Monday, 31 March 2008

Endangered Ratty gets legal protection

"The Wind in the Willows" By Kenneth Grahame - should be read to young children at bed time, everywhere. Much better than the dreadful Disney spin offs

Scientists find genes linked to diabetes

If you - or someone close to you - has type 2 diabetes, click the title and read the article. And then thank your lucky stars that the Human Genome Project did not fall foul of the sort of people who like to get in the way of scientific research because it interferes with their fondly held belief system.

It turns out that several genes appear to work together in the faulty transport of blood sugar. I am not surprised since we have known for a long time that some ethnic groups have a far higher incidence of type 2 diabetes - North American First Nations. So it has always been apparent that genetics play a role, and as probably expected too, it is very complicated indeed. So while we are no nearer to a "quick fix" our understanding of this very important disease is getting better.

Of course if it turns out that stem cells are part of the solution you had better hope that we can work out how to avoid the need for foetal stem cells. Because the cold dead hand of the fundies still blocks that route.

Saturday, 29 March 2008

What is wrong with High School

This is an old column from Dan Savage, the sex advice columnist who appears every week in the back of the Georgia Straight. He is reason enough to pick up the free paper every Friday - or check out on line. I did not read this article when it first appeared on May 6, 1999. It is about the Columbine shootings - and why they happened.

You should read it

Friday, 28 March 2008

CBC Radio Two and the CBC Radio Orchestra

This is a letter I wrote to my MP

If you do not know who your MP is click the title for the parliamentary search engine

You may copy this letter of you wish, but a personal one may be more effective
Dear [insert MP name here]

I am very reluctant to request political interference in the affairs of our national broadcaster. But recent events have made me very angry indeed. We support the CBC with taxes in order that we can have an alternative to commercial broadcasters. Unfortunately the CBC management seems not to understand the meaning of the words "public broadcasting".

Recent announcements have made it clear that Radio Two is to cease to be the home of good music, and will instead provide the sort of audible wall paper known as "elevator music". And the last surviving radio symphony orchestra in North America is to be scrapped. Not because it is not successful at what it has been doing for the last 70 years. But because it can be replaced by something cheaper.

It seems to me that if we cannot have a good public broadcaster for our taxes, then we would be better off without the CBC altogether. The commercial stations will not replace what we now have, but we do not need to spend taxes on what we are going to get. There is plenty of "easy listening" out there. We do not need to subsidize more of it.

I hope that you are getting many such messages from appalled Radio Two listeners, and those of use who appreciate what the Vancouver based radio orchestra represents. I trust you will raise these matters in the House and with your colleagues in the government.

[your name and address goes here]


You may also like to read Charlie Smith in the Straight on this issue

Just when you thought that TSA could not get stupider

Mercifully there is no image or video with this story

It's bad enough that fliers have to remove their shoes at the airport, but an abundance of caution became uncomfortably bizarre when a Texas woman was ordered to take off her nipple ring - with pliers.

Now can anyone explain why a nipple ring is a security threat. And what happens if my titanium wrist joint sets off the alarm? Am I supposed to cut my hand off?

and here is a longer version of the same story - the image is of a partial mannequin and even that is wearing a bra!

UPDATE March 29

The TSA has now "reviewed its procedures" No word of apology, of course, nor the slightest indication that setting metal detectors so high that they find nipple rings serves no useful purpose. But at least people will no be required to remove them. Is there any recorded instance of people having to remove ear rings worn in plain sight?

Thursday, 27 March 2008

Fumes 'leaking into plane cabins'

Thousands of air passengers are at risk from toxic fumes leaking into aircraft cabins, according to the Global Cabin Air Quality Executive pressure group.
I know that I have experienced this on more than one flight. The practice of re-circulating air in cabins started as fuel prices rose. Taking in fresh air at high altitudes requires considerable amounts of energy - because it is bloody cold up there. But fuel is expensive to buy and to carry around. And heating up frigid fresh air uses fuel. So the air on board most planes is dry and stale - and mostly recycled. So even the smallest amount of pollution gets concentrated.

