29 April, 2009

I wonder if the folks at one national paper are gloating about the imminent collapse of the other one.
I would be, were I them. The National Post doesn't deserve to live. It's lost money ever since it appeared on the scene, and why? Because it alienates most Canadians. It leans unrelentingly right, without the saving grace of Sun Media's inclusiveness. And it's undoubtedly aimed squarely at those few folks in this country whose biggest daily decision is which car they'll be chauffered to work in.
Still, cancelling Monday editions?
I guess it's my head that's on backwards, but...the Post, like most papers, doesn't publish Sundays. So what they're proposing is a Tuesday "news"paper with "news" in it from Saturday night. Any older and you'd call that an "archive". 
Hey, it probably comes from the same marketing guru that told the Toronto SUN they'd increase their paid readership by doubling the price of their paper, removing most of the interesting content, and putting the rest online for free.
Meanwhile, long live the Globe and Mail. I just started a subscription last month, and I'm kicking myself I didn't do so years ago. Even the weekday papers are chock-full of stuff worth reading.
 Even the Monday editions.

27 April, 2009

WHO says FLU

My dad's got a cold. In fine Ken Breadner Sr. form, he's telling everyone he just got back from Mexico.
He didn't, of course. But we're about to be swine flu'd right out the wazoo.

You have to snicker at the two-faced media coverage. "NOTHING TO PANIC ABOUT...YET" said one headline this morning; immediately beneath that, "Swine flu pandemic could potentially kill thousands in Ontario". Nope, nothing to see here, move along, move along...

(To be fair, they're a wee bit touchy in Toronto. The SARS epidemic was only six years ago.)

The World Health Organization just raised its pandemic-o-meter to a Level 4, which sounds ominous until you look it up.
Level 4, according to the World Health Organization, means "human-to-human transmission...able to sustain community-level outbreaks". So this is of some concern if there's a case in your community, but it's by no means time to run for the hills. Especially since the strains circulating outside Mexico are comparatively mild. 

That one in Mexico's a little uglier, mind you. This morning, the death toll was 40; last I heard it was 149 with thousands ill. Still, you need to remember Mexico City's population is well over twenty million. The mortality rate of this manbirdpig flu is minuscule.

So keep an eye out, but don't succumb to the hysteria that's already sweeping the media. 




26 April, 2009

Funny how books just show up

I'm currently experiencing a mild change of brain.

Went to the library yesterday. Couldn't find much worth taking out. I wanted Breaking Lorca by Giles Blunt: the computers said it was "being shelved", the librarian said it had been shelved, and if so it wasn't shelved where it was supposed to be. Eva picked up her customary eleventy-dozen novels, leaving entire sections of shelving experiencing a breeze they hadn't felt in years. One last gambol through the New Fiction rack yielded Infected, by Scott Sigler, which is supposed to be terrifying. The very last book I laid eyes on (and it looked funny, with a pair of eyes laying on it) was Little Brother, by Cory Doctorow. I seemed to recall hearing this was one of those "Ought To Read" books for people like me who like sf, and so I crammed it into the bag.

Boy, am I glad I did.

Little Brother is a Young Adult novel, but don't let that put you off...in fact, the "young adult" characters in this book are a good argument for older adults to read it: you'll remember what it is to be young again, misunderstood, distrusting authority. And Doctorow's message is subversive enough that this novel will probably end up banned in some places. Put simply, authority can't always be trusted, because sometimes...maybe most of the time...it doesn't have your best interests in mind.
The book is full of Crichtonesque infodumps that somehow don't slow down the plot overmuch. Perhaps that's because they're so fascinating, and relevant. There are tips in here on how to defeat many so-called "security" systems (so-called because most of them don't do much for security); the novel has a decidedly anarchist bent to it that will piss off conservatives to no end. And  boy, is it ever timely, as Obama's debating whether or not to try members of the last administration for crimes similar to those depicted in this book.

I've always been a staunch believer in "if you've got nothing to hide, you've got nothing to worry about". Doctorow turns my thinking on its ear, making me realize how naively Canadian it is. Most of us up here in Canuckistan have a decidedly different view of government than most Americans. Our parties, in Peter C. Newman's words, aren't much different:

 Studying the trio's campaign platforms, I concocted a simplistic formula to define their degree of separation: The Tories promised they would do everything for everybody from birth to death; the Liberals, from womb to tomb; and the ever-generous socialists, from erection to resurrection.

And all but the most conservative of us, in our turn, look upon our government as a sort of parental figure. We trust them.

Little Brother is a case study of what happens when they don't trust us...when "freedom to" is sacrificed, supposedly in favour of "freedom from". In the past, I've said I'd gladly take "freedom from" if given the option. The trouble is that we can easily sacrifice freedom to until we have none, and still have no freedom from. 

It's a rip-roaring read. You'll follow the adventures of Marcus Yallow, aka W1n5ton, as he deals with the frighteningly realistic aftermath of a terrorist attack on San Francisco. Suffice it to say the Department of Homeland Security cracks down hard on SF, touching off a war between the security forces of authority and a group of young freedom fighters. Doctorow's politics are very much on display--he tries his best to give the authority figures a fair hearing, but his disdain for their reasoning shines through in every word. Still, you'll find yourself thinking about this book long after you close it. And that's all you can ask from good sf.




25 April, 2009

Summer today

Remember spring?
If you're a teenager, a spring is the place you get all your water from (well, you get all your water from a bottle, but the bottled water probably comes from a spring.) A spring is also an old-school toy called a Slinky. Paired with "roll", it's an Asian appetizer. Or if you say "hand" first, it's a gymnastics move I couldn't perform without hurting myself.
What it isn't, at least anymore, is a season.  We go from snow one weekend to blistering heat the next.
Things used to be more gradual, at least insofar as temperature was concerned. Time was the high temperature in mid to late April would be in the low to mid teens Centigrade, the night time low the standard half of the daytime high, and all was right with the world. There would be a good solid month between the time you could dare to put your winter coat away and the day when total nudity wouldn't suffice to keep you cool. Perhaps as long as six weeks. 
I'd like my childhood springs back. Even then, my vernal verve was tempered by the knowledge that summer's sizzle awaited--it's been a good twenty years since I first observed that people who claim to enjoy summer almost invariably live in air-conditioned houses--but at least back then, I could count on a slow build. Like a frog in a pot, I wouldn't realize I was broiling alive until it was well and truly hot
Today felt as if somebody had lit a flamethrower under my ass. The humidex was a totally un-April-like 31 (88F). Just three days ago, the high was 6 (42F), the low 1 (34F)...and I slept like a little baby. Last night, despite four bedroom fans going full bore and exhaustion borne of riding my bike to work for only the second time this year (too cold until now!)...I slept like crap.

