Say what? on our credulity

Those of you who are ancient may remember a Shell gasoline commercial in which they lauded their secret ingredient, Platformate(tm). Unclear what that is, but it sounds good.

Here are some more modern, imho deliberate, obfuscations. Made to sound good, though.

Not to pick on Mazda especially, but what exactly is Skyactiv Technology? And not to pick on Ford, but what exactly is EcoBoost?

Many bank ads are, imho, similarly misleading. For example, a youth wishes to take his father on a trip. In the ScotiaBank TV commercial, the smiling young woman says something like this: “I moved some things around and saved you fifteen hundred dollars.” This is supposed to prove that ScotiaBank was, just before this, equally concerned about not making extra money from him.

There is a laundry detergent which claims that, because it is more efficient, it takes less time to do the wash. I don’t know about your washer, but ours is quite new and Caplans really pushed it as being ‘very good.’ It does not measure clothes clean-ness: it runs on a timer. So ‘no soap’ to the wash time change, eh?

Long ago People’s Credit Jewellers had a fifty percent off sale, in which they claimed something like, “This proves we’ve always been the low cost, high value store.”

It is to laugh.

If you don’t live in Toronto, you won’t care much about these next examples of the assumption that we can not think.

Smart Track. Which nobody understands in detail. Scarborough Subway, which nobody can justify. Union-Pearson Express (UPX) which has one-third the ridership needed to pay off at the current outrageously high price. So they cut the price to less than half. Those of you who remember simple fractions will calculate that we now need six or seven times as many riders.

Finally, John Tory is asking Kathleen Wynne for permission to bring back photo radar. This is not a cash grab, no no. The claim is this: “Photo radar will reduce policing costs.” Wake up, John and Kathleen: nothing reduces policing costs in Toronto. If you don’t need officers to run the radar vans, you’ll still employ those officers. You’ve never reduced policing costs nor staffing levels, despite dropping crime rates.

There always has to be at least one Dumb Question if I use that as a category. So here are a few:

Say what? Will we believe anything?

Say what? Will we interpret any weird word as magic or superior technology? (Or in the case of laundry detergent, any weirdly coloured packaging? Like jujubes?)

Say what? Are we too dumb to be told what ridership projections are, so bad ideas can be booed into embarrassment?

Say what? Do we believe our mayor any more?

Should we?

That’s the most important dumb question.


Cardinal Pell; Tim Minchin

I’ll give you one hotlink later.

Apparently, many Australians believe that their Cardinal turned a blind eye to priestly abuse of children. Cardinal Pell claims to be to ill to travel to Australia, and is testifying via video link.

Minchin thinks the Cardinal’s appearance and activity suggest his illness is not severe.

Tim Minchin wrote a song. The proceeds, some $200K, will be used to fly Australian victims to watch Pell testify in Rome. Eye to eye.

The song can be viewed for free for us cheapskates. It dares Pell to ‘come home.’

All of this is covered by this article in the Australian version of the Guardian.

If you’re waiting for the Dumb Question, forget it. Child violations in the Americas seem well documented. Now we also have it in Australia. With cover-ups. What do you expect me to ask? That you care, and to support investigations?

On Global Warming

We’re screwed. Simple as that. Sorry folks, but I can’t think of a better word. Forgive my rudeness.

Here you will find a Nature article on how much fossil fuel has to remain in the ground in order to keep global warming at 2 degrees Celsius.
For those without access to Nature, I’ll quote from the abstract (emphasis mine):

Our results suggest that, globally, a third of oil reserves, half of gas reserves and over 80 per cent of current coal reserves should remain unused from 2010 to 2050 in order to meet the target of 2 °C.

Guess how likely that is, eh?

The Obama administration allocated a Lot of money for carbon capture and storage (CCS). This strategy seems doomed to fail. Here is a link to a CRS report provided by The Federation of American Scientists (FAS) via Secrecy News. I’ll give you a small quote, emphasis mine:

