The BBC had a nice summary about Hillary and Obama today. As I was reading this I was struck by how dissonant the campaign is from what I perceive as the ideal qualities for the next occupant of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.
North American political campaigns have gotten increasingly nasty and personal over the years (Canada is not as bad as the US but is sliding in that direction, it seems). Candidates sling mud at each other and dig for bits of nastyness. Think ‘Survivor — Washington’ or ‘Trailer Park Boys…’. And the current primary season just goes on and on and on…
My problem with all this political entertainment is that the result of the selection process would seem to pick the person least qualified to lead. Oh, sure, US politics can be pretty messy and I am sure the back room continues as the primary decision-making forum (sorry about that, public interest.). But the world is a very complicated place and there are a lot of folks out there who selfishly take care of their own interests and not those of the US. If there is a problem with the Saudis or even (gasp) Iran, do we want someone who’se approach to problem solving is a smear campaign in the press? I don’t think so. We need someone who can work with people over whom he has no real control — like a neighborhood organizer, perhaps.
The other aspect is this thing about refusing to talk to the folks that don’t agree with you. Seriously, this is not a sign of strength but of weakness — if your ego is so fragile and your principles so shaky that they cannot withstand disagreement. Read — Cuba, Iran, Hamas, etc. Not a pretty picture. And a guarantee that the problems will continue, whatever they are.
So here we are. Two candidates too busy tearing each other apart — and the apparent winner to be the one who successfully slung the most mud and made the most unsustainable promises. And a national committee for the party that has trouble holding to its own rules — and refusing to exercise leadership on their own side to limit the damages to the party and ultimately the country. If, having skewed the primary by disallowing Florida and Michigan, they then let the results in to bolster some backroom deal with one of the candidates, it is not hard to predict that they will have pulled defeat from the jaws of victory. Pity is, the country will suffer.. and so will we all.
The Future of Oil – New York Times
This article has the cheerful prospect of the number of airplanes and cars doubling in the next 30 years — no doubt the buyers in China and India eager to catch up with the West in waste and consumption. Then the article asks — where is the oil going to come from to fuel all this demand?
This reminded me of my continuing frustration to use energy-efficient transportation in North America. At one time North America was criss-crossed with a network of rails that provided comfortable transportation for passengers at relatively low energy cost. The skeletons of this service litter the landscape — the great urban train stations, the tiny rural stations, the network of rails. This has all been pretty much abandoned — or if still in place forced to play second fiddle to freight. To visit my son in Thunder Bay we had to drive — just not possible to get from here to there by train anymore. Oh, the tracks are still there but the service is not. In fact, Via did not even want to talk about the issue at all — even though there were intermediate stops still in service that could have helped us (thanks to talking to some folks at his school).
So we could take an airplane from Toronto — a three hour drive to the west or just drive from here. We did the later. The idea of accepting the indignities of flying plus fuel consumption at a level similar to every passenger driving their SUV the same distance was just too depressing.
Passenger travel services have always been heavily subsidized by the governments. They have never paid their own way either here or in Europe — where there are still marvelous inter-urban trains that are a genuine pleasure to use. But in North America where the distances are huge, the subsidies that built and maintained the system have been stripped away and given to the airlines and road services. And passenger service is expected to pay its own way — when it runs at all.
Seems to me that governments have their head in the sand when it comes to providing the leadership and direction for the future. We can see that energy costs are going to continue to soar and yet all the work on transportation goes to subsidizing the least efficient means. How long will it take before it is recognized that what North America needs most is to resurrect passenger service? Heck — a train could probably pull its own nuclear reactor to make electricity rather than burning fossil fuel. Or we could deploy larger scale overhead wires to do the same. The point is that all this will take time and we should not wait untill the airlines are collapsing from fuel costs to start working. Airplanes will still be needed to bridge large distances over water or to remote locations. But for inter-urban travel, I’ll take the train.
Prairie Birds Flirt, and a Town Livens Up – New York Times
This article in todays’ New York Times is about an area in Missouri that has recognized the wonder of their rapidly declining bird populations. There are bird watcher tours with waiting lists. The locals have built blinds so the visitors can get a good view. A few weeks ago a long time friend of mine gave a presentation to the local mens’ group about Sauk City Wisconsin that has done a similar thing with their bald eagle populations. I am sure that both groups are pleased at the inflow of revenue.
Here on the island we have a similar situation — we are known as an IBA (Important Bird Area) in international surveys. There is an area at the end of the island called the Owl Woods due to its large population of wintering owls. We have seen eagles hunting over our backyard and had a heron walk up through the grass to inspect our life-size african heron sculpture.
