April 30, 2006

Sorry for the temporary outage . . .

Sorry if you attempted to visit the blog yesterday and didn't find it . . . I'm still not sure why the blog went dark, as there was no evidence of any external tampering. My thanks to the kind folks at The London Fog and also to Darcey for hints and suggestions to get the blog's invisibility shield de-activated.

If you can read this, I guess it worked.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:52 AM | Comments (1)

QotD: Economic Scapegoats

When people in public offices start bleating about a conspiracy of private firms to screw the public, it is usually a sign that said public official is trying to spread a profound misunderstanding of market forces, or is an idiot, or is trying to name a scapegoat to shore up public support. In the case of President George W. Bush — not exactly the brightest light in the harbour — it may be just be a combination of all three.

Johnathan Pearce, "The price-fixing fallacy as applied to oil", Samizdata, 2006-04-26

Posted by Nicholas at 11:45 AM | Comments (0)

April 29, 2006

QotD: The NFL Draft

NFL scouts can (and do) measure just about everything about a prospect prior to the draft, but they can't quantifiably measure heart and leadership, two of the most important yet undervalued skills a quarterback can possess.

Every year they draft these big, strong, good-looking guys that can chuck it a country mile. And three years later they turn out to be Joey Harrington or Tim Couch or Jeff George or some other bust who couldn't lead a hungry lineman to free barbeque, let alone an entire team to a championship.

Dan Wetzel, "Follow the Leader", Yahoo! Sports, 2006-04-27

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

April 28, 2006

Atlas Shrugged, on the big screen?

Julian Sanchez gets the obvious pot-shot out of the way immediately:

Who Is John Galt? Brad Pitt, Apparently

According to Variety, he's slated to star in a Lions Gate film adaptation of Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged opposite Angelina Jolie as Dagny Taggart. Which makes sense, given that millions of men already think of trains entering tunnels when they see Jolie. They're supposedly using a version of the script penned for the scrapped TNT miniseries of Atlas.

Posted by Nicholas at 01:59 PM | Comments (0)

Middlesbrough to face Seville on May 10

The other semi-final match in the UEFA Cup went to Seville, who beat Schalke by a score of 1-0 in extra time. Another game report:

Twenty years after the club almost went out of existence, Gibson reaped the rewards of all his hard work and investment when Massimo Maccarone's 89th-minute header dumped Steaua Bucharest out of the competition after they squandered a 3-0 aggregate lead.

A delighted Gibson said: "It's incredible and I'm absolutely speechless.

"If someone had written this as a script, you would not have believed it. What a night.

"I can only do it off the pitch - the players were absolutely magnificent on it.

"They went two goals down, but they never gave up and the crowd was unbelievable.

Update: BBC Sports looks back over Middlesbrough's wildly varied season:

And yet for all their success in the cup, McClaren's side have endured some humiliating defeats in a rollercoaster season, as well as having to contend with constant speculation linking McClaren with the England manager job.

On the back of a winning start in Europe and a stunning 2-1 victory over Arsenal, Boro were humbled in front of their home fans against local rivals Sunderland but in October they again raised their game when they comfortably despatched Manchester United 4-1.

. . .

With non-league Nuneaton next on the fixture list, Boro had the perfect opportunity to bury the disappointment of the previous week. But Boro hearts sank even further as they watched their side manage only a draw against the semi-pro's from the Conference League North.

That was followed by a 7-0 hammering by Arsenal a week later — which McClaren described as his "toughest day as Middlesbrough manager".

Summing up the fluctuating fortunes of this amazing campaign, though, McClaren went from his worst day in football to arguably one of his best a month later.

That came when he masterminded a 3-0 demolition of champions Chelsea and that victory, as well as progression in Europe and a replay victory over Nuneaton, finally got their season back on track.

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

HMCS Chicoutimi information site

Jon sent me a link to the HMCS Chicoutimi site maintained by the Department of National Defence:

This website has been established for information on the events surrounding HMCS CHICOUTIMI. The Website includes news updates, photos and transcripts of past news conferences. The site will be updated as more information becomes available, so please feel free to visit regularly.

For those of you tuning in late, HMCS Chicoutimi is the former Royal Navy submarine HMS Upholder. She was leased by the Canadian government to replace several outdated diesel-electric submarines in Canadian service. HMS Upholder and her sister ships had been mothballed for several years, as the Royal Navy had moved to an all nuclear-powered fleet of submarines. Upholder was the last of four ships in the class to be brought back into service and had been laid up the longest.

The newly renamed Chicoutimi had a serious onboard accident during her transfer to Canada which involved "a fire in an oxygen generator, nine casualties, and the tragic death of Lieutenant(N) Chris Saunders." This website includes the Board of Inquiry files for the investigation into the accident.

Update: The DND will delay repairing Chicoutimi until a scheduled refit in the year 2010:

The department said delaying repairs to HMCS Chicoutimi for another four years will save millions of dollars that can be spent elsewhere, including two other subs in the fleet.

"This will improve our ability to get Victoria and Corner Brook back into service and better position the navy to have two boats fully operational in 2009," the department said in a one-page statement released late Thursday.

Victoria and Corner Brook are also currently out of commission.

A defence analyst said the decision isn't surprising since Ottawa has been trying to trim costs and consolidate spending in the lead up to the federal budget Tuesday.

Peter Haydon of the Centre for Policy Studies in Halifax said Friday the extensive repairs to Chicoutimi will be done at the same time as a scheduled two-year refit, which Defence says could save the department millions.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:53 AM | Comments (1)

QotD: Historical Context of Marriage

The law of servitude in marriage is a monstrous contradiction to all the principles of the modern world, and to all the experience through which those principles have been slowly and painfully worked out. It is the sole case, now that negro slavery has been abolished, in which a human being in the plenitude of every faculty is delivered up to the tender mercies of another human being, in the hope forsooth that this other will use the power solely for the good of the person subjected to it. Marriage is the only actual bondage known to our law. There remain no legal slaves, except the mistress of every house.

John Stuart Mill, The Subjection of Women, 1869

Posted by Nicholas at 08:29 AM | Comments (0)

April 27, 2006

Middlesbrough reaches UEFA Cup Final

In yet another amazing comeback, Middlesbrough fought back from a 2-0 hole in the first 25 minutes (after losing the first leg of the semi-final in Bucharest 1-0) to beat Steaua Bucharest by a 4-2 final score:

Italian substitute Massimo Maccarone, who got the last-minute winner to beat Basel in the last round, repeated the feat with an 89th-minute header that turned a 3-0 deficit into an incredible second successive 4-3 win.

Boro looked out when goals by Nicolae Dica and Doran Goian had the Romanian visitors 2-0 up after 24 minutes but Maccarone began the comeback in the 33rd minute while a 65th minute Mark Viduka header and 73rd-minute Chris Riggott goal raised hopes among the biggest crowd of the season at the Riverside.

Maccarone's header from a Stewart Downing cross then took Boro into the May 10 final in Eindhoven where they will meet either Seville or Schalke 04, who were playing later.

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

Truck accessories

Maybe I should add one of these babies to the Quotemobile.

Posted by Nicholas at 04:52 PM | Comments (4)

Previewing the NFL Draft

I don't follow college football, so I don't have particularly strong opinions on the players to be drafted this weekend. Minnesota has the 17th draft pick in the first round, which is far enough down the list that the player they pick will almost certainly not be one of the names that have been up in lights on the sports pages lately. Vikings War Cry has a few thoughts on the team's needs and some players who might be best suited to fit those needs.

Gregg Easterbrook (now back at ESPN.com) offers the Vikings the following draft day advice:

17. Minnesota Vikings: Anna Nicole Smith, respectable stripper
The Love Boat might have been a PR fiasco for the Vikings, but there's no getting around that Minnesota was 1-3 before the team spent an evening with some lap dancers and 8-4 after. At Smith's Web site, she describes herself as an "international model." After providing a 97-word bio, Smith declares, "I don't feel like writing any more."

Posted by Nicholas at 04:33 PM | Comments (2)

Vikings cut Onterrio Smith

The Vikings moved to minimize their exposure to more "Whizzinator" jokes by cutting running back Onterrio Smith today. The Pioneer Press and the Star Tribune both reported the same basic information:

The Vikings released Onterrio Smith on Wednesday, ending the running back's tumultuous three-year run with the team.

