Archive for December, 2008

Midnight musings: The Day the Earth Stood Still

December 31, 2008

I don’t know why it is that a certain movie will get under your skin and you wake up in the middle of the night and lie there analyzing it. For some reason this has happened to me with the movie The Day The Earth Stood Still.

It’s not that it was a movie with deep meaning: The plot is pretty predictable. It was an underlying message, not dealt with in the movie that started to bug me. .

In a nutshell, the plot is that planets such as Earth are apparently rare in the universe and some highly advanced alien civilizations (we never learn anything about them) decide that the planet must be saved from the destructive human race. Their enlightened solution? Kill off humanity.

Actually, it goes further than that. They save representative species (excluding humans) and then turn loose a swarm of super locusts which devour everything; trucks, buildings, stadiums, people and one can only presume trees and all of the animals, birds and reptiles that weren’t spirited away to safety. (Pretty good special effects.) I could only assume that once they were finished, the planet would be bald and empty and ready for recolonization.

Now what began to bother me in the middle of the night was the question that was never asked. How could you, without question, assume that highly advanced alien civilizations could morally and ethically make the decision to eradicate an entire sentient species with no organized attempt to communicate their concerns or to solve what they saw as a problem.

I know it’s just a damned movie and not one that will go down in the annals of Hollywood history as a classic and the makers of the movie could argue they only had an hour and a half to advance the plot and that in the end the aliens recognized that we humans were unique and wonderful for all our faults and the annihilation was cancelled and we all lived happily ever after, presumably committing mankind to saving Earth in the process.

But that was necessary for the prerequisite Hollywood happy ending and in my late-night musings I wondered if the writer(s) of this epic really believed that the human race is truly a plague on the Earth that should be eradicated, and if that was the subliminal message of the movie.

There are those that do believe this but I suspect they assume that any cleansing process would exclude them, due to their purity of soul. Come to think of it, wouldn’t that just piss off all those radical environmentalists to find that they were being obliterated along with all of those evil resource users that they had been attacking for years?

Then again it was only a movie, mildly entertaining and in the middle of the night a passing thought gains far more importance than it deserves. Maybe a glass of warm milk would have been in order.

Political cynicism, corruption and voter apathy

December 25, 2008

I have wondered, on occasion, whether the average voter would be outraged if there was real transparency in the political process and they were made aware of all of the under-the-table dealings, the lack of engagement by their elected officials to say nothing of the outright corruption that lies just under the surface.

This thought was renewed the other day when I read this piece.

Krauthammer’s Take [NRO Staff]

From last night’s panel on “Special Report.” On Caroline Kennedy:

It’s not a question of experience. You often get inexperienced candidates who come out of nowhere. You get rich businessmen and the occasional actor or sports star.

It’s a question of entitlement. The only thing she has that makes her somebody to even be considered for this office is pedigree. I mean, I hate to be a good government scold, but I would think that one of the reasons for the American experiment is to abolish the idea of government by pedigree.

Now, of course, we have in history— the Adams and the Harrisons, the Rockefellers, the Kennedys and the Bushes. But it seems a bit of an epidemic these days.

First of all, you have a senate stacked with plutocrats as a result of our campaign finance laws, which give an enormous advantage to anyone who is a rich. They run, and the opponent has to grubbily raise money, and you end up with a sizable number of very rich people coming out of nowhere in the Senate.

And what you also have is what we saw… where John Kennedy had his college roommate, Ben Smith II, sit in his seat until two years later until Teddy was old enough and had reached the age of 30 when he inherited it.

And Biden has done exactly that in Delaware. He has gotten a family retainer appointed now to the Biden seat who will keep it warm and will not run again when in two years the Biden son, who is now in Iraq, will return and take that seat.

Look, Caroline Kennedy is a worthy socialite. But if she wants it, she should run and not accept an appointment. It is OK to run on pedigree, but do it in an election and not in an appointment.

Now this is obviously not illegal and apparently not uncommon, but I don’t think that it is how the framers of the U.S. constitution really planned for the system to work.

Of a more serious nature,the US has Governor Blagojevich allegedly using his position to try and  sell President-elect Obama’s Senate seat for favours or the highest bidder, or at worst appoint himself to the position. I don’t pretend to know what the legal ramifications of this are – although he is being investigated with talk of an indictment – but it is certainly an unbelievably serious ethical and moral lapse.

This on top of scandals in the federal system involving Senator Ted Stevens, Scooter Libby, Rick Renzi, Tom DeLay and a multitude of others, to say nothing of those at the State level.

It is really a wonder that anyone has enough faith in the system to actually vote and it is no wonder that there was this huge love fest for Barack Obama, seen by many US voters as someone who would deliver a new, open and honest type of politics to the country. All of which will remain to be seen. It would require major reforms in the political system which would probably find considerable resistance.

