You can’t always do what you want

You don’t often hear people arguing in favour of open defecation. When you expect people to do their dirty business in a toilet, you don’t often hear them say, “So, no freedom? I don’t have a choice?”

No, because sanitation is important and necessary you don’t get to drop trou anywhere you want. Your freedoms do not extend to behaviours that endanger others.

Same for the series of CoViD vaccines you will have to take over the next few seasons in order to participate in public life. If you can, you will have to get those vaccines, because if you don’t, like sewage in the streets, you will pose a public health risk to everyone else.

You can probably understand that your “rights” are limited with respect to poop… the follow through is that this applies to other things as well.

To win a race, you have to start it.

Canada should be vaccinated by now. But at this rate we will not reach herd immunity this year. As vaccinations level off and stagnate we may never. And this is because perhaps a third of us don’t understand most of the fundamental concepts at play here.

People misunderstand how herd immunity and immunity in general work. They have grave misconceptions about how their own immune system protects them, what an infectious disease is, what a virus is. Lots of people have some or many grave misapprehensions about the science, the state of our understanding, and the difference between rights and responsibilities.

So, the pandemic just keeps going. People are going to restaurants and cinemas. That is insane. Insane proof that in general we are a society too ill equipped with basic knowledge and too loaded down with ignorance to respond appropriately even when all that demands of us is to stay away from other people. We can’t outrun the pandemic because we cannot even get to the starting line.

And I fear this is exactly the same as global warming. Decade after decade we have not just failed to mitigate, but we have failed to even start to stop making it worse. And so much of this is that when you talk to people about the actual technologies available to us, so many, perhaps most, are weighed down with such a heap of misinformation and disinformation that they cannot even usefully assess cost or risk even when you lay the actual data out before them.

And so we continue to argue over well understood technologies. People endlessly regurgitate either insupportable wishful thinking or outrageous paranoia. And round and round we go, over the same well worn ground. Never approaching the starting blocks for a race that began in the last century.


And I quote, “The deaths per terawatt hour graph shows nuclear energy as the safest… However, by what criteria?

for whom

Concerns over antisemitism in the Labour Party have helped ensure Brexit Conservative election victories and governments in the UK in recent years. This, despite the fact that the UK Conservatives and Brexit are both overtly racist and have brought the united Kingdom very near to dissolution as Scotland is likely to end the Union in the coming months in order to rejoin the EU. Boris Johnston is likely the last PM of the United Kingdom and his racist treacherous Conservative government its last, in a large part because of hand wringing over whether Jeremy Corbyn was or was not anti-Semitic.

Canada has a terrible history of racist injustice. But to suggest that the current Liberal federal government is maliciously engaged in a campaign of genocide against the First Nations of Canada is absurd. If you think for a second that given the opportunity of waving a magic wand and getting the credit for the miracle of providing reliable city water to remote and rural communities the federal Liberals would not take that you are gravely mistaken. But counter to wishful thinking it is quite possible for an engineering problem to remain insoluble even in concentrated outrage.

So when you are sharing demands for Trudeau to, “do something” about his government’s outrageous failure on issues that have loomed very large in two decades of Canadian politics I would like you to ask yourself who you are actually working for.

The future is…

If you had to push a car from Ajax to Thorold, which is incidentally up hill, you would quickly discover that that takes a lot of energy. Right now, for almost everyone, that work is done by burning fossil fuels. Which has to stop. But the electric car you need doesn’t get free energy by being electric. In order to do that same amount of work, the amount of energy we get from gas and diesel has to be replaced joule for joule with increased electrical energy production.

And transportation as well as industry and heating and cooling, supplied by carbon sources, are a huge fraction of our entire energy budget. To transition to carbon-free electricity we are going to need vast increases in the amount we generate. It is unlikely to be an exaggeration that our core generating capacity will have to double at least a couple of times to increase our electricity production by enough to offset depreciating other energy sources. In the end, with other factors included, no one should be surprised if it turns out that we need an order of magnitude more generation.

And while we hide the sad truth under “renewables” most of the minority of electrical generation that is called renewable is hydro, which cannot be responsibly increased, or biofuels which are a dead-end source of more greenhouse gasses. Only a tiny fraction of electrical generation is wind and solar, which is what you are hoping people are thinking you mean when you talk about green energy. It is simply a delusion that we are going to produce four or ten times as much electrical energy as we do now without new investment in nuclear power. Anyone who tells you otherwise probably means well, but has no idea what they are talking about.

Tied and Untied

A friend mentioned the other day how surprised they were that the Liberal government in Ottawa had not introduced many new sources of revenue in its latest budget. And I think the probable reason for that is important to think about if we would prefer to see a progressive future in which things broadly get better rather than worse.

So, consider Canada’s anti-prostitution law. Canada’s past and present anti-prostitution laws have repeatedly been found to be themselves illegal. Any anti-prostitution law is likely to be unconstitutional for a variety of reasons. Chief among these will be the consideration that, like so many other “morality” laws, criminalization of sex work makes the situation, whatever you might believe about it, worse. The law, its enforcement, does in the words of the Supreme Court of Canada, “disproportionate harm.” Despite this, when the old (illegal) law was struck down, the Harper government replaced it with a worse, and it turns out equally illegal law.

