December 31, 2004

Photoblogging [Badly]

Yesterday, our cabin fever got the best of us, so we headed east to the town of Port Hope. We had lunch at our usual haunt in town, the Palm Restaurant in Dr. Corbett's Inn: highly recommended if you're ever in town. Just as evening was coming on, I remembered that I hadn't played with the Treo camera much lately, so you're going to be reminded of why I'm not paid to take photographs:

Ganaraska River

This is the Ganaraska River, looking north from the Highway 2 road bridge. Really, it looked a lot more, um, focussed when I took it, I swear!

My unindicted co-conspirators, Victor & Elizabeth:

Victor and Elizabeth

This is the view from the south side of the bridge, looking down towards the two massive railway viaducts across the south end of town:

Ganaraska River

And then it got too dark to take further bad photos, so you've been saved from that even worse fate.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:49 PM | Comments (4)

December 30, 2004

Catblogging

I forgot that a certain minimum amount of eye-candy is necessary to keep the visually oriented folks coming back to the site. Therefore I'm inflicting yet another cat picture on you:

Harry

This is Harry Paget Flashman, our youngest cat. He's just over a year old — did you know that cats have their own version of the human child's "terrible two's"? This is exactly where Harry is now: big enough and confident enough to make the lives of the other cats in the household much more interesting.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:42 PM | Comments (2)

December 29, 2004

QotD: Technological Nightmares

Nothing is worse than [. . .] a fully loaded new computer, and I've been using them for nearly 20 years. Setting up a new computer is like getting ready to French Kiss an elephant; you know it will be a new experience, but you know it won't taste like veal cordon bleu. [. . .]

I know that all over the world this holiday season, millions upon millions of people will be receiving new computers, and that they will truly be the "gifts that keep on giving." Their gifts will be confusion, puzzlement, frustration, despair, disgust, and homicidal rage. As people across the globe attempt to install backup drives, get modems to dial, configure wireless networks, cheat at Solitaire, and sign-up over the telephone lines for America Online Sometimes, suicide hotlines will begin [to] jam as human beings come face to face, not for the first time, with the only machine in history that makes its customers into human lab animals. And makes them pay thousands of dollars for the pain.

How did we get here?

Gerard Van der Leun, "Fear of Fritterware: The Nightmare Before Christmas", American Digest, 2004-12-23

Posted by Nicholas at 12:06 AM | Comments (0)

December 28, 2004

QotD: Big Government

I'm Canadian and have a romantic fondness for the famous motto of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, the one about the Mounties always getting their man. But the bigger you make the government, the more you entrust to it, the more powers you give it to nose around the country's bank accounts, and phone calls, and e-mails, and favourite Internet porn sites, the more you'll enfeeble it with the siren song of the soft target. The Mounties will no longer get their man, they'll get you instead. Frankly, it's a lot easier. [. . .]

What should have died on September 11th is the liberal myth that you can regulate the world to your will. The reduction of a free-born citizenry to neutered sheep upon arrival at the airport was the most advanced expression of this delusion. So how's the FAA reacting to September 11th? With more of the same kind of obtrusive, bullying, useless regulations that give you the comforting illusion that if they're regulating you they must be regulating all the bad guys as well. We don't need big government, we need lean government — government that's stripped of its distractions and forced to concentrate on the essentials. If Hillary and Co want to argue for big government, conservatives could at least make the case for what's really needed — grown-up government.

Mark Steyn, "Big Shift", National Review, 2001-11-19

Posted by Nicholas at 11:36 AM | Comments (0)

December 27, 2004

QotD: Drinking and Driving

I have another brochure on my desk. Actually, I've got a lot of stuff on my desk, including possibly a cat or two, but it's the brochure that's at the top of the pile. It comes from the Ontario government and it's called Break The Law Pay The Price. Personally, I'd have put a comma in there somewhere, but the Ontario government laid off the punctuation guy in a cost-cutting drive. (I gather he lasted longer than the water inspection guy.)

According to BTLPTP, "Drinking drivers are responsible for one-quarter of all people killed on Ontario roads." In other words, only 75 percent of Ontario traffic fatalities are the work of sober people. Either we have more drunks in Ontario or our sober drivers are better drivers than Britain's. [Where "one in seven of all deaths on the road involve drivers who are over the legal limit."]

Now, despite the damning evidence in these brochures that sober people are causing carnage on our roads, the people who know what's good for us are busy trying to lower the legal blood alcohol limit. Early in 2001 the Quebec government announced that it was lowering the limite from eighty milligrams to fifty, throwing in a complete drinking ban for professional drivers — cabbies, bus drivers, and the like. This last measure was a reaction to — well, nothing at all. Were drunk ambulance drivers creating havoc on the roads of Quebec? No. But it gave the government of Quebec the appearance of having taken a strong stand on something. Predictably, the Ontario government immediately made noises about following suit.

Nicholas Pashley, Notes on a Beermat: Drinking and Why It's Necessary

Posted by Nicholas at 10:51 AM | Comments (0)

December 26, 2004

QotD: Philosophy

Wen considered the nature of time and understood that the universe is, instant by instant, recreated anew. Therefore, he understood, there is in truth no past, only a memory of the past. Blink your eyes, and the world you see next did not exist when you closed them. Therefore, he said, the only appropriate state of the mind is surprise. The only appropriate state of the heart is joy. The sky you see now, you have never seen before. The perfect moment is now. Be glad of it.

Terry Pratchett, excerpt from "The Life of Wen the Eternally Surprised", Thief of Time

Posted by Nicholas at 03:05 AM | Comments (0)

December 25, 2004

QotD: Winter

There are 1000 nouns for winter precipitation . . . but only one adjective.

Marna Nightingale, posted to the Lois McMaster Bujold mailing list, 24 December, 2004

Posted by Nicholas at 12:30 AM | Comments (0)

December 24, 2004

Packers 34, Vikings 31

Well, it looks as though Vikings coach Mike Tice won't be getting that contract renewal at the end of the year after all. This game was a carbon-copy of the last time the Packers and Vikings met: same score, same last-minute field goal to clinch it for the Pack. The Vikings defense looked as sad as usual: only Chris Claiborne's interception return for a TD kept this game close in the second half. Minnesota's offense looked unstoppable before the half, unstartable after.

The winners take the NFC North divisional title, while the losers still have to qualify for a wild-card spot in the NFC playoffs. To be fair, I don't expect either team to advance far in the playoffs: both teams lack strength in the defense to have a real chance to win it all.

Update 28 December: Apparently, Red McCombs did give Tice the one-year extension to his coaching contract (details here). I'm surprised, but somewhat relieved: the team didn't need yet another year of upheaval in the coaching ranks.

Posted by Nicholas at 06:32 PM | Comments (0)

Pirate Bloggers

Pirates, that is, from the film "Pirates of the Caribbean", skylarking in the rigging of the Tales of the Black Pearl.

Hat tip to Ith, at Absinthe & Cookies

Posted by Nicholas at 12:40 PM | Comments (0)

Grant McCracken Tackles Football

This is an interesting twist. Apparently the NFL made a rule change in 1995 to make some of the mandatory protective gear that players had to wear optional. This has had some predictable results:

That's funny right there (as John Madden might say). Changing a rule because people are breaking it? Aren't these the ones you're supposed to enforce? Funnier still: this from the NFL, a league normally incapable of administrative flexibility.

Players are now wearing the "bare minimum:" no knee, thigh, kidney, elbow, or forearm pads.

Their motive? Speed, baby, speed. In a brilliant explication, Antuan Edwards, Rams safety, says "The game is so fast, you want to be as light as possible. You feel a difference. At least you want to think you feel a difference."

The game is speeding up. Players are obliged to follow suit, both actually and psychologically.

The amazing thing is that this rule change does not seem to have resulted in more, or more severe, injuries. Or (and perhaps this is the key point) it has done so, but it has not been reported as a result of the rule change. After all, football is already a career with a very short working life (most players are out of the league within a few years of being signed), and injuries are part and parcel of the deal.

I love football (Go Vikings!), but you have to wonder at the way the league balances the risks to their players of rule changes like this: make the game more exciting, but increase the risk of losing your marquee players to injury. In these days of the effective salary cap, most teams are one serious injury away from a losing season.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:20 AM | Comments (0)

Home Schooling, English Style

I've posted a couple of small articles on home schooling, but this is the first time I've found anything on home schooling in England:

From this stance it is clear that Hampshire LEA do not believe home education is a suitable learning environment so how can they have the audacity to insist on inspecting the work, surely they would be basing their assessment on a biased opinion. The very people who profess to care so much about our children only do so if on their terms.

It's funny really, until all this blew up as a family we had never thought about home education (like most of the population), now we believe that we have done Peter a great disservice by inflicting the state school system on him at all. Peter now enjoys so much freedom in studying the subjects he enjoys for the length of time he wishes. Some days he will work all day on science a particular favorite of his, another day painting or chess. It is his life and providing no laws are being broken and no-one is being hurt he has the right to make his own choices. Although we made the initial decision to home educate Peter does not want to return to school.

It's funny, in a sad way, that the English school system is now attempting the same sort of tactics to deter parents from home-schooling their children that American and Canadian school boards have been using for years. Why is it that they'll devote tons of resources to ensure that all children are as badly served in education as the worst-off? It couldn't be a cynical ploy to ensure that there are no children whose performance could be used as a criticism of the performance of the state system could it?

Posted by Nicholas at 11:04 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: A Christmas Carol

It's Christmas time, and that means it's time to enjoy A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens' melancholy tale of a productive businessman who gets worked over by three meddling supernatural social workers one Christmas Eve, transforming him into a simpering socialist.

It's almost as sad as Star Wars, really.

Douglas Kern, "A TCS Christmas Carol"

Posted by Nicholas at 12:05 AM | Comments (0)

December 23, 2004

Tim Blair Rounds Up Topical Quotes for 2004

Putting this site to shame, Tim Blair has rounded up an immense number of topical quotes from 2004. The referenced post is January 2004. Go to his main page to see the rest of the year.

I suddenly feel so inadequate.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:43 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: Christmas Shopping

A day in the life of a male Christmas shopper is one of trepidation and resignation.

Let's be honest, the expectations on a guy at Christmas time to come up with the perfect gift are tremendous. Are we equal to the task? No.

Not to paint everyone with the same brush, and there are exceptions which prove the rule, but guys are out of their element when it comes to Christmas shopping . . . or shopping for that matter.

Christmas shopping for women is like deer hunting season for guys. They prepare for the season, they've spent hours scouting, they're dressed for it, they read all the magazines, purses and budgets are finalized, and when they hit the woods, er, I mean the stores . . . they are ready to make the kill.

