentage points - while the Liberals had been bumped up one point to 29 per cent of decided voters. The NDP held steady at 15 per cent support while the Green Party went up slightly by one point to eight per cent of the vote."

Of course the support levels here are freakish, not supported by any of the respectable polling companies (which put the Libs higher and the Cons lower), and most likely a result of Ipsos being paid monkey-boys for the Natty Post.. But the Conservative plunge in support is significant. Read how Ipsos claims it has nothing to do with Mulroney crawling out of the sewer, waving his dirt stained dick at the nation, and implicating Harper.

(Update: Steve V thinks the decline is a simple function of Ipsos having readjusted its assumptions so as not to appear too far out of line with the other pollsters. He may be right. In any case, he explains his reasoning here.)

The World's Greatest Bald Guy

A living refutation of Bob Marley's belief that "Jah would never give the power to a bald head" and, hopefully, Australia's next minister of the Environment.

(PS. He dances real nice, too.)

Bird Friendly Buildings

Something I was only vaguely aware of until I read this article, and something Torontonians can be proud of, is the city's bird friendly development guidelines, which consist of a number of simple suggestions builders and building managers can follow to cut down on the truly appalling number of birds killed each year (in the 100s of millions, continent-wide) by flying into glass fronted office towers.

A number of these suggestions can be applied at home as well. Back on the West coast we would lose a couple of hummingbirds a year, usually during mating season when they would get into fights around the feeders, until we took a little bit of white-tape and made a simple cross-hatched pattern with it on the outside of our kitchen windows. (You can also buy bird-shaped stick-ons, if you are worried about aesthetics. This way they don't mistake reflected trees for actual ones.

And the type of feeder that you suction-cup to your window also seems like a really bad idea.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Richard Warman Had Nothing To Do With It

Specifically, Richard Warman had nothing to do with the human rights complaint launched against the Christian Heritage Party and its leader, Ron Gray.

This time its an Edmonton fellow named Rob Wells. He has filed three complaints against Gray and his party, two of them relating to the re posting of an article written by Jon Dougherty and entitled "Report: Pedophilia more common among 'gays' - Research purports to reveal 'dark side' of homosexual culture".

Gray's defense? "I would contend....that Christians are the best friends homosexuals have because we want to see them delivered from an addiction that will shorten their lives." Oh you lucky homos!

Sorry for the brevity. I'm still trying to stuff my manuscript full of words. Turns out I've already got one publisher interested, but I need to make the text as long as possible by Dec 1. In other news, the Tories are throwing another sop to their SoCon base by considering the resurrection of the Unborn Victims Act. An internal memo suggests that

...the bill will not be similarly blocked [by the Harper Government] and Conservative members will be permitted a free vote on the issue in the House of Commons.

Abortion is specifically exempted from consideration, but I would still like to hear from the legal community as to whether the new bill constitutes the thin edge of the wedge of bestowing "person hood" on the fetus before I would consider getting behind it.

The Upside Of Floorcrossing

Let them prosecute this dirty Tory to the full extent of the law!


Friday, November 23, 2007

It Can't Be Both, Fellas

What the Regina Leader says:

Premier Brad Wall poses with a stuffed wolf (coyote) Thursday left in his new office.

Picture of Thing on Brad Wall's wall

Picture of Coyote

Picture of a (Gray) Wolf

Word to the staff at the Regina Leader. The thing on the wall is a wolf, probably a gray wolf. You can tell it from a coyote (or prairie wolf) by 1) the shaggier fur, 2) the smaller, rounder ears (that's the real give away), and 3) the size: given the background, that beast is three feet long plus, much too big for a coyote.

You shouldn't have to have a city boy point all this stuff out to you.

Alberta Bags A Big One

Meet Eotriceratops xerinsularis, an early and larger version of Triceratops recently dug out of the ground near the Horseshoe Canyon formation at Dry Island Buffalo Jump, about 70 kilometres northwest of Drumheller. Apparently, the skull is a "monster" at three metres long, or the size of Smart Car. I'd be interested in hearing the precise measurements. As far as I know, the record for "biggest dinosaur skull" goes to Pentaceratops, one specimen of which reached a little under ten feet in length. I suppose if this was bigger you'd hear about it.
Now on display at Drumheller's Tyrell museum.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

A Great Victory

"For the independence of the country, saying no to the Americans on the war was a great moment for Canada," Chretien says.

It was, and Stephen Harper and Ralph Klein and Mike Harris and every Conservative in the country should be force-marched to Montreal (or wherever he keeps these days) and be made to kiss his ass.
Repeat after me: they're our neighbor, not our nation; they're our neighbor, not our nation; they're our...

Is The Science Settled Or What? Notes On A New Survey

A new survey has appeared which claims to show that the notion of a "consensus" existing among climate scientists re the causes/effects of Global Warming is incorrect. This claim seems to be misleading.

The survey, conducted by Fergus Brown, James Annan (FRCGC), and Roger Pielke Sr. (University of Colorado), is entitled "Is there agreement amongst climate scientists on the IPCC AR4 WG1?". In their abstract, they put their findings this way:

An online poll of scientists' opinions shows that, while there is strong agreement on the important role of anthropogenically-caused radiative forcing of CO2 in climate change and with the largest group supporting the IPCC report, there is not a universal agreement among climate scientists about climate science as represented in the IPCC's WG1. Claims that the human input of CO2 is not an important climate forcing, or that 'the science is more or less settled', are found to be false in our survey.

