Thursday, October 27, 2016

Canada falls in 2016 Global Gender Gap Report

The Switzerland-based World Economic Forum has just published its latest Global Gender Gap Report. The index is a composite ranking, measuring differences between men and women in economics, education, health and political empowerment among 144 countries.
Overall, weighted by population, the average progress on closing the global gender gap across the four different dimensions measured stands at a score of 68% (meaning an average gap of 32% remains to be closed worldwide in order to achieve universal gender parity). When divided up into four sub-indexes, we see that 96% of the gap in health outcomes between women and men has been closed, 95% of the gap in educational attainment, 59% of economic participation and opportunity, and only 23% in the category of political participation.
Almost predictably, the Nordic countries continue to rank as the most gender-equal countries, with Iceland confirming its status as the best place in the world in which to be a woman, followed by Finland, Sweden and Norway. There are a few surprises near the top of the list, though, with Rwanda appearing at No. 5, Philippines at No. 7, and Nicaragua at No. 10. Indeed, when labour force participation alone is considered, five poor developing countries (Mozambique, Rwanda, Laos, Burundi and Malawi) all tied for top position with a ratio of 100%, because female labour force participation exceeds the male participation rate in those countries.
Down at the bottom of the list of 144 countries languishes Yemen, which is only marginally worse than other Muslim countries like Pakistan, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Chad, Iran and Mali. 68 countries saw their overall gender gap score increase compared to last year, while 74 have seen it decrease. Heading up the "most improved" list are Rwanda, Nepal, Bolivia, Slovenia, France and Cameroon.
And how did Canada perform? Not too well. Canada is No. 35 out of 144 this year, sandwiched between Luxenbourg and Cape Verde. According to the data, Canada has closed 73% of the gender gap over the four factors measured (compared to Iceland's 87%). This is down from 30th place last year, although still above USA (which ranks at No. 45 this year) and still well below the UK (No. 20). Like most other Western countries, it scores a perfect 100% for equality in educational attainment, and almost perfect in health and survival. However, it scores only slightly above average (73%) in economic participation and opportunity, and a very disappointing 22% in political empowerment (49th position, and significantly below many other Western countries, although still well above the USA). Compare that to Iceland's 71%!
Ironically, Iceland has just seen a massive demonstration by women from all over Iceland in front of the Icelandic parliament in Reykjavik, to protest the gender pay gap and to call for equal pay for women. The women protesters left work at precisely 2:38pm, the symbolic time when women start working for "free" during a regular day, when the pay gap is factored in (the organizers say that Icelandic women earn 14-18% less than men for the same work).
Some people just don't know when they are well off. Or maybe they do...

Expo 2025? No thanks

I have long been in the habit of poo-pooing any major events that some of the more visionary (and usually less practical) among us have advocated for the city of Toronto e.g. Olympics. These things always sound like much more of a good idea than they actually are, and for a city having difficulty paying for day-to-day necessities, such vanity projects - largely resting on the nugatory premise of a need to be considered a "world-class city" - just cannot be justified.
So, kudos once again to Toronto Mayor John Tory, who has refused to be swayed by blandishments and has kiboshed a burgeoning movement to have Toronto host the 2025 World Expo. Or at least, at this point, to join his executive committee in recommending that a bid not be pursued - a full city council vote will take place next month.
Proponents of the bid (local politicians and business leaders, probably the same people who were recommending an Olympic bid) have wheeled out a whole host of supporters, from arts and community groups, the construction industry, unions, First Nations chiefs, former provincial ministers, even the Toronto Stock Exchange and Facebook Canada.
But many of these people should know better. History has taught us that such mega-projects rarely translate into the economic boons that are initially anticipated. And they almost always end up costing the host city way more than budgeted. A private feasibility study has suggested that capital costs for a Toronto Expo 2025 might amount to $1.9 billion (although this sum conveniently omits billions more that would be needed for the flood prevention measures and clean-up of contaminated land if the Port Lands area were to be developed  as anticipated). Given that the last two Expos cost in the region of $19 billion (Milan) and $60 billion (Shanghai), this looks suspiciously like a ridiculously low-balled estimate. Nor is there any guarantee that the work - and the rapid transit projects and major changes to the Gardiner Expressway and Lakeshore Boulevard that would need to accompany it - could even be completed on time. No offers of financial help from the federal or provincial governments have been forthcoming either.
All in all, the event could turn into a white elephant of almost Olympic proportions. So, forgive my lack of vision, but let's spend our scarce resources on things that actually need doing, and not on some feel-good project with dubious chances of success.

