Sunday, November 26, 2023

Carbon Capture & Storage (CCS) Is Problematic

 In my travels on Twitter (sorry, X) this morning, I saw this, and it raises more questions than it answers:

This is a “look, it works!” statement. We had already proven that CCS was possible a decade earlier.  8,000,000 tonnes sounds like a very large number - but that works out to barely 1 Mt annually.  Alberta alone produces some 260 Mt annually just from its oil production.

There’s a red flag here.  This is a technology still very much in its infancy.  Then in October, it was announced that Oxy had sold off its plant in Texas, after never running it up over 1/3 of its stated capacity.   Even if that was a means to offset the cost of acquiring Carbon Engineering earlier in the year, something still doesn’t add up.

Saturday, November 25, 2023

No, Ms. Kheiriddin, You’re Quite Wrong

Over at Conservative propaganda rag “National Post”, we have Tasha Kheiriddin trying to turn the lack of attention on the civil war going on in Sudan into “why criticizing Israel’s actions is antisemitic”.  

First, I invite Ms. Kheiriddin to inspect the news - particularly North American sources, and consider how much coverage the Sudan war is getting.  If it wasn’t for BBC’s World Service, I wouldn’t even be aware of it, coverage here has been so sparse, but then again, there are numerous armed conflicts going on in various parts of Africa.  

But, Ms. Kheiriddin seems to think that we can’t “walk and chew bubble gum” at the same time.  Apparently, unless we’re condemning the horrors happening in Sudan just as loudly as what we see happening in Gaza, we must be criticizing Israel because it’s a Jewish state.  

This is utterly incorrect.  Most “left-leaning” people I see online are responding to what we are seeing Israel doing in Gaza because it is being covered in real-time in front of them, every time they look at the news.  What do they see in this coverage? Civilians being forcibly displaced by a vastly larger military force, homes and livelihoods being bombed out of existence from the air, and Israeli politicians making statements like “clearing out Gaza is the solution” - which sounds like something between ethnic cleansing (see Rwanda), and Hitler’s “final solution” (yeah, I said it - sue me - we’ll come back to this point in a minute).

You will find that most “leftists” who are criticizing Israel’s actions in Gaza are doing so through the lens of “the State is not its people”.  In other words, Israel’s politicians and political government are accountable for their actions quite apart from the people.  Just as Hamas is an organization and exists as a separate entity from the civilians of Gaza, the STATE of Israel is not “the Jewish People” per se.  That distinction is important, because it separates the civilians from the belligerents in conflict. 

Is it “anti-Semitic” to criticize Israel’s actions in Gaza?  If the narrative was being framed in terms of ethnic and religious identity, perhaps it would be.  However, most writers I see, myself included are talking about the actions of the state and its politicians.  For example, does the fact of Netanyahu being Jewish exempt him from criticism for engaging in a cynical political game of condemning Hamas on one hand, while feeding it on the other?  I would argue that has nothing whatsoever to do with his being Jewish, and just makes him one more cynical politician willing to play any game as long as it gains him political advantage at the polls. 

More to the point, the construct of antiSemitism is built around the idea that discrimination based on someone being Jewish is wrong.  It is not a blanket exemption that anything done by someone who is Jewish from criticism of any sort.  Even if we broadly agree that Israel is a “Jewish State”, that is no blanket exemption from criticism when that state chooses to act in ways that are unacceptable.

This is no different than the clear statement that Hamas isn’t beyond reproach simply because it is Palestinian (I think the world has been clear about that).

Now, I’m going to come back to my earlier statement about ethnic cleansing in Gaza.  I was not joking when I said it echoed the language of Hitler’s “Final Solution”.  Consider the following from a former Israeli defence minister: 

Combined with Israeli government documents that have been published in numerous other places, it’s pretty hard to ignore the eliminationist tone of these statements.  It’s just as difficult to ignore the similarities to Hitler’s “Final Solution”, especially when the tactics of the IDF have clearly been designed to push the 2.5 million inhabitants of Gaza towards the border with Israel.  

