Saturday, January 31, 2009

Obama ♥ Organzied Labour

Obama recently spoke at about the financial crisis, calling it a “disaster” and “the American dream in reverse”, and announcing the creation of a “Task Force on Middle Class Working Families” (the TFoMCWF? That wouldn't go down well in particle physics...) headed by Joe Biden, who, as you all recall, is straight outta Scranton. He also claimed that “the strength of economy can be measured directly by the strength of our middle class”, which seems to be a popular cause these days (if you recall, even before the crisis, the years before the election were marked by a deluge of books decrying the death of the America middle class, presumably a group most people feel they're part of).

The real interesting thing, I think, wasn't the creation of the task force, but the fact that the US, whether it thought it was doing so or not, just elected a guy whose actually approves of organized labour.

First of all, he started his speech by stating his privilege to be among the audience, representing "labour, unions, NPOs, and advocates for our business community". Wait a second... labour guys in the White House? Yep, that's right, and it looks like they weren't in the audience.

Here's a mini transcription starting around 6:30 in the clip:

"I also believe we have to reverse many of the policies to organized labour that we've seen these last 8 years. Policies with which I've sharply disagreed. I do not view the labour movement as part of the problem, to me, its part of the solution."

Note the Huge Applause that followed.

Obama goes on to say that "strong, vibrant, growing unions can exist side by side with strong, vibrant, and growing businesses" and that he's going to be signing three executive orders "designed to ensure that federal contracts serve taxpayers efficiently and effectively".

The orders apparenlty do the following:
1) "Prevent taxpayer dollars to reimburse federal contractors who spend money trying to influence the formation of unions."
2) "Require that federal contractors inform employees of their rights under the National Labour Relations Act"
3) Ensure that "qualified employees keep their jobs even when a contrac changes hands"

I guess this could go down as one more example of how Obama is, at least so far (and hey, it's only been 10 days) really a harbringer of "change". But really, his statements on organized labour are so different than anything I've heard out of Washington for a while. If he can walk the walk (and for how long) remains to be seen, but it seem clear that Obama's economic perspective is firmly to the left.

Cue Joe Biden, who began his speech by welcoming organized labour back to the White House and linking the existence of the middle class to formation of unions in the 19th Century (10:30).

Let's just say that you check the video out in its entierty below. Interesting speeches. Again, whe'll have to see if they can hold up to their labour-friendly talk, but these speeches, if they'er to be taken seriously, signal some pretty radical chages for the US.

You can check out their new website here:

Friday, January 30, 2009

New Werneckes Album!

I just released my third album under the name The Werneckes. I wrote and recorded all the tracks in my bedroom studio from early to late 2008. It can also go by "the blog-titled album." Check it out at

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Vortices and condensation

Wondering aloud on flickr how those curls got there (spin of an engine's exhaust? was the plane actually spinning?) and this morning in my inbox my brother Amgad, finishing up his Physics PhD, sent me an explanation given to him by a colleague:

On 29.01.2009, at 15:02, Gregory Bewley wrote:
Hi Amgad,
I don't know what caused that pattern. But here is some information anyway:
Strong vortices form at the tips of the wings. You can think of it as being caused by air spilling out from under the wing at the tip, and swept back behind the plane in a continuous scroll. The vortex core is parallel to the direction of flight.
Combustion of fuel produces water, among other things, and the water condenses behind the plane as the exhaust cools. Some of this moisture gets trapped in the cores of the vortices. This stuff tends to hang around longer than the moisture outside the cores of the vortices, since the stuff in the core doesn't mix much with the dry outside air, which eventually evaporates the moisture back into the gas phase.
So, the condensation in the vortex core is a pretty good marker of the position of the core, and on a good day you can see some interesting vortex dynamics as the two wing tip vortices interact with each other. Most often, you will see the parallel vortices become wavy, and then intersect and reconnect, forming a chain of vortex rings. So, my guess is that the pattern in the photo came about by the interaction of the tip vortices with each other, but i don't know how.
by the way, the exhaust of the jet engine does not swirl - if it did, this would be energy wasted that could have been used to propel the airplane forward.
In the same way, the wing tip vortices contain a lot of wasted energy, and airplane wings sometimes have fins on the wing tips to try to minimize the strength of the tip vortex.
Hope that helps,

This reminds me that I should probably have chosen to study a real science where they can explain real things, rather than the make-believe world of academic economics.

who broke the ceasefire?