And to cap it all off, to really convince me stinky sweaty summer's arrived, we had a sudden torrential thunderstorm. The first blast of 2009 was rather memorable 'round these parts.
No tornado, thank Fujita. I've seen enough of those to last me a lifetime. No fewer than six twisters have passed within cowshot of my house, and I've never even lived in a trailer park, hyuck, hyuck. One of 'em barrelled down the other side of my street while my six-year-old self stood transfixed in front of a huge window (until Mommy grabbed me and hauled me away)...no damage to our side of the street, but t'other was a shambles. 

No tornado today...but for a minute I thought one was forming right outside my house.
I'd noted the forecast this morning, keying in on (a) that ungodly humidex reading and (b) the word unsettled. The area around the Great Lakes is one of the most difficult to forecast on the planet. Words like unsettled show up in the forecast to let you know, in the words of Russell Peters, somebody's gonna get-a hurt real bad.

Somebody. Probably not us: it's a big area, and K-W's in something of a metereological dead zone...storms routinely rage and bellow just to our north and west, some of them real nasty buggers, but we're very rarely hit with anything more than a few good stomps of thunder and some 400-thread-count sheets of rain. While it's an urban (ha-ha) myth that tornadoes don't like cities, they aren't the sort of things you expect, even on the edge of one of Canada's Tornado Alleys as we are.

I was sitting at the computer when the WeatherEye at the bottom of my screen changed from a black-on-yellow 27 to a white lightning bolt tinged with red. I clicked on to the Weather Network's site to discover a severe thunderstorm watch had been issued.
I got ready to explain to Eva, again, the difference between a watch and a warning, because she always gets them reversed. To her, a watch is worse than a warning. WARNING: severe thunderstorms may occur. Versus hey, honey, there's a severe thunderstorm watch out. WATCH OUT? WATCH OUT!!!
But Eva was buried in her own computer screen, and I decided not to bother her with the weather news until there was some real weather news to report.
Soon after, she went off to read in bed and I got offline to enjoy my Saturday read-through of the Globe and Mail. I got maybe three sections in (with a meaty paper like that, I'm guessing maybe twenty minutes) before I noticed it was suddenly almost too dark to read.

I stood up from my chair and in mid-stretch the squall line hit. The wind went from breezy to strong gale in an eyeblink. No rain as yet, but it couldn't be far off: the thunder was heralding its imminent arrival and demanding we all bow down. My dogs were anxious to comply. 
You're not supposed to comfort dogs in thunderstorms, or at least that's what I've read. Supposedly all they take from your soft, calming words is that there is indeed something to be afraid of. It's a hard thing to keep in mind when Peach wants to burrow herself right through me. 
It occurred to me our recycling bins could be halfway to Montreal by now. I went to the side door and peered out.
The first spatters of rain were just starting, nothing remarkable in that, but the wind...! I'm guessing a sustained 80 km/hr, possibly a gust or two nudging 100. If I hadn't got out of work early today, I thought, I'd be riding home in this. 
I prepared to bolt out and grab the recycling bins--
--where are they???--THERE--
and was vouchsafed a vision.

We keep our blue bins stacked one inside the other. The bottom one holds newspapers, and weights the top one, full of cans and bottles; that top one keeps the newspapers reasonably dry. That's if the wind is normal and the shower setting isn't on jet. The little stack of recycling was skitting across my driveway and on to the neighbour's even as I watched. And rising. By the time the bins hit the house next door, they were at eye level. 

The should-have-been-a-weatherman in the back of my head was reciting updraft, possible vortex, updraft, possible vortex, updraft, possible dead man WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING as I opened the door and damn near got blown off my feet. The blue boxes had both flipped over so they hit the house top-on, and then ever so slowly, or so it seemed, slid down the bricks and came to rest on the ground. By the time the wind blew me next door, most of the cans and bottles were down the street, or in Oz. The newspapers had barely fluttered. I stole a glance straight up.
No vortex, just very fast-scudding clouds. Lightning seared my eyes and a colossal whack of thunder followed. The idea of lots of brick around me suddenly seemed very sensible, very sane. I hauled the blue boxes back to our little shed and high-tailed it back inside.

Eva was watching the storm from the bedroom window. The TV was out--no great shock there, it's the only thing I hate about Bell satellite as compared to Rogers digital cable.  We listened to the wind walk and talk outside and cuddled together on the bed, Tux and Peach on one side of Mommy, me on the other making sure the lightning wouldn't go up her bum.
After a few minutes, the satellite popped back on and we quickly flipped to 505, the Weather Network. Severe thunderstorm warning, I saw. You think? "Issued at 4:08 p.m." I looked at the clock: 4:27. Best guess, we'd had maybe ten minutes warning. A talking head appeared and mentioned with storms such as these there's the possibility of tornadic activity. Some of the markers--
--like updrafts, I thought--
are there.

The all-clear has sounded and the temperature's down 10 degrees. Maybe, just maybe I can sleep tonight.  Until the next storm comes through, I bid you happy summer.

Bah humbug.


23 April, 2009

Following up...

Perhaps...just perhaps...Coren has a point.

I've been debating his column on an online forum, and received this, from an enlisted man:

As it happens, last night was the annual ruckmarch, in full battle order (70+ pounds of kit, including a rucksack with full kit, tac vest, rifle, and full ammo load (blanks)) of 13 kilometers. 53 men started out, and 4 dropped out due to routine injuries. 11 women started out, and one finished. Now granted, the requirements we have are a little higher than standard (50 pounds), but not by all that much. That's an anecdote, to be sure, but you can consider it first-hand, and you can check it by emailing any CF recruiter. Dan is absolutely correct about the physical toll, and there is considerably more weight involved now than before, what with Gawd-awful body armour and the wireframe rucksack from hell. I can hardly move today.

In Afghanistan, the load is about the same (unless you're a section machine gunner, who are all built like Arny), but the march much longer and usually much hotter. The chances of you having to wrestle Taliban or partake in a bayonet charge are slight, to be sure, but that's not the point, is it? People have to show up for the battle in order to win, and if members of the section are spread out behind like dropouts on the Bataan death march, the fighting ability of the section isn't quite up to snuff.

The modern battlefield is considerably more labour intensive than the 18th century battlefield and much closer to the 14th century battlefield in terms of exertion. The physical demands on a modern soldier are about the same as those on a mounted knight, with roughly the same amount of weight involved. The videos you find on YouTube show only static warfare - of necessity - and not section attacks where heavily laden infantry are rushing across open ground in 2 meter dashes every 10 seconds in flying leaps for 100s of meters. 

The kinds of misperception afoot in civilian society are probably the prime reason civilians ought not make military policy. "Stats" tell you very little - and especially when you're looking at stats of irrelevant things.


