Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sunday Linkblast - Aug 31

Friday, August 29, 2008

McCain gives gift to Democrats with his choice of running mate

McCain's painful dilemma was that his limited field of possible VP choices were all either bland, scandal plagued or utterly out of touch with an American electorate rapidly shifting left. With Sarah Palin he's managed to pick all three.

Palin has only limited experience and public exposure, a former beauty queen who has held office as governor of Alaska for less than two years. In that time she has managed to become a shill for big oil and has been accused of using her position to try to get her sister's ex-husband fired.

Democratic strategists must be like little kids on Christmas morning rubbing their eyes at the bounty under the tree.


UPDATE 2: The New York Times and the Washington Post begin the scrutiny.

UPDATE 3: Scandal, Library censorship and vetoing clean energy projects, oh my.

UPDATE 4: Yes, library censorship. After trying to fire library director Mary Ellen Emmons for the unspeakable crime of supporting Palin's opponent in the mayoral election and then backing down after protests and a threatened recall movement, Palin then asked Emmons if she “could live with censorship of library books.”

Thursday, August 28, 2008

McCain adviser: "There are no Americans without health insurance."

John Goodman, president of the National Center for Policy Analysis, a right-leaning Dallas-based think tank says that the solution to America's health care problems is that the US census should be legally forbidden from reporting that any Americans go without health insurance.
Mr. Goodman, who helped craft Sen. John McCain's health care policy, said anyone with access to an emergency room effectively has insurance, albeit the government acts as the payer of last resort. (Hospital emergency rooms by law cannot turn away a patient in need of immediate care.) "So I have a solution. And it will cost not one thin dime," Mr. Goodman said. "The next president of the United States should sign an executive order requiring the Census Bureau to cease and desist from describing any American – even illegal aliens – as uninsured. Instead, the bureau should categorize people according to the likely source of payment should they need care."
So the fact that millions of Americans cannot afford to get the kind of early preventative treatment that would help them avoid a visit to the Emergency Room - which will end up being many times more expensive than early preventative care - is being touted by this guy as a sign that there is no problem with America's health care system.

And Republicans wonder why they are about to get stomped like narcs at a biker rally.

Fixed and Broken

There's been a lot of speculation about Harper's sudden unseemly rush to break his own fixed election law and send us all to the polls. His argument that parliament has become irretrievably broken is of course undercut by the fact that it was his government that distributed an instruction manual on making sure that it would be. As Harper himself acknowledges, any election will simply produce another minority, at best from his point of view, this hugely expensive process will simply maintain the current status quo.

So why now?

There are indications of improved numbers for the Conservatives in Quebec but in the harsh light of a campaign those could and probably will wither like salted slugs in the hot sun. That a coming economic downturn and even more information about Conservative malfeasance and electoral fraud bode ill for Conservative poll numbers in the near future is certainly part of Harper's calculations.

But the most likely explanation for the unseemly dash to the hustings is that Harper does not want a Canadian election to take place after an American one.

Much has been made of a recent polling dip for Barack Obama, but even a cursory job of drilling beneath the numbers reveals this to be little more than statistical noise. Obama is still far ahead of McCain and is likely to beat him convincingly on election day. As 2000 taught us, in American presidential elections the only numbers that matter are electoral college numbers and for McCain those numbers continue to be gruesome.

According to, consistently the most accurate window on voter intentions, Obama has an firm 84 vote lead over McCain in the Electoral College. Additionally while 214 of Obama's electoral votes are essentially locks, McCain can only definitively count on 112 of his Electoral votes with 64 of them only leaning his way and 102 votes that are statistical tossups.

Given the growing demographic advantages for the Dems and a far more energized Democratic vote with historic surges in the African American and youth votes being confidently predicted by observers, McCain will need a miracle to avoid a humiliating defeat in November.

The congressional and Senate numbers are even worse for the Republicans as the GOP brand collapses under the weight of the most corrupt, arrogant and incompetent administration in American history. We are about to be witnesses to the complete dissolution of the Reagan Revolution.

If you were Harper, would you want Canadian voters to decide your fate with the recent example of a conservative meltdown south of the border in their minds?

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Oh, Snap!

Let me make this pledge to you right here and now. For every American who is trying to do the right thing, for all those people in government who are honoring their pledge to uphold the law and respect our Constitution, no longer will the eight most dreaded words in the English language be: "The vice president's office is on the phone." - From Joe Biden's speech tonight

Monday, August 25, 2008

Our wonderful Afghan allies...

The Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, has pardoned three men who had been found guilty of gang raping a woman in the northern province of Samangan.

The woman, Sara, and her family found out about the pardon only when they saw the rapists back in their village.

“Everyone was shocked,” said Sara’s husband, Dilawar, who like many Afghans uses only one name. “These were men who had been sentenced and found guilty by the Supreme Court, walking around freely.”

Sara’s case highlights concerns about the close relationship between the Afghan president and men accused of war crimes and human rights abuses.

