May 31, 2005

Occam's Separation Lottery

I can only plead illness for having missed Occam's ratings for provinces seceding from Canada. Brilliant, incisive, funny — what more could you ask?

Posted by Nicholas at 07:40 PM | Comments (0)

UK Tax Freedom Day today

Samizdata celebrates the UK tax freedom day today. Sadly, our Canadian Tax Freedom day isn't upon us yet. To calculate your personal tax freedom day, use the Fraser Institute tax calculator. Then get depressed.

Posted by Nicholas at 05:02 PM | Comments (0)

I had always suspected this . . .

. . . that typical American mustard — French's — was originally marketed under the much more accurate name French's Cream Salad. Given how little actual mustard flavour is present in the bilious yellow paste, the original name seems much more appropriate.

Posted by Nicholas at 03:18 PM | Comments (0)

Humour is where you find it

I sent this link to Jon, merely to confirm all the nasty suspicions he harbours about us expatriate Brits.

He responded with a quote from the article, "Slag off, ya barmy punter," and implied that that would make a good name for a blog. Followed about five seconds later with "Actually, add an 'Eh?' to the end of that, and it's a Red Ensign blog."

Posted by Nicholas at 02:42 PM | Comments (0)

Chinese submarine accident reported

The Japanese media are reporting on a Chinese diesel-electric submarine which appears to have suffered some disabling damage near the Spratly Islands:

A Chinese Navy submarine stalled apparently after a fire broke out aboard the vessel while it was submerged in the South China Sea, sources close to the Japanese and U.S. defense authorities said Monday. As of Monday afternoon, the submarine was being towed above the water in the direction of Hainan Island. The Japanese and U.S. governments have been monitoring the vessel, and it is unknown whether there were any casualties, the sources said.

The warship in question is a Chinese Navy Ming-class diesel-powered hunter-killer submarine, the sources added.

According to the sources, the accident occurred in international waters about halfway between Taiwan and Hainan Island on Thursday, and the submarine was being towed by a Chinese vessel apparently in the direction of Yulin Naval Port on the island. It is not known whether the submarine surfaced on its own, the sources added.

Posted by Nicholas at 01:31 PM | Comments (0)

Tim Blair unveils yet more celebrity hypocrisy

Tim Blair finds some interesting facts about the currently fashionable anti-poverty wristbands adorning so many celebrity wrists these days:

Rank hypocrisy is a caring celebrity staple. I'm no fair-trade idiot, but how bad must working conditions be if they violate Chinese law?

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

More on the EU Referendum

Perry de Havilland is positively glowing with schadenfreude in this post at Samizdata:

With the decisive French 'Non' to the EU Constitution, clearly the whole project for European super-statist integration has taken a hit unlike any in its history thus far. In many ways the most significant feature of this is that it has made the intellectual and social disconnect between whole peoples in the EU's constituent nations impossible to paper over. In short, the nation called 'Europe' is seen to be a fiction and the 'inevitable march of progress' has been shown to be an illusion.

The only negative on this has been pointed out by Paul Wells (whose post I used as a QotD the other day), in that the majority of those who voted against the EU constitution were voting against free(-ish) markets and (slightly more) capitalism.

Now this attempt to get the UK to vote anyway is really splendid news and I hope that other people who share my views that the EU is an abomination will remember Napoleon's dictum "never interrupt the enemy when he is making a mistake" as any UK vote will almost certainly be a vote against the EU which will just widen the rift in political cultures between France and the UK.

I'm perhaps a bit of a "Little Englander", in that I've never seen the huge attraction for Britain becoming more integrated with the rest of Europe, so I share Perry's unholy delight in the unhinging of the Eurocratic plan. It will be interesting if the current British government follows through in their own referendum: I think, as Perry clearly does, that "Europe" is not a winning issue to British voters.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:29 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: The Beauty Myth

Another example: the elaborate piety over "the beauty myth." The poster child for this particular form of false sensitivity is the "plus-sized model," whose hefty dimensions are intended to teach us there are many different ways to be beautiful, that physical attractiveness is irrelevant. Fine: except, take a look at her. Aside from the rolls of flesh, she's gorgeous, in the most conventional, looks-are-everything way.

The sensible way of thinking about this, it seems to me, is not to pretend that beauty is irrelevant, or that everyone is beautiful "in their own way." It's to accept what you are. Some people are more attractive than you, some people (hopefully) are less attractive, but either way it's no big deal; and while physical beauty is a marvellous thing that we ought to celebrate for what it is — a happenstance of nature — it's one of the less important things you can say about a person. The same could be said about intelligence.

Andrew Coyne, "False Sensitivity", andrewcoyne.com, 2005-05-07

Posted by Nicholas at 12:22 AM | Comments (0)

Circularity of reference in the 'sphere

I quoted a couple of statements by Chris Martin recently, delineating his distaste for the very system that enables him to have a pulpit to denounce it (very rich men belittling capitalism and economic freedom seem to be an almost universal rule). Grant McCracken, over at the oddly named (but always interesting) This Blog Sits at the, digs a bit deeper:

Chris, buddy, not terrorism? AIDS in Africa? What about military dictators in the third world? Shareholders? Dude, take a course at LSE.

We're not surprised when rock musicians don't understand economics. But Chris doesn't even get the anthropology. As an author of contemporary culture, this shouldn't be so hard.

Chris and the guys are locked into the developmental cycle that controls a good deal of contemporary culture. A band comes up. They are eager to be included. They listen to management and their fans. They are interesting and accessible all at once.

Then, they decide that they are not being artistic enough, that they are not "pushing the envelope" hard enough. This makes them a little like medieval merchants. Once you've made your fortune, you start thinking about your soul. In the Coldplay case, it was time to get the "popular" out of culture.

There's a meme that could be ridden for a while. The honest, hard-working burgher of 1300, who has struggled mightily to make a place for himself suddenly has the leisure to contemplate things that normally are the preserve of the professional theologian: the contents of the soul. I find it interesting that the most common reaction of a person placed in this situation is a visceral rejection of everything that got them there in the first place, whether we're talking about my hypothetical "Leopold van Boer", George Soros, or Chris Martin.

Is it intellectual NIMBY-ism? Pulling up the ladder once you've ascended, to ensure that nobody can follow you? Is it something even more toxic? And why is it so common?

But back to the music biz . . . Grant finishes off with:

Contemporary culture has opened up. The audience is no longer either clueless or hip. Everyone, I think, is a good deal more sophisticated than we used to be. That means that new multiplicity rules apply and we are interested in a variety of music. More than that, we are interested in artists who are sufficiently mobile to work the creative continuum.

The last thing we want is to witness celebrity self destruction that comes from the anxiety that they are not "serious" and "artistic" enough. Chris, dude, you don't have to choose anymore.

It is sad that so many artists feel that need to somehow satisfy a different audience than the one that they've succesfully appealed to in order to become popular: as if that very popularity is somehow toxic. Down that road artistic madness clearly lies: do this too often and you'll become Bono!

Posted by Nicholas at 12:02 AM | Comments (0)

May 30, 2005

Outdoor football stadium? In Minnesota?

The new owner of the Vikings has floated a trial balloon about building an open-air stadium to replace the current Metrodome. John Holler would recommend that this idea be abandoned:

Zygi Wilf's recent (and rare) comment about owning the Vikings included his statement that he's not locked into having a domed stadium. In fact, Uncle Zygi would prefer an open-air stadium. He believes it would add to the mystique of the Minnesota football experience. My advice? Be careful what you ask for, because, simply stated, Vikings fans aren't that tough anymore.

I know from where I speak on this matter because, like many Vikings fans too young to be termed a Baby Boomer and too old to be tagged as Generation X (I guess that makes me Generation XL), I attended Vikings game at the old Met Stadium. Not the games where the weather was gorgeous in September or in the crisp autumn winds of October or even the chilling temperatures of November. No, I was lucky enough to get tickets for games in December. Why? Because season ticket holders wouldn’t go and plenty of good seats — if there ever were good seats for watching football games at the Met — were still available.

[. . .]

This belief that the Vikings would somehow recreate the glory of yesteryear by returning to an outdoor stadium has been promoted by and large by people who never actually had to sit in those seats year in and year out. Sure, they can spout some pathetic Garrison Keillor-type rhetoric about the Spartan existence of Minnesotans, but that’s a crock. The same people that used to freeze their butts off ice fishing now have heated fish houses with TVs and reels that announce when a fish has been stupid enough to swallow their bait. The same goes for an outdoor stadium. Build it and the suits won’t come in December.

I've attended NFL games in three stadiums: Detroit's Silverdome in November, Buffalo's Ralph Wilson stadium in late December, and Toronto's own Skydome (a snoozer of an exhibition game between the Browns and Patriots, back in 1993). The Silverdome was great, comfortable, with excellent views of the field (but the hometeam won, unfortunately). Ralph Wilson Stadium was one of the coldest, windiest places I've ever experienced. I barely remember the game, it was so cold. The Vikings won, which helped me to feel there was some purpose in me being there, but I've never seriously considered visiting again. Brrrrrrr.

Except for those folks who worship the frozen tundra of Lambeau Field, the rest of the NFL has been steadily moving toward indoor stadiums — and for damned good reasons, too!

Posted by Nicholas at 03:45 PM | Comments (0)

Nickname of the Week

Peter King, of Sports Illustrated, writes:

Mike Florio of profootballtalk.com has nicknamed new Vikings owner Zygmunt Wilf "Triple Word Score.'' I mean, that's the best nickname for anyone in football, ever.

Posted by Nicholas at 03:08 PM | Comments (0)

I SO want one of these . . .

There's someone in the veal pen (as we sometimes call the cube farm at work) who has the irritating habit of leaving his cell phone on his desk and leaving the office for extended periods of time. He also has one of those trippy little ringtones that plays a tune. Another coworker has characterized it as "the soundtrack to a 'Hello Kitty' whacka-chicka porn flick."

This might be the solution:

Maxwell Smart's "cone of silence" is finally a reality.

Two people in an office here were having a tête-à-tête, but it was impossible for a listener standing nearby to understand what they were saying. The conversation sounded like a waterfall of voices, both tantalizingly familiar and yet incomprehensible.

The cone of silence, called Babble, is actually a device composed of a sound processor and several speakers that multiply and scramble voices that come within its range. About the size of a clock radio, the first model is designed for a person using a phone, but other models will work in open office space.

I'll take a dozen. STAT!

Posted by Nicholas at 02:27 PM | Comments (2)

Lady Liberty goes to the movies

This week's edition of The Libertarian Enterprise has an article by "Lady Liberty":

In recent months, I've found that I'm not as comforted as I once was by reassuring myself that some horror is "only a movie," or that some night fright is "just a dream." While I could pretend that's some testament to my own vivid imagination or to a filmmaker's formidible gift, the fact is that that's not the case. While movies and dreams resemble reality but with subtle (sometimes not so subtle!) differences, it's a lot more frightening when reality begins to resemble some of our scariest horror movies or nightmares. Think I'm dreaming? Consider:

I thought that Minority Report was a heck of a good movie as far as movies go. But in the world of the near future, I saw some frightening details that I hoped would remain in the realm of Hollywood fantasy. While police are searching for a fugitive, they set loose handfuls of robotic cameras that crawl everywhere and provide live camera feeds for the cops. In another essentially throw-away scene, the hero of the film is walking through a shopping mall and, as his retinas are scanned and he's identified by store after store, a voice notes that he'd previously purchased a certain pair of pants, and that perhaps today he'd consider this certain type of shirt. Even as he runs, the suspect really isn't hard to track because cameras are everywhere, and his retina scans are on file. And then there's the fact that he becomes a suspect in the first place not because he's committed a crime, but because the authorities believe that he might.

I was surprised at how much I enjoyed Minority Report, and the very believable extensions of certain modern technologies (just ignore the main fantasy conjecture of the movie here). The micro-marketing as the hero tries to escape from a shopping concourse is just too readily believable. I hate being accosted in malls to begin with, but to have robotic marketers trying to cozen me into entering their stores — especially if they're privy to my existing buying habits — that would be utter bedlam.

The vast majority of us, much like the man in Minority Report, aren't criminals. Yet each and every one of us are, like him, apparently suspects in crimes that we might potentially commit. If that weren't the case, why is it that each and every one of us are subject to checks under the PATRIOT Act before we can open a bank account? How come each and every one of us must be checked for contraband before we can fly? Why is it that merely paying for something in a way the authorities view as "unusual" (insert "pay in cash" here) makes us a suspect in drug crimes or worse? How is it that most authorities and too many citizens view DNA dragnets as an acceptable way to catch criminals, demanding that we each prove our innocence rather than finding a prime suspect and then proving his or her guilt?

It's not that far a reach, really. We're already closer to that dystopia than any of us expected five years ago.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:59 AM | Comments (0)

The revised Red Ensign Standard

The Monarchist has produced a linkulacious post to supplement last week's initial hoist of the Red Ensign. This time, he's divided the links into broad categories, which is good on two levels: it allows readers who focus on one or two specific areas to find links they'll be interested in, and it departs from the strict alphabetization which usually means readers are suffering from Carpal Tunnel Syndrome before they ever get as far the letter "Q"!

Posted by Nicholas at 11:03 AM | Comments (1)

New class of ships?

I take a short break from blogging (okay, from just about everything beyond basic body functions, but that's not the point . . .), and everyone seems to get to the good stuff while I'm away. Hot new rumours about a new class of aircraft carrier being investigated by the Navy have, if you'll pardon the expression, surfaced.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:44 AM | Comments (0)

Memorial Day

The American Memorial Day holiday is upon us . . . or at least upon our friends down there below the 49th parallel. John, of Castle Argghhh, posts a very personal memory to mark the day:

With the permission of my old Army buddy Tony Cerri, and his daughter Sarah, who had to bury her essentially brand new husband, 2LT Leonard Cowherd.

*This* is what Memorial Day is about. Especially as long as my email inbox pings with casualty notifications. Remember — this was written last year.

If you would like a round-up of Memorial Day posts, another Castle Argghhh post should do the trick.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:31 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: The French Referendum

Tonight's referendum rejection of the European constitution by French voters is surprisingly strong for three reasons: the brute score for the No, 55%, is unusually high (it was a hair over 50% for the Yes in the 1992 Maastricht referendum); the last-minute polls which suggested the No camp's momentum was fading turned out to be inaccurate; and perhaps most important, the robust 70% participation rate makes the final result impossible to discount. France thought hard about this question and came out in great numbers to make a clear decision.

Because Belinda Stronach was not involved, expect most Canadian news organizations to ignore this news more or less completely.

Paul Wells, "Sens et non-sens d'un vote", Inkless Wells, 2005-05-29

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

May 29, 2005

Chris Taylor Resumes Blogging

I'd like to welcome Chris Taylor, blogger-in-chief at Taylor and Company, back to the ranks of active bloggers. Chris took a few months off, but clearly the lure of blogging was too strong for him to ignore.

As for me, I've been laid low with an unseasonal cold for the last few days, which partly explains the lack of blog entries. I'm feeling almost human again, so I hope to resume normal activity levels tomorrow. I'm sorry I missed my 10,000th visitor sometime yesterday . . . although how I'd have celebrated such a non-event, I'm not sure.

Posted by Nicholas at 08:49 PM | Comments (1)

QotD: Fiction Writing

It doesn't matter what process you use to get words in a row, as long as you arrive at the right words somehow. Use whatever method works for you. Early and often. You learn to write mainly by writing.

Writing is an art but publishing is a business; get a grip on good and graceful business etiquette. Be wary of overly-paranoid advice. A wonderfully sensible older work on the subject that gives a good grounding in the basics is Who Does What And Why In Book Publishing by Clarkson N. Potter. The Science Fiction Writers of America also has a boatload of useful basic advice up on their website at www.sfwa.org — I would especially draw attention to the articles "The Saga of Myrtle the Manuscript" and Pat Wrede's "Worldbuilding Questions". The newsgroup rec.arts.sf.composition can also be a good resource, at least on the days when they don't default to cats and food.

Lois McMaster Bujold, interview at Blogcritics, 2005-05-24

Posted by Nicholas at 12:00 AM | Comments (0)

May 28, 2005

QotD: Multitasking

I think it's probably true that everyone multitasks more than they used to, and some of us multitask virtually all our waking hours.

In short, we are all teenagers now. This was one of marketing research revelations of the 1990s: that teens could watch TV, take a phone call, do their home work, monitor a conversation in the other room, and ignore their parents all at the same time. But some 10 years later, it looks like kids were merely the early adopters.

Grant McCracken, "We are all teenagers now", This Blog Sits at the, 2005-05-24

Posted by Nicholas at 12:01 AM | Comments (0)

May 27, 2005

Converting semi-auto to full-auto

In a somewhat unusual post, Kate at Small Dead Animals provides information on the weapon used in the Mayerthorpe ambush of four RCMP officers:

Capt John Heinrichs sends along this info on the Hechler & Koch used in the Mayerthorpe RCMP murders, in response to comments.

1. Military rifles can be semi-automatic (one round per trigger pull) or select-fire (semi-auto and automatic fire). The latter are illegal in Canada, except for owners of such weapons prior to the Firearms Act of c.1965. The ban also covers the parts which can convert a semi-auto to select-fire.

2. Previous to our current weapons, the C7 (rifle) and C9 (light machine gun), the Canadian Army used the FN C1 (rifle- semi-auto) and FN C2 (light machine gun- select-fire). While there were cosmetic differences between the two, functionally they were the same. Except for one part in the trigger mechanism: by exchanging the part installed in the C1 for the part installed in the C2, the C1 became a select-fire weapon. Your commentators in the HK91 post were referring to this type of part switching. It was possible because the FN rifle was designed originally as a select-fire weapon. The Canadian Army decided the automatic function was useless in a rifle as the soldier would have difficulty controlling the FN on full auto. FN then redesigned the relevant part for the C1, making it semi-auto only.

I recall this little field modification being tried about every third time my unit went to the ranges for target practice . . . it almost seemed to be a rite of passage for certain kinds of infantry recruits. The FN C1 was a fine weapon — I wish they were legal for private ownership now without all the paperwork and licensing — I actually preferred the FN to the Lee Enfield or the M-16. Captain Heinrichs' comment about being difficult to control in full-auto mode is more applicable to the almost-raw recruit than a trained infantryman.

One of my few live fire "no shit, there I was" moments was on a range at CFB Borden, where I was supervising recruits — and one slightly-more-senior NCO — in firing the Stirling SMG at 200 yard targets. The current relay (the soldiers on the firing line) had just finished their first magazine of controlled fire — three-round bursts — and swapped to their second mags. All up and down the line, they were having some fun firing at pop-up targets, except for the aforementioned Master Corporal at the right end of the line. I'd just finished helping a recruit clear a jammed bolt, and stood up as I heard "Corporal Russon, I . . ." and a three-round burst went off about a yard to my right . . . pointed back up-range. The bullets kicked up clods of dirt which hit my leg and bounced off the back of the recruit I'd just assisted.