Fair enough. I'd still like to note one women DID finish that ruck march. And I'd suggest there should be a single standard for all genders, all ages, instead of the four standards that currently exist.

(I still think Coren's article was mean and disrespectful.)

21 April, 2009

It's already been said better...

...here...and here...and here...and doubtless in a lot of other places. But I'll say it anyway. I'll add my voice to the din.

Michael Coren is an idiot.

I've long believed this: held it as an article of faith, you might say. But the depths of his idiocy keep shocking me, nevertheless. Just when I think he can't possibly rise any higher on the idiotometer, he goes redline.

I'd like to suggest that for once I'm not on Coren's case on account of his rigid Catholicism. After all, it's possible to be a blathering sexist ass and not be Catholic. But I just can't help holding his faith responsible for his antediluvian attitude on women, namely, that women can't possibly be front-line combat soldiers. Hey, if they're off fighting wars it means they aren't producing Catholic babies. 
And so Coren dismisses the sacrifice of Karine Blais, the latest Canadian casualty in Afghanistan, calling her a "young girl dressed as a soldier."

Name, rank and serial number, Coren. Oh, wait, you haven't served, have you? No, you haven't. How dare you defame a Canadian soldier, sir? On what grounds? You claim it's not sexism, then go on to spout sexist platitude after sexist platitude until you're soaking in it. 

I know more than one woman who could kick Coren's ass (and mine, for that matter) with both eyes tied behind her back, with or without weapons. One presumes Karine Blais passed basic training--something I'd wager Coren couldn't have done at any age. Karine willingly signed on knowing precisely what could happen, and she gave her life as a soldier. For you, Coren, to mock that is nothing short of despicable.

17 April, 2009

Go. Read. Absorb. Live.

This is one of the better essays I've run across in recent years:

Escape From The Zombie Food Court


From one pirate to another

So Pirate Bay was found guilty.

I just don't know what to think about this whole issue. I recognize how utterly behind the times I am...I still watch my movies on a television, for instance, and despite what purports to be a high-speed connection, I can't even imagine how long it would take to download one. Music--I used to LimeWire some tracks, but I never plan to use that piece of software again, and wish I knew some way to eradicate it: there's entirely too much free stuff that comes liming down the wire with your free stuff. (Google "remove Limewire" and despair: it's by no means an easy process, and it looks to take about an afternoon to complete. Any software that can't be easily and quickly removed shouldn't be installed in the first place...Ken's Computer Rule #3. Ken wishes he'd derived this rule two years sooner.)

And as for torrents--I have a friend who has shown me three times how they work...how you can get virtually any album ever recorded, totally free of charge. I have to admit I didn't pay much attention. Because, well...

You have to understand what kind of person is writing this blog. I have an unconscious voice that never, ever shuts up, and what it mostly says from dawn to dusk every single day is three whole words, over and over: respect the rules. My parents would doubtless like to take credit for this voice, but I don't think they can. I've had a deep and abiding love of order and stability since the wombquake at the three month mark. If you get enough people breaking the rules, that's anarchy, and the mere thought of anarchy terrifies me. Respect The Rules. I'd crochet a damn sampler, if I knew how.

So my first impulse is to come down hard on the thieves freedom fighters downloading movies and songs to their heart's content. I have a particular disdain for their most-cited rationale, which is hey, 99% of music/movies/whatever I just downloaded is crap. Who wants to pay for crap? I don't.
Neither do I, buddy. But here's the difference between me and you: I won't accept crap even if it's free. Why would I? It's crap.
The one percent, though...the good stuff...well, sure, I'll pay for it. It's that damned empathy at work again, that weird and silly sense I have that says but if I was the author/composer/craftsman, I'd kind of like to, I dunno, eat. So that I could, like, you know, continue to write/compose/craft? All these millions of people out there, assigning my life's work a value of precisely zero. Fuck 'em.
So then we get into the argument, also beloved by the thieves downloaders, that the record labels/studios/publishers make too much money from the legitimate sale of creative goods. Which may or may not be true. Probably is, in fact. However, pirating said creative goods in an effort to deprive the middleman of money will also impoverish the creator--who signed a contract, presumably without a gun to her head. 
Some artists have cut out the middlemen themselves, with varying levels of success. That's their choice, to do so or not, and it should be respected, says I. Respect The Rules.

But.

The pirates have two things going for them. One is that for every site that gets shut down, at least one springs to take its place. That's because, two, my attitude is that of an old fuddy-duddy, and it's increasingly rare. The overwhelmingly prevalent Internet attitude is summed up thusly: give me my information, give it to me now, and give it to me free. 

That attitude isn't going anywhere soon, and it sure can't be litigated out of existence. Meaning that, as with newspapers, the Big Three automakers, and seemingly just about everything else these days, we're going to have to make a new model. I just don't understand how this model can possibly work. It has to compensate artists for their work, while simultaneously making that work free for everyone. 

Anybody got any ideas? I'm plumb out.

15 April, 2009

Somali Pirates

Piracy is wrong.
Let's start with that assumption, and let's cast it in stone, because every time I tackle issues like this people start bleating that I'm defending the indefensible. So:
Piracy is wrong.
There are a lot of things that are just plain flat-out wrong. Picking a few entirely at random:
Hijacking airliners and flying them into buildings--wrong.
Occupying a country, bulldozing houses, killing innocents--wrong.
Genocide, whether a "little" one like Serbia or the Big One that spread across Europe in the forties...wrong, wrong, wrong.

What do all these things have in common, besides the fact that they happen? Or to put it another way, if they're so wrong, why do they still happen?

Religious people answer such imponderables with phrases that sound suitably impressive..."it's a mystery", or "God works in mysterious ways His wonders to perform"...each one saying I dunno...

This "problem of evil" that has puzzled humanity for millennia has a simple answer, actually. Really simple. Why do wrong things happen? Because somebody somewhere thinks they're right. Oh, and the people who think otherwise aren't around to put a stop to them, of course.

You can run down the catalogue of evil, from little to huge, and see this is true for yourself. Hitler thought he was doing a good thing, a noble thing, and he managed to get the vast majority of twelve million Germans to agree with him. The nineteen 9/11 plotters had sound (to them) political and religious reasons for what they did. Likewise these Somali pirates think piracy is the Right Thing To Do.

They have different reasons for thinking so. Most of them, I suspect, think piracy is the "right" thing to do because it happens to work, i.e., make them rich and famous within their circles. 
Some of them lay a veneer of social responsibility on their self-centeredness: they think piracy is justifiable on the grounds of redress for past and ongoing atrocities perpetrated upon the coast of Somalia...the dumping of waste, including nuclear waste, and rampant overfishing that has depleted once vast fish stocks nearly to extinction. To me, at least, this complicates matters somewhat. No, it does not make the seizure of ships in any way right, but it does make it in many ways more understandable. 

