10/15/14

Earth’s magnetic field could flip within a human lifetime


An intriguing possibility was reported on Science Daily this morning:

Earth’s last magnetic reversal took place 786,000 years ago and happened very quickly, in less than 100 years — roughly a human lifetime. The rapid flip, much faster than the thousands of years most geologists thought, comes as new measurements show the planet’s magnetic field is weakening 10 times faster than normal and could drop to zero in a few thousand years.

Why would this matter? The article continues:

And since Earth’s magnetic field protects life from energetic particles from the sun and cosmic rays, both of which can cause genetic mutations, a weakening or temporary loss of the field before a permanent reversal could increase cancer rates. The danger to life would be even greater if flips were preceded by long periods of unstable magnetic behavior.

When will this happen? That’s the big question behind the headline. Soon, warn geologists. But their “soon” in geological time doesn’t mean the same as “your breakfast will arrive soon” in a restaurant. It seems overdue for a flip, but no one is sure when that might happen. A 2002 story in The Guardian warned that it was imminent – in geological terms:

“Some experts have stuck their necks out to predict that we can expect the next reversal some time in the next 2,000 years.”

I think we can have that cup of tea while we wait. It may not happen in our lifetimes. But, the article has that shock effect nonetheless:

The Earth could be about to turn upside down. The planet’s magnetic field is showing signs of wanting to make a gigantic somersault, so that magnetic north heads towards Antarctica, and magnetic south goes north. Compasses will point the wrong way, and migrating birds, fish and turtles are going to be very confused.
Just when this will happen, how long it will take and what the consequences will be, is difficult to fathom. What is not in doubt, though, is that it will happen. About every half a million years or so, the Earth’s magnetic field flips upside down.

And that’s the worry: every half-a-million years is a lot less time than the 786,000 years since the last flip-over. This summer, Scientific American warned it could happen sooner rather than later:

Earth’s magnetic field, which protects the planet from huge blasts of deadly solar radiation, has been weakening over the past six months, according to data collected by a European Space Agency (ESA) satellite array called Swarm.
The biggest weak spots in the magnetic field — which extends 370,000 miles (600,000 kilometers) above the planet’s surface — have sprung up over the Western Hemisphere, while the field has strengthened over areas like the southern Indian Ocean, according to the magnetometers onboard the Swarm satellites — three separate satellites floating in tandem.
The scientists who conducted the study are still unsure why the magnetic field is weakening, but one likely reason is that Earth’s magnetic poles are getting ready to flip, said Rune Floberghagen, the ESA’s Swarm mission manager. In fact, the data suggest magnetic north is moving toward Siberia.

So we wait, unable to do anything about it. Have another cuppa, if you must. Yes, you have time.

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10/13/14

Montaigne on Friendship, Liars and Politics


Sisyphus“I am seeking the companionship and society of such men as we call honourable and talented,” wrote Michel de Montaigne in his essay, On the Three Kinds of Social Intercourse (Book III, 3). “It is, when you reflect on it, the rarest of all our forms…”

Montaigne was musing in his essay and others on the nature of not simply friendship, but on what attracted people to work, converse and share at the highest levels. To bond without some ulterior motive such as work, politics or profit. What, after all, is true friendship? Once stripped of necessity is it pure or will it prove simply a convenience?

Montaigne disliked pointless social chit-chat and small talk (he would fumed over Facebook and Twitter). He wanted to engage in conversations with depth, to debate, to examine, to explore ideas, to argue and converse, not simply rehash the shallow and the trivial. He treasured civil debate most (I suspect he would have greatly disliked our modern, divisive and fragmented social media).

Montaigne mulled over the nature of friendship in several essays. In his essay on Friendship (Book I, 27, also known as On Affectionate Relationships in Screech’s version), Montaigne wrote (Cotton translation):

There is nothing to which nature seems so much to have inclined us, as to society; and Aristotle says that the good legislators had more respect to friendship than to justice. Now the most supreme point of its perfection is this: for, generally, all those that pleasure, profit, public or private interest create and nourish, are so much the less beautiful and generous, and so much the less friendships, by how much they mix another cause, and design, and fruit in friendship, than itself. Neither do the four ancient kinds, natural, social, hospitable, venereal, either separately or jointly, make up a true and perfect friendship.

“Good lawgivers have shown more concern for friendship than for justice.” That’s how Screech translates the line. He goes on: “Within a fellowship, the peak of perfection consists in friendship, for all forms of it which are forged or fostered by pleasure or profit or by public or private necessity are so much the less beautiful and noble – and therefore so much the less “friendship” – in that they bring in some purpose, end or fruition other than the friendship itself. nor do the four ancient species of love conform to it: the natural, the social, the hospitable and the erotic.”