The Pioneer Press reported in Wednesday's editions that Smith had been notified by the NFL that he would not be reinstated from a one-year suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy. The Vikings did not cite a reason for releasing Smith.

"We've decided to terminate Onterrio Smith's contract ahead of this weekend's college draft," coach Brad Childress said in a statement. "We wish him well in his future endeavors."

Even if Mike Tice had still been the Vikings coach, it was unlikely that Smith would have been given another chance, but with Childress in charge, there was no possibility that Smith would return to the team. The Star Tribune article implied that the NFL's lack of hurry in re-instating Smith's eligibility may have been a factor in Minnesota's decision, but I think that's not the case: after putting up with Terrell Owens' antics in Philadelphia, Childress is going to be Mr. Zero Tolerance in his new job.

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

QotD: Parenting dilemmas

[. . .] quite possibly the ugliest thing your kid has ever made, and this presents you with one of those parenting dilemmas: What do you say when your child presents you with a handmade gift, and it looks like something a clown threw up after washing down a box of crayons with a quart of Ripple?

On one hand, you're touched they made something for you, and you want to reward their creative desires. On the other hand, if you accept everything uncritically, they'll grow up without standards, and think everything they toss off gets the same wonderful reaction. ("A broken crayon with some string glued on the end? Why, it's the best birthday present ever, Hon. And tell your husband I said hello.")

James Lileks, "Romzak triglit? For me? I love it!", Star Tribune, 2006-04-21

Posted by Nicholas at 12:43 AM | Comments (0)

April 26, 2006

The DMCA . . . tyrannical enough yet?

We need a rougher, tougher DMCA because, of course, digital copying is the greatest threat facing our civilization. Tucents summarizes the most recent anti-consumer aspects:

  • expanded restrictions on software
  • that'll stimulate new businesses

  • federal police with more wiretapping and enforcement powers
  • just look at how responsible they are with the powers they have today

  • a new federal crime of just trying to commit copyright infringement punished by 10 years in prison (even if the copy attempt fails)
  • DRM software that dials 911 when you use it on a protected disk?

  • restrictions saying nobody may "make, import, export, obtain control of, or possess" software or hardware that can be used to bypass copy-protection devices
  • Give up your VCR, and what about Windows? Can't use a computer to make a copy without the OS

  • legal protection for computer hacking like Sony's rootkit.
  • because hacking a few million computers is OK if you're an RIAA member

  • 20 years in prison for excerpting too much of a news article on your web site
  • keeping the punishment at an appropriate level for the crime

  • civil asset forfeiture penalties for anything used in copyright piracy following the rules established by federal drug laws
  • lose your computer even if you're innocent. But that's OK, these laws have never been abused, right?

The Cranky Insomniac responds:

So, like the drug "warriors" before them, the folks behind the DMCA — the recording and entertainment industries, with the support of their stooges in DC — have decided that what's needed are harsher laws with stiffer penalites. For whatever reasons — sheer stupidity is my guess — they don't seem to realize that this will further alienate their potential consumers and most likely do next to nothing to prevent all the Dread Pirate Roberts out there from continuing their plundering and pillaging.

The DMCA is the tool the music and movie industries have decided to use to initially penalize their own customers and in the long term to penalize all consumers — whether they make copies of digital media or not. You'd have to believe that everyone in your target audience is a potential or actual criminal to back this sort of draconian law: because the end result is to make it that way.

I don't make copies of movies or download them from the internet, but the more crap they include at the beginning of the disc, the more likely I am to try to fast-forward past it . . . and they are trying to make it more difficult for me to do this. I've paid them money for the movie, yet they're still trying to force me to watch extraneous crap . . . and making it more and more likely that I'll either make a copy of the disc (omitting the extraneous crap for myself) or download the movie from the net with the crap already excised. I'm not quite at that point, but every time I find more stuff I can't fast-forward through, I'm that much closer to looking up tools to allow me to permanently avoid it.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:01 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: 18

I was wondering over the weekend what it's like to be 18. This is not because I want to be 18 again. I am deeply grateful to have escaped my youth, a time that now looks to me like Eastern Europe before the collapse of the Soviet, a time defined by arbitary restrictions, ideological immobility, and terrible shortages (in my case, sex, sense and sensibility).

Grant McCracken, "What's it like being 18?", This Blog Sits at the, 2006-03-27

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

April 24, 2006

Off to Florida again

I'm away on business today and tomorrow, so I have no idea whether I'll get a chance to update the blog. If you're really desperate, try some of the fine blogs listed in the Reciprocal Links section of my sidebar. There are plenty of fine blogs there to keep you busy for a while . . .

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

April 23, 2006

QotD: Blogging

I think blogging is way past the stale date and, if activity on many of my favorites from when I started writing is anything to go by, so do a lot of other bloggers. Yet it still chugs on, eating up the work day, proving once again that the greatest product of time-saving devices will always be more slackery.

Alan McLeod, "Now Returning You To Your Normal Programming", Gen X at 40, 2006-04-19

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

April 22, 2006

Roxanne Potvin at "Le Skratch"

Clive suggested that we meet him at Le Skratch in Oshawa to listen to a new performer he was very enthused about: Roxanne Potvin. When he first mentioned the idea a couple of weeks ago, it sounded like a good idea. However, when I took a look at the club website to get directions, I started to consider coming up with excuses not to go . . . Le Skratch didn't look like our kind of place at all.

I've avoided hanging around pool halls since I was in my late teens, and Le Skratch is a combination dance club and pool hall. Much of the information on their website (which was down when I tried to go there just a minute ago) implied that we were probably not their target audience . . . but in spite of all that, we showed up anyway.

I'm glad we did: while the club itself was about as bad as I feared, Roxanne Potvin is a great performer. I took a couple of (typically poor quality) photos from our table at the edge of the stage:


Most of the songs she performed were (I believe) from her latest album, The Way It Feels, and she played both electric and acoustic guitar and keyboards in addition to singing. Elizabeth and I really enjoyed the show, and we'll probably be keeping an eye on Roxanne's performance calendar for when she'll be playing in our area again.

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

QotD: Prime Minister Harper's hypocrisy

Even the boy with a crush John Ibbitson wrote this in the Globe yesterday: "Mr. Harper's supporters will defend this contradiction as necessary pragmatism. His opponents will call it hypocrisy. But this is beyond dispute: Stephen Harper used to say one thing, and now he does another."

The point here is not about any particular policy, of course, but the style. That is the thing that will be spoken about when he loses whether in 18 months or 8 years. Power may be fun and he may think he is just great but there are few things that wear quickly than a semi-smarty-pants who treats people like dummies. Only after overcoming that particular trip line do you get to put policies in place that will last beyond the week after the next election. I've said it before, but so far he is the conqueror of brown paper bags who marches victoriously amongst the remains of fratricide.

Alan McLeod, "That's So Last Week...", Gen X at 40, 2006-04-20

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

April 21, 2006

Another anti-terrorism triumph

Castle Argghhh has the details on another brilliant coup by those staunch defenders of freedom, the TSA:

"The Transportation Security Administration bagged a terrorist in Los Angeles International Airport Tuesday, or so they thought. Daniel Brown's name came up on their no-fly watchlist, so they dragged him into interrogation and grilled him, despite the protestations of Brown and his fellow travelers, who swore they could vouch for him."

Yep. The bureaucrats of the TSA (and I'm a former government employee who still gets a check from the government, I'm inclined to offer the benefit of the doubt — but I've had better interactions with the IRS and VA than I have TSA . . .) kept us safe — by holding up (and, since he's on the no-fly list, by implication, saying he can *never* fly) Staff Sergeant Daniel Brown, USMCR. The flight they stopped him on?

His return home to Minnesota with his Reserve MP unit. From 8 months in Iraq.

Mind you — he had orders, ID card, and was traveling *with* his unit. The story doesn't say — but I'm betting he was in uniform, too.

