Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Interesting article on Led Zeppelin concert

The National Post (at least the on-line version) has a thought-provoking column on Led Zeppelin's recent concert and the band in general:

Susan Fast on the success of Led Zeppelin's reunion concert - Dec 18 2007

Fast is a professor of English & Cultural Studies at McMaster University. I don't completely agree that a rock band should be the focus of study for a university professor - but I'm tempted to attempt to acquire her book on the subject of Led Zeppelin. (On the other hand, I know most everything about the band's history and music - so I might not.)

Fast poses a rhetorical question in the following paragraph:

Led Zeppelin always controlled their exposure in the 1970’s — very few interviews, a dearth of information about the band on album covers, long intervals between tours, and a tendency for them, the press and fans to mythologize what little information did emerge. But is this model for success based on absence the only one available for Zeppelin, or does it merely uphold some myth about rock authenticity — and perhaps the very concept of authenticity itself — that needs to be reexamined?

My take is that although Led Zeppelin did control their exposure in terms of interviews as an example, this was not the 'model for success'. The success built on the series of astounding albums and live performances. Zeppelin didn't need to hob-nob with the press to sell albums and concert tickets. Zeppelin fans appreciate that this sets the band apart - but is not salient to why we listen.

Monday, December 17, 2007

A snowstorm to love

Yesterday's snowstorm was actually quite fun. It fell on a Sunday - and the weathermen were pretty well spot on in the forecast.

I planned to coccoon - and expect for a round of shovelling and a walk down to Queen St to do some Christmas shopping - coccoon I did. On Saturday, I had provisioned the house with more food than I can cook in a week. For Sunday dinner, I cooked a roast chicken and enjoyed the 2nd installment of a '97 Barbaresco I had opened on Saturday.

(The wine was still a robust, tannic brute of a Nebbiolo - but quite ready to drink.)

Beachers were taking the storm in stride. There were quite a few people shopping - despite the fact that this backward thinking city doesn't clear sidewalks. I walked, waddled, and vaulted depending on the footing and obstacles until I reached Mastermind.

The store has been expanded to include that used by Living Lighting (which has moved to the other side of Woodbine.) As usual, the Mastermind staff were delightfully helpful. I ended up with seven gifts. (I could have used a sleigh and some reindeer on the return trek.)

Moscoe gets his due

Globe columnist John Barber has never been more right (quite a feat for a leftie!) than in his latest column:

City cabs: Get your meters running, head out on the highway

City councillor Howard Moscoe has been turing the licensing committe into his latest circus. As Barber points out, Moscoe was eased out of the TTC chair to 'because Mayor David Miller urgently needed to contain the damage his old friend was doing to the TTC'.

Well - if you remove the bull from one china shop only to set him free in another, there still going to be damage. And yes, Moscoe is one big load of a bull!

The ultimate losers again - regular Torontonians trying to get a limo to the airport.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Blackout gridlocks city - cops look on

I had a fun day of driving yesterday.

The morning started with the normal - suffering from the awful drivers in Toronto. On the way to work - right now out near the airport - I'm waiting to turn left on an advanced green. The one driver in front decides to open his door to spit and misses the start of the advanced green. Seeing this, an oversize tractor trailer in the opposite direction decides to take advantage of the spitting to filter right. He blocks the entire road - no way to turn left.

The advanced green ends. Meanwhile - the spitter wont advance into the intersection to allow more vehicles to turn at the end of the normal green cycle.

In the afternoon, I head to my dentist in Yorkville. After the cleaning, I do some shopping - but at 6 pm, decide to go home for some dinner. I turn right onto Yonge heading south. Traffic is moving - but I'm soon stuck in complete gridlock - not the normal gridlock, but far worse.

The radio explains why: there is a power failure over most of the south est section of downtown. It's too late for me - I'm in the dreaded no turn section of Yonge. The first chance to turn will be Adelaide - and that turns out to be crawling.

I'm soon in the darkened section. Everyone is dutifully treating each intersection as a 4-way stop.

Now - there are police all over - on foot, car and on bike. Are they directing traffic though?? God forbid it. One officer is leaning against his bike watching a stopped up intersection at Queen & Chruch. You'd think - at a minimum - that the police would keep the transit routes moving. However, you'd be wrong.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

As predicted here - Transit City cost nears $10 billion

The TTC's capital budget is now available:


As predicted in this space (i.e. by yours truly) back in March of this year, the 'expected' $6.1 billion cost was severely lowballed. (See Sunday, March 18, 2007
More on the Transit City - Cost approaching $10 billion.)

Per my earlier analysis:

Despite the staggering cost estimate, it appears that the scheme is being low-balled. The TTC does this consistently - so no surprise here. One obvious delusion is the plan to use only 240 vehicles. Although the vehicles would be larger than todays CLRVs, and even so than the ALRV versions, the 240 vehicle fleet size works out to an unrealistic load factor in terms of riders per service hour.

Applying the benchmark from Calgary C-train (122 riders per service hour) , using 240 vehicles for 175 million passengers a year would require vehicles to be in service an average of 16 hours/day. This doesn't seem realistic.

You can read the details, but basically, the vehicle requirements I see for the Transit City lines is for 386 LRVs - rather than the 240 in the proposal.

Now, in the TTC capital budget, I am proven right (I can't read the figures in the details because of the way the TTC publishes therir reports in tbe web. I will be requesting a hard copy tomorrow.)

It should be noted that the $6.1 billion figure included early estimates of vehicle requirements, however it did not include costs for the necessary maintenance and storage facility requirements to support this expanded LRT network.

Vehicle requirements have also been reassessed to determine more realistic assumptions for LRV loading standard capacity, average operating speeds and maintenance spares ratios. Total costs for Transit City are currently estimated to be in the order of $8.3 billion.

Estimate costs for the new LRVs to be (mis)used on the downtown streetcar network are now about $7 million/car. For 200 cars, we're at about $1.4 billion.

Are we at $10 billion yet? -No - but $9.7 billion is pretty close. Give this a few months and more costs will come out of the trackwork.

Bemoans one local LRT advocate (Steve Munro) who earlier asserted "I believe that the TTC’s estimate is in the ballpark." in response to my analysis.

Meanwhile, both the new streetcar procurement and Transit City are getting more expensive as cost estimates are refined. This is not making friends among Councillors who want so badly to be pro-transit, but who are sideswiped by the TTC’s inability to price their projects.

Well - I'll gladly help review the cost estimates!!!!

L'Affaire Airbus

Is it just me who is wondering if it's wise for Canada to spend even more money investigating the Schreiber affair.

We're going to have another RCMP investigation. We're going to have a full inquiry. Didn't we have full investigations before.

Now we are going to spend more money on account of statements from someone is trying to avoid deportation to Germany - and likely jail time.

I think Karlheinz Schreiber would say anything not to get deported. Is this going to be another wild goose chase than the past incarnations - that cost millions to investigate and even more to pay for a libel settlment?