It’s not that Canada doesn’t have its own scandals, although they seem pretty boring by comparison; even a list of our possible top ten seems rather tame.  We can’t even determine whether the ongoing affair with former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney and lobbyist Karlheinz Schreiber, who over a 19 month period back in 1993 and 1994 paid Mulroney $300,000 for “international representation“, is truly a scandal or just a transaction that simply stinks of greed and stupidity.

But then who knows what else really lurks below the surface in Canadian politics. However, it does say something about our country when #3 on the Canadian scandal list is David Emerson, newly elected as a Liberal MP crossing the floor to the Conservative side of the house for a cabinet post.

Whoa! Now there’s a scandal of epic proportions.

Unfortunately our media rarely has the good fortune to sink their teeth into all-out scandals like New York Governor Elliot Spitzer‘s involvement with a high price prostitution ring or on a grander scale, President Clinton’s liaison with Monica Lewinsky.

I doubt if it is because our politicians are purer of mind and basically more ethical than those south of our border. It probably has more to do with the level of temptation; more money and a stronger whiff of power.

Whatever. All we can really hope for when we cast our vote is that our candidate has not only intelligence but a strong sense of ethics as well. That is not always apparent when the time comes to mark our ballot.


T’was the Night Before Christmas…

December 25, 2008

The Wednesday, December 24th cartoon by Graham Harrop in the Vancouver Sun begins:

T’was the night before Christmas
And what did I see
The pine beetles had eaten
My Christmas tree.

Pretty cute. The rest here.

Merry Christmas to all!

December 25, 2008

A most Merry Christmas to everyone, especially those poor souls who, for the past couple of days, have been trying to escape from the various airports across the country.

A white Christmas is nice (I suppose) but this has been ridiculous. Even the Greyhound buses got shut down leaving Vancouver today.

It being Christmas I will refrain from making any commentary about global warming.

On the positive side, the ski hill operators must be ecstatic.

As for me, I shall prepare to shovel off the driveway – again.

Cheers!

P.M. Harper makes Senate appointments

December 23, 2008

Today (December 22nd) Prime Minister Stephen Harper bit the bullet and made 18 appointments to the Senate.

We’ve already heard some bitching and complaining from some corners, but it was an astute move on his part. Do it now before the possibility of a non-confidence vote once parliament is recalled and the risk of the Liberals (or a coalition) taking over the government and making the appointments instead.

Some commentator thought that he did it over the Christmas period where it would get less play in the media.

Garbage.

It seems obvious that Harper had held off on the appointments hoping he would be able to initiate Senate reform and have Senators elected. Having been re-elected with another minority government it was obvious that this was not going to happen in the foreseeable future so he played out his hand and made the appointments.

Some of those appointees have already acknowledged that they will step down and run for the positon should Senate elections be held.

All in all, a good move by the Prime Minister.

Kelowna’s 2nd snow – 2008

December 15, 2008

December 12th it started to snow. I had been hoping for a brown and reasonably warm Christmas. Not to be the case, unless something spectacular happens in the next couple of weeks.

This was the picture on the morning of the 13th.

2nd snow-2008

This morning – Monday, December 15th – it was -20 degrees C.  Good start to the winter. I’ll be optimistic and say it can’t last.

Charles Barkley and his golf swing

December 15, 2008

Barkley’s golf swing has been a source of hilarity amongst his peers for quite a while. But now he is working with golf coach Hank Haney to straighten things out. This clip from the Inside the NBA TV show demonstrates the before and after. The ‘before’ is unbelievable. You have to give the guy credit for going out on the golf course with a swing like that and taking all the heat from his golf partners, including Tiger Woods and late night comedians.The question is whether the new swing will hold up on the course.

Thanks to Geoff Shackelford for the link.

And then there is Tiger’s interpretation of the Barkley golf swing. It just doesn’t do justice to the real thing.

The Internet and the CRTC

December 11, 2008

This is what the country really needs; the CRTC controlling the Internet in Canada.

If that happens, you can be sure that costs will go up to users with no apparent additional benefits. The thrust of many of the proponents for more control seems to be how to gain a financial benefit from the Internet while continuing business as usual. Read: Having the internet subsidize them.

The majority of submissions appear to back Google’s stance on a non-regulated environment. But some are less sanguine. A potential tax suggested in preliminary discussions with the federal regulator of between some 2.5 per cent to five per cent of gross revenues to be levied on Internet service providers that would go to broadcasters was met with widespread opposition by industry players.

The CRTC decided in 1999 to keep their hands off the Internet, but now with pressure coming from arts groups and other organizations feeling the competition they have decided to take another look at it.

In an interview with Montreal newspaper La Presse, Michel Arpin said the CRTC, which in 1999 decided it would not regulate the Internet, has since changed its tune. He says the federal regulator is studying the issue and plans to hold public hearings about the Internet at the end of 2008.

“The door is not closed on regulating [the Internet],” Arpin told the French-language paper, in an article that appeared on Wednesday. In 1999, he added, “there was nothing to regulate.”

