Friday, 20 May 2016

Hitting the Links, 20 May 2015

Hitting the Links

Friday, 13 May 2016

Here's a new weekly set of interesting links around the Internet this week.

This week: The cost of reactionary authoritarianism, Canadian polling and Parliamentary voting, cool and (global) warming science, and a take on what it means to love.

Thursday, 19 May 2016

Whispers of the Old Gods: One Month Retrospective

Whispers of the Old Gods

One Month Retrospective

It's been close to a month since the release of the Whispers of the Old Gods expansion in Hearthstone.

I'd like to take a few minutes to look at how the expansion, and the format change, has affected the game, to the extent that I am able.

I think there are three things we can say, a month in:
  1. The most important shift in the Standard format meta was the removal of the Goblins vs. Gnomes and Curse of Naxxramas cards, and the nerfs to Classic cards.
  2. The addition of Whispers of the Old Gods has had a noticeable, but not as significant, effect on the metagame.
  3. Apropos of my previous reviews of the Whispers cards, several cards turned out better, or worse, than I anticipated.

I'm referring to the metagame review site Tempostorm and its weekly meta snapshot in the below.

Wednesday, 18 May 2016

Ontario's Climate Plan Leaked to Media

Ontario's Climate Plan Leaked to Media

Just this week, the newspaper The Globe and Mail released details of a climate change action plan created by the Ontario government. The action plan is yet to be formally released; this document was leaked to the media:

The 57-page Climate Change Action Plan was debated by Premier Kathleen Wynne’s cabinet Wednesday and subsequently obtained by The Globe and Mail. Stamped “Cabinet Confidential,” the document lays out a strategy from 2017 to 2021. It contains about 80 different policies, grouped into 32 different “actions.” Each action has a price tag attached to it, as well as an estimate of the amount of emissions it will cut by 2020.

The Globe had previously uncovered details of the plan, but this is the first time the full blueprint has been revealed. The strategy is scheduled to be further reviewed by cabinet ministers and fine-tuned, sources said, with public release slated for June.

It's pretty ambitious, planning $7 billion in outlays for a variety of programmes over four years:

The many new programs will be paid for out of revenue from the province’s upcoming cap-and-trade system, which is expected to be approved by the legislature this week and come into effect at the start of next year. Together, the cap-and-trade system and the action plan are the backbone of the province’s strategy to cut emissions to 15 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020, 37 per cent by 2030 and 80 per cent by 2050.


Highlights include:
  • $3.8-billion for new grants, rebates and other subsidies to retrofit buildings, and move them off natural gas and onto geothermal, solar power or other forms of electric heat. Many of these programs will be administered by a new Green Bank, modelled on a similar agency in New York State, to provide financing for solar and geothermal projects.
  • New building code rules that will require all homes and small buildings built in 2030 or later to be heated without using fossil fuels, such as natural gas. This will be expanded to all buildings before 2050. Other building code changes will require major renovations to include energy-efficiency measures. All homes will also have to undergo an energy-efficiency audit before they are sold.
  • $285-million for electric vehicle incentives. These include a rebate of up to $14,000 for every electric vehicle purchased; up to $1,000 to install home charging; taking the provincial portion of the HST off electric vehicle sales; an extra subsidy program for low– and moderate-income households to get older cars off the road and replace them with electric; and free overnight electricity for charging electric vehicles. The province will also build more charging stations at government buildings, including LCBO outlets, and consider making electrical vehicle plug-ins mandatory on all new buildings. The plan sets targets of expanding electric vehicle sales to 5 per cent of all vehicles sold by 2020, up to 12 per cent by 2025, and aiming to get an electric or hybrid vehicle in every multivehicle driveway by 2024, a total of about 1.7 million cars.
  • New lower-carbon fuel standards would require all liquid transportation fuels, such as gasoline and diesel, to slash life-cycle carbon emissions by 5 per cent by 2020. The plan will also provide $176-million in incentives to fuel retailers to sell more biodiesel and 85-per-cent ethanol blend. The government will also oblige natural gas to contain more renewable content, such as gas from agriculture and waste products.
  • $280-million to help school boards buy electric buses and trucking companies switch to lower-carbon trucks, including by building more liquid natural gas fuelling stations.
  • $354-million toward the GO regional rail network.
  • $200-million to build more cycling infrastructure, including curb-separated bike lanes and bike parking at GO stations.
  • $375-million for research and development into new clean technologies, including $140-million for a Global Centre for Low-Carbon Mobility at an Ontario university or college to develop electric and other low-carbon vehicle technology.
  • $1.2-billion to help factories and other industrial businesses cut emissions, such as by buying more energy-efficient machines.
  • $174-million to make the government carbon neutral. This will include retrofitting buildings, allowing some bureaucrats to work from home and buying carbon offsets.