Imagine having to translate Donald Trump

One aspect of the Donald Trump presidential bid I had never even considered is the sheer impossibility of translating some of his flights of "rhetoric" into other languages.
God knows, it's hard enough to understand what he is saying in English oftentimes, with his twisted logic, his penchant for malapropisms, and those interminable run-on sentences. An article in Slate magazine tries (and fails miserably) to dissect and make sense of a particularly good example, but we are all familiar by now with sentences of the type: "The American economy, and this is very very important, the American economy is... ooh, look, a squirrel!"
I truly believe that this is a good part of what sets Trump supporters apart: most well-educated people just can't stand such undisciplined and wayward grammar and sloppy vocabulary and internal logic; the less-educated population that makes up the base of Trump's support (and, like it or not, that seems to be a fact) don't really care so much if he makes sense so long as he makes them feel good.
So, I was intrigued to read an article about the difficulty translators are having with Trump's literary flights of fancy. The article points out that the sheer difficulty of rendering accurate translations, and of making sense out of something that doesn't necessarily make sense can have some specific, if unintended, political effects, some of which may actually be helping Trump.
For example, his constant qualifications of statements - I don’t know, probably, maybe, I’m not sure, other people say, the lawyers say, I haven’t looked at it, I’m not familiar, etc - are often glossed over, or omitted completely, in quick translations, which may have the effect of making him sound more authoritative than he actually is. And some of his more colourful idioms (e.g. "I moved on her like a bitch", "grab them by the pussy", etc) may be translated less offensively, either to avoid internal censors or just because no exact translation exists.
On the other hand, some of his thinly-veiled sexist and racist comments may be translated more literally, rendering them even more sexist/racist.
Either way, it's funny (in a sad sort of a way) to read some comments of bilinguals who listened to the debates in Spanish, French or Chinese, and to hear from some the translators who were given the unenviable task of interpreting The Donald's pearls of wisdom.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Trump's shaky grasp of renewable energy

Well, Donald Trump (and, for that matter, Hillary Clinton) managed to get through three presidential debates without having to answer any serious questions on climate change or energy policy. Shameful! But he has come out since then to make his opinion of renewable energy abundantly clear, in an "interview" on Atlanta's vehemently pro-Trump WSB radio network (starting at 6'25").
Grist has fact-checked this little tirade, and it came up with no less than 17 falsities in just two minutes of Trump-blather. Grist has done a good job of linking their fact-checks to other websites, but very briefly:
Trump: "there is such a thing as clean coal"
Baltimore Sun: "Clean coal is a myth and more a marketing term than scientific reality"
Trump: "wind and solar...[is]...not working on large-scale"
Mid-West Energy News: "Utility-scale solar capacity has nearly tripled since 2014"
Trump: "It’s just not working"
Power Magazine: "More than 18.2 GW of wind power capacity is currently under construction or in advanced stages of development in the U.S."
Trump: "Solar is very, very expensive"
FuelFix: "Rooftop solar is down 54 percent. Utility-scale solar farms are down 65 percent."
Trump: "Wind is very, very expensive"
Bloomberg New Energy Finance: "Wind power is now the cheapest electricity to produce in both Germany and the U.K."
Trump: "it only works when it’s windy"
GE Renewable Energy: "GE’s brilliant turbine platform includes battery technology"
Trump: "wind is very problematic"
National Resource Defense Council: "Clean Power Plan’s goals have become even more readily achievable as the electricity sector is already shifting to clean energy"
Trump: "they are destroying our energy companies with regulation"
Reuters: "Chevron sees big profits in California despite regulations"
Trump: "They’re absolutely destroying them"
Fortune: "among the Fortune 500’s most profitable companies[,] [t]ech giants, banks, and oil-and-gas producers all have outsized influence"
Trump: "Palm Springs, California - it looks like a junkyard"
Trump: "each one is made by a different group from, all from China and from Germany, by the way"
US Dept of Energy: "U.S. wind energy production and manufacturing reaches record highs"
Trump: "look at all these windmills. Half of them are broken"
Twitter: "I've driven through the wind turbines six times in the last week, and I'm not sure what he's talking about. Most of them work."
Trump: "it looks like a poor man’s version of Disneyland"
PhotoShelter: "[picture]"
Trump: "It’s the worst thing you’ve ever seen"
New York Times: "The Ugliest Dog in the World"
Trump: "it kills all the birds"
USA Today: "Wind turbines kill far fewer birds in North America than do cats or collisions with cell towers"
Trump: "they’ve killed so many eagles"
PolitiFact: "Trump inflates wind turbine eagle deaths"
Trump: "these windmills [kill] them by the hundreds"
The Desert Sun: "the agency has retracted that number and said most of the eagle deaths actually occurred elsewhere in California"