I'm reading A Man In Full, by Tom Wolfe, this month. (Great read, by the way.) There's a chapter wherein our hero (as opposed to the man who thinks he's a  hero) has, quite literally, a day from hell. He starts the day down but not out, bloodied by prior misfortune but unbowed. And absolutely everything that can go wrong--even some things you'd think couldn't--does. He fails what should have been a simple employment test. His car is towed, through no fault of his own. In trying to track the car down and retrieve it, he must make a humiliating phone call, requesting money...which he then loses, again through no fault of his own. At the end of the day, he's penniless, stranded in a really bad area, and still without his car. And then he sees his vehicle on a forklift, and it's being casually damaged, and he...just...snaps. He doesn't really throw a punch: he's mostly trying to defend himself, but he suddenly finds himself clutching a billy club, appearing to brandish it, over the body of his assailant, who looks from our hero's perspective like he's having a heart attack. You probably don't need me or Tom Wolfe to tell you what it looks like to the cop who shows up to haul our hero off to jail.

That set-piece really got me to thinking about my breaking point. I've had some pretty shitty days in my life, and I've even snapped a time or two, but I've never done anything to land my ass in jail. Maybe I'm just lucky...because reading that scene, I was entirely sympathetic to the little guy, shit upon at every turn. That could be me, I thought. He's not right, exactly (hell, that's his refrain through the whole chapter, 'this is--NOT RIGHT!')--but he's sure understandable.

Suppose I'm a Somali fisherman. I've lost my mother, father, and two brothers to radiation sickness they contracted in the wake of the 2004 tsunami, when radioactive waste washed ashore. Foreign vessels are forever threatening my livelihood, and most of my town is starving or close to it.  Am I going to continue to lead this life, or am I going to do something about it?

And let's say I decide to do something about it. I join a group of pirates and we successfully seize a ship. We have plans to hold the captain for ransom but American sharpshooters come and kill me and three of my mates. 

Now, what does my one surviving brother do? Does he move to America and become prosperous? If he does, I'll haunt that sonovabitch.

It raises some difficult moral questions. I don't believe in negotiating with terrorists...but how many terrorists consider themselves terrorists? And trying to sort out who's just acting out of his own poisonous self-interest from who's got a Cause, and then weighing the relative merits of that Cause...no wonder so many people opt to just bomb the shit out of 'em. Bombing's easy. Thinking's harder.

So now (great heroics here) the captain of the Maersk Alabama is back home. But piracy continues undaunted; indeed, this morning I heard that pirates had captured two freighters and two fishing boats for their fleet; they had also attempted to capture a U.S. cargo ship. 

I can't help but think that the American response, as natural as it was, fell short. Or perhaps the American motivation fell short. They basically exerted only enough force to get their captain back. If you're a pirate, what does that tell you? It might make me rethink attacking another American target, but hey...there are many ships in the sea. Piracy against Americans: wrong. Piracy against other nations...?

What's needed, if we truly  believe these pirates to be terrorists--and doesn't what they do fit the dictionary definition?--is a concerted international effort that'll convince them they're in the wrong no matter what vessel they attack. And then, in recognition that some of them have a Cause that's at least halfway legitimate, we could patrol their waters against the fishing trawlers and the dumpers.

We won't do this, of course. Too expensive, for one thing. For another, it requires an almost alien mindset that fails to differentiate between the First World and the Third. We won't be seeing that mindset take root on this planet for a few hundred years yet. Unless it does. It could well get to the point where we have to start thinking as if were were one species if we want to survive the next few hundred years. Imagine that.

11 April, 2009

Toronto Maple Leafs Report Card 2008-2009

Overall grade: B

Given that the Leafs have failed to make the playoffs for a franchise-record fourth year running, the B is emphatically of the "B for effort" sort. In some respects, Toronto vastly exceeded expectations this season: many pre-season publications predicted a last place finish, or close to it. Instead they managed to play almost .500 hockey, nearly duplicating the record of last year's squad--which, on paper at least, was considerably more talented than this rag-tag collection of rookies, castoffs, and spare parts.

Coach Ron Wilson: A+

Don Cherry hates him, but I think he's the best Leafs coach since Pat Burns. A few more points would have secured a playoff berth and garnered Wilson serious consideration for the Jack Adams.
Wilson is a man of strong opinions and he's not in the least afraid to air any of them. If you're not doing your job, you're going to hear about it. If you still won't listen, you'll ride the pine. But he'll reward a fine effort with plenty of ice time, the currency of choice for hockey players everywhere. And he and his staff are very good at developing rookies. They've had to be, this year, because Toronto has led the league by a wide margin in rookie man-games played.
Kudos go to Wilson also for the never-say-die attitude his team has shown this year. 

FORWARDS

Jason Blake 25-38-63 B+

MUCH better. This is the Jason Blake the Leafs were looking for when they signed him last year. Of course, last year he was diagnosed with cancer...between the diagnosis and side effects from the medication he took, he admitted he didn't feel much like playing hockey. That cut zero ice with many Leaf fans, but he's redeemed himself this year. I no longer think he's overpaid, but the length of his contract all but guarantees he can't be traded. That may not be such a bad thing.

Alexei Ponikarovsky 23-38-61 B

Another forward who has improved, especially in the absence of his friend and long-time linemate Nik Antropov, who was  traded at the deadline. Alexei has by all accounts become a leader in the room, and he closed out the season red-hot on the ice. But...believe it or not, he could have been a point-a-gamer this year, if only his hands didn't desert him at crucial moments. He's missed about ten yawning cages. I'm fairly sure Burke will move Poni while his stock is high. He'd be a decent second-liner for any team.

Matt Stajan 15-40-55 B-

Started off the season at a great clip, then faded. Still, a career year offensively. Lunchbox guy who has the heart but lacks the grit. There was talk of him wearing the C...but he's not a Burke-type player and I think he'll be moved.

Mikhail Grabovski 20-28-48 B+

Could have got an A but for a horrific mid-season slump. Finished fourth among rookies in scoring and, at least at the bookends of the season, impressed the hell out of a lot of people with his puckhandling and his passion. He's a keeper and an ideal second line center.

Lee Stempniak 14-30-44 C-

In the last game of the season--the game I just finished watching--I saw Stempniak buzzing all over the ice, getting two assists and looking dangerous every shift. That's the Stempniak the Leafs traded Colaiacovo and Steen for, but not the Stempniak they got, most nights. Often invisible, he doesn't seem to have a role on this team. Unlikely he'll stick.

Niklas Hagman 22-20-42 (64 GP) B

Prorated over a full season, Hagman produced at nearly the same pace he did last year, a career year. Pretty impressive player, especially at his salary. Lacks a physical side (only 4 PIM!) but distributes the puck very well. Is the only Leaf with a no-trade clause, and says he wants to stay around and guide this team into contention. I think he will.

