Feb 112017
 

For the second time in a row, I am seeing a report on CTV about the protests against the Trudeau government’s decision to scrap electoral reform. Their coverage suggests that these are significant protests, representing widespread anger among Canadians.

They aren’t. Let me be generous: Although CTV’s cameraman did his darnedest best to make the crowd appear bigger than it really was, there were maybe a couple of dozen people, tops, behind this young gentleman leading the protest.

Mr. Rae told his followers, by the way, that “Mr. Trudeau does not get to decide what is and what isn’t an issue for Canadians.” Forgive me Mr. Rae, but you are wrong. Mr. Trudeau, the duly elected prime minister of Canada with a majority government, does get to decide what is and isn’t an issue for Canadians. In turn, we Canadians do get to decide whether or not we wish to keep Mr. Trudeau and his government after the next elections.

Meanwhile, I am actually happy that Mr. Trudeau listened not to loud-mouthed protesters but to the facts and was willing to spend some of his political capital to make the right decision. While first-past-the-post has its shortcomings, it is not inherently worse than other electoral systems, and it is absolutely better than any system that involves, e.g., party lists, legislators that do not represent a specific constituency. And messing with the electoral system could very well have established a precedent that, in the long run, might lead to American-style gerrymandering.

But I still don’t understand what CTV’s game is, pretending that these protests are more significant than they really are. I am, in fact, questioning the journalistic integrity behind the decision to give these minuscule protests disproportionate coverage.

 Posted by at 6:17 pm
Jan 302017
 

It appears that we are entering the era of flawed democracies.

Our country, Canada, remains firmly in the category of full democracy. But that is no longer true south of the border. In an annual survey by The Economist, the United States slid down the list (and this is based on data from 2016, before Trump’s inauguration). It is now one of the leading flawed democracies, with a democracy score virtually identical to that of Japan.

And even as the number of full and flawed democracies, put together, remains roughly the same (80 in 2008, 75 in 2016 if I counted correctly), the number of full democracies is rapidly shrinking. There were 28 full democracies on the list back in 2008; by 2016, this number shrank to 19, a more than 30% decrease in just eight years.

Meanwhile, the examples of India and Mongolia demonstrate that democracy is not just a privilege for the rich. These countries are decidedly third world economies with GDP per capita roughly one tenth that of Canada or the US, yet they manage to maintain democracies no more flawed than the regimes on the eastern fringes of the European Union, such as Hungary or Romania.

 Posted by at 10:20 am
Jan 292017
 

I promised myself not to blog about politics for a while, but events being what they are, I cannot keep my damn mouth shut or my damn fingers not typing.

These two screen captures speak for themselves.

First, the number of Americans killed by terrorists from the seven Muslim-majority countries that are on Mr. President, Generalissimo, smartest-man-in-the-world Donald J. Trump’s traveler ban:

Next, the number of Americans killed by terrorists from three Muslim-majority countries that are not on the Generalissimo’s oh-so-perfect list to protect Americans:

The difference? As many pointed out, these three countries that are not on Trump’s list have one thing in common: business ties with the Trump empire.

Dear Trump supporters, tell me again how your beloved Tweety Orangeface, heading the bestest and least corruptest American government ever, is draining the swamp and protecting Americans?

 Posted by at 10:17 am
Jan 202017
 

It is well known that the despicable Biff Tannen character from the Back to the Future movies was based on a certain real-life despicable mogul by the name of Donald J. Trump. In particular, the “rich Biff” of 1985, having established a casino and real estate empire after receiving a sports almanac from the future back in 1955, was modeled after everyone’s favorite Trump.

In light of this and today’s historic events, it is only appropriate to imagine how the real-life Biff, I mean Trump, would have fared in one of the movies’ iconic scenes:

I hate manure…

Yes, I know it is more than a little crass to share this tweet. Even so, it is far less distasteful than the many racist caricatures that followed Obama’s inauguration and frankly, it makes it a lot easier to deal with this historic day.