Some of the more bizarre Catholic saints

I keep reading on my daily bathroom calendar about patron saints for the most unlikely of groups or aspects of life, which led me to research some of the more bizarre patron saints the venerable Catholic Church has seen fit to canonize over the centuries.
There really is a saint for almost anything you can think of, and some of the patronage designations seem quite random, or, sometimes, in poor taste. And some of the back-stories are really quite bizarre (although bear in mind that many of these are more in the way of legends than histories).
Here are a small selection of what I found, from a variety of different sources, including Cracked, Aggie Catholic Blog, Listverse, Top 10, Weird Worm, Neatorama, etc, and of course Wikipedia:
  • Saint Adrian of Nicomedia, patron saint of arms dealers, soldiers, guards and butchers - once a member of the prestigious Herculian Guard of the Roman Emperor Galerius Maximian, Adrian came to admire the Christians he saw being persecuted and joined them, although he was arrested, tortured and burned before he could even be baptised.
  • Saint Albinus of Angers, patron saint against pirate attacks - a 6th century French abbot who used church money to free hostages from pirates on the Loire river.
  • Saint Agatha of Sicily, patron saint of breast cancer sufferers - a beautiful woman who rejected the advances of a powerful judge, Agatha was sent to live out her days in a brothel. When she continued to reject men, she was tortured mercilessly, including having her breasts cut off.
  • Saint Apollonia, patron saint of dentists - Apollonia was beaten by an Alexandria mob for her Christian beliefs, and had all her teeth knocked out or pulled out in the process. Rather than be tortured in a fire, she unexpectedly jumped into the fire and so died with out renouncing her faith.
  • Saint Arnulf of Metz, patron saint of beer and brewers - his patronage supposedly arose when the people of Metz went to reclaim Arnulf's body on a hot day, and a small remnant of beer miraculously multiplied to quench the thirsts of all.
  • Saint Barbara, patron saint of thunderstorms, sudden deaths, firemen and fireworks - when Barbara converted to Christianity, her heathen father had her tortured and executed, but he was then himself struck down by lightning and consumed with flames.
  • Saint Bartholemew, patron saint of leather and skin workers - Bartholemew was killed by being skinned alive (and then, rather redundantly, crucified upside-down) by the pagans of Armenia. The connection between skin and leather-workers was an interesting leap of association by someone.
  • Saint Benedict of Nursia, patron saint of spelunkers and students - Benedict overcame poisoning attempts and seduction by prostitutes to found the Benedictine Order of monasteries.
  • Saint Bibiana, patron saint of hangovers, headaches and mental illnesses - forced into prostitution and then into a mad house, Bibiana was eventually flogged to death on the order of Roman Emperor Julian the Apostate. After her death, headache-curing herbs grew around her grave.
  • Saint Brendan the Navigator, patron saint of whales and sailors - Brendan, a 6th century Irish monk, travelled the high seas of the Atlantic evangelizing to the people of the islands (and possibly reaching the Americas according to some stories). At one point, he stopped on a small island and lit a fire to celebrate Easter Mass, but the island turned out to be an enormous whale!
  • Saint Christopher, patron saint of travellers and bachelors - hailing from a part of North Africa that many Europeans believed to be inhabited by dog-headed people, Christopher was often depicted with a dog's head.
  • Saint Clare of Assisi, patron saint of needle-workers, laundry workers and television - founder of the monastic Order of Poor Ladies, Clare was designated as the patron saint of television in 1958, on the basis that, when she was too ill to attend mass, she had reportedly been able to see and hear it on the wall of her room.
  • Saint Columbanus, patron saint of motorcyclists - the 6th century Irish monk Columbanus did most of his missionary work in the Alps and northern Italy, which is considered a prime area for motorcycle tours.
  • Saint Cornelius, patron saint of twitching, epilepsy and earaches - Cornelius was Pope for just two years in the 3rd century before being executed by the Roman authorities.
  • Saint Cyprian of Antioch, patron saint of occultists - originally a pagan sorceror, Cyprian was converted to Christianity through the love of a good woman, Justina. For some reason, it was Cyprian, not Justina, who became the saint.
  • Saint Denis, patron saint of headaches and possessed people - a 3rd century Bishop of Paris, Denis was decapitated by pagans, but he reportedly picked up his head and walked a further six miles, preaching all the while.