Nikolai Kulemin 15-16-31 B-

Some serious upside to this kid. It took him a while to find his game; he looked lost at the beginning of the season. But as the campaign went along, we began to see flashes of the linemate Evgeni Malkin called "a real solid NHLer." I think he'll crack 60 points next year, if healthy.

John Mitchell 12-17-29 C+

Burke and Wilson love Mitchell. I think he's another Domenic Moore, making the most of his time on the first and second lines. Good fundamentals--which is probably why the coach and GM love him. But...well, he's neither impressed me nor unimpressed me.

Jamal Mayers 7-9-16 D+

Not at all what I expected out of a guy touted as a gritty team leader. Occasionally fights (losing most of his bouts)...and that's almost the only time you notice him. I've read that he's well-liked in the room...but yeesh. Trade him away already.

Brad May 1-6-7 B

Played his 1000th career game this year and as regards talent he's definitely deep in the twilight of his career. But he's a worker. Every shift he'll do the little things that never show up on the scoresheet but are nevertheless necessary if you want to win hockey games. Moreover, word is he's mentoring the Leafs rookies to play the same way. There's a reason May follows Burke around as if he's on a string. The Leafs picked him up almost for free, and if he wants to stay on, a place should be made for him.

INC: Devereaux, Hollweg, Williams, Hamilton, Hanson, Deveaux, Stapleton, Tlusty, Ondrus

Wow, that's quite the parade. None of these players managed more than 26 games in the NHL this year. Some of them could well make the team next year. Hanson, the big college acquisition, acquitted himself well after his first game. Devereaux came on very strong as the season wound down, even going so far as to score a hat trick in the final game.
Hollweg, though---ugh. Almost made me miss Andy Wozniewski.

DEFENSE

Pavel Kubina 14-26-40 C+

Matched his point total from 2007-2008; also matched his schizoid play. At times he was fantastic, and at other times he stunk. Still has a knack for taking penalties at inopportune times. He's not the defenseman you want back on a two on one...but he's not half bad quarterbacking a power play. 

Tomas Kaberle 4-27-31 (56 GP)  C

In a season marred by two hand injuries, Kaberle's motivation also seemed to suffer. He is still and will likely always be a premier puck-moving defenseman, but his play away from the puck is increasingly questionable and his drive seemed to disappear for long stretches. I strongly suspect he'll be moved--possibly with Ponikarovski--to Tampa Bay on draft day.

Ian White 10-16-26 A

Arguably the Leafs' best all-around defenseman and a cinch for most improved player, White has blossomed under Wilson's tutelage. He was a healthy scratch for the first 11 games and first saw action as a forward. From the midpoint on he was logging 20:00+ a game and playing like he deserved it. I called him redundant last year; the crow's in the oven.

Jeff Finger 6-17-23 C+

Dogged by an over-rich contract he should never have been offered. It's not that Finger's been that bad...on the contrary, he's played quite well and leads the team in blocked shots. But not that well. 

Luke Schenn 2-12-14 A-

"The Human Eraser". "Lockdown". "Cool Hand Luke." This boy makes defense look easy. Five more of him and the Leafs would have allowed fewer goals than anyone else in the league. Bone-crushing hits, an endearing propensity to stick up for his teammates, and an almost endless litany of smart plays, with few mistakes. Believe the hype: he really does have the makings of a Scott Stevens. Not much for offense, but I still think that'll come; it improved just over the course of this season. Possible future captain of the Leafs, if not next year than in 2010-2011.

Anton Stralman 1-12-13 (38 GP) C-

Not quite ready for prime time, Stralman still has the makings to replace Kaberle at some point. A mean streak would certainly help: he's softer than Dove soap.

Jonas Frogren 1-6-7 (41 GP) B-

As hard as Stralman is soft. I like what I saw of Frogren before he went down with a leg injury halfway through the year. Solid, stay-at-home type who always finishes his checks. 

INC: Oreskevic, Sifers, Harrison (all of which were at least halfway decent). I particularly liked  the ten games I saw from Oreskevic. I think Big Phil's got a good shot to make next year's squad.


GOALIES

VESA TOSKALA 22-17-11, 3.26, .891 D

It came out, towards the end of the year, that Toskala'd been playing hurt. Boy, could you tell. He reminded me unpleasantly of Raycroft from 2006-2007 (indeed, his SV% was three ticks worse). It wasn't just that he gave up goals, it was when he gave them up: more often than not, in the first or last minute of periods, or just after the Leafs had scored one themselves. Or he'd let in three goals in three minutes. It got so bad I winced every time the puck was so much as directed towards the net. If I felt like that watching at home, imagine what the players felt like.
Hopefully he'll rebound next year, but he needs someone challenging for his job.

Curtis Joseph 5-9-1, 3.57. .869 D-

As much as it pains me to say it, it's time this old hound was taken out back. I may never forget the goaltending clinic he put on when he was inserted into a tie game against Washington with three minutes left in regulation...he stoned Ovechkin immediately, then erected a wall in overtime, and finished up with three saves in the shootout for the win. Unfortunately, nearly every other game he played, he outsucked Vesa Losskala. Which is quite an achievement. Cujo: thanks for the memories. A goaltending coaching career awaits you.

Martin Gerber 10-14-1 3.03 .902 D+

As a Leaf, he was...okay. He got lucky one night and made 48 saves. I say "lucky" because Gerber lets out rebounds on almost every shot. His puckhandling is poor at best and his attention can wander, leaving him just as prone to weak goals as the rest of the Leaf 'tenders. Unlikely he'll be here next year.

INC, but, if anything, even worse than the other three: Pogge. That Rask for Raycroft trade just keeps looking more and more terrible. If I'm Burke, I give Toskala ten or fifteen games next year to prove he can play...but I have a good backup in place challenging him right out of the gate. That backup is not Gerber, not Joseph, and most assuredly not Pogge.