 Posted by at 4:24 pm
Jan 142017
 

So here is another thing I don’t expect to see from Donald Trump: Publishing an article in the highly respected multidisciplinary journal Science.

His predecessor, the still sitting Barack Obama did just that: his article about “The irreversible momentum of clean energy” was published yesterday, January 13, 2017. In it, he makes the case that economic growth does not depend on energy-related emissions, and that combating climate change does not require accepting lower growth or a reduced standard of living.

 Posted by at 9:33 pm
Jan 142017
 

I just saw this US Defense Department video about a swarm of high speed drones released at altitude by an F/A-18. The drones communicated with each other, self-organized, and went on to execute predetermined tasks autonomously.

In case anyone is wondering why I worry about the future of AI, this is a perfect demonstration.

Meanwhile, the Defense Department is also continuing its trials of the Sea Hunter, a 132-ft, 145-ton unmanned, autonomous vessel designed to hunt submarines.

Don’t worry, the brave new world is coming…

 Posted by at 9:22 pm
Jan 102017
 

I just finished listening to Obama’s farewell address.

Now why do I have the feeling that this may be the very last time in my life that I’ll be hearing an American President preach goodness and decency instead of contempt and hate? Uplifting thoughts instead of fear and loathing?

Meanwhile, there appears to be a multitude of clowns on the Interwebs who think repealing Obamacare is okay, because they are insured through the Affordable Care Act:

What can I say? Enjoy your improved healthcare starting next month, folks. Glad I live in pinko commie Canada where we have had decent (albeit far from perfect) medicare for half a century. Of course once Trump, along with his BFF Putin, manage to blow up the world, none of this will matter anymore.

 Posted by at 10:05 pm
Jan 082017
 

Here is a quote from one of my favorite novels, Jack London’s Smoke Bellew:

“The world’s gone smash. There’s nothin’ regular an’ uniform no more. The multiplication table’s gone loco. Two is eight, nine is eleven, and two-times-two is eight hundred an’ forty-six—an’—an’ a half. Anything is everything, an’ nothing’s all, an’ twice all is cold-cream, milk-shakes, an’ calico horses.”

Why this particular quote? Because I was reading about Trump’s infamous medical report, prepared by a Harold N. Bornstein, MD, from the great city of New York. The doctor is real, but the medical report is… weird (reproduced below.) Apparently, Mr. Trump tests positive for everything.

But what is even weirder is the doctor himself and his Web site. Once a respectable site advertising a family practice, today it redirects to a site that sells an annoying teddy bear.

I kid you not. A site that sells “The Original Annoying Happy Birthday Teddy, the bear that never stops singing ‘Happy Birthday to you…'”.

So perhaps that explains why I think that anything is everything, an’ nothing’s all, an’ twice all is cold-cream, milk-shakes, an’ calico horses.

Or maybe I got high on something without realizing it.

I mean… is there anything about America’s esteemed President-Elect that is not a boldfaced lie?

 Posted by at 1:14 am
Jan 042017
 

The Emperor has no clothes.

Sycophants praise his choices. The lush fabric. The elegant, fashionable tailoring. The beautiful stitching.

Yet the Emperor has no clothes.

Unfortunately, even his critics no longer acknowledge this fact. They criticize his clothes. They question his taste in garments. They reject the gaudy colors. They ridicule the bad workmanship.

But none have the courage to tell the world the truth: This Emperor is naked.

And thus it came that the lessons of history are once again forgotten, and all its mistakes are yet again set to be repeated.

 Posted by at 1:34 pm
Dec 232016
 

Last night, after I watched the final episode of an amazing Brazilian television series, 3% (yes, that’s the title) on Netflix, I felt compelled to listen to the immortal song Aquarela do Brasil, especially the Geoff Muldaur version that was the title song for Terry Gilliam’s film Brazil.

