November 30, 2004

Sun beaming on the Ottawa River

Ottawa River

Posted by anatole at 10:29 PM | Comments (0)

Parliament Hill during visit of U.S. President George W. Bush

Parliament, Ottawa

Posted by anatole at 10:25 PM | Comments (0)

All (pretty) quiet on the northern front.

For having the most powerful person in the world in Ottawa today, the city appears to have functioned reasonably normally. I walked by the Parliament in the morning and, contrary to what the media might have had you believe, it was not Fortress Parliament. You could still walk up on The Hill. There was essentially no sign of protesters at 8:20 a.m. or so, although they apparently grew in numbers later in the day (to 5,000-13,000) and had some "scuffles" with the police. Although I missed the mid-day action owing to my presence in Gatineau (my federal government includes Québec!), second-hand reports and the news seem to suggest that things never got too, too hairy. As the Globe and Mail put it, "As outraged protest goes, it was a very Canadian affair." Right.

Of course, the night is still young. All hell could break loose when they serve a prime cut of vache folle at the dinner with the President tonight. ;)

On a vaguely related note, Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge announced his resignation today. The timing is odd. I would have thought there would be some sort of protocol against announcing that you're quitting the Cabinet while the President is out of the country. Unless, of course, it was done on purpose. I smell a vast, bi-partisan conspiracy. ;) As some wording in the New York Times suggests, Secretary Ridge leaves behind a "colourful" if somewhat disputed legacy:

"Mr. Ridge, best known to the public as the official who announced changes to the color-coded terrorism alert system, was the seventh member of President Bush's cabinet to announce his resignation since Election Day in a thorough reshaping of the administration in preparation for Mr. Bush's second term.[...] He was sometimes mocked for installing and, in the view of his detractors, mismanaging the color-coded terrorist alert system. That system became the butt of late-night comedy routines and sometimes seemed to leave the public more confused than reassured."

Ridge presided over the largest federal reorganization since the formation of the Department of Defense, and the U.S. has not come under attack -- in the homeland -- during his tenure. Still, critics have a lot more than just the terror alert system to take aim at -- from continued bureaucratic turf wars to underfunded security measures to persistent security gaps. Either way, for levity, good timing by The Onion with this week's lead article.

Back to Ottawa, I took my camera with me in the morning and snapped a few pictures of the Parliament and from my office in Gatineau.

Posted by anatole at 07:17 PM | Comments (1)

November 29, 2004

Welcome to Ottawa, Mr. President.



Posted by anatole at 01:50 AM | Comments (2)

Reaching into the archives ...

Ottawa sunset

I took some pictures of a beautiful Ottawa sunset back in September (21/09/04) but never got around to posting the pictures ... until now.

Posted by anatole at 01:06 AM | Comments (2)

November 26, 2004

All aboard!

For people with strong feelings about the O-Train, light rail, and/or public transit in general in Ottawa, the city is hosting a series of open houses this coming week. The city is seeking public input as the environmental assessment gets underway for the proposed east-west corridor LRT line.

Here's the information on the open houses:

  • Tuesday, November 30, 2004 4:30 - 8 p.m.
    Sir Wilfrid Laurier Secondary School
    Cafeteria, 1515 Tenth Line Road, Orléans

  • Wednesday, December 1, 2004 4:30 - 8 p.m.
    Jim Durrell Centre, Ellwood Hall, 1265 Walkley Road, Ottawa

  • Thursday, December 2, 2004 4:30 - 8 p.m.
    John Mlacak Centre, Hall C&D, 2500 Campeau Drive, Kanata

Posted by anatole at 08:42 PM | Comments (4)

November 24, 2004

A Rather Abrupt Announcement

A few weeks ago, right before the U.S. election, I posted an entry with a series of what I felt were interesting quotes in the news. Well, people keep talking, and the re-minted President of the United States is busy spending the "political capital" he earned, so here's Round II.

"The objective of securing the safety of Americans from crime and terror has been achieved."

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, in his letter of resignation to President Bush. It would appear to be a foolishly definitive assertion to make -- one that could come back to haunt him and the President. For example, all other judgements of the situation in Iraq aside, I somehow doubt that Americans there feel safe from terror. Of course, securing the lives of Americans in Iraq is not exactly the job of the Department of Justice, which brings us back to the Attorney General's seemingly shameless self-aggrandizement and legacy-forging.

"I would say they're one stage below (now) [...] It's a village with a lot of territory."