 








10 April, 2009

The Root of Twitter is Twit, not Tweet

"I therefore believe that the kind of oppression that threatens democratic peoples is unlike any the world has seen before. Our contemporaries will find no image of it in their memories. I search in vain for an expression that exactly reproduces my idea of it and captures it fully. The old words "despotism" and "tyranny" will not do. The thing is new, hence I must try to define it, since I cannot give it a name. 
I am trying to imagine what new features despotism might have in today's world: I see an innumerable host of men, all alike and equal, endlessly hastening after petty and vulgar pleasures with which they fill their souls. Each of them, withdrawn into himself, is virtually a stranger to the fate of all the others. For him, his children and personal friends comprise the entire human race. As for the remainder of his fellow citizens, he lives alongside them but does not see them. He touches them but does not feel them. He exists only in himself and for himself, and if he still has a family, he no longer has a country.
Over these men stands an immense tutelary power, which assumes sole responsibility for securing their pleasure and watching over their fate. It is absolute, meticulous, regular, provident, and mild.
It would resemble paternal authority if only its purpose were the same, namely, to prepare men for manhood. But on the contrary, it seeks only to keep them in childhood irrevocably.
It likes citizens to rejoice, provided they think only of rejoicing. It works willingly for their happiness. It provides for their security, foresees and takes care of their needs, facilitates their pleasures, manages their most important affairs, directs their industry, regulates their successions, and divides their inheritances. Why not relieve them entirely of the trouble of thinking and the difficulty of living? Every day it thus makes man's use of his free will rarer and more futile. It circumscribes the action of the will more narrowly, and little by little robs each citizen of the use of his own faculties."
--de Tocqueville, Democracy in America (written in 1835), p. 818  (h/t "jryan" for discovering this little gem)

Peter says everybody and their dog has written on Twitter lately--which makes it dead and lame, as sure as the SuperPoke followed the status update--I guess I will too. Not that I have anything of substance to add. But of course, that's the point, isn't it?

Ten minutes on any social networking site and it's abundantly clear why such places appeal to teenagers, who claim to be seeking a sense of self but who really  are only seeking the approval of other teens. Twitter is this phenomenon stripped to its essence. Kilroy was here.

de Tocqueville's quote up there is almost eerie. So much of it rings loud and clear in America of 2009. I find myself wondering how much of the Internet taint has tarnished me, as any reasonable person would suggest I spend entirely too much time online, and my disdain for Twitter is only exceeded by my addiction to Facebook...

I hooked this blog to sitemeter some while back. For all my protestations that I write for me and me alone, I guess I'm just as interested in the next schmuck in seeing my words read. Anyway, every now and again I review the data sitemeter has gathered. Occasionally the data startles me.

My most popular post, by several orders of magnitude, is here: "The Internet: Boon or Bane?" Interestingly, nearly every person who accesses this particular entry hails from Asia or the Indian subcontinent. The logic behind this escapes me. 
Anyway, I stand behind everything I wrote there: the Internet is both a boon and a bane to humanity. Like any tool, it's all in how it is used. 
That said, I find it ironic that an invention meant to bring the world together has resulted in the virtual death of interpersonal communication under the guise of constant communication, not to mention total isolation in the guise of total connectivity.  
Twitter is merely the latest incarnation of an egomaniacal impulse that's been with humanity since we lived in caves. Look at me, look what I did. 

Perhaps I'll come to redefine my terms, if "total connectivity" actually does, somedays, result in people truly caring about strangers who live on the other side of the world. But I doubt it. Right now, all I see is "each of them, withdrawn into himself, is virtually a stranger to the fate of all the others."

Commandments (II)

Rocketstar took up my challenge thusly:

1.Question Everything!
2.Treat others as you would like to be treated
3.Do not blindly believe anything you hear or read and half of what you see. 
4.Understand that YOU are the driver of your life, not anybody or any supernatural mystery power.
5.Success will be created by your hard work and perseverance.
6.Respect every living creature.
7.Study, Teach and Trust Science, Reason and Logic in depth for your entire existence.
8.Do not waste your time on this planet because as far as we know, you only get one chance at life.
9.If something appears to be too good to be true, believe that it isn’t true because it most likely is not true.
10.Do not seek happiness from external means as happiness comes from within.

I like 'em.

Here's mine:

Empathize 

This is a one-word Golden Rule that has served me well. 

Question

Like Rocket, this is fundamental to me. Any faith that calls for unquestioned belief isn't worthy of the name, much less any god.

Understand 

This covers a lot of ground, and reinforces the first two. Without empathetic questioning, there can be no understanding, and without understanding, one can not

Accept

whatever comes in life. Do not blame misfortune on others; always seek to find and exploit the opportunity inherent in every circumstance, "good" or "bad".

Love

Again, this builds on the first four: absent any one, love is impossible. It is not necessary that all love be expressed, but it is important to try to love every moment of one's life and every person in it...even those (perhaps especially those) you would hate if permitted. After all, even they have something important to show you.

Imagine

This is one of the qualities that elevates us as a species. Use it. Visualize where you want to be, and odds are pretty good you'll get there. 

Trust

in yourself, because you have your best interests in mind; trust in others because people tend to reflect your level of trust in them right back at you. (Not the only way other people are mirrors, either.)

Inspire

which literally means "breathe upon". There are a great many New Age neologisms that summarize this teaching: be the love you want to see is one of them; you teach what you have to learn is another. The surest way to be inspired is to inspire someone else. 

Evolve

in your knowledge and aspirations, in your inner and outer life. To live is to change; to change is to grow.

Serve

which embodies a host of attitudes such as helpfulness, humility, community and enlightened self-interest. Strive always to serve something greater than yourself. Your family is a good start. Ultimately, you'll serve the world. No...ultimately, you'll serve yourself. 

You'll note the first letter of each of my ten commandments spells out EQUALITIES. That reflects my core belief in equality: that, while each person is of course different, every one of us deserves a fair shake;  that our species is no more important than others which which we share the planet; that this philosophy works for me, but is no more special for so doing. To reiterate another teaching in Conversations with God, "mine is not a better way, mine is only another way."
 

08 April, 2009

"Commandments"

There's nothing much to write about lately. Work has been particularly gruelling of late: Easter week plus a grocery inventory (and whoever it was that thought the former was a good time for the latter ought to be crucified, is my view.) This Easter week has seen one of the most challenging specials we've ever run: Tropicana 2.63L (2.78 quart)  orange juice jugs for $2.97 (regular price: $6.47). By the time I'd left yesterday, we'd sold something like 24 pallets of the stuff. 
But the tortuous shifts are nicely balanced by days off. I've worked an extra day this week for the inventory, so I'll get next Saturday off in lieu. Plus the store's closed Friday for the stat holiday and Sunday for no reason I can understand. 
Anyway, it's Easter week and my mind's turning to matters religious and pseudo-religious. And so, without further ado, a topic I've been considering for some time now: the Ten Commandments.

Two of my favourite books have sections devoted to the Decalogue. In Conversations with God, Book 1, Neale Donald Walsch receives a startling  piece of information from "God": There is no such thing as the Ten Commandments.
 I'm going to quote at length here, because this passage, like so much else in the trilogy, reflects things I deeply believe.

[Before I launch into this, if I may make one suggestion consistent with the received wisdom of the conversation: if the word "God" in this offends you on some level, feel free to substitute from the following list of synonyms as appropriate: Love. Life. The Universe. Freedom. Joy.]

