Wednesday, February 28, 2007

House and Home Part 2 - Lighting

Having settled the question of dishwashers once and for all (to my own satisfaction anyway), I turned my attention to those new religious icons, compact fluorescent lights (CFLs - nothing to do with the Canadian Football league).
After blanket media coverage, pretty much everyone now knows that CFLs are a GOOD THING. They last much longer and use much less electricity than conventional incandescent bulbs (apparently using a CFL in place of an incandescent bulb can save an unlikely-sounding half-a-tonne of carbon dioxide over its life).
What is less well know is that they contain trace amounts of mercury, which as most people also know is a BAD THING.
Most information seems to play this down, stressing that the reduced electricity consumption actually creates less mercury pollution from coal-powered power stations which more than offsets the mercury pollution the new bulbs create in themselves (which I consider a bit of a spurious argument given that we are supposed to be phasing out fossil fuel power generation) or that a watch battery contains 5 times as much mercury as a CFL (so?).
But it seems that we should be treating them as hazardous waste, which most people I'm sure are blissfully unaware of.
This has already become an issue in Australia where the new law phasing out incandescent light bulbs is running into problems as recyclers point out that they can't be recycled (not that incandescent bulbs could ever be effectively recycled, but hey...)
Why is nothing ever simple and clear-cut?

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

House and Home Part 1 - Washing the dishes

So, let's lighten up today and look at something a little more domestic and quotidian. Dishwashing.
You can't get much more domestic and quotidian than doing the dishes.
Always one concerned to be doing the right thing, it occurred to me to check up on whether it is more environmentally friendly to use a dishwasher or to wash up by hand.
As a product of frugal Middle England, I have always religiously washed up in the sink and the big white box which takes up lots of room in our kitchen gets used once in a blue moon, usually when we have guests or after a dinner party. It always annoys me that you have to check each item on unloading for encrusted food and missed areas, but that's another matter entirely.
From my research, a dishwasher apparently uses anywhere "between 9 and 15 gallons" of (very) hot water for a full load (hands up: who remembers gallons?), depending on the age and efficiency of the machine, much less than the 20 gallons required for hand-washing an equivalent load. Machine-drying in the dishwasher clearly requires a lot more electricity than air drying on a rack, but I failed to find any reliable figures for that.
My immediate reaction was: hold on, that can't be right. So, I checked how much I tend to use myself. Having finally located something denominated in gallons, it turns out that an average daily wash in our household uses all of 2-2½ gallons.
Now, as I say, I am frugal by birthright and by nature. I tend to half-fill a washing-up bowl in the sink, add detergent and some of the dishes, and rinse each batch by running a small amount of hot water over the dishes and into the bowl, thus keeping the washing water hot at the same time.
By the end of the wash, the 2-gallon bowl is more or less full of water, sometimes overflowing a little into the sink if there are a lot of dishes. Drying overnight on a rack (with the overflow on a tea-towel) costs nothing. Bribing my daughter to put the dishes away costs 25¢.
We are a family of just three, and I wash up just once a day, and I can see that a family of four or five would use more water. But how anyone could use 20 gallons I have no idea.
I think I will just follow my instincts on this one.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Iran - doubts, hypocrisy and bullying

I have been trying to get my head around Iran and my opinions on it.
Yet again, they have decided not to comply with the UN's requirement that it stop enriching uranium. They seem to thrive on this kind of brinkmanship.
And you can see their point, quite frankly. They are a proud nation, and do not take kindly to interference in their internal affairs, especially from the overbearing and holier-than-thou USA, the "Great Satan" as the phrase went in the Ayatollah days.
Under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Iran has the right to pursue a nuclear power programme under IAEA supervision, and it has said that it will not use the technology for weapons manufacture. Which ought to be the end of it, one would have thought.
However, the problem arises because the UN (and the US in particular) don't believe them. Nyah nyanee nyah nyah... Again, there is some justification for this based on Iran's dubious past performance, but international policy can't be built around sneaking suspicions of duplicity.
No-one trusts the US any more (remember those Iraqi weapons of mass destruction?), but no-one is clamouring for their complete nuclear disarmament, despite their obligations to pursue this under the NPT. Well, actually, many of us are calling for just that, but the UN is not, and there is clearly some measure of hypocrisy there.
Israel, just as trigger-happy and unreliable as Iran, has nuclear weapons, and is not a party to the NPT. Ditto: India, Pakistan and North Korea (maybe). The USA is, of course, the only country to have ever used the damned things.
Personally, I would like to see nuclear power deep-sixed, not just nuclear weapons, so it is with distinct mixed feelings that I have to conclude that the UN is being hypocritical, the US tyrannical and bullying, and that Iran has a reasonable case to be left alone to develop its own nuclear power programme.
Iran's intransigence and it's rather puerile approach to many aspects of international relations is realistically unlikely to change much, and one could wish for more common sense and good old-fashioned reasonableness from Mr. Ahmadinejad. But, having observed recent events in Afghanistan and Iraq, you can understand his concern and distrust.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Politics, the dirty game