The men were freed discreetly but the rape itself was public and brutal. It took place in September 2005, in the run up to Afghanistan’s first democratic parliamentary elections.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Movie WTF moment

So I was watching Deathproof again the other night. One of Tarantino's better films actually, on a purely vicarious crowd pleasing level.

For those who haven't seen it, it's a vicious little revenge thriller both shot, and then the film carefully distressed to resemble a 1970's grindhouse midnight movie. It has great music, the signature Tarantino extended and looping dialogue, some very attractive young ladies featuring the signature Tarantino preoccupation with womens feet and what are some of the best fast car stunt sequences ever filmed.

It also has one of the all time most jaw-dropping WTF moments in cinema:
After mind you, insinuating to the scary redneck that the pretty sleeping girl in the cheerleader outfit works in porn.

Still a good, if occasionally baffling movie.

Anyone else got some WTF moments in cinema? Preferably, but not necessarily illustrated with a snarky photoshop illo?

Open Thread.

Friday, August 22, 2008

21st Century America in a Nutshell

Man threatens to shoot police robot
Burglary suspect James Prevatt III, hunkered down for three days in a Maryland motel with his girlfriend, has threatened to shoot a robot that has kindly been bringing them burgers, pizza, soda, and cigarettes. The above headline screenshot is from CNN. Man threatens robot (CNN)
Spotted at BoingBoing.


Thursday, August 21, 2008

Canada's Conservatives: The tainted food party

The timing couldn't be worse for Harper's merry band of ideological vandals: A major tainted meat scare involving sickness and death arriving just as their plans to gut food safety enforcement are leaked.

OTTAWA — A major meat recall by a Toronto packing plant has ensnared the Harper government in a controversy over food safety on the eve of a possible federal
election. Liberal agriculture critic Wayne Easter and other opposition MPs are demanding answers from Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz over a leaked cabinet document that outlines plans to give the food industry a greater role in the inspection process.The document also spells out plans to cut millions in federal spending on surveillance for mad-cow disease. While the plans have yet to be approved, critics say they would leave Canadian consumers more vulnerable to food-borne illnesses such as the current outbreak of listeriosis, caused by the Listeria monocytogenes bacterium.

Remember, to movement conservatives Government bad, government always bad. That includes government oversight over food safety.

In the US this kind of doctrinaire devotion to the cult of deregulation, pushed by short sighted business lobbyists and enabled by the Bush administration, has had the same kind of effects on food safety as the Harris government's laissez-faire approach to water safety had in Walkerton.
US consumer groups blamed a "business-friendly" Bush administration for lax food safety policies on Monday, in the wake of the largest US meat recall ever that prompted a 34 per cent drop in shares of Pilgrim's Pride.
Pilgrim's Pride, the number two US poultry producer, on Sunday recalled 27.4 million pounds of fresh and frozen ready-to-eat turkey and chicken products under its Wampler brand, after pulling 295,000 pounds of turkey and chicken products from the market last week due to listeria concerns.
The recall surpasses the previous record of 25 million pounds of ground beef set by Hudson Foods in 1997. The company said the recall occurred after environmental tests at its Franconia, Pennsylvania, plant found a strain of listeria similar to the one identified in an outbreak in the US Northeast that has caused at least 23 deaths and 120 illnesses.
The Harperite plan is also out of step with the big push for greater oversight over the American food system that the likely strengthened Democratic congressional majority will certainly push for after November.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Broken Boy Soldier

The Raconteurs

This video reminds me of a sublimely disturbing little short comix story by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely called New Toys.

Kick Ass

So Alison at Creekside nominated me as a Kick Ass blog, a singular honor not least due to my nominator.

So with great difficulty I've narrowed my choices for Kick Ass Bloggers down to 5, an odd mix of media criticism, policy wonkishness and uncategorizable culture jamming, all but one of them Canadian:
~Choose 5 bloggers that you feel are "Kick Ass Bloggers"~Let 'em know in your post or via email, twitter or blog comments that they've received an award~Share the love and link back to both the person who awarded you and back to on back to the Kick Ass Blogger Club HQ to sign Mr. Linky then pass it on!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Meet the New Boss...

...same as the old boss, at the Canadian Medical Association anyway.

Dr Brian Day's tenure is coming to an end, and his welcome push back against Tony Clemont's hysterical and illogical attacks against harm reduction aside, he was and is the wrong choice as the President of the CMA due to his fervent support for heath care privatization.

Unfortunately his incoming replacement Dr. Robert Ouellet is another private clinic entrepreneur pushing for more 'competition' in Canada's healthcare system based on misinformation and discredited arguments.

You recently wrote in the CMAJ, “I don’t want to change the world, but at least, to have some little influence and to show that there are some solutions that we have, that are working.” What specifically would you like to accomplish with your influence?