This is just one more way in which the reality of air travel departs from the imaginary world portrayed in airline commercials. Flying is, by and large, a lot less fun than it once was.


I have forgotten where I found this image. It is labelled as "magnet". It is a quotation from "Alice" that I have liked for a long time. It is my belief that Alice Lidell would have been attending confirmation classes when she knew Dodgson. He never took holy orders, even though it was a condition of his employment. And Alice would have to take confirmation classes if she was to receive communion - which back then required fasting. So typically communion was taken "before breakfast" - and in order to take communion you had to agree to believe a lot of impossible things. Like "transubstantiation".

CBC Radio Orchestra Axed

I have just heard on the CBC Radio News that the last radio orchestra in North America will play its last concert this season.

What on earth is the point of the CBC? Why are we supporting this organisation with our taxes? Who is supposed to look after culture in this country?

Tuesday, 25 March 2008

Truth versus conviction

Rubin Carter, Special to the Sun
Published: Tuesday, March 25, 2008

What this article reveals is all the stuff that was not allowed to be heard in court. I recall this case very clearly and certainly at the time it never occurred to me that someone else might have committed this crime. But then the lack of evidence connecting them to the scene - but connecting three others still unidentified - was not heard in court. Nor mentioned of course in the press reports.

There is a long established tradition in our system that says the police much catch someone and get them convicted for serious crimes. The faster that happens and the more severe the sentence the happier we are. And we are now learning, thanks to improving forensic science, but also often to the subsequent revelations of evidence deliberately suppressed that the convictions are often, in a term used only in British courts, "unsafe".

In the US the burden of proof in appeal cases shifts. There is no presumption of innocence any more because the court case is taken as establishing guilt - of course. But in this case, the "evidence" from the RCMP's favourite sting technique would not have been admissible if it had been used in the state where the crime was committed. An odd sort of double standard.

And to the shame of Canadians, our police forces - but mostly the now utterly discredited, taser happy, mounties - have a long record of false convictions. Guy Paul Morin. David Milgaard, Donald Marshall and many others.

At least at that time these two were convicted, Canada was determined not to have its citizens extradited to face the death penalty so there is some chance the mistake can be rectified. Not something that Stephen Harper wants to see, so he has ended that practice - without consulting anyone of course.

I wonder when police training will start emphasizing that the need to convict someone is not the purpose of an investigation, but rather to establish the truth of what happened. Which means that coerced confessions and evidence suppression have no place in jurisprudence - anywhere. Indeed, I find it appalling that I have to write that down and publish it. It seems to me to be a fundamental principle that no-one should feel comfortable arguing against.

"For it is better that a guilty man go free, than an innocent man go to prison"

UPDATE March 26 Ian Mulgrew isn't buying it - and points to the evidence of a friend of the accused who was offered immunity for his damning testimony

Monday, 24 March 2008

Cutting off dogs' tails leads to aggression, study finds

I could not believe it when I first saw it. That is because it has been banned where I come from. I read about - in "Black Beauty" by Anna Sewell. A Victorian novelist and activist against cruelty to animals. Which the British really care about. It is a Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals - not for the similar one for children.

Rotweliers and Dobermans are breeds popular with people who like their dogs to be agressive. There is even a disgusting practice still here of operating on dog's ears to make them stick up and look sharp and pointy. I doubt you could find a vet in most countries willing to consider such mutilation for no good reason at all.

There are some very sick puppies out there - and they are human, not canine. There is nothing wrong with dogs - but there is a lot wrong with some of their owners.

And the sooner these practices are banned here the better.

Sunday, 23 March 2008

Jordan Matter

This is a web page I quite literally Stumbled Upon. And I suppose I should go back and write this up there too.

But I think you should just go to his web page and start by reading about him and how he became a photographer.

What he does I have not been able to do - and I have tried. He captures people. They look into his lens and some of their soul is revealed. I do not know how that is done. I think it speaks more to who he is that how he does it.