The idiot M/Cpl had had a hangfire, turned away from the target, started to move toward me, and then the damn round in his chamber had fired. He, of course, still had the trigger pulled back, so the first round was followed by the next two before he let go of the trigger. I was still in shock as the CSM came running down the line and took charge of the situation. I don't think he castrated the M/Cpl on the spot, but I wasn't quite taking notes at that point . . .

Interestingly, the M/Cpl wasn't out on the range with us for the rest of that training session. I heard a rumour about a year later that he'd nearly managed to blow himself and an instructor up on the grenade range, but that was merely hearsay.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:08 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: Canadian Values

During recent decades, our politicians have told us a sweet bedtime story about Canada being an exceptionally compassionate country, a world leader in multiculturalism and wonderfully generous to the poor countries. All of this expresses something called 'Canadian values.' All lies.

Robert Fulford, quoted in "Canada takes a new look at 'fable' of its image", New York Times, 2005-05-26

Posted by Nicholas at 12:03 AM | Comments (0)

May 26, 2005

Previewing the French vote on the EU

The voters of France are expected to vote against the new European constitution this weekend. Johnathan Pearce has a quick preview:

French voters go to the polls this weekend to vote on the European Union constitution, with polls so far suggesting that the "no's" will narrowly win and shaft the wretched project, although one should never, ever under-estimate the ability of the political establishment to scare voters into saying "oui". My hope, needless to say, is that the French vote against the constitution and throw a great big spanner in the works and prevent the creation of what will be, explicitly, a European superstate.

It is pointless at this vantage point to guess exactly what will be the impact on British political life if the French do nix the constitution. My rough guess is that Blair will secretly breath a deep sigh of relief, as will the Tories. I also think that the United States will also be glad about a no vote, although I am just guessing.

I share Johnathan's distaste for the new Constitution, and the explicit gathering up of further government powers to the centre which its adoption would accellerate. I thought his closing to be quite enlightening:

[. . .] I am struck by the fact that in France, much of the hostility to the constitution is coming not from pro-free marketeers, as is the case in many respects in Britain, but from those who fear that the process will open up France's high regulated, high-tax economy to the icy winds of laissez faire. The ironies abound.

Of course, the fact of mere voters saying no to the EU juggernaut is unlikely to deflect the mixed assortment of deluded idealists, crooks, place-seekers and sundry camp-followers from trying to advance their aims. But a delicious irony would it be if the land of Bonaparte, de Gaulle and Asterix puts a major block in their path.

Posted by Nicholas at 05:19 PM | Comments (0)

Jon's not dead . . .

. . .e's merely lurking on other bloggers' comment threads.

Posted by Nicholas at 04:00 PM | Comments (0)

This is what happens when comments go off the reservation

A post on Hit and Run yesterday had a brilliantly funny line in it:

[. . .] in congressmanship (as Rep. Yoda here might put it) one definition is having three brain cells to rub together and sufficient regard for free speech not to go slinging around the word "treason" like rhesus feces.

Then the comments thread got just a bit weird. As in, starting at PG-13 and rushing straight through R to X rating in bare minutes. Hilarious, but not things I'm comfortable posting here. . .

Posted by Nicholas at 01:42 PM | Comments (0)

Sale of the Vikings finally final

The long awaited sale of the Minnesota Vikings finally got unanimous league approval yesterday. New owner Zygmunt Wilf was introduced by Commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

Immediate advice to the new owner was proffered by St. Paul Pioneer Press correspondant Bob Sansevere:

Zygmunt Wilf can learn from Red McCombs.

Every day, the Vikings' new owner should ask himself, "What would Red do?" Then do the opposite.

Wilf might even want to get a wristband imprinted with W.W.R.D. and put a slash through the initials to remind him the Red way is the wrong way.

McCombs' tenure as the Vikings' owner does not include many warm and fuzzy memories for fans, players or coaches.

The Minneapolis Star-Tribune had this to say:

Zygi Wilf was so buoyant Wednesday that, in his first moments as the Vikings owner, he instantly praised Minnesota's weather.

He said he likes the state's climate so much he's ready to roll up his sleeves for an open-air stadium, with public funding as "part of the formula."

"Praised Minnesota's weather"? Has he ever been to Minnesota?

Of course, I've never been there either, so maybe it's not as bad as every Minnesotan I've ever talked to has claimed. Perhaps the mosquitos are not the size of Apache attack helicopters (and better armed), and the temperate does not alternate between absolute zero and 211 degrees Fahrenheit.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:42 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: Science Fiction

Science fiction and fantasy are the only genres in which a series can be defined by the universe in which it is set, which, when you think about it, gives a vast lot of creative elbow-room, potentially.

Lois McMaster Bujold, interview at Blogcritics, 2005-05-24

Posted by Nicholas at 12:08 AM | Comments (0)

May 25, 2005

Britain to crack down on magic mushrooms

The British government has decided to make magic mushrooms illegal some time later this year, reports The Guardian:

[. . .] magic mushrooms seem to have no adverse health consequences (unless you take them while operating heavy machinery). Which makes it curious, as Alice might have put it, that next month's Glastonbury will be the last where devotees can journey to the spirit world without fear of ending up in a prison cell.

The reason is that some time this summer — the Home Office won't specify — magic mushrooms, hitherto illegal only when dried or otherwise prepared, will, thanks to clause 21 of the new Drugs Act, be illegal in their fresh state — and classified as a class A drug alongside heroin and crack.

Clause 21 was rushed through by the last Labour government in what critics saw as a blatant attempt to appear tough on drugs. But the legislation is so flawed it could even see Her Majesty banged up at her own pleasure for permitting psycilocybe mushrooms to flourish at Windsor and Balmoral.

Yet another proof — as though another was needed — that governments must be seen to be doing something, even if the something is neither prudent nor necessary.

Posted by Nicholas at 02:06 PM | Comments (0)

A quick link for you Star Wars fans

Shortpacked! for May 23rd. Hat tip to James Reynolds for the link.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:18 AM | Comments (0)

Canada selling former British submarines!

It's true: a report in today's Halifax Herald reports that they're going for almost literally scrap metal prices:

Got a few thousand bucks to spare?

For the price of a luxury car or a fraction of the cost of a house or condominium, you could buy a submarine to park in your driveway or hang your hat in.

But if you want to take it out for a spin, well, you might need to invest a bit more.

I know for some of you this will come as a huge relief: the subs have been a huge millstone around the neck of the navy . . . except we're not talking about those subs. These are the old Oberon class subs:

The Canadian navy's four mothballed Oberon-class subs, tied up just north of the Angus L. Macdonald Bridge on the Dartmouth side of Halifax Harbour, should be up for bids by summer or fall.

"We are anxious to get rid of them," Defence Department disposal co-ordinator Pat MacDonald said from Ottawa on Tuesday. "We have been for some time."

HMCS Onondaga was the last of the subs to be taken out of service in 2000. That boat and its sisters Ojibwa and Okanagan were all acquired between 1965 and '68. Olympus, which was only used for training in the harbour, was purchased later as a used vessel.

Hat tip to Spotlight on Military News and International Affairs.

Posted by Nicholas at 09:44 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: Fashion

Fashion is most easily used as a disguise — it allows you to be something you're not.

Malcolm McLaren

Posted by Nicholas at 12:15 AM | Comments (0)

May 24, 2005

Europe plagued by singers, dancers

A sidebar item at American Digest led me to some scary stuff:

  • Eurovision, day 1: "Manolo says, Ayyyyyyy! The symptoms they are presenting. . ."
  • Day 2: ". . . already it worse than the ten plagues that the angry Yahweh meted out to the unjust Pharoah and the Egyptians."
  • Day 3: "Manolo says, Ayyyyyyy! The angry God he continues to punish his wayward children by visiting upon them the horrors of the Eurosvision Song Contest."

The horror. The horror!

Posted by Nicholas at 06:34 PM | Comments (3)

Tipper expands on the "Facts of Life"

Tipper uses a list from the QandO blog:

Rule No. 1: Life is not fair. Get used to it. The average teen-ager uses the phrase "It's not fair" 8.6 times a day. You got it from your parents, who said it so often you decided they must be the most idealistic generation ever. When they started hearing it from their own kids, they realized Rule No. 1.

I have to admit that I don't hear this one as often as I used to. I can't tell you how much I appreciate that!

Rule No. 6: It's not your parents' fault. If you screw up, you are responsible. This is the flip side of "It's my life," and "You're not the boss of me," and other eloquent proclamations of your generation. When you turn 18, it's on your dime. Don't whine about it, or you'll sound like a baby boomer.

I hear a lot of this "blame someone else" from kids these days. It never actually seems to be the fault of the speaker, it's always someone else's fault.

Rule No. 13: You are not immortal. (See Rule No. 12.) If you are under the impression that living fast, dying young and leaving a beautiful corpse is romantic, you obviously haven't seen one of your peers at room temperature lately.

This one has been an issue since the first cave teenagers started daring one another to throw stones at sabre-toothed tigers. Most of my teenage friends survived that period, but my younger sister's peer group had a significantly higher number of funerals to attend.

Update: I realized I missed an important comment on Rule No. 1. Maybe it is

Rule No. 1a. It's absolutely true, "life is not fair" and you should never expect it to be. But I still expect you to play fair, always. And though neither of us will ever be perfect, I expect it of myself too.

Well said. Rule 1a is sometimes the toughest one to follow in real life.

Posted by Nicholas at 05:13 PM | Comments (0)

Trying to encourage people to save more

Last week's issue of The Economist had an interesting report on a recent study of ways to encourage savings. The problem is:

Americans save too little. The personal saving rate, currently running at around 0.5% of post-tax disposable income, is at a record low. Poorer people, in particular, have too few financial assets. Fewer than one in three families earning below $40,000 have any retirement savings. And the typical family in this income group has only around $2,000 in non-retirement savings.

Encouraging any kind of private savings is clearly a priority for the overall health of the American economy: it would mean fewer elderly people who need economic assistance. Whether it's properly the role of government is a completely separate question, and one that few bother to ask these days — where it's axiomatic that any problem is the government's business.

A new study suggests there may be a better way. With help from H&R Block, America's biggest tax-preparation firm, economists at the Retirement Security Project, a bipartisan research group set up by Georgetown University and the Brookings Institution, studied the impact of offering poorer households saving accounts with various levels of matching contribution.

Unlike tax credits, matching contributions give poor people an incentive to save, regardless of how much tax they pay. During this year's tax-filing season, 15,000 of Block's clients in poorer parts of St Louis were offered the chance to open an Individual Retirement Account. As a carrot, they were offered, by the generous accountants, up to $1,000 at various matching rates.

I can understand how the offer of "free" money would be of interest. Heck, it'd be of interest to most of us.

The incentives seem to have worked. The higher the match, the more people saved. Without any inducement from Block, only 3% of its clients contributed to an IRA. With a 20% match (ie, if you saved $2,000, Block gave $400), one in ten put some money in. And with a 50% match, the figure was better than one in six. Those offered a 50% match put in eight times more money (excluding the match) than those offered no cash. And, so far at least, they have not rushed to cash in those bribes.

That last part surprises me just a bit. I've never needed to look into the details of opening an IRA, but I'd assumed the rules were similar to Canadian Registered Retirement Savings Plans (RRSPs), in that any money withdrawn from the account would be subject to withholding tax at the withdrawal point. That might be enough to deter casual dipping into the account.

The article ends by noting that even at the 50% matching rate, the vast majority of participants still chose not to save. This is no surprise: the poorer the person, the stronger the assumption that the government is going to provide them with a pension or food stamps or other forms of support when they're too old to work. This speaks of the huge success government has enjoyed in the past 50 years in persuading people that they are not actually responsible for their own lives. It's not just in the poorest quartile, either: savings rates in the next two quartiles are no great shakes.

It's telling that it's only in the last few years that this idea — that there won't be a big pot of government gold at the end of the working rainbow — has been discussed anywhere outside the business pages of the newspapers. It'll take a while longer for the idea to achieve mass awareness. Acceptance isn't guaranteed — because it'll be a problem that government will be expected to solve.

Posted by Nicholas at 04:37 PM | Comments (0)

Well, there goes MY evening

On the way back from lunch, I tried to get a copy of Lois McMaster Bujold's The Hallowed Hunt at the local Chapters store. None in stock, little to my surprise. What they did have in stock, however, was a trade paperback copy of George Macdonald Fraser's newest Flashman book, Flashman on the March. Last time I checked, it wasn't going to be available until late June, and that was hardcover only.

So much for getting anything else done when I get home tonight . . .

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

The BOFH on love . . . and curry

The BOFH provides worldly advice to his young assistant.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:09 PM | Comments (0)

Red Ensign Brigade update

First, a belated welcome to our newest member, Canadianna.

Second, a pointer to what would have been the XXIInd Raising of the Red Ensign, over at The Monarchist. He has chosen to demonstrate his total revulsion for the political shenanigans in Ottawa last week by breaking with Brigade tradition and not linking to the best posts of the other blogs in the Brigade.

While I respect the Monarchist's decision, I hope it's not something that future hosts of the Standard will feel the need to emulate. I don't generally get a lot of my traffic from the Standard posts, so this isn't really a big deal for me either way.

Temujin, at West Coast Chaos, promises a more traditional Standard in two weeks' time.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:12 AM | Comments (1)

QotD: Discount Airlines

Some thoughts on discount airlines. The ticket price sounds good, yes, but the discount is eaten away by overweight baggage charges and the price of rail/coach tickets each way to and from your destination city and hinterland airport. Big savings for the inconvenience and expense are retained by the airline are while each souvenir of your visit jacks up your fare to exactly where it would be had you flown with a proper carrier. At least, such is the guestimate of the travelling book collector. If stamps and other light-weight antiquities are your game you may not face the same problem.

[Ghost of a Flea], "Sic transit gloria mundi", Ghost of a Flea, 2005-05-23

Posted by Nicholas at 12:07 AM | Comments (0)

May 23, 2005

Buying a new car, Minnesota style

Well, I try not to post links to the same authors too often, but this article by James Lileks is too funny not to link:

We're buying a car, and I've learned one thing: Don't tell anyone you're buying a car. You'll be drowned with well-intentioned but useless advice. Such as:

Hey, how about that new Chevy Gazunga? That's one sporty little number. Of course, I've read that it hydroplanes in dew, but you gotta admit it's sweet. What, you're not buying something fast, small and impractical? What sort of a man are you? Why don't you just cut to the chase and wear a skirt, then? You disgust me.

[. . .]

Have you considered a Hummer 2? Then everyone will hate you as a wasteful American, a tool of the Saudis and a gross, rapacious killer of this ineluctably fragile thing we call Earth. It's legal in 14 states to key a Hummer, did you know that? I had one once, but it had a blind spot, and I kept backing over things, like playgrounds. But it comes with some nifty accessories, like a trampoline for getting on the running board. And the keys are made from depleted uranium. The manual comes in a baby-seal pelt, and includes a photo of the seal being clubbed. Signed by the clubber!

I'm actively resisting the notion of looking for a new car this year, so this column hit home very accurately.

Posted by Nicholas at 04:44 PM | Comments (0)

Lileks raves about "Team America"

I forgot that our American neighbours fail to honour the memory of Queen Victoria today, and therefore are all hard at work (suckers!). As a result, I only thought to check some of my usual sites for interest a little while ago. James Lileks has an interesting review of Team America:

[. . .] I had some exposure to the South Park creative team, so I wasn't surprised by anything in "Team America." Oh mercy, it was funny. Maybe I'm just a sucker for interminable puppet puking, but I thought it was brutal, cruel, mean, unfair, and hilarious enough so you still wore a rictus during the so-so parts. You could almost hear the writers jumping up and down laughing and screaming when they saw the rushes for Janine Garofalo's death scene: man, who knew a puppet could have its head blown off so expressively? I wasn't completely comfortable with using 9/11 as a punch line, but I'm a humorless scold about some things, that being one. I have to admit, though, it's a brilliant satire of all those US-forces vs. the terrorists movies we've suffered through in the last few years. You know, the ones with the Arab militants as the bad guys. The ones full of jingoistic drivel about Special Forces. The ones that feature all sorts of slam-bang action designed to make you feel good about our side and hate the other.

You know, those movies.

"Team America," in other words, maybe the first movie that satirizes a genre that doesn't actually exist.

But . . . it could have existed. Therefore it's legitimate to poke fun at it, gaining political points for the excesses of your unworthy opponents for things they didn't do. If you follow Canadian politics, you can quickly grasp the concept: it's practically the number one operating instruction for the Liberal Party, after all.

And, dare I say it, you might just find large groups of Americans who actually believe that such movies have been made in large quantities since 9/11.

Posted by Nicholas at 04:29 PM | Comments (0)

Lois McMaster Bujold interview

There's an interesting interview with Lois McMaster Bujold on Blogcritics. At one point, Lois describes the writing process for her:

I don’t write every day. I spend some days or weeks on the less visible "pre-writing" phase, getting my ideas in order and captured in a notebook. I work on a book in small sections, in chronological order. I can plot out a section, which may be one or several chapters, then figure out what scenes go in the next chapter, then take each scene and think about and visualize it and, eventually, scribble something between an outline and a first draft in pencil. I choreograph my dialogue very closely — script it — in pencil before attempting to type it. I take these notes, scene by scene, to the computer to turn into the "first" draft. Once I have a chapter assembled in my head, the writing usually goes quickly and intensely, and the chapter will fall out in two to five days. This empties the buffers — when I get it written down I can stop remembering it, always a great relief — and makes room in my limited brain space for the next bit. Then there will be another long apparent pause while the next wodge forms up. Long walks are very good for this part of the process.

Posted by Nicholas at 03:33 PM | Comments (0)

Things not to do next time you direct Shakespeare

A recommended link of the day on one of my mailing lists: Things I Will Not Do when Directing Shakespeare list:

2. I will not cast anyone who can accurately be called a "teen idol" simply to draw in the trendy set.

3. I will not put the cast in Victorian costumes for want of a better idea.

4. I will not imply that Hamlet is sleeping with his mother, or wants to.

. . .

13. Richard II's minions will not be made to wear pink.

. . .

26. I will not cut important scenes simply because I do not like them.

27. If I am running an annual Shakespeare festival, I will acknowledge that there are plays beyond A Midsummer Night's Dream and Twelfth Night.

. . .

40. Titania should not be portrayed as a dominatrix.

. . .

53. Actors should be told that these are characters interacting with each other, not people reciting lines. They should be hurt if they forget that.

. . .

68. I will not aim for realism in my fight choreography when both armies together only number about ten people. Especially if I have a big stage.

69. Richard III will not be portrayed as a whiny little prat who couldn't seduce or murder his way out of a wet paper bag.

. . .

88. I will not portray Mercutio as a speed addict and Tybalt as his dealer. I will try to do the world a favour and cease from modernising Romeo and Juliet.

I've been involved in fight choreography for Shakespearian productions, and I was laughing out loud through most of this list . . . which continues down to item 359!

Hat tip to Marna Nightingale for posting the original URL.