Authority to spend Recovery Act funds expired on September 30, 2015. Of $3.4 billion allocated for CCS activities,approximately $1.4 billion went unspent as of the spending deadline.The largest portion of the unspent funds, $795 million, was intended for FutureGen, which DOE suspended in February 2015.FutureGen faced various impediments that led to its cancellation, including delays in receiving required injection well permits from the Environmental Protection Agency, court challenges to its plan to sell electricity, and a lawsuit from an environmental advocacy group. Several other large CCS demonstration projects also were canceled, suspended, or failed to spend all of their Recovery Act funding before the 2015 deadline.
The sad thing is, the US strategy was largely dependent on CCS.
Those of you who think I’m beating up the USA again, will enjoy this hotlink. In Saskatchewan, the Boundary Dam project tried to replace a coal-burning (lignite, actually) power plant with a carbon capture version. Again, emphasis mine, and here is a quote:
In 2015, internal documents from SaskPower revealed that there were “serious design issues” in the carbon capture system, resulting in regular breakdowns and maintenance problems that led the unit to only be operational 40% of the time. SNC-Lavalin had been contracted to engineer, procure, and build the facility, and the documents asserted that it “has neither the will or the ability to fix some of these fundamental flaws.” The low productivity of the plant had in turn meant that SaskPower was only able to sell half of the 800,000 tonnes of captured carbon dioxide that it had contracted to sell to Cenovus Energy for use in enhanced oil recovery at a cost of $25 per tonne. In addition to the lost sales, this meant that SaskPower had been forced to pay Cenovus $12 million in penalties.
This project was funded in part by the Canadian federal government ($240 million, CAD) and the original estimate of $1.24 billion became $1.5 billion. Saskatchewan taxpayers and ratepayers are on the hook for this.
OK, you say, so what’s your point? Simply this: depending on Carbon Capture and Storage is, apparently, bound to fail. SNC-Lavalin can’t do it in Saskatchewan, and Obama can’t do it in the USA despite significant dollars appropriated to try.
Now for the dumb questions (were you scrolling for this? Please advise.)
  1. Are we, as a species, likely to limit our fossil fuel usage as suggested in the Nature article as being required? Leave that much in the ground? Really?
  2. If you burn the fossil fuel, you have carbon dioxide (and other stuff, but let’s focus on the key greenhouse gas, OK?) which either gets into the atmosphere or doesn’t. The Saskatchewan attempt, if successful, would only have really sequestered about half of the CO2 created. Is that enough? Is that failure indicative?
  3. If those (or you, depending on where you’re reading this) clever Americans, who invented half or more of the technology sitting in front of me, can’t get it to work, what will the world-wide success rate be? Roughly zero?
  4. Finally, what next? Is there any ‘fall back’ plan?

I said they were dumb questions. We’re shafted, for sure. Sorry.

Everyone’s Happier than You by James Zerndt

This is a cut&paste of a review on

Everyone’s Happier than You      James Zerndt

Some forty-eight poems: life and experience.

five stars.

I often begin a review by explaining that star counts reflect personal preferences and cultural background. While that is the case here, five stars was an easy decision. More on star counts at the end of this review.

As always, google anything you’re not 100% sure of. Zerndt is well-informed and wide-ranging. You’re in for some pleasant surprises in what seem to be innocent names and places.

To do a review, I read the entire book and make notes. Then I go back to poems I marked as special. This time there are so many of them that I will content myself with giving you samples of a few of them.

Zerndt treats himself with irony sometimes, as in Passive-Aggressive: “All you had to do was read the stupid thing, /then say thank you /for the tan you got /while basking in its brilliance.”

Drama and description open Felony Flats: “At one in the morning the wind is camouflaged /in old newspapers and car exhaust /as fifteen men circle two…”

For an amazing metaphor about writing, turn to Antiques Road Show. I generally distrust poems about poems, but this one is special.

There is fresh imagery in Floyd’s Coffee, about a converted gas station, where we find this: “Before the black-haired girl /leans her tattooed arm out the window /like a sultry gas nozzle to /fill the cars up with espresso….”

Spoiler alert: this is the entire short poem, The Party. This is a clear example of Zerndt’s power and imagination: “The earth is a piñata /stuffed with death certificates /while all the various gods circle round /waiting to swing bats/ at what they jokingly refer to /as candy.”

For more complex poems that reward second and third readings, turn to Reasons Why the World Should Have Stopped, and to Coroner. Zerndt’s gut-punch power will get to you here for sure. Then read Black Out – personal, moving, and scary.

Zerndt can create astonishing prose poems as well; I Want to Write Something About the Airport being another favourite here. This is experience, personal, and communicated.

There are many more fine poems in this volume, but I trust this gives you a feel for the fundamental excellence of this poet and his work. I promised earlier to harp back on the star counts, so here’s my usual boilerplate: My personal guidelines, when doing an ‘official’ KBR review, are as follows: five stars means, roughly equal to best in genre. Rarely given. Four stars means, extremely good. Three stars means, definitely recommendable. I am a tough reviewer. I try hard to be consistent.

Five stars is an easy decision. Everyone’s Happier Than You is an excellent collection of first-class poetry. Extremely recommended.

Kindle Book Review Team member.

(Note: this reviewer received a free copy of this book for an independent review. He is not associated with the author or Amazon.)

