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Get a haircut and get a real job

Both monarchists and republicans ought to get a chuckle out of this:

The Queen has made it clear that she expects the princesses [Beatrice and Eugenie] to pursue their own careers after university, rather than go on the Civil List as working members of the Royal Family.

— Pierce, Andrew. “Beatrice and Eugenie are stripped of their 24-hour protection after row over £500k annual cost.” Daily Mail, 7 May 2011.

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Informed opinion

The very best analysis of the Fukushima incident currently available to civilians. Lengthy but well worth the read, and much more informative than the “sky is falling” rhetoric coming from the media.

It is not entirely clear yet what has happened, but this is the likely scenario: The operators decided to vent the steam from the pressure vessel not directly into the environment, but into the space between the third containment and the reactor building (to give the radioactivity in the steam more time to subside). The problem is that at the high temperatures that the core had reached at this stage, water molecules can “disassociate” into oxygen and hydrogen – an explosive mixture. And it did explode, outside the third containment, damaging the reactor building around. It was that sort of explosion, but inside the pressure vessel (because it was badly designed and not managed properly by the operators) that lead to the explosion of Chernobyl. This was never a risk at Fukushima.

— Oehmen, Dr. Joseph. “You can Stop Worrying about a Radiation Disaster in Japan — Here’s Why.” Business Insider, 13 March 2011.

Read the whole thing.

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Never a good sign

Even if this doesn’t vent a lot of radioactive steam into the surrounding area, it’s never really a good thing when an explosion with a visible shock wave reduces one of your reactor buildings from a solid concrete block to an open steel framework which used to be concrete-clad.

The before and after images of the Fukushima I nuclear generating station, cribbed from the Daily Mail:

Fukushima Dai-ichi in 2008, Unit 1 is at upper right. (Associated Press)

Fukushima Dai-ichi on 12 March 2011, looking a little worse for wear. Unit 1 is immediately left of tower. (Associated Press)

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12.13.10 News Roundup

  • Boeing’s Phantom Ray UCAV—cleverly nicknamed the “Cylon raider” by Syfy’s DVICE—will begin flight testing in January.
  • It may be tempting for some to look down upon the 118 drivers who had to be rescued from a snowbound section of Highway 402 east of Sarnia.  Especially since some of the stranded folks even had to be airlifted to safety in Canadian Forces CH-146 light utility helicopters.  The important thing is that everybody’s alive, and—since I live in the city that famously called in the Forces to shovel snow a decade ago—I know that those who live in glass and concrete towers should be reluctant to cast stones.
  • So long, Voyager 1.  You did good work.  Don’t let a comet hit you in the ass on the way out.
  • Russian spy Anna Chapman (a.k.a. Anna Vasil’yevna Kushchyenko) has a new legitimate gig with a Moscow bank.  And she posed in Maxim magazine’s Russian edition, a couple months ago.  I mention it only because of the geopolitical angle, of course.
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The Khadrs

The National Post has done yeoman work by assembling a timeline of the Khadr family‘s activities. Some incidents stand out as noteworthy, when viewed in hindsight. The first is the December 1995 arrest of patriarch Ahmed Said Khadr, for his alleged participation in the bombing of the Egyptian embassy in Pakistan. The second is the January 1996 intervention of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien (really no more than a request for proper habeas corpus), resulting in the elder Khadr’s release.

Reasonable people can disagree on Omar Khadr’s combatant status and treatment. For my part, I believe he was indoctrinated as a child into a hateful ideology, but also that that ideology is highly resistant to rehabilitation and now renders him a security risk to the nation.

What seems to be beyond dispute is that from 1996 onward, Ahmed Said Khadr and his wife Maha Elsamnah took some pains to move their family into close proximity with al-Qaeda leadership, and to have their young brood trained to fight.

One potential timeline item that is notable for its absence is any hint of prosecution or child welfare action against Maha Elsamnah. Surely a parent who encourages their minority-aged children to be trained as combatants in a treasonous cause ought, at the very least, to be considered unfit. How is it that none of the other Khadr brood were taken from their warped mother’s care?

Slow learners

Toronto mayoral candidates appeared at a debate focused on faith issues on Monday, May 10, 2010. (CTV News)

Some people can watch an event unfold before them and fail to comprehend its import. But to see an event unfold several times, have it explained to you by the municipal affairs columnist for the city’s largest-circulation daily, and still fail to grasp the essentials—that level of obtuseness can only be found in politics and political punditry.