There was a good interview with Jimmy Carter on CBC radio this morning. Here's a question I was left with: did Israel attack Gaza on November 4th (election day in the US)? I heard an interviewer on Al Jazeera English make the same claim while debating someone on the question of who broke the ceasefire. Carter just pointed out that prior to that attack on Gaza, a ceasefire was in place and no rockets were being fired. This runs counter to the conventional wisdom in every media source I follow, American and Canadian. Even among the more left-leaning media, the story goes something like: Hamas broke the ceasefire by continuously firing rockets at Israel, but Israel's response was disproportionate. According to Jimmy Carter, Israel broke the ceasefire when it attacked Gaza on November 4th while no one was paying attention. Has anyone heard of this before? What actually happened on November 4th? Have you ever seen it reported in the MSM, or anywhere else?

Wednesday, January 28, 2009


Anyone reading this has already read more than they would like to about the inauguration so I'll keep it short.

I felt honoured to be a part of such an important day. Partly to witness the peaceful transfer of power (I'm floored by the very concept) in all its pomp and glory, and partly to celebrate Obama the man and the phenomenon. I told my girlfriend Britta the night of his election (overtaken by emotion) that if I were to dream up the perfect person to lead the US, that person would be Obama: his political views, background, internationalism, temper, intelligence and pragmatism. Time has tempered that but other than for a few issues (trade is a big one) I still think he's close to that perfect leader. Ok, enough with the weepy bit.

For all its inclusiveness and Wow-there-are-black-people-on-the-Mall, the inauguration was impressive mostly for its scale. Obama's speech was good, but not the kind to get a crowd emotional, not the kind make a song of. The selling of paraphernalia was surprising mostly for its tackiness. My favourite was a painting of a dozen black men on horses, Obama leading the charge. The rest included Tupac, Mandela, Bob Marley and Muhammad Ali. Epic.

My pictures of the inauguration, on flickr.

(Whew, so that's over. Now I can to write about other topics! Thanks for your patience Ari and Jacob.)

Monday, January 26, 2009

Advertising Armageddon: Ford F150 '09 vs. Grade School Mathematics

If you like to watch hockey (or any other TV program primarily geared towards a male audience) you know that there's no more annoying than the moment the action stops and the car commercials begin. Why do I hate car commercials? Well, for the most part, they're usually not very creative. Quite simply, they're boring, and they're usually about as funny as driving down the 401 with whatever they're advertising. Oh yeah, and they're frequently misleading.

The Ford F150 is a true case in point. According to one of their new commercials, the F150 is some new super-truck that has completely changed what we understand to be the truck-driving experience. But I can't call them on that – for all I know the F150 is the champagne of trucks. What I can moan about is some numbers that get thrown at me every time I see one of their ads.

According to this one commercial (see below), the F150 has a little step in its back. You might say “what do I need a little step for?” Well, you certainly need one if you're going to be loading and unloading your truck 50,000-60,000 times.

Wait a second... 50,000-60,000 times? Let's do some math.

First of all, how long is a truck going to last in Canada? It's on Canadian TV, so that's a fair question, and the last time I checked, that's not usually more than a decade. I don't know about your cars, but I'm going to be generous and give them 15 years as an upper limit, with 12 years as a more realistic estimate. Hey, maybe it's a tough car, I don't know.

Now how many times are you going to load things in and out of it? Let's say you're using the truck for work, traveling to an from a job site. Let's say you use the steps four times a day – once in the morning when you load your car up, once when you get to the site, once when you clean up and once to offload your stuff when you get back. I guess you could be going from site to site with a bunch of stuff, but give the fact that some days you won't even use the back, I think four times per day isn't such a bad estimate.

How many days a year do you work? Let's say about 240 days a year – five days a week for 48 weeks (take 4 weeks off – what the hell, you deserve it).