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Jim Stanford - Wrong-At-Large

Jim Stanford - the Globe's main representative from Canada's trade unions - is practically always dead wrong.

In his most recent column:

Flaherty's far-fetched pleas - Gbobe & Mail - October 24th 2007

he has surpassed even his usual standard in 'wrongness'.

Stanford lamely tries to poke fun af federal Minister of Finance Jim Flaherty for his meeting with representatives from Canada's retail industry. He pooh-poohs the idea that governments and business should actually talk.

Well, apparently, Mr Standford - are you listening or just re-reading those sections of Marx that you find so interesting - government jawboning can work.

Since the Flaherty meeting, Walmart Canada, Sear Canada and now Ford have decided to aggressively cut prices. It's a good thing that these companies heard Mr. Flaherty and didn't hear or listen to Mr. Stanford. It also proves they aren't stupid.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Richard Florida - the anti-Barber

Richard Florida is a welcome addition to the Globe & Mail. His recent column:

Wake up, Toronto – you're bigger than you think

implores Torontonians to think of this city as the hub of a large regional economy - which Florida labels as “Tor-Buff-Chester”.

The concept of a megalopolis is not new - in fact I have a book from my childhood identifying 'Bos-Was' and 'Chi-Pitts'. Now we have the extra-extended Golden Horseshoe.

It is important to realize that we can leverage our place in a regional economy. Improvements to the transportation links are important - but so is mindset.

Of course, for the prototypical downtown Toronto socialist dinosaur, thinking of Toronto as part of a region is going to cause headaches - especially when that region extends into the United States.

A "prime" example of the non-regionally aware dinosaur is Florida's fellow Globe columnist John Barber. Barber writes as though Toronto consisted of the very center of the city - and even more restrictive view than simply the 'old' city of Toronto. Barber doesn't seem to recognize North Toronto as part of the region. (hmm - but the Muskokas probably are.)

Barber is not alone. I still see signs up in my neighbourhood opposing the Megacity.

I do disagree with Florida on his assertion that regions are economic engines. Companies, institutions and people are the engines - not the region itself.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Time to test the water in the Beach

Admitted Arch-Liberal and National Post Columnist Warren Kinsella's recent column had me leafing through the Yellow Pages looking for someone to test the local H20 for hallucinogens. Kinsella reportedly lives nearby - and perhaps the water has corrupted his mind.

Writes Mr. Kinsella in a recent article:

How Dion can get his groove back

'He [Dion]can do that by saying, to all who will listen: "We are the party that will ratify Kyoto, not kill it. We are the party that will bring back our young men and women from Afghanistan within a year of our election, and not at some distant date inthe future. And we are the party that opposes dismantling federalism by stealth, as Stephen Harper promised to do in his Throne Speech. Under a Liberal government, Ottawa will not become the headwaiter to the provinces.

Warren - iIt's more like the following:

The Liberal Party of Canada is the Party that:

- Signed Kyoto and did nothing to implement it. The rise if GHG emmissions during the Chretien/Martin regime is well-documented.
- Sent our armed forces to Afghanistan without a plan. Cretin-man recently admitted that he wanted to keep our troops in a safe area around Kabul - but he apparently forgot to tell his successor.
- The Febfibs started the head-waiter act with Ken Dryden 'national day care' handout. (Can you believe Dryden is a Cornell grad - this is a complete embarrassment.)

So Mr. Kinsella, start filtering and boiling your water.

PS - exactly when did Dion have a groove anyway?

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Maria Minna - the epitome of lack of class

Enough of my fellow constituents are mindless Liberal voting automatons when it comes to voting in federal elections that they've continued to re-elect Maria Minna.

This is the Maria Minna who managed to vote illegally in a municipal by-election. After she got caught, she looked around to blame someone:

""I made the mistake of listening to the PMO and not speaking out on my own behalf. I won't make that mistake again." (CBC News - March 1 2002)

Well - now Minna has taken her own advice and has said something. Unfortunately, not only has this served to re-inforce that she is not only particularly bright - but it has demonstrated that God handed her a full helping of shrillness while passing over her plate when the class was being passed around.

Minna called Prime Minister Harper a Neanderthal because the government will no longer be funding feminist lobby groups.

"I didn't get into politics, I didn't spend 30 years in volunteer work because Harper, a Neanderthal, would come and take that away from us," said Liberal MP Maria Minna. (Toronto Star/CP - Sept 20 2007)

Well Maria - there's nothing stopping you from volunteering. You can volunteer to work for these lobby groups. It would please us greatly if you would resign from being our MP to make time for this pursuit. Beaches/East York will be much better off without your shrillness and lack of class which is such an enbarrassment.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Back to transit - the TTC cost spiral

It's been a few months since I wrote much about transit. What is there really to write - nothing much changes at the TTC. However, since we're about to get socked with a mammoth property tax increase in one form or another - you all might be interested in a big reason behind the increase.

(The proposed Land Transfer Tax is a property tax - you just pay it all at once when you are selling/buying.)

A while back I analysed the comparative performance of the Montreal transit system (MTC or STM depending on the language) and the TTC. I've put together some updated figures:

Montreal - MTC/STM

Operating cost per rider
1994 actual: $1.63
2007 budget: $1.88

That's a 15.4% increase overall - but a decline of 2.9% when inflation is taken into account. This means that the Montreal system lowered its unit operating costs - even when the increased cost of fuel and electricty are taken into account.

Toronto - TTC

Operating cost per rider
1994 actual: $1.73
2007 budget: $2.35

This is an overall increase of 35.8%!!!!! OR 20.4 percentage points higher than Montreal.

What does this mean in real $$$. Well, if the TTC had matched the STM's performance, it's 2007 operating cost per rider would be:

1.154 *$ 1.73 = $1.995 / rider

or $2.35 - $1.995 = $0.355 lower than the actual budget.

@ the 2007 projected ridership of 461 million

461 million * $0 .355 = $163.7 million

In other words, the TTC has missed and is missing opportunities to become more efficient while the STM hasn't and isn't.

The Montreal system's performance shows that you can have a succesful transit system without an ever upward spiral in costs.

The worst for the TTC is yet to come.

The 2008 TTC pro forma budget that is referenced here shows that the TTC costs will explode next year. Operating expenses are set to grow by $128 million ($1,083 million ==> $1,211 million) while ridership revenue will grow by only $24 million. (This was before the recent fare increase was voted in.) This would vault operating cost / rider to about $2.59 - a whopping 10% increase.

Well -the $163 million in lost opportunity into 1994 and the $104 million in growth in required subsidy this year would give us back $267 million - which would make the Land Transfer Tax largely unnecessary.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Bussin and Fletcher's mound of dirt

As I've written on before - there's a mound of dirt on the NW corner of Coxwell and Lakeshore. This is where councillor's Paula Fletcher and Sandra Bussin had teh city spend how ever many hundreds or thousands of taxpayer $$$ to buy some rather expensive votes.

