Sunday, April 30, 2023

Weekend funnies: Nostalgia and Dark Brandon and Orcas

A little nostalgia: As I contemplate our problems in 2023, I have to keep remembering: 
  • when I was 8, we were practicing hiding from a nuclear war by scurrying under our school desks when our civil defense air raid siren sounded.
  • when I was 13, JFK was assassinated. 
  • by the time I was 15, tens of thousands of American boys were fighting in Vietnam. 
  • when I was 17, RFK and MLK were assassinated, and there were riots in Chicago and Detroit and Los Angeles, and Nixon was elected. 
  • when I was 19, the Ohio National Guard killed four students at Kent State; the FLQ kidnapped James Cross and Pierre LaPorte, and Trudeau pere declared the War Measures Act 
So yes, sometimes things were bad when I was younger. 
I didn't have any solutions then, either, except to #AlwaysVoteLeft.

Moving on - Andrew Coyne isn't impressed with Pierre Poilievre anymore (if he ever was):
I absolutely loved this:

Thursday, April 27, 2023

COVID Update: Life Expectancy, Long Covid, and World Immunization Week

We got our semi-annual booster today so Covid is on my mind tonight. 
It's still hard to grasp the impact of the Covid pandemic worldwide until you realize how many millions have died, with millions more left to mourn. 
In Forbes magazine, healthcare analysis Joshua Cohen writes about Covid 19's enormous death toll:
Thus far, recorded Covid-19 deaths worldwide are at 6.86 million. This is likely an underestimate, given the underreporting of fatalities in countries, such as China. More importantly, based on excess mortality calculations there’s mounting evidence that the Covid-19 pandemic has taken a massive toll on global life expectancy. Not since the famine in China in 1959, have we seen such a sharp decline in life expectancy worldwide.
...In sum, the Covid-19 pandemic has led to global increases in mortality and declines in period life expectancy that are without precedent in modern times. Historically, countries have generally recovered within two years from mortality shocks, such as the 1918-20 influenza pandemic and the two world wars. And so, we can expect many countries to soon return to pre-Covid-19-pandemic life expectancy. However, each country’s ability to bounce back differs, and some, like the U.S., will likely have more trouble than others because of underlying health trends that had been in place before the pandemic. 
Though Canada's life expectancy also declined in 2020, it didn't plummet like the US did.

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Weekend funnies: From steam-punk to Ted Lasso to a golfer dog

An historian Craig Baird is using AI to generate "steam-punk" versions of Canadian legends. Here's a couple: And Peggy Atwood loved hers: I loved this one, too:

Friday, April 21, 2023

Today's edition of "Christ, what an asshole"

So today our hero Elon Musk struck a blow for the working man by taking away those elitist blue verification checks!
Sort of.
There used to be actual value to the blue marks, like showing people who to listen to when they needed help. 
Like, for instance, the City of New York. 
But Musk has once again demonstrated he doesn't understand what he is doing:

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Around the Substacks: from Van Gogh Sneakers, to Delaware courts, to Pierre Poilievre and the CBC

First up, here is an example of the type of creative thing that AI can now do: Van Gogh Sneakers
For anyone interested in creating fascinating stuff via AI (Artificial Intelligence),  Ethan Mollick has written a One Useful Thing article: How to How to use AI to do practical stuff: A new guide. Here is his introduction
The first thing people try to do with AI is what it is worst at; using it like Google...
Second, they may try something speculative, using it like Alexa, and asking a question, often about the AI itself. Will AI take my job? What do you like to eat? These answers are also terrible.
If people still stick around, they start to ask more interesting questions, either for fun or based on half-remembered college essay prompts: Write an article on why ducks are the best bird. Why is Catcher in the Rye a good novel? These are better. As a result, people see blocks of text on a topic they don’t care about very much...They usually quit around now, convinced that everyone is going to use this to cheat at school, but not much else.
All of these uses are not what AI is actually good at, and how it can be helpful. They can blind you to the real power of these tools.

Sunday, April 16, 2023

Weekend funny stuff: Some stories, some writing, and some animal crackers, of course

Here are some interesting stories for your weekend.
First, this is an absolutely wonderful story: Next, this is absolutely terrifying: Don't we all identify with this guy?

Friday, April 14, 2023

Just another "friendly sausage maker"?