Men on the other hand, are like the deer caught in the proverbial headlights.

Todd Hamilton, Interior News, December 2004
(Hat tip to Temujin, of West Coast Chaos)

Posted by Nicholas at 12:38 AM | Comments (2)

December 22, 2004

ESR on Geek Culture

Eric Raymond spends a bit of time outlining the evolution of the modern geek:

Kids today have trouble believing the amount of negative social pressure on intelligent people to pass as normal and boring that was typical before 1980, the situation Revenge of the Nerds satirized and inverted. It meant that the nascent geek culture of the time attracted only the most extreme geniuses and misfits — freaks, borderline autists, obssessives, and other people in reaction against the mainstream. Women generally looked at this and went "ugh!"

But over time, geeky interests became more respectable, even high-status (thanks at least in part to the public spectacle of übergeeks making millions). The whole notion of opposition to the mainstream started to seem dated as "mainstream" culture gradually effloresced into dozens of tribes freakier than geeks (two words: "body piercings"). Thus we started to attract people who were more normal, in psychology if not in talent. Women noticed this. I believe it was in 1992, at a transhumanist party in California, that I first heard a woman matter-of-factly describe the Internet hacker culture as "a source of good boyfriends". A few years after that we started to get a noticeable intake of women who wanted to become geeks themselves, as opposed to just sleeping with or living with geeks.

Eric references an online draft of the book Plenitude by Grant McCracken, which is worth downloading and reading if cultural analyses are your thing. Grant's This Blog Sits at the Intersection of Anthropology & Economics is another site I recommend you visit on occasion: he thinks interesting thoughts.

Posted by Nicholas at 06:40 PM | Comments (0)

Latest Brigade Recruit

Welcome to John the Mad, our latest Red Ensign Blogger. Mine'll be a Chateau Margaux '59 please, John, there's a good chap!

Posted by Nicholas at 05:17 PM | Comments (2)

Don't Talk Back to "The Man"

I'm pretty fond of law and order, in the abstract. I like the fact that, for most of us, we are free to conduct our own affairs without the constant oversight of armed policemen. Steve H. discusses what happens on those occasions when you may need to come into contact with officers of the law:

1. A WHOLE lot of cops are mean little control freaks with flaming inferiority complexes. Nasty little shits who beat their wives and get off on pushing people around. Don't take my word for it. Talk to a domestic violence prosecutor and ask what percentage of reported offenders are cops. You'd be amazed.

2. Decent cops who are NOT control freaks deal with scumbags all day, and they don't know who is and who is not dangerous, and they do not like having their chains yanked by people who resent authority. Imagine how your nerves would be if every day while you tried to do your job, some smirking moron insulted you and refused to cooperate with whatever it was you were doing and said he was going to get you fired.

3. In the street, a cop is prosecutor, judge, and jury. There is no appeal in the street. If you think the cop is wrong, you can appeal to HIM. See how far that gets you. And he's one of the few public officials who is authorized to mash your face with a Maglite if, in his judgment, you require it.

Add points 1, 2, and 3 together, and you get the following result: it is a very bad idea . . . I'll go farther . . . it is incredibly STUPID to argue with a cop. If there is some compelling reason why you can't wait to talk to a judge, take your chances. Otherwise, be polite, take the damn ticket, and go your way. If you absolutely must, say, "I respectfully disagree with you, but I intend to cooperate in every possible way, because I realize you are only doing your job." No, don't even say that. There is no such thing as "respectful disagreement" to a control freak.

Posted by Nicholas at 02:48 PM | Comments (0)

QotD: Culture

A War of the Worlds teaser trailer is now on-line. Despite my earlier scepticism I think this could be cool. It is odd to hear H.G. Wells' introductory words transposed to the twenty-first century. For one thing, probably half the people I know believe this world is being watched by alien intelligences. It is convincing them of the danger of all too human hostile intelligences that is difficult.

[Ghost of a Flea], "War of the Worlds", Ghost of a Flea, 17 December, 2004.

Posted by Nicholas at 01:19 AM | Comments (0)

December 21, 2004

"The Game's Afoot" at American Digest

Jon sent me a heads-up that Gerard Van der Leun has posted the text from his book The Quotable Holmes for free download from his website.

I guess you can expect to see more Conan Doyle popping up here in the future. . .

Posted by Nicholas at 11:18 AM | Comments (1)

QotD: Chocolate

Ankh-Morkpork people, said the Guild, were hearty no-nonsense people who did not want chocolate that was stuffed with cocoa liquor, and were certainly not like effete la-di-dah foreigners who wanted cream in everything. In fact they actually preferred chocolate made mostly from milk, sugar, suet, hooves, lips, miscellaneous squeezings, rat droppings, plaster, flies, tallow, bits of tree, hair, lint, spiders and powdered cocoa husks. This meant that according to the food standards of the great chocolate centres in Borogravia and Quirm, Ankh-Morpork chocolate was formally classed as "cheese" and only escaped, through being the wrong colour, being defined as "tile grout".

Terry Pratchett, Thief of Time

Posted by Nicholas at 12:37 AM | Comments (0)

December 20, 2004

Raising the Red Ensign, Mark XI

Damian Brooks has performed a great job of gathering together memorable and interesting quotes from the 40+ members of the brigade. Go and sample some of the other brigade members' blogs (we're far from being cookie-cutter ideologues).

Posted by Nicholas at 10:48 AM | Comments (1)

QotD: Amtrak

Amtrak has improved its service since I last rode the rails, and you no longer fear that the lavatories will be occupied by giant hissing Madagascar cockroaches that climbed up the pipes the last time the train slowed down. The food's good, and the service is cheerful — unlike the servers of old, who might as well have begun the meal by announcing "Ladies and gentlemen, I have a virtual guarantee of lifetime employment, and as you might expect that's going to affect my interest in prompt and friendly service. Affect it severely. Now you're all going to have the lasagna. It was made during the Carter era. The only thing older than the lasagna is the beer. And it's also warmer."

No, Amtrak is in good shape. The cars have been rebuilt, the blankets no longer draw blood when they come in contact with human skin, the tracks are smoother, and the Pit of Hazy Death — the snack car — is now smoke-free.

That means it's not packed with throaty-voiced semi-toothed drifters who emit a Pompeii-sized cloud of ash every time they start in on one of those up-from-the-ankles 20-minute hacking fits. And somehow — don't ask me how — the general aromatic profile of the train is no longer "feet, with a top note of septic tank." The train actually smelled good. Bravo, Amtrak.

James Lileks, "A windy narrative of a trip to Chicago", Minneapolis Star-Tribune

Posted by Nicholas at 09:26 AM | Comments (0)

So this is what you call a slow blogging day

Usually, by this point in the week, I'd have a couple of short articles ready to post, a couple of days' worth of quotes ready for the QotD, and maybe something a bit off the wall (for Quotulatiousness, anyway). This week, de nada.

So, here's the sports roundup for the weekend. The Vikes just barely survived their game yesterday against the Detroit Lions, winning 28-27 because the Lions couldn't convert a last-minute touchdown. Middlesbrough took apart Aston Villa 3-0 on Saturday, and Victor's indoor soccer team squeaked out a 7-6 win (and Victor's scoring streak was ended at 8: but he did have a lead-preserving save on the goal-line, which sorta counts).

Posted by Nicholas at 09:14 AM | Comments (0)

December 19, 2004

QotD: Wine Criticism

A better way to grasp the essence of something is to look at the bigger picture. Over years of tasting, I've been drawn to a direct approach, which consists of jumping into the middle of things. I've found that if you start on the outside you often cannot get to the heart, and this is where you want to be. Some of the best descriptions of wine have come from people who could not analyze a wine to save their lives. They simpley give an honest response to an experience just as someone would give to a Rolling Stones concert. Or, as Matisse said, they "observed . . . and felt the innermost nature of the experience." Many people have difficulty doing this with wine because they believe there is a proper wine language and a correct response to each wine. They fear giving the wrong response.

Billy Munnelly, Billy's Best Wines for 2005

Posted by Nicholas at 11:39 AM | Comments (0)

December 18, 2004

This is pretty compelling evidence . . .

. . . that there's little point in posting much new material on Saturdays and Sundays:

SiteMeterStats.gif

Note the neatly spaced troughs in the image, always showing two low traffic days followed by five normal traffic days. As if I hadn't already guessed that most of my readers read my ravings from work!

Image courtesy of Site Meter.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:38 AM | Comments (0)

December 17, 2004

QotD: Health Nazis

[T]he Nazis' focus on the threats that risky habits pose to "public health" makes perfect sense in light of their collectivist ideology. "Brother national socialist," said one bit of Nazi propaganda, "do you know that your Führer is against smoking and thinks that every German is responsible to the whole people for all his deeds and missions, and does not have the right to damage his body with drugs?"

Smith adds: "Clearly there were considerable links between the promotion of particular lifestyles and the racial hygiene movement. Tobacco and alcohol were seen as 'genetic poisons,' leading to degeneration of the German people."

The point, I hasten to add, is not that today's "public health" paternalists are Nazis. I am not suggesting that everyone who hates smoking is just like Hitler. But there is an unmistakable totalitarian logic to the notion that the government has a responsibility to promote "public health" by preventing us from engaging in activities that might lead to disease or injury. The implication is that we all have a duty to the collective to be as healthy as we can be, an idea the Nazis embraced but one that Americans ought to find troubling.

Jacob Sullum, "So What If Hitler Was an Anti-Smoker?", Reason Hit and Run

Posted by Nicholas at 04:47 PM | Comments (0)

LOTR3: The Return of the Ending

We got the extended DVD release of Peter Jackson's Return of the King on Tuesday. I've manage to see the entire 417 hours and 9 minutes of new footage, but I won't spoil it for you.

No, wait, I will: he's added about an hour of extra footage that didn't appear in the theatrical release. The best part? It's another six endings!

Posted by Nicholas at 03:09 PM | Comments (0)

Most Amusing Wine Term of the Week

I've been accused of using weird and inappropriate descriptive terms in some of my wine postings, but Natalie MacLean just topped anything I've written in the past month or so:

QUOTATION REMOVED AT THE REQUEST OF NATALIE MACLEAN

I mean, really! If a professional wine writer (one of the best in Canada, mind you) can commit a flagrant description foul like that, then I have to get a pass for my occasional malaprop, yes?

In all seriousness, Ms. MacLean's wine newsletter is quite worth reading. You can visit her website, or subscribe to her newsletter by mailing her at natdecants@nataliemaclean.com.