But what I find most amusing is this:

So, how did Staff Sergeant Brown find himself on the list? On his previous flight *out* to Iraq, he was discovered to have gunpowder residue on his . . . wait for it . . . combat boots. You know, those things we wear to the range when qualifying before we . . . deploy. To a combat zone.

Posted by Nicholas at 02:55 PM | Comments (1)

Buffalo calls out the (SWAT) troops

Radley Balko reports on the recent drug raids in Buffalo, NY:

It'll be interesting to see how many of the 78 people arrested actually get charged and convicted. From the 38 SWAT raids, police seized a total of five guns, not exacty a data point in support of the argument that SWAT teams are necessary because drug dealers are overwhelmingly armed with high-powered weaponry.

Also, given that police seized a grand total six pounds of marijuana and seven ounces of crack in the entire operation, it's probably a bit of a stretch to say the raids "put a dent" in the Buffalo drug trade. I'd imagine you'd find that much weed in a single SUNY-Buffalo frat house.

Bringing the media along for the ride was a nice touch, though.

I wonder if the Buffalo police department budget is up for review in the near future . . . it would explain the friendly inclusion of the local media on the raids: good publicity usually works well for getting support to increase the police budget.

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

Ben and Jerry's drop a clanger

The Ben & Jerry's ice cream company has managed to offend Irish sensibilities by introducing a new ice cream flavour: Black & Tan:

The Black and Tan ice cream is based on the alcoholic drink of the same name, which is made by mixing stout with pale ale.

But the phrase originates from the 8,000 ex-servicemen who went to Ireland to keep order as Britain attempted to control republican rebels.

The Black and Tans were recruited to support the Royal Irish Constabulary and their name came from the mixture of police uniforms and khaki that they wore.

In November 1920 they massacred 12 people at a Gaelic football match in Croke Park, Dublin. The killings were in response to the IRA murdering 14 undercover detectives.

Yesterday Michael Laffan, the head of history at University College Dublin, said: "The very name Black and Tan still has a resonance.

"This is something that would provoke a response and make hackles rise in some quarters, because they were a nasty group. They did carry out a lot of killings."

Hat tip to Nealenews.

Posted by Nicholas at 01:21 PM | Comments (0)

Because they don't run out of bullets


Hat tip to Chris Zakes.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:05 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: American-Kurdish Interaction

It's hard to convey what it's actually like meeting Iraqi Kurds. Fleshing out the dialogue doesn't capture the feel of it. Americans and Kurds don't just get along because we're temporary allies of convenience in the Middle East. The connection is deeper and personal. Kurdish culture and American culture might as well be from different planets. But somehow, oddly enough, Kurds think much like Americans do. Let me rephrase that: Americans think like the Kurds. We have similar values despite our extraordinarily different cultural backgrounds. I find it easier to develop a rapport with Iraqi Kurds than with people from any other country I have ever been to. It's instant, powerful, and totally unexpected.

Michael J. Totten, "Back to Iraq Part V - By Force of Sheer Will", Michael J. Totten's Middle East Journal, 2006-04-17

Posted by Nicholas at 08:22 AM | Comments (0)

April 20, 2006

Rube Goldberg's legacy continues

Christian Tucker sent this link to one of my mailing lists: http://www.newportharbor.us/computerworks.htm. If you like weird assemblages of auto parts, dominos, and other weird conglomerations, this is one make of mere electrons.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:55 AM | Comments (3)

Mark Steyn . . . as a euphemism?

Jon sent along a link to this post at the Daily Ablution, which is well worth reading:

Hilariously, Mr. Brown takes special care to note (brackets in original) that:

"Underwood also kept a wish list on Amazon, which has now disappeared, but is reported to have contained The [Mark Steyn] Monologues."

"The [Mark Steyn] Monologues"? What the heck is that?! Has Mr. Steyn been doing some work of which I've been unaware?

Er ... no. The book in question seems actually to have been The Vagina Monologues.

How could Mr. Brown possibly have made such a laughable error? Is it simply due to his own sloppiness, or is there a macro installed on all Guardian computers that changes "Vagina" into "Mark Steyn", and vice versa? Both seem equally likely.

It gets even more amusing, in a couple of updates. Go read the whole thing.

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

QotD: Syntax

It is syntax that gives words the power to relate to each other in a sequence, to create rhythms and emphasis, to carry meaning — of whatever kind — as well as glow individually in just the right stuff

Virginia Tufte, quoted by Virginia Postrel in "Artful Sentences", Dynamist Blog, 2006-04-06

Posted by Nicholas at 08:09 AM | Comments (0)

April 19, 2006

No National ID card plans

The federal government is not planning to introduce national ID cards, and instead is recommending that any Canadians planning to visit the US in 2008 obtain passports:

The Conservative government said Tuesday it has no plans to introduce a new national identity card for citizens travelling to the United States and is advising Canadians to obtain a passport if they plan to cross the border once new U.S. security rules are enforced in 2008.

"We are not suggesting at this time that we are launching into a program of a Canadian identity card or anything of that nature," Public Safety Minister Stockwell Day said following meetings with U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

I'm relieved and a bit surprised that the government isn't doing the stupid thing here: introducing yet another form of government ID. The requirement for Canadians to carry valid passports when entering any foreign country is in no way a special burden: most countries have required this for decades. The fact that the US and Canada have not required this in the past was a friendly gesture, which helped move people and goods across the mutual border with less hassle . . . but the US is well within their rights to stop this arrangement whenever it suits them.

Hat tip to NealeNews.

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

Wikipedia explained

Wikipedia is one of the oddest sites you'll ever encounter . . . well, if you don't go too far off into the tall grass that is. Lore Sj÷berg gives you the key insights you need to begin to understand Wikipedia:

What is Wikipedia?

Wikipedia is a new paradigm in human discourse. It's a place where anyone with a browser can go, pick a subject that interests them, and without even logging in, start an argument. In fact, Wikipedia is the largest and most comprehensive collection of arguments in human history, incorporating spats and vendettas on subjects ranging from Suleiman the Magnificent to Dan the Automator. As an unexpected side effect of being the perfect argument space, it's also a pretty good place to find information about all the characters from Battlestar: Galactica.

Why do people talk about Wikipedia so much?

Wikipedia is such a powerful argument engine that it actually leaks out to the rest of the web, spontaneously forming meta-arguments about itself on any open message board.

Posted by Nicholas at 02:16 PM | Comments (1)

QotD: Wine Buyers

Reprinted with permission from Nat Decants Wine E-Newsletter at www.nataliemaclean.com:

According to a 2005 study by U.S.-based Constellation Wines, one of the largest wine conglomerates in the world, buyers of wine worth $5 or more tend to fall into six distinct categories. They describe these as "satisfied sippers," "enthusiasts," "image seekers," "savvy shoppers," "traditionalists" and "overwhelmed." The enthusiasts, for example, are "passionate about the entire wine experience from researching what they buy to sharing their discoveries with friends and family." But the largest group (23 percent, comprising mostly women), are the overwhelmed. They say shopping for wine is complex and stressful, and they worry about making mistakes. They rely heavily on shelf slip tasting notes and staff suggestions.

Posted by Nicholas at 09:41 AM | Comments (2)

April 18, 2006

A Florida motel that James Lileks missed

James Lileks posts some motel postcards from a distant (and somewhat ink-smeared) past every Tuesday. It's an addition to his highly recommended lileks.com website. A few weeks back, he had some Florida motels, but he missed the one I stayed in: The Buccaneer

A couple of views towards the water, looking over the pool. This was late afternoon, just as I checked in.


This is what the pool looked like when I got in later that night . . . the kids had obviously been conducting flotation experiments with the pool furniture:


The view over the beach was quite nice too (just after check-in):


Unfortunately, I forgot to get a picture of the front of the motel, so this is the image they use on their own website:


The interior of the motel was also largely unchanged from the 1960's:


The bed had clearly seen some heavy use over its life:


The washroom was a particularly strong reminder of colours and styles of the past:


The careful way they'd trimmed the bathroom fan housing to fit the tiles was a real example of true craftsmanship:


And the pattern on the top of the washroom counter would cause acid flashbacks or, at the least, induced hangovers in the most sober:


A huge flock of seagulls and other assorted sky-rats gathered on the flat roof and raucously greeted the dawn. Which was just as well, because there wasn't an alarm clock in the room.