The problem I have has to do with how the phrase "the science is settled" gets employed within the survey as opposed to how it has been typically been employed in the broader debate over climate change. Our three authors state their result in general terms as follows:

No scientists were willing to admit to the statement that global warming is a fabrication and that human activity is not having any significant effect on climate [0%]. In total, 18% responded that the IPCC AR4 WG1 Report probably overstates the role of CO2, or exaggerates the risks implied by focusing on CO2-dominated Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW), to a greater or lesser degree. A further 17% expressed the opinion that the Report probably underestimates or seriously underestimates the consequences of anthropogenic CO2-induced AGW and that the associated risks are more severe than is implied in the report. The remaining 65% expressed some degree of concurrence with the report's science basis, of which the largest group [47% of all respondents] selected option 5. The exact response rates are given in Figure 1.

Well, okay, but I would argue that "the science is settled", as it gets deployed in the broader discussion, means something like it is settled that 1) the planet is warming, 2) it is warming because of rising C02 levels which 3) are primarily caused by human activity. In other words, within the broader context, if

Claims that the human input of CO2 is not an important climate forcing...are found to be false in our survey.

...then the science is more or less settled, and the rest is quibbling over detail.

And using my three part explication of "It is agreed that the science is settled." (making reference to the authors' Histogram of Responses), 77% of the survey respondents agree with all three of its parts (choose response number 5 or higher as being representative of their views). I don't know what exactly it takes to make a "consensus", but if over three out of every four climate scientists concur, I would argue that you have a consensus.

And of course the issue is that as the results of this survey play out in the larger political arena, the authors' claim that the "science is not settled" will be interpreted to be a refutation of the claim that climate scientists do not agree with the three elements of my definition (or something more like my definition than theirs).

Which is why, I would argue, that it is already getting quoted with approval in places like this.

(PS. James Annan has noted, in a personal communication that,

Of course the "science is settled" phase has a bit of a life of its own (settled for what purposes? I don't see climate scientists resigning in droves to do other things). For that very reason, I wouldn't have chosen this wording myself, but I didn't think it sufficiently wrong to veto it.

Well, the wording chosen has given hope and comfort to some in the denialist movement...)

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Biggest Bug Ever!

Damn that's awesome!

British scientists have stumbled across a fossilized claw, part of an ancient sea scorpion, that is of such large proportion it would make the entire creature the biggest bug ever.

How big? Bigger than you, and at 8 feet (2.4 metres) long as big as some Smart cars.

Big enough to make a huge motherin' scorpion lollipop.

(PS. A confession. In monster movies I always cheer for the giant bugs.)

The Wrong Trousers, The Right Trousers, Or No Trousers At All

The much talked-of paper by Gwin Pryns and Steve Rayner, The Wrong Trousers: Radically Rethinking Climate Policy , in which they urge dumping the Kyoto protocol, has appeared in its full form just in time for the Bali Summit. Discussion of the alternative strategy presented in an earlier version of their paper, the "silver buckshot approach" (or the "do nothing and pray for a market miracle approach") has been offered here and here, among other places.

These are a few of my own comments on the final product.

Prins and Rayner argue that the Kyoto Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), which is a GHG emissions trading program designed to encourage sustainable development in countries such as India and China, should be dismantled and replaced with a series of "grass roots"--national or sub-national--cap and trade schemes, which may or may not merge together in the fullness of time to become one big global emissions market. The problems they identify with the CDM are real and have been pointed out before, including by me, here. However, a couple of things.

Firstly, whether the issues with the CDM require that it be scrapped, or whether a "mend it, don't end it" response is more in line with the magnitude of its defects, is a point open to debate. Since most of the abuses involve nation states taking advantage of the "rules of the game", why not adjust these rules to tighten up some of the loop-holes rather than throw the whole thing out? (especially since, in practical terms, carbon trading through the CDM has become a multi-billion dollar industry and ain't going anywhere anyhow)

Secondly, one of the problems with the CDM--finding legitimate projects to invest in--is writ larger the smaller the scale. Looking close to home, how many farmers interested in adopting no-till methods can you find in Canada, for example? Enough that every emitter can meet their targets? Probably not, which is why many Canadian companies have lobbied our federal government to allow investments overseas as a means of upholding their commitments under any nationally adopted carbon regulation system--to allow investment in the CDM or something very much like it, in other words. It is entirely unclear whether replacing the international CDM with a bunch of tinier, national, state or provincial CDMs, will lead to a better result and, should the results prove unsatisfactory on the regional level, is it not a good thing to have the existing international carbon market already sitting there for these various smaller sub-markets to integrate into?

Thirdly, Prins and Rayner argue for a greater emphasis on adaption over mitigation measures. It sounds like they want the U.S. to commit about $80 billion a year on things like lofting giant mirrors into space or inhibiting coastal development. Beyond the sheer unlikelihood of some of the projects--if you don't want people living close to the sea-shore, where will you send the millions of them that are already there? for example--the question arises: how are you going to pay for that? The odds of any government being able to do the kind of things Prins and Rayner seem to like (the space mirrors) without doing the kind of things they don't like (instituting a carbon tax) seem pretty minimal.