Posted by Nicholas at 09:41 AM | Comments (0)

How to decorate for the season, with cats

I don't normally put "Aw, isn't that cute" stuff up here at Quotulatiousness. Partly because I'm not overly inclined to view such material myself, and partly because very little of it is worth looking at even once. This is an exception to the rule.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:46 AM | Comments (0)

December 16, 2004

"That's not a car ad. THIS is a car ad!"

Tim Blair unearths the funniest car sale I've ever seen:

Those amongst you suffering a lengthy history of non-violent mental illness are likely to find this vehicle appealing; or should I say appalling. It's a 1984 Nissan 720 and it's in a crap state. Nissan, in a stroke of genius, solved the problem of oversupply in the Mission Brown house paint market sector in 1984 by splashing it down the sides of these babies. I believe these vehicles were sent to Australia as payback for the mistreatment of Japanese prisoners in WWII.

Go read it all, especially the extended Q&A section. It's solid gold!

Posted by Nicholas at 04:25 PM | Comments (0)

Bjorn Lomborg on Global Warming

Reason Hit and Run had a link to this article by Bjorn Lomborg on global warming:

[T]he economic models tell us that the cost is substantial. The cost of Kyoto compliance is at least $150 billion a year. For comparison, the UN estimates that half that amount could permanently solve the most pressing humanitarian problems in the world: it could buy clean drinking water, sanitation, basic health care and education to every single person in the world.

Global warming will mainly harm the developing countries, because they are poorer and therefore less able to handle climate changes. However, even the most pessimistic forecasts from the UN expect the average person in the developing countries to be richer in 2100 than we are now.

So action on global warming is basically a very costly way of doing very little for much richer people far into the future. We need to ask ourselves if this indeed should be our first priority.

Posted by Nicholas at 03:52 PM | Comments (0)

Military Simulations

The Economist reports on how some computer simulations are related to the real-world tasks they attempt to mimic:

As video-game technology has steadily improved and the gadgets of war have grown more expensive, America's military is relying more heavily on computer games as training tools. Some games which the military uses are off-the-shelf products, while others are expensive, proprietary simulations. A 2001 report by RAND, a think-tank, boosted the enthusiasm for military gaming when it concluded that the middle ranks of the army were experiencing a "tactical gap". Because most lieutenants and captains had not commanded troops in battle, or had not trained extensively enough in mock battles, they lacked the know-how necessary to do their jobs well. Fixing this, either by keeping infantry commanders in their jobs longer or by stepping up the pace of training, proved difficult — which led to a proliferation of initiatives in different branches of the military to develop games for training purposes.

The "tactical gap" may now have disappeared, as a result of the war in Iraq. A paper published this summer by Leonard Wong of the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, asserts that the "complexity, unpredictability and ambiguity of post-war Iraq is producing a cohort of innovative, confident and adaptable junior officers". Nonetheless, games remain a far cheaper training method than invading countries and waging wars. Yet their true effectiveness is far from certain. An eagerness on the part of the military to save money and embrace a transformative mission, and an eagerness on the part of the gaming community to see itself as genuinely useful, rather than as merely providing frivolous entertainment, may be obscuring the real answers.

Posted by Nicholas at 01:54 PM | Comments (0)

"Corkage" Re-Enters Ontario Dialect

To my surprise, the Ontario government has passed the "bring your own wine" legislation. I really expected this one to die on the order paper, but I'm delighted to be proven wrong:

The passing of Ontario's bring-your-own-wine legislation puts the province in a club that includes Alberta, British Columbia, Quebec and New Brunswick, which already have similar programs.

The changes update the province's liquor laws and give licensed restaurants new choices to entice patrons to visit more often, Consumer and Business Services Minister Jim Watson said when he introduced the bill earlier this summer. But the bring-your-own-wine program won't be in effect during this holiday season.

Wine drinkers will have to wait several weeks until restaurants receive all the necessary approvals from the government.

It will be up to each restaurant to decide if it wants to offer the choice, and how much they will charge.

That last paragraph is going to be the stumbling block. Some restaurant owners will be worried that they'll lose too much business (because of the obscene mark-ups they have on their own wines), so even if they apply for and receive all the necessary "mother may I" permits, they'll probably set their corkage fee astronomically high.

No rational person is going to take a $12 bottle of wine into a restaurant and then willingly pay a $20 or $30 corkage fee, but it would make a good deal of sense to take a $40 or $50 bottle of wine at the same fee levels. A $12 bottle of wine will often be selling in the restaurant for $30-$36, while a $40 bottle will be marked up well over $100.

Of course, the nanny-state advocates will be all over this one as encouraging unlimited drinking (as if underage drinkers are going to suddenly start walking into restaurants because they can bring in a bottle). To some people, any easing of the now-ancient restrictions on alcohol is by definition a bad thing. They're the sort of people who don't really trust anyone to act responsibly unless there's a policeman watching them.

Here's a toast to common sense: a rare and uncommon bird in these parts.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:36 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: Baby Boomers

Yet history will show that, for all their organizing skill and moral sensitivities, the boomers took a pass on actually changing one hellish state policy rather than have a few uncomfortable conversations with their kids. Gotta have that moral high ground even at the kitchen table, it seems. Boomers have collaborated and shamelessly switched sides on the war on drugs with full knowledge of the repercussions. If the greatest generation had landed at Omaha Beach, pissed themselves, tossed their weapons into the sea, and begged to serve as Nazi slop-boys, then you might have an equivalent act of mass cowardice.

Jeff Taylor, "Boomer or Bust: Reflections of a generational refugee", Reason

Posted by Nicholas at 12:27 AM | Comments (0)

December 15, 2004

Wine Tour: Featherstone

Our last stop on Friday was Featherstone, who are nearly sold out of the current vintage in almost everything. Only a few wines were available for tasting that I hadn't already had the chance to try:

  • 2002 Gewurztraminer VQA ($16): Lots of classic Gewurztraminer flavours (lychee and rose petals especially). Light body and tastes sweeter than it really is (sugar code 0).
  • 2003 Cabernet Franc VQA ($15): Sour cherry on the nose. Very acidic body: too much for me, but ideal according to Brendan.
  • 2003 Estate Bottled Riesling VQA ($12): Kerosene on the nose (if you're not into Riesling, you wouldn't know that this is considered a good thing). This is an off-dry wine with a certain oiliness in the mouth: not the laser-like flavour intensity of a dry wine.

Unfortunately, the highlight for both of us on our last visit was their amazing Gamay, which is sold out. The new vintage won't be released until early Spring, so we're already planning another expedition to the winery for then.

Posted by Nicholas at 03:01 PM | Comments (0)

A New "Toy" From Japan

Japanese 'lap pillow' offers solace to lonely men.

"I think this may be good for single men, but it could cause trouble for someone who is married," said Shingo Shibata, a 27-year-old company employee browsing at a toy store which sells the pillow.

Posted by Nicholas at 02:34 PM | Comments (2)

QotD: Microbrewed Beer

Hops, of course, add the bitterness we have come to expect in beer (except drinkers of Molson Golden, who have come to expect almost no taste at all), and they also act as a preservative.

Risk-taking microbreweries these days are known to replace or supplement hops with such oddities as heather, bog myrtle, ginseng, and hemp. As hops are related (by marriage) to cannabis — that other great medicinal herb — we shouldn't be surprised to encounter hemp beer, and indeed you can usually find it on tap in Toronto at C'est What down on Front Street. It's not bad either, once you get it lit, which is the hard part.

Nicholas Pashley, Notes on a Beermat: Drinking and Why It's Necessary

Posted by Nicholas at 08:39 AM | Comments (2)

December 14, 2004

Light Posting Regime Installed at Quot.

Sorry for the sudden dearth of posts again. Between a total lack of network access at work (courtesy of a virus outbreak in another workgroup) and a burgeoning cold, I've been sadly lacking in opportunities to post. The other half of the wine tour notes will probably make their way online tomorrow or Thursday. More traditional scattershot posting may take a bit longer to get back on-track.

Posted by Nicholas at 05:47 PM | Comments (0)

QotD: Ontario Pubs

Bread, of course, led to variations like cake — which was good — and the kaiser bun, that tasteless, doughy piece of stodge named as revenge upon the Germans for WWI and served in many pubs to this day to diminish the pleasure of an honest hamburger. (The kaiser bun is mandatory in Ontario bars as a pivotal part of the legislation aimed at curtailing pleasure among the citizenry. Citizens who became accustomed to pleasure might start to see it as their due, which would be inconvenient for the authorities.)

Nicholas Pashley, Notes on a Beermat: Drinking and Why It's Necessary

Posted by Nicholas at 05:37 PM | Comments (0)

December 13, 2004

Wine Tour: Kacaba Vineyards

Fifth on our tour of the Beamsville Bench area on Friday was Kacaba Vineyards. I've been a fan of theirs for their 2000 vintage wines (especially their Meritage and Pinot Noir). This was my first opportunity to try some of their 2002 vintages. Here's what we tasted this time around:

  • 2002 Pinot Noir VQA ($25.00): Predominant aroma on the nose was sour cherry, and the cherry flavour carried the day on the palate too. Some good tannins and a medium finish — give this one at least a year to develop some non-cherry flavours (unless that's what you're looking for in a wine).
  • 2002 Meritage VQA ($26.00): This is similar to their 2000 vintage, with green pepper, cedar, and mushroom flavours starting to show, but they are somewhat masked by the strong tannins. This will probably start to show best in 2006 to 2007.
  • 2002 Syrah VQA ($): Not yet a common grape in the Niagara DVA, due to the cold winters. This example showed some strong pepper and fig aromas, with chocolate and fig flavours within a powerful tannic structure. This wine also needs another year or two before I think it'll be entering its prime for drinking.
  • 2002 Cabernet Franc Reserve VQA ($): Lots of bell pepper and honey on the nose. Pepper and cedar were predominant on the palate. Long finish. This wine will definitely benefit from a year or two of cellaring.
  • 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon VQA ($22.00): The only non-2002 wine we sampled on this visit. Smoky aromas were most noticeable on the nose, and green pepper was the strongest flavour on the palate. A bit one-dimensional for a 2000 vintage wine, but it may yet develop.
Posted by Nicholas at 12:57 AM | Comments (0)

Wine Tour: Malivoire

Fourth stop, Malivoire. Directly across the road from our first stop (Thomas & Vaughan), and recommended by the staff at T&V. One of my regular stops, but Brendan's first opportunity to visit.

