Wednesday, February 19, 2020

Ontario's unreadable blue license plate imbroglio goes to new heights

An indication of just how ridiculous Ontario's new unreadable white-on-blue car license plate issue is becoming is that some jurisdictions like Toronto are being asked to change and improve their photo radar camera systems, rather than just going back to the perfectly good old license plates that work fine with the photo radar cameras.
If that's not ass-backwards, I don't know what is.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Facial recognition technology: naivety vs paranoia

Here's another minefield of an issue that has civil rights groups across the globe all worked up into a lather: the use of facial recognition software like Clearview AI, which uses huge amounts of legally-obtained data "scraped" from the Internet and some clever coding to identify individuals
The Toronto police force is the latest to call a halt to use of the technology, pending a thorough review. And again, while some people seem to be able to see the issue clearly in black and white, it's by no means obvious to me.
I can't see any reason why individuals or commercial companies should be able to use it in the pursuance of profit or even less worthy goals. Ditto autocratic governments like China in pursuance of dodgy racial policies. But the police and security forces of a civilized democratic country? Is it any different, any worse, thsn using CCTV security cameras or DNA analysis in crime solving and prevention (yes, I know that civil liberties organizations tend to object to those too, but I have always taken the view, perhaps naive, that, if I am not engaged in criminal activity, I have nothing to hide from a camera).
Am I being too naive, or are they being too paranoid?

To break up or not to break up indigenous protests - the impossible question

I always knew that, as we age, most people tend to get a bit more reactionary, a bit more (dare I say it?) conservative. That's not to say that we all turn into died-in-the-wool, blue-rinse, archetypal tories; we just get a little less radical than we were in our youth, a little more resistant to change, a little less patient and forgiving of radical youth. Whatever the reason for it, it does seem to be a fact of life (with some exceptions of course), which, in a world that is gradually ageing, is a scary thought.
So, maybe it shouldn't surprise me that, while I might once have been fully supportive of the disruptive indigenous protests occurring throughout Canada in support of the Wet'suwet'en opposition to the Coastal GasLink pipeline project in BC, I do not feel myself able to support such a protest with any enthusiasm. Maybe from an environmental point of view the pipeline is indeed a bad idea. But the idea of a handful of (mainly indigenous, with the usual rent-a-crowd bunch of anarchist types) protesters holding hostage commercial and personal transportation across most of the country sits awkwardly with me, and just seems a bit wrong. It also potentially risks putting Indigenous-Settler relations back decades.
It doesn't help that I am keenly aware that most First Nations, including the Wet'suwet'en themselves and all the First Nations councils along the proposed route, are actually in favour of the pipeline and the money and job opportunities such a development might bring to some poor, struggling indigenous communities. The democratically-elected band councils, are in favour of it; it is only the much more traditional hereditary clan and house chiefs who are opposing it, and even some Wet'suwet'en house leaders were in favour of it until they were unceremonially ousted from their (hereditary) positions by other house leaders. How is that possible, and how is it being condoned?
We should not lose sight of the fact that it is in support of these non-elected hereditary leaders that the current protests are being held. To support the views of an ornery, traditional few over the democratic majority? That can't be right, no matter what the environmental considerations might be.
If nothing else, the Indigenous people in general need to sort out who actually represents them. Believers in the wisdom of traditional elders (who I would guess are mainly the traditional elders themselves!), say that elected band councils are part of a "white" system imposed by the Indian Act. But I just bet that most Indigenous people, given a choice, would prefer a representative who is democratically responsible to the regular folk, and who can be judged on their merits and their policies. Otherwise, it is like Canada agreeing to be led by the unelected Governor-General and Lieutenant-Generals rather than by the elected government. Traditional does not always mean better, and Indigenous people deserve the opportunity to emerge from the dark ages of kings and family dynasties.
The powers that be - from the police to the provincial and federal governments - are being very cagey and pussyfooting around the issue, despite the issue of a court order which would legally justify their wading in and turfing out the protesters. This is partly in order to avoid any chance of another Ipperwash or Oka or Caledonia, but partly also due to a new unwillingness to be seen to be crossing the will of the original inhabitants of this country, with whom we settlers are supposed to be pursuing a reconciliation. It is fraught with sensitive and delicate repercussions with which no-one wants to be seen to be ignoring.
So, how do we square that with ignoring the wishes of the majority of the country's indigenous people? It's an insoluble no-win situation, which Tories in non-governing positions like Andrew Scheer make light of when they complain that the government is doing nothing and letting the country go to rack and ruin out of weakness and ineptitude. That is just a reminder that Scheer is not able to understand the subtleties surrounding high-level political negotiations, and should make us very glad that he lost the last election.