Montaigne continued:

For the rest, what we commonly call friends and friendships, are nothing but acquaintance and familiarities, either occasionally contracted, or upon some design, by means of which there happens some little intercourse betwixt our souls. But in the friendship I speak of, they mix and work themselves into one piece, with so universal a mixture, that there is no more sign of the seam by which they were first conjoined.

Friendship of that exalted sort Montaigne valued most is rare. He called his ideal “how remote a thing such a friendship is from the common practice.” Rarer still, it seems, in politics and law.

He discounted “friendships” created by some need or goal as merely temporary. He quotes Cicero on the nature of long-term friendship:

“Omnino amicitiae, corroboratis jam confirmatisque, et ingeniis, et aetatibus, judicandae sunt.” (“Those are only to be reputed friendships that are fortified and confirmed by judgement and the length of time.” –Cicero, De Amicit., c. 20.)

Friendship – Montaigne’s idea of real friendship, not one born of necessity or advantage – is also a sign of personal success. It is an achievement that transcends business, politics and time. Those other “friendships,” he warned, are fragile: vulnerable to external events, personal needs and private goals. In fact, they are not friendship at all, as Montaigne defined it.

“Let no one, therefore, rank other common friendships with such a one as this,” Montaigne wrote of his own true friendship. “In those other ordinary friendships, you are to walk with bridle in your hand, with prudence and circumspection, for in them the knot is not so sure that a man may not half suspect it will slip.”

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10/12/14

The Best of Times


Tale of Two CitiesI was overcome this weekend with an urge to re-read Charles Dickens’ masterpiece, A Tale of Two Cities. I suspect it’s because of its brilliant, powerful opening. That opening epitomizes for me Collingwood’s municipal election and the dichotomy between the two camps: positive versus negative. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…

I was downtown Saturday, shopping in the farmers’ market and local stores when the urge came over me. Ducking into Sandra’s little used-book store on Ontario Street, I found a copy. I sat on a bench downtown and read the first two chapters while Susan browsed in a nearby store. Wonderful stuff.

I carried it home (where it joins a couple of other editions of the same title). It’s actually a nice edition (shown in the cover image on the right); paired with another superb novel by Dickens: Great Expectations. Which title might also be said to reflect the overall tone of this election: all the expectations every candidate and his or her followers have for the outcome (I’m sure Terry Fallis would do it justice…).

The opening paragraph of Dickens’ novel reads:

IT WAS the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way- in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

That could easily be said reflect claims and counter-claims this election. It doesn’t need to be changed at all to be framed in a modern context.*

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10/11/14

Lessons From the Campaign Trail


Door to doorI always learn something new, something valuable from every municipal election campaign. I learn from talking to people, I learn from community meetings. I learn from comments and emails I receive. I learn from other candidates, too – there are often good ideas proposed that can be developed by council later.

Each election campaign has been a bit different, and I’ve tried different approaches each time. In some, I’ve done more door knocking; in others I’ve done more mailing. I’ve tried different signs, different literature. This time, I knocked on a lot of doors. It’s been educational every time.

Here are a few of my thoughts about campaigning this term (and some thoughts that have percolated through from the five elections in which I have run as a candidate):

1. Face to face matters. No brochure or lawn sign can match the value of actually talking to someone at the door. Going door-to-door is a grinding, often tedious and tiring process, but nothing can match it for getting in touch with the voters. People want to voice their opinions, their concerns, ask questions and get answers. People like seeing their candidates, putting a face to the name. Nothing can match the personal interaction you get at the door.*

Be positive, be upbeat and be courteous at the door, even when you face someone hostile or an opponent’s supporter. Don’t argue or be impolite: leave them with a good impression of you.

2. All-candidates’ meetings are frustrating for voters. Talking one-on-one at the door is often appreciated more than all-candidates’ meetings. There the voters are a passive audience, unable to ask questions or challenge answers, debate, argue, even talk with candidates. Many people I spoke to at these meetings said they liked the time before and after the speeches best, so they could actually make direct contact with candidates.

Speeches don’t win many votes. In two or even five minutes, you can’t express your whole vision, your accomplishments, your hopes, dreams or even much of your bio. Just try to get a few salient points across that might be remembered later.

People match candidates’ faces with their names, so speaking well and confidently is important, too.

Small gatherings where people can speak one-on-one to candidates are more popular than big venues with 300-400 people in the audience. But events where only a select group of candidates are invited poisons the atmosphere for residents and candidates alike. People want fairness and openness during elections, not secrecy and exclusiveness.

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10/11/14

Carrier’s Attack Ad


Former mayor Chris Carrier has a big, nasty attack ad in the Connection this weekend. He promises “facts” and attacks the current mayor’s “spin.” But any reader who has followed the debate over the real figures for the town debt knows it’s quite the opposite.