The wines we tasted this time included:

  • 2003 Estate Bottled Gewurztraminer ($20.00): Very characteristic lychee and rose petal aromas on the nose. Slightly higher "heat" on the palate than usual for Gewurz, indicative of a more alcoholic wine. Long, smooth finish. Bottled with a Stelvin screw-cap.
  • 2003 Estate Bottled Gamay ($16.00): Pepper and rubber on the nose (no, it wasn't as bad as this description might imply). Black fruit, pepper, and mixed spices on the palate. This is a very rich, full-bodied Gamay (unlike the watery Beaujolais Nouveau you may have tasted last month). Good length on the finish. Also bottled with the Stelvin cap.
  • 2003 Pinot Noir Estate ($26.00): This is still too young a Pinot to have a well-developed aroma. Cherry flavours predominated on the palate with some mild tannins hanging on to the finish. Will probably develop for another year or two before it makes up its mind what it'll turn out to be.
Posted by Nicholas at 12:41 AM | Comments (0)

Wine Tour: Thirty Bench

Our third stop on Friday was Thirty Bench, just up the road from Angels Gate. I don't know what the situation was here, but the person on duty seemed to be very distracted by the other customer in the winery at the time we visited, because we got (at best) indifferent service until after the other customer left, at which point we got over-attentive service. Thirty Bench has a reputation for producing good quality high-end wines, but I'm afraid our tasting didn't really live up to that reputation:

  • 2002 Benchmark Reserve Blend VQA ($50.00): A blend of 50% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc, and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon. Showed plenty of blackcurrant and cedar on the nose, with the cedar very dominant on the palate. As it aired out, the strong cedar receded and a more balanced flavour developed. Long finish.
  • 2002 Cabernet Franc (Unoaked) VQA ($16.00): An unusual experiment, this was one of three matched bottlings (in 500 ml bottles) with the same grapes vinted three different ways. This was perhaps the least pleasant wine we tasted over the tour, with lots of interesting aromas, but almost no body and a very short finish. Very unsatisfying.
  • 2002 Benchmark Merlot VQA ($40.00): I should admit that Merlot is my least favourite of the traditional Bordeaux grapes, so my impressions are perhaps less charitable than might otherwise be the case. This wine showed a lot of sour cherry and green pepper on the nose, and flavours more common in a Baco Noir than a Merlot (smoke, green pepper, and tobacco). While not a bad wine, I certainly didn't think it merited the asking price.
  • 2002 Benchmark Merlot Reserve ($50.00): Check the last entry; Merlot isn't my strong suit. This was a definite improvement on the non-reserve Merlot, although the nose was quite similar. This wine had much more structure (more tannins) and had some interesting mineral notes on the finish. I suspect this wine will not be at its best for at least another couple of years.
Posted by Nicholas at 12:24 AM | Comments (0)

December 12, 2004

Wine Tour: Angels Gate

Second on our long list of wineries to visit was Angels Gate. The winery is situated with a lovely view north down the slope to Lake Ontario . . . when the weather is clear. We could barely make out the next field in that direction.

This was a return visit for both Brendan and me, so we were able to concentrate on tasting wines that we'd missed the last time around:

  • 2002 Single-Vineyard Merlot VQA ($26.00): Green pepper and shoe leather on the nose, with some jammy raspberry and red licorice flavours developing as it warmed up and aired out. I wasn't too keen, but Bren really liked this one.
  • 2002 Cabernet VQA ($16.95): Stable straw and cedar on the nose, with plenty of green herbs showing on the palate (bay and oregano in particular). Short-to-medium finish. This is starting to fade, so drink it this year.
  • 2002 Cabernet Franc VQA ($18.95): Very cedary nose, with bell pepper and leather notes. Good fruit on the palate with a long finish.
  • 2002 Angels III VQA ($35.00): This is the flagship Meritage blend (Merlot, Cabernet Franc, and Cabernet Sauvignon). Violet flowers on the nose. Still very tannic — give this one a couple of years to come into its prime. Long finish with cinnamon notes at the end. Favourite wine.
Posted by Nicholas at 12:20 PM | Comments (0)

Wine Tour: Thomas & Vaughan

I won't have time to do all of the entries today, so I'll just break it down by winery. Thomas & Vaughan was purchased earlier this year by neighbouring EastDell Estates, so the staff has completely changed over from our last visit. The new owners are running T&V as a separate operation, so the name and brand will continue to be used.

Visiting the winery was rather sad, however, because during the time we were there, a local artist came in and took down all of the art that he'd had hanging on the walls of the tasting room. I didn't get the details, but it sure left the place looking half-abandoned.

Matt, the staff member on duty in the tasting room, was very helpful and provided us with plenty of background information on the wines we were tasting. Here are my rough notes:

  • 2001 Merlot VQA ($18.95): Raspberry jam on the nose, with very fruity raspberry and cedar notes on the palate. Long finish.
  • 2000 Meritage Estate Reserve VQA ($29.95): Smoke and jammy fruit on the nose. Cedar shavings and burnt ash on the palate: needs at least a year or two in the cellar before it'll approach its peak.
  • 2000 Cabernet Franc Reserve VQA ($26.95): Stable straw, green pepper, and violet flowers on the nose. Cherries and cedar on the palate, with a long finish. Favourite wine.
  • 2001 Cabernets VQA ($12.95): This has been my "house red" for the past few months, but I was surprised at how much different it tasted at the winery than the bottles I had in my own cellar. I found the sample at the winery to have a weedy, thin body quite unlike what I was used to. I'm hoping that it will settle down after a few weeks in the cellar (if not, I have a dozen bottles to take to parties!).
Posted by Nicholas at 11:27 AM | Comments (0)

December 11, 2004

Wine Tour in Brief

Just got back from an overnight wine tour in the Beamsville and Niagara region. Among the wineries visited were Angel's Gate, Thirty Bench, Thomas & Vaughan, Malivoire, Kacaba, Featherstone, Strewn, Coyote's Run, Chateau des Charmes, Marynissen, Henry of Pelham, and Creekside.

Detailed report as time allows. Sorry for the teaser.

Posted by Nicholas at 09:29 PM | Comments (0)

December 10, 2004

QotD: Legal Plunder

But how is this legal plunder to be identified? Quite simply. See if the law takes from some persons what belongs to them, and gives it to other persons to whom it does not belong. See if the law benefits one citizen at the expense of another by doing what the citizen himself cannot do without committing a crime.

Then abolish this law without delay, for it is not only an evil itself, but also it is a fertile source for further evils because it invites reprisals. If such a law — which may be an isolated case — is not abolished immediately, it will spread, multiply, and develop into a system.

Frederic Bastiat, The Law

Posted by Nicholas at 08:18 AM | Comments (1)

December 09, 2004

Sometimes You Get the Work

And sometimes the work gets you.

Today, it's the latter. Expect posting to be light for the next couple of days.

Posted by Nicholas at 03:23 PM | Comments (0)

French Winemakers Revolting

The downturn in demand for French wines is starting to cause serious worry among French winemakers, according to this report:

PARIS - Wine is less a beverage than an elixir of life in France, but the country's vintners say they're vexed by a problem that threatens their livelihood — too much of a good thing and not enough people drinking it.

Pinched by overproduction, shrinking exports, advertising restrictions, an aggressive campaign against alcohol abuse and changing drinking habits, at least 6,000 growers and winemakers staged spirited demonstrations nationwide Wednesday to press the government for help.

"We are a sector in crisis," said Jean-Michel Lemetayer, the head of France's main farmer union, urging the state to bail out an industry awash in a sea of Chablis and Bordeaux.

Vintners wearing black armbands marched through Bordeaux, Avignon, Angers, Macon, Nantes, Tours and other cities in key winemaking regions to urge the Agriculture Ministry to help offset their financial losses.

While I'm sympathetic to the plight of individual winemakers and their employees, I note that their first instinct is to demand government action. The report lists several reasons for the decline in sales, including worldwide overproduction of wine and domestic anti-alcoholism campaigns (but oddly does not mention the US unofficial boycott of French wines).

The worst-hit winemakers appear to be the higher-priced Bordeaux houses, whose products have suffered a 25% decline in foreign sales. I get the LCBO "Vintages" mailings, which recently included information on the most recent Bordeaux releases. Famous brands like Chateau Margaux and Petrus were selling for a couple of thousand dollars per bottle. I drink a fair bit of wine, but I can't imagine spending a significant portion of my annual drinking budget on just one bottle of wine, no matter how wonderful.

In most industries, when the demand for a product decreases, the logical reaction is to reduce the price per unit. Apparently, some divine law must insulate top-flight winemakers from such mundane economic considerations . . . and the French government is being pressured to make good on that divine ruling.

Hat tip to Jon for the link.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:01 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: Wine

We all have a least one: a bottle of wine that we're saving for a special occasion. The only problem is, the occasion never seems to arrive. And the longer we hold onto the bottle, the more exalted it becomes and the less worthy all occasions seem to be. Keep in mind that it's just wine. No matter how great the wine might be, it will not change the course of your life; it won't make you smarter or more successful or more famous. The best you can hope for is that it makes the occasion more enjoyable.

If you find yourself earmarking a bottle of wine as particularly special, go a step further and decide immediately what you're saving it for. Don't expect a suitable event to materialize later, because our psychology is working against us and as time goes by the exalted wine becomes harder to open.

Richard Best, The Frugal Oenophile

Posted by Nicholas at 09:14 AM | Comments (1)

December 08, 2004

Myrick: World Travelling Wine Connoiseur

Myrick just got back from a trip during which he had the opportunity to sample some local wines:

Thrice! Three times on my recent vacation I had disposed of perfectly good hideous alcohol.

That's a record. In my travels I have imbibed dreaded Mekong whiskey, Cambodian muscle wine, the most wretched of sojus, African moonshine and various Kuwaiti homemade-concoctions that involved no small number of health risks. But never have I found so many undrinkable brews as I did on my most recent trip.

But never fear! Myrick survived the scarifying experiences and discovered a true Oriental wonder:

Still, all in all, black rhizones red was monkey-spanking good.

You couldn't really ask for a better recommendation, could you?

Posted by Nicholas at 04:51 PM | Comments (0)

What Was I Doing When I Heard . . .

A post up at American Digest recounts what Gerard was doing when he heard that John Lennon had been shot. It's a good posting: go read it.

What I was doing was a lot less interesting and profound: I was driving from Mississauga to Montreal that morning, and all I could get on the AM radio in the truck was endless playings of "Imagine" and other Lennon tunes I didn't like to start with. To make it worse, I was going to be spending two weeks in Montreal (I don't speak French), hanging off the side of an apartment building (I'm really not good with heights), learning how to install a master-antenna TV system. I certainly had enough worries of my own to occupy my thoughts.

I was born in 1960. By the time I started paying attention to popular music, the Beatles were about as current to me as the Monkees (and, truth to tell, I kinda preferred the latter, if only for the TV show reruns). John Lennon was some bearded weirdo with a whacky wife and they both spouted the sort of rhetoric that left me feeling that they really didn't like the west at all. I was sorry that he was dead, but the wholesale public mourning struck me as being just plain over-the-top.