Why do some conifers lose their leaves in winter?

Walking through the park today, we noticed a conifer tree that had either shed its leaves or was just plain dead. We then remembered that tamarack and larch trees are some of the very few coniferous trees that are not also evergreens. So, of course, the obvious questions occur, lIke "how?" and "why?", requiring recourse to the interwebs (yes, that old thing is still around!)
So, first things first. Wide-leafed deciduous trees lose their lives in winter to save energy and conserve water. Their large leaves can soak up so much sunshine and produce so much carbon dioxide during the summer growing season that they can survive the winter without producing more, so they jettison their energy-hungry leaves and live off their fat, so to speak. They basically go dormant for a while, similar to a state of hibernation.
Needle-bearing conifers, on the other hand, don't produce as much CO2 during the summer, but their requirements are much lower, and a waxy coating on the needles reduces water loss and snow accumulation in winter.
So, it's a case of horses for courses - two very different strategies achieving the same ultimate end: survival. The broad leaves of decidious trees live fast and die young; the needles of conifers are more energy-efficient and stay the course. (Incidentally, it is a fallacy that conifers lose all their needles over the period of a year - in fact, individual needles may live as long as 20 years before turning colour and falling off).
What then of tamaracks and their cousins, the larches? Why do they buck the trend and lose their needles each winter?
I've still not found a very satisfying answer but, from what I can gather, tamarack needles are sparser than most conifer needles and so can receive more sunlight, as they shade each other less than either other conifers or broad-leaf trees, and thereby accumulate more CO2 during the summer. Also, they have chosen not to produce such waxy needles, which requires less energy. And finally, they use nitrogen more efficiently than other trees, and are able to recycle and reabsorb more nitrogen than any other tree before they lose their leaves in the fall.
So, there you have it: not totally satisfactory perhaps, but at least an explanation of sorts.

Friday, January 31, 2020

Moral bankruptcy and the impeachment process

I am just wondering about how the Republican Senators are explaining their actions to their children (or, given the age of most of them, their grandchilden).
I don't for a moment think that most of them believe that Donald Trump is an innocent man, but they are willing to support him because the alternative - the impeachment of a Republican president, and potential years in the political wilderness for the Republican party - they see as unthinkable. Even those who hate the guy will not vote to impeach him, and precious few will even vote to allow the semblance of a fair trial, with witnesses and all the other trappings of a normal court case. If their grandkids, then, ask them why they would do that, what do they say? Do they just take a deep breath and say that the success of the party is more important than the truth?
Consider something else: how does Trump lawyer Alan Dershowitz explain to his grandkids the morality of his argument that a president can do pretty much anything to get re-elected so long as he believes that his re-election is in the public interest of the country. This is such a shocking statement that even small children will see how wrong it is, and what a precedent it would set for the future. Dershowitz too must be aware of how wrong, and how dangerous, it is. What, then, does he say to said grandchildren if the subject comes up at the dinner table? That the law is all about winning at any cost, and that morality just doesn't come into it? Or does the whole family just know not to bring the subject up.
It's a pretty sad state of affairs, and you have to feel for the moral agonizing these people have to deal with. Ha!

Christine Sinclair's achievement in perspective

Shout out to Christine Sinclair, Canada's soccer superstar, as she breaks the record for all time international goal-scoring.
Notching up goals 184 and 185 the other day in a 11-0 rout of St. Kitts & Nevis, she beat out American Abby Wambach to become, not only the highest scoring woman in international soccer, but the highest scoring person. Period.
For perspective, the highest scoring male is still Ali Daei of Iran (who? you say) with a paltry 104. For even more perspective, Ms. Sinclair has scored more international goals than Pele (77) and Cristiano Ronaldo (99) combined!

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

A pair of criminals propose a "peace plan" for Palestine

It makes quite a picture: two old white guys in black suits blithely shrugging off serious threats to their credibility and integrity, and making totally impractical and already discredited plans for the fate of a whole country, thereby throwimg the entire region into yet more instability and violent turmoil.
Looking through that sentence, I could probably have been referring to any number of personages throughout history. But, as it happens, I am referring to Benjamin Neyanyahu and Donald Trump - one newly indicted on corruption charges and one in the middle of an impeachment trial - as they propose a "peace plan", which just happens to be exactly what Israel has been calling for for decades, and which takes into account the Palestinian viewpoint not a whit.
Should these characters even be out in public, never mind be making pronouncements that affect the lives of millions of people?