Finally, a new paper by Richard Eckaus, economics professor emeritus at MIT, seems to suggest that Prins and Rayners emphasis on technology and R&D (over regulation) is wrong headed:

"We found that, in spite of increasing energy prices, technological change has not been responsible for much reduction in energy use, and that it may have had the reverse effect," said Eckaus...

The good professor has been kind enough to send me a .pdf of "The implications of the historical decline in US energy intensityfor long-run CO2 emission projections". However, it involves some very complex economic modelling and, given my one quick reading, I would be lying if I said I could follow his argument at any length. However, in Mr. Eckaus opinion:

"Putting your money on technological change is risky," Eckaus said. "If you want to have less energy use from fossil fuels and less carbon emissions, society is going to have to pay for it."

Just for kicks, here is Mr. Eickhaus Unemployment Effects of Climate Policy, wherein he suggests that a policy of wage subsidies can offset many of the negative economic effects of limiting greenhouse gas emissions.

And, for reading this far, you get a picture of someone who is definitely not wearing trousers.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Maybe There Is A God

...and if He has chosen to arrange His Kingdom such that there exists a secret correspondence between my two favorite things, well then, I suspect He would really dig me.

For Cryptozoology Fans

...I offer the blog of the CFZ (Center for Fortean Zoology) Guyana Expedition, which chronicles the adventures of a small group of explorers sent into the jungles of Guyana to find evidence of Giant Anacondas, the Didi (a bigfoot like hominid), and the Water Tiger, which may be an aggressive and large (6 ft plus) variety of otter. So for they are finding it dreadfully hot, and have discovered nothing but a possibly new species of green scorpion.

The CFZ main site is here.

Monday, November 19, 2007

National Post Wants to Aid And Abet Tory Cover-Up

Kelly McParland, their politics editor, says the Liberals want the Harper/Mulroney Scandalgate inquiry to: able to scrounge around at will in the PMO’s mailbox in hopes of finding something incriminating the Liberals can use against the Harper government.

...which is not true. Dion's letter, setting out the boundaries he would like to see set around the inquiry, makes very specific requests of Professor David Johnson, and I suspect that these fall well within what Bob Rae would consider a "focused mandate". So there is no point trying to use Mr. Rae's words to suggest a "split" within the Liberal party as to how much of the truth of the Mulroney/Schreiber/Harper affair it is fit to uncover. It should all come out, no matter what Mr. Schreiber's motives might be. Justice demands it.

Enjoy The Warm Weather, Blame China, Wait For The Mass Die Off

That seems to be the solution to Global Warming proffered by conservative Columnist Charles Moore of the Halifax Daily News:

Here's an inconvenient truth, one that seems to be largely ignored or downplayed, perhaps due to political correctness - an estimated five to 10 per cent of human beings who ever lived in all of history are alive right now. Global population has more than quadrupled in the 108 years since 1900 from 1.5 billion then to 6.6 billion-plus in 2007, and is projected to be nine billion by 2050, with more than three billion in India and China alone - greater than the entire world population in 1950. There are now substantially more than twice the number of people sharing the planet and its resources than there were when I was born 56 years ago, all breathing and eating and excreting and burning and generally making pigs of ourselves in ways small and large.

In short, we have outstripped the planet's carrying and absorbing capacity, and aside from a catastrophic population die-off (which can't be ruled out due to flu mutations and other superbugs, or famine due to global crop failures), there's not much that can be done about global warming and other environmental nemeses that could hit the tipping point at any moment. Might as well enjoy the unseasonably nice weather while we can.

Of course, while our generation gets the nice weather, the next one down the road gets the ridiculously extreme weather and Charles, at 56 years old, probably clocks out just in time to miss it. Not that Mr. Moore doesn't worry about the children, because while maybe we can't prevent future generations from dying in their millions, we can make sure they grow up with a totally negative attitude towards witches:

Sorcery is specifically referenced in the Bible as a violation of divine law (eg: Deuteronomy 18:10-12; Galatians 5:20). The Potter books make no such judgment. Evil is identified in relative rather than absolute terms, with witchcraft touted as a force for promoting good - radically contradicting Christian belief.


...from a Christian perspective, children immersing themselves in Harry Potter are being desensitized to the dangers of spiritual practices explicitly condemned and forbidden by Holy Scripture.

While our theoretical Canadian of tomorrow is eating their belt to avoid starvation, and hacking up a lung due to some new super disease, they can at least take comfort in the fact that, thanks to the efforts of Mr. Moore and the like minded, they were never able to get their hands on a copy of Harry Potter and the Sorcerers Stone.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Well Of Course

...any public inquiry into the Brian Mulroney-Karlheinz Schreiber affair should examine the actions by Prime Minister Stephen Harper's Conservative government. What did Harper know about those letters and when, and if he knew nothing, why is that too?

Dion lays it out in a letter to David Johnston, the academic appointed to review the affair. The inquiry should cover, among other things:

The management, follow-up and response to correspondence sent by Schreiber to Harper, his staff and members of his cabinet;

The Department of Justice's decision not to proceed with an internal examination into the possibility of setting aside the Government of Canada's settlement with Mulroney;

The possibility of conversations or correspondence between the current Prime Minister or any of his staff or cabinet ministers, and Mulroney or his representatives, relating to this file; and

The possible politicization of the process surrounding Mr. Schreiber's extradition case.