In retrospect, it was rather like the outpouring of public grief when Princess Diana got herself killed: unseemly, inappropriate, lavishly exhibitionistic displays of emotion. Perhaps I'm just not very sympathetic, at heart, but all it seemed to lack was ululations and slashing of cheeks to be a true primitive, tribal ceremony. I didn't have the stones to say "Grow up" out loud, but that was what I thought then.

Posted by Nicholas at 03:25 PM | Comments (0)

Publik Skool Memorees

I've thought about becoming a teacher every now and again. [Ghost of a Flea] points to a horrific story about teaching maths in an English school. After reading this, I don't think I can ever look at a schoolroom in the same way again:

I am a maths teacher in a 'bog standard' comprehensive school. In the autumn term of 2002 I kept a full diary of a week's lessons, and this is an edited version of it.

What follows is a description of each lesson: I have not embellished or exaggerated anything, or imported any apocryphal incidents. The only deviations from the facts are the names of the children and the descriptions of certain procedures that are particular to our school. I have changed these only to protect the privacy of the school and its pupils.

Posted by Nicholas at 02:51 PM | Comments (0)

Yushchenko Was Poisoned: The Times

The Times is reporting that Viktor Yushchenko, the leading candidate for the Ukrainian presidency, was the victim of an assassination attempt by poison:

MEDICAL experts have confirmed that Viktor Yushchenko, Ukraine's opposition leader, was poisoned in an attempt on his life during election campaigning, the doctor who supervised his treatment at an Austrian clinic said yesterday.

Doctors at Vienna's exclusive Rudolfinerhaus clinic are within days of identifying the substance that left Mr Yushchenko's face disfigured with cysts and lesions, Nikolai Korpan told The Times in a telephone interview.

Specialists in Britain, the United States and France had helped to establish that it was a biological agent, a chemical agent or, most likely, a rare poison that struck him down in the run-up to the presidential election, he said. Doctors needed to examine Mr Yushchenko again at the clinic in Vienna to confirm their diagnosis but were in no doubt that the substance was administered deliberately, he said.

Hat tip to the Western Standard Shotgun.

Posted by Nicholas at 01:23 PM | Comments (0)

Canada's "SAS" Gets Presidential Unit Citation

Canadian Press is reporting that the JTF-2 has been awarded a Presidential Unit Citation for their work in Afghanistan. This is only the second time that a Canadian military unit has been recognized with this award (the PPCLI's 2nd Battalion received it after the battle of Kapyong in 1951).

For security reasons, the Department of National Defence is not releasing any details about the JTF-2's operations for which the citation was granted.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:31 AM | Comments (0)

Updates on the Wine Wars

From Reason Hit and Run, some news on the ongoing court cases to overturn various state laws on importing wine:

Judging from yesterday's oral arguments, things are not looking good for bans on direct interstate wine shipments. Several justices were openly skeptical of the position that the 21st Amendment allows protectonism and the claim that the bans in Michigan and New York could be justified on other grounds. In what looks like a sign of desperation, Michigan's solicitor general urged the Supreme Court to overrule its 1984 decision rejecting a Hawaii excise tax that discriminated against alcoholic beverages from other states. "If you can't grant a tax exemption," said Justice John Paul Stevens, "it seems to me a fortiori that you can't prohibit importation."

Posted by Nicholas at 10:41 AM | Comments (0)

Artistic Disillusionment

Poor Chris Taylor recounts the sad tale of his youthful loss of artistic faith:

Don't ask me how, but somehow I got it into my pea-brained mind that the Ontario Place Forum must be the natural venue for Swan Lake, because Ontario Place had a huge population of waterfowl — including actual swans. Since my only prior experience with ballet was the opulent and costume-heavy Nutcracker, I figured that Swan Lake would be a lot like it. Nutcracker featured tin soldiers come to life, battling household mice with their rifles and bayonets. I expected nothing less from Swan Lake — amazing feats of animal husbandry, wherein real live swans would somehow be coerced into ballet performances.

So I sat there for a half hour or so watching these women with feathers in their tutus dance around the stage. Then I poked mom in the ribs and said "Where are the swans?" She explained very patiently that the ladies in the feathered dresses were the swans. Well, my enjoyment of ballet went into the sewer at that point, and never recovered. Ladies pretending to be swans? Here we were, in a venue absolutely crawling with real live swans (who were busy nosing about for dropped french fries) and the best they could come up with was ladies in dresses with the odd feather attached? I considered this a monumental failure of the art form and never made an effort to see another ballet performance.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:11 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: Human Nature

"No one would be that stu—"

Susan stopped. Of course someone would be that stupid. Some humans would do anything to see if it was possible to do it. If you put a large switch in some cave somewhere, with a sign on it, saying "End of the World Switch. PLEASE DO NOT TOUCH", the paint wouldn't even have time to dry.

Terry Pratchett, Thief of Time

Posted by Nicholas at 01:01 AM | Comments (0)

December 07, 2004

TTLB Ecosystem Explanations

A while back, I was pleased that my TTLB Ecosystem ranking moved up to "Adorable Little Rodent". Then, about a week later, I was down to "Flappy Bird", which was a bit surprising. At some point, I dropped even further, back to "Slithering Reptile", before recovering back to "Flappy Bird". NZ Bear explains what happened:

Some folks have noticed that there has been some weirdness on the Ecosytem lately.

First, a little over a week ago, everybody's total link counts took a steep plunge. This was on purpose. The Ecosystem is meant to track 'current' links that each blog is receiving; not every link going back forever. But, for various technical reasons, I had to stop clearing out old links for a while — and everybody's counts continued to drift upward.

Around 11/27, I fixed that, and cleared out all the old links. Unfortunately, that created a bit of an abrupt change in the rankings. But, from here on, things should stabilize.

I still suspect that there are problems with the full database, because I can see only some of the blogs that I know are linking to Quotulatiousness (mostly in the Brigade). Still, the graphic looks a bit like the Dow in October 1929:

BlackFridayRevisited.gif

Posted by Nicholas at 06:49 PM | Comments (0)

Racism and Symbols

Two years ago, I was accused of being a racist. This was long before I started blogging, so it had nothing to do with the Brigade . . . it was in person, at work. I was walking down the hall towards the coffee room, when a an employee from a different department asked me how I could wear such an offensive symbol.

Didn't I know that this symbol was the universal symbol of hatred, racism, and intolerance? Could I possibly not be aware of this? Was I blind, stupid, or both?

Didn't I know that in England, they hoisted this flag over every site where racist attacks took place?

This symbol. (Graphic courtesy of this site.)

To cap it all off, my accuser was colour-blind. He thought the colours were green on white.

Update: Okay, the flag is the flag of England (not the United Kingdom, which also includes the Cross of St. Andrew and the Cross of St. Patrick). The shirt I was wearing was a World Cup 2002 shirt with the Cross of St. George prominently displayed over a soccer ball and the World Cup logo. And, duh, I was wearing it because I was supporting the English team (Canada not having qualified for the World Cup. Again.)

Posted by Nicholas at 03:32 PM | Comments (0)

Crime in Britain

I've started to touch on this topic a fair bit lately, but in a sense, it's a good thing that it's getting attention in the British press. Mark Steyn addresses the topic in the Daily Telegraph:

One of the key measures of a society's health is how easily you can insulate yourself from its underclass. In America, unless one resides in a very small number of problematic inner-city quarters or wishes to make a career in the drug trade, one will live a life blessedly untouched by crime. In Britain, alas, it's the peculiar genius of Home Office policy to have turned the entire country into one big, rundown, inner-city, no-go slum estate, extending from prosperous suburbs to leafy villages, even unto Upper Cheyne Row.

The murderers of John Monckton understood the logic of this policy better than the lethargic overpaid British constabulary. An Englishman's home is not his castle, but his dungeon and ever more so — window bars, window locks, dead bolts, laser security, and no doubt biometric recognition garage doors, once the Blunkett national ID card goes into circulation.

All this high-tech protection, urged on the householder by PC Plod, may make your home more secure, but it makes you less so. From the burglar's point of view, the more advanced and impregnable the alarm systems become, the more it makes sense just to knock on the door and stab whoever answers.

Posted by Nicholas at 02:47 PM | Comments (0)

Consumer Choice

Virginia Postrel has an article in the New York Times (registration required) talking about the latest threat to shopper sanity: too much choice. Do you remember when the greatest threat to shoppers was that evil capitalists were taking away choices?

Whether shopping for watches or jeans, salad greens or bathroom faucets, consumers have many more options than ever before. The variety of choices today gives us a much better chance of finding something that exactly suits our needs, our personalities, our activities and our bodies. We don't have to settle for the lowest common denominator or one size fits all.

But those choices can be overwhelming. Sooner or later, every shopper has an experience like my watch-buying breakdown. Our brains lock up, and we just want to go home. The stress is particularly great when we're buying unfamiliar goods, spending a lot of money or picking out something we'll have to live with for years.

I've had that experience myself recently. My desk chair at home finally gave up the ghost after nearly 20 years of service (the tilt mechanism self-destructed so that it no longer "un-tilts"). My wife and I went out to look for a replacement. Have you any idea how many desk chairs are available nowadays? Yikes!

It may seem like a trivial choice, but I spend a lot of time at my keyboard, so a comfortable chair is not a luxury: it's a necessary part of my work environment. It will probably be after the holidays before I can take the time to get a good replacement for the old one. Of course, while I'm waiting, I'm still using the old chair and hoping I don't cause myself damage when I sit down or stand up . . .

Posted by Nicholas at 12:11 PM | Comments (0)

QotD: Academia

Academia is simultaneously both the part of America that is most obsessed with diversity, and the least diverse part of the country. On the one hand, colleges bend over backwards to hire minority professors and recruit minority students, aided by an ever-burgeoning bureaucracy of "diversity officers". Yet, when it comes to politics, they are not just indifferent to diversity, but downright allergic to it.

The Economist, "America's one-party state", December 2, 2004

Posted by Nicholas at 11:57 AM | Comments (0)

Retirement "Planning", Bank Style

Having passed the terrible age of 40, I've been paying slightly more attention to what the heck I'll be doing after my last employer shuffles me out the door. Because I've been working in software for the past twenty years, I don't have any pension entitlements from any of my various employers (most of whom are no longer in business, at least under the original names). I could, of course depend on the Canada Pension Plan and Old Age Supplement from the government.

Okay, now that we've had a good laugh. . .