Lest I be taken to be over-critical, the room was clean (although housekeeping didn't show up during my stay), and smoke-free (unlike Jon's room, which had apparently hosted a cigar-smoker's conference in the previous couple of days).

Posted by Nicholas at 03:58 PM | Comments (4)

Cellular Phone Porn

Ars Technica reports that cell phone users are more than twice as likely to search for pornography than PC users:

Less than 10 percent of all searches done on PCs these days are porn scavenger hunts, a number that is down 50 percent from 1997. As the Web has matured and more consumers have come online, porn's percentage of searches has consistently dropped. On mobile phones, though, users are still partying like it's 1997 — more than 20 percent of all mobile queries looked at in the study were for "adult" content.

This is counterintuitive in several ways. First, browsing for content on mobile phones can be expensive, especially when compared to PCs, which most cell phone users own anyway. Second, there's the screen issue. Who wants to watch video clips on a mobile phone when they could just step over to the computer and have a 21 inch monitor? Apparently, though, cost and quality are beaten handily (no pun intended) by the one great advantage of mobile phones — privacy.

I had wondered who was paying for video service to their handheld devices (phones, PDAs, hybrids), given the high cost and low image resolution, not to mention the much more limited choice of programming available to mobile users. This study — at least to some degree — answers that question.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:49 AM | Comments (4)

Welcome Romain!

We're hosting a French exchange student at our home this week (and yes, Jon has made all the obligatory jokes about gasoline and Citroen sedans, thanks). He arrived yesterday evening, completely wiped out from the trip, and immediately headed off to Victor's school at 7:00 this morning. He'll be on a tour of our area this afternoon, and we won't see him again until this evening after 8. Perhaps at that point we'll get a chance to talk. ;-)

Posted by Nicholas at 10:00 AM | Comments (0)

Latest Carnival of Liberty posted

It's a day of roundups . . . Left Brain Female just posted the 41st edition of the Carnival of Liberty. Go see what the Life, Liberty, Property bloggers have been writing about this week.

Posted by Nicholas at 08:20 AM | Comments (0)

Red Ensign raised at Taylor & Company

Chris Taylor hosts this edition of the Red Ensign Standard:

Welcome to the fortieth edition of the Red Ensign Standard. When this group was founded back in June of 2004, the enterprise seemed more than a little quixotic. Canada’s collective memory of her rich heritage and worthy deeds had grown ever more distant and neglected by successive governments. The Liberal Party was lethargic master of the land for eleven years, and seemingly redefined Canadian identity in a pastiche of tired old clichÚs: medicare, beer-commercial jingoism and ritual observation of a thirty-two-year old hockey game. Our founder and former member inspired us to look beyond that — to see our country’s epic history, full of industry, courage and triumph.

Go and investigate what the rest of the Brigade has been posting about for the past couple of weeks.

Posted by Nicholas at 08:10 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: Nuclear Proliferation

Back when nuclear weapons were an elite club of five relatively sane world powers, your average Western progressive was convinced the planet was about to go ka-boom any minute. The mushroom cloud was one of the most familiar images in the culture, a recurring feature of novels and album covers and movie posters. There were bestselling dystopian picture books for children, in which the handful of survivors spent their last days walking in a nuclear winter wonderland. Now a state openly committed to the annihilation of a neighboring nation has nukes, and we shrug: Can't be helped. Just the way things are. One hears sophisticated arguments that perhaps the best thing is to let everyone get 'em, and then no one will use them. And if Iran's head of state happens to threaten to wipe Israel off the map, we should understand that this is a rhetorical stylistic device that's part of the Persian oral narrative tradition, and it would be a grossly Eurocentric misinterpretation to take it literally.

Mark Steyn, "Facing Down Iran", City Journal, Spring 2006

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

April 17, 2006

It's not what's in the news . . .

. . . it's how you spin it. The following two headlines and descriptions appear on the same page at NealeNews today:

Many Canadians Believe Jesus Christ's Death on the Cross was Faked

Almost one in five Canadians believes Jesus Christ's death on the cross was faked and that he married and had a family, according to a new poll that challenges the cornerstone Christian belief in the resurrection.

[. . .]

Few Canadians think Warming will Kill Planet

About one-quarter of Canadians believe global warming will lead to the destruction of the planet, a new opinion poll suggests.

So, you got that? When you want to provoke a sense of outrage, "almost one in five" translates to "Many" in your headline, but when you want to downplay something then "about one-quarter" morphs into "Few".

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

Another one destined for the "Special Hell"

He's going to the Special Hell? O RLY? NO WAI!!!

Some explanations are available here.

Hat tip to Geoff Hart, who forwarded the link to the Tech Writers mailing list with this comment:

Follow the link at the top to the WikiPedia article on O RLY for more amusement. This particular neologism has spawned many mutant offspring, including (bonus for fans of H.P. Lovecraft, but put down your coffee before reading on . . . ) O Rlyeh. <g>

Posted by Nicholas at 10:16 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: Defending Canadian Culture

Canadians feel their very identity and souls embattled by creeping Americanism. And they are fighting a constant and futile battle to defend themselves — whoever that may be. With no Dudley Do-Right to protect the poor Nell that is Canadian culture, the Canadian government has taken lately to threatening criminal charges against 200,000 confused Canucks who use satellite dishes to watch contraband US TV programming.

"Wars of Northern Aggression", Suck, 1997-05-12

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

April 16, 2006

QotD: Differences between the US and Canada

[Michael] Adams' method was established in Fire and Ice: he notes at one point that in the U.S. SUVs outsell minivans by two-to-one, whereas in Canada it's vice versa. That's a fact. The fancy is in the meaning he appends to it. "This is a stark difference," he writes, "whose roots can be traced directly to the differing values of our two countries." This assertion seems to have no basis other than a casual assumption that Canadians are more environmentally responsible and thus more concerned with "excessive gasoline consumption, pollution and safety violations."

Isn't there a more obvious correlation? Minivans are cheaper than SUVs, and Canadians have less disposable income than Americans. It's easy to be "socially responsible" if you've got no choice in the matter.

Mark Steyn, "Science as sound as the Orgasmatron", Macleans, 2006-03-13

Posted by Nicholas at 10:57 AM | Comments (4)

April 14, 2006

QotD: Liberalism

Wrong-headed liberalism seeks to give trophies to everyone just for existing. It seeks to render achievement meaningless. That's a weird goal.

Brad Bird, writer/director of The Incredibles, quoted by Matt Cline

Posted by Nicholas at 12:39 AM | Comments (2)

April 13, 2006

British officer sentenced to 8 months in jail

A Royal Air Force officer has been sentenced to eight months in jail for refusing to obey five separate orders to go to Iraq:

Australian-born Flight-Lieutenant Malcolm Kendall-Smith, 37, was convicted by a five-member panel of officers of what the judge called "calculated and deliberate disobedience" of five orders to train, prepare and deploy to Iraq last year.

Kendall-Smith said he viewed the war as a crime and could not participate in any form.

But judge Jack Bayliss ruled British troops were in Iraq in 2005 with the permission of the United Nations, and that Kendall-Smith's view of the war's legality was no defense.

"Obedience to orders is at the heart of any disciplined force. Refusal to obey orders means that force is not a disciplined force but a rabble," he said.

"Those who wear the queen's uniform cannot pick and choose the orders they follow."

If Kendall-Smith felt that the war was so wrong, he always had the option of resigning his commission. If he felt that way, then doing any of his normal military duties could be construed as furthering the war, so his philosophical objections lack consistency. Disobeying direct orders is merely grandstanding, not following one's conscience. He was lucky to get off with such a light sentence.

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

Look out for "George"

A co-worker sent this link to a NASA page on viewing the planet they once called "George":

English astronomer William Herschel discovered the planet in 1781 during a telescopic survey of the zodiac. He promptly named it the Georgium Sidus (the Georgian Planet) in honor of his patron, King George III. Later, to the everlasting delight of schoolchildren, George was re-named Uranus, the Greek god of the sky.