Damn,Dion gives good letter. Maybe he should text his questions to the House during QP and have Iggy read them out.

Meanwhile, the consensus among Blogging Tories seems to be to aid and abet a Tory cover-up. But, luckily, Brian Mulroney won't let it happen. Harper's dissed him and now he's feeling vindictive. He wants a full inquiry and nothing less will do. And when Mulroney perceives a slight, he never, ever lets it go. By the end of this affair Conservatives will hate him as much as everyone else.

Canada: Toronto Plus!

My contribution to the Natty Post's quest for a new Canadian motto. Send yours to Remember, all submissions must be six words or less.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

In Search Of "The Center" In The Climate Change Debate

Is Lomborg a tool of the Right? Does Newt Gingrich deserve Big Kudos or at most a pat on the bum for acknowledging the existence of AGW? Gristmiller Dave Roberts and N.Y. Times Journalist hash it out.

Sorry, I'm sport's bar blogging and trying to add words to my novel. That's it for now. (Good read through the third link, though)

Will Tories Attempt A Cover-up?

From this morning's Star:

The federal Conservative government's decision to grant Karlheinz Schreiber a two-week reprieve from extradition amounts to little more than political chest-thumping, the controversial German-Canadian businessman said yesterday.

And if he is extradited to Germany where he faces criminal charges, Schreiber said he would be hard-pressed to co-operate with a public inquiry into his business dealings with Brian Mulroney.

...which is fine, if Harper et al want the whole affair to drag on forever. What kind of inquiry can you have without Schreiber's cooperation? And how d'you think Mulroney will feel if he is cheated of his day on the stand? Who knows what dirty Tory secrets he is still in a position to reveal. And d'you think the opposition parties will stop pounding on this day after endless day in the HOC until the Tories yearn for the home, for the corn-fields of Northern Alberta?

No. My advice is to pull the band-aid off now, take your lumps, and try to salvage something of an agenda that has been derailed and stomped into mush by this latest scandal.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Conservatives Too Chickenshit To Make Bill Killing Gun Registry A Matter Of Confidence

Political scientist David McGrane of the University of Saskatchewan says this suggests that the government is offering a sop to its western power base, but isn’t prepared to stake its political life on it.

“If they aren’t going to make it a confidence vote, they’re clearly not serious about it,” he said.

Say, I thought Stephen Harper was a strategic genius who was gonna rule like he had a majority. What bills exactly is he prepared to fall upon, if not this one?

Buk Buk Ba-Fucking-Caw, Tory sissies! What you waiting for? Your mamas? What if your mama's chickenshit too?

Shunka Wha??? A Cryptid Rediscovered

The best part of reading Cryptomundo is learning about some of the second string cryptids that, while they may not be as spectacular as Nessie or The Ropen, are perhaps more likely to be derived from unknown, real world animals.

One of these is surely the Shunka Warak’in. From wiki:

The Shunka Warakin (also shunka warak'in) is an American beast from cryptozoology and mythology that is said to resemble a wolf, a hyena or both. The first discussion and description of this cryptid was by Loren Coleman in his columns and articles throughout the 1980s, especially as formally recorded in Cryptozoology A to Z. It was reported from the Great Plains during pioneer days, by both white settlers and Native American tribes. The sightings have become much less common in the last century, causing most supporters to suggest the animal is now extinct.

Cryptozoologists have suggested several possibilities for the identity of The Shunka Warak'in, including hyaenodons, dire wolves, members of the subfamily Borophaginae (hyena-like dogs), or Chasmaporthetes (the only true American hyena). Unfortunately, the best piece of evidence for the existence of the animal, a wolf-like creature shot in 1886 by a Mormon settler named Israel Ammon (I.A.) Hutchins and then mounted (see picture above), disappeared shortly thereafter and was lost to Science.

Until now:

Now after 121 years, the taxidermy mount has been found. The creature that once spooked some of the Madison Valley’s first white settlers has come home.

“I never doubted the story,” said Jack Kirby, grandson of the settler who shot the animal.

After reading a Halloween-themed Chronicle story about local legends of strange creatures, Kirby tracked down the mount in the Idaho Museum of Natural History in Pocatello.

As several commentators at Cryptomundo noted, the animal appears quite wolf like, and one wondered if the original taxidermist might have manipulated the dead animal to make its mount look more spectacular, which prompted this response from Huntress re 19th century taxidermy practices:

Some or all of the skeleton could be under the skin [rather than the mount being skin stretched over a frame].

Smaller mammals were re articulated and covered in clay or wood wool was wrapped around forming the muscle structure. If the taxidermist was not very talented the underlying form could be misshapen.

The skull is almost certainly original and they can hopefully extract DNA from a tooth.

Caution should be taken by anyone handling these old mounts. Gloves and a respirator are recommended due to the arsenic used to tan hides back then.

Apparently, a lab in Maine has already agreed to do DNA testing.

Finally Libs Show A Little Balls On Veiled Voting

Liberal MP John Godfrey:

... pointed out that the bill would continue to allow voters options for identifying themselves: provide one piece of photo identification or two pieces of non-photo identification or have someone swear an oath as to one's identity.

"Until you have a universal piece of photo identification for all Canadian citizens, regardless, and require it for every voter, then there is absolutely no more reason to present your face (at the polling station) than your belly button."