Well, we have to look at what’s going on elsewhere because there are experiences in other countries -- I’m talking about the UK -- where they were at the same level as us with wait times five years ago but they’ve succeeded in getting rid of them. We’re a rich country and have wait times of nine months for surgery or more for hip replacement! We cannot accept that. I cannot accept that.

Nor should we accept it. Of course Ouellet ignores the long history of underfunding, deliberate policies of limiting medical school enrollment and yes, market tinkering that has led us to this point.

And his 'it's worked so well in Britain' argument ignores that their improvements came from major re-investment in the wholly public system while their simultaneous experiments with privatization were costly disasters.
Until recently, Britain has been like Canada. Our National Health Service, despite its problems, is doing a good job and improving. But its future has been put at risk by the introduction of market forces and profit-seeking providers.
I understand that some B.C. politicians and other private health care lobbyists are claiming that U.K. health care privatization is a success. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Britain recently introduced private hospitals, much like B.C.'s private surgical clinics, to carry out the cheap, less-risky operations on generally healthy patients. To put it crudely, they cherry-pick the profitable work and leave the NHS hospitals to care for less healthy people and all the other complex procedures.Yet operations in these private hospitals cost on average 11 per cent more than in public ones. And these profit-seeking companies are guaranteed a flow of funding. So if their contract specifies 5,000 patients a year and only 4,500 go there, the private hospital gets paid for the full 5,000.
The former chair of the British Medical Association, James Johnson, has said, "I see hospital services destabilized as a result of over-emphasis on the use of the independent sector. . . the money could often have been better spent making greater use of existing NHS capacity." While the incomes of private sector hospitals are guaranteed, public hospitals have been forced to compete, not just with the for-profit outfits, but with each other. To do that, the government introduced payment by results -- your politicians call this "patient focused funding."
The result has been a mess. The new system was supposed to introduce fiscal discipline, but in its first year the NHS overspent its budget for the first time in 60 years. Hospitals cut back on services to clear deficits, resulting in major backlashes against the Labour party government all over the country.
Payment By Results AKA Patient Focused Funding or as privatization proponents in Canada now refer to it, Activity Based Funding was a central pillar of Dr Day's crusade against the wholly public system and Ouelett waxes similarly rhapsodic about it, despite its long, world wide history of expensive failure. When a policy idea changes it's alias every few years, its usually to try to escape its own record.

Unfortunately the CMA appears to have abdicated it's leadership role in promoting the best healthcare possible for Canadians for another year by picking another market ideologue as their leader.

UPDATE: A Creative Revolution tells the story of An American in Canada, and reminds us exactly what we're being asked to give up.

UPDATE 2: It never fails, you pen scathing attacks on an outgoing and an incoming CMA President and then they offer you a whole bunch of new ammunition on the cover of the Globe and Mail the very next day. Actually that's only happened to me this once, but you get the idea.

Dr. Ouellet unashamedly promotes the massive transformation of Canadian healthcare into a market driven sector, but that's OK because he also believes in pharmacare subsidization of the drug industry and his horoscope tells him he's the best man for the job.

Meanwhile, outgoing CMA president Brian Day says 'that a large majority of Canadians - 68 per cent - want a major overhaul of the health system.' and that "It is time to act. Change is both necessary and inevitable." but fails to mention that Canadians continue to strongly resist private sector solutions no matter how carefully we're coached.
Dr. Day also bemoaned the fact that there is a reluctance to discuss and debate these issues publicly. "The private-public rhetoric on health care is a relic of tedious and tiresome propaganda. Those who argue against and demonize the private sector need a reality check,"
So parsing that, there should be more willingness to discuss and debate these issues publicly - unless you disagree with the elite consensus that we must move away from the public model and expand the market's role in health care, in which case you are just spouting 'tedious propaganda' and really should just shut up and do what you're told.

UPDATE 3: The push for more privatization of healthcare is class warfare:
But Danielle Martin, chair of Canadian Doctors for Medicare, argued that Ouellet's proposals would drain resources from the public system, which is already sorely lacking in nurses and physicians.
"There's no doubt that those kinds of proposals would increase access for people who can afford to pay for their own health care, but they would decrease access and wait times for everybody else," Martin said in an interview. "That's been the experience in Australia, where they implemented a private system alongside the public system.
In those areas where the amount of private activity was greatest, the wait times were the highest in the public system."

Monday, August 18, 2008

Cory Doctorow endorses Anne Lagacé Dowson

BoingBoing co-founder, columnist and author Cory Doctorow has thrown his support behind the NDP candidate in Westmount-Ville-Marie. Dowson, a family friend of Doctorow, asked him for his endorsement and after interviewing her about her platform he happily gave it.

I've just spent half an hour on the phone with Dowson and I'm happy to say that based on what she told me about her platform, I'm absolutely delighted to offer her my unqualified endorsement.

Dowson pointed out that the NDP is the only federal Canadian party with a dedicated digital affairs critic: the always-sharp Charlie Angus, a former punk musician late of the band L'Etranger, who I used to see headlining punk shows when I was a teenager. Angus and the NDP have led the political criticism of the Tory Bill 61, a Canadian version of America's Digital Millennium Copyright Act, a copyright bill that was drafted in secret, without input from Canadian stakeholders, including coalitions of Canadian creators and music labels.

