Saturday, September 27, 2008

Debate at U of M

There was no decisive victor of Friday's debate, especially, in terms of composure, confidence, and craftiness. There was, however, greater differentiation in substance and tactics, ah ... , err, ... strategy. First, both have been pressured to speak in ways they're not comfortable with: Barack spoke twice of assassinating enemies and McCain about weaning America off of Middle Eastern oil. Second, McCain attacked much more than Obama's voting record. Third McCain's responses lacked substance, e.g., his rebuttal to universal healthcare: "I want the families to make decisions between themselves and their doctors. Not the federal government." As a citizen of Canada and intermittent user its health care system, I have never experienced nor heard of the government interfering in decisions between the patient and the doctor. McCain cannot be referring to abortion and euthanasia, since they are separate issues: the government interferes the same way in Canada as in the U.S., e.g., legislation and legal precedent.

Throughout he sounded like a broken record: "a new strategy," "a new strategy," "cut spending," "cut spending," "a maverick," "a maverick," "the surge," and "the surge." Other favourite McCain moments:

"I have a long record and the American people know me very well and that is independent and a maverick of the Senate and I'm happy to say that I've got a partner that's a good maverick along with me now."

"The next president of the United States is not going to have to address the issue as to whether we went into Iraq or not. The next president of the United States is going to have to decide how we leave, when we leave, and what we leave behind."

"There is social, economic progress, and a strategy, a strategy of going into an area, clearing and holding, and the people of the country then become allied with you. They inform on the bad guys. And peace comes to the country, and prosperity. That's what's happening in Iraq ...".

This quote sounds very much like Jack in season 2, episode 7 of 30 Rock, "Tracy, I don't have to understand their world in order to help them. It's like this great country of ours, we can go into any nation impose our values and make things better. It's what Bush is doing all over the globe."

My favourite Obama's response, "And, John, I -- you're absolutely right that presidents have to be prudent in what they say. But, you know, coming from you, who, you know, in the past has threatened extinction for North Korea and, you know, sung songs about bombing Iran, I don't know, you know, how credible that is. I think this is the right strategy."

Hopefully more voters will discern McCain's limited scope over the next two debates. Obama can make this readily apparent by referring to climate change and Bush's order to send special forces into Pakistan: "Now, you don't do that. You don't say that out loud. If you have to do things, you have to do things, and you work with the Pakistani government." Does he mean that as president you give the o.k.? At least Bush restrained himself when it came to Israel bombing Iran. In terms of McCain's numerous trips to Waziristan, Iraq, etc ..., what could he have actually gained from them? His observations were either made from a helicopter or through the shoulders of his body guards from within the Green Zone. McCain states, "... the consequences of defeat would have been increased Iranian influence. It would have been increase in sectarian violence. It would have been a wider war." Isn't this what has happened? Isn't this what numerous analysts warned about? McCain has to concede that victory may not be attainable and realize that admitting to a mistake and making reparations for it makes sense:

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Extreme ways

Since Gary Younge states, "Obama knows that at any moment he could be outed by anything from a preacher to a fist bump or a magazine cover," it is surprising that more has not been made of McCain's affiliation with Rod Parsley.

This extreme preacher spoke of America's "historical conflict with Islam" and has said that, "America was founded in part with the intention of seeing this false religion destroyed." McCain has referred to this man as his mentor and has not severed his ties with him, yet where's the fuss in the media? Although Jeremiah Wright possesses the same furor as Parsley, his delusions seem trifling by comparison.

The Guardian maintains that the Bush administration "has moved away from the idea of a 'war on terror'" and that McCain alone is locked into a "monolithic view of an ultimate military victory that others have rightly discarded." This assertion makes McCain and Palin, who actually voices what Bush is thinking, even scarier. Consider Bush's speech at the UN, which, like his 2002 speech, outlines the progress made against terror and simplifies history: although Petraeus has distanced himself from the War on Terror, Bush seems very much to be still there. We need to gain some perspective; the world, which as Stuart McLean recently noted, "is a good place ... full of good people." If McCain is elected, North America and much of the world will not gain this perspective. I hope Obama can find the assertiveness and clarity he possessed in the 2004 debate to establish this fact:

Monday, September 22, 2008


Mad Men burst into the vacuum left by the writers' strike. At first, I welcomed it for this reason -- it was not a season finale that was hastily pasted together. Then I began to appreciate the attention to detail, the smoking, dress, and costumes in the production. Then I was captured by the characters. Overall it is an excellent show worthy of 6 Emmys. Nevertheless, I have one complaint: the transition between shows is choppy; that is, each show stands alone and does not necessarily start where it left off. While this approach does work, it doesn't here because the development of characters does not straddle the episodes: the viewers are introduced to an aspect of the character and then a reference is made a few episodes down the line, if ever. Storylines are dropped and chopped. There are some signs that the show is resolving this issue: in episode 7 Betty throws up in the new Cadillac, sick with the realization that her husband has been cheating on her. Then in episode 8 she asks him not to come home. In the past it may have been a few weeks until this happened.

