Afghan Civilian Deaths

There was a news item in this morning’s Globe&Mail about a civilian convoy that some dude called an airstrike on — believing that it was a Taliban convoy on the way to some fight. The dead civilians, 27 by last count, were surprised.

These latest deaths simply underscore the problem that we cannot tell who are ‘taliban’ and therefor evil and who is just upset because his home and fields have been smashed down by these foreign invaders. And since they all look alike, who is just trying to get away and who is purposefully moving to attack? And in the heat of battle (remember, the first casualty of war is ‘truth’ followed quickly by ‘the plan’) anything that moves is likely to be a target — and they all look alike (anybody remember Vietnam?)

Between the problem of ‘who is the enemy’ and government corruption it is unclear to my tiny mind if there is ANY path out of there that grows from the barrel of a gun. Remember, we invaded THEM. The pretext was that the Taliban were providing safe haven for Osama — but we seem to have lost interest in finding him. Personally I was more upset about the destruction of the Bamiyam Buddhas — but hey, there are a lot of funny ideas out there about how to ‘decorate’ a country. Look at strip mines or the oil sands…

While there are many arguments around why it is a good idea to reform Afghanistan into a western client state — opium control, oil pipeline from whattheheckistan, etc, it is their country and the solutions for what to do must come from them. Somehow it seems we have lost sight of that basic fact. Problem is that the people just want to be left alone (and who talks to them?).  And the government just wants to suck more western dollars for as long as they can. So it continues untill someone has the guts (or lower) to call it quits.


I am curious if our leaders here in the frozen North even look at what the outside world has learned to adjust and direct their policies.  From the latest announcements I rather doubt it. Seems once these guys get an idea wedged in their heads they just don’t want to be confused by facts.

Case in point — Ontario is still driving ahead with deploying alternate energy to displace both the coal-fired plants (which provide only a small percentage of our power) and nuclear (responsible for 40% of the power). This is supposedly going to make Ontario prosperous again and provide lots of employment. Prosperity for who I guess is the question and employment for people in what country is the other. The Wolfe Island wind plant I think ended up creating about 5 jobs, the installation crews and equipment all came from elsewhere.  The new deal with Samsung will make a lot of Koreans happy I am sure. But Ontarians I am not so sure. The Spanish experience was that they found 2.2 conventional jobs were lost for every ‘green’ job created. And those jobs vanished once the (generous) subsidies were cut.

Then there is the whole idea of deploying wind and solar to displace greenhouse gasses. The Germans found that after 20 years their eco program had saved nothing — just raised the price of power even more.

So I guess the problem comes down to what are we trying to accomplish? If it is cutting back on greenhouse gasses then deploying wind and solar, despite the industry propaganda, does nothing. If it is providing jobs for our citizens then raising electricity prices — which drives out industry, is not the solution. Although I am sure the folks in Quebec will be delighted, some companies have already started to move.

Now I agree that energy conservation is important — Canadians tend to waste more than pretty much anyone else, even the folks just south of us. Personally I would rather see more money go into health care and social services than energy. Individually or as a nation we are not getting any younger — that will cost in the long run. But this policy of high cost and low yield is just a fancy way of wasting the publics’ money. Pity, the folks who make these decisions get nice fat pensions — they should have to suffer with the rest of us. Stupidity does hurt, but it tends to hurt the wrong people.

Longing for a Lost World that never was

Tonight I watched a bit of the PBS News Hour but turned it off when the nightly is/is not rant began. In this case, there were two opponents arguing that the US Federal stimulus was/was not having an impact. Then later there was a similar is/is not discussion of the US loans to underwrite new nuclear plant construction. Each side provides an opaque philosophical argument and disregards the evidence of the other side. The part that really caught my ear and offended me was the speaker from F.O.E., Friends of the Earth arguing that we should abandon our civilization and learn to live in a friendlier world powered by wind turbines and solar and stop all of this evil nuclear construction and shutdown all coal plants. Great!