Is it “antiSemitic” to say this?  I suppose that those who connect their identities to the very idea of the state of Israel might argue that it is.  I draw a different line, because the State can never be held up as exempt from the norms of international law and convention.  A state that engages in collective punishment, or ethnic cleansing, must be held accountable, regardless of matters of faith, ethnicity, or even long standing historical horrors like the holocaust.

Ms. Kheiriddin is engaging in the most scandalous of rhetorical tactics - she is using unrelated events to deflect criticism away from the situation in Gaza, and to then insulate the State of Israel from criticism by labelling its critics as antiSemitic.  The intellectual dishonesty of that sleight of hand is beyond stunning. 

Monday, November 20, 2023

Cynical Politics, Propaganda, and Hardening Hearts

I awoke this morning to hear an article in the news about Israel’s latest actions in Gaza.  I won’t bore you with the details here.

What I did find myself thinking was that even if Israel “flattens Gaza into a pile of concrete rubble”, that won’t solve the problem.  It might save Netanyahu’s political career, if temporarily, but it won’t make Israel any more secure.  

Let’s examine that for a moment. Suppose for a moment that Israel drives every Palestinian out of Gaza, destroys every building, and fills in every inch of the tunnel networks that have been dug underneath Gaza with the rubble.  Sure, they will have deprived the Palestinian people of their homes, Hamas of its bases of operations, and perhaps even accomplished a military victory of some sort.  They might have even succeeded in making it impossible for Hamas to continue to exist in the form it has.  

The problem for Israel is that they won’t have killed off the idea of Palestine itself.  Perhaps more worryingly, they will ultimately have rendered it impossible for the people who identify as Palestinian to consider any kind of negotiated settlement arrangement with Israel.  That makes things much, much more dangerous for Israel and its citizens, because the adversary that Netanyahu has both enabled and demonized for the last 15+ years of his career suddenly has nothing to lose. 

If, things unfold as I expect will happen, most of the population of Gaza is going to end up in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, likely crushed up against the Israeli border.  This will be a return to the squalor of the refugee camps that were originally created in Gaza in the wake of Israel’s creation and the fallout of the first few Arab-Israeli wars.  Those camps will become places where the next Hamas will form, and it will have the collective memory of Israel’s actions in Gaza, as well as Israel’s illegal settlements in the West Bank. A more fertile place to spread propaganda, and to harden attitudes towards Israel and its peoples is hard to imagine. 

How does this make Israel less secure? Think about it.  An adversary that believes it has nothing to lose, and can easily convince the people among whom it organizes that they have nothing to lose has an indefinite supply of people willing to do horrific things.  

For the last several years, the “fight” has been mostly symbolic - Hamas lobbing rockets into Israel, and Israel’s “Iron Dome” shooting most of them down.  Prior to that, Israel experienced regular waves of violence ranging from riots to suicide bombings.  One of the things that October 7 demonstrated was that an adversary willing to be patient and to carefully plan its actions can accomplish a lot in a short amount of time.  Put that adversary in a place where they can convince the people around them that their fight is existential, and the “bad guy is just over that fence”, and they will find ways to get over those fences. 

Within Israel, I’m sure that Netanyahu’s “crush them now” approach is playing well.  It’s no secret that within Israeli politics there are those factions who see a “pure Israel” with no compromise involving the Palestinian people as some kind of fulfillment of a religious imperative.  Those people will be ecstatic for a while.

But, once the dust settles, the world needs to understand that Israel’s actions in response to October 7, 2023 will make the region much less stable, much more dangerous.  The danger for Israel is that the slow, painful process of “normalizing relations” with its neighbours may have just ended, and that leaves Israel in a much more dangerous place than it was in.

Friday, November 17, 2023

How Did You Think Gazans Would Respond?

The dispute between Israel and the Palestinian people has been in and out of the news cycle my entire life. For years, the narrative in the news has been very much around “terrorism”, with the Palestinians being broadly characterized as the perpetrators of terrorism.

There is no question that in terms of military capability, Israel is the 500lb gorilla here.  They have one of the most impressive militaries on the planet, and for good reasons. The creation of Israel out of the end of the European colonial empires wasn’t exactly greeted with good wishes by its neighbours.