Bulldoxers were hard at work before the 2006 municipal election. The mound of earth is there - but no work has been done all summer. Local skateboarders won't likely see anything for at least another year - as it will take at least another year to build anything.

This is the city that needs to raise our taxes by about 20%!

The only thing that got built in this project is this d++d sign. No kidding.

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Monday, September 03, 2007

Education funding

The education funding issue may rear its head again in the upcoming provincal election. The Star recently republished its party line on the subject ranting that 'the school funding formula is flawed'.

Yours truly replied to the editorial - (not published)

Your editorial on school funding ("Urgent need to fix funding formula" - August 27th 2007) would receive a failing grade if submitted as school work. You offer no evidence that the school funding formula is broken.

You don't discuss how spending per pupil in Ontario is not widely different that the average for Canada. You mention that some boards have had difficulty balancing their budgets - but don't mention how many have managed.

That trustees on some boards have chosen to confront the province to the point of having their boards placed under supervision could evidence an issue with the formula, However it could equally be evidence of political grandstanding. You offer nothing to indicate that the former is more likely.

No formula for funding anything is perfect. However, an imperfect formula is not necessarily broken. Since the education reforms of the latter '90s, student performance in Ontario - as evidenced by standard testing - has steadily improved. Ontario students are no longer laggards when compared with those from other provinces. It's hard to see how the flaws in the formula merit the urgency you suggest.

Plaque build-up at the Canadian War Museum

There has been a great deal of controversy over a plaque at the Canadian War Museum documenting the German civilian deaths as a result of Allied bombings. Yours truly weighed in on the subject in this past Saturday's National Post:

Passing judgment on Allied bombing

National PostPublished: Saturday, September 01, 2007

Prof. Hansen leads us to draw a distinction between the respective morality of U.S. bombing tactics and those of the RAF and RCAF on the basis of the America's focus on precision targets. However, he omits to say that the U.S. forces were only able to implement this tactic once sufficient P-51s fighter planes were on hand to cover daylight sorties deep into Germany.

Until fighters could supply the daytime air cover, the only weapon the Allies had to slow German munitions production was nighttime area bombing. This strategy did not stop production, however, Germany would have produced and deployed significantly more planes and tanks had the skies been left quiet. Prof. Hansen offers no alternative -- and hence implies that Germany should have been left to produce munitions without Allied resistance.

This was in response to Professor Hansen's column (THE WAR MUSEUM'S GREAT MISTAKE - Aug 31 2007) that decried the museum's changing a plaque as a result of pressure from WW II veterans.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Mel's lament

The Toronto Sun features a column (Joe Warmington - Sun, August 19, 2007) covering commentary by former mayor Mel Lastman on the city's current budget mess. Now Mel has too much personality for many Torontonians - or is this just an excuse on the part of the downtown elite to dislike someone who is not one of there own. However, there's no doubt as to his leadership capabilities.

Lastman is quoted:

His advice to the socialist-majority council is to start listening to those who are not like-minded. "That's what I did," he said. "I made them part of the decision-making. That's how you get ideas."

Sage advice. The only problem is that the hard-left in council don't believe in finding solutions. They deem the concept of finding slolutions - be they via efficiencies, new ideas, and/or making trade-offs - as capitalist and bourgeois. It's no so much a that they lack understanding, but rather a hard-wired scrambling of their brains.

Friday, August 17, 2007

All things upside down

OK - nothing like a good vacation to rejuvenate oneself. Aha - but things don't change much in Hogtown - not over a few weeks (months, years, decades..) We should have junked the streetcars decades ago - instead we still have people trying to prove they were right for forcing us to keep them.

In the latest news, a number of panhandlers have been involved in a murder (ok al-edge-ed-ly - lol) of a visitor to our fair city. The incident was witnessed by many from a stopped Queen streetcar (no news in the streetcar being stopped). One women has been charged and a number of American panhandlers are now under investigations.

Now why would American hobo's head up to Hogtown. The simple answer is that the left-wing wing-nuts who run this city WANT them here to keep up the pressure for oodles of money to be spent on socialist housing. The hobos actually aren't in line for public housing - they are just being used for PR purposes. Now an astounding 10% of domiciles in Toronto are public housing units. However, one needs to realise that the goal of people like Paula Fletcher and David Miller is to have 100% public housing. (Top party officials would still be allowed to 'own' there own dachas. )

Given this, it's not surprising that the City does nothing about panhandlers - other that to invite more. I'm surprised they are advertising.

Of course, if you are a home or business owner in Queen W - you're out of luck. This is the city where a councilor (Adam Vaughan) has actually proposed taxing people who are lawfully lining up to get into a club or restaurant - while inviting hobos from around the world to invade the city and suck up out tax $$$.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Same old, same old

The grandstanding and fearmongering by Miller minion and now TTC chair Adam Giambrone was all too predictable: we'll have to cut key services - perhaps including the Shephard subway line - because council did not pass a whopping property tax increase.

And yes, the proposed Land Transfer Tax (LTT) is a property tax - it's paid on the value of your property. The only different is that it's paid in one shot - the buyer and seller end up splitting the cost. The seller pays in the form of a lower home price - while the buyer pays he tax at face value. Assuming you are in one home for a decade, the LTT proposal adds about 20% to your property taxes.

There are a few people who never move - or don't think they will - such as Globe & Mail columnists Rick Salutin and John Barber. They argue that it's unfair for people who own properties with growing values should not pay increasing property taxes. This is quite selfish - as it means people in less attractive housing must pay more.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Did Miller really go to Harvard?

I just heard that council has deferred the whopping tax increase in the form of doubling the land transfer tax payable on sale of real estate. This is a big defeat for Mayor Miller - although perhaps only a temporary reprieve for Toronto's citizens. Miller and his minions are intent on spending and taxing this metropolis into oblivion.

If you read Miller's bio on Wikipidea:

you'll se that he has an interesting background. He was born in North America, grew up in England. He attended - according to the article - Harvard University. One can do worse in life than be a Canadian Ivy Leaque man with a good set of hair:-) The trouble is, he's putting us into disrepute.

How it is possible for someone who lived in Britain at the time the nation was the 'sick man of Europe' - with high taxes and all-controlling unions rapidly sucking the life out of the place - to be bent on implementing the 'sick man of Europe' policies here in out city?

I'd like to see Miller's Harvard sheepskin. Is it for real?

Beach transit woes

An enterprising resident has created an on-line petition asking that the TTC stop mismanaging streetcar service to The Beach.

I'm not sure if I'm going to sign. First, the TTC don't listen and don't care. Second, most of the problems are inherent in having streetcars. If we really want a working transit service into the Beach, we need buses. People are paying double fare ("extra" fare is almost double) to use the Beach Express. Regular service could easily be handled by buses - and service would be better (more frequent, more reliable.)