  • Saint Dominic Savio, patron saint of juvenile delinquents - one of ten children, Dominic seems to have been the opposite of a juvenile delinquent, becoming an altar boy at 5 and training for the priesthood at 12. But his health was poor, and he died at the age of 15.
  • Saint Drausinus, patron saint of invincible people - wait, what?
  • Saint Drogo, patron saint of unattractive people, mutes and broken bones, not to mention midwives, cattle and coffee houses - Drogo was a keen self-flagillant, as he tried to atone for his mother's death while giving birth to him, and he was rumoured to be able to appear in two different places at the same time. He contracted a hideously deforming disease while on a pilgrimage (and coffee houses? not sure where that came from...)
  • Saint Dymphna, patron saint of incest victims and the mentally ill - young Dymphna's father wanted to marry her because she was the only woman as beautiful as his recently-deceased wife. When she repeatedly refused, her father summarily beheaded her.
  • Saint Eligius, patron saint of metalsmiths, jewellers, horses and (more recently) gas station workers - a 7th century French metalsmith himself, Eligius discovered a skill in designing and making reliquaries (and even finding the relics that went in them).
  • Saint Expeditus (or Elpidius), patron saint against procrastination and for expeditious solutions - a 3rd century Armenian martyr who is reported to have been thinking of converting to Christianity when the devil appeared to him in the form of a crow, telling him that he could always wait until tomorrow to convert. Expeditus stamped the crow under his feet, and insisted that he would act that very day rather than wait.
  • Saint Fiacre, patron saint of sufferers from venereal and other sexually-transmitted diseases (as well as gardeners and cab-drivers!) - Fiacre established a hospice deep in the woods of France in the 7th century, where he is said to have miraculously healed blindness, leprosy, tumours and STDs, although he steadfastly refused to treat any women or girls.
  • Saint Friard, patron saint of those who fear wasps - when Friard was being tormented for his faith, a swarm of wasps appeared to sting his tormentors.
  • Saint Genesius of Rome, patron saint of actors and comedians - after converting to Christianity while on stage acting in a play, Genesius was tortured and beheaded by the notably anti-Christian Emperor Diocletian.
  • Saint George, patron saint of agricultural workers, archers, armourers, boy scouts, butchers, cavalry, Crusaders, equestrians, farmhands, farmers, field workers, Freemasonry, horsemen, husbandry, knights, riders, Rover Scouts, saddle-makers, scouts, shepherds, soldiers, Teutonic Knights, Canada, England, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Lithuania, Malta, Moldova, Portugal, Russia, Serbia, Montenegro, Ethiopia, Aragon, Catalonia and Moscow - enough said!
  • Saint Germaine Cousin, patron saint of girls from rural areas and abandoned people - a poor 16th century French woman, Germaine is credited with many miracles and famed for her extreme austerity.
  • Saint Gertrude of Nivelles, patron saint of cats, suriphobes (the fear of mice and rats) and the recently dead - Gertrude died young after a life of extreme abstinence, fasting and prayer.
  • Saint Giles, (male) patron saint of breast-feeding, breast cancer, cripples and beggars - after giving all his money to the poor, the once-wealthy Giles lived a hermit's life in a cave in southern France, where he miraculously cured many illnesses. He was killed by the king on a hunting trip, by an arrow intended for the deer which was Giles' constant companion (and which sustained Giles for years by allowing him to suckle its milk).
  • Saint Hubert of Liège, patron saint of rabid dogs, hunting dogs, furriers, trappers and those who fear werewolves - once a passionate hunter, Hubert renounced all his worldly positions and wealth after his wife died following a stag hunt in which he received a vision.
  • Saint Isidore of Seville, patron saint of students, schoolchildren, computer users and the Internet - once an underachieving student, Isidore became a renowned 6th century scholar after turning to God. The patronage of computers and the Internet are, obviously, more recent designations.
  • Saint Jane Frances de Chantal, patron saint of in-law problems, orphans and forgotten people - Jane was raised by a single father after her mother died early in her life, and she was widowed at the age of 28 and forced to live with her unbearable father-in-law.
  • Saint Joseph of Arimathea, patron saint of undertakers, morticians and pall-bearers - a secret disciple of Jesus, it was Joseph that got permission to take down and bury the body of the crucified Jesus.
  • Saint Joseph of Cupertino, patron saint of air travellers, pilots, astronauts and the mentally handicapped - Joseph was a 17th century Italian friar with a learning disability, who was prone to ecstatic visions during which he would apparently miraculously levitate (hence the connection with pilots, etc).