Prime Minister Paul Martin discusses the status of Canada's northern territories with Sao Paulo state governor Geraldo Alckmin during his trip to Brazil. Martin said the territories would eventually be provinces. The "village with a lot of territory" refers to Iqaluit and Nunavut. Some days, the Prime Minister seems to have about as much luck getting a good sound bite as he does getting a decent picture taken of him.

"What is wrong with everyone nowadays? Why do they all seem to think they are qualified to do things far beyond their technical capabilities? People think they can all be pop stars, High Court judges, or brilliant TV presenters or infinitely more competent heads of state without ever putting in the necessary work or having natural ability."

Prince Charles caused an uproar in the U.K. with this quote last week, extracted from a memo that was not meant to be publicly aired. Note that different variations of this quote have been reported in the media, so the above may not be strictly accurate. Debate over what the prince meant -- and whether he was right -- continues to rage (or at least simmer).

Of course, when you've got the spoken word on the brain, it's hard to ignore this announcement: Dan Rather, who has served as the CBS news anchor for over two decades after taking over from the giant of news anchors, Walter Cronkite, has announced that he will retire in March 2005.

Rather was, as usual, in fine form on Election Night 2004. Here are a few Ratherisms I took down that night (as accurately as I could manage):

"... then some overpaid anchorman comes on and says "that state is not going to be going your way"" [describing how election nights play out and the role the news media play]

"This is the kind of night that gives campaign managers hives, or something ... that's probably why a lot of them drink a lot."

"This doesn't mean he is going to win, but it does mean you can sing a verse of "Johnny be good now"" [assessing the implications of the calling of Michigan for Kerry]

"If this gets any closer, someone is going to have to call 911, call the police, call a nurse, call somebody..." [Rather appears to panic as Kerry takes Hawaii]

Not surprisingly, the web yields a veritable treasure trove of Rather blather, including this site. As Bryan Curtis noted on Slate.com:

Of all the gloriously absurd moments in the Memogate scandal, only one qualifies for Dan Rather's greatest hits. Asked last week if he would ever concede that the National Guard memos he showed on the Sept. 8 broadcast of 60 Minutes were forgeries, Rather replied, "If the documents are not what we were led to believe, I'd like to break that story." Never before had Rather so perfectly summed up his career as Journalistic Self-Parody: I'll get you the big story, Chief, even if it means interviewing myself.

And few will forget Dan Rather's interview of Saddam Hussein in February 2003 as the U.S. threatened war. The news will never be the same.

Finally, while we're on the topic of the absurd, ever wonder if those infinite monkeys could ever really hold a candle to Shakespeare? Well, don't hold your breath, if you're judging by this particular experiment.

Posted by anatole at 10:48 PM | Comments (0)

November 18, 2004

Mmmmmm ... graphical representation of data.

If you're at all interested in U.S. politics and/or the graphical representation of data, you'll want to check out the interesting work of some physicists at the University of Michigan.

They basically play around with the standard red vs. blue state/county maps that are used to display election results at-a-glance. They make adjustments for population (e.g. see below) and electoral college votes, and they take a crack at compensating for the fact that these maps typically take a winner-takes-all approach to colouring a particular state or county, regardless of the actual vote split.

     

© 2004 M. T. Gastner, C. R. Shalizi, and M. E. J. Newman

Posted by anatole at 11:21 PM | Comments (2)

November 17, 2004

Playing catch up ...

I finally got around to responding to some comments on "Singular fixations" by updating the entry itself. I also vented some steam about Gilles Duceppe's talk at the Economic Club of Toronto. See below.

Posted by anatole at 01:53 AM | Comments (0)

November 16, 2004

My Canada continues to include Québec, Mr. Duceppe.

Here are some of the lovely things that Gilles Duceppe, leader of Le Bloc Québécois, had to say at the Economic Club of Toronto on Friday.

"The goal of sovereignty I am pursuing is something positive and forward looking. It is not based on the rejection of Canada or Canadians. It is not a question of being better or worse than Canada. It is simply a matter of asserting our difference and making it a strength rather than a weakness." [...]

Unfortunately, this often means that Québec slows Canada down, just as Canada slows Québec down. Too often, we stand in each other's way. [...]

I am a Québec sovereignist. This doesn't keep me from appreciating Canada or from liking Canadians and, in particular, the Montréal Canadians. Especially, when they are defeating the Maples Leafs. [...]

