411 Radical Bay

Monday, February 19, 2007

At the risk of droning on about it...

I would be surprised if we surived the next two years without the United States (George Bush, in particular) making the disastrous mistake of bombing Iran. The BBC is reporting that any such attack would not just involve nuclear facilities, but would be aimed at a wide range of military targets. More importantly, I think, the article says that the U.S. now considers there to be two reasons to go to war - casus belli. The first is evidence that Iran is building a nuclear weapon. The second would be an attack on U.S. forces in Iran resulting in significant casualties. Even by the standards of recent U.S. foreign policy, this is one of the most ludicrous things I've heard recently. Say a cargo plane is brought down with U.S. troops on board, killing 70 or so, and it's proven to have been by an Iranian missile. That's a justification for another war that will kill thousands of people? U.S. troops who have invaded and occupied a neighbouring country are not legitimate targets? Is sabotage of one U.S. war a good enough reason to launch a second?

We've heard lots more talk recently about how high-level Iranians are controlling the Iranian forces responsible for supplying weapons that are used in attacks on U.S. troops. This seems to me like the rhetorical build-up to an attack, and given that the U.S. government now seems to have convinced itself that this is really a sufficient reason to attack, it makes sense for it to try to sell the same thing to the American people.

The idea of launching an attack not just to stop the nuclear program but to seriously degrade Iran's military, might make senseby purely military logic - it would make it harder for Iran to retaliate. But it just hammers home that any such attack would akin to a declaration of war, and it seems to me that it would be interprested thoughout the Muslim world as an unprovoked act of agression against Muslims. And, essentially, they'd be right. An Iranian bomb might threaten Israel's existence, but it is not an existential threat to the U.S., so given the likely disastrous consequences of an attack, it's simply not justified.

It's not just about what Muslims think, either, but about the perception of the legitimacy of U.S. power around the world. The U.S. has been able to exercise its power so effectively in the past because it hasn't been seen as aggressive, a power that needs to be balanced against. That will change if it goes to war with Iran. It would be the most capricious use of American power, I think, in history. With George W. Bush in power, and apparently believing that only he is of sufficient moral courage to do what's necessary to stop Iran from getting a bomb, we should all keep our fingers crossed.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Grudging approval for Gordon Campbell

Grrrr. I don't like it when politicians I'm used to disliking do things that I'm forced to praise. So it is with B.C.'s Premier Gordon Campbell, who just issued a Throne Speech that sets targets to have B.C.'s greenhouse gas emissions reduced to 10% below 1990 levels by 2020. These seem like somewhat ambitious targets - a 1/3 cut from current levels - and I'm not sure it wouldn't have made more sense to set 2025 or 2030 as the target, but you've got to give the man credit for ambition and seriousness. (Trying to meet those targets in the next 5 years is obviously unacheivable.) I'm particularly happy to see that he's effectively killed the new coal plants proposed, insanely, by B.C. Hydro and appears to be moving towards clean coal technologies and carbon sequestration. I think that these technologies, along with nuclear power and strict new limits on car emissions (of carbon dioxide, not just pollutants) will take us a long way to actually making the kinds of cuts that could make a difference. Could, that is, if China weren't building a new coal power plant every week. Oh, well. At least we can set an example.

A question of priorities

As I read the good news about the deal for North Korean denuclearization (eventually, we hope), I thought to myself, "wouldn't it be hilarious to start complaining about it because in exchange for shutting down their nuclear plants, the North Koreans get shipments of oil, which will contribute to global warming?" Well, imagine my surprise at discovering that someone actually thinks this way. Well, okay, it's only one letter to the editor, and no one knows better than me the sort of cranks and whackos that the Globe prints on their letters page, but still. Sometimes I'm convinced that the environmental movement is more like a religion than a political movement: it sees the world in such black and white terms that George Bush himself would feel at home. Anyway, aren't environmentalists always complaining about nuclear power? While I disagree with those objections when the plants are operating in developed countries, I make an exception when it's North Koreans running the plants.

Oh, and for those who want to read about that deal, as usual, I like Slate's Fred Kaplan on the subject: "President George W. Bush finally got a nuclear deal with North Korea because he finally started negotiating like Bill Clinton."

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Limeys with a death wish

What happens when Top Gear hosts decide to drive around rural Alabama in cars and trucks with things like "Hillary for President," "Man Love," "I'm Bi" and "NASCAR Sucks" written on the side? This does.

I would be tempted to call these guys a bunch of snobbish assholes sneering at people they despise, being deliberately provocative and insufferable. But on the other hand, they do get a rather rude reception, perhaps more than is called for, even for a bunch of snivelling poms.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

This gentleman is insane

More political stuff soon, I promise (he said, to people who were celebrating the long hiatus of Gray-penned political rants.) But you've got to see this. Selachophobe that I am, I'll admit that I stood as far away from the screen as I could while watching it. That said, it's incredibly gripping, and the part where the scientist gets on top of the whale carcass to photograph the ravenous sharks is too nutty for words.

Credit, as always for cool biology related links, to Pharyngula.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007


The video in this post is the coolest thing ever.

That is all.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Bio-fuel nightmare

A really interesting look at the nightmare that a Dutch attempt to use biofuels to combat global warming produced. An attempt to offset a relatively marginal contribution to global warming ended up contributing significantly to an emissions source that now contributes about 8% to the problem of global warming.

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Gay Republican parents and hypocrisy

Dan Savage, as usual, gets it right.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Give me a break

Premier Gordon Campbell defended his government's seizure of three of the surviving sextuplets born last month in Vancouver, and said Thursday the B.C. government will continue to look out for their well-being.

For those who haven't been following it, the sextuplets were born to Jehovah's witnesses, who think that God has a problem with blood transfusions. It was these kids' bad luck to be born with such crazy parents. The fact that the parents allowed all six fetuses to come to term is bad enough. Any responsible parents would have had a selective reduction to ensure that their kids would not be virtually guaranteed to be born so early that they would face disabilities throughout their life. But religious belief is barrier to reasonableness in more ways than one here.

Having given birth to six dramatically premature babies, these parents now want to refuse them the medical care necessary to keep them alive. Any halfway reasonable person would see that it's the job of the government in these circumstances to intervene on behalf of the defenceless babies who are about to be sacrificed on the altar of their parents' crazy beliefs. Premier Campbell shouldn't have to defend the decision; it is so obviously the right one. In this case, the demands of religious superstition amount to nothing less than child abuse. Any parent who lets his or her child die because they think God objects to medical treatment should be charged with failing to provide the necessities of life. Adults can choose for themselves to end their lives for stupid reasons; children can't. I don't like that children can be indoctrinated with baseless beliefs that will lead them to self-destructive behaviour later in life, but there's no way around that. But a civilized society has to draw the line at actual harm. And it's a good thing we do.

Incidentally, I'm reminded of a story my girlfriend's mother told me. She's a speech pathologist, and was presented with an autistic child, about two years old. She and her colleagues told the mother that the child was autistic and would require therapy to ensure that he could develop communications skills. Instead, the woman, who was Hindu, took her child to India for a year to drink holy water. Didn't work. A year later, the child was so severely withdrawn that he would require years of much more intensive and expensive therapy to develop comparable communications skills. What a complete shame. What a complete disgrace.

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