Well exactly. After some pretty disgraceful behavior around this issue previously (which Godfrey about half admits was an attempt to pander during the Quebec by-elections), its nice to see that the Libs, as Adam Radwanski puts it, are losing the fear of their own shadows.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Majority of Canadians Want Mulroney Probed

And this is the probe most would prefer to see used.

The Dangerous Allure Of The Pot Bellied Pig

Reading this story, about two stray pot-bellied pigs that wreaked havoc in an Idaho town, reminded me of the sad situation with respect to these animals that currently exists on Vancouver Island and the lower mainland of British Columbia.

Basically, the Vietnamese Pot-Belly became hugely trendy in these areas during the late 1980s and early 1990s. Great claims were made for their intelligence, their friendliness, and how they were more like a "member of the family" than a mere pet. What people did not understand was that, despite their diminutive size, they ate like pigs. Nowadays you can't give the damn things away, and in fact there exist pig adoption agencies for handling unwanted animals.

And while in some cases pig-owners adapted to the animals' requirements, or turned them over to a shelter, in too many cases they became pork steaks or, worse, were set free in the forests beyond town. As a result bands of feral pigs now roam the West Coast foothills, and are known to descend at night into the cities and terrorize the local pet population. Occasionally young children disappear, and when local search parties are formed these invariably find nothing, for the pigs have grown cunning from their time in the wild, and know the ways of men from their time in captivity. There are even rumours of children being captured and adopted into the pot-bellied nation, to be seen years later running around naked, wallowing in slop, and picking through garbage.

(See: the pig-boy of Naden Harbor).

Best to get a poodle, in other words.

We're Number 2

The good Tamino has put his math skills to work in a attempt to determine ahead of time where 2007 will fall on the list of "hottest years in the modern record". His conclusion?

So far this climatological year the average temperature anomaly is 0.6055, which would also put 2007 in 2nd place. If the anomaly for November is greater than 0.2, then 2007 will indeed edge out 2002 for 2nd place. This too is very likely to occur. The last time any month showed an anomaly less than or equal to 0.2 was December of 2000; since then we’ve had 82 months in a row hotter than that.

Busy day today, so this may be it.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

SES Speaks!

Federal Deadlock.

CP: 35%
Lib: 34%

Everyone else noise.

Yo! Blogging Tories! Staples! Come on over and suck on my BigCityLiberal!

Evolutionary Psychology Or How To Get Paid To Watch Strippers

Nice series of short take-downs of Evolutionary Psychology from the "women of Slate magazine". Meghan O'Rourke puts her finger on it when she says:

The trouble with evolutionary psychology is that there are no (or few) ways of testing its theorems. With enough ingenuity on the part of the researcher, nearly any finding about gender can be twisted to suit the evolutionary lens.

Incidentally, here's a new bit of research that puts paid to the notion of women as the more talkative sex. A good portion of the evo psych edifice is starting to look bit crumbly.

My title, by the way, refers to this.

Tory Support Stuck In Mud, Mulroney Fallout Yet To Come

Yet another poll, if we need one, to show that money can't buy me love for the Stephen Harper Tories:

The Canadian Press Harris-Decima survey put popular support for the Tories at 33 per cent - well short of majority government territory - with the Liberals at 29 per cent.

The NDP was at 17 per cent, the Green party at 12 and the Bloc Quebecois at eight.

(Note that the NDP is back in third place according to this one)

My favorite line in the survey, from Harris-Decima President Bruce Anderson:

"It'll be a while before we understand how many people are paying attention to this [Mulroney investigation] story, to what degree . . . the revelations and allegations raise concerns about the Conservative party and therefore render this issue a bit of weight around the Conservatives."

Believe me, they're paying attention. The name "Mulroney" makes Canadians sit up and look for pointy objects to stab things with, and I put the bemused response from various Blogging Tories down to their excessive youth. Presumably these guys were sucking mamas tit back in the late 80s when Lyin' Brian nearly drove this nation over a cliff. Despite opinion in elite Conservative circles, Canada hates this guy and, bitching aside, its good politics to tie him like an anchor (or a noose) around Harper's neck.

Thank you, Brian Mulroney, for existing.

PS By the way, you want a nice substantive tie between Mulroney and Harper? Here it is.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Flailing Like Angry Midget Fails To Lift Layton's NDP

You look at Jack Layton and are reminded of a steam kettle with its spout blocked: something very hot and under extreme pressure, waiting to explode...except that the kettle is a little taller.
But it looks like his "perpetually outraged" schtick isn't working even with NDP supporters, because it looks like, in directing that anger at the Liberals, he has chosen the wrong target. From the guts of the new Strategic Council poll:

The poll confirms previous findings that the Liberals are the natural beneficiaries when the Conservatives hit a bump in the road – the Liberals have made some modest gains at the expense of the NDP. Clearly, the Liberals have an opportunity to consolidate their position as the anti-Harper default party. The NDP should be concerned about how to position itself as the Liberals go on the offense in attacking the Government – its numbers are down 7 points from 19% in June to 12% now. Our August poll found that NDP voters are the most virulent anti-Harper segment in the country and would be inclined to move to the Liberals if they had opportunity to defeat the Harper Government.

If your supporters hate the government in power, why attack the official opposition party?