Most people in the Beach don't care - as they don't take transit.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Transit stuff - "new" GM for the TTC

I've been read the riot act - specifically that I should spend more time on my own writing and less posting on other people's web sites.

In recent transit news, the TTC have hired 'interim' Chief General Manager Gary Webster as 'permanent' CGM. What's it been - a year since Ric DuCharme had enough of being Howard Moscoe's lapdog. My alma mater was able to find a new president in roughly half that time.

My guess is that no-one with any talent from outside applied for the job. We can thank Moscoe for this state of affairs - i.e. overpoliticization scaring away top professionals. This is a Toronto problem in general. The TDSB had to promote the handiest warm body from within to replace Dave Reid as education director.

I'm not sure of Mr. Webster's qualifications. He's been at the TTC for a long time. I'd hate to think that he's agreed to the job as a nice quiet place (well paid of course) to wait until retirement. We don't need a another lap dog at the TTC.

Mind you Adam Giambrone is a noticeable improvement over Moscoe - then again Attila the Hun would have been an improvement.


The collective 'we' (i.e. the citizens of Toronto) are getting what we asked for - a government intent on taxing the city to death instead of making a modicum of effort to control expenses. We're being bled to death to fund endless varieties of sham schemes.

Actually, it's worse than most anyone can imagine. A municipal land transfer tax will take 1 - 2% of the value of homes and businesses. That's just for starters. Since city spending is growing 8% a year - what are these taxes going to be in a couple of years? Hold onto your horses (houses) - we could be in for a long term bear market in Toronto real-estate. One can be bullish on real estate in Peel and York.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

On the transit front

The Ontario liberals made a big splash with the election promise for $12 billion or so of transit capital spending over the next 12 years. This is smart packaging politically. The Conservative platform that calls for all gas tax $$$ to be used for transportation (instead of other pet causes) would deliver as much - but Mr. Tory didn't list the projects in as much detail.

It's also smart because although the legislature won't sit before the election, this accouncement is not within the official campaign limits. The election laws should be changed to prevent a party from using the front of being 'in power' and using as election PR.

Council flip flop

I'm having to adjust to borrowing a computer for a few days. I haven't posted here much as recent - but I will once the techies fix my machine. (As I've learned - you need to be careful when borrowing a computer!!)

The news from yesterday was Council's unanimous vote for keeping the yellow ribbons on our city vehicles. Kudos to Council.

hmm - but the vote wasn't truly unanimous - some councillors were not present. The Sun has a great picture of ultra-left Councillor Pam McConnell trying trying to sneak out without being noticed - so she didn't have to vote. It's scary that this woman was once the head of the police oversight board!!! Who is the furthest left person on council - Paula Fletcher or McConnell? Either way, with such people in positions of power, no wonder the city is going down the tubes.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

TTC - Downtime in downtown

Well - the vaunted Spadina LRT is out of service again.

TTC Notice re: 509 510 service

This is barely a news event anymore. Riders will be taking buses from Union Station and then transferring for trips north. 'Transit City'? - no - 'Transfer City' more likely.

Monday, June 04, 2007

What is that pile of earth?

Last year, bulldozers and other heavy equipment were busy pushing mounds of earth around a site on the NW corner of Lakeshore and Coxwell. The exact nature of the exercise was a mystery to most until the municipal election approached. At that point a sign appeared explaining that the City was building a skateboard park.

Well - half the sign was about the skateboard park - but the main purpose seems to have been to provide free campaign publicity for the local Trotskyite councillor Paula Fletcher, and the Beaches' own Sandra Bussin. (No one is sure what Ms. Bussin thinks - other than her writing ultra-sycophantic columns praising Mayor David Miller.)

Well, now that the election is over - and Fletcher and Bussin aren't in election mode - guess what! Construction has stopped. The piles of earth are still there. The status is even a mystery to the local group that had been fundraising to build the park - The Southeast Toronto Skateboard Association.

On one page of the STSA's website we read:

STSA fundraising for the permanent skatepark at Ashbridge's Bay has been put on hold.
Funding for the first phase of construction has been secured from the City, and as a result they have taken over the management of the construction of the park.

On another, the bad news:

Ashbridges Bay Skatepark

While we wait and wait and wait, the Stan Wadlow skatepark park has been completed and the Ellesmere park has been started. What's up with that?

The City has given us no indication of the construction schedule. Send Councillor Sandra Bussin an email and ask her what is going on -

Poor naive STSA, you've been used as an election prop.

Thursday, May 31, 2007

Death of a Student

The Globe's Margaret Wente has beaten me to the punch on this.

A number of teachers with recent experience at C.W. Jeffreys Collegiate have now attested to servere discipline problems at the school. This was also covered in the Toronto Star on Wednesday.

The statements and letters to the newpapers have document not only that 'teachers were threatened and assaulted regularly by students' and that 'intruders had easy access the the school and were clogging halls during class time. Worse yet, TDSB trustee Stephnie Payne not only claims to have been unaware of the problems - she actually sided with a lawsuit against a vice-principal for daring to report some students to police.

The hidden agenda - of course there's a hidden agenda - was to downplay the need and utility of the Safe Schools Act. Now that the act has been emasculated in terms of the tools available to teachers and principles to bring order to the schools, we see the folly of backing away from it.

While people like Stephnie Payne may not have killed the student - liberal dogma seem to leaps out as a root cause.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Top Ten - Toronto Traffic Nighmares

OK - I might not get to 10 - but I've had to drive way more than I like in the last year due to where work has taken me.

1. Keele & St. Clair

This intersection is always backed up for about 10 minutes as there is a severe bottleneck in the railway underpass just to the East. I've had to come this way from the far end of Mississauga when visiting my sister on the way home. There's quite a bit of commercial traffic + many contractors toing and froing between Home Depot and work sites in the St. Clair W neighbourhoods.

G+d only knows how much worse this will be when the streetcar right-of-way is complete.

2. Victoria Park and the 401

I come down here on the way home from one of my York Region clients if the DVP is reported in bad shape. Although this wasn't so bad earlier this week, I've seen the whole area gridlocked in the evening. This is probably true of number of intersections with the 401.

Teh highway is too big for the exit/entrance infrastructure. It would have been better to have two expressways instead of the monster that's grown up. This would have allowed for more manageable traffic flow.

3. Gardiner/427/QEW

Over the last year I made many trips out to Hamilton for work. The ride home always hit a big slow down (i.e. E-bound) just where the 427 merges in. Despite the extra ramp that was built a few years ago from the 427 collectors, this gets backed up by about 5:00 pm. This is one ramp that could benefit from metering.

4. Gardiner East curves

There are two curves on the E-bound gardiner where the maniacial speeding hot heads in the left lane always end up rear-ending slower moving traffic. Once is just around the Humber - and the other is at Dufferin. At least once a week some jackass would have got himself in a fender bender (or worse) and ruined the journey home for thousands of commuters.

