Quote of the day: hypnotizing chickens

The news media sessions often last 25 minutes, with 5 minutes left at the end for questions from anyone still awake. Those types of PowerPoint presentations, [retired Marine Corps Col. Thomas X.] Hammes said, are known as “hypnotizing chickens.”

From We Have Met the Enemy and He Is PowerPoint, a New York Times story by Elisabeth Bumiller about the growing cadre of military strategists who think PowerPoint dumbs down decision making. More on this when I have a few minutes to string together.

Hat tip: Andrew Weissman

Two dweebs from Leeds

Brett Domino and Steven Peavis use a variety of electronic folk instruments to perform a medley of Justin Timberlake tunes:

Featured instruments include Stylophone Beatbox, DigiDrummer Lite on the iPod Touch, Kazoo, Thumb Piano, Shaker, Stylophone, Cowbell, Recorder, Ukulele, Theremin, Spoons, and Roland AX-Synth.

Via: Andrew Sullivan.

That suppressed gambling report – update

A source I trust tells me the consultant’s report on gambling Labour Minister Marilyn More won’t release truly is substandard. Let’s assume that’s the case, and More was right to reject it after many attempts to get the contractor to fulfill the his obligations. Barring public access to the report is still the wrong thing to do.

leoglavine-150In effect, Minister More is saying interested Nova Scotians aren’t sophisticated enough to understand or evaluate the report. It might cause them “anxiety” and “confusion.” Such matters should presumably be left to their betters—people like More, and the Gambling Corp. honchos who talked her into this foolish course (and won’t even let her commission another study).

Is this really how Nova Scotia’s first NDP administration wants to govern?

Liberal critic Leo Glavine has the sensible answer to More’s patronizing stand: Release the report to anyone who requests it, together with a detailed account of its deficiencies.

Contrarian sleep habits

In answer to concerned queries from readers: No, I do not personally get up at 3 a.m. to send out the daily Contrarian e-mail. Google’s Feedburner service does that for me. At 3 a.m., Google automatically sends every item I have posted over the preceding 24 hours to everyone who has signed up for the daily Contrarian email (option 1 in the box at right).

Bras d’Or morning – reader dissent


Photographarian writes:

Photographic representations of  pretty sunrises—like pretty pictures of sunsets—are a trifle cliched. While Contrarian may take pleasure in his sunrise snapshot, Photographerian would like to point out that it does not make any meaningful contribution to photography, or to the well-being of humanity.

Contrarian is but the humblest of snapshotists. He welcomes any contributions to photography (or the well-being of humanity) that Photographarian wants to send along.

Bounties – reader dissent

Contrarian reader Denis Falvey writes:

A decision that flies in the face of one fact of science does not necessarily constitute ignorance. A bounty may not eradicate coyotes, it may not even lower their numbers appreciably, but it will change their habits. Coyotes live in an ecological niche; like any other animal, they will multiply to fill that niche. I would prefer that the limits on their ecological niche not include my doorstep, and the only way to achieve that is for the animals to be wary of coming near coyote-250my doorstep. That’s not going to happen with my singing Kumbayah’. It’s going to happen when animals get used to the idea that my doorstep is not their hunting ground, it’s where they are in danger.

My grandfather would have laughed in dismissal at the thought that vegetables could not be grown in the fields because the deer eat them, or that children can’t play in the woods for fear of coyotes. He was a quiet and peaceful man, but any deer eating the food off his family’s fields would have quickly joined the food on the table, and threats to his children were controlled when necessary. He had a better grasp of living with animals than do a lot of the voices raised against controlling the coyotes. Facts and experience are both important for knowledge, but doing nothing is usually a mistake.

Perhaps we should shift the focus by asking those opposed to support for the trapping industry in this instance what their solution might be. Ignoring the problem, or minimizing it is not an option. Live and let live works about as well with coyotes in the country as it does with gang activity in the city.

I do not advocate doing nothing. Minister MacDonell is a politician. He has to contend with the possibility that a coyote might maul some child, and he cannot be seen to have “done nothing.”

But the action he takes should be based on evidence, and the evidence in Nova Scotia and elsewhere is unequivocal that a bounty will neither reduce coyote numbers, nor change the behavior of the small minority of problem coyotes. Mr. MacDonell’s planned bounty does not target problem animals, or Mr. Falvey’s doorstep. It will not condition coyotes to be wary. You could argue that a general bounty might drive coyotes toward doorsteps, since regulations restrict hunting and trapping near dwellings. Doorsteps will be relatively safe places.

As retired DNR wildlife biologist Bob Bancroft has pointed out, a general bounty targets all coyotes, the vast majority of whom exhibit no problem behavior. This makes the bounty particularly reckless: it uses public funds to target innocent animals with measures that will not impact the few who cause problems.

What might work? MacDonell’s program to train elite trappers to go after problem coyotes is an idea worth trying. The province should consider complementing this with an program to haze animals near populated areas. A dead animal can’t teach pack mates anything, but a coyote that has been frightened or hit by a rubber bullet could increase wariness in a whole pack—particularly if the program were begun now, while coyotes are rearing pups, not delayed until next fall like the useless bounty.  The public education program to encourage sensible precautions when interacting with wildlife is also a good idea. We share this planet with other creatures, and that’s a good thing.