In absence of such a partnership agreement with a Sovereign Québec, which I seriously doubt wouldn't materialize, you can be sure our neighbours in the South will hastily fill in the void. As they say on Bay Street, or as well on Wall Street : Money talks ! [...]

Of course, Québec will continue to have problems to resolve as other countries have. But we will be responsible of ourselves and won't blame Canada or any other people. [...]

For its part, Canada will finally be able to build a country of its own, as it intends to, according to its values and interests. And then, my friends, Canada shall be stronger. Québec shall be stronger. We will both be more prosperous and we will elaborate a more friendly, warmly and courteous relation. It is what I call a win - win situation."

Wow! A win-win situation? No more being slowed down? No more being blamed for somebody else's problem? A friendly, warm, and courteous relation? And, if we're lucky, we can avoid the barely-veiled economic threat! Golly gee -- where do I sign up?

Here's what I think.

I think people like Gilles Duceppe slow down both Québec and Canada as a whole.

I think it is people like Gilles Duceppe who make our "difference" a "weakness" rather than a "strength".

I think that the supposedly "positive and forward looking", "win-win" thinking advanced by Gilles Duceppe in this talk -- Canada needs to "build a country of its own, as it intends to, according to its values and interests," and then "Canada shall be stronger" and "Québec shall be stronger" -- is small-minded, old-fashioned, dangerous, and betrays a complete and fundamental lack of appreciation for and understanding of some of Canada's greatest strengths (e.g. "my Canada includes multiculturalism").

I think that it is mighty precious for Gilles Duceppe, with no intent nor hope of ever forming a federal Canadian government or having a federal record to defend, to perennially fire shots at Ottawa with such consistently contemptuous displays of self-righteous indignation.

I think the dream-world/"fait accompli" language Gilles Duceppe uses to fan the flames of separatism -- "Québeckers and Canadians", "the electors of Québec and Canada", "the governments of Québec and the provinces", and "the aeronautic industry is a success story in Québec as well as in Canada" -- is virulent, deceptive, and insulting.

I think Gilles Duceppe's insipid attempts to soften the blow of his discourse with throw-away humour and false pretenses of warm relations (the Canadiens-Maple Leafs joke, "my friends", etc.) come across as obviously disingenuous.

I think it is offensive that the website of the Bloc Québécois, one "federal" political party, exists -- you guessed it -- only in French.

And I think it is shameful that -- with the rumblings of separatism seemingly growing again -- Paul Martin's main contribution to the unity of Canada is likely to be "asymmetrical federalism."

Speaking with reporters after the talk, Mr. Duceppe apparently said "If Québec wouldn't be part of Canada, then Canadians will have to define themselves by themselves [...] Maybe they will build a stronger national culture. They don't have enough now."

Mr. Duceppe: My ample Canadian national culture includes Québec and a whole lot more, and is all the better for it. You, quite frankly, I could happily do without.

The Bloc's website has the full text of Mr. Duceppe's address in French and, surprisingly, in English .

Posted by anatole at 11:45 AM | Comments (0)

November 14, 2004

Wondering when to look up? Ask the web!

Last week, the night sky over North America (and elsewhere) put on a pretty spectacular show of Northern Lights. I was lucky to have them pointed out to me during the second major wave on Nov. 9, but I missed the apparently more impressive Nov. 7 display.


(c) royhooper.ca

Determined not to miss them again, I scoured the web for information. I was not disappointed. You can't predict the Northern Lights with full certainty, of course, but the following sites will improve your odds.

"Meta" sites (sites that collect, (re-)analyze, display, etc. original data and information)

  • My first find was a personal website: Aurora Sentry. The site collects a bunch of interesting information and has links that I eventually followed to other useful sites. If you're looking for a quick visual fix on auroral activity, this is a good place to start. Graphical data from CANOPUS, the NOAA, and http://www.spacew.com/ are displayed on the home page.
  • The second site I came across was spaceweather.com, which is sponsored by NASA. This site seems to be updated fairly frequently with a fairly novice-friendly textual analysis of what's going on up above. There's information on the sun's activity down the left side, and the site covers non-auroral events as well.
  • I'm a little less clear on the nature of this site, but Solar Terrestrial Dispatch tracks a lot of similar data. One of the original products of this site is the Visible Auroral Oval, which "estimates the VISIBILITY of auroral activity from any location in the northern hemisphere, assuming a dark moonless sky and low light pollution." This site also has the Auroral Activity Observation Network, which really came alive with sighting postings during the recent activity. You can even buy some "advanced auroral activity and space weather monitoring software"