OK - I've got up to four. If you think I'm going to write about my top ten shortcuts - keep dreamin'.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Top Tens

And now for something completely different - to borrow a Pythonism.

I recently wrote about Tafelmusik's fantastic performance of Solomon. In terms of live music, most everything I experience these days is from the Classical or Baroque periods. It may surprise you that I enjoy other types of music. Some days I'll listen to Q107 as a break from Classical 96.3. In terms of seeing an actual live rock concert - my ears really rule it out. However, I do enjoy live rock recordings.

Here are some of the top live tracks - not in any particular order:

Cream - Crossroads
The Yardbirds - Train Kept a'rollin (Stroll-on)
Led Zeppelin - The Rain Song
Led Zeppelin - Since I've Been Loving You
The Who - Young Man Blues
The Allman Brothers - Whippin' Post
Santana - Soul Sacrifice

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Concert Review - Tafelmusik - Handel's Solomon

Tafelmusik's performance of Handel's opera Solomon was the last installment in my subscription to ten concerts this year. This one was well worth the wait!

Of course, being a long performance, the concert started at 7:30 pm. I arrived at 7:45 - and was lucky to get to see any of the first part. Thankfully, the staff allowed latecomers to sit in the foyer. The rear doors were open in order to mitigate the heat in the church. On this evening, I was glad for the extra money I shelled out to be on the floor. I can only imagine how warm it must have been in the balcony.

I found the performance energetic and brilliant. Other than The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba (which I think everyone would recognize), I did not recognize any of the work. This is no way detracted from the evening. I was especially swept up by some of the choruses.

Friday, May 11, 2007

"Transit City" plan just streetcars - top official

hmm - some uncharacteristically candid remarks from a top city official on the 'Transit City' plan being shopped around by the city:

Rod McPhail (I think he's a city official rather than a TTC wonk) is quoted in a local newspaper:

“Really, we’ll just be looking at buses and streetcars,” he said. “The only real difference between LRT and streetcar services is that the stations are a little further apart.”

This is much as I'm reading into the plan. Other than tunnelled sections such as would run under Eglinton, the proposals don't seem to offer much beyond streetcar type service. I'm estimated service speed at just above 20 km / hour - or practically the same as suburban bus services. The operations would generally not qualify under the emergent definition of rapid transit.

Don't forget, the TTC sold the St. Clair mess as LRT. Let's not forget the propaganda documents such as 'The Streetcar Renaissance' that were floated about during the process.

It's funny, I picked this up from reading Steve Munro's blog today. Mr. Munro defends streetcars at length. Writes Munro:

I will be charitable and assume that Rob McPhail has been quoted out of context, but there’s a clear problem with his statement. LRT is most definitely not just streetcars with the stops further apart.

hmm - it seems to me that Munro himself uses the terms interchangeably. For example, in this post, the St. Clair West project is called "LRT".

Sunday, May 06, 2007

The usual hokum about "Jane"

That's Jane Jacobs in case you were wondering.

This is the woman that the reactionary left in this city have virtually canonized - almost deified. Jacobs was very involved - some would say instrumental - in stopping the building of the Spadina Expressway. Her legacy in this is mixed.

Old neighbourhoods remain unscathed and undistrubed. However, rather that escaping polution and congestion, the neighbourhoods are home to some of the most severe traffic congestion in the central area of the city. Eglinton Ave West is often a parking lot. When I was in the process of moving to Toronto - now almost nine years ago - the real estate agent showing me around resorting to hopping through laneways. Streets such as Davenport, Dupont and Bathurst are also choked.

The ironic thing is that in a the tawny Forest Hill neighbourhood many of the side streets don't have sidewalks. If ever there were a sign of urbanity, it would be sidewalks.

In my mind, Jacobs was an enclavist rather than an urbanist. In latter years she clearly went off the deep-end. In one of her last battles she raged against a local school's plan to build an addition. She used apocalyptic terms. I guess cities are for people, not cars - but they aren't for sidewalks or schools either.

Toronto needs to move on from the ideas of this diletant. Surely we can look ahead and behind at the same time.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Toronto - You can't get there from here

These past few days have all-too-well illustrated that the Indian meaning for 'Toronto' must have been 'You can't get there from here'.

On the weekend, the Gardiner was closed. Traffic crawled all the more slowly than usual along city streets. Instead of the City re-jigging traffic signals at the bottom of the DVP in light of closure, vehicles forced to exit on Lakeshore were allowed into our fair city about 3-4 for each traffic light sequence.

Toronto sure likes to give visitors the big middle finger on both hands. It's hardly surprising that no-one sypathizes with our city's financial problems. They can surely see that these are of own making.

[Streetcars did their short-turning and bunching tricks - not news but I thought I'd mention it.]

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Concert review - Tafelmusik and Italy over the ages

The recent Tafelmusik programme - "House of the Devil" - covering Italian Baroque from the early days until the transition to the Classical period was one of its best this year. I especially enjoyed the simple early pieces.

(and yes, there is more to Italian Baroque than Vivaldi, Monteverdi and Corelli.)

The programme did include a Vivaldi horn concerto - but was predominately focussed on less well-known composers. Highlights included:

Biagio Marini - Sonata in ecco for 3 violins and continuo

Giovanni Bertoli - Sonata for dulcian and continuo (The dulcian is an obscure wind instrument)

Tomaso Albinoni - Concerto for two oboes

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Miller continues tradition of small-mindedness

I've never been big on street festivals. However, I know that the Celebrate Toronto street party held in mid-summer was very popular.

Now Emporer - er rather Mayor David Miller is kiboshing the whole thing. The $$$ will instead go to one of his favourites - something with a French title called "Nuit Blanche". The imperial thumb has been pointed downward for Celebrate Toronto - and up for Nuit Blanche.

I guess Nuit Blanche brings in more of Miller's upper class friends and Harvard classmates (reason enough to shelve it:-) - whereas Celebrate Toronto brings in too many of the unwashed suburbanites.

This is just more evidence that Toronto isn't growing up despite the City of Toronto Act. If the mayor isn't big enough to accept that one of his predecessors cam up with a good idea, we have no business running our own show.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Movie Review - "300"

I finally gave into curiousity and went to see "300". I enjoyed the movie - and I'll accord it the rate or 'worth seeing'.

Some have written - and correctly so - that "300" completely omits that the the Spartan's held sway by force over the Helots with whom they shared region of Lacedaemonia and thereabouts. Then again, everyone had slaves. The Athenians used slave labour to mine the silver mines that paid for its naval might. We should hence overlook this - as the film is about the awakening in man of the spirit of freedom, free will and independance from tyrants. It doesn't mean that it was immediately perfect. There's no reason to judge those Spartan's on the basis that they had what amounted to slaves.