So, given these numbers, how many times are you going to get in and out of the back of the F150?

4 times/day*240 days/year*15 years= 14,400 times

That's about four times less than 50,000-60,000! And that's for a full-time job (recall that in Canada such work is frequently seasonal) using the truck for 15 years! Even if you assume the truck is used 365 days a year, you would need to use the back step over 9 times each day for 15 years to even crack the 50,000 mark - just over 11 times a day for to hit 60,000.

The irony of this is that after the commercial, whether by coincidence or design (I'm assuming the former), a commercial for the Advertising Standards Canada commercial comes on. Are they begging me to try to call Ford out on this one?

Something tells me that that's what the “Properly equipped." written in tiny letters on the bottom of screen during the commercial is for. I'm reminded of a question I put towards a friend of mine regarding the "There is probably no God" bus ads, wondering which interpretation of probability the advertisers were using. His answer was simple: "legal".

Saturday, January 24, 2009

the future

Listening to Quirks and Quarks on CBC radio this morning, I was struck by how the host Bob McDonald casually comments on the steadily approaching environmental calamity. In one segment he refers to the collapse of honey-bee populations in North America as a "canary in the coal mine" for general environmental health, and in another he interviews a scientist discussing a study showing that climate change is killing our forests.

It occurs to me how often I swing from optimism to pessimism and back again when thinking about the future, depending on which kind of scientist I was most recently listening to. For example, last night I got excited about a TED Talk by a geneticist who claims that with more research we can: "solve our energy problems, reduce CO2, clean up our oceans and make better wine," and then suggests: "stay healthy for another 20 years and you'll see 150 maybe 300." Here's the talk:

In another, even more far-out Ted Talk, a futurist discusses the past 5000 days of the Internet and predicts the very sci-fi world of the next 5000. For example, the web seems to be on course to developing into one giant, integrated machine surpassing the human brain in complexity:

I think a lot of us live with a cognitive dissonance where we believe, on the one hand, society is moving towards some kind of technological utopia and, on the other, a Mad-Max type post-apocalyptic hell following complete environmental collapse. I think the balance between technological optimism and environmental pessimism are key parts of my generation. We waver between hope and excitement and a "what's the point, the world's fucked anyway," attitude. I suppose in the end it'll just come down to timing.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Americans on Guantanamo

Gallup released the surprising results of a poll that asked Americans if Guantanamo Bay should be closed down. Apparently most Americans with an opinion on the matter think that it should stay open. President Obama, on the other hand, never made a secret of what he intends to do with the prison and it looks like he has already started the process of shutting it down.

Of course, polls are tricky because each person reads the question differently. "Should the US government close Guantanamo Bay," to some sounds like: "should Obama attempt to right the wrongs of the Bush administration by closing that lawless house of torture." To others: "should the US release a bunch of crazed terrorists hell-bent on killing you and your family?" Still, I'd like to see more of Obama's positions put to a poll. His stance on Guantanamo Bay was no small thing during the election and it would be an interesting discussion to tease out just what Americans voted for in November.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

"...and non-believers."

Obama acknowledged non-believers in his inaugural address. Also: "we will restore science to it's rightful place." That, and this statement: "the question is no longer: is the government too big or too small, but does it work," makes me think that maybe this "change" thing was no joke. If you still can't quite believe what just happened, click here.

Some inaugural historical context

Was Lincoln Racist? Problems in Revisionist History

As is often the case, great men rarely live up to their legends. History has a fascinating way of molding yesterday's heroes and villains to suit the needs of the hour. The transformation of a controversial and complex individual into a symbol of hope and prosperity tends to be strongly amplified in the wake of an assassination, and is especially increased in national leaders who are victorious in war. If you're wondering who I'm writing about, here's another hint: he had a penchant for top hats (and, according to the world's ultimate online source for trivia, made Thanksgiving a national holiday).