Posted by Nicholas at 03:02 PM | Comments (2)

Disguising yourself as a Canadian

One of the bloggers at Castle Argghhh!, CW4BillT, is heading over to "Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkey"-land for his 20th anniversary trip with his wife. One of the helpful comments on that post gave tips on how to disguise himself as a Canadian:

Ciggy briefed on May 23, 2005 09:45 AM

You're headed into hostile territory. Best to camouflage yourself as Canadian, just to avoid problems. Don't forget to practice your Canadianness:

1. Any "OU" dipthong is "OO" not "OW"

2. All things Canadian are superior to all things of the U.S., but inferior to all things Eurotrash, because Canadians suck up to the Eurotrash the same way the Eurotrash suck up to the Islamofascists (which is why the Eurotrash love Canadians!)

3. Maple syrup is a condiment.

4. Beer is a survival supply.

5. Amerind tribes are referred to as "FIRST NATION", not "NATIVE AMERICANS".

6. PC moonbattery goes out the window when you have to shoot a grizzly bear to get safely to work in your morning commute through the backwoods. (Some Norwegians and Finns understand this exception to the rule, too.)

7. Remember not to find any irony at all in the fact that your "nation" is tolerant of the intolerant (Islamofascists) and can still consider that to be tolerance. Pretend to be nonplussed when asked when the beheadings will start up, in Toronto.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:10 PM | Comments (2)

QotD: Victoria Day

Happy Victoria Day, the day we honour an old queen by giving her not a moment's thought. A year or two back, some professor thought we should change Victoria Day to Heritage Day to "strengthen our heritage." We strengthen our heritage by obliterating it, apparently. True, there exist many confused persons who believe Victoria Day is Stock's gran'ma, but that's no reason not to stand up for the old gal. She was our first wholly constitutional monarch, and thus a critical figure at a critical time: She embodies the principle of peaceful evolution that distinguishes the Britannic world from ... well, pretty much everywhere else, come to think of it.

Mark Steyn, "Victoria Day", The National Post, 2002-05-20

Posted by Nicholas at 01:40 AM | Comments (0)

May 22, 2005

QotD: Canadian Socialism

Canada is being destroyed by a form of socialism, but it is not called socialism. Even the NDP shy away from the s-word, and did so long before the fall of the Berlin Wall. How do you fight an idea, or even examine it, when there is a tacit social convention not to speak about it. Forget the Victorian morality brigades fainting at the mention of sex or women's suffrage. Our modern moralists, who, in this country, are mostly on the left, will not let you use the s-word when talking about issues of public policy. To do so is to be an extremist. A sin at least as bad as immodesty a century ago.

We are a nation of muddlers. Until we grow out of that I'm afraid the words "American-style" and "ideologically driven" will continue to frighten us away from seriously debating issues of public policy.

"Depart, I say, and let us have done with you. In the name of God, go!", Gods of the Copybook Headings, 2005-05-14

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

May 21, 2005

Kate Caves to the New Liberal Reality

Kate, of Small Dead Animals, has finally realized that the battle is not worth fighting. She's conceding, and re-aligning her world to fit the new reality:

The Liberal Party will not only continue to exist, they shall continue to govern and enjoy the privilage of stealing from me for the greater good.

So, to my fellow moderate, mainstream, compromising Liberal Canadian citizens so tolerant of the mischievious ways of our political masters — today I concede.

You win. I lose. You are right. I was wrong. You were always right, and I was always wrong.

Having broken the shackles of black and white, I'm ready to venture into this brave new ethical world of "Grey" and work with you. I can't say I understand it, but nonetheless — it's time to adapt.

As my first step, as a show of good faith, I've arranged a compromise with you. We will find a middle ground between "honesty" and "dishonesty", a happy litlle grey parking spot between "respect for property" and "systematic theft".

Posted by Nicholas at 05:01 PM | Comments (1)

Angry's Canadian Blog Ecosystem

Angry in the Great White North has a cool new sidebar displayed on his main page: an extract from the TTLB Ecosystem showing specific Canadian blogs and their TTLB rankings.

If you're a Canadian blogger and you'd like to have your blog listed in the AGWN table, drop Angry a line at "angry.in.t.o at gmail dot com" letting him know your blog name, URL, and confirming that you're already registered in the TTLB listing.

For his next trick, Angry is promising that the numerical ranking will become a hyperlink to each blog's TTLB details page.

Thanks for the cool new toy, Angry!

Posted by Nicholas at 09:31 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: Wine

"I don't mean to sound cynical," [Antonio Terni] said as he tipped the Conero sideways for a moment and eyed the tint. "But I do hate all this pseudo-intellectual mental masturbation about wine. I make two wines: one for Americans and one for myself. They're both fine."

Lawrence Osborne, The Accidental Connoisseur, 2004

Posted by Nicholas at 12:00 AM | Comments (0)

May 20, 2005

Sports club welfare queens

Some folks like to argue that professional sports teams bring business to their hometowns and that, in return, those cities should subsidize the teams. This Jacob Sullum post quotes New York Times columnist Bob Herbert to show just how expensive this little pecadillo can get:

The rail yards on which the stadium would be built are owned by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and the development rights have been valued by the M.T.A.'s own appraisers at $923 million. But the M.T.A. has agreed to sell the rights to this publicly owned property to Mr. Johnson and the Jets for a mere $250 million. That's a subsidy of nearly $700 million for the mayor's fabulously wealthy buddy.

When you add that subsidy to the $600 million in public funds that the mayor and the governor had pledged from the beginning to hand to [billionaire Jets owner Robert Wood Johnson IV], we're talking about a giveaway of $1.3 billion. The rascals used to do this sort of thing in back rooms, while worrying about headlines, indictments and handcuffs. Now they've figured out how to do it legally...

I guess we should all be happy that the Canadian government didn't have any more professional sports franchise owners to subsidize.

Posted by Nicholas at 04:33 PM | Comments (0)

The Tiger has it both ways

Ben posts the good and the bad aspects of the knife-edge vote in the commons yesterday.

A two-fisted poster, if you will.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:03 PM | Comments (0)

Vikings RB faces one year suspension

A report in the St. Paul Pioneer Press says that Onterrio Smith, Minnesota's rushing leader last season, has failed a drug test and will be suspended for this year:

Minnesota Vikings running back Onterrio Smith has been informed by the NFL that he faces a yearlong suspension for a third violation of the league's substance-abuse policy.

A person familiar with the situation confirmed that action Thursday, hours after Vikings head coach Mike Tice announced that Smith would be excused from the remainder of the team's offseason program.

The same person told the Pioneer Press that Smith's latest violation has nothing to do with an incident at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on April 21, when the third-year running back was stopped with a device — "The Original Whizzinator" — designed to circumvent drug tests.

The specific nature of Smith's violation could not be confirmed. ESPN.com, citing two unidentified Vikings employees, reported that he had missed a league-administered drug test, which under NFL policy is equivalent to a positive test.

This is probably Smith's final chance blown. Regardless of what I think about the logic of the league's anti-drug stance, Smith has given up on an NFL career through either stupidity or, er, well, just stupidity, I guess.

If Smith had managed to stay clean, play well for the Vikings this season, and otherwise be a model player, he'd have been looking at a nice multi-million dollar contract for next year. Now, he'll be lucky to be signed to the roster at all.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:07 AM | Comments (0)

Light blogging forecast for today

My boss is visiting the office (the group I work for is based in the US, even though it's a Canadian company), so I may be called into meetings — or on the carpet — throughout the day. Expect intermittant posts, if any.

Posted by Nicholas at 09:49 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: Paternalism

By treating the poor as if they are not choosing their diets in any meaningful sense, people license themselves to start making choices for the poor. John doesn't realise that his hamburger is killing him, so I'll just take it away and give him a nice sliced turkey sandwich and an apple and if Johnny is very, very good Mommy will take him to the zoo later. I've never understood how the belief that a large swathe of our society is in need of a nanny is reconciled, ideologically speaking, with the belief that we should do everything we can to encourage those people to vote.

Jane Galt, "Suddenly, and for no apparent reason . . .", Asymmetrical Information, 2005-05-16

Posted by Nicholas at 12:07 AM | Comments (0)

May 19, 2005

Jello Dithers survives another vote

Well, it all came down to a single vote. The house comfortably passed the main budget (bill C-43), by a total of 250-54. The separate bill to bribe the NDP was bill C-48. The vote on that bill split the house exactly down the middle, 152-152, giving the Speaker the deciding vote. To nobody's surprise, he voted to keep Dithers and Co. in power.

Posted by Nicholas at 06:29 PM | Comments (2)

Poll Tracking, part IV

The unexpected results, in the most recent poll, of Belinda Stronach crossing the floor to join the Liberals:

Pollwatch20050517.gif
Click to enlarge

Most recent data from the COMPAS/Ottawa Citizen poll, published today.

Posted by Nicholas at 05:45 PM | Comments (0)

Search logs

My sitemeter referrer's log shows a lot of people visiting the site over the last 24 hours looking for "Belinda Stronach Nude" and "Belinda Stronach Photos". Not here, guys, sorry. Perhaps someone out there is providing this sort of content, but even if I had such photos, I don't think I'd be posting them here.

Even odder, there were several folks looking at old photos I posted last year (before the meme about "blogging the cat" went round the 'sphere). I wonder what the sudden interest is?

Update: Jon offers this eBay auction listing as a form of compensation.

Posted by Nicholas at 04:32 PM | Comments (0)

Another collossal waste of time, incoming

Civilization IV is coming out a bit later this year. Read the interview with Barry Caudill, the senior producer for Firaxis Games:

Long a favorite of turn-based strategy fans, Sid Meier's Civilization franchise has gone through quite a few incarnations since it was first released almost 15 years ago. Each new version of the game and each new expansion built upon the core premise of leading your civilization throughout history, from the founding of its first cities to its eventual colonization of other planets.

Though we've known about an upcoming sequel for some time now, the folks at Firaxis have been pretty tight with the information. Now, mostly because they're tired of me calling them every day and are probably worried about making me cry again, Firaxis's senior producer Barry Caudill finally consented to answer our questions about the game.

IGNPC: Sweet Civilization. You realize I have to quit my job once this game comes out, right?

Barry Caudill: Yes we do, that's why it's good we work here at Firaxis...or we'd all be on the dole J Oh...was that rhetorical?

I've spent many, many hours of time playing the various games in the Civilization series, although I have to admit that Civ III never grabbed me as much as earlier games. Perhaps it's just my basic lack of gameplaying ability, but I have never been able to get as involved in the newer game, despite its much better interface and better-developed concepts. Perhaps Civ IV will reverse that trend for me.

The one thing I've found with Civ III is that the game is much more blatant about cheating against the player: I've lost count of the number of times my country has stumbled for lack of critical resources. No matter how large my civilization became, I'd usually find that Saltpeter, Coal, and Oil resources were just outside my reach, typically in the territory of formerly friendly, but now hostile nations. The game tries desperately to force you to military solutions, just when the military balance of power has shifted dramatically away from you (you can't obtain gunpowder weapons without a source of Saltpeter, for example).

As a former wargame addict, I'm not averse to launching invasions or repelling 'em, but when the enemy is toting muskets and cannon and your forces are still swinging swords and using catapults, the outcome is rarely in doubt.

I can certainly understand why programmers take shortcuts like this: even today, the average gamer can easily out-think the program's strategy choices so that the program needs a simpler set of rules to compensate. But there have to be better ways of accomplishing it.

One of the most interesting changes is in the way governments are configured:

There are no set governments anymore. In Civilization 4, you can choose from various civics and combine them to make the type of government you want. For example, you may have a Theocratic Police State that also has Universal Suffrage or you may have a Pacifist Slave State with Hereditary Rule. The Civics are divided into five major areas — Government, Legal, Labor, Economy, and Religion — and each of those has 5 possible choices depending on what you have researched. In addition, AI leaders will have certain favorite Civics and they may ask you to either switch to theirs or stop using the one that offends them.

This will sound stupid, but I've always had issues using some of the more dictatorial forms of government (I think I've only ever used "Communist" once, and that was in a war I was losing from the get-go). This new concept sounds much more palatable.

Posted by Nicholas at 01:42 PM | Comments (0)

Irshad Manji on the Qur'an

After Newsweek backtracked on their story about American interrogators at Guantanamo Bay flushing a copy of the Qur'an down a toilet, the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan is still unstable. Irshad Manji tries to provide some perspective:

Still, at least one more question needs to be asked: Even if the Qur'an was mistreated, are violent riots justified?

"What do you expect?" my critics will declare. "Abusing the Qur'an is like abusing basic human rights. If you're a good Muslim, your identity and dignity are bound up in revering the Qur'an. It's the literal word of God. Unsullied. Untouched. Unedited. Unlike the other holy books."

Sorry. That argument just doesn't wash. One can appreciate the Qur'an's inherent worth, as I do, while recognizing that it contains ambiguities, inconsistencies, outright contradictions — and the possibility of human editing. This is not simply a reform-minded Muslim speaking. This is Islamic tradition talking.

For centuries, philosophers of Islam have been telling the story of the "Satanic Verses." The Prophet Muhammad accepted them as authentic entries into the Qur'an. Later, he realized they deify heathen idols rather than God. So he belatedly rejected the verses, blaming them on a trick played by Satan. Which implies that the Prophet edited the Qur'an.

Let's push this point further. Because pious Muslims emulate Muhammad's life, those who compiled the Qur'an's verses after his death might have followed his example of editing along the way. The compilers were, after all, only human — as human as Muhammad himself.

Hat tip to Spotlight on Military News and International Affairs.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:54 AM | Comments (0)

Virginia Postrel on media bias

Virginia Postrel discusses an aspect of media bias in her current New York Times piece (registration required):

In a recent paper, "The Market for News," two Harvard economists look at that question. "There's plenty of competition" among news sources, Sendhil Mullainathan, one of the authors, said in an interview. But "the more competition there has been in the last 20 years, the more discussion there has been of bias."

The reason, he and his colleague, Andrei Shleifer, argue, is that consumers care about more than accuracy. "We assume that readers prefer to hear or read news that are more consistent with their beliefs," they write. Bias is not a bug but a feature.

In a competitive news market, they argue, producers can use bias to differentiate their products and stave off price competition. Bias increases consumer loyalty.

An interesting line of inquiry, although it doesn't apply as well to smaller media markets (like Canada), where concentration of media ownership is easier to achieve. Canadians can get coverage of world events from liberal to conservative US media, but Canadian media is much less well-distributed (the Sun chain of newspapers are the only major group with a conservative bias, while no television or radio network is a Canadian equivalent to Fox, for example).

Posted by Nicholas at 11:15 AM | Comments (0)

Coldplay coldcocks the shareholders

A post at Hit and Run (pointedly titled Will the Next Album Feature Tiny Violins?) pointed to this brilliant examination of why rock musicians should sing rather than pontificate on economic issues:

Coldplay lead singer Chris Martin today launched an attack on his record label EMI and the company's shareholders.

It came after EMI, the world's third-largest music company, warned that profits would be lower because the band took longer than expected to finish their first studio album in three years.

How dare those cretins at head office criticize the genius of Chris Martin?

"I think shareholders are the great evil of this modern world."

Martin told reporters at Manhattan's Beacon Theatre that the band was uncomfortable that they sell so many albums they can affect a major corporation's stock price.

"It's very strange for us that we spent 18 months in the studio just trying to make songs that make us feel a certain way and then suddenly become part of this corporate machine," Martin said backstage.

He criticised what he called "the slavery that we are all under to shareholders".

If it makes Martin uncomfortable, just imagine being one of those poor shareholders!

Posted by Nicholas at 10:55 AM | Comments (0)

All in a Huff

Nick Gillespie pokes some fun at the Huffington group blog:

At first read, I thought my colleague Matt Welch had done a funny job of paraphrasing the celebrity doucheblogs over at The Huffington Post. But just so there's no confusion: Those are actually direct quotes from the various supergeniuses themselves.

Like sniffing glue, baiting bears, and the initial season of The Osbournes, The Huffington Post is great fun for a while, but I suspect we'll all be tired of it by this time next week. So it's worth getting in all the commentary on it we can stand before we go back to pushing needles in our eyes.

As I mentioned the other day, I've been following the exploits of Huffington's Celebloggers second-hand, through the parody site, Huffington's Toast. Apparently I've been missing even funnier stuff on the original site:

Given the first week or so of material, I'm starting to believe that Huffington is actually a deep plant for the GOP, that she never actually changed her politics from her old Republican days, when she was playing Angela Lansbury to then-husband Michael Huffington's Laurence Harvey (perhaps Al Franken was the Frank Sinatra in the low-stakes Manchurian Candidate ripoff that was MH's thankfully short political career?). As Matt W suggests below, all you have to do is scan the site to realize that it reads like a red state parody of blue state jackassery, one that can only do damage to liberal causes worldwide.

As the Instaman says "Ouch".

Posted by Nicholas at 10:35 AM | Comments (0)

This could be the first blog to get an ASBO against it

Grant McCracken always has interesting insights. Sometimes he wanders so far off the reservation that you have no idea what he's really talking about until the final paragraph pulls everything together in a neat package. This post isn't one of those. It's direct, to the point, and doesn't wander at all:

A shopping mall in the UK is banning those who wear hooded tops. Tony Blair supports this effort as part of his "yes-to-civility, no-to-hooligans" campaign.

Cultures have a funny way of cultivating their opposite. It is not very surprising then that one of the nations most preoccupied with politesse should produce some of the rudest people on the face of the earth. I refer, of course, to the English soccer fan.

Many people who wear hooded tops are soccer fans for the rest of the week. They swagger, swear, glower, and otherwise seek to intimidate by appearance. They are, we must all agree, a deeply obnoxious presence.

But I have two words for the Bluewater mall and Britain's Prime Minister:

bite me.

Exactly so. The urge to mind everyone else's business is one of the worst aspects of modern government. They may be failing dramatically at doing what they are traditionally supposed to do (national defence, administering justice, and keeping the peace), but boy can they whomp up new intrusions into non-criminal behaviour.

A British innovation I'd not encountered until very recently was the ASBO: Anti-Social Behaviour Order. They seem to be a particularly intrusive variant of "contempt of court": attempts to use the power of the law to curb behaviour which is not technically illegal. ASBOs appear to get issued for all sorts of things, including rowdiness, graffiti, unpopular signs, and probably for using the "wrong" shade of paint on your window shutters for all I know.

The large point being missed, of course, is two-fold: first, that it presumes that obeying the law is automatic (a dodgy notion for a large segment of the target population of ASBOs), and second, that adding yet more ill-defined and possibly unenforceable laws won't further undermine popular respect for the whole body of the law.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:50 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: Taxation

High-income earners pay a higher rate of tax than people on low incomes. So why is it unfair, as Kim Beazley argues, that high-income earners receive a larger tax cut?

An analogy: your house and your neighbour's house are both burgled. You lose a television. He loses a DVD player, microwave, his collection of Chomsky memorabilia (it's an inner-city house), and a unique framed Leunig depicting Mr Curly's pedophilia arrest. Would it be unfair if police were to return all of this fellow's belongings, and you were only to get back your 24-inch Sony?