You weren’t fooled, were you, dear reader? I didn’t think so.

Why he would think a negative attack ad laden with insults and misinformation would win voters is unclear. Perhaps he thinks he can scare voters into picking him. I doubt it.

I think he really doesn’t understand municipal finance. Council received a very clear and indisputable amount for the town debt from our auditor. To say it’s wrong and to challenge her figures is to attack the credibility of our auditors. She wrote:

As per the 2010 audited financial statements: long-term debt was $45,507,356 and there was a bank demand loan in the amount of $664,013 for a total of $46,171,369. As per the 2013 audited financial statements: long-term debt was $36,860,776 and there was no bank demand loan debt.

Keep in mind who is the professional here. Who has the string of degrees and years of experience auditing municipal finances? Who has the credibility here? Not the former mayor!

Everywhere I went, knocking on doors, meeting and talking with residents, I was told people didn’t like the negativity this election. I don’t think they will like this ad, either. It’s misleading and angry. And it attacks staff, as well as the current mayor (and her council).

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10/11/14

Promising What Can’t be Done


There’s a wrap up in the Connection this weekend with candidates’ comments on “accountability” I want to address. One deputy-mayoral candidate, Brian Saunderson, wrote, he would,

“Strengthen the current council code of conduct to include dealing with siblings as a defined conflict and impose consequences for council members who breach the code.”

Council cannot make a law that supersedes provincial law, nor can council impose any penalty outside those specified in the Municipal Act and Municipal Conflict of Interest Act. In fact, alleged breaches of those acts can only be dealt with through provincial authorities. The province does not give municipalities the authority to write their own laws that are above and beyond what the province decrees. And we can’t enforce penalties for arbitrary offences.

You’d think a lawyer would know this.

The candidate also called on council to

Create a lobbyist registry to ensure anyone lobbying council on behalf of any third party interest is registered and accountable for any and all lobbying activities.

I already dealt with this canard in my previous post on a lobbyist registry (already rejected by staff in 2008 as unnecessary and impractical). It’s simply a chest-beating exercise. Sound and fury, signifying nothing.

He also promised to:

Change the purchasing policy to ensure there can be no sole sourcing of any contract for goods or services over $25,000, no exceptions.

The procurement bylaw grants an exception only where staff determine the service or product is unique – i.e. there are no other suppliers of an equivalent product or service. Council doesn’t make this decision: staff do. This is an attack against the integrity of staff.

The candidate’s promise would force the town to waste time, money and effort trying to source something that staff had already identified as unique and therefore has no competition. Your tax dollars wasted – like a cat chasing its own tail, nothing will come out of enforcing  a search for non-existent suppliers.

This deputy-mayoral candidate also promised to:

Improve communications to ensure the residents of Collingwood are informed of all council initiatives and engage the residents regularly to get community feedback.

Excuse my cynicism, but wasn’t council criticized by this candidate’s supporters for doing just that?

When this council sent out brochures about our accomplishments, plans and goals this term, this candidate’s supporters complained about it being “propaganda.” Trying to inform residents about our activities and progress was criticized. Yet all we were doing was following the recommendation in the Vision 2020 report.

Do I smell a little hypocrisy here? Council is being damned for doing what this candidate demands we do. This council has had a policy of open communication all term. In fact, we even hired a communications officer to ensure information goes out to media and on social media in a timely manner.

Some candidates didn’t like it. So they promise to create a policy to do what we already have done.

More promises:

Open public deputations to eliminate any prior approvals or vetting and allow people to address council on a first-come basis at the commencement of each council meeting

Perhaps had the candidate actually attended a public meeting (had he ever attended a council meeting, let alone made the journey to attend a county meeting!) he would have seen that public meetings are held and governed by both the Municipal Act and the Planning Act. This process is already done and has been done for years. To suggest otherwise is to criticize staff who maintain these laws and meetings.

And more:

Ensure all major decisions seek out community input, and ensure there is rigorous staff research and due diligence before any decision is made.

Already done, and been done for many years.

Again, actually attending council and paying attention to the process would help the candidate understand what the process is. All councils have many public meetings and engagements. An experienced candidate would know this.

And finally:

Ensure the division of labour between council members and staff is respected and eliminate micromanagement.

Been done for years. Council does not micromanage staff, except in the imagination of the candidate. Again, experience and attendance at town hall would have informed the candidate this was not an issue in real life.

It’s easy to criticize what you don’t understand. Maybe if Mr. Saunderson had attended any budget meetings, attended any council meetings or attended a single county council meeting, he would be more aware of the processes and procedures and not make empty promises.