But the difference is that the island resident and transient bird populations are condemned to death because the area has been targetted for redevelopment as a wind farm. So the natural wonders we have been blessed with will be destroyed over time and the place we love turned into a empty space eventually populated by rusting, abandoned towers that no one will be able to afford to remove.
I am reminded of the story of the goose that laid the golden eggs. Not content to get a stream of wealth over a long time, a plan was laid to cut open the goose and get all the eggs at once. Neither the goose nor the egg supply survived. The story here and around is much the same — they can get a quick influx of cash by sacrificing the area now. The work and patience over time to develop the natural resources is just not as appealing. I would speculate that had development been the path rather than the quick grab the benefits would be long lasting and perhaps even greater — certainly everyones’ lives would be richer. But then, who cares about the future? I am glad that some people do — the rest are condemned to suffer the loss from their lust for instant gratification. Too bad.
globeandmail.com: Senator caught saying Verner hates Bill C-10
Its nice to hear that folks in the government have mixed feelings about funding the arts in Canada — or more precisely the kind of arts that are funded from the public purse. It is being labeled as censorship — a terrible word to be sure. But is it really so terrible to have some sort of control of what messages through the arts are being funded?
I for one am tired of all the ugliness on the six pm news — so I choose to not be entertained by even more of it in the theater or TV. And being an old fuddy duddy find nothing of interest in films about hostels run by serial killers and the like. There is enough of this in the news, we don’t need ideas for more.
There used to be things called standards of good taste — which seem to have gotten lost. I for one would applaud any measures that would lead us back to a better place. And how my tax dollars get spent is certainly one way. I expect my government to apply some standards to the entertainment messages they fund. I am sorry that they are unhappy about being asked to do this. But they did ask for the job.
globeandmail.com: Why costs are climbing
The story of soaring food prices being helped along by competition from ethanol production for fuel supplements hit a nerve today. The Globe article mentioned that to fill an SUV tank with ethanol consumes more corn than a typical African eats in a year. This is a pretty frightening picture alone. But then there is the additional question of how efficient is a typical car tuned to gasoline when fed with higher precentages of ethanol? Here in Ontario the government is talking about mandating adding ethanol to vehical fuels. I have been tracking fuel consumption for my cars since day one — and find that with my current car, a 1999 Cirrus, there is an effect depending upon the type of driving. For highway cruising, rare now, the mileage impact of gasahol blends is minimal. But in urban-type driving the hit can be substantial — more like 15-20% poorer. If my experience is typical, the forced addition of ethanol to road fuels in urban areas will have a double whammy — overall fuel consumption will go up in addition to the loss of foodstocks for everyone. So instead of reducing the dependency on petroleum we are likely to increase it. Another dubious achievement.
I read with horror the cheerful announcement that there was going to be another version of Windows out sooner than expected — Windows 7. I am sure it will be new and improved with only limited carryforward compatibility with previous versions. So in order to move forward (as the vendor insists) we will not only need to buy a new PC but new versions of all the applications we need to do our jobs. That is because by design the changes from one version to another force application vendors to make code changes to keep things running — what worked in the last version doesn’t. And the workarounds from last time stop because the breakages are in different places. And since nothing new ever works there will be extended periods of chaos while our previously working environments have ‘teething problems’.
This is a particularly sensitive issue for me as I have just finished a week of trying to get some key applications installed on a new PC, and failed. They are all Vista compatible (it says here…), but true to form there is a certain amount of unknown tweaking, fiddling and so forth to get things to work. And the mandatory mysterious hangs that seem to be increasingly a feature of the environment. (Just like the old days under MSDos.)
Prior to IE7, which I really like by the way, browser hangs were unusual. They are now an almost daily occurance and sometimes force a system reboot to get anything to work again. Seems the browser has become an integral part of the current generation of applications and when it takes a hike pretty much everything hangs. And the error log shows ‘application fault bucket xxxxxxxx’ which is completely undocumented, of course.
The pity is that I really like the changes in Vista and I really wanted things to go well. Dual core processor, 4gb of memory, etc — plenty of room to play. But here we are. The applications that were the reason for the new machine just won’t go — and depressingly for no apparent reason. So faced with the prospect of endless weeks of try this, that and so forth, try pressing ‘return’ with your left thumb instead of the right index finger, pray to the gods and so forth.
Bottom line is that this should not be necessary. Upwards compatibility should be a key design requirement. Disruptive changes are distressing for everybody and expensive to fix and relearn. I suppose in a profit-oriented business the more expensive the change the better it is for the vendor — but the more it would be avoided by the folks who have to pay for it. Thats what I did — when it became obvious what a haul it would be to get things working I took the cowards way out and installed XP. Maybe someday I will try again — meanwhile I have work to do.