30 Rock also did deservedly well at the Emmys. What puzzles me is that ratings are not commensurate with the awards. These are both excellent shows worth watching and not just in an artistic sense. However, when you consider that American Idol and Dancing with the Stars take up the first six spots in the ratings this is not surprising. Of course, The Daily Show and Colbert Report were also deserving of their wins. They're equally substance and entertainment. Speaking of The Daily Show, I can't believe Blair still believes that Saddam was affiliated with al-Qaeda.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Puppeee's missing steps

The Asus Eee PC has just won the Hardware of the Year Award. Last year the Eee PC made quite a stir in the news prior to its release due to its small size, full functionality and low price, and it deserves the award. The newer models, which won the award, have larger screens and more memory than the first release. I bought a 701 for my wife near the time of its release last fall. I was impressed with the machine right away for its quickness and good design. Unfortunately, connecting to a WPA encrypted wireless network proved troublesome. I resolved the issue by following the excellent tutorial in the forums and wiki, but this turned out to be a temporary fix and the connection was never robust. After giving up for a while, it turned out that the Eee PC may not have been the culprit after all. The DSL connection on my AP was frequently dropping off, and, after some frustrating phone calls to Telus, a technician came over to my house. He turned out to be great, and made a number of changes to my phone system that made my connection robust. After these changes were made the Asus Wi-Fi worked with WPA, but only for a week.

Rather than screwing around with the default Xandros any more, I opted to live-boot Puppeee. The tutorials were helpful, but they missed some steps that caused me grief. Live-booting allows you to boot the operating system from a disk; as a result, you can boot a distribution, such as Puppeee, without affecting your default OS (in this case, Xandros). The first step is to download the ISO, or disc image, for the operating system. Then, check the fingerprint of the file with md5sum (good instructions here). Now you're ready to burn the ISO to disc; I used Infra Recorder and followed these instructions. Once you have a CD you can plug in your USB CD Drive to the Eee or xcopy the image to a USB flash drive, no programs seemed to do this directly. Once Puppeee is booted from the CD (if it doesn't, change the boot order in the BIOS) you can make a portable version on a Flash drive or card. To do this you need to mount the CD drive by clicking on the drive icon on the desktop and clicking on the CD drive; then, click on Home>Setup>Puppy universal installer and follow the recommended instructions. Once it is installed you shut down the computer and unplug the CD drive; then press the power button and press Esc when the Eee screen appears to select the boot device. Select a boot device (USB drive) and you're all set. Puppeee has handled the wireless encryption without incident and I'm once again marvelling at the Eee PC's greatness. Once you've cut your teeth on this, trying other distributions is a synch, although some may require a larger flash drive. I used a 2 Gb drive, but Ubuntu and Mandriva require more (you can purchase Mandriva on an 8 Gb flash drive for $80).

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Palin on the Right

As a fan of Fey's, I could not wait to watch the SNL skit; it did not disappoint.

Here's a more sobering video that brings us back to reality:

Although McCain made a brilliant move in selecting Palin, and she deserves some attention, let us not forget the state of the world and who got us here. Attacking Russia would be a big mistake as would be ignoring climate change. One reader of my local paper wrote a Letter to the Editor entitled, "What do we do when Dubya is gone?", in which he stated that voters would be disappointed with Obama after the election and ask, "What do we do now?" The answer is get out of Iraq, step down invasion plans for Iran (Pakistan? and Russia?), stop torture and extra-ordinary rendition, re-instate habeas corpus, address climate change, stabilize the economy, and introduce universal healthcare.

Unsung Heroes

I just read Three Cups of Tea after having it sit on my shelf all summer; it's a great book. Greg deserves respect and the State Department should rely on experts like him rather than grilling them. Greg's story in many ways represents that of the unsung heroes working for various organizations throughout the world; his can-do attitude reminds me of many amazing people that I've encountered in the developing world. As much as Greg is a Balti, he's an American, and serves a bridge to both cultures. I'll never forget seeing Bruce Olson who was embittered toward the West, perhaps deservedly so. He recounted the story of an American missionary who had volunteered to work with him. This missionary insisted on bringing a heavy radio into the jungle, one, which the people he was "reaching out" to, carried for him without recompense; he had wanted to communicate daily with his wife. Once at the village, one of the Motilones became entranced by the colourful "vines" inside the radio and took them out to make a bracelet. Since the Motilone people never took anything without giving something in return, he stuffed the radio full of the finest jungle vines he could find. After noticing what happened to the radio, the missionary built a door to his hut, something the Motilone people had never seen before. When they realized that it was constructed to keep them out, they moved locations and left him alone in the middle of the jungle.