However, people seem genuinely shocked when Israel puts on display what is clearly the contents of a weapons cache.  Let’s talk about how Israel has treated Gaza, and Palestinians since Netanyahu came onto the political scene (which, mysteriously, isn’t far off when Hamas took political control of Gaza).

Tuesday, November 14, 2023

How War In Gaza Should Change The Rules Of War

Current international law on war is largely derived from the fallout of WWII.  It’s seen a little bit of trimming around the edges, but for the most part it is the child of WWII.  That it has lasted over 70 years with only minimal change is in some respects creditable.  Israel’s actions in Gaza should result in massive changes to it.

Let me explain.  Gaza presents unique challenges to the conduct of war.  We have a region that is half the size of a major North American city - Calgary, AB - with a population that is at least double that of Calgary.  To say it is densely built is an understatement. That necessarily means that just about any major action in Gaza is going to result in massive civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure. 

Where this represents a serious challenge for current laws is that current international law doesn’t really deal with the kind of messy, asymmetric situation we have in Gaza, where the belligerents in Gaza are embedded deeply with the civilian population, and actual military assets are commingled with civilian infrastructure.  

This necessarily means that heavy-handed strategies like “carpet bombing” are simply invalid - the odds of massive damage that unreasonably harms civilians is far too high.  To this point, Israel has simply bombed the hell out of locations and then turned around and claimed “but Hamas was there”.  That seems to be something of a truism - in the 15 years since Hamas took control of the Gaza, they no doubt have built an enormous infrastructure for their military ambitions and have embedded it in the densely built up urban areas for both military and political reasons.

Here is where Israel’s ‘right to defend itself’ runs up against the rights of the civilian population of Gaza.  Israel cannot justifiably claim “Hamas” and exempt itself from the impact on Gaza’s civilians.  Regardless of where the conflict is taking place, we have to recognize that the belligerents are fundamental military and governmental constructs, not civilian.  Recognizing the nature of political and governmental power, we cannot claim that the civilians are directly responsible for the actions of their governments.  

This raises the first point of rights in tension - in asymmetric warfare like we see in Gaza, where do the rights of the civilian population take precedence?  Intuitively, it seems a little too simplistic to have one side simply claim “bad guys here”, and bomb it into oblivion from the air.  Yet, at the same time, we also know that “street by street” fighting is just as messy and even more brutal.  

Is Israel’s “evacuate this region” approach adequate?  Or is it simply another military tactic that puts a veneer of respectability on an otherwise heavy-handed approach to the conflict?  Demanding people evacuate makes the assumption that people are in fact able to do so.  Factors ranging from poverty to illness, age, and disability can make such orders utterly impractical for some.

Allegedly, Hamas has built a huge network of tunnels underneath Gaza.  I don’t doubt that is the case, in fact the attacks on October 7 made it quite clear that is the case.  Does that give Israel the blanket right to start dropping “bunker buster” bombs on Gaza?  Or would the level of destruction that would wreak on densely populated regions render that unacceptable?  Israel’s argument is that Hamas is using the civilian population of Gaza as “human shields”.  I’m not sure that the complication that presents for military action erases the rights of those civilians.

WWII era doctrines tend to focus on destroying an enemy’s ability to arm, supply, and defend itself.  For the most part industrial and military infrastructure was separate from civilian.  In Gaza, all three are commingled, and that changes the dynamics of warfare.  My personal feeling is that if Israel wants to destroy all of the underground infrastructure, they need to resurrect the pre-aerial era roles of sappers who specialize in underground warfare.  Hamas has a tunnel network that needs to be rendered unusable?  Cool - get in there and do that.  You can make tunnel systems unusable with minimal damage to civilian infrastructure - but if you think street by street combat is ugly business, a network of tunnels is going to make that look like a walk in the park for the troops. 

Lastly, when we examine the actions of the belligerents, we cannot simply examine a singular event.  There are often years, if not decades, of grievances on both sides.  Proponents of Israel’s approach in this conflict point to decades of actions on the part of Hamas - and Hamas has a very ugly history that it is very valid to criticize.  One can also understand that the Palestinian governments are also operating in an environment that has to respond to the pressures that Israeli policy creates.  