The NDP has also led the pack on criticising the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, another secretly negotiated proposal, this time for a global treaty on copyright that would dramatically increase the search, seizure and surveillance obligations to Canada and other signatories, forcing them to spy on everyday individuals to protect the profits of a few giant record companies.

Dowson also endorsed the NDP's activism on net neutrality -- Canada's major ISPs, Bell and Rogers, have led the world's Internet companies in a race to the bottom, imposing secret caps, spying on users, blocking protocols, and even blocking downstream ISPs' customers (so that ISPs that buy their backhaul from Bell are subject to the same filtering as Bell's own retail customers).

Sunday, August 17, 2008

Sunday Linkblast - August 17

Friday, August 15, 2008

The Newer Deal

Check out this excellent piece in Salon by Michael Lind, it has deep applicability to Canada.

Basically Lind suggests that the Democratic Party went down a rat hole when it federalized social issues and became the party of liberal views on abortion and sexuality and turned right on economic issues. Much as the Liberal Party has in Canada.

Lind suggests that a stronger recipe for success would be almost exactly the opposite.

In fact, the majority of Americans, including many social conservatives, never ceased to support New Deal policies, which from Social Security and Medicare to the G.I. Bill have remained popular with the public throughout the entire Nixon-to-Bush era. Consider the results of a June 17, 2008, Rockefeller Foundation/Time poll. When "favor strongly" and "favor somewhat" are combined, one gets the following percentages for policies favored by overwhelming majorities: increase the minimum wage to keep up with the cost of living (88 percent); increase government spending on things like public-works projects to create jobs (86 percent); put stricter limits on pollution we put into the atmosphere (85 percent); limit rate increases on adjustable rate mortgages (82 percent); provide quality healthcare to all, regardless of ability to pay (81 percent); impose higher tax incentives for alternative energy (81 percent); provide government-funded childcare to all parents so they can work (77 percent); provide more paid maternity/dependent care leave (76 percent); make it less profitable for companies to outsource jobs to foreign countries (76 percent); expand unemployment benefits (76 percent).

Note that almost all of the policy proposals that excite the American public are exactly the sort of old-fashioned, "paleoliberal" spending programs or systems of government regulation that are supposed to be obsolete in this era of privatization, deregulation and free-market globalization, according to neoliberals and libertarians. Bill Clinton to the contrary, the public clearly does not think that "the era of big government is over." Nor does the public show any interest in the laundry lists of teeny-weeny tax credits for this and that that neoliberals love to propose, to appear compassionate without spending real money. The public wants the middle-class welfare state to be rounded out by a few major additions -- chiefly, healthcare and childcare -- and the public also wants the government to grow the economy by investing in public works and favoring companies that locate their production facilities inside the U.S.

There, in a sentence, is a program for a neo-Rooseveltian party that could effect an epochal realignment in American politics.

In Canada of course, along with a pronounced social liberalism at odds with American trends, there is a similar if not more pronounced affection from the majority of Canadians for so called 'big government' policies. Despite years of hectoring from political and media elites pushing a market uber alles meme Canadians stubbornly remain economic as well as social leftists - as BC's market worshipping Liberal government found out to their dismay when they tried to steer public consultations in the direction of gutting public health care.

And yet, election campaign rhetoric aside, we keep electing governments that talk a good populist game and then start catering to big business and attacking the public sector before the ink is dry on promises to do the opposite.

Stephane Dion describes himself in an interview with the Globe and Mail as an 'economic right winger' and nobody thinks to ask the obvious followup question; 'What's left besides economics to be left wing about?'

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Research: The Octopus God

Octopuses are smarter than they should be. Every other invertebrate registers as static on an EEG. An Octopus generates the kind of slow looping patterns you'd see in a dog or maybe even a primate.
Na Kika- The octopus-god of the Gilbert Islands (Kiribati). His many arms served him well when he shoved up the earth from the bottom of the sea to form the islands, the beaches and the rocks. He is the son of Na Atibu and Nei Teuke, the first beings.
Octopuses are among the very few of their charges that Aquarium staff will give names to. They know them as escape artists: A tank that was full of fish yesterday is empty this morning and there's a wet trail from a sealed octopus tank across the room and back again. And a much fatter very self satisfied octopus. In zoos the escape artists are orangutans another of nature's anti-social loners.
The Hawaiʻian creation myth relates that the present cosmos is only the last of a series, having arisen in stages from the wreck of the previous universe. In this account, the octopus is the lone survivor of the previous, alien universe.
Octopuses have a unique flexible brain wrapped around their esophagus. It has complicated whorls and ridges and a very complex visual cortex. It needs to be; Octopuses apparently coordinate the movements of their two legs and six arms by sight.
Kanaloa - The Hawaiian Creator, the equivalent of Tangaroa from Maori myths. He is also the god of the underworld, who can teach magic. He appears in the shape of an octopus.