A more detailed breakdown can be found here. (A warning: if you're not a Globe and Mail subscriber, you may have a cap on the number of articles you can read in a week or month; if so you could well be re-directed to a page inviting you to subscribe - as I was. One hopes other media outlets, particularly the CBC, will provide in-depth analyses which are not behind paywalls.)

Speaking of the CBC, it reports on some of the projected implications and Opposition party responses to the Globe and Mail reporting.

Chief among the projected implications are increased prices for electricity:

The province currently has an oversupply of electricity, Adams said, so it should be able to meet demand for power if this plan were to come to fruition. In fact, the province has been selling its excess power to the U.S., but critics say the government has lost millions, as it costs more to produce the electricity than what is recouped through those sales. [An energy analyst named Tom Adams is named by the CBC; the CBC does not indicate if he has any affilitation with a government agency, NGO, private firm, or similar.]

"There's not a problem with the grid being able to meet the additional load. It's whether the customers can afford to buy this stuff." [A quote by Adams, not explicitly attributed but obvious from context.]

Despite this oversupply, hydro rates remain high, in part to pay for the fixed costs of replacing and adding infrastructure for new generation and eliminating coal as a power source.

Since 2009, Adams said household electricity prices have been going up at a compound annual rate of increase at around eight per cent.

Increased prices for natural gas are also expected:

There's also been a lot of investment in natural gas, Adams said, and if the government is successful in driving down its demand, taxpayers will be on the hook for those costs.

"If that pipe starts to go empty, we're going to be paying for empty pipe in the way that we're paying for disposal of excess electricity," he said. "This plan that they have put forward is headed us on the track to much higher natural gas costs as well as electricity."

Another commentator quoted by the CBC is Brady Yauch, executive director of the Consumer Policy Institute. He is particularly critical of the action plan's item on natural gas, especially given that the Ontario government has also promoted increasing its use in certain sectors:

The province has been asking the Ontario Energy Board to look at programs to expand natural gas in rural areas, where it's much more expensive to heat homes using electricity, Yauch said. At the same time, at least according to the Globe report, the province is saying "we're all going to get off natural gas."

"The province, from an economics point of view, is just talking out of both sides of its mouth and doesn't really know what it wants," Yauch said.

Contrary to Yauch's assertion, it's entirely possible, feasible, and perhaps even desirable for the province to expand natural gas use in some parts of the province - rural areas and northern Ontario, in particular, while still working to reduce natural gas use in densely populated cities, where the logistical effort of the transition is less onerous, and the magnitude of the transition greater owing to the larger number of people involved. (It's not unlike previous rounds of international climate negotiations, which, if memory serves, proposed that wealthy, developed, high-carbon-emitting nations decarbonise first, giving developing nations more time to use carbon to build wealth as required before also decarbonising.)

At any rate, the Ontario government could, in the short term, encourage development of natural gas use in rural Ontario while phasing it out in the cities and come out ahead in emissions, and still meet its timeline for carbon-free residential energy systems by 2050.

Opposition parties weighed in on the revealed plan. Unsurprisingly, they were generally critical:

PC energy critic John Yakabuski accused the Liberals of "inflicting pain" on homeowners. "You're going to force them to heat electrically in a province with the highest electricity prices on the continent," he said in question period on Monday.

"There is no possible way you can embark on this plan to basically eliminate all fossil fuel heating from the province of Ontario," Yakabuski told reporters at the Legislature. "It just doesn't make any sense."


NDP leader Andrea Horwath said the report leaves more questions than answers about the government's plans for reducing carbon emissions.

"We worry about the impact on everyday people, particularly lower-income people," Horwath told reporters. "We worry about people who have good jobs right now in certain industries and whether those jobs are going to be threatened."