There's almost no chance that I'll be entitled to anything from the CPP, because by the time I'm old enough to draw from it, it'll be so far into the red that they'll be doing everything they can to exclude claimants and increase claw-backs. Anyone over the age of 35 who's depending on the Canadian government's largesse will be eating cat food and scouring rubbish piles by retirement age, unless they take some provision for themselves.

I've been saving money in my registered retirement savings plan, although I've never been able to afford to put away the legal maximum for my income (I've come close, but never hit the max). This is literally the only tax dodge available to Canadians earning less than $200,000 per year: the money you save in that year is deducted from your taxable income and the interest it earns is also tax-deferred until retirement.

This means I'm saving a theoretical 14% of my pre-tax income as provision against starvation once I retire. Sounds reasonable, no?

According to the banks, no. If you go to any of the major Canadian bank websites and look at their online retirement planning tools, you'll discover that no Canadian can ever really afford to retire. In my case, going on the (doubtful) assumption that I continue to earn the same as I do now until I retire, I need to save approximately 105% of my pre-tax income in order to barely maintain my standard of living after retirement. If I manage to stay employed for a few years after age 65, I cut that down to needing to save only 94% of my pre-tax income.

In the most hopeful scenario, where I work until age 78 and die the same year, I won't go bankrupt.

Okay, I'm exaggerating, but not by much. I've always found it depressing to do this sort of planning, and the bank websites (which of course are biased to encourage you to keep more money with them) sure don't help. For example, the CIBC retirement calculator says I need to save just over 75% of my take-home pay every month in order to be able to retire at 65. Aaaaggghhh!!!

Posted by Nicholas at 10:09 AM | Comments (1)

December 06, 2004

Raising the Red Ensign, Take 10

Paul at Ravishing Light hosts the most recent Raising. Go and see what the vastly more talented members of the Brigade are up to. . .

Posted by Nicholas at 05:12 PM | Comments (0)

Britain's Mood Changing?

As I mentioned last week, the crime rate in Britain has been going up steadily for years. The police and the courts don't seem to be able to reverse the trend (and the courts in particular have been making it easier to be a criminal). Antoine Clarke reports some hope in the deepening gloom:

Three months ago, I was 'an extremist'. Today, I am merely 'controversial'. I have not changed my opinion, but what is called "the public mood" has changed, at least in London.

The Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir John Stevens, interviewed in the Daily Telegraph, has shifted the official middle-ground:

Householders should be able to use whatever force is necessary to defend their homes against criminals, even if it involves killing the intruder, the country's most senior police officer said yesterday.

Sir John Stevens, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, said those who defended their families and property should only face prosecution over injuries to intruders in "extreme circumstances", where they could be shown to have used gratuitous violence.

In the same way that a single swallow doesn't make a spring, a single sensible comment from officialdom does not necessarily indicate that the tide has turned. But it's nice to feel that there's a chance that common sense can make a comeback.

Update, December 7: Corrected my misspelling of Antoine's name. My sincere apologies!

Posted by Nicholas at 04:42 PM | Comments (2)

The Near-Future Automated Battlefield

A recent article in The Times talks about current and near-future battlefield technologies:

FORGET the Terminator. The killer robot of the 21st century will be the illegitimate child of a vacuum cleaner and a John Deere tractor. It does not wear sunglasses. And it is as likely to save your life as blow your brains out.

Meet the R-Gator, an unmanned, six-wheeled vehicle that can be programmed to follow soldiers around the battlefield like a mechanical pooch, using laser guidance to avoid obstacles. It can also perform unmanned patrols, carry soldiers’ backpacks and be upgraded to dispose of unexploded bombs.

Plans for the R-Gator were unveiled this week at a military engineering conference in Orlando, Florida, along with blueprints and prototypes of several other next-generation battlefield robots.

At this rate, the most essential piece of equipment for an infantryman will be the IFF transponder!

Posted by Nicholas at 04:18 PM | Comments (0)

When Saying It In English Just Isn't Enough

Sometimes, even though English is a remarkably useful language, you need something more. This page gives you a few choice usages in Latin, to help you seal the deal, classically.

And if like many bloggers, you are accosted with Tum podem extulit horridulum, you'll at least know what you're being accused of. . . and that a brisk Vescere bracis meis! is appropriate.

Posted by Nicholas at 04:04 PM | Comments (0)

A Failure in Parenting

Kate, at Small Dead Animals dissects a recent tragedy in Saskatoon:

These enlightened attitudes towards "families in poverty" of the past three decades have failed. Welfare and treaty based payments have turned childbearing into a cottage industry. Youth crime has not abated — it has worsened, in both scope and severity. In addition to unabated rates of property crime, we have Indian gangs running the streets of Saskatoon. They have graduated from stealing cars and vandalism to home invasions, stabbings, sawed off shotguns. Your grand social schemes are killing people and failing children.

The question of how we failed Delores Bird can be answered in the question no one has asked.

When are criminal charges going to be laid against the mother?

That's who failed Delores Bird. If the person responsible for the care of this little girl isn't guilty of criminal neglect, I don't know who is.

Posted by Nicholas at 02:33 PM | Comments (0)

Damian Wasn't the Only One to Write Off the Bears

The Vikings dropped another winnable game, this time to the Chicago Bears. Twin-City area idiots have already been screaming for Daunte Culpepper's head on a platter (after all, he's not doing as well as Peyton Manning, so he's terrible, right? Only 30 TDs against 10 INTs). Damian Penny indulges in a bit of happiness for his team. At least the damned Packers didn't win either, so the NFC North is still up for grabs.

In happier, local news, my son kept his indoor soccer scoring streak alive for another week, blasting in a penalty shot to help his team to a 5-1 win on Saturday. This is now seven straight games with a goal (he has eight in total: no goal in the opening game, but a pair in the second). He's also the only player on his team to score on penalties.

My hometown football (soccer to North Americans) team, Middlesbrough, doesn't play until later today, so no updates there yet.

Update: Boro beat Manchester City 3-2 at the Riverside. Goals by Mark Viduka and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink for Boro, Robbie Fowler and Bradley Wright-Phillips. Boro retains its hold on fifth spot in the Premiership.

Posted by Nicholas at 02:07 PM | Comments (0)

QotD: Christmas

Christmas, according to Hillary Rodham Clinton in 1999, is when those in that particular faith tradition celebrate "the birth of a homeless child." Or, as Al Gore put it in 1997, "Two thousand years ago, a homeless woman gave birth to a homeless child." For Pete's sake, they weren't homeless — they couldn't get a hotel room. They had to sleep in the stable only because Dad had to schlep halfway across the country to pay his taxes in the town of his birth, which sounds like the kind of cockamamie bureaucratic nightmare only a blue state could cook up. Except that in Massachusetts, it's no doubt illegal to rent out your stable without applying for a Livestock Shelter Change of Use Permit plus a Temporary Maternity Ward for Non-Insured Transients License, so Mary would have been giving birth under a bridge on I-95.

Mark Steyn, National Review, 2004-12-13

Posted by Nicholas at 01:38 PM | Comments (0)

Seasonal Melodies

James Lileks has a concern about Christmas music:

This isn't to say all the classics are great, no matter who sings them. I can do without "The Little Drummer Boy," for example.

It's the "Bolero" of Christmas songs. It just goes on, and on, and on. Bara-pa-pa-pum, already. Plus, I understand it's a sweet little story — all the kid had was a drum to play for the newborn infant — but for anyone who remembers what it was like when they had a baby, some kid showing up unannounced to stand around and beat on the skins would not exactly complete your mood. Happily, the song has not spawned a sequel like "The Somewhat Larger Cymbal Adolescent."

This reminds me about my aversion to this particular song. It was so bad that I could not hear even three notes before starting to wince and/or growl.

Back in the early 1980's, I was working in Toronto's largest toy and game store, Mr Gameway's Ark. It was a very odd store, and the owners were (to be polite) highly idiosyncratic types. They had a razor-thin profit margin, so any expenses that could be avoided, reduced, or eliminated were so treated. One thing that they didn't want to pay for was Muzak (or the local equivalent), so one of the owners brought in his home stereo and another one put together a tape of Christmas music.

Note that singular. "Tape".

Christmas season started somewhat later in those distant days, so that it was really only in December that we had to decorate the store and cope with the sudden influx of Christmas merchandise. Well, also, they couldn't pay for the Christmas merchandise until sales started to pick up, so that kinda accounted for the delay in stocking-up the shelves as well. . .

So, Christmas season was officially open, and we decorated the store with the left-over krep from the owners' various homes. It was, at best, kinda sad. But — we had Christmas music! And the tape was pretty eclectic: some typical 50's stuff (White Christmas and the like), some medieval stuff, some Victorian stuff and that damned Drummer Boy song.

We were working ten- to twelve-hour shifts over the holidays (extra staff? you want Extra Staff, Mr. Cratchitt???), and the music played on. And on. And freaking on. Eternally. There was no way to escape it.

To top it all off, we were the exclusive distributor for a brand new game that suddenly was in high demand: Trivial Pursuit. We could not even get the truck unloaded safely without a cordon of employees to keep the random passers-by from snatching boxes of the damned game. When we tried to unpack the boxes on the sales floor, we had customers snatching them out of our hands and running (running!) to the cashier. Stress? It was like combat, except we couldn't shoot back at the buggers.

Oh, and those were also the days that Ontario had a Sunday closing law, so we were violating all sorts of labour laws on top of the Sunday closing laws, so the Police were regular visitors. Given that some of our staff spent their spare time hiding from the Police, it just added immeasurably to the tension levels on the shop floor.

And all of this to the background soundtrack of Christmas music. One tape of Christmas music. Over and over and over and over and over and over and over again.

It's been over 20 years, and I still feel the hackles rise on the back of my neck with this song . . . but I'm over the worst of it now: I can actually listen to it without feeling that all-consuming desire to rip out the sound system and dance on the speakers. After two decades.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:04 AM | Comments (0)

More Wineries Go To Court

Jon alerted me to this post on Free Will:

Free the Grapes

At last, the Supreme Court is going to hear arguments on interstate wine sales.

The U.S. Supreme Court is set to hear cases on Tuesday on whether small California wineries, such as the Agua Dulce Vineyards north of Santa Clarita, can sell their products to the national market over the Internet, a practice that is banned in several states.

"California wineries, particularly smaller family-run operations, should be able to ship their product directly to customers in all states," said K. Lloyd Billingsley, editorial director of the Pacific Research Institute and author of the new report "Wine Wars: Defending E-Commerce and Direct Shipment in the National Wine Market."

"Twenty-four states prohibit direct shipments of wine," he said. "The trend is toward direct shipping and the high court should recognize that current reciprocity arrangements could simply be extended to all states."