  • Saint Jude the Apostle (Judas Thaddeus), patron saint of lost and forgotten causes and desperate situations - Jude may or may not have been Jesus' brother, and he may or may not have acquired the patronage of lost causes because few people wanted to pray to him for fear of accidentally praying to Judas Iscariot, Christ's betrayer, so he became eager to take on even the most undesirable of causes.
  • Saint Julian the Hospitaller, patron saint of wandering musicians, clowns, carnival workers and murderers - while his parents were visiting him and staying in his own room, Julian "accidentally" killed them, thinking he had caught his own wife being unfaithful to him.
  • Saint Lidwina, patron saint of ice-skaters - Lidwina fell and broke a rib while ice skating the age of 15, and as a result remained disabled for the rest of her life (she may have suffered from multiple sclerosis).
  • Saint Lucy, patron saint of blindness and eye problems - when Lucy rejected a suitor in order to follow Christ, the jilted suitor reported her to the pagan authorities, who saw fit to torture her, including gouging out her eyes, before killing her.
  • Saint Magnus of Füssen, patron saint of caterpillars and crop protection - a little-known German saint from the 7th or 8th century, Magnus apparently spent much of his time trying to protect crops from destruction by caterpillars. He also is supposed to have a dispatched several dragons, and even kept one as a pet.
  • Saint Margaret of Antioch, patron saint of childbirth - jailed for her beliefs, she is said to have been swallowed by the Devil in the form of a dragon. After she clawed her way out of its belly (although only to be later beheaded), she became associated with childbirth.
  • Saint Monica, patron saint of alcoholics, difficult marriages and disappointing children - a reformed alcoholic herself, Monica (mother of the famous Saint Augustine of Hippo, who was a wayward son until his conversion to Christianity later in life) was given in marriage to a bad-tempered pagan called Patricius.
  • Saint Patrick, patron saint of ophidiophobes (those who fear snakes) - Patrick was a 5th century Irish missionary who supposedly banished all snakes from Ireland (in fact, Ireland has never had any snakes).
  • Saint Polycarp of Smyrna, patron saint of dysentery and earache sufferers - in the 2nd century, Polycarp was sentenced to be burned alive for his Christian beliefs, but when the fire did not seem to touch him, he had to be first stabbed to death and then burned. Dysentery was apparently a common complaint in the region where he was wont to preach.
  • Saint René Goupil, patron saint of anesthesiologists - a 17th century Jesuit missionary in the Americas, René was captured and tortured by the Iroquois for making the sign of the cross over a child’s head. He became the first North American martyr when he died of a tomahawk wound in the head, which somehow led to his patronage of people who work with or receive anesthesia.
  • Saint Roch, patron saint of dogs, epidemics and surgeons - Roch was a wealthy noble who gave up his position to work with and heal plague victims. When he himself contracted the plague he was befriended by a dog who licked his wounds and miraculously healed him. Once again, it was the man, not the dog, who was canonized as a saint.
  • Saint Scholastica, patron saint of convulsive children, storms and nuns - Scholastica was the twin sister of Saint Benedict and founded the women's branch of Benedictine monasticism. She once called up a rainstorm to prevent her brother from leaving for home, so that they could finish their conversation.
  • Saint Simeon Stylites, patron saint of shepherds - Simeon was a 5th century Syrian ascetic who supposedly lived for 47 years at the top of a tall pillar, from where he preached and performed miracles.
  • Saint Theodore of Sykeon, patron saint both for and against rain - Theodore lived in Galatia (modern-day Turkey) in the 7th century, and was the son of parents who performed acrobatic feats on camels. He was known as a miracle worker and once warded off a plague of insects by prayer.
  • Saint Vitus, patron saint of oversleeping, dancing and entertaining - Vitus was supposed to have been thrown (along with a rooster) into a cauldron of boiling tar, but miraculously escaped unscathed. The neurological disorder Sydenham's chorea is known as St. Vitus Dance after the dancing celebrations of the saint performed in medieval Germany and Latvia.
And, finally, an honorable mention goes to:
  • Saint Guinefort, a 13th century French dog who once saved his master's baby (although he was mistakenly killed for his pains), and who has supposedly been responsible for several miracles after his death. As a dog, though, he is not officially recognized by the Catholic Church.