Yakabuski is, quite simply, dead wrong. It's absolutely imperative that Ontario - like every single other jurisdiction in the world - decarbonise, for preference at a breakneck pace. In fact, if anything, the government plan isn't ambitious enough: as noted previously, the plan is to cut provincial emissions to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050; in reality, the province ought to be aiming to have no or negligible emissions by then.

Horwath's concerns are quite understandable, but like most "what about the jobs?"-style arguments to climate action, hers has long odds of being convincing, as long as you're aware of the consequences of unchecked climate change. Horwath surely does not intend to suggest that we play Russian Roulette with global food production (and with coastal infrastructure, from the US' first climate refugees today, to Miami and the Eastern Seaboard in the decades to come) by prioritising Ontario jobs in high-carbon industries over cutting emissions; nevertheless, that is the effective outcome of such an attitude.

Make no mistake: the time for gentle, casual action was forty years ago, when climate change first became prominent in international consciousness. While some countries took that action, Canada, as this article makes clear, did not. If we now face a potentially painful, disruptive decarbonisation, that is our own fault for our inertia, apathy, and our decision to become a petro-state. Ontario, like the rest of the country, has to overhaul its economy and society in a manner similar to the way we did during the World Wars. That should be cause for optimism, though: we did it before, so we can do it again.

Tuesday, 17 May 2016

The Case for Mincome

The Case for Mincome

I'd like to take some time today to briefly lay out a case for some form of minimum income - or "mincome" - in Canada.

I don't expect this to be a long post, but I'll lay it out as follows: First, I'll briefly describe what a minimum income is, then I'll explain why Canada should have one, then I will try to answer some possible objections to mincome, and finally I'll describe what I think a reasonable Canadian mincome could look like.

Monday, 16 May 2016

Tactless Compliments, Motherhood Edition

Tactless Compliments, Motherhood Edition

Mother's Day was over a week ago, but I just celebrated it with family yesterday, so mothering is on my mind a bit more than usual.

I've been thinking about a compliment to mothers I've seen shared with some frequency on Facebook. You may likely have seen it, too.

It gets attached to sentimental pictures of mothers and children, or perhaps flowery text on a warm background. The text goes:

"I hear a lot of people say how they would hate to turn out like their mother. If I became half the woman my mom is I would be so grateful."

Usually, it's followed up by a declaration of love for the sharer's mother.

I'd like to unpack this meme a bit. (Parenthetically, I'm going to use the first-person plural pronoun a lot, even though this meme's text is not particularly applicable to gender-"normative" males such as myself. This is because the themes the meme deals with are universally applicable.)

Saturday, 14 May 2016

Hitting the Links, 13 May 2015

Hitting the Links

Friday, 13 May 2016

Here's a new weekly set of interesting links around the Internet this week. I know I'm posting this a day late, but I couldn't keep my eyes open long enough after putting my son to bed to publish it yesterday.

Also, you'll note that most of the links are clustered around early in the weekly cycle when they might have been gathered. This is the result of dealing with pink-eye in the house this past week.

This week: The degradation of political discourse in (North) America, cool fossil finds (pun intended), boats, holidays, and sexist meddling by your relatives.

Monday, 9 May 2016


Blogging will be slowing down this week, as my son has pink eye and it's down to me to stay home with him, as he can't go to school while symptomatic.

I should still get a link-dump post out on Friday, and possibly one other post, but not much else.

Thanks, dear readers, for your patience and understanding.

Friday, 6 May 2016

Hitting the Links, 6 May 2016

Hitting the Links

Friday, 6 May 2016

As a way of adding routine content to the blog, I'd like to start a weekly feature, called Hitting the Links.

Not being a golfer, it's not actually related to golf. Rather, and those of you who dislike puns won't appreciate this, it's going to be a feature where I share a handful of links to interesting, thought-provoking, humorous, or otherwise notable online articles, events, or other goings-on. In some cases, the links might constitute follow-ups to other posts I've put up during the week, if I don't feel they're important or relevant enough to merit going back and editing those posts.

So let's have a look.

[jump break]


The rise of the Yuuuge Lying Demagogue, and his recent primary victory, are, it seems, bringing out the worst of Americans.