Uranus had been seen many times before but mistaken for a star. The earliest recorded sighting was in 1690 when astronomer John Flamsteed cataloged it as 34 Tauri, the 34th star of Taurus the Bull. We can understand the error. Uranus is so far from the sun it looks like a star to the unaided eye. And it moves so slowly; you have to watch for decades to realize that it is a wanderer — or, in ancient Greek, a planētēs.

In modern times, Uranus has become all but impossible to see. The planet is naturally faint, and urban lights wipe it out completely. No one notices when Uranus soars overhead.

Nevertheless, you can see Uranus this month. Another planet will guide you to it.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:58 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: Middle Eastern Attitudes

Sometimes it seems like everyone in the Middle East hates everyone else in the Middle East. Arabs hate Kurds and Israelis. Turks hate Arabs and Kurds. Kurds hate Turks and fear Arabs. (Interestingly, Kurds love Israelis.) Everyone, especially Lebanese, hates Palestinians.

Not all people are haters. I've met plenty who aren't. But every culture has its baseline prejudices that individuals either opt into or out of. It's exhausting. Sometimes I just want to shake people and say: Keep your old-world ethnic squabbling out of my face, willya please? Jesus, no wonder there's so much war around here. Even so, Middle Easterners are the most friendly and charming people I've ever met.

Michael J. Totten, "Back to Iraq, part one", Michael J. Totten's Middle East Journal, 2006-04-09

Posted by Nicholas at 12:02 AM | Comments (2)

April 12, 2006

Middlesbrough 4, Charlton 2

Middlesbrough win through to the final four of the FA Cup, with a win over Charlton Athletic:

Middlesbrough booked their place in the last four of the FA Cup following a thrilling replay win over Charlton.

Boro took the lead through Fabio Rochemback's 30-yard free-kick which deceived keeper Thomas Myhre before Bryan Hughes equalised with a volley.

James Morrison restored Boro's lead from close range and Jimmy-Floyd Hasselbaink added a third.

Charlton made it 3-2 thanks to Gareth Southgate's own goal before Mark Viduka sealed the win for the home side.

Although still in the bottom half of the Premiership, Boro is still in contention for both the FA Cup and the UEFA Cup. Wouldn't it be great to see them win both competitions?

Posted by Nicholas at 10:16 PM | Comments (3)

It's mean. It's also very funny

Everyone else has linked to it, but I still have to do the same: George Bush in free fall.

Posted by Nicholas at 05:25 PM | Comments (0)

ESR on the Islamic War

This was posted a while ago, but I only just got back to the site to read it. Eric S. Raymond is convinced that the current "War on Terror" will morph into the "War against Islam", and he thinks the change is overdue:

I've been warning since 2002 that the West really is in a war to defend civilization against Islamic barbarians, and had better face up to that fact before the consequences of whitewashing Islam as a "religion of peace" get worse.

Comes now Fjordman, a blogger from Norway who tells us that Moslem immigrants to Sweden report themselves to be at war with Swedes. See also his earlier post about how Swedish society is disintegrating — not despite its commitment to 'multiculturalism', 'tolerance', and the welfare state, but because that commitment is being ruthlessly gamed by Islamofascists who see themselves as the conquering vanguard of the Dar al-Islam.

I'm not quite as convinced as ESR is, but it's hard to ignore the repeated declarations of Muslim leaders — both "extremist" and "moderate" — that they consider themselves (and their entire religion) to be at war with the west. They see western culture as simultaneously weak, decadent, and diseased, but also as highly contagious: our values are toxic to them.

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

Just don't ask me what it's about, okay?

Victor tried his hand at producing a short movie the other day. I think "Link" is the hero, but the hero in which context? Beats me. Still, for a first effort, I think he did quite a good job.

Posted by Nicholas at 02:01 PM | Comments (0)

Polygamy, again

Difster takes on the recent Reason article by Jonathan Rauch:

What Rauch doesn't do, is challenge the authority of the state to regulate and define marriage. Why should the state be given any control over the relationship between two people and how they define it? As it is, competent adults can already legally enter in to contracts of all sorts without government licensure and marriage is, from a legal perspective, nothing more than a contract with a nebulous set of regulations attached to it. A standard legal contract tends to be more specific and less subject to arbitrary rulings.

Democrats and Republicans both have a tendency to only question the state when it inconveniences them but rarely take the opportunity to look at the big picture when it comes to 'accepted' government policy. Currently we simply accept that a marriage is not legitimate until it is blessed by the state. We need to challenge that notion (and many others).

I don't want to venture too far in to the 'gay marriage' debate but logic follows that if you allow two people of the same sex to get married, then any number of people should be allowed to marry any other number of people as long as all parties consent to the arrangement. If the state took no interest at all, then we have no problem, people simply enter in to contracts and take any disputes to court or, preferably, private mediation.

Posted by Nicholas at 01:44 PM | Comments (1)

Julian Sanchez casts a jaundiced eye on "Tax Freedom Day"

Julian Sanchez posts some of his thoughts on the pro and con aspects of Tax Freedom Day:

One thing that saves the number from being completely bogus is that it counts all federal state and local taxes, which significantly flattens the rate of taxation across income groups. Still, it seems like a weird way to go about computing Tax Freedom Day if the point is to get a picture of how long the "average person" is working to pay taxes. (It is not, of course, a weird way to do it if the point is just to get the average person as pissed off about taxes as possible.)

Of course, if the US TFD is April 26th, the Canadian one can't be too far behind, can it? According to last year's Fraser Institute calculations, it fell on June 23rd for me. Go here to use their calculator to find out when your personal TFD falls. Then have a good stiff drink.

Canadians overtaxed? Why would you think such a thing?

Update: Jacob Sullum muses on the topic of taxes, how they're raised, and where they're spent:

It's true such pork accounts for a small percentage of the federal budget. But here's another way of looking at it: If you pay $10,000 a year in federal income taxes, your entire contribution amounts to just 1 percent of this year's subsidy for the Waterfree Urinal Conservation Initiative and 0.07 percent of the money allotted to the International Fund for Ireland, sponsor of the World Toilet Summit. Now you know you were literally correct when you speculated about where your tax dollars were going.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:15 AM | Comments (3)

Flaherty promises to rein in Federal spending

Finance minister Jim Flaherty restated the Conservative election promise to pay down the federal debt and to reduce wasteful spending:

"It should come as no surprise that, those of you who knew me in Ontario, that I believe in balanced budgets and paying down debt," he told members of the Investment Dealers Association of Canada in Toronto.

"I will behave no differently than I did as Ontario's finance minister when I made the largest payment against the public debt in a single year in the history of the Province of Ontario — $3.1 billion in 2001.

"Behaving otherwise — bargaining away balanced budgets and debt paydowns — puts the future of our children and our grandchildren at risk."

The Conservatives said they would reduce the public debt each year by $3 billion if elected, a promise Flaherty said they intend to keep.

This is all to the good . . . but the rest of the speech will certainly cause raised eyebrows and upset stomachs among those who depend on federal funding for their expanded empires:

The Tories are also taking immediate steps to curb federal spending, namely by working with Treasury Board and Finance officials to ensure that taxpayers' dollars will be "limited to programs that are efficient and effective," he said.

It's one of those funny truisms of politics that one person's "fat" in the budget is always someone else's "bone marrow". Once a spending program has been established, it also simultaneously generates a vested interest in keeping that program not only alive, but constantly growing.

New governments have a brief window of opportunity to eliminate programs before the existing support for each potential casualty manage to bring their own pressure to bear on the government, and things generally return to the status quo ante. That window of opportunity seems to be getting smaller all the time. I'd guess that the Conservatives have perhaps three to six months of freedom to act before they become as enmeshed in the web as the Liberals ever were. If a spending program survives until October, it's probably safe for the life of this parliament.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:04 AM | Comments (0)

More range photos

A couple more photos of Jon and me at the range, firing borrowed rifles:

Posted by Nicholas at 08:21 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: Illegal Immigration

Illegal immigration seems to have spawned a dreary debate about the merits of Mexicans, when it should be drawing attention instead to a very different matter: how to build on the luster and wonder of the American dream.