And I am pretty sure the current government, the PM and his cabinet understand this. So why don’t they skip the part of this process where the government faces expensive appeal after expensive appeal until the law is inevitably struck down?

Even if you personally do not have strong feelings about the wrongness of prostitution, I would be shocked to find that you do not know people who do. It is quite probable that the choice of this example is on some level upsetting to most people. And that is why I chose it. Because it is so easy to see how taking a right, legal, moral stand on reforming laws governing sex work in Canada would outrage lots of people. It would likely hand the next federal and indirectly some provincial elections to Conservatives who would have a field day with such a policy.

So, why no new revenue in the federal budget? Because one of two things is going to happen after the next federal election in Canada. Either the Liberals are going to form the government or the CPC are. That is the truth of it. The current government needs to fear the easy outrage Conservatives can expect from their supporters. Reforms that hand the disloyal opposition the next election are absolutely no use. And so, a political climate where so many voters are so easily manipulated, outraged and gulled into supporting extremist parties is one in which neither reform nor democracy have much of a chance.

Justin Trudeau was asked, when the government moved to decriminalize marijuana, if they intended to follow the successful Portuguese model and decriminalize all recreational drug use and possession. To which he answered, “no.” Because Canadians would not support that policy. So, doing the right thing was impossible.

And you may squeal that things would be different if we dumped FPTP for something else. But what is really going on here is more fundamental. It is not FPTP that is our problem. It is Canadian voters. As long as enough voters are willing to support extremists and populists, so long as so many thoughtless regressive people can be so easily manipulated by stands taken on inflammatory issues, as long as there is a threat of such people giving such parties power, no party can be free to act progressively.

Never Nuclear!

Sometime in the late ’70s I learned about the greenhouse effect in geography class. Twenty years later in Kyoto world leaders agreed they ought to do something about climate change before the consequences grew too great, before the damage became too problematic.

So, in 2000, me, “Are we gonna build the zero-carbon generating capacity we can now?”

Them, “NO! Never nuclear.” was the answer. “We can make all the electricity with windmills and PV panels.”

Ten years later, me, “It has been a decade of increasing carbon output. We have made less than no progress on carbon emissions. Shouldn’t we start building some meaningful zero-carbon generating capacity?”

Them, “NO! Nuclear scares me! I don’t understand it. I have no useful sense of the risk/benefit ratio. NEVER nuclear. Besides wind and solar are getting cheaper. We can do this with ‘renewables.’”

Ten more years later, me, “Ok, another decade of increasing carbon emissions. Wind and solar have not magicked the problem away yet. They may someday. But right now we need to build lots and lots of zero-carbon generating capacity. Could we do that now? It has been 20 years of not doing anything useful. Can we please do something?”

Them, “NO! Nuclear is an archaic technology. With ‘renewables’ and ‘green energy’ investment we don’t need it. Besides even though wind and solar are only a tiny fraction of unreliable generating capacity we have this great biofuel technology in which we cut down forests to make wood chips. We cook those in bioreactors to make carbon fuel and burn it! It is ‘RENEWABLE!’”

Me, “OMG! that is a terrible idea! That is taking a low-energy-density fuel source that is otherwise a carbon sink and turning it into a source of additional carbon. Wood burning is already a major source of atmospheric carbon globally. We need to reduce its use, not increase it. This is making the problem worse, just with extra steps.”

Them, “But it is not nuclear. NEVER nuclear.”

Me, “My gods. We are never gonna start solving this problem are we?”

Them, “We already have. You just have to BELIEVE that a solar panel on the roof of an apartment block in Scandinavia in the winter at night can produce all the energy that building needs.”


I do not know that I will be alive or able to afford internet in ten years. But I would rather not go through another iteration of this pathetic fallacy.

Failure

Why do we continue to completely fail on climate-heating mitigation?

  1. People who actively think it is a malicious hoax and actively oppose measures.
  2. People who just don’t believe it is really happening, so no measures are warranted.
  3. People who misunderstand “climate change,” do not understand the unprecedented time scale, believe it is natural and inevitable and not a problem, certainly not one caused by us, or that can or should be mitigated by us.
  4. People who may believe that it is a problem but do not care.
  5. People who believe it is not their problem.
  6. People who know it is a problem but have some vested interest that they perceive to be threatened by mitigation. So actively oppose mitigation.
  7. People who know it is a problem, but think some absurd religious mumbo jumbo. Perhaps it is God’s will.
  8. People who understand that there is a problem, but expect a deus ex machina tech solution that requires no risk, compromise, sacrifice or effort on their parts.
  9. People who know and understand that the consequences of doing nothing are dire but are emotionally invested in particular developing technologies that cannot have a meaningful impact on crucial timescales. They insist that just another ten years, and another ten, and another will see their preferred technology Superman that climate emergency.
  10. People who urgently want mitigation, but not if it involves anything they fear, or anything they misunderstand, or anything they hate. (☠️nuclear power☠️)
  11. People who despair of 1–10 and are resigned to an eventually uninhabitable world because people are almost universally unpersuaded by data and facts.