Tim Blair, "Simplistic right-wing greed justification attempted", Road to Surfdom, 2005-05-12

Hat tip to Samizdata, both for the link and for their title on the post: Taxation and theft.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:28 AM | Comments (0)

May 18, 2005

Wine tasting

Last night was a "Vintages" wine tasting at the Carlu in downtown Toronto. I was very impressed by both the venue and the wines on selection. I won't bore you with a comprehensive list, partly because it'd take forever to transcribe my notes, and partly because I know it would only interest perhaps 10% of my readers. I will say that the best wine I sampled last night was a Gevry-Chambertin Terre Blanches 2002 followed closely by a Vosne-Romanée 2002 by Robert Arnoux and an Amarone Capitel Monte Olmi 2000 by Tedeschi.

The most disappointing, although still pleasant, was the featured wine of the tasting: the Château Margaux 1999. At $399 per bottle, I'd be far better spending my money on other wines. I found that the flavour didn't begin to match the initial aroma and the body was a bit thin.

Overall, I'd strongly recommend the Vintages tastings . . . I certainly felt that I got my money's worth.

Posted by Nicholas at 08:36 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: Civilization

There is nothing to be done about it now; civilization has ceased to be that delicate flower which was preserved and painstakingly cultivated in one or two sheltered areas of a soil rich in wild species which may have seemed menacing because of the vigor of their growth, but which nevertheless made it possible to vary and revitalize the cultivated stock. Mankind has opted for monoculture; it is in the process of creating a mass civilization, as beetroot is grown in the mass. Henceforth, man's daily bill of fare will consist only of this one item.

Claude Lévi-Strauss, Tristes Tropiques, quoted by Lawrence Osborne in The Accidental Connoisseur

Posted by Nicholas at 08:23 AM | Comments (0)

May 17, 2005

More Campaign Slogans

Thanks to The Librano Generator, we can test some campaign slogans for the next election:

lawnsign.jpg

Hat tip to Small Dead Animals.

Posted by Nicholas at 04:41 PM | Comments (0)

The Phantom Observer takes the high road

Unlike a lot of bloggers from the right side of the political spectrum, The Phantom Observer takes a calm, rational view of the Belinda Stronach situation.

What's wrong with the man???

Posted by Nicholas at 04:30 PM | Comments (1)

Random office conversation

My virtual landlord was leaning over the cube wall, commenting that I was lucky that my Libranos poster hadn't been torn down yet. He then suggested that I should print out a picture of Belinda Stronach and add it to the poster.

I pointed to the space below the Libranos title and asked, "Right about here?"

I guess you had to be there.

Update: I worried that this post was getting a little far down the poor-taste meter, but Damian Penny links to a CP story that goes much lower:

They started off as a political golden couple, but wound up a wincing example of why you shouldn't date someone from work.

"Never dip your pen in the company ink," as one Conservative insider put it. With news reverberating around Parliament Hill of Belinda Stronach's blockbuster bolt from the Tories to the Liberals, the indelicate question was unavoidable: "What about Peter MacKay?"

Stronach's well-publicized romance with the Conservative deputy leader could hardly have come to a more stunning end.

Update the second: Publius expresses his strong distaste for Belinda Stronach in this heartfelt post:

Let me expand upon my earlier comments: Bitch, Whore, Weasel, Coward, Skank, Ho, Traitor, Sludge, Swine, Rich White Trash, Spoiled Brat, Rich Bitch and so on and so on. Words fail me, as they have Andrew Coyne. What the heck do you say. All that comes to mind is a stream of profanity and various rude gestures. The conspiracy theorist in me recalls that her father, that's the one who actually earned the money, was a staunch, if right-wing, Liberal.

Could his and his daughter's support for the Conservatives have been part of a power struggle within the Canadian economy? Was Frank not getting enough of the pie, being muscled out by Power Corp and its courtiers? Has an agreement been struck allowing the Stronachs' back into the fold? Or was this betrayal, as Stephen Harper suggested, part of her ambition to become Prime Minister? Pure and simple power lust. The MSM has been typically clueless, save Mike Duffy and Don Martin. On CTV's 24hr news channel the two dim twits spent almost an hour gossiping about how poor Peter McKay must feel. Hello, ladies, this isn't a beauty parlour or a coffee brunch. You're newscasters, try to act the part once in a while.

Posted by Nicholas at 03:48 PM | Comments (1)

Belinda the Betrayer

Damian Penny has the breaking story. This is just freakin' ugly.

Update: Kate writes:

Well, we always knew she was a Liberal — they were just hagging over the price.

I wonder if she realizes how many new Western separatists she just created today with her comments about Conservatives not understanding the "complexity" of the country? That the party must "grow in Quebec" before it's a national party? I wonder if she understands that her defection speech will be interpreted as another slap by a self-serving and politically ambitious Ontario power broker at western aspirations to finally have an equal voice in Canada?

Probably not. The woman is that stupid.

Update the second: Bob wonders:

Hands down, funniest news of the day [. . .] Not because Stronach has elected to join the illustrious ranks of people like Scott Brison and Signorina Giuseppe Volpe, but because this will now prompt a slew of reversing reappraisals amongst media talking heads: whereas, previously, Tory Belinda was a well-clad blonde bimbo with too much of daddy's money who was a vessel/puppet of Mulroney-esque forces determined to seize back control of the country, now, Liberal Belinda will be hailed as a shrewd and effective political operator with a deep understanding of, in no particular order, French, public speaking, complex economic and/or political issues, "what Canadians want" and "how evil Stephen Harper and the Conservatives really are".

Posted by Nicholas at 11:23 AM | Comments (0)

In the rice paddies of CFB Gagetown

In a staggering revelation, the Canadian government is finally coming clean on a tragic decision taken in 1966 to allow the US government to test Agent Orange at CFB Gagetown. No formal notice was ever given to the soldiers who operated on the base, and the government has spent the intervening years denying that it had ever allowed Agent Orange to be used in Canada. The Toronto Sun editorial tells more:

How can our federal Liberal government continue to ignore the plight of hundreds and perhaps thousands of Canadian soldiers who were poisoned by Agent Orange in the 1960s?

As reported on Sunday by Greg Weston, Sun Media's national affairs columnist, soldiers stationed at CFB Gagetown, N.B, were exposed to the dangerous chemical defoliant for years.

Our government secretly gave permission to the U.S. military to test Agent Orange for use in Vietnam at Gagetown, while Canadian soldiers continued to live, work and train there.

Incredibly, for decades after that, even as a growing body of medical evidence linked Agent Orange to cancer, diabetes, respiratory diseases, blindness and birth defects in the children of Vietnam vets, successive Canadian governments hid the truth.

What is most puzzling about this is not the coverup — that's been typical government behaviour since Confederation — it's the fact that the Canadian government of Lester Pearson would allow US chemical weapons testing at all. Canada was not involved in the Vietnam war, and had no interest in furthering US military plans.

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

The end of traditional peacekeeping?

An article in the National Post punctures some illusions about how much peacekeeping Canada has been doing recently:

Will the last Canadian peacekeeper out the door please turn out the lights?

Captain Dan Zegarac is the lone Canadian left with the UN mission in Cyprus, the last of more than 35,000 peacekeepers to wear the Maple Leaf on the divided Mediterranean island nation.

"Yeah, I'm the last one," the Ottawa-born staff officer said in a telephone interview from Nicosia, the Cypriot capital. "I'm the only reason the Canadian flag is still flying around here."

Cyprus is one of the longest-lasting UN peacekeeping missions, and many Canadians have served there. A friend of mine was wounded in a firefight there in the late 1970's. It's odd that there is only a token presence there now.

But Cyprus has been divided for more than three decades and the UN force, now made up of South American, British, Hungarian and Slovakian troops, could be there for decades more.

And partly as a result of such long-running UN missions, Canada is increasingly getting out of the peacekeeping business.

Despite the government's professed support for the idea of peacekeeping, Canada has been quietly closing up shop in UN missions around the world. The last Canadian battle group left Bosnia last year and this fall our last major UN contingent in the Middle East will be reduced to a handful of support soldiers.

In spite of relatively broad public support for peacekeeping missions among Canadians, there just aren't enough soldiers left to be as involved as we think we are. One major mission (a reinforced infantry battalion) and a few minor missions (company or platoon-sized) are just about all that is sustainable for the Canadian Forces now.

The Department of National Defence appears to have reached the same conclusion. Ottawa will scale back its 30-year commitment to the UN force separating the Israeli and Syrian armies mission on the Golan Heights in northern Israel.

The nearly 200 Canadians with the UN Disengagement Observer Force (UNDOF) will be withdrawn by the end of the summer, leaving only 40 troops in the Golan, which was Canada's last major "blue hat" contingent, so named for the powder blue berets and helmets worn by soldiers serving as UN peacekeepers.

The pull-out from the Golan Heights follows last year's withdrawal from Bosnia, where the last Canadian battle group left the Balkans — dropping the Canadian presence from more than 1,000 troops to just over 80.

And yesterday, Canada announced it will send more troops to Afghanistan, a total of 1,250 by next February, to join a U.S.-led counter-insurgency mission to hunt down terrorists.

That is our major contribution to the war on terrorism: working (with as little press attention as possible) with the Americans in Afghanistan. It's almost as if we are ashamed of sending our troops to do battle there. On second thought, strike the "as if" from that last sentence.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:57 AM | Comments (0)

Lileks overplans his daughter's summer

James Lileks does his level best to ensure that this is "the bestest summer ever". He also reminisces about his own "Norman Rockwell" childhood:

Summer school. When I was a kid, the very phrase seemed a cruel joke — only a species as devious as adults could join the two words together. "Summer school" was like "spider ice cream" or "Barbie gun" — a ruined mutant you did not care to experience. Summer school was for the bad kids who spent the year lounging in the back row, smirking, blowing pin-darts into the soft pink necks of the attentive eggheads. It was the Big House, in other words — you could just see yourself sitting in a class, listening to the teacher drone on and on and on about Peruvian exports, watching kids pass by on their bikes en route to the pool. The thought of dweebs in the changing room whose butts would go unsnapped by wet towels — well, it gnawed at their very souls.

As a former dweeb, I say it served them right. Oh, they got paroled in August, but by then the summer was just a well-chewed cob. They'd show up at the pool with jailbird pallors. Everyone knew.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:27 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: Canada's Tsunami Relief Effort

[I]n January, after the tsunami hit, [Canadian prime minister Paul Martin] flew into Sri Lanka to pledge millions and millions and millions in aid. Not like that heartless George W. Bush back at the ranch in Texas. Why, Prime Minister Martin walked along the ravaged coast of Kalumnai and was, reported Canada's CTV network, "visibly shaken." President Bush might well have been shaken, but he wasn't visible, and in the international compassion league, that's what counts. So Martin boldly committed Canada to giving $425 million to tsunami relief. "Mr. Paul Martin Has Set A Great Example For The Rest Of The World Leaders!" raved the LankaWeb news service.

You know how much of that $425 million has been spent so far? Fifty thousand dollars — Canadian. That's about 40 grand in U.S. dollars. The rest isn't tied up in Indonesian bureaucracy, it's back in Ottawa. But, unlike horrible "unilateralist" America, Canada enjoys a reputation as the perfect global citizen, renowned for its commitment to the U.N. and multilateralism. And on the beaches of Sri Lanka, that and a buck'll get you a strawberry daiquiri. Canada's contribution to tsunami relief is objectively useless and rhetorically fraudulent.

Mark Steyn, "Bolton's sin is telling truth about system", Chicago Sun-Times, 2005-05-15

Posted by Nicholas at 12:22 AM | Comments (1)

May 16, 2005

A good diagnosis of the Canadian malady

Publius, at Gods of the Copybook Headings, conducts a long, deep study of the Canadian political psyche. The results are not pretty, but they are edifying. I encourage you to read the whole thing, as it would be difficult to pull out small chunks of the post without the small chunks becoming very large blocks.

Posted by Nicholas at 07:03 PM | Comments (0)

The Tiger in the Vineyard?

Ben at "Tiger in Winter" links to a wine site I'd never encountered before: Appellation America, which in spite of the name actually covers Canadian and American wineries:

Appellation America is a communications and publications enterprise serving the North American wine industry through promotion of our growing number of distinct winegrowing regions. Our mission is to facilitate the "APPELLATION-IZATION" of the North American wine culture.

In the global wine culture, wines are known first by their specific place of origin (appellation), then by producer or shipper, and by grape variety. In the North American wine culture, appellation identity-cum-consciousness is the great unfinished business. With over 200 officially designated winegrowing regions in North America, scarcely a handful of appellations presently garner any public recognition. Indeed, in many appellations there is not an "image consensus" even amongst the producers.

Posted by Nicholas at 06:27 PM | Comments (0)

Protest fizzles on Parliament Hill

Paul Denton was there, taking pictures and taking the pulse of the crowd . . . which appears to have been mostly rural issues brought to Ottawa on tractors.

Jeebus. Nooses? An effigy coffin?

Between these, and the tone of some of the speakers' rhetoric, I was reminded how uncomfortable it sometimes is to be on the side of farmers, or vice versa. Fiery speeches about how "people in cities who ride buses shouldn't get to tell people in the country who ride tractors what to do" don't exactly endear me to legitimate grievances, both as an urbanite and a user of public transit.

Posted by Nicholas at 06:14 PM | Comments (0)

Jello Dithers may scrap GST

Recent rumblings from Ottawa indicate that Jello Dithers is contemplating keeping the Liberal campaign promise . . . from 1993. Reducing or eliminating the hated GST would certainly provide a short-term boost in popularity, but as The Raging Ranter observes, it would be a bad fiscal move:

Consumption taxes like the GST do far less damage economically than do income taxes. According to studies I have seen, consumption taxes reduce economic activity by about $0.26 for every dollar collected in tax. Income taxes, on the other hand, reduce economic activity by $1.40 for each dollar collected. Granted, these are only estimates, and such data is extremely hard to calculate accurately, but it is a well known fact that income taxes are far worse for the economy than consumption taxes.

The GST currently pulls in about $40 billion per year. That is enough to reduce everyone's income tax bill by about 45 per cent. Or, if the income tax cuts were weighted towards the lower and middle income earning brackets, millions more Canadians could be paying no income tax at all. Besides, the GST is not charged on groceries or apartment rent, so the poor do not pay much in GST as it is. Throw in the quarterly GST credit (that would disappear if the GST were eliminated) and the poor would be worse off for getting rid of the tax.

I haven't seen these studies that Darryl refers to, and I wonder if the studies properly account for the deadweight costs of administering and collecting the tax (largely unpaid work by companies, rather than paid work by civil servants). Either way, I am the last one to argue in favour of any tax as being "good": the lower the taxes, the less freedom the government has to take away your freedom. That aside, however, it does make sense to tax consumption rather than income: taxing consumption does not directly punish savings or higher income, while income taxes punish disproportionally at the margin (that extra dollar you might earn by working a bit longer is worth much less than the first dollar because it is taxed more heavily).

Posted by Nicholas at 05:59 PM | Comments (1)

Bob returns from non-bloggingland

Bob Tarantino returns from his brief visit to the land where no blogging can happen:

Well, two weeks later, everything seems even funnier than when I left. "Funny" in a pathetic kind of way, "funny" in a sad, what-the-hell-are-you-Liberal-idiots-doing-to-our-country kind of way. But funny nonetheless.

Welcome back, Bob!

Posted by Nicholas at 05:31 PM | Comments (0)

"Too often these crimes go unreported"

John at Castle Argghhh posts a link to a recent article in Germany's Spiegel magazine:

In the past four months, six Muslim women living in Berlin have been brutally murdered by family members. Their crime? Trying to break free and live Western lifestyles. Within their communities, the killers are revered as heroes for preserving their family dignity. How can such a horrific and shockingly archaic practice be flourishing in the heart of Europe? The deaths have sparked momentary outrage, but will they change the grim reality for Muslim women?

As John mentions, this is the "elephant in the living room" for many countries which now have sizable Muslim populations: the traditional role for Muslim women is radically different from the hopes and aspirations of Muslim girls living in western society.

The crime might be easier to digest if it had been an archaic anomaly, but five other Muslim women have been murdered in Berlin during the past four months by their husbands or partners for besmirching the family's Muslim honor. Two of them were stabbed to death in front of their young children, one was shot, one strangled and a fifth drowned. It seems hard to fathom, but in the middle of democratic Western Europe — in Germany, a nation where pacifism is almost a universal mantra — murderous macho patriotism not only exists but also appears to be thriving. It may even be Germany's liberalism — and its post World War II fear of criticizing minority cultures — that has encouraged ultra-religious families to settle here.

The problem is that much of this insular and ultra-religious world is out of public view, often hidden in inner-city apartments where the most influential links to the outside world are satellite dishes that receive Turkish and Arabic television and the local mosque. Tens of thousands of Turkish women live behind these walls of silence, in homes run by husbands many met on their wedding day and ruled by the ever-present verses of the Koran. In these families, loyalty and honor are elevated virtues and women are treated little better than slaves, unseen by society and often unnoticed or ignored by their German neighbors. To get what they want, these women have to run. They have to change their names, their passports, even their hair color and break with the families they often love, but simply can no longer obey.

Posted by Nicholas at 04:48 PM | Comments (0)

Mike Brock does some addition

Mike Brock adds up the sudden burst of spending the Liberals have racked up in the last few weeks:

In a country which according to Paul Martin, can only afford very modest tax cuts, the Federal Liberals seem to have had absolutely no problem in increasing spending to the degree of over $1,100 per taxpayer in the last three weeks.

Just think about that. Weeks ago, the Liberals had absolutely no room for tax cuts, but they now have room for over $1,100 per taxpayer more in program spending. And the spending announcements don't seem to be coming to an end anytime soon. If this isn't out-of-control pandering by a desperate government, than I don't know what is.

Clearly, circumstances alter cases. This is money that PM "Jell-o" Dithers had to spend to save Canada. If those evil Tories had their way, this money would all have been wasted.

Posted by Nicholas at 04:29 PM | Comments (0)

Antiwar posturing at "Huffington's Toast"

Steve H., proprietor of Hog on Ice, is also the demented mind behind the parody site Huffington's Toast. There have been some brilliant bits of knife-work posted there since they counterstruck the original site. Here's a line I'd have expected to be used about the French:

If God wanted us to go to war, why did she give us two good knees to surrender on?

I haven't bothered visiting the site Steve and his team are satirizing — why bother? It couldn't possibly be as entertaining as the Toast. I don't really follow any of the "celebrities" that are supposed to be writing for the Huffington site. In fact, I don't even recognize half the names being tossed around as "celebrities".

Posted by Nicholas at 03:27 PM | Comments (0)

IJ wins interstate wine case

The Institute for Justice (IJ) has won their case before the US Supreme Court challenging the legality of state bans on interstate wine sales:

Wine lovers may buy directly from out-of-state vineyards, the Supreme Court ruled Monday, striking down laws banning a practice that has flourished because of the Internet and the growing popularity of winery tours.