Unfortunately, Israel’s history here is arguably no better.  Increasingly heavy-handed approaches to events have effectively walled Gaza off, and severely limited the ability of Gaza to develop itself economically.  Other aspects of Israeli policy have isolated Palestinian peoples from each other, as well as promoted division.  It’s no secret that Netanyahu has been quite happy to “feed Hamas” because it keeps the Palestinian peoples divided, and enables him to argue that there is nobody to “talk peace” with.  

This is not a simple conflict, but in its wake, the assessment of the actions of the belligerents needs to be assessed through a new lens, one that sees the right to self defence not merely as a “right in the moment”, but as a right that exists in tension with other rights, and exists in the full context of events leading up to open conflict.  We cannot simply look at October 7 and make a declaration, we must examine the full picture.

Unfortunately, such an examination will invalidate a lot of people’s presuppositions about the actions taken, regardless of their sympathies. 

Monday, November 13, 2023

Effective Altruism

Coming out of the Silicon Valley libertarian sphere, Effective Altrusim is basically little more than 1980s era Reaganomics with a side order of philanthropy to paper over the rotting stench of unmitigated greed. 

For many people, their first exposure to it probably comes from the trial of Sam Bankman-Fried.  Broadly speaking, the basic principle of Effective Altruism is to use your financial resources (wealth) to benefit the most people possible.  If this sounds utilitarian, it’s because the phrase “benefit the most people possible” is straight out of utilitarian or consequentialist analysis.  Basically, the person tries to direct their wealth towards targets that they can determine will “benefit” a maximum number of people.  Doesn’t sound too bad, does it? 

Except it really is quite a stinker.  First, it supposes that the person with the money is the only person capable of deciding who the beneficiaries should be, and it encourages donating the money where it will benefit the most people.  This basically says “the person with the money knows better than anybody else how to utilize it for benefit” - sounds a little paternalistic, doesn’t it? 

Now, before you go jumping down my throat about whether the person with the money has the right to decide where it goes, of course they do.  But we should not be fooled that a blithe statement about “doing the most benefit for the most people” is going to work out for the greater benefit of society.   Sometimes, we have to ameliorate the situation of a minority in order to improve the overall of society, and simple utilitarian or consequentialist analysis isn’t going to pick up on that. 

Second, and it’s my bigger criticism of the concept.  At best it's built around the idea of "accumulate as much wealth as you can".  If you haven't heard this before, think back to the 1980s and the era of so-called "Junk Bonds", when Michael Milken declared "Greed is Good" (I wish I was joking).  This is the same kind of thinking, with a thin layer of philanthropy glued on to give moral justification to it.  

In other words, it's little more than "Trickle-Down Economics".  Become fantastically wealthy (apparently even through fraud is fine), and then assuage any guilt you might feel by donating money.  Yeah - that's going to work out - if you're a hollow husk of a human being utterly devoid of empathy, ethics, and morals. 

Every one of these fools needs to spend as much time understanding Rousseau's Social Contract as they wasted reading Ayn Rand and Margaret Thatcher. 

Thursday, November 09, 2023

Restructuring AHS - The Wrong Way

I was never particularly impressed with the AHS “Superboard” concept that was instituted in 2009 - it got some thing right (like centralizing procurement), but it also had the effect of gutting the ability for the system to respond to local needs.  It effectively turned major decisions into political fodder - suddenly matters like building new facilities became political footballs, with little or no regional input into matters like requirements.

After an initial period of utter chaos, which arguably lasted through 2012 or 2013, AHS started to find its feet and initiated programs like Primary Care Networks which went a long ways towards smoothing out access in the system, and in particular communication between family physicians and specialists.
Today, AHS is far from perfect, but it has done a lot to rebalance the system and introduce more local responsiveness to issues.  

What was rolled out by the Danielle Smith-led UCP government yesterday is a recipe for disaster.  We don’t have a lot of details yet, but the basic structure effectively creates a series of “silos” that will inevitably make communications between groups much, much worse. Vertical silos like what has been proposed are almost inevitably going to create walls between organizations that prevent meaningful knowledge sharing and collaboration.