The mystery surrounding the "real" Abraham Lincoln is one that seems to have really taken off over the past decade or so. Revisionist histories are nothing new, and when applied to a titanic figure like a canonized head of state, social reformer, or war, are almost always controversial. Since 2000 at least four books suggesting we take another look at Lincoln have popped up: Forced into Glory: Abraham Lincoln's White Dream, Lincoln Unmasked: What You're Not Supposed to Know About Dishonest Abe, Lincoln Reconsidered: Essays on the Civil War Era (orig. 1961), and The Real Lincoln: A New Look at Abraham Lincoln, His Agenda, and an Unnecessary War.

The crimes leveled against Lincoln are many (his was essentially a dictator, he was a war criminal, he stole the election, etc.) However, the most interesting claims (to me) are those regarding Lincoln's views on race. This is leveled most forcefully in Lerone Bennett's Forced into Glory, a weighty tome (652 pages long) with a single goal: to recast Lincoln as a racist of the first degree and expose his hidden bias, so cunningly whitewashed over by a century and a half of hagiographies. Not only was the Civil War fought over reasons far from slavery (common knowledge to any historian), but but Lincoln enjoyed racist jokes, ethnic slurs, blackface shows, that he thought black people to be infeorior to white people, didn't really oppose slavery (or at least not to the extent that he was thought to), and even had a plan to ship all the slaves overseas, ridding America of Negros once and for all.

Heavy words; the historical gauntlet is thrown. So, was Lincoln a racist?

I should begin by saying that I haven't carefully read any of these books and am in no way a Lincoln scholar - I simply have no basis to make any claim one way or the other on these books and their claims.

That said, I do know something about the writing of history and about the 19th Century and can probably make some sense of this without reading hundreds of pages (and therefore postponing this post by a number of months).

1) Revisionist history tends to overstate its case. I've read good and bad revisionist histories and the difference is usually this: bad histories usually tend to say "look at all this new evidence! Clearly my novel evidence is right and you can ignore all that other crap" while good histories tend to either weigh the two in tadem and provide a "nuanced", rather than completely new view or contextualize the evidence as to explain all evidence in a different light.

A good example of the latter is I.F. Stone's The Trial of Socrates, whose main theme is that Socrates was anti-democratic and, in the wake of a series despotic uprisings (netiher of which he spoke out against and involved his students), was executed. That history uses past information and recontextualizes it. It is not dismissive of the facts, but of the interpretation.

2) Historial Morality Must Be Taken In Context. almost everyone in the mid 1850s (and much, much later) was a racist by today's standards. One great example of this is Darwin, longtime advocate of abolition didn't think too highly of black people. Was he racist? By the standards of the day, he was progressive (compare him to Louis Agassiz, the Swiss-American naturalist, who was, even for his time, pretty damn racist, who considered black people a distinct species and thought that black people shouldn't be anywhere near white people, including himself). One must understand the politics and morality of the 1850s to really comment on whether or not Lincoln's notion that black people were inferior to white people makes any sense.

3) Rhetoric, Rhetoric, Rhetoric. What was Lincoln again? Oh yeah... a politician... and what do they do? They tell people what they want to hear. They're political in their speech. If Lincoln thought that blacks and whites were of equal intelligence he certainly couldn't say it (that notion, unlike abolition, was far outside the mainstream). Then again, if he secretly hated black people but thought they had to be free, he certainly couldn't say that either, given his platform of abolition.

So what are we to believe? If we're to talk about Lincoln, it's important to understand him in his proper context and not to gloss over any of his failings, personal or political, and mistake the polished marble memorial as a sound substitute for the real man, warts and all. That said, for forging our own society, we've certainly come a long way from Lincoln, whatever his views, and it might not make any sense to get hung up on whether he really thought white people were smarter than black people or whether he told racist jokes (and who didn't?) or whatnot. History bends great men to meet the needs of the hour, and hour is no different. Lincoln, the idea, not the man, is what America country looks to for guidance, wrongly or rightly. And maybe that's not such a bad thing after all.

Seeger at the inauguration

It's a beautiful thing that Pete Seeger has lived long enough to perform at the Obama inauguration. The man is 89 years old and has been singing folk songs for more years than many people will live. He's old enough that he influenced Bob Dylan when Dylan was still unknown. He was sentient during the depression, was a victim of McCarthyism and was likely chopping firewood in upstate New York on 9/11. In a lot of ways Seeger's activism seems naive (he was a card-carrying member of the communist party at one point), but this clip of an 89 year old man who spent his entire life caring deeply about his country, performing for a sea of people to celebrate the culmination of a movement he was a part of, is moving.