Here, for example, is the Toronto Star‘s Royson James explaining why Rob Ford’s mayoral campaign continues to gain traction:

They call him names. They mock him. They tell anyone with a microphone and a pen that the rambunctious councillor is a buffoon with foot-in-mouth disease, a one-trick pony incapable of competing in the sophisticated world Toronto must navigate.

As if the voters don’t know this already. Ford’s been a councillor for 10 years. His file of verbal indiscretions is thick and well worn.

In fact, with every effort like George Smitherrman’s launch of the website, intended to showcase the celebrated gaffes of the councillor from Etobicoke North, Ford gains in popularity.

The Toronto electorate, circa 2010, is not looking for a silver-tongued prophet with a vision of an ascendant Toronto. They had one for seven years and are decidedly unhappy with the result. That’s the reality. And any reasonably skilled candidate for mayor, especially an outsider or someone looking to change direction at city hall, should have been able to capitalize on this gift.

— James, Royson. “Despite attacks, Rob Ford’s simple message takes hold.” Toronto Star, 18 August 2010.

It’s not rocket science, in other words. James is giving Smitherman, Rossi et al a freebie here. The voters are indicating that they hear Ford’s message and like it. One can tear down the messenger, but if the competing message isn’t particularly appealing, people aren’t going to get on board with it. Ford’s congenital oafishness isn’t news to the electorate; spending one’s time and money pointing it out, yet again, doesn’t deflect voters who have already decided it doesn’t matter to them.

The truly, epically stupid thing about this mayoral election is that there is no mystery to Ford’s supposedly inexplicable rise. If his prospective opponents were taking notice, Rob Ford’s modus operandi was laid bare four years ago by Eye Weekly writer Edward Keenan.

This, he says, is his favourite part of his job: “I love my constituents. They are second only to my family in my heart.” By that standard, there’s been a lot of loving in his day so far: 8:30am at a roach-infested apartment on Kipling to mediate a landlord-tenant dispute; 9am and 9:30am at two places on Bergamot to deal with more tenant complaints; 10:30am on Golfwood Heights to help a guy whose backyard is being flooded by a city-owned drainage ditch; 11am down the street on View Green to meet a woman upset that the crossing guard has moved down the street from the end of her block. Later, he’ll chat with a man who wants Urdu language books at the local library and meet staff from three different city departments at the home of a man with multiple complaints about the state of his neighbour’s property.

Sometimes Ford can get his constituents’ complaints resolved and sometimes not. Either way, he feels this — not the blustering at city hall — is his job. “I always tell my constituents, ‘Call my office first; I will find the right people,'” he says, “They’re hard-working people, so I try to go to bat for everyone.”

He returns every call to his office personally, often within hours, and usually he’ll make a trip out to see anyone with a complaint, bringing city staffers with him.

…Rob Ford may be a raving lunatic, but he’s a raving lunatic who will come to your home and stand in the rain to ensure you get 15 minutes with the city staffer who can help you. And that, as anyone who’s tried to navigate the city hall bureaucracy will know, is no small thing.

…A deep thinker he is not, and that could be a problem for his opponents. Rob Ford only has two priorities: saving money and serving constituents. Crazy as he appears, those happen to be popular priorities. Besides, he doesn’t need to think; he’s out impressing the voters every day with his actions.

The people who want to beat him might want to start thinking about that.

— Keenan, Edward. “The Rob Ford problem.” Eye Weekly, 27 July 2006.

Rob Ford may be, as James says, a buffoon—but as Keenan makes clear, he is a buffoon that helps the Ordinary Joes in his ward get things done. And that is a legacy that his mayoral opponents may find hard to match, much less beat. It’s something they should have been working on for themselves at least four years ago.