Second, when I see this kind of structure trotted out in the corporate world, it almost always means that things are being lined up to be sold.  Once the walls go up, and mutual collaboration is severed, it’s relatively easy to sell off pieces and make huge profits on the sale.  Corporate “mergers” tend to go one of two ways:  The acquired entity is assimilated into the larger organization and its core functions become part of the larger whole; or, the acquired entity remains an all but separate business of its own that feeds a few % of its profits into the parent corporation - until such times as the parent company decides to skim a profit by selling it off. 

The UCP structure for health care in Alberta seems to be designed with an orientation towards the latter.  Create a bunch of isolated vertical silos that can then be dismantled.

Given the lack of detail, lack of risk management planning, and the complexity of trying to dismantle AHS into this new structure, the government’s self-assigned budget of some $120M is almost laughably small.  Having been a project manager myself, I look at that and go “you’re going to restructure a $45B organization that cheaply? - yeah keep kidding yourselves.”.  

When - or if - a more detailed plan is made available, I will look at it.  But, at the moment, I take one look at this, and my first thought is “this is a completely unrealistic plan that will be detrimental to the well-being of Albertans”.  I have little doubt that the real goal of this is to sell off as much as they can to US interests before the next election. After that, Albertans will find themselves stuck with the same affordability dilemma that so many in the US face:  Do I pay my rent or my healthcare premiums? 

Sunday, November 05, 2023

The UCP Goes "Hold My Beer" To The CPC

Author's Note:  I started writing something about the UCP's policy resolutions in October, but it seemed redundant.  Now that the UCP has held their AGM, and these have been voted on, it's time to take a look at the shape of the party that results from it. 

In September, the CPC held its policy convention and went full SoCon - passing every discriminatory, bigotry-laden policy put before them - and by significant margins.  This weekend, the UCP said to the CPC:  "Hold my beer".  

Before the UCP delegates this weekend were some 30 policy resolutions, and they ranged from almost reasonable sounding policy ideas to outright conspiracy theory level crackpottery.  The resulting policy is a pastiche of terrible ideas rooted in bigotry and ignorance.  

Friday, November 03, 2023

Israel/Palestine; Russia/Ukraine - The Politics of War

One of the key features of war in the modern era is the need to demonize the “other” in order to create a justification for military action.

In the Russia/Ukraine war, Putin has claimed that Ukraine is being taken over by “Nazis”.  There is a carefully cultivated “grain of truth” in Putin’s claim - several military units who have been fighting back against Russian attempts to annex parts of eastern Ukraine do in fact have Nazi / neo-Nazi leanings.  Is that “all Ukraine”?  Nope - not even close.  Putin has simply used it as a pretext and as fodder for a propaganda campaign to justify what really is little more than a war of conquest.  

Similarly, when we look at what’s going on in Gaza, we can see unfolding in real-time the propaganda machine.  Yes, Hamas is a bunch of rotten bastards - I don’t think that’s in question here.  Israel’s propaganda however is outright dehumanizing not only Hamas, but ultimately it is really aimed at the Palestinian people as a whole.  

In both conflicts, we have to recognize that the “underdogs” in these conflicts have been subject to decades of oppression at the hands of others.  Ukraine at the hands of Stalinist USSR, and the Palestinians at the hands of the Israeli government - especially since Netanyahu came to power, but arguably since so many were forcibly evicted from their homes in 1948, creating the now permanent “refugee camps”.  

Russia has shown a repeated pattern of targeting civilian infrastructure and homes throughout the conflict.  You can’t tell me that there’s convincing evidence that an entire block of flats is “all occupied by Nazis” - that just doesn’t make any sense. Yet, when Russia deigns to respond to these claims, they swear up and down that they’re not targeting civilians.  (If you believe that, I’ve got some oceanfront property in Saskatchewan I’d like to sell you). 

Similarly, Israel swears up and down that they’re not targeting civilians in Gaza, yet we have verified instances where Israel has told people to move to locations, and then bombed those very locations a few days later. Similarly, Israel is making bold claims about the number of Hamas militants they have killed.  I’m sure that when you carpet bomb an entire neighbourhood out of existence, you will no doubt kill some number of militants, but in doing so, you are ignoring the fact that no matter how selective you claim to be, the fact is that those bombs you’re dropping simply aren’t selective weapons.