As I was listening to the song, I realized that along with Vera Lynn’s We’ll Meet Again, it’s one of the songs I’d like to listen to when the world comes to an end.

Runner-ups include Nena’s 99 Luftballons and Anita Kelsey’s version (known from the film Dark City) of Sway (¿Quién será?)

As to why I am thinking about the end of the world…

 Posted by at 12:26 pm
Dec 152016
 

I saw this question on Quora and I could not resist: I just felt compelled to offer my take, against my better judgment.

So here is how, in my opinion, you make fastest Everyone Dies™:

My answer is purely hypothetical. It is about a yet-to-be-discovered planet and the civilization that lives there. It is a piece of science-fiction. Any similarities to real persons, be they living or dead, are purely coincidental.

  1. Pick an incompetent, thin-skinned, narcissistic tycoon as the next leader of the country possessing the most powerful military that ever existed on the planet, with a nuclear arsenal capable of killing everyone several times over.
  2. Pick a highly competent, murderous sociopath, a former secret agent of a totalitarian superstate, as the ruler of the country possessing the second most powerful military that ever existed on the planet, with a nuclear arsenal capable of killing everyone several times over.
  3. Let #1 think that he can trust and he can be BFF with #2 and thus go down in history as the greatestest and bestest leader ever.
  4. Let #2 think that he can rely on the naivety, incompetence, and egotism of #1 to accomplish the goal of restoring his country’s lost pride and possessions.
  5. Sit back and watch the show. Consider yourself blessed that you are a) in your fifties, b) have no children to worry about, and c) that you live near the downtown core of a capital city, so that when the inevitable flash comes, you will not even notice it as you are instantaneously vaporized along with your spouse, cats and all worldly possessions.

As I said, this is a piece of fiction, for entertainment purposes only. Any similarities you might notice to real persons or events are purely coincidental. Happy Holidays!

 Posted by at 10:30 am
Dec 042016
 

Last night, I went for a nice, long walk, maybe the last before the real snow comes and walking is no longer fun.

My route took me around several government buildings here in Ottawa Lowertown. Here is one of them, with some rather unusual light effects due to some low-hanging clouds and a partially closed bridge that is under renovation:

The picture doesn’t really give justice to the eerie, otherworldly light effects that I saw.

Later on during my walk, I looked through the glass front of an important government building that shall remain unnamed. Why? Because when I looked into the lobby, I saw not one but two uniformed security personnel… with their backs facing the front door, as they were both intently watching a television screen on which a hockey game was playing.

Ah, Canada! What a blessed country we are. And I am not naming the building because I don’t want these good people to get into any trouble, nor do I want to give any bad people ideas.

That said, I was tempted to snap a picture of these two. I decided not to do so… discretion is the better part of valor, and besides, who knows, maybe someone else was watching me, after all, through a security camera.

 Posted by at 11:50 pm
Nov 252016
 

I just read this article, arguing that the narrative, according to which “coastal elites” need to make an effort to understand rural America better, is woefully misguided and counterproductive.

The author’s point is that no, it’s not the coastal elites who fail to understand the woes of rural America. It’s rural America who fail to understand the causes of their own suffering. And a root cause among these is fundamentalist religion, which not only shape their belief systems (including racism and bigotry) but also expose them to demagogues, like TV preachers, who exploit them. Or, for that matter, billionaire presidential candidates who think living in the White House is so passé, as the toilets are not made of gold or whatever.

And thus it came that rural Americans routinely reject political ideas that benefit them, and routinely vote back into office Republican politicians, serving in local and state governments, whose policies do them the most harm.

The author admits that he has no good solution. But I think he is right about the fact that it’s not the coastal elites’ lack of understanding of rural America that is the problem.

 Posted by at 2:36 pm
Nov 232016
 

This was a potential nightmare scenario. Imagine if we found out that the swing state results of the Nov. 8 election were altered by hackers. Imagine if an investigation found that Hillary Clinton won these states after all, and hence, won the electoral college.

