Dec 062008

I was slacking off this morning (it’s a Saturday, after all) and I decided to watch a DVD that has been lying around my desk for months. It’s an award-winning Hungarian movie, KONTROLL. No, it has nothing to do with Maxwell Smart’s CONTROL, fighting the evil agents of KAOS. KONTROLL, a movie about the lives of ticket inspectors, train conductors, a serial killer, and other strange characters, is set in its entirety in the Budapest subway system. A subway system that becomes a world by itself, with no daylight, no sunshine, and no contact with the outside world other than through the anonymous masses of subway passengers. I read wonderful things about this movie (it has won a respectable number of international awards) and all I can say is that its reputation is well deserved. Wow! I was in the second grade when the first modern subway line opened in Budapest (the city has a single underground line that is much older, built in 1896, but the first line of the new modern subway system was opened in 1970) and the subway has been part of my daily life until I left Hungary in 1986. Still, I don’t think that after watching this movie I’ll ever be able to look at those subways quite the same way as before.

 Posted by at 4:40 pm
Dec 052008

It happened yesterday, but it took me a while to digest the news.

Our Prime Minister, gravely concerned about democracy, decided to shut down Parliament.

But wait. Canada is a parliamentary democracy. The government is not elected directly by the people, but chosen by members of the House of Parliament, and answers to that Parliament. These members of Parliament represent the people who elected them. If the majority of them no longer has confidence in the government, the government no longer has legitimacy. To pretend otherwise, to suggest that the shutting down or Parliament was done in order to protect democracy, is no different from that famous Vietnam-era explanation about destroying the village in order to save it.

Also, is it not the same excuse used by many despots around the world who tear down their countries’ democratic institutions in order to maintain their grip on power?

Of course I don’t think that Harper can be compared to, say, a Lukasenko. Nor do I believe that Canada’s democratic system of government is in danger of collapsing. But, doing what he did yesterday, Harper clearly demonstrated his contempt towards the very democracy that he professes to defend by this deeply undemocratic act. I hope the opposition will be able to maintain their resolve and unity and will get rid of Harper as soon as Parliament resumes, on January 26.

I am not necessarily a fan of the US system of government, but this incident underlines why, at least in one respect, it is superior to ours. In the US, the President is not elected by the legislature, but directly (well, technically indirectly, through the electorial system, but that is another issue) by the people. Nor can the legislature remove the President except under very special circumstances, if it is clearly proven that the President abused his office or committed a crime.

Perhaps the next time we consider constitutional reform here in Canada, we should consider the idea of a head of government that is elected directly by the people and does not require the confidence of the legislature to function.

 Posted by at 7:45 pm
Dec 052008

For an intelligent mammalian species with a total of ten appendages on the ends of those limbs that they do not use for perambulation, the number 10 and its various integral powers have special significance. The square of 10, that is, 100, is no exception. Unfortunately, this is also the number of such intelligent mammals who have been, as of today, killed in a place called Afghanistan, while wearing the military uniform of an even larger group of intelligent mammals who collectively call themselves Canada.

The number is alarming, but so is the trend.

Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan, by quarterly period

Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan, by quarter.

 Posted by at 7:33 pm
Dec 042008

I went for a walk tonight, and I walked all the way up to Sussex street. As I was getting near Sussex, I began to hear the faint hum of a generator. Sure enough, it belonged to a news media van, as I suspected. There were several of them parked near the entrance of Rideau Hall, waiting like vultures for any announcement that might come from the Governor General concerning the fate of Harper’s government.

I don’t like Harper, but I don’t really dislike him either. He likes cats, and that speaks well of him. However, what he has been doing yesterday and today is despicable. By bashing the separatists, he’s doing no favor to the country he professes to serve, and while it may be a smart tactical decision, it spells strategic disaster for the Conservatives in Quebec.

Why is it that conservatives around the world are resorting to such negative tactics? There was Palin in the US presidential campaign. There is Harper. I am also watching the politics of Hungary, where calling the Prime Minister a traitor or worse is commonplace among the followers of his political opponents. Even when I agree with them otherwise, I find such tactics revolting.

 Posted by at 3:46 am
Dec 032008

The usual rule is, things are bound to get worse before they get better. The situation with travel security is no exception. Never mind not being able to take a pair of nail scissors or a bottle of water on board an airplane… Greyhound Canada began to implement airport-style security at bus terminals. This is insane, people! Gruesome as that beheading incident was a few months ago, do you really want to live in a society of people who are officially so afraid of one another, they are not willing to travel together unless none of them carries a corkscrew or a knitting needle?

This is just plain stupid. Dumb. Idiotic. I hope the extra expense will drive Greyhound Canada into bankruptcy.

 Posted by at 9:12 pm
Dec 022008

In recent weeks, there has been a lot of discussion in the physics community about a curious observation: an abundance of energetic positrons observed by a satellite named PAMELA. According to some people, this unexpected abundance of positrons is likely caused by annihilation of massive dark matter particles, constituting “smoking gun” evidence that dark matter really exists.

Of course it is possible that this abundance is due to some conventional astrophysics, such as pulsars doing this or that. This is a subject of on-going dispute.

One thing I do not see discussed is that the anticipated behavior is apparently based on a model developed several years ago that uses as many as eleven adjustable parameters yet nevertheless, does not produce a spectacularly good fit of even the low energy data. I wonder if I am missing something.

PAMELA positron fraction and theoretical models.

PAMELA positron fraction and theoretical models.

 Posted by at 4:31 am