Canadians love their immigrants

In a world that sometimes seems to be lurching inexorably towards anti-immigrant sentiments and attitudes, Canada stands as a beacon of hope.
Last year to July, Canada accepted over 320,000 (about 1% of its total population) new immigrants, it highest ever annual immigration figure, including over 32,000 Syrian refugees. And yet a recent Environics Institute survey suggests that public opinion on immigration and citizenship in Canada has remained stable or even improved over the last year or so.
Around 80% of Canadians across all demographic groups believe that immigration is good for the country's economy, with multi-cultural Toronto and those with a university degree holding this belief most strongly.
48% of respondents believe that Canada's refugee levels are about right, with a further 10% saying that the country takes in too few immigrants. 36% say the levels are too high, although most of these are mainly concerned about the country's capacity to support so many refugees, and not expressing discomfort with, or fear of, immigrants.
A graph of those agreeing or disagreeing with the statement "immigration levels are too high" shows a fascinating trend over the last 40 years. From 1977 to about 1996, the percentage of people in agreement with the statement was consistently over 60%. Then, from 1996 to 2002, that percentage fell precipitously to below 40%, where it has remained ever since.
About 90% of respondents in the survey say that someone born elsewhere is just as likely to be a good citizen as someone born here, and the numbers who are worried about immigrants not accepting "Canadian values" is now at its lowest level in over 20 years.
This poll comes as Canadian Immigration Minister John McCallum is due to announce new immigration targets for the coming years. An economics advisory panel to the federal government recently recommended to him an increase in immigration to around 450,000 a year, although it is thought that Mr McCallum believes that to be too sharp an increase.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

How can I influence my province's energy policy?