Just as I don’t believe Putin’s argument that he’s removing fascists from Ukraine, I don’t believe that Israel is interested in “destroying Hamas” - if they were, they’d have their espionage units taking out Hamas leadership in other countries.  More and more, this looks like Israel has decided that it is going to depopulate Gaza and push its peoples into the Sinai.  

In both conflicts, there is an enormous propaganda campaign that is designed to dehumanize the other side in the minds of the public.  That dehumanizing serves the purpose of making it easier for people (and combatants especially) to accept the idea of killing another human being.  In the past, it was mostly reserved for the troops - they got fed a steady stream of invective designed specifically for that - now that is making its way into the public discourse. 

Consider, in WWII, the Germans were referred to as “Jerries” or “Krauts” (a reference to sauerkraut - pickled cabbage); in Vietnam, the Viet Cong were referred to as “Gooks”.  In these conflicts, Russia is referring to Ukrainian soldiers as “Nazis”, and we’ve had Israel refer to Hamas as “dogs”.  While I can guess what Hamas tells its people, it’s fairly clear that they’ve spent the last 15 odd years developing quite a line of anti-Israel, anti-Jewish propaganda.  It’s not difficult to see the purpose of all this.

The first casualty in any war is truth - and in particular - the truth about the other side.  I grew up in the middle of the so-called “Cold War”.  We were inundated with propaganda about the USSR and Communism.  To the point that even today, some 3 decades after the collapse of the Soviet empire, we still have a lot of people who mistake democratic socialism for totalitarian communism as implemented by Stalin.  It’s kind of stunning actually. 

Make no mistake when you are looking at the news and how they recount what is going on - there is a metric ton of propaganda being fed to us.  Israel wants us to believe Hamas is “a bunch of cowardly dogs” that they have to eradicate, but the truth is not so simple.  Russia wants us to believe that all they’re doing in Ukraine is “purging Nazis”, and the truth there is not so black and white either. Intriguingly, Putin’s fingerprints are in both conflicts.  

I’ve suspected for a long time that the Ukraine war serves two purposes for Putin.  First, he sees it as the beginning of rebuilding the old Russian Empire, thus putting him into the same league as Tsars like Peter the Great.  Second, it acts as a wedge in an effort to draw NATO into open conflict with Russia.  He’s argued for years now that “NATO is expansionist” because countries that used to belong to the old Warsaw Pact have joined NATO in an effort to hold Russian territorial ambitions at bay. 

Putin’s fingerprints on the latest events in Israel and Gaza show up in a couple of ways.  First, it’s no secret that Iran has been funnelling resources into Gaza, assisting Hamas with building up their munitions and probably providing training and materials.  Second, we know that Hamas leaders had meetings with Putin back in May, 2022.  As the old saying goes, it takes a lot of planning for coincidences to happen. 

Why now?  It’s a matter of timing. Putin sees this as a way to weaken the US and NATO by taking focus away from the Ukraine conflict, but also he’s leveraging the chaos that a GOP controlled House of Representatives in the US can create.  The GOP has been signalling for months that they are tired of pouring money and resources into Ukraine, and the Israel conflict is a perfect opportunity for them to push for a redirection of resources.  There’s plenty of good reason to suspect that the GOP’s caucus in the legislature is in fact compromised by Russian operatives and money - including the ongoing politicking of Trump.

Looked at through that lens, the Israel / Hamas conflict is an easily provoked bit of violence that provides a needed distraction from what is going on in Ukraine, and potentially distracts enough US attention from Ukraine to allow Russia to capitalize on that by ramping up it’s activities in Ukraine.  (We’ll see how this goes over the winter months)

The point here is that there’s a huge amount of political maneuvering behind the rhetoric and violence we are seeing.  So while we all have our own perspectives and sympathies in these matters, it takes work to put on our filters both to put bias to one side, and to filter out what is propaganda designed to inflame opinions and what is reasonably factual. 

The Cass Review and the WPATH SOC

The Cass Review draws some astonishing conclusions about the WPATH Standards of Care (SOC) . More or less, the basic upshot of the Cass Rev...