Politics has always been a dirty game, but it seems to sink to new depths each year. That, or maybe I become less forgiving as I age.
But the whole concept of a government, even a minority government such as Canada's, planning the timing of an election based on short-term fluctions in polls, always leaves a bad taste in my mouth.
So, now that a poll gives the Tories a better-than-previous showing in the national opinion, difficult to believe though I find that, the talk is all of a spring election. The Chretien government did it, and I complained then as well. The Blair government did it. I suppose they all do it. It's contemptible, but it's what you do to get yourself re-elected to maximum advantage.
As I see it, it's one thing for an opposition party to force an election through a no-confidence vote. But personally I don't see any excuse for a governing party ever to call an election before their due term. By definition, it will just be a cynical exercise in positioning.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Nanny state gone crazy

I am becoming increasingly annoyed at the bleating over the "scandal" of excessive waits for new Canadian passports.
The Auditor General has lambasted Passport Canada for not being prepared for the increased demand for new passports brought about by the "new" US regulations requiring Canadian air travellers to the US to carry a passport.
There are questions being asked in the House: The Opposition has accused the government of failing to foresee the crisis and failing the populace.
300 new passport workers are being hired and trained, in addition to the 200 extra workers who have already been hired to cope with the backlog - all this at the taxpayers' expense, of course.
Nowhere, except for one solitary letter to the Globe and Mail's Editor that I have seen, is anyone putting any blame on the idiots who have left it until January or February to apply for a passport for their March break trip to the sun.
Personally, I have no sympathy whatsoever for them. Whether you agree or not with the US's reasoning, it is a widely-know fact. The US regulations were announced back in April 2005, nearly 2 years ago, to great fanfare and media attention. Regular reminders have appeared in the press since then. Travel agents have been reminding clients for quite some time of the new requirements.
It is the people who chose not to apply early that have precipitated this "crisis", and caused a major headache for the few people who did have bona fide reasons for not applying early (such as parents of new babies, etc), for whom I do have some sympathy.
Surely, this is the nanny state gone crazy.

Monday, February 12, 2007

US military spending madness

If George W. has his way in the upcoming US military budget revisions, the United States will finally reach the emotive level whereby their military spending (at an unimaginable $622 billion a year in total, it is estimated, when all the disparate elements are added together) will equal more than the rest of the world's put together. The next closest rivals in this dubious league are Russia and China, both with less than $100 billion each.
Put another way, the annual US budget for arms would be more than the GDPs of all but the 17 richest countries in the world. The proposed increase of $40 billion alone is more than the GDPs of half of the world's countries, and more than the total military budgets of all but UK, China, Russia, France and Japan.
Put another way, the US is set to spend almost 30 times as much on its military as on foreign aid (set at $21.3 billion for 2007).
Put another way, we can expect another war this year...

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Economic relations don't trump human rights

Please don't think I'm going all soft and gooey on our illustrious leader Stephen Harper, whom I would replace in the blink of an eye with someone with some cogent policies and from a different party (any party...), but this just happens to be the second time in just a few months that I am giving him some credit for gumption.
His recent response to the Chinese government's North American envoy, He Lafei, was the correct one, I think, on the premise that economic relations do not trump human rights, and reminding them that China has more to lose from any breakdown in relations than Canada (on the grounds that we import from China nearly 5 times as much as we export there). The latter point is bluster, of course, as push would never be allowed to come to shove.
But I was more shocked than anything else at the tone the Chinese official took in his own comments the previous day. Among his quotes are the following:

  • "...we need to work harder to improve mutual trust"
  • " practical terms Canada is lagging behind in its relations with China"
  • "...people need to have confidence in the country they are going to do business with"
Rich indeed, in the light of the ongoing discussions over the disappeared Canadian citizen Huseyin Celil, and China's poor record on human rights in general.
And disconcertingly reminiscent of the carping and bullying tone we are more used to hearing from the US.

Friday, February 02, 2007


Just so this blog doesn't turn into an obsessive one-topic rant, here's something completely different.
I discovered a cool tool on the Web recently which basically generates all possible anagrams of any word or phrase (upto 23 letters) you enter. I spent ages playing with it ("Get a life!" you may say, or at least "Get a real job!").

  • "Luke Mastin" gives, among pages and pages of less worthy suggestions, "Tsunami Elk" (which I rather like), "An Emu's Kilt" and "I Talk Menus".

  • My daughter's name "Elena Mastin" was even better with "A Silent Name", "Net me A Snail","Tense Animal", "Enamel Saint", "Sent An Email", "Insane Metal", "Mean Ants Lie", "An Elm Is Neat" and "Men Eat Nails".

  • Curiously, my wife's name "Julie Wood" generated only 5 results, none of which made any sense...

There is also an Anagram Hall of Fame which lists many of the longer, more dramatic and appropriate anagrams people have discovered over the years, including the following:
  • "Clint Eastwood" = "Old West action".

  • "The countryside" = "No city dust here".

  • "Desperation" = "A rope ends it".

  • "The Morse Code" = "Here come dots".

  • "A domesticated animal" = "Docile, as a man tamed it".

  • "Eleven plus two" = "Twelve plus one".

  • "To be or not to be: that is the question - whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune" = "In one of the Bard's best-thought-of tragedies, our insistent hero, Hamlet, queries on two fronts about how life turns rotten".

  • "Just because some of us can read and write and do a little math, that doesn't mean we deserve to conquer the universe" = "A masquerade can cover a sense of what is real to deceive us; to be unjaded and not lost, we must, then, determine truth".

(Who figures these things out?)