They learn. They remember things. They make plans. They play.
The Samoan demigod Tae-o-Tagaloa is born of a woman part human and part fe'e ("octopus"), hence he is part god and part human.[13] Magic connected with the number eight throughout southern Polynesia may derive from the eight-armed octopus. The Maui figure, sometimes represented as a son of the Tagaroa family, is "eight-headed" in Tahiti, "eighth born" in Samoa.[14] In the Marquesas, according to Handy, "an octopus, or if one could not be obtained, a taro root with eight rootlets was used ceremonially in certain rites."
The tragedy of the octopus is that it has enormous potential brain power and no time to develop it. A long lived Octopus lasts at most five or six years. They breed once and then whither up and die.

But what if that process could be stopped, the biological kill switch blocked?

UPDATE: I sourced the passage that in the Hawai'ian creation myth 'the present cosmos is only the last of a series, having arisen in stages from the wreck of the previous universe. In this account, the octopus is the lone survivor of the previous, alien universe.'

It's from Oceanic Mythology by Roland B. Dixon published in 1916. Dixon appears to have been an odd egg, 'Even though Dixon was looked upon by fellow anthropologists as a very knowledgeable man, he was looked up to by very few because of his impersonal nature. Alfred Tozzer, one of his Harvard colleagues, spoke of Dixon: “he was rigid and unbending in his ideas and he shrank from personal contacts”' Very much in the classic Lovecraftian model of the aesthetically sensitive, vaguely hysterical, obsessed academic investigator. A life-long New Englander of course.

Here's the relevant passage:

One of the most curious and interesting of Polynesian cosmogonic myths is that found in Hawaii, which, although differing in several important particulars from those just outlined, must yet be considered as belonging to the same general type. In the very beginning, however, a striking variation occurs, in that although we have the source of all things from chaos, it is a chaos which is simply the wreck and ruin of an earlier world. "And so, creation begins in the origin of a new world from the shadowy reflex of one that is past. . . .

"Unsteadily, as in dim moon-shimmer,
From out Makalii's night-dark veil of cloud
Thrills, shadow-like, the prefiguration of the world to be."

The drama of creation, according to the Hawaiian account, is divided into a series of stages, and in the very first of these life springs from the shadowy abyss and dark night. There is here, however, no long series of antecedent, vaguely personified entities ranged in genealogical sequence, but the immediate appearance of living things. At first the lowly zoophytes and corals come into being, and these are followed by worms and shellfish, each type being declared to conquer and destroy its predecessor, a struggle for existence in which the strongest survive. Parallel with this evolution of animal forms, plant life begins on land and in the sea--at first with the algae, followed by seaweeds and rushes. As type follows type, the accumulating slime of their decay raises the land above the waters, in which, as spectator of all, swims the octopus, the lone survivor from an earlier world.

Octo-Dancing from Reza Dolatabadi on Vimeo.

Preparing for the next minority government

Recent polls confirm what most observers have already predicted; the best the Tories can hope for in the likely election in October or November is holding on to their minority. A more likely result is a Liberal minority.

It would probably be a good idea for progressives to start thinking about what this minority will look like. It will certainly consist of the Liberals relying on the NDP to stay in power. Green support - despite almost frantic promotion by media elites - has yet to translate into bums in seats in the House and this election won't change that. If anything Elizabeth May's decision to hitch the Green Party's star to Stephane Dion and turning the Greens into a virtual adjunct of the Liberals is likely to cost them support.

So if Dion wants to enact his Green Shift, to one degree or another he will have to incorporate the NDP's cap and trade plan to assign the costs of cleaning up pollution to the largest polluters. Better to start preparing the groundwork now rather than later.

Social spending, foreign aid, defense policy, taxation - all areas where there are distinct and very real differences between the Liberals and the NDP, and all areas where the Liberals historically have been big on progressive rhetoric and slim on action.

If anything, the Liberals are even more obsequious to big business than the Conservatives are. Will they decide that protecting their friends on Bay Street is more important than keeping promises to the voters on Main Street? Given a majority they can get away with their preferred model of campaigning to the left and then governing to the right. In a minority their choice will be to actually govern or spend the next several years whining about the NDP pulling the plug again.

Despite the bad rap that fans of the unlimited power of majority governments give minority government, it has been very, very good to believers in progressive policy. Public health care, pensions, aid to students are all policies Liberals like to point to in their resume - they are less enthusiastic about admitting they were all the result of minority governments forcing them to actually govern rather than simply manage.

So Liberals can spend the next several months sneering at NDP supporters and moaning about vote splitting while actively trying to poach NDP votes and in the process handing seats to the Conservatives - or they can start preparing for the very likely result of having to work with us.

Time to see exactly how 'progressive' they really are.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Short of an Academy Award

I finally have something that I need to post about, so I am taking advantage of my contributor status to Cliff's blog.