An aside: Bruce Springsteen made a great cover album of Seeger's songs called We Shall Overcome. Highly recommended.

Monday, January 19, 2009

How to survive the inauguration

There is essential reading on Slate for Munir, Britta, Dave, my mother and anyone else who will be in DC for the inauguration. In it, you learn how to avoid death by asphyxiation while making your way through the hoards of Obamaheads. Important tips include:
...four people per square meter is a safe ratio. If you see more than that—especially in a moving crowd—it's a good idea to get out of the way. Otherwise, if someone jostles you, you won't have room to stick a foot out to stabilize yourself. If you fall, other people may trip over you, creating a pileup. Meanwhile, the rest of the crowd will continue to surge forward, unaware of your situation, and the pressure will build.
Another, more overt sign of danger is the sensation of being touched on all four sides. That's the time to work your way to the margin of the crowd. After that, the last opportunity to escape may be when you feel shock waves travel through the crowd. This happens when people at the back push forward, but the people at the front have no where to go.
Have a safe Obamauguration!


As we all know, Shepard Fairey's iconic Obama poster has been a huge part of the Obama phenomenon. An independent act of art, not commissioned by Obama or his campaign, but a simple, powerful tribute to the hope the new leader would bring.

The Fairey poster's power came from, in my opinion, three elements:
1) The simplified picture of Obama looking forward (and slightly upwards) to the future
2) The Colour scheme - red, blue, light blue, and cream/white
3) The powerful, simple four-letter message on the bottom: HOPE

Actually, there are four versions of the poster that I'm aware of: "HOPE", "CHANGE", "PROGRESS", and "OBAMA". "HOPE" has proven to be, by far, the most popular, neatly summarizing in four little letters the aspirations of a generation.

On Jan. 20th, not only will Obama rise to the occasion in his inaguration, but Fairey's iconic Obama poster will become part of the permanent collection at the American National Portrait Gallery. As far as a portrait in the US goes, that's pretty much as good as it gets. And oh yeah, if you want a limited edition copy of an original Fairey print from ebay, be prepared to empty your wallet a little (on a lighter note high quality knock-offs are, as always, going for much cheaper).

That said, you can get in on making your own iconic Obama image here, at Obamicon, "a bit of post-election fun by Paste magazine." It works better with some pictures than others, but give it a shot. If you ever become president (or Prime Minister) you should definitely have a picture of you with a poster totally calling it. Hey, we can all hope, can't we?

famous inaugural addresses

A sampling of past inaugural addresses from Politico:

Sunday, January 18, 2009

great depression 2.1

A follow up to a post I wrote after Intrade put the chances of a depression occurring at some point in 2009 at 51%: In a post on his blog, Nate Silver of FiveThirtyEight explains why Intrade's numbers might be so high even while most economists are much less pessimistic. He explains that:
...a lot of the money that is to be made there comes from people who are trying to anticipate future price movements rather than the ultimate resolution of the contract. Say that I think the true chance of a depression is 4 percent, not 40 percent -- I should still buy depression contracts at 40 percent if I think I can sell them for 50 percent when the new jobs report comes out on Friday.
I started following the numbers at Intrade during the presidential primaries and still find it interesting to look at what's being traded there (though I'm yet to put any money down), but in this case, I'm not disappointed at all to find reasons why it isn't a flawless system.