What is it called ...

that curious ability that some people have to hold on to two completely contradictory principles at the same time?

The CEO of Google, Eric Schmidt talks to about his company and what 'Sergey and Larry do'
They're heavily involved in new wireless technologies, climate-change stuff, making things faster,
meanwhile he is jetting around the world in his Gulfstream G-550 on his frequent business trips
It's my hobby.

Isn't this the "do no evil" company?

A G550 burns 0.87 gallons of jet fuel per nautical mile at 41,000 ft, Mach 0.80 and mid-cruise weight source: Road and Track

Thursday, 20 March 2008

Wednesday, 19 March 2008

In pursuit of the 'God shot'

Determined to make perfect espressos at home, Tim Hayward squandered absurd amounts of time and money on gadgetry most of us have never heard of, only to produce cup after cup of average coffee

Wednesday March 19, 2008
The Guardian

Well I sympathise. I have not gone as far as Tim Hayward did, but I have spent some money now on espresso machines - and coffee grinders. I am now on my third of each in 6 years - and the espresso machine just got back from being rebuilt. You can read my review on coffeegeek

I spend too much on beans no doubt - but you can taste the difference. Kick Ass from Kicking Horse Coffee is my current favourite and has been as low as $12 a packet. But you can also get a quite decent own brand Espresso in cans at Save On for less than a quarter of that. How important is fair trade, shade grown, organic to you? The cheapo burr grinder I bought from Superstore was just that - cheap. After a short time it could not be adjusted at all, and produced only coarse grind. Grind it too fine and the filters jam - risking explosions and showers of hot water and coffee grounds - and a two month wait for a repair. And no a moka pot and a battery powered whisk do not produce an adequate cappuccino.

And there is some dreadful stuff still being foisted on the public by people who like to call themselves "barristas". Price is not a reliable indicator of quality either.

But if you like Tim's then all this will be lost on you.

Some cops do not need breathalysers

Saturday, 15 March 2008

The high cost of debit cards

Gillian Shaw of the Vancouver Sun does a really sloppy job on an important issue. She reprints what a few people say to her. She does almost no analysis and misses the important issues.

1. Banks in Canada are hugely profitable. That is because they can make money. Literally. And unbelievably most people pay them more money for the "services" they use. Credit Unions demonstrate every day a more efficient way of banking that is cheaper for credit union members - whether they are consumers or businesses. Charges for banking are ridiculous - and that includes card use, debit or credit. Incidentally, at one time credit card companies would not allow merchants accepting their cards to pass on transaction costs to their customers. When did that change and why?

2. Handling cash is also expensive - and risky. Lose a card and it can be cancelled. Lose your wallet and it is a news story if you get it back with the cash in it. Translink makes a nice profit on its rolled change service, which is cheaper than the banks.

3. Transactions are never free - because some cost is involved. Most businesses are sensible and try to shield the customer from seeing these costs openly. But it seems to me to be fairly obvious when so many stores will give me cash back on my debit card which is cheaper from their point of view. Especially when a white label cash dispenser in the same store will ding me for the same service. Most stores will not add extra charges if you use their wash room (though many try to restrict their use to customers only). Most restaurants do not charge for tap water. Neither service is cost free to provide, but you can really upset people if you don't.

4. Credit cards can be very expensive indeed if you do not pay off the balance every month. Store cards are the worst. Debit cards are cheaper for people who have trouble keeping track of how much they are spending - but most institutions will be cheaper if you have a pre-agreed overdraft limit than a short period of credit card debt, simply because of the way that interest is calculated.

5. Merchants can decide which cards they accept, and the credit card companies have now been stopped from adopting some of their anticompetitive practices, that restricted which cards could be offered in the same places. Small transactions are an issue - but sooner or later some bright spark is going to solve it here just like they did in Hong Kong with the oyster card.

You want my business - treat me fairly. Simple.