Some of you may be aware of a nifty Canadian site called Mini Book Expo. They will send you free books, with the expectation that you review them, and hopefully post said review somewhere people can read it. While the site is Canadian, some of their titles are offered worldwide, so if the phrase "free books" makes you drool as it does to me, check them out.

I recently received the first book I requested from them, Murder at Hotel Cinema by Daniel Edward Craig; published by Midnight Ink, an imprint of Llewellyn Publications.


First off, I must say, there will be a spoiler or two in this review. I tried to think of a way to express my opinion without doing that, but I just can't. I won't give away the villain though, I promise.

I'm a sucker for a mystery novel; even cheesy predictable ones. I adore Agatha Christie. I love the TV show Monk. And yet this book somehow missed the mark with me.

I don't really feel like paraphrasing the dust-jacket, so I'm just going to do the lazy thing and copy it.

After losing the love of his life, dedicated hotelier Trevor Lambert takes a job as general manager of Hotel Cinema, a multi-million dollar rejuvenation of an Old Hollywood motor inn. It's the scene of a fabulous opening party until Tinseltown's hottest star, Chelsea Fricks, takes a fatal dive from the penthouse balcony. Rumors fly about a reckless publicity stunt or fame-driven suicide, but Chelsea's stab wounds tell another story. Hotel Cinema becomes the setting for a comical murder mystery starring Chelsea's pit bull publicist, her pin-up boyfriend, a star-struck detective, a tasteless tabloid reporter, and Trevor's insufferable boss. Struggling to protect his prized employees from the incriminating glare of the LAPD and the prying eyes of reporters, Trevor is forced to step into the spotlight, risking everything to expose the true killer.

Everybody with me so far? Great, on with the review.

With the story being set in Hollywood, many of the supporting characters display a shallow vapidity that drives me insane. Fortunately, it's clear the author does not intend for his readers to embrace this character flaw, so I did not have to fling the book across the room and cause our cat to wake up from his hard day of napping.

The mystery itself is pretty compelling. Mr Craig manages to let out enough clues to the killers identity intermixed with a few red herrings to keep you in relative suspense until the climax. Well, just before the climax, anyway.

My biggest issue lay in the character development of some of the more important figures in the book. The Hotel Cinema's owner and his family are a collection of merged stereotypes. Instead of feeling sympathy for Trevor in having to deal with them I found myself wondering how in the name of the Flying Spaghetti Monster he hadn't politely excused himself from the job interview, or at the very least parted ways in the first week of employment.

Which leads into the largest miss of the entire book for me, Trevor himself. In trying to paint a character dedicated to his employees, Mr. Craig overshoots the mark. I got the feeling that if he could have attached a flashing neon sign to Trevor reading:


he would have done it. Ok, so there's never any actual mention of kitten-loving, but only because the author didn't think of it.

Trevor is also dealing with his fiancee having died in a plane crash approximately 1 year before the events in the book. At first, it seemed that this sub plot was simply a framework for how Trevor interprets events around him. Had it stayed that way, it would have been a strong tool in establishing Trevor's motivations and personality. Sadly it was not left there.

About halfway through the book, there started to appear hints that perhaps the fiancee hadn't actually boarded the plane, and that a mix up in boarding passes with another woman (who coincidentally looked much like the fiancee) enabled the fiancee to simply walk away while the world believed she died. I kept hoping that I was wrong, that the story wasn't going there. To my disappointment, the fiancee shows up during the tension filled climax.

To add insult to injury, after such an unlikely re-union, Mr Craig uses only half a page to explain why someone would allow those near and dear to her to believe she was dead for a year. And why she then ignored whatever good reasons she thought she had to turn back up. It also must me noted, this half page is mostly exposition. The fiancee gets to utter exactly one sentence.

Don't get me wrong. I love romance. I love happy endings. The Princess Bride, Ever After, and many others happily reside in my DVD collection. I wanted Rose to be able to stay with the Doctor (if you have to ask, well, I'm sorry). But this was too much even for me. Ending on that note soured the whole book for me.

Overall, it was a decent book. Just don't read the last page.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Some perspective

It's been pointed out by others, but why is what John Edwards did a huge scandal when John McCain abandoned his disabled first wife, the mother of his children, to marry the billionaire heiress he was having an affair with? An heiress who went on to be caught using the children's aid medical charity she ran as her own personal prescription pad to feed her addictions?

If we're really going to have a talk about family values that is.

Plus, Shorter Clinton campaign: 'MemememememememememeMEMEMEMEMEME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!'

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Remember when Ben Stein didn't suck?