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From the wire—July 24th, 2010

  • Ben has an eminently sensible position on Lord Black of Crossharbour’s appeal to have his resumption of Canadian citizenship expedited by the federal cabinet.  I agree with David Frum‘s assertion that had the scenario involved anyone other than Conrad Black, the Liberal government of the day would likely not have dredged up the 1919 Nickle Resolution to block the honour.  But actions do have consequences, and Black coughed up his citizenship voluntarily and without duress.  There’s a cost that comes with such decisions, freely made.
  • Nicholas Russon notes that Foursquare (a geo-location social media site/app that lets one broadcast one’s location to the world) can be used with devastating effects by thieves, stalkers, and so forth.  I do not understand how people can continue to be surprised that sharing significant personal information with anonymous strangers can yield up negative consequences.  Frankly, I always give false information to non-financial websites on the assumption that—at some point—their data will become compromised.
  • Did everybody but me realise that Darcey Jerrom was still blogging at MetisOnline?  I knew Dust My Broom had transitioned into an all-blues, all-podcast site, but I hadn’t realised (until I saw a referrer in the stats log) that Darcey was still plugging away at his non-music blogging.  God bless him.  Too many bloggers drop off the face of the internet, and I admire tenacity.
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On the census

I am a little torn about making the long-form census voluntary.  From a statistical perspective, it is always better to have accurate data with varying levels of granularity; making the long form voluntary would seem to make that less likely.

But then Statistics Canada has admitted in the past that it does not enforce the mandatory census provisions equally.  If you live on a First Nations reserve you can ignore the census with impunity and the authorities will not seek legal recourse.  If you live off a reserve, you roll the dice and you take your chances:

Thousands of natives across Canada refused to complete the 2006 census – including the Six Nations in Ontario – and will not face any legal consequences, despite the fact that 64 people not living on reserves were charged under the Statistics Act.

…The maximum penalty for not completing the census is a $500 fine and three months in prison. Of the 64 charged, nearly all decided to complete it rather than go to court.

Some 35,000 people living on reserves refused to complete the census, [director general of the census program Anil] Arora said. As a courtesy, Statistics Canada seeks permission from the band office before entering the reserve, although it isn’t legally obligated to do so. The census isn’t mailed out to reserves, because many still use a P.O. box system, which means census takers can’t verify addresses, Arora said.

— Doolittle, Robyn.  “No charges sought for 35,000 natives who ignore census.” Toronto Star, 15 January 2008.

Seems to me that if the supposedly mandatory census is not actually mandatory (the key variables being one’s ethnic background and place of residence), then Stats Can’s past practice has rendered it de facto voluntary.  You might even say that the government is merely seeking to extend the same courtesy to all Canadians.

I would be interested in finding out why Stats Can chooses to ignore 35,000 holdouts, but goes after a specific set of 64.  The reason given in the article is that native participation has always been poor, and they are worried about curbing the increasing First Nations compliance by charging offenders $500 bucks and throwing them in jail for 3 months.  One wonders why the agency doesn’t think these same kid gloves should apply to non-native Canadians.

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Wars and rumours of wars

Apsit, Aleksandr Petrovich. The International. c1919.

Not a good day for a whole lot of countries.

  • RUSSIA—Two female suicide bombers—suspected to be members of the Chechen “Black Widows”—kill 38 people in attacks on two Moscow subway stations.
  • SOUTH KOREA—Divers reach the sunken halves of ROKS Cheonan, but hear no signs of life.  A North Korean mine (one of 4,000 purchased from the former Soviet Union) is thought to be the most likely culprit.
  • ISRAELLack of U.S. support for Israel’s negotiating position (“a Palestinian state shorn of some sovereign powers and which recognized Israel as a Jewish state”) inevitably means an emboldening of hardliners on other side.  An Israeli minister’s naïveté is perplexing, though, as I’m sure the US position was carefully crafted to achieve the desired outcome.
  • GREECE—In Athens, a bomb planted at an institute for training public officials ended up killing a passerby—a 15-year-old Afghan boy.  The blast also injured his 45-year-old mother and 10-year-old sister.

And on a marginally lighter note:

  • CANADA—Organisers of a Halifax military tattoo think HM the Queen is too frail to safely mount a twelve-foot-high reviewing platform.  The ascent is a mere  17 steps at a 60 degree angle.  The Sovereign disagrees, pointing out that she regularly ascends the 47 steps of Buckingham Palace’s grand staircase.  The organisers would not relent, so the Queen has struck the event from her itinerary. Look, if the Sovereign says she can hack it, then she can hack it.  Let her climb the stairs, already.
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You mean, for a change?

The atomised but still mysteriously broadcasting Osama bin Laden threatens to kill captured Americans if his comrade-in-arms Khalid Sheikh Mohammed is executed.

Because up to this point Al Qaeda’s been putting up their captives at the 5-star Swat Valley Hilton, and paroling them to the grounds on their honour as gentlemen.

Just ask Daniel Pearl, Edwin Dyer, and lots of ordinary Iraqis.

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