As with the last report on wineries appealing against archaic and illogical restrictions, I hope that the court sees fit to restore rationality to the market.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:45 AM | Comments (0)

More on home-schooling

Several weeks ago, I posted a link to an article about radical home-schoolers (click here for that article). I mentioned that I'd had a commentary partially composed, which got blown away when I lost my browser session. This is a reconstruction of that commentary — sorry for the delay!

Home Schooling: Good or Bad for Your Children?

At risk of seeming hypocritical — I didn't home-school my own son — I'd like to wander briefly around the contentious terrain of whether it is a good thing to educate your own children or whether they are better off in the hands of trained professionals.

For some kids, the public school is an ideal environment: it provides structure, discipline, education, and socialization opportunities in the appropriate blend. For many others, the structure is oppressive; the discipline is uneven, unjust, or just plain absent; the education is badly organized, uninformative, or too far above or below that child's level; the "socialization" is a long, drawn-out terrorization by physical intimidation, physical assault, psychological torture, and isolation by both active and passive ostracism. Rather than being a nurturing environment for children to learn and grow, some children find school to be a training ground for bullies and that they have the choice of being victims or becoming accessories to the victimization of others.

I have long wanted to write a book about the best-kept secret of the American school system — that bullying of innocent children is almost 100 percent teacher inspired. It would be an explosive book, and would surely cause a great deal of anger among one of the nastiest, most militant, most vocal lobbying groups in the country — teachers.

Robert J. Ringer

School administrators value conformity and predictability to the natural exuberance and creativity that most children exhibit at the time they start to go to school. The degree to which the child manages to "sit down and shut up" tracks very closely to the reported success within the school system (not, mind you, actual learning or intellectual growth, just the numbers or letters on the "permanent record").

Alternate Tracks Within Public Education

Back in the 1970s, some school boards recognized that one-size-fits-all education didn't work for all students. My sister, for example, attended an alternative high school, which did not require full-time attendance in class and had individual tutoring rather than classes. Although she enjoyed it more than regular school, I'd be hard-pressed to say that it did her much good: she was rebelling against the very notion of authority, not just the need to sit in rows at school.

That being said, many public schools do offer a variety of alternative schools for some of their students, which probably means that there are a proportion of students who stay in school longer and learn more because they are better suited to the alternative school model. A problem is that most of these programs are more expensive than "regular" schools, and are more likely to be reduced or eliminated if they do not have local champions within the board hierarchy.

Charter Schools

A recent trend in public education systems, in both Canada and the United States, has been the creation of schools within the public system that mimic some of the attributes of private academies. Whether as "magnet schools" for arts or science, or as "uniformed" schools who attempt to create the visual conformity of private schools within the public system, they all are attempts to fix perceived problems in public education. It cannot be a welcome idea to those in positions of authority in public schools that there is a large (and growing) number of parents who feel that they must take their children out of the system to ensure that they get the kind of education the parents want them to have.

Further Reading

Michael Knox Baran writes about the latest trend in modern pedagogical theory: Constructivism.

Posted by Nicholas at 01:50 AM | Comments (0)

December 05, 2004

Creating Medical Panics Since 1919

An Associated Press news item has been running as a headline on Yahoo for a few days now:

Expert warns next flu pandemic could destroy Earth's ecosystem

HONG KONG (AP) - A medical expert has warned the next flu pandemic could wreck the global ecosystem, in addition to killing millions of people worldwide, a newspaper reported Saturday.

The World Health Organization warned last week bird flu is the mostly likely candidate to combine with a human virus, creating a new strain that could trigger a worldwide pandemic and kill as many as seven million people.

Microbiologist Kennedy Shortridge told a convention in Hong Kong on Friday he fears such a pandemic could destroy the global ecosystem in addition to causing human deaths, the South China Morning Post reported.

Scary, no? Exactly the sort of headline that causes people sitting on the fence to panic and stampede off in the chosen direction (in this case, to clamour for the highly politicized "flu shot", in all likelihood). Note that this is the published opinion of one researcher, and that:

The Microbiology Department at the University of Hong Kong said Shortridge could only be reached through his e-mail but he did not immediately respond to one.

Convenient, no?

Posted by Nicholas at 10:25 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: Canadian Winter

I recall explaining [. . .] that the really crucial part of Canadian Weather Stories is usually the last line: "So, that was fun."

That may have been the same conversation in which I explained what I mean by 'brisk,' and that "D*mn Cold, Eh" is in fact a greeting, not a question.

Marna Nightingale, posted to the Lois McMaster Bujold mailing list

Posted by Nicholas at 01:12 AM | Comments (1)

December 04, 2004

Creeping Credentialism

I'm not much in favour of the long-standing trend towards formal credentials for non-professional jobs: I'm definitely standing athwart History in this case. Here's a great example of what can be done today to create a fully credentialized portfolio for just about anyone:

After many months, I've finally been pushed to finish this article on questionable credentialing in hypnosis and "psychotherapy." A reporter from a major magazine wrote to "Dr. Zoe D. Katze" for input on an article she was writing on hypnosis for childbirthing. She had stumbled across Dr. Zoe's name on the American Association of Professional Hypnotherapists' website. I had to tell her the truth.

Dr. Zoe D. Katze, Ph.D., C.Ht., DAPA, is a cat. In fact, she is my cat. Those familiar with basic German have probably already enjoyed a laugh. "Zoe Die Katze" literally translates to "Zoe the cat."

Dr. Katze's credentials look impressive. She is certified by three major hypnotherapy associations, having met their "strict training requirements" and having had her background thoroughly reviewed. She holds a Diplomate in psychotherapy from an association that claims to promote the highest standards among psychotherapists.

I was motivated to credential my cat by two circumstances. First, I have become increasingly heedful of all the questionable credentials out there, and I've grown tired of sounding defensive to therapist-shopping clients who confront me with something along the order of: "I found somebody with all these certifications and diplomas and he/she charges half of what you psychologists charge."

The last straw (and my moment of inspiration) came during an internet search for a colleague. I accidentally came upon the website of another "psychotherapist" who listed a doctoral degree from an infamous diploma mill. Along with his degrees, he listed a veritable alphabet soup of impressive-looking letters after his name, corresponding to various "board certifications" and his status as a "Diplomat [sic] and Fellow" of the "largest professional hypnosis association in the world."

I decided to credential my cat.

I find this story just hilarious, as once again, members of my profession are attempting to create a formal credential to "ensure quality" and — not co-incidentally — keep out the riff-raff (like me).

Posted by Nicholas at 11:48 AM | Comments (0)

Is Googlaciousness next?

Google continues to strong-arm its way into the mainstream. According to this report, over 23% of polled respondants admitted to using Google searches to do private background checking on friends, co-workers, bosses, or clients. If you add in the people who do surreptitious checks on potential dates, the number is probably close to 50%.

Pretty impressive cultural invasion by a mere "search engine", eh?

Posted by Nicholas at 11:19 AM | Comments (0)

The NFC North, Religiously Speaking

The Vikings and the Green Bay Packers have a scheduled game on December 24th this year. December 24th is also considered by some to have some religious significance. In Wisconsin, the weaker affiliation is bowing to the stronger one:

GREEN BAY, Wis. — St. Bernard Catholic Church, several miles from Lambeau Field, has adjusted its Christmas Eve Day Mass schedule as the Green Bay Packers are scheduled to play at 2 p.m. that afternoon.

It eliminated its two 4 p.m. Masses and added a second Mass at 6 p.m.

The parish staff went back and forth in discussing its options, said Ginny Gigot, it's business administrator.

"This was not a unanimous decision,'' the pastor, the Rev. David Pleier, said in church bulletin item on the move. "Comments ranged from, 'You mean to say you're putting football ahead of the birth of Christ?' to 'What if we have a Mass and nobody comes? Would that be an honor to the newborn Savior?'

I may not be a Packer fan (thank goodness), but you have to respect a devotion that even trumps mere religious observances!

Posted by Nicholas at 12:55 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: Reading

I would like, for the sake of hipness, to be able to claim that I am reading some obscure French novelist of the inter-war period, in the original French. Unfortunately, the only thing I can read in the original french is no-smoking signs, and I hate most french novels written after 1890. Instead, I'm reaquainting myself with the poetry of Edna St Vincent Millay and Dorothy Parker, the patron saints of light verse. When I was in college, I thought I wanted to be Dorothy Parker, until I realised that no matter how hard I tried I was never going to be talented, Jewish, or short, and that dying alone only sounds romantic so long as you continue to believe yourself to be immortal.

"Jane Galt", Asymmetrical Information

December 03, 2004

Further Red Ensign Brigade Reinforcements

Welcome to Chriscam, the latest member of the Red Ensign Brigade.

Chris is a favourite destination for web traffic from France:

So in looking at my web statistics recently (i.e. about 5 minutes ago) I've noticed that a significant portion of my traffic (let's say 15%) is coming from....wait for it....drumroll please....france! Yes. It's true. I'm sorry to say that they seem obsessed with me. Je le trouve curieux parce que je déteste les français. Oui. J'ai employé un 'f' minuscule. Je l'ai employé parce que les français sont yellow goat fuckers. But that's okay. Maybe I can brainwash them to my way of thinking. Not immediately. No, not all at once to be sure. But slowly, deliberately. I will bring them around to my point of view. Either that or piss them off entirely. Either way I win.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:14 PM | Comments (0)

Technical Illustration

Brian Micklethwait discusses a new concept in digital cameras, which could be very useful indeed for anyone trying to write instructions for physical devices:

Think of all those instructions manuals where, in order to explain things properly, they cannot use photos, because photos are not clear enough, and must instead resort to laboriously created line drawings. Well, this gadget creates line drawings like that automatically.

Multi-flash imaging promises to facilitate and pioneer complicated rendering of mechanical objects, plants, or internal anatomical parts. Because of its ability to detect depth discontinuities, it may render shapes that would otherwise be difficult to perceive. For instance, a car engine could easily be captured in a non-photorealistic image and then superimposed over an actual photograph of the engine resulting in a superior manual illustration (see example below). Alternatively, a skeleton with complex network of white bones could be efficiently reproduced for instructional medical visualization. Additionally, an endoscopic camera enhanced with the multi-flash technology promises to enhance internal anatomical visualization for researchers and medical doctors.

I wonder if the kind of cheap digital cameras you can now buy for $200 will soon have this kind of facility.

Most of my technical writing has been about software, so this device wouldn't be as immediately useful to me as to someone in other industries — but it's a really cool idea.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:52 AM | Comments (1)

Jon Disses the Recyclers

Jon, my virtual landlord, has an amusing post up about his recent dealings with the recycling commissars:

This whole Blue Box and recycling thing is a crock. I am convinced that it has nothing to do with recycling and is instead an experiment in behaviour modification. The various levels of government want to see just how compliant we can be made to become. My guess is that they are hoping that, when the time comes, we will willingly walk to the camps just on being told that it's good for the environment – that way they won't have to provide transportation.