In fact, the news is bad all over for the NDP. Elizabeth May's Green Party actually outpolls them (13% vs. 12%). Sure its within the margin and all that, but (as one of Red Tory's commenter's pointed out), its still the first time.

Canadians Don't Want Beowulf Running The Country

That's the most logical way to square these two polls, which show Stephen Harper's personal popularity "soaring" while his Conservative Party can't draw flies among the Canadian electorate.

Which is to say that Canadians are more like Europeans than Americans in that they are more likely to vote issues over personalities, and see their party leaders more as managers of a package of competing and contrasting positions, not alpha male warriors hacking their way through the opposition benches with a broad-sword.

PS. I suspect the SES-SunMedia poll showed crap Tory voter intention numbers as well, or The Sun would have led with them.

Not Suited To Canuck Politics!

Monday, November 12, 2007

Walkom On The GST

The T.O. Star's Thomas Walkom thinks Harper's GST cut is a terrific idea, and thinks "left-liberals" shouldn't be criticizing him for it.

The New Democrats say the tax cut favours the rich. Liberal leader Stéphane Dion says it is so odious that, if elected, he might reverse it.

And yet many of these same left-liberals were equally outraged this week by a new study pointing out that the tax system has become less fair since 1990 because (wait for it) governments have been relying too much on regressive sales taxes like the GST.

First, note the clever phrasing: "sales taxes like the GST". These words are all that prevent Walkom from utterly mis-representing the study in question, which 1) does not call for GST cuts and 2) singles out the GST for being unlike these other sales taxes in not contributing to an increase in regressiveness in the Canadian tax system from 1990 on. Author Mark Lee writes: important caveat is that at the bottom of the distribution, the regressive impact of the GST is offset by the GST credit.

Overall there was essentially no change arising from the shift to the GST in 1991. The GST generated net revenues similar to the federal manufacturers sales tax that it replaced...

Okay, Walkom might argue, but the GST is still a regressive tax, and cutting it is still a "small blow for social justice". Well, maybe, but the problem is that cutting a sales tax is the least effective means of getting money into the hands of low income Canadians. The cut has to make it through to the consumer without first getting scooped up by manufacturers, wholesalers, and so forth. And if you want to see an example where this did not happen, just take a look at the Tories first GST cut.

Here's Stats Canada from June of 2006 (emphasis mine):

Since the price changes measured by the CPI take into account the value of the consumption taxes paid by Canadians, this 1% decrease will have an impact on the CPI.A rough estimation of the impact of this reduction on the level of the CPI suggests a decrease in the order of 0.6%.

This estimation is based on the assumption that the entire amount of the decrease will be transferred to consumers and that the industrial structure that underlies the way that prices are determined will remain the same.

And here's Stat's Canada from the very next month (emphasis mine):

On a monthly basis, the CPI increased 0.1% in July. This suggests that price increase pressures were important enough in July to more than compensate for the expected effect of the 1.0% reduction in the GST.The CPI release in The Daily on July 21, 2006, suggested that the CPI could fall by roughly 0.6% following the 1.0% reduction in the GST. Based on a simulation exercise, this estimation rests on the assumption that the entire amount of the decrease is transferred to consumers and that the industrial structure that underlies the way that prices are determined remains the same. In addition, this measure of impact does not take into account the increase in the Federal excise taxes on tobacco products and alcoholic beverages announced by the government.

Clearly, a good portion of the cut went down the rabbit hole long before it got to the consumer.

PS. Mr Walkom suggests at the beginning of his piece that Stephen Harper is not Satan, but I don't understand how he can know that. We won't know that for certain until we can get a cell sample from Stephen's horn.

What The Hell Is Long Range Weather?

The short answer is, its a website run by two guys named Cliff Harris and Randy Mann which, among other things, and for $129 U.S. (per year?), advises clients on "profitable weather commodity trades" and "highlights the major commodity markets that have been and will be affected by Ma Nature's wild ways in recent years."

It also hosts some pretty graphs (see above) which, according to NuzeBuzzster's Noel Sheppard, Al Gore doesn't want you to see.
So who the heck are Cliff Harris and Randy Mann? Well, Randy Mann is a weatherman for the Spokesman Review, a newspaper out of Spokane Washington, and is known locally for his ant-GW rants. But the real gem here is Cliff Harris. Although, according to the site, he "has been...rated as one of the top ten climatologists in the world for nearly 4 decades", he is entirely self-taught, having studied weather since he was "nine years old". In his predictions,
...he bases his predictions on a wide variety of scientific resources and historical records. “He’s also a devout Christian and believes the Bible is loaded with clues on predicting the weather.”
And while at this moment, Mann and Harris seem to be predicting a bout of cooling (none of their archived pieces are dated), a couple of years ago they were firmly on the side of the "warmers":
Although Harris stresses that he believes “global warming” as a theory is exaggerated, he does believe, however, in a period of extreme global warming. “That will be in The Tribulation period … and for those us believers, we’re looking forward to it.”