Remember the hanging chads of the 2000 election?

Remember the hanging chads of the 2000 election?

Why is it a nightmare? Because it would likely lead to a constitutional crisis with unpredictable consequences. Donald Trump would be unlikely to concede. But even he did, tens of millions of his supporters would likely find the results unacceptable. Even the predictable disaster of a Trump presidency is preferable to a crisis of such magnitude.

And last night, the specter of just such a crisis was raised, in the form of a New York Magazine article (which was soon echoed by other news outlets), reporting on the doubts and suspicions of prominent scientists who noted a bias in the county-by-county results, more likely to favor Trump in counties where votes were counted electronically.

But not so fast, says fivethirtyeight.com. You cannot just compare the raw results without accounting for demographics. And once you take demographics into account, the apparent bias disappears. And while fivethirtyeight notes that it is difficult to validate the integrity of the voting system in the United States, nonetheless the burden of proof is on those who claim electoral fraud, and so far, the burden of proof has not been met.

I no more welcome a Trump presidency today than I did two weeks ago, but an orderly transition is still preferable to the chaos of a constitutional crisis.

Meanwhile, Clinton’s lead in the popular vote count increased to over two million votes (yes, they are still counting the votes in some states, including mighty California). This in itself is unprecedented: never in the history of the United States did a candidate win the popular vote with such a wide margin, yet lose the electoral college.

 Posted by at 6:31 pm
Nov 222016
 

The horrific bombing of Guernica in 1937 inspired one of the best known of Pablo Picasso’s paintings. Yet images of the ruined city were not enough: The world did nothing, and two years later, another war began that brought the same horror, but on a much larger scale, to all of Europe and many parts of the world elsewhere.

Die Ruinen von Guernica 5603/37

And here we are in 2016, and it seems we learned nothing. Another civil war rages on, this time in Syria. And another rogue great power intervenes with its mighty warplanes, conducting indiscriminate bombings against civilian targets.

Just like in 1937, the world remains largely silent. Appeasing a great power and its power hungry despot is more important than lives. And we forget the lessons of history: despots cannot be appeased. They always want more. The demons of nationalism, awakened by false promises of restored pride, cannot be appeased. They will always demand more.

What horrors will follow in the coming years? Will we see the streets of Europe, perhaps North America, look like Aleppo’s today? Is Aleppo just a prelude to what is yet to come, just like Guernica was 79 years ago?

As I think of this, it brings to my mind a 33-year old German-language hit song, Nena’s 99 Luftballons.  Here is how that song ends (my less-than-perfect translation of the German lyrics; they also produced an English version but it was, well, rather lame):

Neunundneunzig Jahre Krieg
Ließen keinen Platz für Sieger
Kriegsminister gibt’s nicht mehr
Und auch keine Düsenflieger

Heute zieh’ ich meine Runden
Seh die Welt in Trümmern liegen
Hab ‘n Luftballon gefunden
Denk’ an Dich und lass’ ihn fliegen

Ninety-nine years of war
Left no room for a victor
There are no more war ministers
Also no more fighter bombers

Today as I took a stroll
Saw a world, ruined by war
There, I just found a balloon
Thinking of you, I let it fly soon

 Posted by at 10:57 am
Nov 152016
 

I just came across this recent conversation with Barack Obama about the challenges of the future, artificial intelligence, machine learning and related topics. A conversation with an intelligent, educated person who, while not an expert in science and technology, is not illiterate in these topics either.

Barack Obama Talks AI, Robo-Cars, and the Future of the World

And now I feel like mourning. I mourn the fact that for many years to come, no such intelligent conversation will be likely be heard in the Oval Office. But what do you do when a supremely qualified, highly intelligent President is replaced by a self-absorbed, misogynist, narcissistic blowhard?

Not much, I guess. I think my wife and I will just go and cuddle up with the cats and listen to some Pink Floyd instead.

 Posted by at 11:35 pm