The 5-4 decision strikes down laws in New York and Michigan that make it a crime to buy wine directly from vineyards in another state. In all, 24 states have laws that bar interstate shipments.

The state bans are discriminatory and anti-competitive, the court said.

"States have broad power to regulate liquor," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority. "This power, however, does not allow states to ban, or severely limit, the direct shipment of out-of-state wine while simultaneously authorizing direct shipment by in-state producers."

While this ruling has no effect on sales from US wineries to Canada, it's still a welcome liberalization of domestic US wine sales.

Hat tip to Reason Hit and Run.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:24 AM | Comments (0)

JPFO warnings on the Real ID act

This editorial in Libertarian Enterprise is provided by Jews for the Preservation of Firearms Ownership (JPFO):

On Tuesday, May 10, 2005, America became a true police state. Your U.S. senators voted — unanimously, with no discussion, and without even reading the bill — to create a national ID card.

The Real ID Act blackmails state governments into turning their drivers licenses into a draconian tool of the federal homeland security apparatus. If states refuse, their citizens lose such "privileges" as being allowed to board an airplane, enter a federal building, or apply for social security. President Bush is expected to sign the bill eagerly on Thursday.

In three years — by May 2008 — this Stalin-style internal passport will be an American reality. But your government will have more control over you than Stalin ever dreamed in his most violent, vicious, anti-freedom dreams.

As a libertarian, I'm against any sort of state-mandated identification, but the aspects of the Real ID act are amazingly totalitarian. I'm astonished that there hasn't been more outcry about this from other American commentators. As Colby Cosh mentioned last week,

I've been trying to find a way to say this without sounding like some sort of Indymedia refugee, but can someone tell me the difference between the United States' new REAL-ID program and the internal passports used in the Soviet Union after 1932? I'm not dramatizing for effect: I'd like an answer. I'm not suggesting that anyone intends to create immediate harm with the new system, but in what regard is REAL-ID not a potential framework for an internal-passport scheme? And doesn't anybody in Congress or the executive realize what a terrible weapon this places in the hands of the central government?

Posted by Nicholas at 10:52 AM | Comments (0)

Chapter 4 now available

I forgot to post the link to the latest chapter of Lois McMaster Bujold's The Hallowed Hunt on Friday. It's available on the HarperCollins website for download or reading online.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:19 AM | Comments (0)

L. Neil Smith on dangerous books

In the current issue of Libertarian Enterprise, L. Neil Smith talks about the potential dangers of books:

Suppose you were fond of books...

You liked their leather bindings, their fancy endpapers, the way they speak to you of other times and places, the way they feel in your hand.

You even liked the way they smell.

Naturally you were aware that books are dangerous. They give people ideas. Over the long, sad course of history, they've resulted in the slaughter of millions — books like Uncle Tom's Cabin, Das Kapital, Mein Kampf, even the Bible — but you had too much intelligence, too much regard for the right of other people to read, write, think whatever they please, to blame the books themselves.

Now suppose somebody came along who agreed with you: books are dangerous — and something oughta be done about it! Nothing you couldn't live with: numbers could be stamped inside them, a different number, not just in each kind of book, each title or edition — but in each and every individual book.

Posted by Nicholas at 09:13 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: Romance

Romantics tend to love not others, but romance itself. And when the "romance" fades they can't move to a higher, deeper love, but only on to the next incident in a long chain of catastrophe tarted up into cheap opera.

Gerard Vanderleun, "The Man Who Loved Not Wisely But At Least Twice", American Digest, 2005-04-29

Posted by Nicholas at 08:18 AM | Comments (0)

May 15, 2005

Liberal Campaign Slogans

The ever-helpful Andrew Coyne has posted some useful suggestions for Liberal campaign slogans:

A friend of mine suggests, in light of the Liberals' evident strategy of promising every province, city, or interest group whatever their heart desires — together with a warning that all of these goodies will go up in smoke if they are defeated — a possible Liberal slogan: "Vote Liberal and nobody gets hurt."

And from the comments on that post: "Vote Liberal — We haven't been corrupt lately." Or "Vote Liberal. We have no convictions" (yet). Or perhaps "Vote Liberal: We're Organized." And even: "Vote Liberal and Fuggeddaboutit!!"

Update: Aaron provides some extra content on Grandinite.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:14 AM | Comments (1)

QotD: Entrepreneurship

If entrepreneurs see value in the [. . .] economic landscape, and perceive there are rich profits to be made in turning around businesses and then flogging them off, it is very good news indeed for the country's economy. By releasing capital from uneconomic areas and focussing it on lucrative new bits, the overall pie gets bigger, jobs get created, and productivity is also increased.

In fact, one could almost create a new economic law: the amount of abuse raining down on entrepreneurs is directly proportional to the good they do. I haven't seen much reason to doubt this law yet.

Johnathan Pearce, "Gordon Gekko goes to Germany", Samizdata.net, 2005-05-05

Posted by Nicholas at 10:03 AM | Comments (0)

May 14, 2005

David Frum on Liberal Parliamentary Strategy

Angry in the Great White North links to this article by David Frum, which goes a long, long way to explain who the Liberals' parliamentary advisors might be:

The Liberals have lost a series of confidence votes in the House of Commons. On Wednesday and Thursday, the Conservatives won two votes to force adjournment. By long constitutional usage, a Westminster-system government that is forced to adjourn must either resign or call an election. But the Liberals, apparently taking their advice from the lawyers of Charles I, seem to believe that they can continue governing without the support of Parliament.

If anyone had taken the time to look up the history, they'd have seen that Charles I didn't have a particularly happy end to his reign. It left him a much shorter man . . . by a head.

In hopes of buying votes, they continue to announce lavish spending proposals — even as 400 years of British constitutional law denies a government that rules without a majority in Parliament the right to spend so much as a single penny.

Eh, tradition. Piffle. Not as important as Paul Junior's right to be prime minister. In Paul Junior's book, anyway.

Angry continues, in his post:

Of course, that all makes sense now. During caucus meetings, they are holding seances, and getting advice from the courtiers of Charles I of England:
Charles I (19 November 1600-30 January 1649) was King of England, Scotland and Ireland from 27 March 1625, until his death. He famously engaged in a struggle for power with Parliament; he was an advocate of the divine right of kings, however some in Parliament feared that he was attempting to gain absolute power. There was widespread opposition to many of his actions, especially the levying of taxes without Parliament's consent.

A comment on Angry's post points out that holding seances is practically a Liberal rite of passage, in the post-Mackenzie-King era.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:09 AM | Comments (0)

Day Y+5

Looking back to last year, the 14th was a slower blogging day: only two entries, one on someone getting a worse time travelling through US Customs than I'd had (I'd only had to miss my flight), and a mild rant about the USA PATRIOT act.

It must have been a Friday . . . because I didn't post anything for the next few days.

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

QotD: Euphemisms

Throughout the Globe piece, neither Robinson nor his interviewer is able to say the words "mentally ill," let alone crazy. Rather, it is said that he "suffers from a mental illness," or in Svendspeak, that he is "living with mental illness," rather like a room-mate. This is a euphemism, a kind of linguistic prophylactic intended to shield the speaker, no less than the listener, from the harsh reality to which it refers. Like all euphemisms and some prophylactics, it will eventually wear out, requiring the substitution of some new euphemism in its place. In time, "living with mental illness" will be seen as a grievous insult, much as "coloured people" is to people of colour. (Except, of course, for those working at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.)

Andrew Coyne, "False Sensitivity", andrewcoyne.com, 2005-05-07

Posted by Nicholas at 12:51 AM | Comments (0)

May 13, 2005

Another new member of the Red Ensign Brigade

Welcome to Blue Perspective, the newest recruit to the Brigade.

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

Advance warning

Minority of One has managed a real news coup: an advance copy of a royal proclamation to be delivered during the Queen's visit to Canada next week:

Tuesday, May 17, 2005.

Her Royal Highness, Elizabeth II, Queen of Great Britain and of Canada, today made the following pronouncement, from the House of Commons, Ottawa.

"It has come to our attention that our Dominion of Canada has proven itself incapable of maintaining a functioning, autonomous government. Within this vast part of our realm, a single, oligarchical political party has emerged, that has corrupted, distorted and preempted the great tradition of the Westminster parliamentary democracy that we have bequeathed unto our Canadian subjects. As their sovereign, it is my responsibiliity to my Canadian subjects to revoke the British North America Act. As of now, Canada will be ruled by the Minister for British North American Affairs, Westminster, Lord Black".

Posted by Nicholas at 11:09 PM | Comments (0)

The new home of the Canadian War Museum

The Phantom Observer gives us a quick photo tour of the new digs the Canadian War Museum now occupies. Last time I was in Ottawa, I visited the old site: it was just as cramped and crowded as he describes. The new facility looks much better. The vehicles were stored at a separate scrapyard facility, but have now been incorporated into the main museum building . . . and given some strenuous clean-up, by the look of things.

The Observer had visited the museum earlier to get some exterior-only opening day photos. Shame on me for not having noticed before now!

Posted by Nicholas at 10:24 PM | Comments (2)

Nick Gillespie examines the "Whizzinator" story

As mentioned before, Minnesota Vikings running back Onterrio Smith is under investigation for evading NFL drug testing (and he's a repeat offender for marijuana use). Nick Gillespie looks to see who actually benefits:

So that leaves only one suspect: The folks behind The Original Whizzinator, who have gained arguably the greatest product placement since Reese's Pieces were gobbled up by E.T. faster than he drank whatever brand of beer he guzzled to comedic effect in the worst highest-grossing flick of all time.

We salute you, Whizzinator makers, not for the product you have created (about which we know nothing personally) but for the placement you have made.

Posted by Nicholas at 05:50 PM | Comments (0)

Wine in a can

As if the move from traditional corks to twist-off caps wasn't innovation enough for this young century in the wine business (where innovation isn't generally considered a good thing), Australian wineries are going that one better — wine in a can:

"The Japanese have no preconceived ideas about what a can represents as far as wine quality is concerned," says Greg Stokes, CEO of Barokes in Melbourne, in the state of Victoria.

"They're always ready to try something new, whereas Australians are more snobby. Aussies are used to wine being served in a bottle."

But Barokes believes Australians will eventually come around. After all, if suburban Australia can wholeheartedly embrace wine in a cask, why not wine in a can?

Posted by Nicholas at 03:40 PM | Comments (0)

New member of the Red Ensign Brigade

Please welcome the newest member of the Red Ensign Brigade, Grandinite. I think we'll need to enlarge the officers' mess soon . . .

Posted by Nicholas at 03:22 PM | Comments (0)

Gomery Funnies

Greg Staples links to a Christie Blatchford article in the Globe and Mail:

About 3 o'clock yesterday afternoon, there was a sort of muffled roar — it was the kind of noise you hear a block or two away from a construction site — that echoed within the Guy-Favreau complex here, where the Gomery inquiry has its Montreal home.

For a few seconds, the place fell silent, as though a roomful of ears were cocked.

In the witness box, Daniel Dezainde leaned into the microphone and said, "Don't worry — I have no car parked here."

It was funny, and everyone laughed.

But as a metaphor for just how far the Liberal Party of Canada has fallen, it was impeccable.

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

Why the Governor General hasn't acted

At lunch today, we were discussing the whole constitutional position of the Governor General, and what her options actually might be. I mentioned my post earlier today, where I asked why she hadn't already taken action. I also said I'd started another post about what the political angles might be from her Excellency's point of view, but I decided it wasn't worth publishing, so I trashed it.

At that point, it became crystal clear what was going on: she hasn't acted yet for a real, valid reason. The problem is that she'll have to fly to Sicily and ask the Don's permission to dissolve parliament, and she's afraid she'll wake up some morning with a horse's head in her bed. Yes, I'll pass up the opportunity to say that she might wake up on any given morning with a horse's ass in her bed, but that's no way to refer to the Governor General Consort.

Posted by Nicholas at 01:26 PM | Comments (0)

Fighting Historical Revisionism

Victor Davis Hanson has posted an article on revisionist history:

As the world commemorated the 60th anniversary of the end of the European Theater of World War II, revisionism was the norm. In the last few years, new books and articles have argued for a complete rethinking of the war. The only consistent theme in this various second-guessing was a diminution of the American contribution and suspicion of our very motives.

Indeed, most recent op-eds commemorating V-E day either blamed the United States for Hamburg or for the Soviet domination of Eastern Europe, or for our supposed failure to credit the Russians for their sacrifices.

It's true that most people under the age of 30 know little about World War 2: it's ancient history to them, and they've been told repeatedly that it's of no relevance to them or their world. All the stories written and broadcast in the years following the war have long since passed from "current events" to "dusty tomes" and "scratchy filmstock". To a degree, much of what was produced in the 20 years following the war was conformist, US-centric, and triumphalist.

There were good reasons for that: the Americas were almost untouched by the physical destruction of war, and the US and Canadian economies in particular were vastly expanded by wartime production needs. The American film industry was already the largest in the world before the war, and did not shrink in size or importance during it. New York was the biggest centre of publishing for the book industry (London was both war-battered and suffering from the post-war austerity . . . books were a relative luxury good for years after the war ended).

The triumphalist tone? They'd won. They'd utterly destroyed the evils of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, at no small cost to themselves. It would have been a miracle if they hadn't been triumphal . . . and the world owes the Americans a debt it will never acknowledge both for their participation in the war and for them not becoming the new Empire after the war.

Revisionism holds a strange attraction for the winners of World War II. American textbooks discuss World War II as if a Patton, Le May, or Nimitz did not exist, as if the war was essentially the Japanese internment and Hiroshima. That blinkered and politically correct focus explains why so many Americans under 30 are simply ignorant about the nature and course of World War II itself. Similarly, the British have monthly debates on the immorality of their bombing Hamburg and Dresden.

In dire contrast, even the post-Soviet Russian government will not speak of the Stalin-Hitler non-aggression pact, the absorption of the Baltic states, the murder of millions of German citizens in April through June 1945 in Eastern Europe, and the mass execution of Polish officers. If we were to listen to the Chinese, World War II was about the gallant work of Mao's partisans, who in fact used the war to gain power, and then went on to kill 50 million of their own citizens — about the same number lost in all of World War II. Japan likewise has never come to terms with the millions of Asian civilians its armies butchered or its systematic brutality waged against American POWs.

The truth is that the supposedly biased West discusses the contribution of others far more than our former enemies — or Russian and Chinese allies — credit the British or Americans.

As a Canadian, I'm often struck by the lack of acknowledgement in both British and American works, of the contribution of Canada to the war effort. For a relatively tiny population, Canada put huge numbers of men and women into uniform, expanded from a mere six ships to the third-largest navy in the world by war's end, and more than held their own in the Normandy invasion (the Canadians were the furthest inland at the end of the first day's fighting). That being said, however, I do recognize that the war would still have been won if Canada had stayed on the sidelines or even passively aided the enemy. Our contribution, while worthy and appreciated at the time, was not decisive.

Australians and New Zealanders probably feel the same way — having pitched in to win the war, they're also footnotes in the military histories of the US and Britain.

But at least we're mentioned. Russian histories have been notorious for treating the western allied contribution to the war as negligible . . . or worse. Japanese histories might have been written about a war on a different planet.

There is a pattern here. Western elites — the beneficiaries of 60 years of peace and prosperity achieved by the sacrifices to defeat fascism and Communism — are unhappy in their late middle age, and show little gratitude for, or any idea about, what gave them such latitude. If they cannot find perfection in history, they see no good at all. So leisured American academics tell us that Iwo Jima was unnecessary, if not a racist campaign, that Hiroshima had little military value but instead was a strategic ploy to impress Stalin, and that the GI was racist, undisciplined, and reliant only on money and material largess.

There are two disturbing things about the current revisionism that transcend the human need to question orthodoxy. The first is the sheer hypocrisy of it all. Whatever mistakes and lapses committed by the Allies, they pale in comparison to the savagery of the Axis or the Communists. Post-facto critics never tell us what they would have done instead — lay off the German cities and send more ground troops into a pristine Third Reich; don't bomb, but invade, an untouched Japan in 1946; keep out of WWII entirely; or in its aftermath invade the Soviet Union?

That is the advantage revisionists will always have: history didn't play out the way they'd prefer, so they can hypothesize and retroactively apply judgements as they please. Attribute modern motives (and especially dark and twisted motives) to historical leaders to make points whose validity you never need to prove. The attraction must be overwhelming to certain kinds of writers.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:21 AM | Comments (0)

Gun control is racist

Castle Argghhh has some interesting posters up, emphasizing the words of Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on the right to bear arms. He also quotes from an Associated Press article:

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, recalling how her father took up arms to defend fellow blacks from racist whites in the segregated South, said Wednesday the constitutional right of Americans to own guns is as important as their rights to free speech and religion.

In an interview on CNN's "Larry King Live," Rice said she came to that view from personal experience. She said her father, a black minister, and his friends armed themselves to defended the black community in Birmingham, Ala., against the White Knight Riders in 1962 and 1963. She said if local authorities had had lists of registered weapons, she did not think her father and other blacks would have been able to defend themselves.

Condi for President in 2008! Especially if Hillary gets the Democratic nomination: wouldn't that be an election campaign for the history books?

Posted by Nicholas at 11:13 AM | Comments (0)

Blog registrations to be mandatory?

Apparently the good folks in the BC Elections office have decided that bloggers are actually advertising if they mention political parties, candidates, or advocate for or against issues. This requires the bloggers to register with the nice folks at Elections BC and conform to the rules of the Election Act. Kate at Small Dead Animals and Angry in the Great White North have more information.

Kate suggests that an inundation of blog registration requests from outside BC might help to stem this little bit of stupidity.

Angry points out that this measure, if applied on the Federal level (and you know damned well that Elections Canada would love to do so), would do a great job of stifling free speech. The specific provisions of the BC Elections act require that anyone advertising during the election must list a valid BC contact (either address or telephone number), the name of the sponsor and indicate that the sponsor is registered under the Election Act. So much for anonymity.

Update: Mucked up the link to Angry. Thanks to Jon for noticing and letting me know I'd screwed it up. Should be fixed now.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:48 AM | Comments (0)

Blogging a year back

And on the fourth day, the first QotD showed up, Abu Ghraib remained topical, a short whine about wine, and a new book was mentioned. Starting to resemble a pattern now.

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

Is the Governor General going to do her job?

Despite press reports yesterday that implied that the Governor General did not have the power to dismiss the prime minister, Andrew Coyne sets the record straight:

Both the story and the "senior government official" are wrong. The Governor General most certainly has the right to advise her first minister. As Bagehot famously put it, under the British constitution (of which we are the inheritors) the sovereign has three rights: "the right to be consulted, the right to encourage, the right to warn." Ordinarily, it is true, the prime minister is not bound to follow her advice, but that is a different statement.

And while it is also ordinarily true that she is bound to take his, that is not true of one matter in particular: who should be her first minister. If the Governor General is of the opinion that the current prime minister does not command the confidence of the House of Commons, she has the absolute right to dismiss him and to call upon someone else, or to dissolve Parliament and call new elections. It is not the prime minister, acting on the Governor General's advice, who dissolves Parliament: it is the Governor General, usually on the prime minister's advice but not always.