Immigration is not the pox neo-Know Nothings make it out to be. Begin with the astounding influx of illegal immigrants, the vast majority of whom hail from Mexico. While the population includes an eye-popping number of crooks, drug-dealers and would-be welfare sponges, it also provides a helpful prop for sustaining American economic growth and cultural dynamism.

Princeton University sociologist Douglas S. Massey reports that 62 percent of illegal immigrants pay income taxes (via withholding) and 66 percent contribute to Social Security. Forbes magazine notes that Mexican illegals aren't clogging up the social-services system: only 5 percent receive food stamps or unemployment assistance; 10 percent send kids to public schools.

Tony Snow, "Immigration is not the pox neo-Know Nothings make it out to be", Jewish World Review, 2006-04-10

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

April 11, 2006

The Iranian Situation

Mark Steyn sifts through the rubble of past Middle East policies to diagnose the current situation:

The bad cop/worse cop routine the mullahs and their hothead President Ahmadinejad are playing in this period of alleged negotiation over Iran's nuclear program is the best indication of how all negotiations with Iran will go once they're ready to fly. This is the nuclear version of the NRA bumper sticker: "Guns Don't Kill People. People Kill People." Nukes don't nuke nations. Nations nuke nations. When the Argentine junta seized British sovereign territory in the Falklands, the generals knew that the United Kingdom was a nuclear power, but they also knew that under no conceivable scenario would Her Majesty's Government drop the big one on Buenos Aires. The Argie generals were able to assume decency on the part of the enemy, which is a useful thing to be able to do.

But in any contretemps with Iran the other party would be foolish to make a similar assumption. That will mean the contretemps will generally be resolved in Iran's favor. In fact, if one were a Machiavellian mullah, the first thing one would do after acquiring nukes would be to hire some obvious loon like President Ahmaddamatree to front the program. He's the equivalent of the yobbo in the English pub who says, "Oy, mate, you lookin' at my bird?" You haven't given her a glance, or him; you're at the other end of the bar head down in the Daily Mirror, trying not to catch his eye. You don't know whether he's longing to nut you in the face or whether he just gets a kick out of terrifying you into thinking he wants to. But, either way, you just want to get out of the room in one piece. Kooks with nukes is one-way deterrence squared.

Posted by Nicholas at 04:49 PM | Comments (0)

40th Carnival of Liberty

The latest Carnival of Liberty is being hosted at Homeland Stupidity:

Welcome to the 40th weekly Carnival of Liberty! As always, the Carnival is full of amazing attractions with fun-filled adventure for the whole family.

This is the first time the Carnival has been here at Homeland Stupidity, and I have to say that the hardest part of hosting the Carnival was keeping all of these excellent posts hidden away until Tuesday. And now that they're here, come one, come all, and enjoy the Carnival!

Posted by Nicholas at 04:24 PM | Comments (0)

Bingo as a blood sport

In some areas of large cities, you run the risk of being robbed of your Rolex, your BMW, or even your Guccis . . . but who'd believe you run the risk of being beaten to death over your $1,000 Bingo winnings?

Police are looking for as many as four women who beat and robbed a bingo player for his C$1,000 winnings, leaving him dead.

Yousif Youkhana, 58, was attacked as he left a suburban Toronto bingo hall on Friday, but managed to make his way back inside before he collapsed and died.

Now, just imagine what they'd be willing to do to pry a bigger prize out of your hands . . .

Posted by Nicholas at 10:02 AM | Comments (4)

QotD: The Libertarian Dilemma

If you support greater cooperation between libertarians and the left, please list three left-wing leaders, groups, or broad tendencies that you'd be happy to embrace. If you think libertarians belong on the right, please list three right-wing leaders, groups, or broad tendencies that you'd be happy to embrace. Ambidextrous readers are welcome to list potential allies of both the left and the right, and of course you're free to announce that both sides of the spectrum are hopelessly, thoroughly infected with cooties.

Jesse Walker, "Go Left, Young Libertarian", Hit and Run, 2006-04-10

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

April 10, 2006

Gratuitous Gun Pic

A small selection of the weapons we used on the range during my last trip to the States. This is the sort of thing that would appear on the front page of a Toronto newspaper with all kinds of scare quotes:


Posted by Nicholas at 03:21 PM | Comments (0)

The war on drugs has come to this

Radley Balko has the pathetic story:

Drug cops in Falmouth, Mass. sent a hot, young female cop to pose as a student at the local high school. She befriended several adolescent boys with low self esteem by pretending she was interested in them, then she asked them to get her marijuana. If you've ever been a high school boy, it won't surprise you to learn that they came through, even though most of them had no history of drug use at all, much less of drug peddling. Of course, they were promptly arrested, booked, and touted out as the latest Drug War trophies.

Well, you'd have to say that the drug warriors have finally found a never-fail method of beefing up their catch: this technique would work at just about every high school in North America. And more than once at each school.

Didn't it strike any of the involved "law enforcement" folks involved in this that they'd strayed over into "all entrapment, all the time" instead of ensuring the public safety? How does this sort of lousy, sordid stunt make the community safer? Who possibly benefits from this, other than the ethically challenged officer planning and executing the trap?

Posted by Nicholas at 03:14 PM | Comments (0)

QotD: Tyranny

Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.

C.S. Lewis

Posted by Nicholas at 08:22 AM | Comments (0)

April 09, 2006

They make it sound so . . . unappealing

From a report on the dramatization of the 1972 Canada-Russia hockey series:

Scenes take place in Montreal, Toronto, Winnipeg, Vancouver and Moscow, but it was all shot in New Brunswick a year ago.

The look and feel of the early 1970s are there in bad hair and worse clothes. Pierre Trudeau is prime minister. You hear the odd unabashed ethnic slur or sexist remark, and lots of people, including some players, smoke just about anywhere, including the dressing room.

The series shows how unprepared Canada was for a pre-season September series against a team that was leagues better than the shoddy scouting reports indicated.

The players went into camp out of shape, believing themselves invincible, but found a well-conditioned opponent that was at least their match in talent.

And they endured booing from their own fans when the Soviets dominated the first four games in Canada.

For many, it was a pivotal moment in Canadian history, when it was discovered how much hockey meant to the national psyche.

Generally, I'm with James Lileks that the 1970's were the most forgettable decade in history, but the 1972 hockey series really was a defining moment for many Canadians. I remember being in class, and the entire school being moved into the library to watch the final game on TV. (We were one of the first "open concept" schools, so there was plenty of room if you ignored the fire regulations and gave up any concept of comfortable seating.)

If I remember correctly, this was only the third or fourth hockey game I'd ever watched, so the fine points of play were pretty much over my 12-year-old head. It was exciting, however, in the same way that being in the middle of a huge crowd of excited people can be: sort of an adrenalin contact-high.

Here is the CBC web page for the presentation.

Posted by Nicholas at 01:15 PM | Comments (0)

QotD: Wine Writers

A typical wine writer was once described as someone with a typewriter who was looking for his name in print, a free lunch, and a way to write off his wine cellar. It's a dated view. Wine writers now use computers.

Frank J. Prial, "A Writer Many French Chateau Owners Rely Upon", Decantations, 2001

Posted by Nicholas at 12:02 AM | Comments (1)

April 08, 2006

Another scam to "watch" out for

"Tom" sent this link:

It isn't a crime police have seen many times before.

An unsuspecting woman purchased a "flat-screen television set" at a bargain price, the package even bubble-wrapped and complete with cord and controller.

But when the street consumer returned home that February day with her "steal" of a product, she was likely steamed.

"It was actually an oven door inside the package," explained South Bend Detective Sgt. Jim Walsh.

Proving, once again, that most people who get swindled are at least partly to blame for their misfortune . . .

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

QotD: The male animal

In shared DNA, a man is actually genetically closer to a male chimp than to a human female (as many women observed, before science). Our brains are configured differently (whether by evolution or intelligent design), and it would follow that our behaviour varies accordingly. We look backwards in time (the only objective way to test propositions about human nature), and find that this has been acknowledged in all human cultures.

David Warren, "Manliness", davidwarrenonline.com, 2006-03-26

Posted by Nicholas at 12:54 AM | Comments (0)

April 07, 2006

Odd image of the day

A random photo taken last month, in Hershey, Pennsylvania:


It had never occurred to me that there would be enough sales of any one book, even the Bible, to warrant an entire store devoted (pun unintentional) to it.