But the senseless bounty at the centre of the government’s response represents a flight from evidence-based decisions in favor of pandering to ignorant prejudice.

I suspect the unusually bold behavior we have seen in recent months reflects some change in the food cycle. A surge in coyote numbers may have overtaxed food supplies, so coyotes are hungry, and in a few cases, emboldened. If that’s the case, litter sizes will decrease this spring, the population will fall, food will be less scarce, and problem behavior may ease with or without human intervention.

Last word to Mr. Falvey:

On a lighter note, one solution might be to hand control of the coyotes and deer over to the DFO. They don’t have much to do anymore, and they did rid the oceans of cod in a generation.

“Bounties don’t work, so I’m implementing a bounty”

Experts say a bounty won’t lessen human encounters with aggressive coyotes, and might make matters worse. They base this conclusion, in part, on experience in Nova Scotia, where a $50 bounty in the 1980s failed to reduce coyote numbers.

They say it on the Department of Natural Resources website—or they used to, until inconvenient scientific information was expunged just in time for Minister John MacDonell’s flight from evidence-based decision making.

John MacDonnel, Minister of Pandering
John MacDonell

The Winston Smiths assigned to expunge the historical record missed a few spots. They failed to delete wildlife director Barry Sabean’s 1989 and 1991 declarations that “The $50 bounty [worth $109 today] in Nova Scotia from November 1982 to June 1986 did little, if anything, to slow their population growth.” They left in place a March 2010 news release quoting DNR wildlife biologist Mike Smith as saying, “Bounties have been tried across North America, however they have always been unsuccessful in reducing coyote populations. A bounty was initiated in Nova Scotia in 1982 and was removed in 1986 when it was determined to have no impact on population.”

Poor Mr. Smith was dragged out yesterday to support his minister’s theory that trapping would somehow make surviving coyotes more wary and less likely to interact with humans. The only other support for this crackpot notion came from the trappers who will receive the $20 bounty.

Dalhousie University animal behavior expert Simon Gadbois points out that a dead coyote cannot instill fear in fellow pack members, but a frightened coyote might. He suggests the province consider rubber bullets as a way to condition coyotes to avoid humans.

The problem is that as their numbers fall, coyotes have more frequent litters and larger litters. So culling adults can have the ironic result of increasing overall numbers.

The minister’s excuse for doing something he knows won’t work? People are upset.

Of course they are. Folksinger Taylor Mitchell suffered a gruesome death last fall in a freak attack by a rogue coyote. The incident has heightened public sensibilities to the point that every coyote sighting is elevated to a “close call”—and to front-page prominence. People who know nothing about wildlife, let alone coyote population dynamics, demand action, and slaughtering coyotes is the first thing that comes to mind.

It. Won’t. Work.

This is another case of: “Something must be done.” “This is something.” “Therefore we will do this .”

Forced to chose between decisions based on evidence, and pandering to sincere but ignorant constituents, MacDonell went with ignorance.

Bureaucrats humiliate a weak minister

When you bring $145 million a year into the treasury of a province as deeply in hock as Nova Scotia, you swing a big bat.

So when a consultant hired by the banished Tory government delivered a cost-benefit analysis of gambling in Nova Scotia to the newly elected NDP government, it stands to reason that the big bat wielders at the Nova Scotia Gaming Corporation*, the agency that administers the provincial government’s addiction to gambling revenue, had first dibs on reviewing it.

Marilyn More, Minister of Suicides, Bankruptcies, and Marital Breakup.
Marilyn More

Whatever the report said about the human toll exacted by provincially sponsored gambling, we can surmise that Gaming Corp. honchos didn’t take kindly to its conclusions. If the Labor Department harbors any panty waists who fret over such trifles as suicides, bankruptcies, child neglect, and marriage breakups caused by the corporation’s activities, they were no match for the gaming execs.

On Tuesday, Labor Minister Marilyn More announced that the report had been scrapped, the consultants who wrote it fired, and the citizenry spared exposure to its malign conclusions.

“It just doesn’t seem to make any sense to create anxiety and apprehension around information that just isn’t accurate,” More told reporters, setting a new standard for patronizing voters.

Not to worry, said More, the corporation will get right on a cost-benefit analysis of its own, presumably one showing less cost and more benefit.

“You can be sure that the next study will have clear accountability and criteria, and that the information will be publicly released, and it will answer a lot of your questions.,” she said Tuesday

That ringing declaration apparently set Blackberries jangling, because the very next day saw More execute a humiliating about-face. There will be no such study because (in a revelation sure to surprise economists and social scientists) no one knows how to do a cost-benefit analysis of provincially promoted gambling addiction.

At least now we know who runs The Department of Labor, and it ain’t Minister More.

This is a classic illustration of how canny bureaucrats can manipulate an inexperienced minister in a newly elected government. Too bad so many gambling addicted Nova Scotians will have to pay the price for More’s weakness.

So much for social democracy.

*Nova Scotia Gaming Corp. is the agency’s official name, but I use it reluctantly, because “gaming” is a euphemism designed to disguise the outfit as some benign Department of Parcheesi and Hopscotch.