ScrimismsPresently suffering a dearth of witticisms

December 2008

News and Photos31 Dec 2008

In lieu of something substantial, here’s a quick semi-illustrated smattering of my last twelve months’ activities.

What I look like these days
(Christmas 2008)

Favorite Blog Entries of 2008

Most Phallic Photograph
(Atlas rocket at the Museum of Science and Technology)

Best trip taken in 2008: China.

Favorite books read this year

  • Alberto Manguel, A History of Reading
    I first became aware of Alberto Manguel when he gave his fantastic Massey Lectures in 2007. This book is a book about books, and a joy for any book-worm like me.

  • Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms
    I’ve been on a bit of a Hemingway kick of late. I think this is my favorite. John McCain’s favorite novel is “For Whom the Bell Tolls”, which is also pretty good.

  • Ian M. Banks, The Aglebriast
    I like Science Fiction best when it makes my eyes go wide.

  • Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude
    I didn’t get this book at first, but about half way through something clicked and I couldn’t put it down. It’s a strange history a fictitious town called Macondo, where the whole of human history seems to play out.

  • Neal Stephenson, Anathem (even if the end was a bit lame)
    This is a book that I thoroughly enjoyed but hesitate to recommend. It seemed to have been crafted precisely for me, and I know my tastes skew a little eccentric. It’s 900 pages long, has monasteries full of mathematicians, and the entire thing is one big game of hide and seek with the history of western philosophy.

Nerdiest Photo of 2008

Video Game Created: The Trials of Soscarides
(Windows and Mac; have you played it yet?)

Most Dramatic Ottawa Sunset

That’s all for 2008. Happy New Year!

News and Photos13 Dec 2008

On my flight to China in June I happened to see two pretty mountains from the window of the plane. I snapped some pictures, and figured I’d probably never know what I was looking at. After all, I was only moderately sure that we were over Russia at the time…

Well, tonight, after about an hour of playing with Google Earth, I managed to track them down. Both are volcanoes on the Kamchatka peninsula, which is the pointy bit of Russia that divides the Bering Sea from the Sea of Okhostka (if you ever played “Risk”, Kamchatka was where you massed your armies before invading Alaska). Here are my original photos:

Mount Kronotsky

Krasheninnikov Volcano

And here’s the NASA image that proved I was looking at the right thing:

North is at bottom right. You can see the tall peak, the triangular lake, the double crater, and the nearby ocean, which is basically what I had to go on. Here’s the link to see it on google maps, and here are the wikipedia entries. I’m quite pleased with myself for managing to turn this information up.

Judging by the photos I looked at while conducting my search, Kamchatka is a very beautiful bit of country.

News08 Dec 2008

It was minus 21 at the bus stop this morning.

At work, I got a static shock from touching a banana.

Sure sign that winter has arrived.

Musings03 Dec 2008

Prime Minister Stephen Harper has lost the confidence of the house of commons, or so says the opposition. He addressed the country tonight, which is an unusual step for Prime Ministers not fighting an election (although, depending on how things shake out over the next while, it’s possible that he will be fighting one very soon), as did the leaders of the opposition. I have a few thoughts.

(In case you’re not from the little country called Canada and don’t know what the deuce I’m talking about, here’s a good primer.)

Harper is making three assertions about this mess (I refuse to use the term “crisis”, because crisis implies a breakdown of the system, and the system is working exactly as it is supposed to) that I find problematic. First, he pretends his present troubles are not of his own making. He has provoked the opposition parties time and time again, forcing them to sit on their hands instead of voting against confidence motions for the entire life of his government. With the recent economic update, Harper pushed the opposition just a little too hard, and they decided to push back. Harper has had a minority government for two years and has tried to run it like a majority. Sooner or later that strategy had to break down, and he shouldn’t be so surprised.

Second, he tries to paint the proposed coalition between the Liberals and NDP with the backing of the BQ as being somehow “undemocratic”, which is at the very least, disingenuous. There is nothing unconstitutional about the actions of the opposition parties – their job is to “hold the government to account”, and sometimes that means voting against them. For better or worse, under our system, we don’t vote for a government, we vote to decide who goes to parliament, and parliament decides who governs. If the majority of parliament wants to change that government, it is their prerogative to try. While it is true that, as Harper says, the coalition was never approved by the voters, neither was Harper’s own government. I didn’t vote for or against Stephen Harper as Prime Minister, I voted for my local representative. We often talk about voting for party leaders as convenient way of speaking, but that isn’t how the system works and you can’t blame the opposition for following the rules of the game. (Now, if we had proportional representation, things would be a bit different…)

Third, I’m tired of hearing about how “The Separatists” (cue the bogeyman music) have pulled off some kind of great sneak-attack on our country by signing up to back the coalition. If I understand it correctly, all the coalition has got from the Bloc is a promise not to bring down the house in the next two years. That’s good, right? We’ve got “The Separatists” playing along for once, instead of being contrarian. Like it or not, the Bloc are members of the house and a force in Canadian politics. I don’t agree with them either, but I don’t think demonizing them is doing Harper any favors, and I don’t like the scare-mongering.

Don’t think I’m giving the opposition a pass here: the Liberals and NDP are playing a very dangerous game. Dion lost the last election badly and is going to step down in a few months, and Layton can’t be riding a big high in popularity with his party either, after failing to increase the NDP seat count. This whole coalition deal smells a little like two has-been leaders trying to grab a little glory for themselves and improve their own positions – Dion gets to be Prime Minister, and Layton gets to be the man who brought the NDP into power for the first time. They run the risk of looking like they are playing political games in the middle of an economic downturn, and if we end up with a new election in the near future, the voters might punish them badly (or just not show up to vote), finally giving Harper the majority government he’s long desired. If that happened, Dion and Layton would look like idiots, and Harper would once again look like the brilliant tactician he’s made out to be.

Tomorrow morning, the Prime Minister will go to the Governor General and ask her to suspend Parliment until next month, delaying the coalition’s opportunity to topple his government. No one knows what she will do. Who says Canadian politics are boring?