The bold sentence is the key to the whole affair. I can't imagine how the Governor General cannot see that her duty is plain: parliament has demonstrated, beyond a shadow of a doubt, their lack of confidence in the government, yet the government has not resigned. It is her job to dismiss Mr. Martin and either call upon Mr. Harper to form a new government or to require a new general election.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:15 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: Bohemian Lifestyles

[C]onsider the inchoate American gang identified as "Bohemian" in New York Times rock critic Ann Powers' new book, Weird Like Me: My Bohemian America. Powers casually links rock music with her version of bohemia, that world of young and not-so-young hipsters living and behaving in nontraditional ways. Rock, she writes, "inspires fans to dye their hair green and wear thigh-high leather boots; to defy their parents, skip school, and tell off the boss; or even, sometimes, to take a new turn and change their lives completely." Her bohemia is inexorably linked with progressive politics, not holding down a decent job, being kind to gays and minorities, and all else that's "cool."

Powers fails to recognize that her bohemia is predicated upon a market liberalism that throws off so much wealth that you can live like a Pharaoh just by scavenging what other people throw out-as she and her slacker buddies did in San Francisco in the '80s and early '90s. Her bohemian lifestyle is part of the same system that underwrites free markets, consumerism, and tolerance for all sorts of offensive speech and alternative lifestyles. In other words, the liberty to be bohemian is a glorious result of the very capitalist reality that Powers says a real bohemian must be against.

Brian Doherty, "Rage On: The strange politics of millionaire rock stars", Reason Online, 2000-10

Posted by Nicholas at 12:28 AM | Comments (0)

May 12, 2005

Federal Liberals gear up for election campaign

Kate, at Small Dead Animals links to some undercover work at Debris Trail, showing the new Liberal Party pins being ordered.

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

Stephen Green vivisects a Nazi Apologist

Pat Buchanan jumped the shark quite some time ago, and thus does not deserve much (if any) of the attention he gets now. His most recent column, however, deserves to be ripped, shredded and fed to him rectally. Failing that, Stephen Green has done a wonderful job of fisking the column:

[Buchanan] If the West went to war to stop Hitler from dominating Eastern and Central Europe, and Eastern and Central Europe ended up under a tyranny even more odious, as Bush implies, did Western Civilization win the war?

[Green] Well, yes. What has become of National Socialism? Where is Soviet Civilization? One was beaten utterly in 1945; the other took a while longer. But both are on the ash heap of history. Compare either "civilization" with where the US is today — or even where France is! — and you'll know Buchanan is playing you for a dupe.

Worse than a dupe, in fact. Buchanan is trying to play you like that Nazi sympathizer from "The Best Days of Our Lives." If you've never seen the movie (and I can't find it on Amazon or IMDB), it starred a real WWII veteran who lost his hands in the war. In a famous scene, he's confronted by an American Nazi who tries to convince him we fought "the wrong guys" in the war.

Tell me: How is Pat different from the American Nazi in that 1946 movie? I mean, other than his oddly close relationship with his sister?

Hat tip to Jon, my virtual landlord, for calling my attention to Stephen's post.

Posted by Nicholas at 03:37 PM | Comments (0)

More on the UAL pension debacle

I mentioned this briefly yesterday, but Jane Galt knows much more about the situation (and its possible ramifications) than I do:

Many, perhaps even most, libertarians object to the PBGC on principle. Personally, it's the sort of programme I can live with. Markets and companies change in unpredictible ways, and the PBGC is a way of making sure that those who, in perfectly reasonable good faith, assumed that they would have a corporate pension to support them in retirement, do not end up destitute. It has its economic costs, as do all regulatory institutions, but as with FDIC, I think the benefits in terms of economic stability outweigh them.

I'm not really sure what Battlepanda's objection is. UAL is insolvent — can't meet its debt payments or its pension obligations. Does she think that bankruptcy law should force liquidation? Hard luck for the workers, suppliers, and so forth, no? It's pretty generally recognized that Chapter 11 bankruptcy is one of the great strengths of the American economy, allowing companies in hard times to restructure rather than expire, salvaging something for workers, creditors, and the company. And allowing UAL to at least try to limp along isn't costing the taxpayers anything, as far as I know. The only people who lose out are the stockholders.

Now that I actually do own stocks in some corporations (all entirely within my self-directed retirement savings plan), I'm not quite as cavalier about dismissing the stockholders as somehow being the only ones who deserve to get it in the shorts when a corporation goes bankrupt. It seems to me that management generally gets off fairly easy in cases where once-mighty corporate titans are felled: too many of the most responsible seem to do alarmingly well in terms of non-performance-based pay-offs, despite being at the controls when the whole enterprise went kaput.

One aspect of corporate governance in a publicly held company is that the theoretical owners — the shareholders — rarely exercise much in the way of ownership rights. The professional managers exercise almost all of the traditional power of the owner of a company, leaving the titular owners to do little other than belly-ache at annual general meetings.

Posted by Nicholas at 03:07 PM | Comments (0)

Parliament adjourns for second straight day

The Tories and Bloc Quebecois forced the house to adjourn again today, demonstrating that the government has lost the confidence of the commons:

The Conservatives paralyzed Parliament and called Thursday for the Governor General to force Prime Minister Paul Martin to call an immediate confidence vote.

Bloc MPs joined the Conservatives to force through a morning motion that adjourned the House of Commons hours before it was scheduled to rise. The motion meant the theatre of the daily question period was scrubbed.

The Conservatives and the Bloc used the adjournment to drive home their contention that the Liberals have no authority to govern and that Parliament won't work until they bring in an immediate vote of confidence.

Of course, unless the Governor General decides to actually do her job, the Liberals will keep dodging. They appear to be gambling that one or more Tory MPs will be unable to get to the commons for the scheduled vote next week, and/or are stepping up their attempt to bribe opposition MPs to take senate appointments or ambassadorships overseas.

Just the most recent news from the "Banana-Split Dominion".

Posted by Nicholas at 02:20 PM | Comments (0)

Viking ship adrift again?

Captain Ed tosses the floundering Vikings an anchor:

Just when I think I've seen everything that the Minnesota Vikings can do to look stupid — from taking a knee in a championship game and thereby neutralizing the league's most potent offense, to a star athlete walking off the field before a game had been decided, to a coach that ran his own Super Bowl ticket-scalping syndicate that exploited Vikings players for his own profit — this morning's news reminds me that true stupidity plumbs its own new depths every day. The Vikings' leading rusher ran afoul of airport security three weeks ago with a kit to beat NFL drug tests featuring some interesting prosthetics [. . .]

I'd love to refute all of this, but I'd have to spend some time inventing convenient factoids and clothing my argument in layers and layers of deceptive and irrelevant commentary. . . because he's pretty much right. I'm a long-time Vikings fan, but I have to admit that they seem to have more talent at screwing up otherwise ordinary activities than any other professional sports franchise.

Hat tip to the no-longer-blogging Jon.

Posted by Nicholas at 02:15 PM | Comments (0)

One year plus three

Looking back at May 12, 2004 shows that the second day really was an unusual activity spike: we're back down to just three posts. Another wine post, prospects for Arab democracy, and the first tech-writing related post. Generally, a forgettable day of blogging.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:15 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: Canadian Politics

Let's say the government is right, that a vote of the majority of the House of Common expressing no confidence in the government does not count as a vote of non-confidence: that although the House may have demanded "that the government resign," it forgot to preface this with the critical words, "Simon says." What does this mean?

It means that we now have a new form of government in this country: government by technicality. The government can no longer claim to govern with the consent of the governed, the traditional standard of legitimacy in a democracy. It governs with the consent of itself. It is the constitutional equivalent of a circular argument, a government that rules solely on the strength of its own assertions. It holds a new kind of power: the power of positive thinking.

Andrew Coyne, "Government by Technicality", AndrewCoyne.com, 2005-05-11

Posted by Nicholas at 12:07 AM | Comments (0)

May 11, 2005

Summing up the Federal Liberals

Andrew Coyne has this one all wrapped up with a ribbon and a bow:

I've been trying to think of a parallel for what the Liberals are doing, and I think this is it: It's like someone who's been summoned to appear in court, but who can escape the writ's application so long as it has not been physically delivered to him. That is the basis of their refusal to resign. Parliament may have manifestly lost confidence in the government — has for weeks — but so long as they can prevent the House from putting this to a vote — so long as they can evade the writ-server — it doesn't count. Yet now that the writ has been served, they say it doesn't count unless it's in Latin.

Posted by Nicholas at 09:32 PM | Comments (0)

Refuting the polling bias charge

Andrew, at Bound By Gravity, addresses the common complaint among (some) Conservative bloggers that the polling firms are biased against their party. Unfortunately, he uses tools that may baffle the average blogger: dollars and cents.

Now let's leave aside the following two critical points that blow away the credibility of the "polling firm bias = skewed results" theory all by themselves:

a) Ignore the fact that any polling form caught fixing its numbers would have its reputation irrevocably tarnished.

b) Further, ignore the fact that the quickest way to boost Liberal support (by leeching NDP support) is to show the Liberals behind in the polls.

Instead, let's take a look at the major Canadian polling firms and their donations over the years and see if there is a correlation between poll results and donations.

I'd say it was devastating, but I'm of the innumerate variety of blogger, so I have to take his word for it that the numbers completely obliterate any serious charges of bias.

In all seriousness, I think Andrew is doing a great job of digging up the important facts . . . and few things are more important in political life than money. If you don't already visit BBG regularly, I'd recommend that you start to do so now.

Posted by Nicholas at 08:37 PM | Comments (2)

Poll-tracking, part III

The Liberals and Conservatives swap positions again:

Pollwatch20050510.gif
Click to enlarge

Most recent poll from CTV, published today.

Posted by Nicholas at 07:36 PM | Comments (0)

Damian Penny asks the right question

Damian Penny asks the obvious question:

Do we Canadians still have the right to sneer at the Yanks for all the problems they had with their election in 2000?

When did we blow past the counting of the number of dimpled chads that can dance on the head of a pin? Yesterday? Day before that? Whenever it was, that was the point at which we can no longer pretend any sort of moral or political high ground whatsoever.

A Les Mackenzie comment at Daimnation puts it well: "Speaking of George W . . . Why hasn't he called out Prime Minister and congratulated him on his new dictatorship? Damn Americans!"

Posted by Nicholas at 07:25 PM | Comments (0)

Spamalot nominated for awardsalot

According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, the musical Spamalot — "lovingly ripped off" from the film Monty Python and the Holy Grail has been nominated for 14 Tony awards.

Posted by Nicholas at 07:07 PM | Comments (1)

Vikings' Running Back situation changes again

The Minnesota Vikings appeared to have an over-abundance of running backs coming out of the draft last month. On the roster were Michael Bennett, Onterrio Smith, Mewelde Moore, Moe Williams, and fourth-round draft choice Ciatrick Fason. Bennett and Smith each consider themselves the starter, with Moore as the dark horse.

The numbers just got a bit murkier as Smith has been caught carrying a drug test masking kit — something to allow him to fool the drug tests that the NFL mandates for randomly selected players on a monthly basis.

Smith had already served a four-game suspension for marijuana use at the beginning of last season (during which Moore ran for the only two 100-yard games the Vikings had that year). If the league decides to pay attention to this little matter, Smith is out for a year. The team would pretty much have to cut him and move on.

Star Tribune columnist Patrick Reusse imagines the situation:

He did tell airport security that he was taking the device to his cousin. Which leaves me with a large question: How close would you have to be to a cousin to agree to place his Whizzinator in your carry-on bag and take it through airport security?

Even conceding that some families are very, very close, I'm having a tough time fathoming the conversation:

Cuz: Hey, Big O, that you? Could you hook me up with a giant favor? I remembered my iPod, my BlackBerry, most of the important stuff for this trip, but there's this one thing I left in the condo.

Onterrio: You're my favorite cousin, Cuz. What do you need?

Cuz: Only going to take you five minutes, O. Key's under the mat. Walk into the bedroom, bottom drawer in the big chest. Just grab the funny-looking thing that's in there, maybe wrap a towel around it, and bring it with you on the flight.

Onterrio: You got it, Cuz. Anything else?

Cuz: There's six or seven vials of white powder in the drawer, too. Bring those, but don't get the wrong idea. No one wants to be snorting that stuff.

Yes, this could have been the exact conversation that led one of our football heroes to be carrying a device for making phony urine through airport security.

Posted by Nicholas at 06:46 PM | Comments (0)

Pension fund worries

Wendy McElroy discusses some of the implications of the United Airlines pension fund scam:

The advice offered by the CNN commentator was sound: don't expect your pension to be there for you when you retire; find new ways to save right now — e.g. instead of sending your children through university, encourage them to take out a loan; downsize — e.g. move to a less expensive house; learn how to budget and budget tightly; consider innovative steps like a reverse mortage. As I said, her advice was sound but I had a strong urge to bitch-slap her smiling face as she chatted brightly about people just "having to move into a smaller house, that's all." Where were those sage words from legions of financial talking-heads who have insisted for years that "gee whiz, the economy is great!" Big Business is your friend. And pay no attention to the man behind the curtain.

I've joked for quite some time about the risks of depending on your government pension ever being there for you to collect it, and the biggest businesses are now much more like the government than like "real" companies. Any time they find themselves in trouble, they can either get the courts to bail them out, or the government will ease their troubles with a regulatory crowbar or six. The pernicious notion that any private entity is "too big to fail" must be stomped out: without the risk of failure, there is little need to pay any attention to market conditions or customer requests (making them, once again, more like the DMV than HMV).

Posted by Nicholas at 02:43 PM | Comments (0)

From headlines to toystores in mere days

I didn't publish anything on the "runaway bride" story, because I figured it was just a silly season story appearing a few months early (August is notorious for this sort of non-news creeping into news coverage). iFeminists.net had a link to this little morality tale of modern capitalism in action:

The latest offering from a company known for culturally relevant action figures is a doll in the likeness of Jennifer Wilbanks, the Georgia woman who disappeared days before her wedding date and ended up in New Mexico by way of Las Vegas.

HeroBuilders.com rushed into production a limited-edition doll sporting Wilbanks' shoulder-length dark hair and pearly-white smile.

My favourite part came next, however:

It is featured with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Sen. Hillary Clinton in the "Female Heroes" section.

Wendy McElroy has the final word on the whole runaway bride issue:

Another under-discussed but newsworthy element: Wilbanks allegedly made false statements to the New Mexico police (and later the Georgia authorities), claiming she was kidnapped by an Hispanic man and a woman. That allegation has been widely broadcast, and perhaps she will be prosecuted. But her mental instability makes that prospect unlikely and the absence of criminal intent is a problem.

What is unmentioned by the media, however, is the fact that until she made those statements — an act that occurred at the tail end of the police investigation — Wilbanks had done nothing wrong in a legal sense.

The foregoing statement is not an expression of sympathy. As far as I am concerned, Wilbanks should be disowned by her parents, shunned by friends, and bitten by the family dog.

But she is a free human being. Except for the purpose of fraud or other crime, she has a legal right to disappear, to run out on a wedding. The alternative is to require people to inform authorities about their whereabouts and movements, as they were required to do in the Soviet Union.

Posted by Nicholas at 02:32 PM | Comments (0)

New decoration for the office

I picked up the latest copy of the Western Standard at lunch. Here's my new whiteboard decoration (until it gets torn down by the raging hordes of Librano supporters, of course):

LibranosPoster_11May05.jpg

Posted by Nicholas at 01:28 PM | Comments (0)

Dark Ages ship construction

A belated mention of an article in British Archaeology on the half-scale reconstruction of the Sutton Hoo sailing ship:

It was a very windy day, with great black clouds and blinding hail: a real storm. In July 2004 Sæ Wylfing, our half-scale replica of the famous buried Anglo-Saxon ship, was in Suffolk for the 20th anniversary of the Sutton Hoo Society. We had to sail her with 'two reefs in', a reduced sail area for the rough conditions. Dinghies capsized all around us, but our ship was quite untroubled.

Who invented the myth that the Anglo-Saxons could not sail and that the great Sutton Hoo ship (c 600 AD) was a mere rowing galley? To the eyes of a sailor, that beautifully preserved hull shape was essentially for sailing, and the three frames close together in the stern were to provide the necessary strength for a sailing rudder. For us it was not a question of 'Did she sail?' but 'How well did she sail?' The oarsmen fore and aft of the middle of the ship would provide power when the wind dropped or came ahead, the conditions under which sailing barges would anchor and wait.

Two factors seemed to worry the myth makers. They thought that the hull was not strong enough to take the sailing forces and that, without a deep keel, such as the Vikings developed some 200 years later, ships could only sail with a following wind. The depth of the Sutton Hoo keel is unknown, despite attempts to find it during the post-war re-excavation. A shallow keel, however, just deep enough to give protection to the planking when aground, has a distinct advantage in our east coast waters with their rapidly changing sands and gravels, allowing her crew to beach the ship rather than having to shelter in a river mouth.

I'd love to see a full-scale replica, but the half-scale ship seems interesting enough!

Posted by Nicholas at 10:24 AM | Comments (0)

This time last year

From a start of two posts, the second day of blogging set an unlikely high of eleven posts on the same day. I must not have had much to do at work that week! I've probably not hit the same number more than once or twice since then.

Topics ranged from several Abu Ghraib links, my first wine-related post, and some Firefly trivia, to a Waterloo-related story and the first mention of recent Medal of Honour recipient, Captain Brian Chontosh, USMC.

Posted by Nicholas at 08:40 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: Blogging

That's the big problem with blogs, of course: who cares what X thinks? It all depends on the quality of the thought, the uniqueness of the product, the value added. In the blogworld, a celebrity name adds no value whatsoever. If the blog's good, the celebrity may earn some blogcred (oh, Lord, shoot me now for that one) for not sounding like someone who just emerged from the isolation tank of LA culture. But I really don't care what Larry David thinks about John Bolton. I care what Larry David thinks about the itchy tags on shirts that scrape your neck, because I know that he can make a 12-part TV series that revolves around that detail, and George Will can't.

We'll see. In a way blogs are the refutation of the old joke: "The food's so bad here." "Yes, and such small portions." Dole out crap in large amounts all day and you don't guarantee traffic; eventually people will tired of poking through the heap with a stick looking for diamonds.

Somewhere in there, there's a metaphor.

James Lileks, The Bleat, 2005-05-10

Posted by Nicholas at 12:07 AM | Comments (0)

May 10, 2005

Halifax to host nuclear-powered aircraft carrier

Halifax, Nova Scotia, will be the focal point of anti-nuclear protestors from across Canada when the French carrier Charles de Gaulle visits port next month:

A 30,000-tonne nuclear-powered aircraft carrier is expected to drop anchor in Halifax Harbour for six days in June.

Michel Freymuth, the French consul general in Canada, said the Charles de Gaulle will be among six ships visiting Halifax between June 8 and 13.

"This is not an ordinary visit," Mr. Freymuth said. "There will be around 3,000 sailors coming."