Thursday, 13 March 2008

Argument to Beethoven's 5th

No cue cards, no teleprompters, and no second takes--legendary funnyman Sid Caesar pioneered live television sketch comedy with his 1950s sitcoms Your Show of Shows and Caesar's Hour. This classic sketch is "Argument to Beethoven's 5th," Sid Caesar and Nanette Fabray play a married couple in a argument with pantomimed action and the dialogue is classic music

Tuesday, 11 March 2008

Delia goes to the Dark Side

When my first wife kicked me out, I bought a copy of Delia Smith's Cookery Course. I feel now like I have been betrayed. Especially since I have been trying to show people that you can easily prepare good food - mostly from scratch - on my flickr site. It really is not hard to do. And yes there are short cuts, and some places have good preprepared meals. But that does not mean you have to endorse "convenience food" which is often loaded with preservatives and other chemicals and often does not taste nearly as good as stuff you could do yourself, with very little effort.

But I also abhor the very idea of burning books

Monday, 10 March 2008

Ugh - DST

"You will never find anybody who can give you a clear and compelling reason why we observe daylight savings time." Dave Barry

And this year its earlier than usual thanks to that village in Texas that lost its idiot

Sunday, 9 March 2008

MPs back artificial sperm for childless

Of all the problems that face us right now, I would not put childlessness very high on the agenda. There may be a shortage of sperm donors as Dawn Primarolo, the Public Health Minister says. But the way to solve is to establish why that would be, and what can be done about it. Because one thing is for sure. There is no shortage of sperm. So whatever the cause might be it is going to be easier to solve than creating artificial sperm. Maybe something as simple as guaranteed anonymity and immunity from future paternity suits would do it.

But there are also many more children being born now than the earth can support. The predictions of Thomas Malthus may have been premature, but it does look now like we are running out of planet.

Maybe if we stopped the gadarene rush for economic growth - or the growing inequality of incomes - that requires women to work and have careers which means that put off child bearing until much too late in their lives. Maybe if we stopped the idiotic "faith based" prohibitions on effective birth control programmes. Perhaps we might think a bit more clearly about stamping on the brake and the accelerator at the same time where population policy is concerned. I am all in favour of people working out the ethics and morality of all this but surely basic facts have to be taken into account.

There are now more men than women. Apparently the lack of marriageable females is one of the driver of suicide bombers. The Chinese one parent policy and the ridiculous attitudes that favour sons over daughters combined with our new ability to determine the sex of a foetus are also at play. The law of unintended consequences no doubt. But the nomadic tribes of middle east of two and three millennia ago really did not understand as we do the limitations of spaceship Earth. And those now have to be our prime consideration.

Spring forward

The clocks have been changed - but someone forgot to tell Rogers. My cell phone still thinks its standard time. If my computer knows that the day for summer time has changed why doesn't the one that runs Rogers cell phone network?

Tuesday, 4 March 2008

Tax relief may not be helpful after all

This is a real first. I have never before read an article based on research by the C D Howe Institute that I agreed with. It is a right wing "think tank" and its pholosophy seems contrary to most things I believe.

But on this occasion they have produced a factual and helpful piece which shows that poor people have to pay extortionate marginal tax rates. This is - oddly enough - becuase of the right wing philosophy that says poor people must not be given tax relief - or if they get any it must be clawed back. It is the same thing for welfare recipients, who are not allowed to keep any earnings. This is supposed to act like an incentive.
In dollar terms, that results in low-income Canadians paying taxes at a significantly higher effective rate on incremental income. In some cases that can be as high as 70 to 80 per cent, once clawbacks kick in on family-based benefits and tax credits

The standard conservative argument goes something like this: Tax breaks are for rich people. Giving "government money" to poor people means they won't bother to work, didn't you know. Only rich people are different, and if you give them tax incentives they work much harder - and their increased spending will "trickle down" somehow.

It is of course utter twaddle, and its nice to see the C D Howe folk acknowledging that. Though I predict that Harper and Campbell will find all sorts of excuses not to do anything about it.