“I believe this planet is a breathing entity, made by God, to clean itself, adjust itself.” Harris said in the article by James Hagengruber. This would be The Rapture. The premise of this argument appears to be: human beings are not responsible for climate change because it is part of God’s greater Plan, therefore investing in costly forms of clean energy is not necessary or useful. In addition, curtailing business and the economy by demanding reductions of carbon dioxide emissions is actually counter-productive. Instead, Harris asserts, our limited resources should be devoted to” ending poverty, curing diseases or providing universal health care”.
Note that, minus the biblical references, he sounds quite alot like Lomborg, although I don't think Lomborg would be willing to offer advice to good Christians wondering how to invest during the "Tribulation Period". Mann and Harris, on the other hand, say buy real estate!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Which Do You Like Better?

From Google Canada:

From its U.S. counter-part:
Not that I particularly care one way or another, but it is interesting that in the U.S. Google has been under pressure to decorate its logo in a patriotic fashion for such occasions. Here in Canada, zip. Luckily, Flanders broke his own promise to retire after the provincial election. He's just the guy to lead the charge on a project like this, and he could recruit the Canadian Right's red hot momma over at Big Blue Wave.
Have a fast for me, Flanders!

Tasmanian Tiger: Alive And On Film?

From Wiki:

The Thylacine (Thylacinus cynocephalus) was the largest known carnivorous marsupial of modern times. Native to Australia and New Guinea, it is thought to have become extinct in the 20th century. It is commonly known as the Tasmanian Tiger (due to its striped back), the Tasmanian Wolf, and colloquially the Tassie (or Tazzy) Tiger or simply the Tiger.[a] It was the last extant member of its genus, Thylacinus, although a number of related species have been found in the fossil record dating back to the early Miocene.

The Thylacine became extinct on the Australian mainland thousands of years before European settlement of the continent, but survived on the island of Tasmania along with a number of other endemic species, including the Tasmanian Devil. Intensive hunting encouraged by bounties is generally blamed for its extinction, but other contributory factors may have been disease, the introduction of dogs, and human encroachment into its habitat. Despite being officially classified as extinct, sightings are still reported.

Sightings are still reported, and apparently filmed on occasion as well. Loren Coleman has collected a number of these videos from YouTube and posted them here. I've picked the best of them, and coupled it with some zoo footage from the early 20th century so you can get an idea of how the animals typically moved. Note that the first few seconds of the zoo footage may be film of the creature in the wild, but its pretty grainy. Both clips are from Cryptomundo.

Zoo Footage

Tiger In The Wild?

Note that the hindquarters do seem appropriately striped.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Rachel Marsden And How War Works

Rachel Marsden, now voiceless in the MSM because of her now infamous pro-torture musings last week, has resurfaced in that refuge of Canada's far right dregs, the CFP. And she's unrepentant:

Last week, in my weekly Sun Media column, I argued that it’s really not that big of a deal to make terror suspects like 9/11 mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed essentially do what any kid does at Halloween when he bobs for apples--except in the presence of the CIA, and with the prize in the terrorist’s case being lifesaving information.

That column triggered an email campaign spearheaded by the Daily Kos--the largest far-left blog in America--which appealed to the Sun’s new editor-in-chief from the Toronto Star, Canada’s largest leftist newspaper. As a result, after 2 years with the Sun and a hundred columns, my writing is now in search of a new home.

Really, has society lost its collective mind to the point where we’ve forgotten how to properly wage a war?

General Paul Tibbets, who dropped the A-bomb on Japan that ended World War II, recently passed away. According to the New York Times, Tibbets told a PBS documentary: “It would have been morally wrong if we’d have had that weapon and not used it and let a million more people die.”

And now here we are, 60 years later, wringing our hands over how we should treat people who have made it abundantly clear that they would have killed us, if we hadn’t nabbed them first. What’s the alternative that the terrorist sympathizers are looking for? To tickle them until they cry uncle and promise to be good boys?

Ms. Marsden, here's a quickie primer on how War works. Specifically, how it works with respect to the treatment of POWs.

During the WWII, for example, most Western Allies adhered to the 2nd Geneva Convention, which forbade the torture of prisoners. And by Western Allies I mean The U.K., the U.S.A., Canada, and so forth. On the other hand Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany were "notorious for atrocities against prisoners ". Now, the weird thing is, even though the Nazis and Japanese were waging war the way it oughtta be done, by Ms. Marsden's lights, they came off decidedly second best. If I remember my history correctly, it was the hand-wringers who won.

Belated kudos, incidentally, to editor-in-chief Lou Clancy for scratching Marsden from the T.O. Sun line-up and, I suspect, being the man behind spiking Ezra's similarly crazed ramblings a few weeks ago. The problem, of course, is that these should never have made the paper in the first place.

A Less Dorky Geo-Engineering Project

Harvard's Kurt Zenz House is interested in "all things energy", especially carbon sequestration technologies. In fact he has been involved in several deep sea carbon storage schemes like those I have written about here.

More recently, Mr. House has been in the news for his work on "electrochemical weathering", which aims to increase the ability of Earth's oceans to store CO2 by rendering it less acidic:

Weak acids in water normally dissolve rocks on land over time, forming an alkaline solution that runs into rivers and then the sea. Electrochemical weathering creates a stronger acid to drive much faster reactions. Still at a theoretical stage, the method involves passing an electric current through seawater to separate out chlorine and hydrogen gas, similar to the industrial chloralkali process used to make chlorine gas. The chlorine and hydrogen are then combined in fuel cells to form strong hydrochloric acid. The fuel cells would be housed in an industrial-scale plant that would collect and use the acid to dissolve silicate rocks, which are common worldwide. This would neutralize the acid and the resulting alkaline solution could then be returned to the sea. Overall, the process would help stabilize the oceans' pH, House says, and could benefit corals which are dying from ocean acidification caused by rising CO2 levels.