Four French vessels are slated to accompany the Charles de Gaulle, including the frigates Jean Bart and Tourville, the nuclear attack submarine Rubis and the support ship Meuse.

I'm not quite sure how to interpret M. Freymuth's comment there . . . does that mean that the squadron doesn't normally carry that many sailors? Is this a subtle hint that they're actually an invasion force?

"Because of how navies conduct operation, it's too early to comment," said Lt.-Cmdr. Denise LaViolette, a spokeswoman for the Canadian Forces. "When it's closer to the event, we'll have more information."

Ah, I see. If it's clearly a peaceful visit, we can let off some fireworks. If it's less peaceful, we can give it the Rainbow Warrior treatment.

Posted by Nicholas at 06:45 PM | Comments (2)

The Flea, creating new images of Canadians abroad

[Ghost of a Flea], adrift in London, achieves new cultural heights for all Canadians travelling overseas:

I could sense every mind within earshot putting me in the ugly American box because I had the temerity to assume this was a business that had to, like, compete by offering the occasional special offer. But I had the last laugh. This was an ugly Canadian. Think of Canadians being bad and letting everyone think we are American as the flip side of those apocryphal Americans trekking about Europe with maple leafs sewn to their backpacks.

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

The London Fog Raises the Red Ensign XXI

The twenty-first raising of the Red Ensign has been well and truly managed by the good folks at The London Fog. Go and see what the rest of the Brigade has been doing for the past two weeks!

Posted by Nicholas at 12:39 AM | Comments (0)

First Anniversary of Quotulatiousness

Today is the one-year mark for blogging. It's been an interesting experience, I'll have to admit. I'm still not really sure whether I'll have anything interesting to say from day-to-day, but even if I'm only writing for a half-dozen regular readers (you know who you are), I'll keep posting if you'll keep reading. Deal?

Here is the first post on the blog. Still somewhat topical today: Abu Ghraib. Only one other post that day, on AK-47 MP3 players. Not too unrepresentative a sample of the next thousand posts, n'est pas?

Posted by Nicholas at 12:11 AM | Comments (3)

QotD: Taste

Taste is not learned out of books; it is not given from one person to another. Therein lies its profundity. At school, fatuous masters would say of poems they didn't like, using the old Latin saw, De gustibus non disputandem est — there's no accounting for taste. And so there isn't. Taste is like a perverse coral: it grows slowly and inexorably into unpredictable shapes, precisely because it's an offshoot of living iteself. Acquiring taste, then, is not a result of study; it's a talent for living life.

Lawrence Osborne, The Accidental Connoisseur, 2004

Posted by Nicholas at 12:04 AM | Comments (0)

May 09, 2005

Canada's ever-changing National Anthem

For those of us who don't keep careful watch on the slippery nature of Canadian heritage, the Canadian national anthem appears to be about to change: visit The London Fog to hear an advance copy of the new version.

Posted by Nicholas at 05:33 PM | Comments (0)

Rehashing the MGS debate

Another report published in the Ottawa Citizen airs the dispute over the Canadian army's pending purchase of the Mobile Gun System, a potential replacement for Canada's main battle tanks:

Two key projects of the Liberal government's plan to transform the Canadian Forces into a high-technology military aren't needed and the money for at least one of the programs could be put to better use elsewhere, according to a newly released Defence Department report.

The report questions whether the much-vaunted Stryker Mobile Gun System, as well as a vehicle-mounted anti-tank missile system, will contribute to the army's high-tech transformation. The two programs combined will cost taxpayers more than $1 billion.

In particular, the Mobile Gun System, or MGS, a wheeled light-armoured vehicle to replace the army's tanks, has been touted by various Liberal defence ministers as an example of how the government is revamping the military into a futuristic force.

But the report, obtained under the Access to Information law, notes that while such equipment improves the army's capability, that doesn't necessarily mean they are needed for the service's transformation. The study, however, concludes that little can be done about the $700-million MGS program, since it has the full endorsement of the Canadian Forces leadership.

In a way, I'm surprised that this debate is still being argued in the press: my impression was that the pointy-haired-bosses-at-NDHQ powers-that-be had already spent their share of the kickbacks for acquiring the MGS, so there was no possibility of the decision being revisited. Call me naive, I guess.

Posted by Nicholas at 04:12 PM | Comments (0)

Pajama Media controversy

I don't carry ads on my blog, so this is not something that directly concerns me. The summary at Moxie's blog sums up the whole thing really well . . .

The first rule of Pajama Club is — you do not talk about Pajama Club.
The second rule of Pajama Club is "42" *
The third rule of Pajama Club is "bend over."

Posted by Nicholas at 02:35 PM | Comments (0)

Space Tourism Prospects

Jim Davidson writes that the burgeoning space tourism industry is still having to fight the US government to stay alive:

This time, the problem comes from the USA government export control laws which pretend to license the export of technology that could have military applications. Even though Scaled Composites developed its SpaceShipOne technology for American Paul Allen and did so entirely without government assistance (and, as Rutan explains above, in the face of direct government attempts to prevent it), the would-be masters in the USA government wish to prevent the licensing of SpaceShip technology to Virgin Galactic.

As far as government interference goes, there's a long and sordid history:

Naturally, the whores in government are doing everything they can to prevent this industry from coming into existence. It was easier when all they had to do was throw false charges of felony gambling promotion of a lottery at two entrepreneurs from Houston. It was a bit more complex when Walt Anderson arranged to fly space tourists to Mir, and Mir had to plummet to an untimely death through the machinations of diplomacy. Then NASA tried to drag their heels on letting Dennis Tito aboard the Internationalist Socialist Space Station, but as Russia had control over who it flew there, NASA ended up unable to stop the first space tourist flight.

Expect more obstruction and premeditated government inaction to prevent anyone other than NASA from getting into space.

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

Fence pictures

As promised, I did grab a few fuzzy Treo photos on the way out the door this morning:

South gate
This is where I struggled with the old "steam-powered" hammer and nails. The opening to the left is Frank & Kim's gate.
North gate
This is the gate on the north side. Barry & Claire's gate is about six feet closer to the street than ours, so you can only see the short fence section on the right.
North fence
We've moved the remaining lumber inside the backyard, to discourage it from growing legs (there's a construction site right across the street, remember)
NorthwestCorner_09May05.jpg
This is the northwest corner of the backyard. There are still a few "filler" pieces to trim to size and nail in place before the horizontal rails can be added to finish some of the sections.
Southfence_09May05.jpg
This is looking across the backyard to the south fence: Frank and I finished most of the work here before collapsing last night. Still remaining: horizontal top-boards, and trimming the posts down.
SoutheastCorner_09May05.jpg
Completing my walk-around of the fence, this is looking east along the south fence, towards the street. The two short sections of despair frame the opening for the black gate.
Posted by Nicholas at 10:14 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: Politics and Music

"A good song should make you wanna tap your feet and get with your girl. A great song should destroy cops and set fire to the suburbs. I'm only interested in writing great songs."

So says Tom Morello, guitarist for the Los Angeles-based band Rage Against the Machine. He and his bandmates are not simply against cops and the suburbs, of course. They also stand for the Zapatistas and the Shining Path, for freeing Mumia Abu-Jamal and Leonard Peltier, for giving California back to Mexico, and for destroying stores where rich people like themselves shop.

That's pretty strong stuff coming from work-for-hire employees of one of the great cogs in the global capitalist machine, the megaconglomerate Sony, which wholly owns and distributes Rage's music and even is a co-owner of the group's publishing. Since 1992, Rage has sold nearly 7 million records, and it's safe to say that nobody has benefitted more from that commerce than the band's unabashedly capitalist paymaster.

Brian Doherty, "Rage On: The strange politics of millionaire rock stars", Reason, 2000-10

Posted by Nicholas at 12:07 AM | Comments (0)

May 08, 2005

Fencing . . . and not with swords

Today was a day away from both work and blogging. Out in the great outdoors, breathing in the fresh air, and building fences. We had the fence posts installed on Friday, and the concrete had set sufficiently to allow us to start stringing the rails between the posts and nailing the vertical boards to the rails.

Now I remember why I opted for a career that involved a lot of sitting in an air-conditioned office, typing on a keyboard and moving a mouse around: I'm just exhausted after today. The good thing is that (between us and the neighbours both north and south of us) we got most of the work done. The bad thing is that there's still more that needs to be done.

If the weather co-operates tomorrow, I might take some poor quality Treo photos to inflict upon you. . .

My various tools got some workout, especially the Porter-Cable pancake compressor and the Makita battery-powered mitre saw. The latter worked far better than I expected: it lasted through about sixty cuts (of 2x4 pressure-treated lumber) this morning, and was recharged by early afternoon and kept up with the rest of the cuts I needed until I ran out of power. The compressor was attached to a rented coil nailer (I have a small 18ga brad driver, but it wasn't up to the challenge of connecting 2x4 and 1x6 pressure-treated lumber together).

To think that I used to disdain power tools! In the time it took me to manually nail two short panels on either side of the opening that will become a gate, my neighbour and his step-father used the nailing gun and completed three full sections. There was no comparison between the speed of doing it the old fashioned way and using a pneumatic tool . . . and I can make no claims about the "superior quality of hand-tool craftsmanship": my efforts were slower and less neat than the guys using the power tools!

Posted by Nicholas at 09:23 PM | Comments (0)

QotD: Social Security

[F]rom a pure policy perspective, Social Security makes little sense except as a modest welfare program. There is, after all, no earthly reason why most middle class or wealthy citizens need the government to garnish their wages for decades and then provide a retirement benefit later: People are generally perfectly capable of saving for their own retirements. Those who want to paint the program as indispensable are fond of pointing to the large numbers of retirees who rely almost wholly on Social Security for their incomes. But then, when you take a hefty 12.4 percent bite out of people's paychecks — leaving them with less to save — and tell them they can rely on a government benefit later, it's not exactly shocking that many people don't save and rely on a government benefit later.

Julian Sanchez, "Social Security's Progressive Paradox: Retirement 'insurance' as a Rube Goldberg machine", Reason Online, 2005-05-02

Posted by Nicholas at 01:47 AM | Comments (0)

May 07, 2005

Soccer Mom-ism

Jay Jardine discusses that most interfering of modern busybodies, the Soccer Mom:

"There's A Soccer Mom Born Every Minute"

^ That post title, in addition to making my Friday on its own merits, provides a brief nugget of wisdom that will be placed in my mental repository for easy reference in the future. It comes to us from Kevin Carson's excellent Mutualist blog in a lively discussion on the state of contemporary American politics.

He describes a distinguishing feature of "soccer-momism" as "a devotion to outcomes, with no interest whatsoever in matters of principle".

The term "Soccer Mom" was originally a term of approval: the kind of parent who got more involved in the lives of their children than "traditional" parents. It very quickly went mainstream, so that politicians were often referred to as appealing to, or failing to appeal to, the Soccer Moms — liberal suburban families — the people that TV talking heads still thought of as "their audience".

Posted by Nicholas at 11:02 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: Healthcare

Do not forget: in medicine, there are more important things than life and death . . . dollars and cents.

Gerhard Kocher, Vorsicht, Medizin! Aphorismen zum Gesundheitswesen und zur Gesundheitspolitik, 2000 (English translation provided by the author)

Posted by Nicholas at 12:32 AM | Comments (0)

May 06, 2005

Read the Interweb-thingy offline!

When you don't have time to read that newfangled interwebnet-whatsit online, you can now read it offline.

What will they think of next?

Posted by Nicholas at 02:57 PM | Comments (0)

First SSF's Canadian members to receive CIB

The unique heritage of the combined US-Canadian First Special Service Force of the second world war is being recognized by the US Army. The Canadian veterans of the unit will be granted the right to the US Combat Infantryman's Badge, according to a Canadian Press report:

On Friday, U.S. embassy officials will announce in Ottawa that the United States Army is presenting the Combat Infantryman's Badge to Canadian members of the Second World War commando unit.

"We have been trying for years and years," Morris, 82, said from his home in Wilsonville, Ore.

"We're one outfit. This was a close-knit outfit. It's very, very gratifying because these are our guys."

Morris and other U.S. members of the unit immortalized in a 1968 Hollywood movie starring William Holden and Cliff Robertson received the badge during the war but the award was not originally authorized for foreign soldiers.

Established in 1943, the Combat Infantryman's Badge is awarded to infantrymen who "satisfactorily perform infantry duties" in ground combat against an armed enemy.

Unless, of course, the Canadian government gets yet another case of the awkwards (remember the fiasco about the snipers not being allowed to accept Bronze Stars from the US). I certainly hope that they stay the heck out of the way in this case.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:33 AM | Comments (0)

Audioslave sticks it to "the man"

According to a Reuters report, the band Audioslave will be the first American band to perform in Cuba:

Although the United States and Cuba have had no diplomatic relations for over four decades, cultural exchanges and certain other visits are permitted. The U.S. Treasury Department granted the rock band permission to perform on the island and the Instituto Cubano de la Musica approved the concert.

"Music can transcend politics and this trip is proof of that," said the band's singer, Chris Cornell, at a news conference in Havana on Thursday. "It is all about music, period."

The band, founded by former members of grunge band Rage Against the Machine, promised Cubans the loudest concert they had ever heard when they perform on Havana's waterfront.

The group will play on the Anti-Imperialist Stage, which is used by the Cuban government for protests against the U.S. government.

No word yet on whether Fidel Castro will give the introduction for the concert . . . but if he does, it'll almost certainly set a record for the longest concert in history.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:17 AM | Comments (0)

Chapter 3 is up

The third sample chapter of Lois McMaster Bujold's upcoming novel The Hallowed Hunt is now available for download or reading online at the HarperCollins website.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:37 AM | Comments (0)

Warning: Style Sheet Experimentation

As you may have noticed, I'm trying to mess around with my MovableType stylesheet to try to get Quotulatiousness looking a bit less "standard, out-of-the-box, boring, monochrome, etc." If it wasn't already obvious that I have no artistic talent worth mentioning, it will be by the time I settle on some changed CSS file. Apologies to anyone who has problems reading one or more of the various background/foreground colour combinations that may appear here.

Posted by Nicholas at 01:20 AM | Comments (0)

Damian dissects the military aspects of the IPS

Damian Brooks has taken the time to read through the government's recent International Policy Statement, focusing on the portions dealing with defence. He's not overwhelmed:

Beyond the shoulder-dislocating attempts to pat itself on the back, however, this policy paper is nothing more than a series of half-hearted compromises and contradictions. I think I'm doubly disappointed because the Overview was good enough to raise my hopes for the Defence policy to unrealistic levels. I should have known better.

The "new" first priority of the CF will be the defence of Canada and North America. If you're shaking your head in surprise that this wasn't always the first priority of our military, let me assure you, you're not alone.

This is merely the acknowledgement that Canada has been taking full advantage of the fact that the Americans would never allow a foreign threat to Canada to go unopposed — allowing irresponsible Canadian governments to both cut defence and to engage in "feelgood" operations that generate good press. Pathetic, and morally reprehensible, but actually a fascinating exercise of one aspect of realpolitik.

As the policy paper notes, activity in the North continues to rise: diamond mining, oil pipeline construction, increased air traffic, and the possibility of commercial vessel traffic if warming trends continue. The area of land and sea Canada claims is enormous — almost 3.7 million square kilometres in our three Northern territories. Just as a point of comparison, the entire country of India is only 3.3 million square kilometres. Where is the commitment to preposition significant land and air assests closer to the Arctic than Edmonton?

I'd bet a month's wages that at least three foreign navies operate submarines in Canadian arctic waters. Where is even an acknowledgement of this hole in our sovereignty, let alone a discussion of how to develop a crucial under-ice naval capability to counter it?

I'm not the first military-watcher to say this, but we should OWN Arctic op's. This policy statement pays only lip service to Arctic sovereignty.

I was perhaps the worst cold-weather soldier in Canadian history, so I'm on shaky ground when I agree with Damian here: we should be the world's best at arctic operations. I doubt very much whether we're even in the top five.

I don't like the fact that we've formally given up on the idea of Canadian heavy armour in favour of a light- and medium-weight replacement (LAV's, Mobile Gun System, and Multi-Mission Effects Vehicle), though. While this is probably the most justifiable compromise in the policy paper, the proven effectiveness of tanks in an urban environment and the widespread availability of RPG's to 'insurgents' in failed and failing states around the world give me pause.

I'm not happy with it, but I recognize that this fight was lost ten years ago: there's almost no hope of having it reversed. We're specializing, by default, in light infantry work: it requires less equipment — but more training and mobile support — which plays well in the Finance minister's office.

To restore some hope to the poor bastards currently serving in the Canadian Forces, we have to concentrate on things that can be achieved with the resources the government is willing to provide. This means we can no longer pretend to be capable of fighting full-scale conventional battles (without allies, that is, and "allies" is really code for "the Americans"). For the army, the tanks are just the first to go. The artillery will be next on the block: SP guns are too expensive, and towed artillery is too immobile . . . and our allies will always have plenty, right?

The aviators have already had to mothball a significant portion of the CF-18 fleet to provide spare parts to keep the rest of them flying. I haven't heard anyone seriously address either mid-life updates to the CF-18s or long-term replacements. New Zealand might not be the only former British colony to give up on having an air force.

The navy is discovering just how expensive their submarines can be: the rest of the fleet was already suffering from insufficient resources before the subs came in to gobble down far more than their proportional share of the budget. They might be able to plan for new ships, but at an exchange ratio of about 2:1 (get a new vessel into commission for every two that are decommissioned). That'd give us, what? Enough ships to barely cover operational requirements on one coast?

The one area we can be sure won't be cut back in any serious way is National Defence Headquarters (NDHQ). That way, we'll always have somewhere to welcome the visiting American officers whose units will end up doing most of the work that used to be performed by Canadians.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:40 AM | Comments (3)

QotD: Police

Cops live and operate within a strict hierarchy, usually with titles like "sergeant", "lieutenant", "captain", and so forth. Most of them wear military-style uniforms, and an argument can be made that so-called "plainclothes" operations ought to be outlawed. Increasingly, they wear military battledress and carry military weapons.

Cops form a culture all to themselves, like professional soldiers, and usually have little to do with those who are not cops. They do call us "civilians". [. . .] They also call us "assholes" and say that the public just consists of criminals who haven't been caught yet. I know because I was there at one time.

Yeah, I understand the theory that they're civilians, too. I repeat that it's bullshit. What they are, in fact, is an occupying military force, with strategic bases in every hamlet in the nation — which is why they and their hangers-on lie to us and possibly to themselves about being civilians, too.

They are the very standing army that the Founding Fathers were afraid of.

L. Neil Smith, "Letter from L. Neil Smith" Libertarian Enterprise, 2005-05-01

Posted by Nicholas at 12:07 AM | Comments (0)

May 05, 2005

Conversational checkmate

Part of a conversation (obviously non-work related) this afternoon:

". . . most teenagers have to hate little kids: it's practically in their job description."

"If that's true, then why do so many teenagers end up having kids?"