Greg's humility is a constant throughout the book, and he never hesitates to give credit where it's due, e.g., the laudable reference to Helena Norberg-Hodge. The inclusion of the index could only be superseded by that of a bibliography (for the ease of locating great references such as Matthiessen). As a side-note, National Geographic's recent article on the snow leopard is excellent. In the days of special forces operating in Pakistan, Greg's book is most welcome.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Science Fiction's new world hope

Science Fiction provides much of the myth for our hi-tech world; it has opened our horizons and suggested the pinnacles that we may reach. Although we have yet to reach the level of convenience and humanity portrayed in The Jetsons and Star Trek, Science Fiction continues to bring us hope (Kurzweil's Singularity). Nevertheless it has also brought us disillusionment (Where's My Jetpack) and fear (Terminator).

Science Fiction interprets the dichotomy of technology: progress AND destruction. No where is this more clear, now the threat of Armageddon in the Cold War has faded, than in climate change: the drive for faster better has technology = resources = production = pollution , yet the hope of the future lies in technology. However, it is unclear to what degree:

MTV Switch has also just released another great video, also produced by 180 Amsterdam. Talk of geo-engineering evokes a similar response (see Wired's recent article Ken Caldeira). Ironically discarded technology continues to pile up and create a hazard for those in Africa and China. There is some hope, however, such as the introduction of the RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances). Meanwhile possibilites will remain just that unless common sense pervades our culture of greed. Will technology lead to a better world or a more inequal one? It's up to us.

Monday, September 08, 2008

A new way?

Canada rarely escapes from the long shadow of its southern neighbour. Perhaps to capitalize on the election furor in the States or perhaps to pre-empt it, Harper has called an election. While Jack Layton plans to ride the "winds of change," the rest seem somewhat unprepared: the long series of critiques and jabs seems much more like parliament than a campaign. Dion himself actually seemed confident and composed in his Ottawa rally. There he showed he can be eloquent, despite the harsh accent, and even funny; however, he is an ideas man and needs to rest on his policy. He needs to define himself less by contrasting Harper; yes we know, Harper likes to bend the rules and kowtow to Bush. Yes taxing carbon is good, but there are some problems with tax shifting; regulation banning toxic effluent and requiring storm water filters can go far as well. Lay out with some clarity why the Green Shift will be good for the economy. (I know Harper's shrewd moves: his statement, "It will kill the economy" and the anti-Grit ads hurt, but you were outplayed. It is time to move on.)

Besides your impact on the economy, I worry about your foreign policy; therefore, lay it out clearly. You also have to overcome the fact that another Quebec PM is a scary idea and that half of North America appears to be in a denial cocoon, e.g., Bush wasn't that bad, humans can pollute without restraint, the economy can't fail if we spend more. Also spend more time with the voters. I would like to see a picture of you like this:

What you don't lack is good candidates and having one-third of them female is a worthy accomplishment. In my district Briony Penn is running against Gary Lunn. Hopefully the arrogance of his overconfident breeze into town will be the final step in dethroning him.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Sidney Island

For me and two friends, Labour Day weekend marks more than the end of summer, our annual trip to Sidney Island. We take the kids that are out of diapers and camp for a couple of nights, a dads and kids weekend. The kids spend most of their time at the beach and we kick back. We catch-up and, like most of the camps, treks, and excavations I've been on, hum a theme song (a song which pervades the social consciousness of a group and seems to posses its own agency in doing so). This year, Take it on the Run by REO Speedwagon was on our lips, which isn't that bad a choice if you consider that parents frequently sing kids songs; at times I find myself singing the clumsy adaption of the 12 Days of Christmas for the LeapPad and some of the Barney's Favorites that my daughter repeatedly plays. Nevertheless, we are products of the Eighties, so it's no surprise Hey Rosetta, Wintersleep, and Tanya Tagaq songs don't become theme songs, despite their worthiness. Our '80s perspective, however, offers us much expertise in judging least deserving hits; this year The Boys in the Bright White Sports Car edged out TNT in the Simplest Lyrics category. Since we are upfront about our association with the Eighties, it is surprising that some radio stations, such as Jack, aren't. The Atlantic Monthly has this to say about the Eighties, "Like relentless zombies in a horror film, '80s nostalgia acts keep trudging along, undaunted." What is surprising is that my wife can still run into a teenager who yells, "Judas Priest rules" two inches from her face. I guess we'll have to endure for another generation or so.

Sidney Island's an idyllic setting for camping. Every time I'm there, I often pause in wonder at the surrounding vista: the stars also shine brighter here, so much so that it's like getting a new prescription. The island boasts a herd of fallow deer, which reminds me of the antelope that roam in the same dry, knee-high grass of the Serengeti. This year Parks Canada has installed some interpretive signs about the wildlife and history of the island; however, they've omitted the bomb shelter. It is a long rectangular structure with a vaulted ceiling and sturdy walls; two benches line the long walls and would have seated 20 or so. The grass roof and location amidst the trees would have kept it well camouflaged, but it is difficult to ascertain why it was built in the first place, given the low likelihood of an attack. Perhaps, the owner was caught up in the same hysteria that resulted in the Japanese internment camps. Nevertheless, it's well worth the visit; just wander about 500 metres SSE of the barracks to just inside the tree-line (east of the dead trees).


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