The US media reaction to the news about 21-year-old Jack Teixeira, a National Guard technology support staffer who leaked dozens of secret US documents - such a nice boy! patriotic! a devout Catholic! - reminds me of how Canadian media developed a "friendly sausage maker" meme back in 2020. 
Remember that in July 2020, a heavily-armed military reservist named Corey Hurren from Winnipeg drove 2,000 km to Ottawa with the idea of “arresting” our prime minister and he actually rammed through the gates to the grounds of the prime minister’s residence and wandered around looking for Trudeau before the RCMP finally noticed him and negotiated a surrender. 
Luckily, neither Trudeau nor Governor-General Payette were there at the time. 
The Canadian media turned this guy into “just a friendly sausage-maker” who didn’t really want to hurt anyone, not really, he just wanted to talk to someone about how hard it was to make a living during the pandemic and really, couldn’t we all just give this guy a break? 
It was a really bizarre reaction it has now become a meme among the Canadian left. 
And I still believe the media adopted this view as a way to minimize the errors made by the RCMP.
And the meme goes on: And now in America we are seeing the same thing today, a determined effort to minimize the danger: Tonight I am wondering if the motivation is the same, downplaying the problem to protect the reputations of military who apparently let this guy gather up, take home, and copy so much classified material.

Thursday, April 13, 2023

Today's Comments: Just wondering who will be next on the hit list?

Canada continues to watch Poilievre and the CPC shoot themselves in the foot every time they open their mouths. 
And funny, isn't it, how hostile they are toward journalists?
At this point, I just have to ask, who is going to be next? Twitter has some suggestions:

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

Today's Random Comments: from Liberals to Conservatives, from Tennessee to Twitter, plus a little Joan Baez

I'm seeing a lot of good comments lately on the substacks and on Twitter - here's a selection:

First up, here's Scrimshaw on why the NDP and the Liberals need to remain as separate parties:
The left benefits from being able to pitch two visions in two different parts of the country to two different sets of voters. The NDP gets to use their anti-establishment message to win regional cities and towns, and the Liberals get to use the NDP as a rhetorical triangulation point to seem moderate in the suburbs. It’s a relationship that maximizes the left’s vote share, which given the two parties have 50% of the vote and 54% of the seats, is a win.
A merger is an unserious proposition that even on political terms would fail, ignoring all the policy ramifications and the political fallout of a party that would be at war over internal control at the start.
Moving on to the US:
Atrios comments on the liberal tendency to try to find so-called "reasonable conservatives":
A mystery to me is why so many liberals are desperate for there to be good conservatives, and often became very angry if you inform them that their favorite good conservative it not, in fact, good.
Here is Jonah Goldberg, at The Dispatch, about today's young conservatives:
With no other frame of reference, young conservatives are starting to think it’s normal to be jerks.
...Because they have no frame of reference, no meaningful political experience or memory of politics prior to this shabby era, they think being shabby is normal and smart. Last week, the New York Republican Club issued a moronic and monstrous statement in solidarity with Donald Trump. In response to my criticism these domestic birds of prey behaved monstrously and moronically. (I won’t link to it because attention is the currency they covet.) I’ve since learned that the D.C. chapter of the Young Republicans is equally asinine, embracing the goons and dupes who stormed the Capitol as martyrs and political prisoners.
Indeed, they’ve literally ditched the Republican elephant in favor of a silhouette of Donald Trump.
I don’t call attention to this because I think they are somehow worthy intellectual adversaries or anything like that. Rather, I call attention to it because it’s evidence that the corruption of conservatism isn’t just bad for conservatism—which it obviously is—but because it’s bad for these kids. Surrounding yourself with people who think it’s a sign of courage and strength to be coarse or bigoted is how you become coarse and bigoted.