Posted by Nicholas at 06:26 PM | Comments (0)

Trying to understand Afghanistan

I missed this, being out of town when it was first posted. Here is a great background piece on trying to make sense of the situation on the ground in Afghanistan:

Afghanistan is the second poorest country in the world. Kandahar is one of the poorest cities in Afghanistan. Even successul, powerful people, unless they are warlords or involved in the drug trade, are very poor by Canadian standards. So if I give a school principal a thousand dollars and tell him to buy supplies for his school, what do you think happens? His house gets a roof that won't collapse in the rain, his children get shod, and his whole family becomes less undernourished. If I give him a thousand pencils for his students, the next day they are on sale in the bazaar, and the result is the same.

Can you look him in the eye and tell him he's done wrong?

The natural tendency, then, is to give to the students themselves. But does anyone think we can visit every school in the country, every month, and refill every student's bag?

Schools, police, water, power, sanitation, health . . . the problem is the same for them all. And at all levels, from the lowest manager to the regional director. Are there the purely corrupt, who could live comfortably without embezzling? Of course there are. Everywhere, and at all levels too. Low grade bribery is part of Middle Eastern culture, but the distinction between baksheesh and outright graft is pretty murky no matter where you’re from.

As Theodore Dalyrmple observed in one of his books (which I don't have to hand right at the moment), we in the post-tribal West fail to understand the structure of everyday life in tribal societies. We are likely to keep making mistakes in dealing with individuals and groups in Afghanistan because we don't understand that their motives and rewards are different from our own in so many ways. What seems obvious and logical to westerners may be totally unacceptable to someone raised in a tribal environment, and the incomprehension is mutual. A recipie for disaster at every scale.

Posted by Nicholas at 03:47 PM | Comments (0)

Light sabre duel

A fan's tribute to Star Wars, in the form of a very extended light sabre duel.

Hat tip to Kalina Varbanova.

Posted by Nicholas at 02:36 PM | Comments (0)

QotD: Wine Glasses

[. . .] I lack the knowledge of which glass goes with the proper wine. As I understand it, the long-stemmed glasses prevent the palm from changing the temperature of the wine — something I could understand if you had a fever of 104; otherwise, it seems a bit much. Tall stems make the glasses good for two things: tipping over when the table's bumped, and snapping off in the dishwasher. Me, I drink wine from a tumbler. (Hark! Hear the sound of heads striking hardwood floors all across the city, as wine connoisseurs swoon in horror. Sounds like popping corks, no?)

James Lileks, "Is the wine glass ironic or iconic?", Star Tribune, 2006-04-05

Posted by Nicholas at 10:05 AM | Comments (0)

April 06, 2006

Middlesbrough wins through to UEFA Cup semi-finals

Despite losing at Basle 2-0 last week, Middlesbrough managed to win a big game at home to advance to the UEFA Cup semi-finals:

Middlesbrough 4-1 Basle (agg 4-3)

Middlesbrough launched an astonishing comeback to reach the Uefa Cup semi-finals at the expense of Basle.

Eduardo's tap-in for the Swiss side left Boro needing four goals to win.

But Mark Viduka pulled one back before half-time with a powerful run and shot and angled in a second before Daniel Majstorovic was sent off for Basle.

Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink's stunning 25-yard curler made it 3-3, leaving fellow substitute Massimo Maccarone to slide home the winner at the death.

The unlikely comeback, which booked Middlesbrough a semi-final meeting with Steaua Bucharest, was reward for some brave changes by Steve McClaren.

Posted by Nicholas at 05:11 PM | Comments (0)

Conspiracy theories

Debbye is back to posting, and links to this post from Basketbawful on the Gatorade Conspiracy [Warning: adult content, only marginally SFW.]

Posted by Nicholas at 04:07 PM | Comments (0)

The antidote to social network sites

Have you had one too many invitations to join someone's circle-of-vaguely-familiar-names on yet another social network? Snubster might be for you:

"The whole concept of online social networking was really starting to irk me," said Choung, who initially envisioned Snubster as a way to stem the often irritating flow of invitations to join networking sites like Friendster and LinkedIn. While such sites seemed like a good idea at first, their usage too often devolves into "an attempt to get as many fake friends as possible."

Snubster members, by contrast, focus on what irritates them. Targets of discontent include individuals (President Bush is a popular pick), groups (guys who talk at urinals) and things (bologna). Besides storing lists, the site has a tool for sending an e-mail to someone newly added to a list to tell them why they're being snubbed.

Posted by Nicholas at 02:27 PM | Comments (0)

Turning the clock back in Ontario

David Peterson, who was the last Liberal premier of Ontario before Dalton McGuinty, has a few things to say to Bob Rae:

Former Ontario premier David Peterson warned Wednesday that erstwhile NDP rival Bob Rae won't be welcome in the federal Liberal leadership race.

Rae would be a divisive force in a Liberal leadership race, said Peterson, who was driven from politics by his stunning 1990 election loss to Rae.

"It's a dilemma for a tremendous number of people in the party," Peterson told The Canadian Press.

"Here's a guy, a lot of people went to war with him and now he wants to lead the army without even enlisting."

With names like Rae and Peterson being bandied around, it feels like 1990 all over again.

But it's not personal:

Peterson insisted he doesn't hold any personal grudge against Rae but is simply being realistic about the reception he'll get from Liberal militants who've given blood for the party through good and bad times.

"It's so obvious. Everybody's talking about it . . . It's a helluva high hill to climb."

Party politics "is tribal and it's primordial and it's based on trust and affection and shared experiences," Peterson observed.

"Some people would say you just can't pick the cherries off the top."

Oddly, unlike the NDP and the Conservatives, you don't need to have the same kind of "pedigree" to become a mover and shaker in the Liberal party. You could have permanent spiritual halitosis, but show that you have a chance to lead them back to power and they'd still welcome you in. In most walks of life, this would be a drawback, but in politics it's a huge advantage. We don't nickname the Grits as "the Natural Governing Party" for nothing.

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

More on the Schroer case

Julian Sanchez has more information on the Diane Schroer case (background posts here and here):

The opinion issued last week hits a kind of middle ground. On the basis of my skim of the ruling, the judge seemed to say that there was little chance of Schroer's prevailing on the "sexual stereotype" theory, but perhaps a chance of winning a straightforward sex discrimination claim: If David was good enough for the job, and Diane isn't and they're otherwise similarly qualified (exactly similarly, in fact!), that's sex discrimination. And that actually seems to be the argument that treats transgendered people in a more respectful way: The stereotyping theory essentially involves viewing Schroer as a man who's acting like a woman and being punished for it. The straightforward discrimination argument starts from the assumption that Diane just is a woman in all the relevant senses, even if she hasn't yet completed the physiological transition. And a victory on those grounds would yield the correct result in this case without shaking up sex discrimination laws — and the expectations of private employers and employees — too much.

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

This is just wrong

James Lileks talks about a fascinating new wine glass:

[. . .] the Sommelier: a glass version of the ubiquitous kegger cup, mounted on an elegant stem. It's aimed straight at those people who fret that their party's drinkware isn't sarcastic enough. Granted, they're only hip if you know they're a joke, which means you have to hand them out with the assurance that you are reveling in their amusing reinterpretation of an iconic shape. Or you could make an announcement: Folks, I know the glasses are ugly; they're elevating a pedestrian object to a class status it does not inherently possess. Enjoy! Then everyone can drink without wondering what happened to your taste.

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

Amusing timewaster

Craig Zeni sent this link along with the following advice:

[. . .] pull the slider to 1:30 to get past the anime howling and be amused by Rube Goldberg in Japan.

Feel free to watch the anime introduction if that sort of thing appeals to you. I jumped straight to 1:29, personally. ;-)

Posted by Nicholas at 10:53 AM | Comments (3)

April 05, 2006

Tim Cavanaugh investigates the Saudi sex-change story

Over on Hit and Run, Tim Cavanaugh does a bit of research to try to track down the story I referenced here:

The story of the five Saudi women getting F-M sex changes that Jesse Walker noted earlier seems too good to be true. I spent 45 minutes yesterday trying to get my Arabic-reading brother in law to find the original story on the website for the Saudi paper al Watan, but it wasn't there or on any of the other al Watans. I do think there was an original story in al Watan, because this Jordanian paper has slightly more detail than is found in any of the other versions — all of which are clearly reading the same original. But nobody has any names or specifics.