Well, I hope you're impressed that I bothered to read (most of) Ontario's just-released discussion guide, Planning Ontario's Energy Future.
It's a consultative document, designed to give regular citizens a say in how the province shapes its energy policy for the next few years. It's also 52 pages long (in its PDF form), and reasonably dense with turgid descriptions of Ontario's energy structure and statistics, so I really can't see many "regular citizens" bothering with it.
My overall impression is of a rather self-congratulatory back-slapping exercise. On greenhouse gases in particular, the closing of Ontario's coal-fired power stations over the decade receives much self-adulation (as perhaps it should): "Closing three of the province's-fired generating plants and converting the remaining two plants to biomass facilities was the continent’s largest single reduction effort, and reduced emissions from the electricity sector by 80%."
The guide also outlines some other recent sensible decisions, from the recent announcement about sharing Quebec's relatively environmentally-friendly electricity supply to smart meters, microgrids, etc. And, yes, the share of renewable energy has increased dramatically in the last decade or so. Fair enough, but this is no time for resting on laurels, and there ia no mention of Ontario's recent bewildering decision to cancel new renewables contracts or the equally poor decision to subsidize electricity prices.
Neither am I all-in with the implicit assumption in the document that nuclear power is an unalloyed good. It boasts that nuclear power now provides 58% of our electricity, and that this is a good thing, mainly because it helps with our greenhouse gas commitments. But that is not the only issue at play here. It also tells us that nuclear is cost-effective - which is far from the simple truth - and takes it as read that refurbishing the Bruce and Darlington plants and extending the life of the Pickering plant are sensible things to do (not so neither, either from a cost or an environmental perspective).
The other glaring mistake that I can see is the level of satisfaction with the share of natural gas as a heating fuel. Gas now supplies 36% of our overall fuels demand, up from 33% in 2005. The document does admit that there has been a lot of attention paid to electricity generation at the expense of other energy use, and even mentions that it would be better to switch more space heating requirements from natural gas to our relatively clean electricity. But it then goes on to extoll gas as the way of the future, especially for some of the more remote aboriginal communities, and even discusses an expansion of our natural gas capacity. Surely, this is not the way we should be going, and seems inconsistent with some of the guide's other conclusions and assumptions.
So, I have read the document, and decided that it is wanting, in my opinion. But I still can't see me making any kind of submission to the consultation process. For one thing, I don't feel myself qualified to do so, and don't have the arguments and the statistics at my fingertips. There seems little point in writing in with a vague "oh, I'm not sure I quite agree with all of that". So, I guess I will just have to trust that the various worthy pressure groups that I subscribe to will do this for me.
Although in theory this is an open consultative process, and a good example of grass-roots democracy at work, in practice there is little I can do to influence our future energy policy, even though it is something I feel reasonably strongly about.

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Wonder Woman? Really? What about Nujeen Mustafa?

I don't know that I really need to weigh in on the United Nations' surprise announcement yesterday that the comic-book character Wonder Woman is to be the new UN Honorary Ambassador for the Empowerment of Women and Girls, but it is certainly an interesting choice.
And, of course, a contentious one. Some say: what better choice than a strong, kick-ass heroine, who never backs down and is willing to take on anyone, even Superman himself. Others say: how could they think of selecting a fictional, overtly-sexualized figure like Wonder Woman when there are many other real-life role models available? The announcement even elicited a silent protest from some UN staffers.
Now, I haven't actually read a Wonder Woman comic since the early 1970s, but my memory is not really of some feminist icon, just a vaguely hot dame in a skimpy outfit, with rather lame powers and a poor and way-too-earnest line in fight patter. But then I was a 13 year old boy in an unstylish backwater of northern England.
I suppose my reaction to the UN's choice falls on the side of "could have done better", and preferably with a real, live person.
Soon after I heard the Wonder Woman news yesterday, I also happened to listen to an interview on BC Radio with a wonderful young Syrian refugee now living in Cologne, Germany. 14-year old Nujeen Mustafa fled war-torn Aleppo, Syria, with her sister and undertook the perilous 16-month trek through Turkey, Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary, and finally to safety in Germany, where she now attends (and excels in) school and leads a reasonably normal life. Oh, and did I mention that she has cerebral palsy and is confined to a wheelchair?
Speaking almost perfect idiomatic English that she taught herself from television programs as a child, Nujeen relates her woeful tale with an amazing brightness and positivity. It is well worth your while listening to this terrific young woman - she also has a new book out, Nujeen: One Girl's Incredible Journey from War-Torn Syria in a Wheelchair - and I thought at the time what a great ambassador she makes for refugees and girls in general.
Nujeen gets my vote.