I know it's been a while but he was a sporadically funny comedic actor, albeit with a one note style and then host of a cleverer than average game show. More recently he's been arguing evolutionary theory leads to death camps and now he's spitting venomous bile at Paris Hilton.
So, as we all know, Senator McCain has finally found his campaign footing. With his commercial showing Paris Hilton and some other starlet then showing Obama with German crowds saying "O-BA-MA! O-BA-MA!" and a voice saying, "He's the biggest celebrity in the world...but is he ready to lead?" McCain has limned the key weakness of Obama: or maybe the key weaknesses: He's young and he's more of a rock star than an experienced leader. Maybe he's also a bit exotic.

Anyway, it's a devastating commercial. If you pull on the threads in the commercial, lots of Barack Obama disappears.
Yes, he's actually referring to this crude and amateurish effort:

And no you didn't imagine it, that line 'Maybe he's also a bit exotic' actually is Stein actively and openly lauding coded, racist terminology and dog whistle pander politics. As part of why he's impressed by the 'devastating' commercial.

So then Paris Hilton actually responds, which I think most people would be forced to admit is really only fair. And her response gives lessons in what the word devastating really means. Devastatingly funny,
devastatingly clever and a devastating diss to John McCain.

No, really:
See more funny videos at Funny or Die

See what I mean? It's clever. It's funny. It's absolutely devastating to McCain.

And Ben Stein is pissed:
How do the Friends of Barack Obama respond? They have Paris Hilton in a tiny bathing suit making fun of John McCain for being old. That's right. Too old. Too wrinkly. Too much gray hair.
How dare that little slut respond when she's gratuitously attacked on national television? How dare she fight back?

No, really. Read on:
Now, this is perfect. First of all, Paris Hilton was a total nobody party girl in West Hollywood until she and her boyfriend made AND then "someone" SOLD a hard core video of Paris Hilton having sex. So basically, she got her start as a porn star. And she's being trotted out by the media barons to smear John McCain, as brave and patriotic a man as lives in this nation. This little tramp, who isn't even close to being pretty, is belittling a man who spent six years in brutal captivity for defending his country.

Paris, get this: in modern day America, we don't mock people because of things they have done that are unavoidable and not in any way blameworthy. We don't make fun of blacks for being black. We don't make fun of women for having breasts. We don't make fun of old people for being old. This is uncool from any source. It is downright disgusting coming from a porn star -- and not a very good porn star at that (yes, I have seen the tape). And we especially don't like being told how to vote by porn stars. If this is the best the Hollywood pals of Barack Obama can do, maybe John McCain has more of a shot than I thought he did.

Oh, by the way, Paris, there are a few more of us gray haired people registered to vote than there are porn star party girls.
Yeah, that wasn't creepy at all.

The Conservative's incoherent drug policy

Shorter Tony Clement: "Giving addicts clean needles is a good idea, but instead of letting them use them in a safe facility attended by health professionals they should then take them into a dangerous dirty alley, mix their drugs with stinking puddle water and overdose the way God intended."

Oh and: "Despite the many polls showing the opposite, the majority of Canadians agree with me."

Emotional terrorists

The Fred Phelps group the Westboro Baptist Church (You remember them from such displays of moral imbecility as this.) plan to to picket the funeral of Tim McLean Jr., the victim of the Greyhound Bus attack in Winnipeg, declaring, "God is punishing Canada." After PETA's tin-eared equivalency of humans and animals this is just part of an unending assault on this young man's family.

Why are the Phelps morons allowed into Canada?

I never thought I'd be a fan of a group called the Patriot Guard Riders, but we could use a Canadian version of them if these psychotic douchebags follow though on their plans to howl "God hates fags!" while a grieving family buries their son.

UPDATE: Stopped at the border.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Clean coal is a dirty lie

This week's Rolling Stone efficiently dismantles the carbon sequestration con peddled by among others, Premier Stelmach of Alberta and Premier Wall of Saskatchewan.

Unlike pollutants such as sulfur dioxide, which is relatively easy to remove with a scrubber installed on the smokestack of a coal plant, CO2 emerges in a diffuse stream that is difficult to filter. To solve this problem, there are basically two choices. Option A: Build gasification plants, which use heat and pressure to gasify the coal, allowing the CO2 to be captured before combustion. Option B: Bolt a CO2 scrubber on the stack of a conventional coal plant. The problem with both options is that they are prohibitively expensive, jacking up the cost of the plant by at least 20 percent and lowering its output by up to 40 percent.
And even if somebody invents a cheap, efficient way to capture CO2 from existing coal plants, you still have to bury it. First, the CO2 gas must be compressed into a supercritical fluid — a process that uses up to 10 percent of the energy created by burning the coal in the first place. And pumping the liquefied carbon gas underground consumes even more energy. But the real problem for underground disposal ("storage" is an industry euphemism) is one of scale. The most significant storage project in the world today is located off the coast of Norway, where StatoilHydro, a large Norwegian oil and gas company, has been pumping 1 million tons of CO2 into a reservoir beneath the North Sea each year since 1996. It's an enormous engineering project, deploying one of the largest offshore platforms in the world. But compared to the engineering effort that would be required to stabilize the climate, it's inconsequential. It would take 10 Statoil-size projects to store the annual emissions of a single big coal plant.When you think about what it would mean to bury the CO2 from even a fraction of the coal plants in the world, the scale of this undertaking gets downright absurd. Vaclav Smil, an energy expert at the University of Manitoba, argues that "carbon sequestration is irresponsibly portrayed as an imminently useful option for solving the challenge" of global warming. Smil points out that to sequester just 25 percent of the CO2 currently emitted by stationary sources — mostly coal plants — we would have to create a system that would produce twice as much fluid every year as the world's crude-oil industry: an undertaking that would take decades to accomplish.