Most obviously - and odiously - there is the support he's received from white supremacists. As blogger Ed Brayton reports:

After Ted Cruz pulled out of the Republican presidential race, making Donald Trump the presumptive nominee, the racist, neo-Nazi, white supremacist part of the right wing went into full on celebration mode.

Brayton follows with some specific details. In essence, the white supremacists are overjoyed that Trump makes it possible (if not acceptable, per se) to be openly racist in the American political discourse. It's not terribly different from the coded racism we're used to hearing, particularly from Republican politicians, but even so, there's something ugly about seeing it all hang out, as it were.


The Religious Right in the US has long tried to maintain that businesses have the right to refuse service on grounds of religious beliefs, usually in defence of discrmination against gender minorities. Now, apparently, we're going to see the same excuse used to refuse service on grounds of political affiliation. A tow truck driver refused service to a disabled woman on account of her being a supporter of Bernie Sanders. Now, the driver gave an ostensible "business" decision (he "says he's had problems with two customers over the last six months who supported Bernie Sanders. He said they caused him problems over paying their bills.") in the article. In the video, however, he gives a partially religious justification, saying "Something came over me, I think the Lord came to me, and He just said get in the truck and leave."

I'm not sure what level of data and statistics gathering Shupee Max Towing does, but I'd wager that if they did, they'd find that Sanders supporters were no more likely to end up being bad business (in terms of payment disputes, defaulting on payments, and the like) than any other group of people based on political affiliation. In other words, Shupe's justification strikes me as more a means of rationalising a spur-of-the-moment decision than data-driven business decision.


Politics is a business that is hard on family life. You have to be hustling out to public appearances, doing your bit in the legislature or city council, making yourself available to constituents, and the like. It often means your family life gets neglected.

With so much time spent away from families, politicians and their staffs often end up in affairs. Even if they don't, it's a huge stress on relationships: many marriages don't outlast political careers.

So it was for media mogul turned leader of the PQ, Pierre Karl Péladeau, who quite recently stepped down from his political office citing family concerns. It's possible that between still being a major shareholder of Quebecor and being leader of the PQ, he found his family life was increasingly sacrificed for his other commitments. His very recent marriage (August of last year) made it five months (he and his then-wife announced their separation in January). With all that, and with the PQ languishing despite the Liberal government's corruption troubles, it's no wonder that, if something had to give, it would be the PQ.

Global Warming

Global warming continues apace, and 2016 has been a banner year for why action is needed, not just urgently, but at a breakneck pace. (By action, I mostly mean decarbonisation; carbon sequestration and geo-engineering must also be implemented as fast as feasible, if they are feasible at all, but they require rapid decarbonisation to have any lasting positive effect.)

One thing I think people don't really quite comprehend is that global warming doesn't necessarily cause natural disasters such as droughts, storms, and the like. (That would require a severe weather event's precursors being impossible but for warming.) However, because global warming is a modification of the Earth's entire climate - everywhere, all the time - then every single severe weather event is somehow modified, usually exaggerating or exacerbating the negative effects.

This is increasingly clear with events such as the spring wildfires in Alberta this past week, which forced the evacuation of Fort McMurray. In my post yesterday on the topic, I concluded with remarks hinting at the link between the fires and global warming.

This article at The Washington Post makes the link more explicit. Contributing to the disaster are the following warming-influenced trends: reduced winter snowpack, meaning the snow melts earlier and can leave conditions dryer for longer; warmer temperatures, which evaporate water more easily during dry conditions; and an atmospheric blocking pattern which has become more frequently encountered in recent years as the Arctic jet stream's behaviour has become aberrant, the result of warmer temperatures and reduced sea ice cover there. (The blocking pattern is not unlike that seen over Greenland which caused tropical storm Sandy to veer into the northeastern United States instead of heading out to sea as might normally have been expected.)


Other obvious concerns are the way projections by the IPCC (a scientific body which aggregates and summarizes the state of research) and other scientific organisations end up being left in the dust. For example, the IPCC's last two Assessment reports have generally projected about 1 metre of sea level rise by the end of this century. But it appears that these projections are altogether too conservative as our understanding of ice melt processes - particularly in West Antarctica - improve. Make no mistake: multimetre sea level rise by the end of this century means large swathes of what is now heavily-inhabited coastline will be lost to the ocean, most of it in poor, tropical-belt countries that can least afford such a disaster.