The film does a good job in explaining the Spartan's hoplite phalanx-based method of conducting warfare. On the other hand, I remember reading that Spartan's fought barefoot - whereas other Greeks generally wore sandals in battle. It seemend that all the Greeks were shod in sandals in the battle scenes. Some of the Spartans wore a beardbut no moustache - but more had a full set of hair on the upper lip, or were clean shaven.

The film is purposely dark and somewhat grainy. It seems perpetually to be dusk. War is a dark subject - so perhaps the producers thought that even one ray of sun would break the mood.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

The last days of a legion hall

Since visuals increase reader interest, awareness - I've decided to add some pictures. Here is the partly demolished legion hall near my home - on a dreadfully drear long weekend day.
The building has long been an eyesore - boarded windows and a front that was blind to the street. Posted by Picasa

The tracks vanish

Posted by Picasa
There's a track in there somewhere. The TTC's Harbourfront line west of Bathurst is out of commission. Barely 15 year old, and the tracks are in such bad shape as to require suspension of service. This citizen took this photo yesterday. There was a bus running back and forth - easily handling the ridership. The riders I saw getting on were very happy to see the bus.
hmm - would have been nice if the TTC had put up signs or any type of notice.
This is the basic technology that the TTC plans to use in its proposed 'LRT' lines (See posts and Transit City).
To me, it's not LRT to encase all of the lines in concrete. More to the point, it's not smart. Let's run LRT where the rails can be ballasted in gravel - which allows for easier ongoing maintenance.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

Perpetual Change - Townhomes replace the Legion

This week 'they' finally started putting the wrecking ball to the Legion Hall at the major intersection near my house. Although I'm sure that the venue has meant a great deal to many over the years, it's time to see it go. In it's place will be the usual spacious townhouses - narrow and tall, with parking underneath - and perhaps a deck on the roof.

These can be attractive places for young professionals to live. This having been said, the first 'batch' - on the busy corner - have been slow to move. These residences aren't suitable for retired couples - too many stairs - or families with children.

The direction of perpetual change is that residential areas are becoming more residential - especially the attractive neighbourhoods. Marginal commercial properties are being moved to the residential column of the zoning ledger. The city's bizarre tax structure is an accellerant helping fuel this trend.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

LRT - Eglinton and the 6 dwarves

A reader has brought it to my attention that the LRT popularity poll on the Transit City propaganda site shows that over 80% of those replying would prefer the proposed Eglinton line:

Here are the results as of this afternoon:

Eglinton - 11049 votes - 83.6 %
Sheppard East - 670 - 5.1%
Scarborough Malvern - 377 - 2.9%
Waterfront West - 363 - 2.7%
Don Mills - 329 - 2.5%
Etobicoke Finch West - 245 - 1.9%
Jane - 186 - 1.4%

Transit pundit Steve Munro prognosticates that the underground part of the Eglinton line would be the last to be built. The line would be built starting at the extremities - hmm perhaps this proposal should be called Transfer City instead of Transit City. It seems that potential riders have other ideas.

Saturday, March 31, 2007

Theatre Review - "Lucy" at Canstage

This is a serious, emotion-filled production worth attending solely on the grounds that one will learn more about autism.

The title character Lucy is a thirteen-year old autistic child who is reunited with her mother after being raised in the care of her father. It's tempting to come away from the play thinking about what one has learned about the condition. However, while the playright clearly intends to educate the audience in that regard, this is not in any way the exclusive purpose.

The characters - especially Vivian, Lucy's mother - deal with very real human emotions and feelings in attempting to cope with the difficulties of raising an autistic child: denial, avoidance, guilt, exasperation and love.

I enjoyed the performances of the actors. This is worth a try.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Budgets, budgets, budgets...

...well three budgets to be exact in recent weeks. First was the federal government's version - which has just passed in the Commons. Provincial finance minister Greg Sorbara followed quickly on the tail of Jim Flaherty with the Ontario budget. Lastly, we have Toronto's municipal budget - which thanks to the mayor and the new City of Toronto Act - has appeared out of nowhere.

City Council and the public in general will have scant opportunity to review, or in any fashion influence this latest spend-fest.

To some, the big news out of all this was how the senior levels of government ignored Miller's pleas for a New Deal for Cities - (or sone of the New Deal for Cities - aka the 'One Cent Now' begging bowl.)

Remarkly, even hard-core Millerites such as the Globe's John Barber have pointed out the folly of Miller's campaign. Let's be real, all mayors would like any freebies that can get from anywhere - what's not to like about getting $$$ that you're not accountable for. However, it's only Toronto - with its civic government bought lock-stock-and-barrel by the public sector unions - that needs the money.

Canada's cities are world leaders in municipal financial strength. This is due - in the main - to careful spending and conservative requirements for reserves such as sinking funds. While Toronto does maintain the minimum sinkning funds as required by law, other reserves have been repeatedely raided.

Anyway - back to the budgets. Not only was Toronto ignored, to add insult to injury, the 905 belts' payments into the GTA Social Services Polling arrangement will be phased out over a number of years. The provice will pick up the difference. This actually exacerbates the fiscal advantage that the 'burbs maintain over the city. Unless their politicians catch the Toronto disease, I'd be expecting for reduction in business taxes in these jurisdictions.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

More on the Transit City - Cost approaching $10 billion

The TTC has a habit of low-balling the estimated costs of capital projects. Given that this an engineer-run organization rather than a customer-oriented one, this is not surprising. LRT projects could keep TTC engineering and planning staff busy for a while. If working of EAs (Environmental Assessments) is part of your job description at the TTC, this is the ultimate gravy train. It doesn't matter if the scheme is good for riders or the city in general.

Despite the staggering cost estimate, it appears that the scheme is being low-balled. The TTC does this consistently - so no surprise here. One obvious delusion is the plan to use only 240 vehicles. Although the vehicles would be larger than todays CLRVs, and even so than the ALRV versions, the 240 vehicle fleet size works out to an unrealistic load factor in terms of riders per service hour.

Applying the benchmark from Calgary C-train (122 riders per service hour) , using 240 vehicles for 175 million passengers a year would require vehicles to be in service an average of 16 hours/day. This doesn't seem realistic.

I would expect LRT ridership/service hours on the proposed routes to be lower than the Calgary benchmark. Why ?

a. Other than the Eglinton line's central segment, one of the lines will be serving a dense employment district.
b. The speed of service will not match that in Calgary. The C-train lines are cut under most intersections of any size. There are at grade crossing - but most are in industrial/warhouse areas. (Check out Google Earth as a good way of investigating this.)
c. I'd expect station spacing (if there are actually stations) to end up being about 400 metres. (Longer than this and residents will demanding local bus service.) This will slow the service - reducing passengers/service hour.
d. Calgary's LRT runs in large part on completely segregated ROW (i.e. no vehicles and no pedestrians. This allows trains to run at high speed between stations. This won't be possible with the proposed lines here - other than sections in tunnels - due to pedestrian safety requirements.