Then there's the question of safety. "If it's done right," says Susan Hovorka, a sequestration expert at the University of Texas, "the risks of burying CO2 are minimal." But if it's not done right, the buried carbon gas could migrate through cracks in the earth and, at high concentrations, create deadly pools of an invisible, odorless asphyxiant. Improperly stored CO2 could also trigger earthquakes or damage freshwater drinking supplies by pushing up salty brine from deep aquifers. Given the risks, Big Coal is likely to pass off the liability for these high-tech CO2 dumps onto the public, pushing for a version of the Price-Anderson Nuclear Industries Indemnities Act, which assures power companies that if their nukes melt down, they won't be liable for the full cost of the disaster.

Bottom line: Clean coal and carbon sequestration are disdainful lies purely designed as delaying tactic PR exercises to allow big coal to keep shoveling in the money while the world burns.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Proof that Bush and Blair knew Iraq had no WMDs

The Iraq Intelligence Chief, Tahir Jalil Habbush -- a man still carrying with $1 million reward for capture, the Jack of Diamonds in Bush's famous deck of wanted men -- has been America's secret source on Iraq. Starting in January of 2003, with Blair and Bush watching, his secret reports began to flow to officials on both sides of the Atlantic, saying that there were no WMD and that Hussein was acting so odd because of fear that the Iranians would find out he was a toothless tiger). The U.S. deep-sixed the intelligence report in February, "resettled" Habbush to a safe house in Jordan during the invasion and then paid him $5 million in what could only be considered hush money.

In the fall of 2003, after the world learned there were no WMD -- as Habbush had foretold -- the White House ordered the CIA to carry out a deception. The mission: create a handwritten letter, dated July, 2001, from Habbush to Saddam saying that Atta trained in Iraq before the attacks and the Saddam was buying yellow cake for Niger with help from a "small team from the al Qaeda organization." The mission was carried out, the letter was created, popped up in Baghdad, and roiled the global newcycles in December, 2003 (conning even venerable journalists with Tom Brokaw). The mission is a statutory violation of the charter of CIA, and amendments added in 1991, prohibiting CIA from conduction disinformation campaigns on U.S. soil.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Demotivation as an art form

My girlrfriend asked me to pick her up a Zune in Edmonton (she thinks the thing has gotten a bum rap, the usual reflexive anti-Microsoft bias tarring a device that actually is pretty cool) and we've been checking out different podcasts. This one is brilliant. I've worked in this office.

Too many of us have.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Sunday Linkblast - August 2 (Now With Bat Shark Repellent!)

  • Tragic News For Albertans
You bastards. You lousy bastards. The Alberta provincial government has outlawed $1 drink specials and limited Happy Hour. I was able to ignore your general disdain for social and environmental issues when I had the cheap drinks to get me through. This time, it's personal, Stelmach.

  • "A Free Lunch Without The Calories" For Your Muscles
The Salk Institute has announced the development of drugs that fools your muscles into thinking you exercised. In other words, exercise in a pill. I look forward to years of stories about people who screwed themselves up overdosing on it.

  • Galileo! Galileo! Galileo Figaro!
Brian May, Guitarist for Queen, has just had his PhD thesis published. Most people don't know that May is also an astrophysicist.

  • Wonder What NRA Donors Think Of This...?
It turns out that those staunch defenders of liberty, et cetera, The National Rifle Association hired a spy to get the inside scoop on several gun control advocacy groups.

  • Rusty Idols Achieves Immortality!
Finally: It's been fun filling in for Cliff, and this will be the last of me here before I return to The Church Of Mothra. But before I go, by way of thanks, The Church wishes to bestow immortality of a sort on Cliff and his blog. You see, I've discovered after much Googling that although you can find a picture of damned near anything on the Internet, there is one obscure cultural icon that you can't find an image of anywhere.

Until now, that is. Ladies and gentlemen... the Bat Shark Repellent.

From now on whenever anyone is searching for a picture of Bat Shark Repellent, here it is. Rusty Idols: Your Number One Bat Shark Repellent destination on the web!

Thanks, Cliff, it's been fun. Now, a final blessing from Honorary Church Of Mothra Archbishop JCubDK:



Back home... a little over thirty hours or so. Got access to the series of tubes and checked in, Matthew has filled in nicely and I'm sure will have one or two more rants to rant before I'm really back. In the meantime, this one from The Mahones is for Daenna who knows why:

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