"Oh, that's just <pseudo-intellectual voice> a radical manifestation of their existential self-loathing </pseudo-intellectual voice>"

Pause

<Hillbilly voice> "Is that just a fancy way o'saying they's horny?</Hillbilly voice>"

I guess you had to be there.

Posted by Nicholas at 06:36 PM | Comments (0)

Not that there's anything wrong with that . . .

Ann Althouse has an awkward moment.

Posted by Nicholas at 05:33 PM | Comments (0)

Star Trek a gateway to pedophilia?

Ernest Miller digs deeper into the recent stories of near 100% correlation of arrested pedophilia suspects and Star Trek "hardcore" fans in Toronto:

Last week I wrote a post about a claim in the LA Times that of the more than one hundred arrested in the past four years by the Toronto Sex Crimes Unit Child Exploitation Section "all but one" were "hard-core Trekkie[s]". I thought the claim was improbable, so I called and spoke to an officer in the unit, who denied the specific accuracy of the claim, but not the high percentage of pedophiles arrested who were Star Trek fans [ . . .]

Colby Cosh points out (in the comments to the above posting) that the numbers don't seem to make much sense at all:

Note, though, that the sampling bias here cannot conceivably be large enough to account entirely for the allegedly observed 99:1 ratio between Trekkie pedophiles and non-Trekkie pedophiles. The latter figure would suggest that the hardcore Trek crowd is overrepresented amongst sex abusers by a factor of many thousands. The fraction of the general public that uses the Internet — or even the fraction that habituates esoteric Internet manifestations like chatrooms and BBSes — is surely too great (probably no less than 1/100 unless you're going to get ridiculous about it) to allow for the scaling back of that factor. Even if the Trekkies all use every corner of the Internet, they couldn't possibly outnumber us normals there — but they appear to, dramatically, in the world of child pornography users.

Posted by Nicholas at 04:41 PM | Comments (0)

Quebec would run surplus as independent nation

According to a Canadian Press report, Quebec would be able to run a significant budget surplus as a sovereign country, as opposed to the situation within Canada:

An independent Quebec would be swimming in cash after taking over federal taxing powers and reducing duplication in government services, says a plan presented Thursday by the Parti Quebecois.

If the province became sovereign, Quebec would re-create its own version of the recent massive surpluses of the federal government and would have full control over how the money is spent, PQ Leader Bernard Landry said.

One wonders just how much duplication is going on . . .

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

Keegan on VE Day

Sir John Keegan writes about the end of the Second World War in Europe, VE day:

At the far end of Whitehall in Trafalgar Square and at Piccadilly Circus, the crowd was dancing and singing. American soldiers were exulting with British and Commonwealth servicemen, and the ordinary people of London, to celebrate what five years earlier had seemed an unattainable outcome. Then, with the German armies bursting into France and driving the defenders before them into rout, Churchill had stated his aim to the House of Commons, as: "Victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror, victory however long and hard the road may be."

The road had been harder than even he had feared. Fifty million people had died, much of Europe had been destroyed, millions had been driven from their homes and were wandering the highways of Europe, displaced and starving.

Europe, the liberated portion that stayed liberated after 1945 did recover, although that recovery was already well started before the Marshall Plan got fully underway (the liberalization of the German economy under Adenauer was a huge change for the better). Even the nominally victorious nations were suffering:

In Britain the immediate post-war years were materially harsher than the war itself had been. Rationing remained and grew stricter. The country was bankrupt, surviving only on an American loan. The Army, still fighting the Japanese in the Far East, was to remain large even after VJ Day — Victory over Japan — in August, as it coped with post-imperial revolts in Burma and Palestine.

The Soviet Union, of course, was in even worse state, but took as much as it could of what the Nazis had left unlooted from the new satellite states of eastern Europe.

The country that was seen to have suffered worst as the war drew to a close was Germany. Its 50 largest cities lay in ruins, 600,000 of the inhabitants killed by Allied bombing, the majority women and children. Four million German men had died in battle, of whom 800,000 had been killed fighting the British and Americans in the battle for Germany. Seventeen million Germans had fled from the East, including places that had been German-inhabited for centuries.

German industry, once the powerhouse of the world's second-largest economy was at a standstill. The country's institutions had been destroyed and its government extinguished. Worst of all, Germany had become an outcast nation, held guilty of the worst crimes and excesses ever to have been committed by a civilised country.

VE Day was an occasion for rejoicing. But even among the victors there were many who wondered if such a victory deserved celebration.

Posted by Nicholas at 01:48 PM | Comments (0)

USS Kennedy retirement deferred

As mentioned earlier, the conventional-powered aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy has been slated for decommissioning after a life-extension plan (at $350 million) was removed from the US Navy budget. Congressional maneuvres have delayed the decision:

The House of Representatives is expected to approve a plan today to postpone a decision on retiring the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy until February.

House and Senate budget negotiators struck a deal late Tuesday that requires the Navy to delay a decision on the 37-year-old carrier until the Quadrennial Defense Review is submitted to Congress early next year.

The move would stall a potential domino effect that could result in a nuclear-powered carrier being relocated from Norfolk to Mayport, Fla., the Kennedy’s home port.

While I'm happy with the concept of civilian control over the military, this degree of control always seems to be more about local politics than it ever is about genuine concerns over national defence or the good of the particular service involved.

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

Navy budget stretched to breaking point

The repairs and damage assessment for the HMCS Chicoutimi are making a bad financial situation even worse for the Canadian navy:

The four boats, acquired from the British navy for $850 million, have been docked since the incident.

Chicoutimi is in Halifax Shipyard, still undergoing a damage assessment. The insides have been stripped and cleaned, and officials are reviewing the structural damage, said Henderson.

Repairs will take at least a year, depending on what replacement parts are required, he said.

In his internal report, prepared in December, MacLean cites $419 million in total funding shortfalls across the navy. He says the unplanned expense for Chicoutimi will compound an already strained maintenance program.

Given that the rest of the navy's vessels were already running on what is politely termed "deferred maintenance" even before the subs were obtained, you can imagine how bad the situation will be after all the bills come in. But, given the federal situation, there's literally no hope of any extra funding going to the navy in the short term.

Update: The report of the inquiry into the fatal fire on board Chicoutimi has been issued, clearing the captain and crew of any risk of charges.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:42 AM | Comments (0)

Monster truck action on suburban street!

As I was getting my gear together to head out to work this morning, there was a resonant boom from the street. When we got out the front door, this is what presented itself to us:

OverturnedTruck1_05May05.jpgOverturnedTruck2_05May05.jpg

Apologies (as usual) for the poor photo quality: shooting directly towards the sun using a Treo cellphone camera is pretty much a crapshoot on getting any image at all.

The lot directly across the street from us is a public school site, and they're digging the foundations this week. The truck was attempting to back in to the site (I assume — I wasn't watching when this happened), and either got nudged by the digger arm visible in the background or just overbalanced. It's blocking the entire street now, as you can see, and an email I got a few minutes ago says there's a pair of other trucks now lined up to take the place of this one.

Update: Elizabeth emailed me with more information she discovered after I had to leave for work:

They are still cleaning up. They've brought in a special clean up crew to upright the truck. The new school principal came over to talk to us. She was most embarrassed. I'm certainly getting to meet all the neighbours. They were all outraged at the safety issues involved. [Our next-door neighbours, whose driveway is completely blocked] arrived back at about 10:30 and were shocked. Even now, people are trying to walk their kids to and from school and there is a bob-cat running back and forth picking up gravel.

I was talking to the MOT guy who knew one of the neighbours and he was saying that apparently the driver was still moving as he was raising the load which caused an imbalance and the whole thing toppled.

The second driver who tried to unload did the same thing in front of the police! I guess that's why they were sent away.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:19 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: Football

[F]ootball isn't really a sport in America. It's a religion. Almost every single game is played on a Saturday (college) or Sunday (NFL), which, for a Judeo-Christian country, means it's played on the Sabbath. Accordingly, families come to a standstill when football is on. Tumbleweeds roll through usually busy towns. If anything squares with America's reputation as a bunch of religious kooks, our faith in football is it.

Jonathan David Morris, "Our National Pastime?", Libertarian Enterprise, 2005-04-23

Posted by Nicholas at 12:17 AM | Comments (0)

May 04, 2005

Weird MovableType Behaviour

I've noticed some odd quirks in my primary MT Index template lately: when I've made a change and saved the template, occasionally one of my opening angle brackets "<" gets converted to the HTML symbol "&lt;". This, of course, has odd results in the rebuilt index page (usually ending up with the HTML tag and arguments that should have been in the page appearing as literal text).

The odd thing is that it's only one or two instances which get replaced, and usually near the end of the template. You'd think that something like this, if it occured at all, would be a global search/replace thing, not a random one. The places it's happened have not been where my intentional edits were, either.

This has only been happening during the past week or so, and I've been using a variety of web browsers to edit the template (Opera 8 and IE 6 under Windows and Konqueror and Mozilla under Knoppix). Has anyone seen similar behaviour?

Posted by Nicholas at 02:13 PM | Comments (0)

QotD: Cyber-Addiction

Researchers at the University of London Institute of Psychiatry say the distractions of email and such extract a toll on intellectual performance as similar to that of marijuana. The study of 1,100 volunteers found that attention and concentration could be so frazzled by answering and managing calls and messages that IQ temporarily dropped by 10 points. The resulting loss of focus due to "Crackberry," in fact, was judged to worse than that experienced by pot smokers.

This, of course, cannot really be a surprise. It is a great hallmark of modern life that over-indulgence in practically anything can be turned into pathology given enough time and clinical studies.

Jeff A. Taylor, Reason Express, 2005-04-26

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

May 03, 2005

Blogfight! Blogfight!

Jon, my virtual landlord, was briefly a member of the Red Ensign Brigade. He decided to leave the Brigade for reasons unrelated to politics or patriotism. He still keeps an eye on what's happening in the Brigade by occasionally reading my blog (and taunting me for using up his precious bandwidth whenever I post a photo or chart).

Anyway, he read my welcome message to our newest Brigade member, and got a bit bent-out-of-shape with something that Rhett (short for Rhetoric, get it?) had written.

Response was made in the comments to Jon's first post, and then Jon fisked that response. At this rate, they'll be hurling anathemas and excommunications at one another by nightfall . . .

Update, 4 May: Well, it looks as though Jon has decided to pull down the blog and go on hiatus . . . the files are gone and there's nobody answering the (virtual) door. Sorry to see it happen, but I hope he'll resume writing sometime in the near future.

Posted by Nicholas at 06:09 PM | Comments (0)

Poll-tracking, part II

The sudden drop in Conservative support last week in two polls may have been temporary after all:

Pollwatch20050502.gif
Click to enlarge

Most recent poll from Angus Reid (26-28 April), published yesterday.

Posted by Nicholas at 05:50 PM | Comments (0)

New Brigade Member

Welcome to Rhetoricking with Myself, the newest member of the Red Ensign Brigade. Good to see you here in the officers' mess, youngster! Mine'll be a Chateau Lafite-Rothschild 1996.

Posted by Nicholas at 01:52 PM | Comments (0)

If the country was a computer program

We'd be seeing the public clicking the default button on this error message:

Corruption.png

Image courtesy of Atom Smasher's Error Message Generator.

Posted by Nicholas at 09:29 AM | Comments (1)

So much to investigate, so little time

Damian Brooks has taken issue with a post by the founder of the Red Ensign Brigade, [Ghost of a Flea], Brigadier Emeritus:

[Ghost of a Flea] earned my respect and admiration by founding the Red Ensign Brigade and penning the Winston Review. It pains me to say he has squandered that respect by drawing an odious comparison between Canadian Conservative Party supporters such as myself who don't feel SSM is worth a single-issue vote, and Germans who looked the other way while Jews were being dragged away to Auschwitz and Birkenau.

The post Damian objects to is this one, and I have to say that I don't quite follow Damian's reasoning. Nick is passionate about many things, SSM being a current, but not particularly exclusive issue for him:

I do not know how many times I have been told by otherwise sensible people that gay marriage is unimportant and that I am wrong to be worried by the populism and the pandering that is the new face of conservatism in the United States and Canada. I am sick of being chastised for drawing attention to the would be theocrats among my fellow Christians when those doing the chastising so evidently believe their own freedoms are not at risk. But I suppose it seems a small thing to trade away someone else's liberty. They are wrong and they should know better.

Not that there is any surprise in citizens of Western democracies looking the other way when someone else's rights are at stake. After all, that is what we have all been doing in our trade with mainland China and our military support for the Saudis and every other compromise of someone else's freedom in the name of national sovereignty or convenience or utter indifference. When we discount the freedom of others it is all too easy to forget to safeguard our own.

Unless I'm misreading the original post, Nick is talking about a bigger issue than just same-sex marriage: the idea that rights are given and taken at the convenience of the current government. This is something I've referred to in previous posts, and at risk of boring my reader I should point out that American citizens have their rights recognized by the United States Constitution, while Canadian subjects have only those rights granted by the government, and the government has a put-you-in-jail-free card in the infamous Notwithstanding clause of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

Most of the time, and for most people, this difference doesn't matter: in the vast majority of cases, Canadians are practically as free as Americans (and for gay Canadians, even more so: they can contract to marry in most Canadian jurisdictions and have their marriage contract upheld in law). But the difference does matter. Rights that can be taken away at a whim (or a change in government) are not rights — they are temporary privileges granted to favoured groups or individuals.

Update: In the comments to this post, Ben "Tiger in Winter" Sharma provided me with the necessary clue I'd missed last night while composing this entry: Nick had linked to something which made the connection Damian took issue with.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:56 AM | Comments (3)

QotD: Toronto

Toronto is a sucking vortex of stupid due to being the axis about which the world revolves. But you already knew that having become dizzy from your slow orbit so far from the centre of things.

[Ghost of a Flea], "And while I am being annoying", Ghost of a Flea, 2005-05-02

Posted by Nicholas at 12:04 AM | Comments (0)

May 02, 2005

Second chapter posted

Lois McMaster Bujold's new novel, The Hallowed Hunt, is being published next month. The first two chapters are now available (in PDF) on the Harper Collins website. Chapter Three is to be posted this Friday, with the final free chapter the following Friday.

Posted by Nicholas at 04:22 PM | Comments (0)

Timewasting online quizzes

I know it's the curse of blogs and live journals — the sudden rush of traffic to a new "How _____y are you?" quiz. I don't bother with 'em all that often: most are pretty amateurish and some are just downright ugly. Today at lunch, I was accused of being a nerd, and by happenstance, when I got back from lunch, there was a post to one of my mailing lists to a Nerd test. I had to take it, just to have some "authority" for my contention that I'm a reformed nerd:

I am nerdier than 87% of all people. Are you nerdier? Click here to find out!

[Marvin the Paranoid Android Voice] Depressing, isn't it?[/Marvin]

Perhaps I'm not as reformed as I thought I was . . .

Posted by Nicholas at 01:34 PM | Comments (5)

Network security

Elizabeth bought herself a new laptop yesterday which includes wireless network capability. Our home network is hard-wired, so it wasn't a big selling feature in her decision to purchase. What I did find amusing, when we got the new laptop running at home, was that there were three wireless networks detected from our house, and one of them was running without security.

I was tempted to try connecting to the unsecured network, just for amusement, but managed to restrain my curiosity. If our neighbourhood is representative, that must mean a lot of home networks are running in an unsecured mode . . . there must be a market opportunity for network security folks here. Just drive around, sniffing for unsecured networks, then offer your services to fix the security hole, for a small consideration.

I know nothing about wireless networking, so perhaps the security issue isn't as bad as I'm thinking . . .

Posted by Nicholas at 11:01 AM | Comments (5)

This is ridiculous

I've been coaching youth soccer teams since Victor was 4 (his first soccer coach quit when her son stopped wanting to play), so I'm on a few soccer-related mailing lists. One of those lists must have shared my email address with other lists, because I sometimes get soccer spam from certain groups and companies. One of those is the San Andreas Youth Soccer Organization.

San Andreas is a little bit out of the way for me, so there's no benefit to me getting emails from them about tryouts, referee clinics, and tournaments (3,000 miles and an international boundary is more than enough barrier, I'd think). At the bottom of their mailings, they offer a "one-click" removal from their mailing list.

But it isn't really one-click. You click the link, it pops up an email message which you then have to send. But wait, it's not over yet: the recipient has signed up with a spam-filtering service, so my message (asking him to not send me spam) has generated another email message from them. My original message has been put into a waiting bin until I click yet another link to open another web page to confirm that I really want to send it to him, that I'm not sending him spam, and agree to their terms and conditions. Then it will allow my email to be delivered to him.

All this, to get unsubscribed from a mailing list I never subscribed to in the first place. Aarrgghh!

Posted by Nicholas at 09:04 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: Hatred

Cultivating hatred for another human group ought to be no more acceptable when it issues from the mouths of women than when it comes from men, no more tolerable from feminists than from the Ku Klux Klan.

Daphne Patai, Heterophobia: Sexual Harassment and the Future of Feminism, 1998

Posted by Nicholas at 12:18 AM | Comments (0)

May 01, 2005

Computer Meltdown

My home machine has finally given up the ghost . . . or, to be more accurate, the Windows 98 system loaded on it has gacked. I'm live, such as it is, using Knoppix as my temporary operating system. This is an incredibly cool little utility . . . which is actually an entire Linux system, bootable from CD. You can find more information on Knoppix here.

I was flat-out amazed at how well Knoppix works: you change your BIOS settings to allow your machine to boot from the CD drive, put the Knoppix CD in, and reboot. When I rebooted, it correctly found my video card, hard drives (by manufacturer and model number), DVD and CD drives, and sound card, configured for them on the fly, and opened up an X-Windows desktop. It loads into a RAMDisk (a virtual disk in memory, for those of you who don't remember the "good old days" of DOS), and I was able to access my Windows data on the hard disks, and burn backup CDs using K3b, one of literally hundreds of useful programs included on the Knoppix CD.

Even if you never expect to use Linux on your home or work machine, I strongly urge you to download a copy of Knoppix, burn it to a CD and leave it handy: you never know when being able to reboot your machine without Windows will be a critical need. I'm happy I had a copy available just the other day . . .

Posted by Nicholas at 12:57 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: Multiculturalism

The creed of contemporary multiculturalism sought to establish that all societies were roughly equal and that the "other" was but a crude Western fiction. But we were reminded that people like the Taliban who did not vote, treated women as chattel, and whipped and stoned to death dissenters of their primordial world were different folk from citizens of democracy. A chief corollary to tsuch cultural relativism was that Americans have wrongly embraced a belief in the innate humanity of the West largely out of ethnocentric ignorance. But surely the opposite has been proven true: the more Americans after September 11 learned about the world of the madrassas, the six or seven varieties of Islamic female coverings, the Dickensian Pakistani street, and the murderous gangs in Somalia, Sudan, and Afghanistan, then the more not less, they are appalled by societies that are so anti-Western.

Victor Davis Hanson, Ripples of Battle

Posted by Nicholas at 12:38 AM | Comments (0)


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