Tolerance

I have been wishing for some way to influence these creatures since Mulroney. Will Rodney leaving his cabinet post change the government’s direction on fiscal or social policy? Of course not.

I am not fooled into thinking they care about petitions. People worth knowing already oppose them and Cons very much do not care. They laugh at “liberals” and give their mean-spirited ignorant base another stir. Protests, they just characterize as uncivil disobedience and the petty snowflakeishness of the “left.”

These people already know the majority of people oppose them, that their policies mostly make most things worse for most people. And they understand that protests and outrage serve their struggling underdog narrative. “If we are offending so many people, we must be doing something right.”

You will let me know if any affirmative action suddenly has an effect on them after nearly fifty years of it not. Of them getting bolder and worse.

The only thing that is going to make a difference is to start saying, “NO!” every time a coworker regurgitates some regressive dogma. Telling family members and friends who spew racist shit to shut up or fuck off. Never tolerating any of the slow creep of nonsense we not-so-suddenly find up to our necks. Because it is our general tolerance of this extremism which has legitimized it. Just as four years of criminality by the trump administration has made sedition hardly newsworthy.

If you cannot do that, then this will keep getting worse here, as it did in the US, until we have our own trump. Fully acknowledging that Ford is but a short distance from that dumpster fire.

Innovation

Years ago I was at the Lonestar Restaurant in Pickering while a no doubt expensive consultant was coming through telling the management of a place that did one thing well, fajitas, all the things they needed to change about their layout and decoration and indeed it became evident, menu. After that the franchisee dumped more large sums into ripping up old texmex decor and replacing it with other texmex decor. They redesigned the place to make it look revised, superficially different. And they got rid of the delicious beans and replaced them with muck. They replaced most of the fajita sides with mean prefabricated portions. They replaced their in-house delicious corn chips with the same bagged ones you get in a grocery. And after their great reinvention everything that was unimportant, was samey. Much of what was bringing in customers was worse. After a while the proper beans came back. But it was sadly obvious that the menu changes made the food less desirable and poorer value.

And that is a classic example of “redesigns” today. Some branding or marketing idiot with “new” and “improved” on the brain, they come in and they stir the pot. We get redesigns that are only different, seldom better.

The new Apple laptops run a bit cooler. They are a bit faster, although that will never be apparent to almost every user. And they have longer battery life. They also have massive compatibility problems. Backward compatibility problems seem to be the new gold standard for Apple product “innovation.” And weirdly I have been here before. One argument against Macs in the 90’s was a lack of software support. Somewhere in the middle that was improved upon. But here we have come again full circle.

At least back then I could point out that Macs supported all the professional requirements of graphic designers and were at least the best choice for that. But PCs run Adobe Creative Suite and Opentype fonts are cross platform. So, increasingly I cannot figure out why anyone would buy a Mac when they can be annoyed by Windows, getting bigger drives and better CPUs and GPUs at a fraction of the price with better support and more compatibility; and in a proper computer case with a reasonable selection of I/O ports.

Is it something in the water that companies have been so intent this decade on undermining themselves?

Women in STEM

We have failed to provide opportunities for women to have careers in and contribute as much as they could to Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths. This is not just disenabling for women, but deprives our wider society of their valuable contributions in these critical fields.


A while back I encountered an instance in a book I was working on that replaced STEM with STEAM in discussing promoting opportunities for women. The ‘A’ was for Arts.

But we do not have a critical lack of participation in the arts by women. Women are not culturally excluded from and weeded out of the Arts to the grievous disadvantage of themselves and society. If anything women have historically been relegated to arts and crafts dismissively.

Certainly a lack of women’s participation in arts is not a serious limiting factor in our overall prosperity and ability to deal collectively with the challenges we face as a planet. But a lack of women in STEM subjects is.


Today I was listening to a good interview on BBC Inside Science with professor Linda Scott, author of The Double X Economy. I was surprised to hear her say that we only see a lack of women in STEM because of a narrow definition of Sciences in this context. Setting aside that this idea ignores Technology, Engineering and Maths, her argument was that it was wrong to just think of the Physical Sciences, and that lots of women dominate ‘other’ sciences.

Firstly I doubt that a majority of senior people in many science fields are women. That is the central problem we are generally discussing. But even were this women-in-different-sciences (and I regret that what she was referring to was mainly psychology) idea were true, the physical sciences are kind of the point in relation to Technology, Engineering and Maths. By her own argument women disappear out of a leaky pipe as they go along in these specific fields. And that is a terrible waste of human capital.


Just like throwing Arts in with STEM, throwing Social Sciences in with the Physical Sciences misses the point. Women have not been excluded from painting, performing arts, social work or careers as therapists. They have been, are being, weeded out of Physics, Chemistry, Biology, Technology, Engineering and Maths. STEM subjects are survival critical and society cannot afford this squandering of opportunity and talent in these specific areas. It is important not to lose sight of that fact.