House imagines a building a series of coastal processing plants equivalent in capacity to about 100 large sewage treatment plants, and running them on geo-thermal power (rather than, lets say, coal) so the CO2 pumped into the air in act of plant operations does not overwhelm the amount sequestered by the electrochemical process. For profit, plants could sell carbon reduction credits in a cap-and-trade scheme, and could conceivably store 1 gigaton of CO2 annually.


"Around the plant you would get a very basic solution," which could contain chlorinated byproducts, House says. These byproducts could harm sea life locally.

Furthermore, the scheme would probably be too expensive to be practical unless there already existed a cheap source of renewable energy on which to run the plants.

Nevertheless, way more doable than shooting a thousand-mile-wide mirror into outer space.

Friday, November 09, 2007

Stormin' Warman Strikes Again, Or Free-D Part III

The pattern has continued for two months now. Someone at Free Dominion says something stupid about rights activist Richard Warman, and Richard Warman delivers Free-D owners Connie and Mark legal papers claiming libel. Connie and Mark post the contents of the papers, and more stupid stuff follows. Here's the latest episode, and the responses thus far include a vagueish hint by one poster as to what might happen if he gets Warman alone:

Like I said before crybaby, it is VERY easy to ascertain my name and address, and in fact, just give me a call and you can make an appointment to meet me at my place. It is semi isolated and we could interact free of interruption. And as you wish, the Ottawa police would be a loooong way away and I guarantee you our meeting would be betwen just the two of us.

Your move clown!

Last days of Free-D? I wonder.

As for Warman, the guy's got an interesting hobby. Unfortunately, actions he has taken against this anti-warman site have resulted in the disappearance his fascinating presentation (a .pdf file) to the ARA re his "Maximum disruption" strategy. He claimed copyright infringement, that the document in question was posted without his permission, but if anyone wants to fight Nazis in their part time, the paper contains all sorts of good advise. Here's hoping it appears elsewhere soon.

The Left Out-FREEPS The Right: Climate Audit Rejected As Best Science Blog

I try to pay as little attention to these on-line polls as possible, but since the weblog awards give a site a certain amount of real world credibility, it is a good thing that Bad Astronomy won, and a good that Climate Audit lost, in the category of best science blog.

And, let me point out that Steve's lament over at CA, where he expresses surprise that this has become a left/right issue, is either incredibly naive or disingenuous. His own politics are identifiably right, he has spent his career been courted/used by a Republican congress, and his "scientific" results generally only get play on Fox news and sites like Newsbusters, where the motto is "Exposing and Combating Liberal Media Bias".

In fact, it is probably a mistake to consider Climate Audit (and sites like it) a science blog in the first place. It is more like an on-line social gathering point for, as I like to call them, "wing-nuts with spreadsheets": anti-science Conservatives with rudimentary math skills. Cyber-caves where Conservatives may go and let the world pass them by while they spin out the conspiracy theory of the day.

PS: Don't know if I just missed it earlier, but the folks at weblog have written:

RESULTS ARE NOT FINAL FOR THIS POLL! This poll is still being checked for excessive voting from individual machines. If excess voting is found it will be noted and the votes will be removed. The winner should be announced Monday.

So hold the bubbly.

PPS. Some folks at CA are claiming that the poll got hacked. Of course it got hacked! It's a online poll! The only question is how many times and in how many different ways? Tellinya blog has the scoop on one possible method used. It's owner tells me he could deliver about 2,500 votes per minute.

PPPS. Welogs is officially calling it a tie.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Mirror Neurons And Human Intentions

It is very rare that I post on topics of which I actually have some knowledge, but I saw this and decided to make an exception. Mirror neurons: both when an animal acts and when the animal observes the same action performed by another (especially conspecific) animal. Thus, the neuron "mirrors" the behavior of another animal, as though the observer were itself acting.

Within the theory of mind, mirror neurons have often thought to the key to understanding the intentions of other people. For example, Peter Thier of Tübingen University:

...suggests this proximity-specific activity in mirror neurons may play an important role when we monitor what goes on around us, or serve as the basis for inferring the intentions of others and for cooperative behavior. 'These neurons might encode actions of others that the observers might directly influence, or with which he or she can interact,' he says.

We see someone waving their arm, for example, and we understand their act as as being the act of greeting BECAUSE the same act is recreated within us, as it were, by the firing of mirror neurons, and we know what the sensations mean in our own case.

Except, as been pointed out here, among other places, what mirror neurons mirror are basic physical sensations, the "feeling" of waving, or of lifting a cup of coffee to drink from it. But these specific physical sensations do not infallibly, or maybe even usually, indicate the presence of a particular intention on the part of the agent. I may use the same physical sensation to either shake your hand or poke you in the belly, so what the mirror neurons tell us CANNOT determine which of these things I am intending to do.

The only way to can get around this problem is by arguing that the mirror neurons reproduce not only the physical sensation, but recognize the intentions behind it and replicate these as well. But this is not a particularly satisfactory line of reasoning, because it explains how we recognize the intentions of others by saying that our mirror neurons do, which raises the question: how do they recognize these intentions?