More realistic would be 100 boardings / hour or necessitating about 386 vehciles (I'm using the Calgary benchmark of about 12.3 hours in service/day).

With extra yard/maintenance space, the difference adds about $1 billion to the price tag.

Information is now trickling out about some of the other truth-stretching. TTC Commissioner Milcyn Peter Milczyn has been quoted indicating that the price tag for the critical tunnel section of the proposed Eglinton line is twice the estimate put forward. The proposed line on Jane will need 1-2 km of tunnel at the South end - minimum. This is not included in the estimates - which assume at grade construction only.

In addition, the so-called 'Transit City' plan does not include other wish list lines. We're already under the gun for $1 b note for the streetcar replacements for existing streetcar routes.

Is the price tag close to $10 billion yet - yes it is.

LRT notes

It's a step forward to be seeing a plan - of sorts. It seems that this wash rsuhed to the presses somewhat. Some odd and sundry comments.

1. LRT on Jane?

I can't see this being effective LT (at the south end) without a fairly long tunnel - with a big dig at the southern terminus. Without this, there is no room for stations. Was this thrown in to balance out the map politically?

2. 240 vehicles?

Applying the benchmark from Calgary C-train (122 riders per service hour) , using 240 vehicles for 175 million passengers a year would require vehicles to be in service an average of 16 hours/day. This doesn't seem realistic.

I would expect LRT ridership/service hours on the proposed routes to be lower than the Calgary benchmark. Whey

a. Other than the Eglinton line's central segment, one of the lines will be serving a dense employment district.
b. The speed of service will not match that in Calgary. The C-train lines are cut under most intersections of any size. There are at grade crossing - but most are in industrial/warhouse areas. (Check out Google Earth as a good way of investigating this.)
c. I'd expect station spacing (if there are actually stations) to end up being about 400 metres. (Longer than this and residents will demanding local bus service.) This will slow the service - reducing passengers/service hour.
d. Calgary's LRT runs in large part on completely segregated ROW (i.e. no vehicles and no pedestrians. This allows trains to run at high speed between stations. This won't be possible with the proposed lines here - other than sections in tunnels - due to pedestrian safety requirements.

More realistic would be 100 boardings / hour - necessitating about 386 vehicles (I'm using the Calgary benchmark of about 12.3 hours in service/day).

With extra yard/maintenance space, the difference adds about $1 billion to the price tag.

True LRT in Toronto? Perhaps not.

The TTC has launched a PR campiagn to get $$$$$ for a significant implementation of 'light rail'.

The $6.4 billion dollar question is whether such a system would be true 'light rail' - or simply more mid-numbingly ineffective streetcars.

Already we're seeing that the plan is really more just streetcars. One of the lines would run down Jane - the plan being to have this on the surface. As the southern stretch (down from Eglinton to Bloor) is a standard Toronto 'arterial' - 2 lanes each way with no room for widening - there is no room for LRT.

So would Toronto's LRT be like Calgary's. I've included am image (from Google Earth) of just one of many cuts (tunnels) under intersections that make Calgary C-train successful - because of speed. This one is typical.

Posted by Picasa

Those expecting Toronto to invest in such infrastructure are overly optimistic.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

One-cent nonsense

Mayor Miller has ramped up a "new" campaign aimed at getting 1 cent of federal GST for 'cities'. It makes me wonder what they really teach in economics program at Harvard (of which Miller is an alumnus.) This isn't really a new 'show' - but simply rehashed episodes of the old 'New Deal for Toronto' campaign.

OK - its was technically referred to as the 'New Deal for Cities' campaign. In reality, it was and is all about Toronto. No other city in Ontario or Canada has managed to get itself in the financial mess in which we find ourselves. Now the upper levels of government have increased transfers to the municipal layer in the form of allocations of the gasoline tax and exemptions on the GST.

Now has this helped Toronto? No - things are worse. Instead of using the increased transfers to improve the city's finances, the $$$ instead disappeared in an orgy of spending. Toronto's many city halls - yes we have all of them despite being consolidated - are bursting at the seems.

What would happen if the feds granted this latest wish. Well run municipalities would take the money and reduce business taxes. Toronto would just spent it on more bureaucrats.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Bruha over Queen West developments

Mayor Miller is now aiming his jousting gear at the OMB and it's decision to allow developments in the Queen St. West near Gladstone. A local residents's group opposed the development - preferring their own plan.

It's funny, when merchants and resident on another Toronto St. - St. Clair West - put forth their own plan for changes to the transit service on that street, Miller and minions didn't listen. In that case, it was the TTC and City who were proposing the neighbourhood disrupting development - the infamous streetcar right-of-way.

On Queen West, the City is going to court to STOP a development that includes 190 affordable housing units. Cervantes would today be thinking of Mayor Miller as the basis for his character Don Quixote.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Fixing the TTC

The Sun has published a summary of remarks by local transit "luminaries" on How can the TTC be Fixed?

I thought I'd rate the remarks:

1. Bob Kinnear

In no way surprising, union president Bob Kinnear wants 'funding, funding, funding...'. Well, seeing that the ATU has swallowed whole just about all of the funding increases over the last few years, this is hardly surprising. The trough of pay and perks for union members can never be full enough. Kinnear sheds some crocodile tears about riders - yeah right!

During the most recent contract negotations, Kinnear actually objected to the TTC using a small amount of money on a service study on linking some routes in the north center of the city down to Castle Frank Station! The message is clear from Mr. Kinnear - the money belongs to the unions. (And why not, they've paid lock, stock and barrel for the Mayor.)

Surprisingly, Kinnear comes up with an idea that the TTC brass are loathe to consider - express bus service to key stations on the subway. The TTC hate express buses: the reason, they can work. Montreal has about 20 specialized bus routes - compared to a measly 7 or 8 in the larger Toronto.

Funny how TTC studies always seem to say these are too expensive to run.

2. Richard Soberman

U of T professor Soberman always shows up somewhere. Soberman has discussed the Spadina 'LRT' - and his comments are bang on - the service is 'not effective transit'. It's no surprise that Soberman wasn't part of the St. Clair study. This was purposeful - to make it easier for the scheme to be slammed up the derrieres of residents and businesses.

I believe Soberman is right, the TTC/City should use enforcement and other measures to keep transit lanes clear - without resorting to neighbourhood death sentences like the St. Clair W debacle. They do it in Montreal!

3. Adam Giambrone

Giambrone is an inprovement of his predescessor as TTC Chair. Well, anyone would be. hmm - he wants the TTC to expand its network of LRTs.

ADAM - the TTC has no LRT - it only has streetcars. If you want to see LRT, go to Calgary or St. Louis. Look's like he's bought into TTC self-delusion/rabid LRT lobbying already. (The snakeoil salesman at Bombardier are good aren't they.)