Arpin made the comments in the wake of a Monday press conference in which 18 unions and associations, mainly from Quebec, criticized the CRTC’s handling of social and cultural matters.

The group — which includes film, TV and music lobby groups such as the Union des artistes, the AQTIS, the APFTQ, ACTRA and music industry group ADISQ — says cultural stakeholders in the province are worried about the apparent deregulation agenda of the CRTC and its head von Finckenstein. It is calling on Heritage Minister Josée Verner to put pressure on the CRTC to enforce the cultural and social objectives of the Broadcasting Act more rigorously. It also called on the feds to be more involved in the Internet.

But when push comes to shove it really all come down to money.

ACTRA president Richard Hardacre concurs. “This is not an attack on the CRTC. I think the CRTC has a real handful to deal with… We just want the minister to pay attention, to not permit this drift towards deregulation,” he says.

Hardacre is concerned, however, that the CRTC isn’t going to hold public hearings on regulating the Internet until the end of 2008. “There is no point closing the barn doors after the horse has already got out,” he says. “The Internet is expanding exponentially. Ad revenue is going up 30% annually online. It’s generating big money.”

Regardless, having the CRTC screwing around with the Internet does not bode well for users.

Greed, Stupidity and the Sub-Prime Mortgages

December 10, 2008

This is an great article on the history of the sub-prime mortgages and some of the people who saw the problem and the inevitable results early on.

The funny thing, looking back on it, is how long it took for even someone who predicted the disaster to grasp its root causes. They were learning about this on the fly, shorting the bonds and then trying to figure out what they had done. Eisman knew subprime lenders could be scumbags. What he underestimated was the total unabashed complicity of the upper class of American capitalism. For instance, he knew that the big Wall Street investment banks took huge piles of loans that in and of themselves might be rated BBB, threw them into a trust, carved the trust into tranches, and wound up with 60 percent of the new total being rated AAA.

But he couldn’t figure out exactly how the rating agencies justified turning BBB loans into AAA-rated bonds. “I didn’t understand how they were turning all this garbage into gold,” he says. He brought some of the bond people from Goldman Sachs, Lehman Brothers, and UBS over for a visit. “We always asked the same question,” says Eisman. “Where are the rating agencies in all of this? And I’d always get the same reaction. It was a smirk.” He called Standard & Poor’s and asked what would happen to default rates if real estate prices fell. The man at S&P couldn’t say; its model for home prices had no ability to accept a negative number. “They were just assuming home prices would keep going up,” Eisman says.

As an investor, Eisman was allowed on the quarterly conference calls held by Moody’s but not allowed to ask questions. The people at Moody’s were polite about their brush-off, however. The C.E.O. even invited Eisman and his team to his office for a visit in June 2007. By then, Eisman was so certain that the world had been turned upside down that he just assumed this guy must know it too. “But we’re sitting there,” Daniel recalls, “and he says to us, like he actually means it, ‘I truly believe that our rating will prove accurate.’ And Steve shoots up in his chair and asks, ‘What did you just say?’ as if the guy had just uttered the most preposterous statement in the history of finance. He repeated it. And Eisman just laughed at him.”

“With all due respect, sir,” Daniel told the C.E.O. deferentially as they left the meeting, “you’re delusional.”
This wasn’t Fitch or even S&P. This was Moody’s, the aristocrats of the rating business, 20 percent owned by Warren Buffett. And the company’s C.E.O. was being told he was either a fool or a crook by one Vincent Daniel, from Queens.

Just a stunning expose of the mess that the financial institutions made and how most of them didn’t even know it was happening.

Saw this over at Blunt Object who also points to neo-neocon and Coyote Blog.

Odetta gone at 77

December 7, 2008

Odetta, one of the great voices of our time died earlier this month.

I first heard her voice on ‘Rawhide’, Max Feguson‘s CBC radio show during the mid-1950s. Feguson, always in character as his host, old Rawhide, featured an eclectic variety of music and performers and Odetta was only one of many talents that he showcased.

One thing that has always stayed in my memory was one Christmas season when Ferguson played a recording of Odetta singing Silent Night. It was a gorgeous rendition of the old Christmas carol. The following week he received a letter, which he read on air, from a woman complaining about playing that most holy of carols sung by ‘that woman’. The letter writer never said just what it was that offended her, but I could only assume that it was because because Odetta was a black woman and somehow that should have disqualified her from singing Silent Night, or at least having it played on the airwaves.

What I do remember is Ferguson sounding uncomfortable and embarrassed, not by being taken to task for his song selection, but by the abysmal ignorance of the woman writing the letter.

Because of the genre of her music, Odetta never became a household name. But that really isn’t important. She left an amazing legacy and it is unlikely that we will ever again hear a voice with her power, emotion and soul.

Indeed, in my opinion, she truly deserves the title of First Lady of Soul.


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