Winter tips

And now for something completely different: hypothermia. I was skating on the Rideau Canal this evening and tripped over a little pot-hole in the ice. It brought to mind a video I had watched during a wilderness survival course a couple years ago. The guy featured in the video was so wonderfully out of his mind, and so very helpful, I thought I should share it. Thanks to April for tracking it down.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

20 miles from Camp David

After setting out at 4am and gradually progressing towards the tropical climes of not Canada, we made it to Myersville, MD, by dinner time. The trip involved me losing my passport, Josh finding it (on the floor of the trunk, wtf?), reading the last few issues of The Economist, lunch at Arby's and an excursion into a Super WalMart in search of an iPod-to-car cable. This allowed us to fully indulge in the playlist I carefully constructed based on the Internet's knowledge of Barack's music taste. Ok, well actually it was just a collection of albums I figured he liked based on a quick google search. Turns out Stevie Wonder makes great roadtrip music. Incidentally, walking into a Super WalMart was a life-changing experience. Calling it immense is not doing it justice. You could feed, clothe and entertain a town for weeks with its supplies. The rows of products were endless. I could just imagine walking into it coming from a poor country and fainting. Numerous times. It was spectacular.
We were welcomed to Maryland with an amazing meal by Britta's mother and step-father. Her mother then got us all to play the Wii Fit. Holy jeez, my eyes have been opened. That is a whole other post.

Tomorrow we go into DC and wreak havoc! I mean we get to see museums and memorials! Can't wait.

(As per the post title, we're close to Camp David, where Bush is currently. One last vacation. The jets we heard overhead fly whenever he's there I'm told.)

Friday, January 16, 2009

Sweatshops FTW

Kristof at the NY Times has just written a column and a follow-up post about sweatshops. His argument is that while sweatshops are distasteful, they're better than what many are forced to do for a living (eg. scavenging in garbage dumps), and they help lead a country to higher wages and productivity. Sweatshops are a necessary evil.

This issue is to me emblematic of my disillusionment with some of the left's orthodoxy. Obviously anti-sweatshop campaigners have their hearts in the right place - no one should have to work painful, humiliating, dangerous and low-paid jobs. Wishing it so however isn't enough. Boycotting products from sweatshops just contributes to keeping people in poverty.

This is one reason economists get a little frustrated when people argue trade deals should be accompanied by labor regulations. These are effectively protectionist measures that prevent the greatest benefits of trade to reach the world's poor. (They also, incidentally, hurt us in rich countries - trade is one of those nice realms where everyone can benefit.)

Kristof's NY Times video:

(I'm somehow disappointed with Kristof's voice - does that make sense?)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Final Bush approval rating

What do George W. Bush and Jimmy Carter have in common? Hint: it's not just that they were especially handsome presidents.

On starting a blog

(from indexed)

The Big Picture

The Big Picture is a photo blog that publishes large-scale photos from news wires. Very little editorial, just the pictures. Sounds simple but one of the best edited and most striking blogs I follow.

A recent set of pictures (some graphic) from the Gaza Strip. Most pictures are taken from outside Gaza because of recent restrictions on foreign photographers.

Obamauguration 09!

I'm driving to DC with friends Saturday. I'll do my best to blog the trip and the inauguration. Any requests as to what I should write about?

And thanks for having me along Jacob!

(photo of His Changeness from

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Great Depression 2.0

Intrade, the online prediction market is now giving the statement: "the US Economy to go into a Depression in 2009," a 51% chance of occurring.

Prediction markets trade shares in future events. The price for each share is determined by normal market mechanisms and turns out to be a reliable predictor. Intrade, for example, apparently has an uncanny record at predicting the outcome of elections.

Before you stuff all your money under your mattress, you should know that Intrade has a fairly unorthodox definition of "depression." I'm not clear on the details, not being an economist (if you read this post, maybe you can help me out on that Munir), but from what I gather a "depression" by Intrade's standards would be just a severe recession for most everyone else.

But Intrade isn't the only one throwing around the "D" word. Paul Krugman has been doomsaying for a while, and I wish this guy hadn't been so precient about the housing market crash so we wouldn't have to take him seriously.

This idea of a new Great Depression seems so bizarre to me. Imagine if the Joad family in The Grapes of Wrath could have googled "wages for fruit pickers in California," before they started off across the country. If would have made for a much less interesting book. I just can't imagine depression era conditions in todays world, but I suppose the people of the 20's couldn't either. If the worst does happen, will we have to put aside our computers, iphones, google maps, blogs, and wait 10 years for it to be over? Hard to imagine.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

perogies not proroguing

It's old news but I didn't have a blog when it happened, so I'll mention this pic now:

That's April and me on Parliament Hill after the prorogation of parliament, holding our signs in the bitter Ottawa cold. We were unaware of whoever took and posted the photo and we only discovered it after April's sister googled "prorogation" with "perogies."