The Nile Conspiracy Inge H. Borg

This is a copy of a review I posted on

A fabulous new entry in the Legends of the Winged Scarab series.

five stars

Thriller, with suspense, surprise twists, and several brilliantly executed action sequences. That’s a synopsis to which sexual tension and political manoeuvering can be added.

The story continues in an alternate world in which the caldera under Yellowstone has erupted. Most of America, and a fair bit of the northern hemisphere are in ruins, the former pushed back almost to the Stone Age.

Against this backdrop, Egyptian politicians and military figures confer against a planned Ethiopian dam – a project which will ruin the fertility of the Nile.

Those who have read earlier volumes in this series will recognize several key actors. Those who have not, will be filled in as the story progresses. Borg is an expert in this.

If you’re scrolling for the tiny carps, maybe a typo. Back to the good stuff.

Borg’s background information is always exactly right. Yellowstone could become a surprise like Mount St. Helens, only very much larger. Egyptian and Russian words are correct. As always, google or Wiktionary anything you’re not sure of.

To add to the enjoyment, there is a bit of the supernatural added in, and it plays into the plot so naturally you just have to believe it. ‘Suspension of disbelief’ my creative writing teacher would call this. Everything works.

My personal guidelines, when doing an ‘official’ KBR review, are as follows: five stars means, roughly equal to best in genre. Rarely given. Four stars means, extremely good. Three stars means, definitely recommendable. I am a tough reviewer. This is a splendid thriller. Five stars it is, and clearly recommended. Enjoy.

Kindle Book Review Team member.

(Note: this reviewer received a free copy of this book for an independent review. He is not associated with the author or Amazon.)

Just a few bad apples? Zimbardo’s ‘law’

I have blogged earlier about difficulties with the Toronto Police Force. Four officers have been charged with perjury and obstructing justice. They are not rookies; together they have over fifty years of policing experience.

Bad things happened at the G20, many far from the actual meeting of dignitaries.

We are being told that, it’s a case of ‘a few bad apples.’ I beg to disagree, and will provide you (dear reader) with some hot links to back up my viewpoint.

Let me begin with a trailer for a movie based on the Stanford Prison Experiment. I am annoyed with myself for mentioning this, but movies catch public attention and I want to catch yours.

The trailer is enough to tell me that, sadly, some of the truth has been sacrificed to make a movie / drama you might line up to see. It implies mixed genders in the prison; this was not the case. It implies choice of being prisoner or guard; each role was chosen randomly by the experimenter.

However, the individuals participating were tested for psychological weirdness, and they all passed. The prison superintendent has degrees in, and teaches, psychology.

For a better insight into the problem of evil (and evil behaviour) click on this link. It’s a TED talk given by Philip Zimbardo. For those with more resources (time and money) click on the References pointer in this website. The book, by Zimbardo, is titled “The Lucifer Effect.” Yes, I have read this, cover to cover. The References I recommend are not kid lit.

Meanwhile, here you will find a link, from which I will cut&paste a few quotes. Emphasis mine.

The study subjects, middle-class college students, had answered a questionnaire about their family backgrounds, physical- and mental-health histories, and social behavior, and had been deemed “normal”; a coin flip divided them into prisoners and guards. According to the lore that’s grown up around the experiment, the guards, with little to no instruction, began humiliating and psychologically abusing the prisoners within twenty-four hours of the study’s start. The prisoners, in turn, became submissive and depersonalized, taking the abuse and saying little in protest. The behavior of all involved was so extreme that the experiment, which was meant to last two weeks, was terminated after six days.

The Stanford Prison Experiment is cited as evidence of the atavistic impulses that lurk within us all; it’s said to show that, with a little nudge, we could all become tyrants.

And yet the lessons of the Stanford Prison Experiment aren’t so clear-cut. From the beginning, the study has been haunted by ambiguity. Even as it suggests that ordinary people harbor ugly potentialities, it also testifies to the way our circumstances shape our behavior. Was the study about our individual fallibility, or about broken institutions?

If you read the entire article, you’ll find that about a third of the guards ‘went rogue’ and treated the prisoners quite badly. You will also find out that Zimbardo himself was caught up in the supposed role play, as in this quote: (emphasis mine again):

They highlight a real-life conversation in which another psychologist asks Zimbardo whether he has an “independent variable.” In describing the study to his Stanford colleagues shortly after it ended, Zimbardo recalled that conversation: “To my surprise, I got really angry at him,” he said. “The security of my men and the stability of my prison was at stake, and I have to contend with this bleeding-heart, liberal, academic, effete dingdong whose only concern was for a ridiculous thing like an independent variable. The next thing he’d be asking me about was rehabilitation programs, the dummy! It wasn’t until sometime later that I realized how far into the experiment I was at that point.”