Especially pay attention to how he's taken to packaging his recyclable cardboard boxes. I don't think I'd have the stones to do that!

And while you're at Blogulaciousness, don't miss this post about the economics of hydro in Ontario. Good reading.

While I'm busy pointing to good posts on Jon's blog, I should mention that I had this idea to riff on an older posting of his ("Every time you use Highway 407, a terrorist gets appeased"). What I was going to do was to use the Treo camera, take a photo of a new sign that appeared recently on the 407 and edit the wording to say something deeply profound, like "Durka durka Mohammed Jihad!" (obligatory Team America reference). Unfortunately, the plan derailed because I'm a moron. I took the photo yesterday, while driving past the sign, and then forgot to save the image, and turned off the camera. Doh!

Posted by Nicholas at 09:41 AM | Comments (5)

QotD: Air Travel

If you go to a supermarket at certain times of the day, you'll find that the deli counter can be quite busy, so you pull a little ticket from the dispenser and mooch around in the general area, loading up the yoghurt and Pop-Tarts until your number's called. For 15 billion bucks, maybe the airlines could buy a couple dozen dispensers apiece. But apparently not. They want you backed up in lines shuffling your bags forward a couple of inches at a time because your misery is their convenience.

Mark Steyn, "Flight From Reality", The Spectator, 2001-11-17

Posted by Nicholas at 01:08 AM | Comments (0)

December 02, 2004

Battle to Save Highland Regiments Enters Final Phase

The Scotsman reports that more public figures have joined the protest against amalgamating the last of Scotland's famous highland regiments:

FIFTY leading members of the Scottish establishment have accused the government of risking a "manning crisis of nightmare proportions" if it presses on with plans to amalgamate all of Scotland’s infantry regiments into one super-regiment.

In an open letter to The Scotsman the signatories dismiss the Ministry of Defence plans as "flawed", "totally without logic" and likely to damage morale.

Names on the letter include Lieutenant General Sir Norman Arthur, former general officer commanding of the army in Scotland, Major the Earl Haig of Bemersyde, the Duke of Montrose, the Duke of Atholl, and the Earls of Elgin and Kincardine and Wemyss and March.

The government of Tony Blair seems to be oddly tone-deaf on this issue: they want to save money — a relatively modest sum — even at the cost of alienating huge swathes of Scottish voters. Under the circumstances, with Black Watch soldiers under enemy fire in Iraq, you would expect common sense and a certain electoral concern would stave off these unwelcome amalgamations.

Posted by Nicholas at 02:14 PM | Comments (0)

QotD: Canada

Canadians: The Jan Brady's of the International Community. ("It's always about America. America! America! America!")

V the K, The Writ of Common Wisdom

Posted by Nicholas at 10:10 AM | Comments (0)

December 01, 2004

"Economical" Cars

Dennis gives some real economic analysis on Natural Resources Canada's list of fuel-efficient vehicles:

It seems to me that except for the Toyota Echo and Matrix high efficiency cars are not for the cheap economically challenged. You could buy a Pontiac Sunfire for $16,230 and use that $14,000 savings versus a Toyota Prius to pay for fourteen years worth of gasoline. Something to think about when balancing fuel efficiency versus the purchase price.

Posted by Nicholas at 04:42 PM | Comments (0)

When Criminals Have More Rights Than Their Victims

In Britain, that's all the time now.

Perry de Havilland reports a very local crime in his neighbourhood:

Last night I had some friends and business associates around for dinner here in Chelsea. It was an agreeable evening at which some interesting conversations were had, some good food was enjoyed and some nice wine drunk.

And at around 7:00pm while all that was happening in my home, some 50 yards away my neighbour John Monckton was stabbed to death and his wife seriously injured by a pair of young vermin who broke into their house.

It seems as though the violent crime rate in Britain was always higher than here in Canada, but it struck me when I started going back on visits in the late 1980's that every house had a burgler alarm system. It made some sense in the inner city areas, but this was well out of the suburban areas in small villages and even individual farm houses — every house seemed to have one.

The passive defenses of an alarm system will only deter casual break-in, not determined domestic attacks, and an unintended side-effect of all those alarm systems is that the police were undoubtedly inundated with false alarms. It would not take long before any home alarm would be treated as a very low-priority call — there would never be the police resources to react in any other way.

Worse, the courts and the government worked in tandem to reduce the victim's legal recourse when under attack: consider the plight of the unarmed victim who knows that even if the attackers are driven off, the victim runs a good chance of being charged with assault!

Under these circumstances, it would not be surprising to find that a life of crime has gained even greater allure to the under-employed and the under-motivated. The rewards are greater than ever before, and the risks are constantly being reduced by legal action: no wonder there are more criminals joining in on the fun.

Posted by Nicholas at 03:24 PM | Comments (0)

NY Wine Monopoly In Court

The New York Post reports:

At issue legally is a clash between the 21st Amendment, which gives states the right to regulate alcohol distribution, and the Commerce Clause, which prohibits states from discriminating against out-of-state competitors. Which explains the alignment of forces: small wineries such as Swedenburg's, represented by the free-market Institute for Justice, versus wholesalers fighting to hold onto a highly lucrative monopoly.

A former Foreign Service officer whose mom-and-pop winery handles everything from the grape-growing through the bottling and distribution, Swedenburg reports that about 90 percent of her prize-winning wines are sold to visitors, half of whom live out of state. Technically, if they are from New York, even if they buy a bottle in person and bring it home themselves, they're still committing a crime.

Unfortunately, while the advance of the Internet makes a small, family-run winery economically feasible, just under half the states forbid such sales and five make it a felony.

I wish them all the best in this fight.

I still remember how I felt the first time we brought some US wine back into Canada (declaring the purchase like idiots good citizens) and having to pay the LCBO mark-up on top of duty and tax. We barely had enough cash to cover it — in those benighted days, the government didn't accept other forms of payment.

Let me say that it suddenly brought into focus just why some folks get into smuggling.

Posted by Nicholas at 03:05 PM | Comments (1)

Deconstructing Che

Steve H., at Hog on Ice linked to an essay by Agustín Blázquez on Val Prieto's site about Che Guevara:

"The problem with Guevara is that he is not a positive, life-enhancing myth, but a completely counterproductive one which feeds the worst and most destructive impulses in the Latin American mind — what I call 'political sophomorism' combined with an adolescent's grasp of the world and a nihilistic yearning for martyrdom (and even some good old fashioned Argentine necrophilia). Remember that Guevara's canonization began with that infamous shot of him dead, looking like Christ by Mantegna.

"Guevara was catastrophic for Cuba, and would have been catastrophic for Latin America but for his early transit.

"Guevara is actually laughable, and the sadness of it all is that no one has done to him what Michael Moore did to Bush, that is, a good spoof.

"We treat him like a legend, a Promethean, almost tragic figure, instead of what he really was: a no-good physician, a Mickey Mouse with a beret, an Argentine spoiled youngster that almost by accident walked into — we can no longer say he motorcycled his way into — a political swindle aspiring to be called a revolution.

"Treat him for what he was — he even looked a bit like — the Cuban Revolution's own Cantinflas."

The Cuban revolution and the post-revolutionary career of Che Guevara are things I know very little about: this essay was fascinating in part because I know so little about him and his accomplishments. What little I'd heard was from the hero-worshipping branch of academia, and so, not really strongly based in fact.

Posted by Nicholas at 01:57 PM | Comments (0)

My Virtual Landlord, at Lunch

I got a chance to try the camera feature on my new Treo at lunch today. Jon suggested that I should photoblog lunch. Unfortunately, we'd pretty much finished the meal, so I offered to take a photo of him instead. He's not happy having his picture taken:

JP_Restaurant_01Dec04.jpg

For those of you who are still scarred by seeing my previous photographic efforts, you can see that the quality of the equipment makes no difference to the inadequacies of the photographer.

Posted by Nicholas at 01:21 PM | Comments (4)

Chris Muir Returns

Chris Muir has returned from hiatus, so you can add Day By Day back to your regular daily visits. Welcome back, Chris!

Posted by Nicholas at 11:51 AM | Comments (0)

Austin Bay on the Ukraine Back-story

In the view of long-time (and old-time) Kremlinologists, the situation in Ukraine was triggered by part of a plan to re-create a super-power based on the heartland of the former USSR. Austin Bay summarizes:

In 1991, economics and population were the driving Kremlin interests in creating the RUBK [Russia-Ukraine-Belarus-Kazakhstan]. Super-power status takes money and a large number of people (how large is arguable, but 200 million is a plausible figure). The common economic interests linking Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan were a potential post-Cold War positive. Russia needed Ukraine's immense agricultural productivity. We saw Ukraine as benefiting from direct access to Russian natural resources.

The population issue, however, had a dicey dimension: Russian ethnicity. Russian ethnic communities were scattered throughout the former USSR, but eastern Ukraine and parts of Kazakhstan were intensely "Russified".

In 2004, the Kremlin of President Vladimir Putin still sees the economic benefits of a RUBK federation. He also sees it as a way to bring ethnic Russians back inside the borders of Mother Russia.

Belarus ("White Russia") remains a dictatorial basket case that might as well link up with Moscow. Perplexing Kazakhstan is another column. Installing pliant, pro-Moscow candidate Viktor Yanukovych as president was supposed to be Moscow's sneaky way of welding Ukraine to Russia.

Until pro-democracy demonstrations erupted in the aftermath [of] the rigged election, Moscow did not understand the degree of change in the Ukraine. Ukraine's neighbor, Poland, helps explain those changes. After 1989, Poland took the tough route to both political and economic liberalization. After 15 years the results are dramatic. Polish political confidence is extraordinary and the economy is a powerhouse compared to Russia.

Hat tip to Instapundit.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:37 AM | Comments (0)

TTLB MySQL Issues

In a mild panic, I posted recently about my sudden, puzzling loss of links from nearly half of my previously linked blogs. This post shows that TTLB's Ecosystem is having database problems, which very likely account for the weird discrepancy.

Oh, good — it wasn't just me.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:13 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: Libertarianism

Some people, of the sort who confuse (or who like to pretend for propaganda purposes that they confuse) libertarianism with libertinism, might expect a libertarian like me to rejoice at any collapse in marital fidelity. But my libertarianism is about the right to choose what promises you make, not about the right to break them with impunity, to the point where you are not even to be criticised for such cheating.

Brian Micklethwait

Posted by Nicholas at 12:05 AM | Comments (0)


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