I got pretty worked up after the governor general made the decision to grant Harper's request to suspend parliament. (My passions have since cooled, which I suppose was Harper's point in doing what he did). We jumped on a bus for Ottawa with the intention of joining whatever protest we could find.

After getting some cardboard from a grocery store and making our anti-Harper signs, we walked to the hill where we found a thousand or so excited protesters. It turned out to be a pro-conservative rally. We spent most of the day in heated debate with a gaggle of conservatives angered by our party-crashing ways (they thought we were audacious when we were really just hapless). At one point a CTV camera crew, who was approaching us for an interview, was trailed by some conservative who was shouting "biased media" and "what are you talking to those lefties for!" But mostly we just argued with the conservatives, which was kind of what I wanted to be doing at the time. There wern't any hard feelings when we all walked away.

I'm still angered by the rhetoric that came from the Conservatives at the time. Phrases that were being thrown around included "coup d'etat" and "undemocratic." The Conservatives were taking advantage of widespread ignorance in how the Canadian system works: a poll showed that a majority of Canadians can't even name the head of state. I imagine most people have a vague feeling that the Canadian political system works like the American. It doesn't. If it did, the actions of the coalition truly would have been "undemocratic," but exploiting that ignorance to accuse the opposition of insurrection, was despicable. With that and with the lashing out at Quebec, as if Harper was a mad dog backed into a corner, I feel like the mask was taken off and we all saw the real Harper.

On the other hand, I've since come to believe a coalition wouldn't have been in the best interest of Canada. While the idea of a coalition is perfectly in keeping with Canadian democracy, conservative voters, especially those in the west, would have been so enraged by a change of government that the country would have polarized in an extreme way. My argument at the time was: "the only issue that matters is that Harper lost the confidence of parliament." That's still true, but polls have been showing majorities against a Liberal/NDP coalition, hinting that if the coalition was offered during the election, the conservatives would have won a majority. In any case, Ignatieff isn't too enthusiastic about the idea so it seems less likely to happen now.


If you're thinking of moving to Montreal but are afraid of the winter, here's some advice: learn to cross-country ski. Montreal is the only city I can think of that has a mountain for a central park. The trails are groomed all winter and are varied enough to make for great skiing. When the moon is out you can even ski at night, as I did tonight, and on the winding forest trails at the top of the mountain you don't feel like you're in the middle of a city but in some remote wilderness, struggling against the blowing snow as an ice-beard grows on your face. Far from dreading the cold and snow I've come to look forward to it.

Last year saw the most snowfall in recent memory. I hope this year breaks that record.

Monday, January 12, 2009

First past the blog post

I may be amongst the last people to start a blog of my own, but better late than never. As with most blogs that currently exist (I hear there are now more blogs in North America than people), nothing may come of it and this posting could be the first and last. But maybe not. The beauty of starting a blog is that there is zero cost, tilting the cost-benefit analysis way to one side. Really, it doesn't make sense to not start a blog.

If I do continue updating this, what will it be about? Good question; I'm not sure. Clearly, I'll write about things I'm interested in: politics (both US and Canadian), science, music, film. I could keep going but I'm just listing things most everyone is interested in at some level. It'll likely be mostly about politics. It may also become a collaborative effort, depending on the willingness of the other parties (alternatively, we might start a separate blog to collaborate on).

Finally, why the name "ovularity?" I realize it sounds like a female sex organ, but that's not what I mean. It comes from a funny scene early in the Orson Welles adaptation of Franz Kafka's The Trial (one of my favorite films, and novels). An inspector is interrogating the main character, K, about an "ovular"' shape under his carpet. K explains that "ovular" isn't really a word and the inspector responds: "so you deny there's an ovular shape?" The absurd conversation makes K. seem more guilty, which hints at the theme of the story.

Ovularity is also what I'm thinking of calling my 3rd album (soon to be released under the name The Werneckes, found at I may decide against that name in the end, but if not, you heard it here first!