In the same vein, Arctic sea ice is falling off the proverbial cliff this year. It's not yet a sure thing that we will see an ice-free summer this year, but even if we don't, it won't be far off.

Culture and Society

Blogger Libby Anne of Love Joy Feminism has recently expounded on "corporal punishment" - that is, hitting children (euphemised as "spanking") with disciplinary or punitive intent.

In her post, she refers to some of the research on the topic, and brings up a Maclean's article which brings up more research as well. One bottom line from the research coming out is that the lines "I was spanked as a child and I turned out fine" or "I spanked my children and they turned out fine" are execrable defences of hitting children as a social practice. After all, who's to say that people who did make it to adulthood without noticeable psychological damage from spanking wouldn't have done even better? With individual families that have never spanked in Canada, or entire societies where it has been outlawed (such as Sweden, which banned spanking in 1979), we have seen by now that people turn out just fine without being subjected, as vulnerable children, to what would be categorised as criminal assault when done to an adult.

Not to say you need to start hating your parents if you were occasionally spanked as a child and are no longer concerned. Just like we now have radically changed how we seat small children in automobiles over the last few decades, without condemning parents in decades past for their laxer standards, so can we change how we treat hitting children now without condemning people who genuinely believed otherwise in the past.


Finally, maybe it's too soon and a bit of a cheap shot, but the brewing company Labatt has been shipping specially-packaged cans of drinking water to help evacuees and fire fighters in Alberta, which deserves an honourable mention with respect to yesterday's post, which discussed the myriad ways Canadians have stepped up to the plate to pitch in and help out. I'm wondering, however, whether they just re-labelled Blue Light.

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Alberta Wildfires 2016

Alberta Wildfires 2016

Canadians' True Colours

In Peter Jackson's cinematic production of The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, there is a scene in the secret base maintained by Gondor in Ithilien, where Faramir (son of the Steward - a sort of regent) having captured the Hobbits Frodo and Sam, confronts them with the knowledge that they possess the One Ring of Power, crafted by the story's primary antagonist, the Dark Lord Sauron.

A crucial line in the film is when Faramir, eyeing the ring, says, "A chance for Faramir, Captain of Gondor, to show his quality." In the Extended release of the film, it's a bitter callback to his remembrances of the last time he saw his brother, Boromir, alive. Their father, the Steward Denethor, throws the line in his face when he volunteers to go to Rivendell (not knowing that Denethor means to send Boromir there to retrieve Sauron's Ring).

In a sequence added for the film (that is, it's not part of the books), Faramir takes the Hobbits to the ruined city of Osgiliath, with the intent of bringing them back to Gondor itself, Ring in hand. After an attack by Sauron's armies and agents (the Nazgûl, or Ringwraiths), Faramir is convinced by Frodo's behaviour and Sam's argument (especially as regards Boromir's fate) to release them, allowing them to continue their desperate mission: carry the Ring to the heart of Mordor, with the aim of casting it into the volcano where it was forged - the only hope of destroying it and overthrowing Sauron.

Sam makes a final reference to the "quality" line, saying, "Captain Faramir, you have shown your quality, sir - the very highest," in powerful contrast to its initial use by Denethor.

I refer to that whole character arc of Faramir as the lead-in to a discussion of how Canadians have had, through the disaster that has befallen northern Alberta, a chance to show their quality. And, like Faramir, they've shown it is generally the very highest.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

US Election 2016 - Riding The Trump Tiger

US Election 2016

Riding The Trump Tiger

It's official: after Indiana, the Yuuuge Lying Demagogue (aka "The Donald", aka "Donald Drumpf", aka Donald Trump) is the last man standing.

Cruz is out. Kasich is out. Barring some sort of Republican Party manoeuvre at the convention, Trump will be their nominee for the Presidential election in November.

Already, and unsurprisingly, senior Republicans are playing the power-worship game instead of standing on some sort of principle. As per the CBC:

Republican National Committee chairman Reince Priebus declared the race over, saying on Twitter that Trump would be the party's presumptive nominee.

"We all need to unite and focus on defeating (at)HillaryClinton," he wrote.

This does suggest that perhaps the Party is going to ride the Trump tiger rather than try anything at the convention.

This is an extremely risky strategy, which I'm hoping will backfire disastrously for the GOP.