I did not see any evidence of homespun on the speaker. His sole argument against nuclear was that the government was unable to come up with a solution for waste. Yeah, I know that problem — seems that no one would come up with a design that would guarantee absolute integrity of the waste storage for 100,000 years or more using the most geologically stable site in the US. So we leave this stuff on site, while conveniently ignoring the accumulating pile of spent fuel rods — which the government was going to deal with a long time ago. Problem with all of this is that no one can guarantee that any of us will be here in 100,000 years or that any form of communication were devise will still be readable in that interval. Heck, human civilization as we know it has only lasted for a tiny fraction of that interval, not even China.

Somehow there is a part of me that says I know what the problem is, it is not a fear of the future as much as a longing for a past that never was. We think that by turning back the clock we can make all the terrible choices we face just go away. The various religious extremists want this — no abortion, no western moral corruption, etc. I am guilty of this to some extent — I am fascinated by the Ontario around me as it existed 100 years ago. The little towns were very much happening places — one could get to many places that are now tough to reach even by car on the train. There was bustling industry, thriving farms, etc. Almost the antithesis of what I see around me. But the depressing reality is that the activity was driven by a general clearcutting of the land that left lasting scars. Transportation was slow and expensive so food had to be made locally. When the trees were gone the area started to die a slow death. Even so, the damage to the land to generate power was very small — simply because in everyday life the work was done by human and animal muscle.

I dont think the future deniers have really thought it through. They live in a society enabled by unimaginable availability of power. No past age had the forces we call upon without a thought. What is worse, that society ran by the sun — when it was down a lot of activities stopped. The idiots like FOE (an apt name) want to return to that world and work when the sun was up or the wind blew. And if we actualy did this on a large scale, have they thought about what happens to the climate when the wind slows? The handwave of keeping the fuel-burning power sources going being the scenes is just a dodge — the wind blows only 25% of the time, so unless we accept major changes, we will do nothing to slow the warming of the earth. But we will all be poorer.

Unlike the past, the future is scary. We will make mistakes. But the arrow of time goes in one direction only. I would chose a nuclear future untill someone discovers how to light a sun. The alternative seems to be nothing more than to freeze in the dark.

The terrible problem of moving forward

While reading yet another article complaining about the impact of deteriorating infrastructure on the quality of life, this time in the US, and an article about the decline of the TTC under the skillful leadership of the archaeology-trained, politically appointed, young chairman, I was struck by one common thread — it is a bitch to fix stuff that already exists.

ANyone who has done home renovations knows that probably the worse part of the whole project is tearing out the existing stuff to clear the field to put in the new stuff. Oh, sure, changing the structure is pretty tough too — removing bearing walls, foundations and the like because you want a new garage entrance or a hot tub where there was formerly just blue sky. And to go with this, what do you do with the stuff you tear out? I suppose it should be recycled, but for older structures the materials were intended to last — like real plaster walls. Recycling this stuff is just not as easy as the crappy drywall new buildings use.

So here we are, deteriorating bridges (that must be driven over), ancient water systems that still provide for the citizens even while it is being replaced, and so forth. I am sure the costs of providing service continuity while ripping out the old changes things from a ‘just do it’ project to an ‘oh my, how will we ever afford it’ project. And since there is just so much in the later catagory, our world continues to crumble around our ears while the folks in distant lands, who arrived late to this party, are laughing at us while they whiz along on their maglevs to their shiny new cities. Oh well, they will find out…

In a sense we are prisoners of our own prior success. But what is the solution? Damned if I know. But there is a certain appeal to looking back at history when ancient peoples just abandoned a city and built a new one down the road. Maybe they knew something we have forgotten? Problem is that when a city has 10 million people in it (or more)  like New York, Chicago or Mexico City this process is a tad more complex. And there is still the residual emotional attachment problem to overcome even if the (impossible) logistics could be solved. Maybe the root of the problem is that the decision to create these massive cities was a mistake that by now only the collapse of civilization as we know it might cure? Perhaps small is beautiful after all, at least it provides some basic flexibility that we seem to have lost.