"Original data" sites (the "heavies"):

  • If, like me, you live in Canada, you'll be interested in http://www.spaceweather.gc.ca, a contribution from Natural Resources Canada and the Canadian Space Agency. Their basic forecast is pretty simplistic, but if you start scouring around you can find more detailed information (e.g. their station-by-station review/forecast graph.)
  • The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the U.S. seems to provide a lot of the data that other sites rely on for their analysis. In particular, the NOAA's Space Environment Centre has everything from satellite-derived auroral oval maps to an aurora calculator. The calculator tells you how to cross-reference the planetary Kp index, a measure of geomagnetic activity over a 3-hour period, against your location. The further south you go, the higher the Kp needed to see the aurora borealis in your neck of the woods. The NOAA has a three-day plot of the estimated planetary Kp index.
  • Finally, there's the aforementioned CANOPUS program, funded by the Canadian Space Agency. CANOPUS has heaps of data, including its own auroral oval graphic.

So you're armed with more data than you know what to do with. Now what? Well, if you think a sighting is likely, check the weather, head somewhere dark, and look up! Cleardarksky.com's sky clocks are a pretty handy visual aid for hour-by-hour visibility forecasting.

Finally, if you're like me and you missed the best of the recent Aurora Borealis in and around Ottawa, check out these amazing photos taken by Roy Hooper at Gatineau Park. Incidentally, cameras are apparently more sensitive than our eyes to the aurora, so consider snapping a few photos to see what you get, even with a fairly quiet display of the Northern Lights.

Posted by anatole at 05:00 PM | Comments (3)

November 08, 2004

Cottage country

Southern Ontario

Southern Ontario

Photos taken near a friend's cottage in southern Ontario.

Posted by anatole at 07:15 PM | Comments (0)

November 05, 2004

Singular fixations

On election night, I wondered about whether Democrats would quickly turn on Senator John Kerry if he failed to win the election.

The morning after, pundits and would-be pundits around the world, and especially in the U.S., began searching for answers. What had gone wrong? How could George W. Bush possibly have won? How could John Kerry possibly have lost? What's wrong with the Democratic Party? What's wrong with the Republican Party? What's wrong with the Red States? What's wrong with the Blue States? What's wrong with America?

Some people did turn on Kerry, while others have rushed to defend him. In the course of my own readings, my eye was caught by this William Saletan article: Simple but effective - Why you keep losing to this idiot.

Because I'm supposed to be leaving Ottawa within the next couple of hours, sans laptop, I'll have to keep this brief. I found the article strangely (and no doubt unintentionally) ironic. On the one hand, it definitely captures something unmistakeably true about Bush's success (more on that at a later date.) But Saletan's argument, through its own simplicity, makes you realize this: it's not just Bush fans who are seeking simplicity.

The Internet has been littered, the past few days, with people seeking a simple answer to the complex question of why George W. Bush was re-elected as President. Diagnoses and prescriptions for a cure abound -- both searching desperately for a reason - for the reason.

Clearly it's because John Kerry didn't show emotion. Or because Karl Rove is a genius. Or because of the Christian right. Or because the people voted on values. Or because the Kerry campaign spent too long on his Vietnam credentials. Or because the Democrats haven't got religion. Or because of Gavin Newsome and the gay marriage wedge issue. Or because of the incumbency factor. Or because he was a war-time President. Or because of Janet Jackson's breast.

And clearly the Demoratic Party should therefore react by moving to the left. Or to the right. Or it should get comfortable talking about God. Or it should go back to its roots. Or it should pick a different kind of candidate. Or it should focus more on the South. Or it should give up entirely on the South. Or it should close ranks again around the President. Or it should keep up the good fight.

While I'm exaggerating to make the point (although somebody did actually cite the Janet Jackson incident in building their case), the point is there to be made. Many of the same people who accuse Bush of thinking simply about world affairs are guilty of thinking very simply about this election and U.S. politics. Simple accounts of the dividing lines in America. Simple accounts of what it means to be American or to be from a particular state or region in America. Simple ascriptions of massively complex outcomes to the work of individuals (the increasingly mythical Karl Rove). Simple x-step plans for putting the Democrats back in control.

Monday morning quarterbacking is alive and well. And many of President Bush's critics have it right: the world is not a simple place. Problem is, neither is America.

Considered together, many of these explanations and recommendations form an important part of an accurate big picture. Standing alone, however, each does a disservice to a complex country and its complex people.