Zimbardo’s book also covers other experiments on manipulating ordinary people to do bad things. Highly recommended.

On a related point, there is a ‘Stockholm Syndrome’ whereby the captured begin to feel that their captors are correct in holding them. You can easily google this; here is a link to a BBC News page as an example.

I think this generalizes, as follows: any repeatedly enforced or encouraged situation becomes seen as normal. If patronage is rampant, expect patronage. If brutal guard behaviour is the norm, then a good guard will so behave. If getting a conviction at all costs is considered teamwork, do what it takes.

Back to the police officers. As in the Stanford Prison Experiment, perjury and the obstruction of justice may not be universal behaviours. However, it also appears not to be rare, and not to be confined to neophyte officers.

I submit that it is not ‘a few bad apples,’ but rather, that it is an unfortunately bad barrel.

Now for the dumb questions:

Do you agree? If so, post here saying that.

Do you disagree? If so, post your reasoning here.

As always, coherent responses that contain real eMail addresses will be approved. eMail addresses will never be revealed. But if you can’t provide a real address, you won’t be taken seriously on this blog. Fair enough?

A final comment. It has been pointed out that a similar ad, omitting the word ‘prison,’ collected individuals with less likelihood of becoming withdrawn or aggressive. I submit that the process of self-selecting for police work biases the candidate group to those who enjoy wielding authority. How could it not? Is this tempered by ‘to Serve and Protect?’

And that’s the last dumb question, for this post at least.

Police and Confidence

Four Toronto police officers have been charged with perjury and obstructing justice. These are not inexperienced officers; together they have over fifty years’ on the force. You can find some of this here.

Below are some interesting quotes from the above article (emphasis mine):

“It certainly has been an anomaly week when it comes to our service,” Saunders said at a news conference. “We will do our best to get the public trust back that we have lost in certain ways.”

The officers were arrested at 7 a.m. Thursday and have since been released. All are suspended with pay.

McCormack said the officers’ arrest and subsequent release a short time later was “standard practice.” “It’s very transparent and we do not get any special treatment,” he said. “We do that all the time.”

I’ll come back to the above ‘short time later’ and ‘not special treatment’ shortly.

Here you will find that another officer is being investigated but will not face charges. I’m not sure what that means, exactly.

Sadly, in the same page, we also learn that a video may have been suppressed, and statements about the use of cell phones are being questioned. Again, emphasis mine:

CBC News has also learned that neither Tran nor his lawyer were told that a dashboard camera video of the incident may exist.

During Tran’s trial, the four officers said they had no recollection of using mobile phones to communicate with each other before or during Tran’s arrest. The internal investigators have since obtained court orders and seized phone records detailing whether, and for how long, the officers talked to each other, sources have told CBC News.

Finally, back to Mike McCormack’s comment that the officers’ arrests and subsequent speedy releases are not special treatment. Here is a page from the G20 news that shows how mere citizens were treated for merely being present. (Not perjury, not obstructing justice, apparently.) I will quote a bit, again emphasis mine.

A 15-year-old boy, dressed in an oversized orange t-shirt and cargo pants, said he was arrested Saturday night on the Esplanade and held for 33 hours. The teen, who would only identify himself as Liam, said that he was only there to watch the protest.

“They surrounded us and told us to leave,” he said, “but how was I supposed to read the situation?” He said police never once told them how to leave or when the last warning would be before arresting him. He was initially arrested for obstructing the police, he said, but released without being charged.

and again:

The arrest figure of more than 900 people includes only those who were taken to the detention centre, not those who were temporarily detained by police, Const. Murphy said. Most people were released without being charged.

and again:

Wearing dark jeans, a dark t-shirt and no shoes, Mr. MacDonald said he was arrested for obstruction of police, but that he was released without charge. He said he suspects he was arrested for wearing a bandana, but said it was on his head, not his face.

and again:

Questions were raised Monday about the way police handled a group of several hundred protesters and innocent bystanders at the intersection of Queen Street West and Spadina Avenue on Sunday evening. The group was boxed in by riot police for at least three hours in the soaking rain. After several were arrested, the rest were finally allowed to leave at about 10 p.m.

Three hours in the rain. That’s special treatment, eh? The vast majority of whom were never charged with anything. (I might also note, this is kilometres away from the G20 fence. No possible threat to the delegates.)

By now, you must be ready to read the Dumb Questions, eh?

Did the four charged officers get better treatment than the kettled bystanders?

Is wearing a bandana sufficient to show intent to create trouble?

Is 33 hours a short time?

Have the police lost the confidence of those whom they are sworn to Serve and Protect?

Does Zimbardo’s Law apply here? More on this in a later post.