Saturday, April 08, 2023

Missing the Boomers

So here is the problem: The Line offers this commentary on the story:
This military fiasco is alarming because it’s a sign that our state-capacity issues are now extending into areas that previously worked. Not only are we struggling to do new things, we’re forgetting how to do things we used to be able to do. This goes beyond what our typical gripes about state capacity. This is something else. This is state atrophy, or rot.
Now that the public is paying attention, we suspect we’ll see some reasonably rapid progress. The government will throw bureaucrats and maybe consultants at the problem until it goes away. This is how they have reacted to similar issues: we hurled ground staff at airport delays until they cleared, and bureaucrats at passport offices until the backlogs eased.
But we have to ask why we now require exceptional redeployments of staff to maintain typical levels of service. And we don’t like the answers we can come up with. Ottawa has added tens of thousands of civil servants, at an annual cost of tens of billions, in recent years. During that time Ottawa has also sharply ramped up spending on consultants; the annual cost now surpasses $20 billion.
And yet.
What the hell is going on?
I'll tell you what's going on.
I retired.
And of course its not just me. Its my sister and my brother and my husband and my neighbour and my friend and thousands of other Boomers just like us.
We worked as civil servants for 40 years, from Trudeau Pere to Trudeau Fils, and we knew how to get things done within a government bureaucracy that always had changing priorities, newly announced programs, shuffled deputy ministers, temporary program directors, acting managers, part-time technicians, job-sharing leave replacements, and out-of-date technology.
We knew how to walk a requisition through a dozen required signatures in an afternoon, persuading the technical and financial staffers with smiles and donuts, to get something authorized and get the cheque issued.
We knew how to phone up a director and tell him that something was going haywire and he'd better get on top of it before some reporter noticed. And his assistant knew who to call to get the problem fixed before it could explode all over everyone's desks.
We knew how to jury-rig the new improved systems so they would work the way we knew they were supposed to, after the consultants and technical experts had set it up and gone home.
Then we retired. 
And now, the people who have only ever worked with computers are trying their best to do the job. They're great people, and they're working hard, but they don't know the systems like we did, and more importantly they don't know how to get around them like we did.
Its not easy to cajole a computer into working a little overtime, just this once, to help out our brave troops in Poland.

Friday, April 07, 2023

"Beer, bedrooms and bathrooms"

I'm reading lots of tweets and comments these days about how banana-pants crazy some Republicans are these days, and it worries me that Canada is trending in the same direction. Seems to me our politics has usually been about two years behind the US.

Wednesday, April 05, 2023

"Florida man charged"

I didn't bother watching any of the White Bronco chase yesterday, the Manhattan court proceedings today, or the Mar-a-Lardo speech tonight. 
But I have seen some great tweets and comments so I have to share:
LawFareBlog has an analysis of the indictment including some comments on what might happen next. They say "Trump will throw a lot of spaghetti at the wall in an effort to get the Supreme Court of the United States to take a look". 
Much of the media coverage has been grim and ponderous and oh so serious. But over on the substacks, the people I read are cheering.

Tuesday, April 04, 2023

Substack Roundup: "Don't Panic"

Before the news became completely dominated by the Orange Turd being hauled into court, I saw some interesting substack columns that are worth sharing.
First, Justin Ling asks us to consider how big is the Internet now, and he says its time to figure out how to recreate it in a more human scale.
The internet is big.
The internet is a really big thing.
If a week’s worth of Youtube videos were put on film reel, laid end-to-end, it would wrap around the world, I don’t know, at least twice. All of the words that get written on Tumblr in a day, if printed out, would fill all the world’s Olympic-sized swimming pools, probably. If you committed all of ChatGPT’s responses to hard drives, it would fill every floor of the Empire State Building, I guess.
We used to love thinking about the internet in these arbitrary physical terms — how many football fields, how many Libraries of Congress — but this is all impossible now. By the time you finish calculating the metaphor, so massive and abstract so as to be meaningless, it’s out of date.
....If the old internet was a series of small outposts in the middle of a barren wasteland, the current internet is a series of giant sprawling mega-malls, then perhaps the next internet is a medium-density city, with strip malls and apartment blocks, marked by plenty of wayfinding and readable maps.
This reminds me so much of The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy:  
So maybe its time to start writing "Don't Panic" in large friendly letters, isn't it. 

Saturday, April 01, 2023

Today's Random Stuff: News, views and pizza

Lots of news this week -- in Canada, the Mass Casualty Commission report was released: in the US, the Trump indictment was announced: And Thursday was when we found out that Disney had quietly emasculated Ron DeSantis, because he hadn't bothered to pay attention to what Disney was doing to protect its Florida properties. As Josh Marshall says, its Disney 1, Meatball Ron 0.