More on this later ... for now, I'm off to commune all-too-briefly with nature.

UPDATE: In response to Mike Hoye ("Saletan is a fucking idiot", etc.), I would have to agree that Saletan's John Edwards fixation is a little bit bizarre. And indeed, as I was trying to point out, this isn't about any one person. Still, the compelling part of Saletan's observation is this: one of the things that the Bush cohort generally did well over the the past four years is to keep its messages simple. This often allowed them to control the agenda in the public -- an exercise in political "follow the bouncing ball," if you will. I don't want the Democrats to dumb down their message or cater to the religious right either, but there's a difference between a dumbed-down message and a simple message.

In response to George, there's a lot to chew on there. First off, atheism. As an atheist myself, I don't want to suggest that there's nothing to this, but I don't think that this approach would win any elections any time soon (incidentally, take a look at atheists.org and americanatheist.org). Moreover, I don't think this election broke down over science vs. non-science. Receptiveness to science-based arguments is a good thing (although "science-based arguments" is a fraught term, of course), but this election wasn't fought over global warming or urban sprawl. Nor do you need to be a scientist to understand the nature of urban sprawl. All this is not to say that science didn't play a role in any of the election issues (witness stem-cell research), but I just don't think this necessarily presents a clear path to victory for the left.

As for education, you're never going to catch me arguing against more education -- particularly if there is evidence that it is in dire need. But with respect to the election, the scene is, once again, a little complicated. According to exit polls, the only education brackets in which Kerry bested Bush were "no high school degree" and "postgrad study" -- for a total of 20% of voters (see CNN). The remaining 80% of voters (high school degree, some college, and college graduate) were skewed for Bush. That doesn't mean that more education wouldn't, in fact, help the Democrats more than it would help the Republicans. But it does chip away at the argument that anybody with a brain would have voted for Kerry. Which comes back to what I was saying initially. Most mainstream media analyses of this election and of what ails America are vast oversimplifications (or at least focus on a narrow dimension of the situation). That's not to say that we should surrender to some form of infinite relativism when it comes to making observations about the current state of affairs. I just think the "if only we could do x effectively, we would surely win next time!" line of argumentation is proving to be dangerously naive.

For what it's worth, though, if you're talking about where to invest, I would wager to say that there are areas where you could get more election bang for your buck than pure education. Without having given it too much thought, but with the above note re: the exit polls as a pseudo-foundation, I would say that education might actually prove to be a pretty indirect and expensive path from dollars to votes (there are obviously other good reasons to invest more in education -- these could mitigate the cost, depending on what you're after). Hmmm. U.S. expenditures (public and private) on education are about $750 billion (see the National Center for Education Statistics). The two campaigns spent between $600 and $700 million on what turned out to be 110,000,000 voters. If I'm reading the NCES site correctly, about $9,000 is spent per pupil per year (on average) for public primary and secondary school (more data: states spend on average more than $1,500 per capita -- full population -- on education). By my calculation, the Bush and Kerry campaigns together spent about $5-7/vote (total election spending -- 527s, etc. -- was higher, of course, but it's still vaguely intriguing napkin math).

Posted by anatole at 04:59 PM | Comments (2)

November 02, 2004

Will they be kind to the electable Senator?

Not that it's looking that way yet, but I wonder how the Democrats will react if Kerry loses? In as much as the Democrats blame the Supreme Court and a host of other faults for the 2000 loss, they turned on their candidate Al Gore as well. It had been his election to lose -- supposedly riding on the Clinton-Gore coattails of the rather pleasant 1990s -- and he lost it.

So will the Democrats treat Kerry the same way? Yes, incumbency. Yes, an unprecedented Republican get-out-the-vote machine. Yes, a war ("war"?) President. Yes, the mythical Karl Rove. But will Kerry ultimately be exorciated for failing to beat a President who was seemingly ripe for a take-down? Somewhere between unfunded commitments to education, record deficits, unprecedented job losses, the failure to capture the #1 terrorist "dead or alive," the quagmire in Iraq, alienated allies, and, as the indicator, approval levels below 50%, there will no doubt be a feeling that if there was a defeatable incumbent, this was the one.

So what will they make of their most electable of Democrats if he turns out not to be so electable? Hopefully there's no reason to study this question in detail in the coming days.

UPDATE: O.k., so now it is looking that way, with Florida in the Bush column and Ohio headed that way. Oh dear.

Posted by anatole at 09:28 PM | Comments (2)