4. Rob McIsaac:

The GTTA chief sees the St. Clair debacle as the better way.

HEY Rob, would your Oakville/Burlington friends be so excited about something that saved 1-minute on their average trip to work? Why do you think it's such a good deal for us?

5. David Gunn

I have a lot of respect for David Gunn. I believe things would be remarkly different has he stayed and Moscoe had been pushed out instead. After Gunn departed, TTC operating costs per rider exploded AND service relaiability has suffered. TTC professional management turned into Moscoe's lapdogs. Eventually, Gunn's successor Rick Ducharme got tired of the BS too.

6. Donna Cansfieild

Cansfield's candour is to be commended if the article is reflecting her thoughts"

The provincial transport head honcho knows the TTC isn't perfect, but she feels the commission took a big step in the right direction late last year when Giambrone took the chairman's post.

Well - remarkable lucidity from a transporation rookie.

7. Steve Munro

Munro a long time TTC advocate and critic. I agree with many of his criticisms of the TTC - however, in his blog he often misses the mark.

At least in his comments here, he's not suggesting streetcars as a solution to all the world's ills.

Monday, January 29, 2007

With the charlatan (Suzuki) go to Charlottetown?

I thought this man was taking a hiatus! David Suzuki is headed out on a PR tour to promote the environment.

The Star - Online Jan 29 2007

I wonder if he'll throw his weight behind the Conservative Party - after all, it is the Harper governments that has actually introduced environmental legislation (something the FedFibs couldn't manage in 13 year so so in power.) Likely not. As wit all on the far left, it's all about politics.

Suzuki is shrill and easily upset in debate. I remember watching his dismal performance in the 'debate' with Dr. Philippe Rushton a number of years back. Suzuki couldn't even muster a solid argument when he was in all likelihood right.

Suzuki is a geneticist - and has no academic qualifications as a climatologist. The man's a complete loon.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

The Star's Global Warming propaganda

In today's Toronto Star - horrific enviro-porn/propaganda:

Article on Kyoto skeptics - Jan 28th 2007

It's disingenuous to question the motives of organizations and individuals who are skeptical about global warming (or is it climate change?), while giving a free pass to the proponents.

For example, the article mentions The Union of Concerned Scientists. A balanced article would have informed the reader that the UCS is highly partisan, agenda-driven lobby group. In 2004, during the lead up to the presidential election, the UCS published an amateurish attack on the Bush admininstration's scientific policies. Easily obtainable source documents disproved the key claims. I wrote to UCS member Professor Kurt Gottfried of Cornell with the documentation. Gottfried's promised to look into the matter for this alumnus. I still await his explanation.

Kyoto proponents are quick to question scientific credentials of opponents. Yet foremost Kyoto proponent Dr. David Suzuki is not questioned. As a geneticist, Suzuki has no academic credentials for speaking on earth science and climate. The geologists who are raising questions about the science do.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Book Review - The Fabric of The Cosmos

The second book I've completed in the past month is Brian Greene's The Fabric of the Cosmos.

Brian Greene is a physicist whose specialty is "string theory" or "superstring theory". Greene's earlier work The Elegant Universe focuses on these new theories of the basic nature of matter. The Fabric of the Cosmos describes the evolution of scientific thinking about the nature of the universe itself - specifically whether space (or spacetime to be more precise) exists independently of matter and energy, or whether it is a simply a 'human abstraction' for the vacuum in which matter/energy exist.

As Greene recounts, this question - which skirts the boundary between science and philosophy - is not new. It concerned the greatest of scientists going back to Sir Isaac Newton. Of course, we don't have an absolute answer to the question. However, today's physics gives tantalizing clues. Greene's narrative stitches together the underlying accepted physics - quantum theory and general relativity - and superstring theory, a strong candidate for bridging the troubling gap between these.

I found this book excellent. Although it doesn't answer the question, it is an excellent summary of the state of the current science built around attempting to answer it. A good deal of the book discusses cosmology. I took away a better understanding of the cosmological expansion that from other works I've read.

Greene is more up-to-date in his coverage of the scientific thinking attempting to explain how the quantum mechanical wave 'collapses' when measured. An earlier work In Search of Schrodinger's Cat (John Gribbin - 1984) is an enjoyable read on this - but leaves us with the unpallatable choice between a mysteriously collapsing wave function, and the existence of a virtually infinite number of parallel universes. Greene describes a wider set of plausable theories - including decoherence.

The chapter 'Quanta in the Sky with Diamonds' is particularly compelling. In a nutshell:

- the cosmic background radiation emanating from the "Big Bang" (i.e. the beginning of the universe we observe today) is practically uniform - but with small but measurable variations.
- based on quantum theory, quantum fluctuations at the birth of the universe explain these variations almost exactly.

As Greene writes on p. 309:

"I hope you're blown away by this concordance of theory and observation,"

Yes Professor Greene, that I am.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Thermopylae - Book review

I've been taking a break from writing - and instead spending more time reading. I picked up a couple of books at various shops over the last month. For what its worth, I thought I'd pena few thoughts on each.

Let's first deal with Thermopylae - The Battle That Changed the World (Paul Cartledge - The Overlook Press, 2006)

This work attempts to set the 480 BC battle at Thermoplyae between Xerxes' Persian army and Greek forces in an overall context. My overall reaction to this work is lukewarm. I'll outline what I liked and what I didn't.

What I liked:

Cartledge does a good job in structruring the book to meet his objectives. He strikes a reasonable balance between the lead-up, the battle itself, and the socio/economic/political aspects. For a reader interesting in beginning to learn something about ancient Greek history, this isn't a terrible place to start.

The book has a useful section of maps and timelines that can serve as a refrence beyond the immediate subject.

What could be better:

While Cartledge does explain the Greek's hoplite-based land forces, I really thought subject needed a greater emphasis. When I studied ancient Greek history at Cornell, my professors emphasized how important this military concept was in the ascent of the ancient Greek city states. To be sure, the Spartan hoplites were without equal. However, it was a predominately Athenian hoplite force that delivered what Cartledge calls a 'comprehensive' defeat to the Persians at Marathon.

For better or worse, the Greek's military strength was honed as a result of combat amongst the city states. This point is somewhat lost in this work.

What can be done away with:

The author includes gratuitious and pointless commentary on today's politics. This is clearly forced into the text. I'm not sure if this was the author's own idea - or requested by the publisher/editor.

The upshot:

If you want to begin to educate yourself about ancient Greek history, start with Herodotus. and then read Thucydides. If you are then so inspired, arrange to read Donald Kagan.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Will the Spanish now withdraw from the Basque region?

Now that the Basque separatists terrorist group ETA has blown up a bomb at Madrid's airport:

Second body recovered a week after Madrid airport blast

will the cowardly Spanish Socialist government now withdraw from NE Spain?