(God) ...I will begin with a statement that will startle you--and perhaps offend the sensitivities of many people. There are no such things as the Ten Commandments.
(Neale) Oh, my God, there aren't?
(God) No, there are not. Who would I command? Myself? And why would such commandments be required? Whatever I want, is. N'est-ce pas? How is it therefore necessary to command anyone?
And, if I did issue commandments, would they not be automatically kept? How could I wish something to be so so badly that I would command it--and then sit by and watch it not be so?
What kind of a king would do that? What kind of a ruler?
And yet I tell you this: I am neither a king nor a ruler. I am simply--and awsomely--the Creator. Yet the Creator does not rule, but merely creates, creates--and keeps on creating.
I have created you--blessed you--in the image and likeness of Me. And I have made certain promises and commitments to you. I have told you, in plain language, how it will be with you when you become as one with Me.
You are, as Moses was, an earnest seeker. Moses too, as you do now, stood before Me, begging for answers. "Oh, God of My Fathers," he called. "God of my God, deign to show me. Give me a sign, that I may tell my people! How can we know that we are chosen?"
And I came to Moses, even as I have come to you now, with a divine covenant--an everlasting promise--a sure and certain commitment. "How can I be sure?" Moses asked plaintively. "Because I have told you so," I said. "You have the Word of God."
And the Word of God was not a commandment, but a covenant. These, then, are the...
TEN COMMITMENTS

You shall know that you have takent the path to God, and you shall know that you have found God, for there will be these signs, these indicators, these changes in you:

1. You shall love God with all your heart, all your mind, all your soul. And there shall be no other God set before Me. No longer will you worship human love, or success, or money, or power, nor any symbol thereof. You will set aside these things as a child sets aside toys. Not because they are unworthy, but because you have outgrown them.

And, you shall know you have taken the path to God because:.

2. You shall not use the name of God in vain. Nor will you call upon Me for frivolous things. You will understand the power of words, and of thoughts, and you would not think of invoking the name of God in an unGodly manner. You shall not use my name in vain because you can not. For My name--the Great "I Am"--is never used in vain (that is, without result), nor can it ever be. And when you have found God, you shall know this.

And, I give you these other signs as well:

3. You shall remember to keep a day for Me, and you shall call it holy. This, so you do not long stay in your illusion, but cause yourself to remember who and what you are. And then shall you soon call every day the Sabbath, and every moment holy.

4. You shall honor your mother and your father--and you will know you are the Son of God when you honor your Father/Mother God in all that you say or do or think. And even as you so honor the Mother/Father God, and your father and mother on Earth (for they have given you life), so, too, will you honor everyone.

5. You know you have found God when you observe that you will not murder (that is, willfully kill, without cause.) For while you will understand that you  can not end another's life in any event (all life is eternal), you will not choose to terminate any particular incarnation, nor change any life energy from one form to another, without the most sacred justification. Your new reverence for life will cause you to honor all life forms--including plants, trees, and animals--and to impact them only when it is for the highest good.

And these other signs will I send you also, that you may know you are on the path:

6. You will not defile the purity of love with dishonesty or deceit, for this is adulterous. I promise you, when you have found God, you shall not commit this adultery.

7. You will not take a thing that is not your own, nor cheat, nor connive, nor harm another to have any thing, for this would be to steal. I promise you, when you have found God, you shall not steal. 

Nor shall you...

8.  Say a thing that is not true, and thus bear false witness.

Nor shall you...

9. Covet your neighbor's spouse, for why would you covet your neighbor's spouse when you know all others are your spouse?

10. Covet your neighbor's goods,  for why would you want your neighbor's goods when you know that all goods can be yours, and all your goods belong to the world?

(from Conversations with God: an uncommon dialogue, Book 1, by Neale Donald Walsch. pp 94-97
---------------------------------------------------
As food for thought. It certainly makes for an interesting reinterpretation. At least, I think so. 

The other book with much to say on the commandments is Robert Heinlein's farewell novel, To Sail Beyond The Sunset. The book takes the form of a biography of one Maureen Johnson, "amoral wench"...and the details of her exploits over her exceptionally long life make for fascinating, if occasionally off-putting, reading. Like much of Heinlein's later work, To Sail...is highly polemical. Through Maureen, Heinlein holds much of the world in high disdain and bitterly laments that most of the values he embodies--intelligence, self-reliance, patriotism, courage--are held in such disdain themselves. 
Heinlein was an iconoclast who lived under his own moral code. His Eleventh Commandment--"don't get caught"--stood him in good stead when his values and morals contradicted those in vogue where and when he lived. Maureen is much the same.
Anyway, very early in the novel, Maureen's father asks her to complete an assignment for him: to formulate her own Commandments. Reading what she produces and her father's wise and reasoned rebuttals had me pining for a society where kids are actually taught how to think critically about this sort of thing, if not by their parents, at least by the school system. 

Maureen's finished list:

1. Thou shalt pay public homage to the god favored by the majority without giggling or even smiling behind your back.

2. Thou shalt not make any graven image of a sort that could annoy the powers that be, especially Mrs. Grundy...

3. Thou shalt not take the name of thy Lord God in vain...which means don't swear, not even Jiminy or Golly or darn, or any of those four-letter words, or anything that Mother might consider vulgar.  (Her father softened this somewhat, but also added: Thou shalt not split infinitives, or dangle participles. Thou shalt shun solecisms. Thou shalt honor the noble English language, speech of Shakespeare, Milton, and Poe, and it will serve thee all the days of thy life.

4. Go to church on Sundays. Smile and be pleasant but don't be too smarmily a hypocrite. Don't let my children, if and when I have any, play out in front on Sunday or make too much noise in back. Support the church in deeds and money but not too conspicuously.
("Maureen, that's well put. You'll be a preacher's wife yet."
"Oh, God, Father, I'd rather be a whore!"
"The two are not incompatible.")

5. Honor thy father and thy mother where anyone can see you. But once you leave home, live your own life. Don't let them lead you around by the nose. (This was inserted at the insistence of her father.)

6. Thou shalt not commit murder (kill someone wrongfully.) Maureen says she's still working on that one. Her father says "So am I."

7. Don't get caught committing adultery...don't get pregnant, don't catch a social disease, don't let Mrs. Grundy even suspect you, and above all don't let your spouse find out. (Her father tells her "if you've just gotta--and the day might come--tell your husband what's biting you, ask his permission, ask for his help, ask him to stand jigger for you...he might give you a fat lip, but he won't divorce you for asking. Then he might help you anyhow, on the sound theory that you would get into worse trouble if he says No. And--he might discover he enjoys the role.)

8. Thou shalt not steal. "I couldn't improve that one, Father."
"Would you steal to feed a baby?"
"Uh, yes."
"Think about other exceptions; we'll discuss it in a year or two.  But it's a good general rule. But why won't you steal? You're smart; you can probably get away with stealing all your life. Why won't you do it?"
"...because I'm too stinkin' proud!"
"Exactly! Perfect.")

9. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.  Don't tell lies that can hurt other people...but since you can't guess ahead of time what harm your lies may do, the only safe rule is not to tell any lies at all.

("Maureen, this one we will not dispose of in an afternoon. A liar is worse to have around than a thief...yet I would rather cope with a liar than with a person who takes self-righteous pride in telling the truth, all of the truth and all of the time...a person who takes pride in telling the blunt truth is a sadist, not a saint.")
(from To Sail Beyond the Sunset, by Robert A. Heinlein, pages 25 et seq.)

-------------------------------------------------------

So...what are your commandments? I'll show you mine if you show me yours.



02 April, 2009

Don't put that bearskin away just yet

Obama says we've turned the corner.
Maybe he's right. The stock market certainly thinks so. The TSX Composite's above break-even for calendar year 2009, something I would have dismissed as highly improbable two months ago. Hong Kong's Hang Seng was up 1002 points yesterday: over seven percent. It, too, is now ahead of where it stood on January 1.  Relax, folks, we all had a nasty scare but it appears to be ov...
...what's that, you say?

The corporate default rate is the worst Moody's has seen since at least the Second World War?

The trust that funds American Social Security is forecast to be bankrupt by the end of next year?

Chris Martensen has a rather trenchant commentary on this last point. "Oh, Social Security's fine," some analysts say, "so long as the Treasury repays its debts." Leaving aside what exactly the Treasury could pay those debts with (Monopoly money?)...the idea that the Treasury could somehow owe itself money is ludicrous. It reminds me of something somebody at my head office once told me, when I asked him why we were losing 96 points on a particular ad item. "Oh, don't worry, Ken," he said, "we'll make it up on volume."

So will stocks come back down to earth? Ian Gordon extrapolates Kondratiev wave theory and says yes. Actually, he says "hell, yes." All the way to 1,000, he says. 
That I have trouble believing. I've predicted DOW 4000 by next year, but I can't see it going much lower than that. There's no reason the market has to be a perfect mirror of itself 80 years ago....is there?

We do need to remember that in 1930, America was the world's largest creditor and it was swimming in natural resources. Now, it's got a crushing debt...that might be a literally crushing debt. It relies on a host of countries for its oil, some of which don't like it much. And it increasingly relies on places half a world away to manufacture all manner of consumer goods.

In this, it has nobody to blame but itself. The 1970s oil shock should have sent a clear message to the American government about the need to get off the foreign oil teat. (Actually, it did: Carter was making some inroads on this, but Reagan came to power beholden to Big Oil, and so alternatives were hastily abandoned.)
As for the epidemic of globalization, that's the direct consequence of the worship of the almighty dollar at the altar of short term profit. The more conspiracy-minded among us will suggest that corporations, not governments, run the world. That may or may not be the case. I'd suggest it makes no difference when governments are unwilling or unable to stand up to corporations.

Anyway, all this means collapse. I no longer expect a quick one. Far too much energy is being expended trying to treat the symptoms rather than solve the problem. No, it'll be a slow fizzle. I can only hope that something other than Kondratiev's predicted war will lift us out of the dark...eventually.




01 April, 2009

The beginning of the end for schools

I've recently finished Peter F. Hamilton's mammoth Night's Dawn trilogy. At 3563 pages in trade paperback, it's by far the longest story I've ever read. It's also one of the best.
Hamilton creates an entire universe out of blank paper, peopling it with an interstellar human Confederation as well as numerous sentient alien species at various stages of evolution. 
The main plotline can be boiled down to three words: satanists in space. But as with all decent sf, the plot is only a platform: a platform for ideas, for technologies, for ethical concerns. This epic space opera has all three. In spades.
(What really elevates this work is Hamilton's uncanny ability to elicit sympathy for, well, almost everyone. There's one character in this book who is totally and unreservedly evil, and even with him you can't help noticing he was made, not born, that way. Everyone else is just doing the best they can with what they've got--sometimes their definition of "best" is admittedly short-sighted, but hey, isn't that the case with most of us?)

Anyway, the technology, as one might expect for a story set in the twenty seventh century, is well ahead of what we have now. Confederation citizens have access to the whole of human knowledge and wisdom by means of neural nanonics: implanted computer systems powered by the body's own biochemistry. One of the heroines of the novel comes from a planet where such devices are forbidden; when she arrives on Earth and buys a set, she is stunned and outraged that her government would deliberately withhold such breadth and depth of knowledge from its people.

That all came to mind when I read about the ongoing cellphones-in-class controversy. The cellphone-detesting Luddite that I'm tempted to call the adult in me doesn't really see the controversy here: cellphones are banned in class because (a) they are endlessly distracting to both the teacher and other students and (b) they detract from the whole purpose of the classroom, which is--supposedly--to get an education.
Teenagers don't see it that way, which doesn't surprise me. What surprised me (at least until I heard the rationale) was that many parents side with their teens on this. How dare school boards "take away the right" to phone my child at school?

Memo to parents: you still have that "right"; you always did. Here's how it works. You phone the office, the office decides whether or not your phone call is worth interrupting your child's class for, and if the answer is yes, you may speak with your child. That's how it was when I went to school, before cellphones burst on the scene and made everyone Very Important People and every banality an URGENT PRIORITY.

Having spent time around many teenagers whose cellphones are practically extensions of themselves, and having read a great deal of speculative fiction, the sober chamber of second thought within me demands I take a few steps back and  contemplate what's actually going on...which is nothing less than the beginning of an educational revolution.

As with all revolutions, those in the center of the storm strive mightily for the stability being yanked away from them by the winds of change. They scream in order that they might be heard over that wind, while their charges embrace the wind and let it carry them where they will; and the first place it carries them is out of earshot of their elders.

The Internet is in the process of migrating away from your desktop and into the palm of your hand. The first order consequence of a true portable Internet is the (usually welcome) ability to obtain information on anything, anywhere at any time. This ability will mean the death of the conventional classroom. Trust me on this.
Right now, in that classroom setting, the Net is being used mostly for frivolous (read: student-directed) ends...which is entirely to be expected. Rather than fight the inexorable tide, teachers best concern themselves with exploiting the stupendous capability that so many students now carry with them everywhere they go. The best teachers will make education fun and relevant...just as they always have.

Of course, this will eventually eliminate the need for teachers at all, at least as we know them now. Just how well can a teacher execute her lesson plan when one class member can access Wikipedia and broadcast his findings to everyone else in seconds? We're at a point even now where any student can learn more than his teacher knows on a given subject: all it takes is a little skullsweat and an Internet connection that's all but ubiquitous. 

Eventually, we'll have neural nanonics that will implant a classical education in the space of a few hours. What will become of all the teachers?