It's weird the way these third-world post office stories — in which everybody passes along an article about how a bunch of Egyptians drown trying to get a chicken out of a well, etc. — have survived into the web age.

For those of you with plenty of web-browsing time, just about every sentence in Tim's post is linked to somewhere else.

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

QotD: 1970s TV

There's one period in the 20th century for which I have no love and less pity, and it's the narrow transitional window of 1969 to 1975, the period of [Dick] Cavett's prime. This era coincides with my early teen years, which is probably why it all leaves me unenthused — but it's also a time where the print media got ugly, and TV had this odd hard cold plastic sheen. A fatal combination of lighting and camera technology, color schemes, and set design. Everything looked happy and false and garish. Everything looks like Dean Martin's Vegas Mausoleum.

James Lileks, The Bleat, 2006-03-14

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

April 04, 2006

Daunte Culpepper cleared of charges in Love Boat scandal

Former Minnesota Viking quarterback Daunte Culpepper has been cleared of charges in the Lake Minnetonka boating incident from last season, reports Associated Press:

A judge ruled there wasn't probable cause to determine a crime was committed by Culpepper, one of four Minnesota Vikings accused of misdemeanor lewd conduct during the cruise last fall on a suburban lake. Culpepper has since been traded to the Miami Dolphins.

Hennepin County Judge Kevin Burke denied a motion to dismiss charges against running back Moe Williams. His trial is scheduled for April 18.

The other two players charged, cornerback Fred Smoot and tackle Bryant McKinnie, weren't part of Tuesday's ruling. Their next hearings are Thursday.

Culpepper's attorney, Earl Gray, said, "I'm happy about it. I'm sure Culpepper is, and his family. It vindicates him from being involved in any sexual misconduct on the boat."

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

Vikings looking for another QB?

In the wake of yet another fiasco, someone at Winter Park seems to have woken up to the team's need for a long-term plan for replacing Daunte Culpepper. (I still can't quite believe I'm writing that.) Brad Johnson is a very good quarterback, but he's also ancient in NFL terms. He may have another year or two in him, but he's not going to be able to play at that level indefinitely. Look at the number of teams who had to depend on second- or even third-string QBs at some point last season. Minnesota doesn't have a proven backup in place, and isn't drafting high enough to pick one of the top-rated college players at that position.

One of the Minnesota newspapers is reporting that the team has been talking to the Atlanta Falcons about a possible trade for Matt Schaub:

The Vikings spent part of Monday discussing a possible trade for Atlanta backup quarterback Matt Schaub, two people with knowledge of the situation said. The talks were casual and did not lead to formal negotiations, the sources said, but the interaction confirms the Vikings' desire to add depth to the position, either through a trade or in this month's draft.

Discussions could resume as the April 29-30 draft approaches, but as of Monday no further talks were planned.

Schaub, 24, has spent two seasons backing up Michael Vick. He has drawn rave reviews in extensive preseason appearances as well as two career starts and 22 career games, and he is entering the final year of his contract. More than a half-dozen teams reportedly have inquired about him, believing he is ready to be an NFL starter, but the Falcons have appeared unwilling to part with the valuable reserve.

Matt Schaub may not be the answer, but it's a bit comforting to think that the team is at least starting to address the question of who'll be running the team's offence if Brad Johnson gets injured.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:25 AM | Comments (4)

Latest Carnival of Liberty

The 39th edition of the Carnival of Liberty is being hosted by Below the Beltway.

Posted by Nicholas at 08:04 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: Costs of Healthcare

I hate sentences that start "the basic problem is . . .", but in health care, the problem is pretty basic, which is that we all want top of the line health care, regardless of cost, but we don't actually want to pay for it. Of course, we do pay for it . . . through tax dollars, foregone salary, and so forth . . . but that's largely invisible. When we're presented with the whacking great sums that it costs to provide that insurance, we screech in pain. Just ask anyone who's left a corporate job and had to buy their own health insurance.

Jane Galt, "Healthcare, Part II", Asymmetrical Information, 2006-03-26

Posted by Nicholas at 12:20 AM | Comments (0)

April 03, 2006

Change your sex, improve your legal standing?

Here's an unexpected news item from Reuters:

Al Watan newspaper said the five women underwent sex change surgery abroad over the past 12 months after they developed a "psychological complex" due to male domination.

Women in Saudi Arabia, which adopts an austere interpretation of Islam, are not allowed to drive or even go to public places unaccompanied by a male relative.

It's surprising that these women were able to get outside the country to take such drastic steps . . . given the extreme segregation that most women in Saudi Arabia are subject to. What's perhaps even more surprising is that the religious hierarchy hasn't immediately jumped to either forbid the practice, nor (yet) to punish the women:

The newspaper quoted a senior cleric as saying the authorities have to fill what he described as a legal vacuum by issuing laws against sex change operations.

An interior ministry official told al Watan such cases are examined by religious authorities, and sometimes by psychologists, but those who undergo sex change are never arrested.

Posted by Nicholas at 04:14 PM | Comments (0)

Jonathan Rauch on polygamy

Without putting much thought into the matter, I've been pretty much unconcerned with the idea of polygamy. As a political or social issue, it always seemed to be something pretty far from the day-to-day concerns of the western world (except in Utah and a few other areas). Apparently that situation is changing:

For generations, taboo kept polygamy out of sight and out of mind in America. But the taboo is crumbling. An HBO television series called "Big Love," which benignly portrays a one-husband, three-wife family in Utah, set off the latest round of polygamy talk. Even so, a federal lawsuit (now on appeal), the American Civil Liberties Union's stand for polygamy rights, and the rising voices of pro-polygamy groups such as TruthBearer.org (an evangelical Christian group) and Principle Voices (which Newsweek describes as "a Utah-based group run by wives from polygamous marriages") were already making the subject hard to duck.

So far, libertarians and lifestyle liberals approach polygamy as an individual-choice issue, while cultural conservatives use it as a bloody shirt to wave in the gay-marriage debate. The broad public opposes polygamy but is unsure why. What hardly anyone is doing is thinking about polygamy as social policy.

I'd always considered polygamy to be something that individuals would choose to enter into freely, and therefore not of concern to the government. Of course, I'd never really considered the sociological implications of widespread polygamy. Jonathan Rauch points out that the situation does deserve some careful attention:

The problem in China and India is sex-selective abortion (and sometimes infanticide), not polygamy; where the marriage market is concerned, however, the two are functional equivalents. In their book, Hudson and den Boer note that "bare branches are more likely than other males to turn to vice and violence." To get ahead, they "may turn to appropriation of resources, using force if necessary." Such men are ripe for recruitment by gangs, and in groups they "exhibit even more exaggerated risky and violent behavior." The result is "a significant increase in societal, and possibly intersocietal, violence."

Crime rates, according to the authors, tend to be higher in polygynous societies. Worse, "high-sex-ratio societies are governable only by authoritarian regimes capable of suppressing violence at home and exporting it abroad through colonization or war." In medieval Portugal, "the regime would send bare branches on foreign adventures of conquest and colonization." (An equivalent today may be jihad.) In 19th-century China, where as many as 25 percent of men were unable to marry, "these young men became natural recruits for bandit gangs and local militia," which nearly toppled the government. In what is now Taiwan, unattached males fomented regular revolts and became "entrepreneurs of violence."

Hudson and den Boer suggest that societies become inherently unstable when sex ratios reach something like 120 males to 100 females: in other words, when one-sixth of men are surplus goods on the marriage market.

While I certainly don't expect a sudden rush to multi-marry, Rauch does point out that there are social costs to pay for changing the legal statutes around polygamy, and that those costs are not inconsiderable.

Update: This is a slighly more hopeful development in one part of India.

Posted by Nicholas at 02:17 PM | Comments (0)

New tool in the workshop

I'm slowly adding to my tool collection in the basement. This week's addition has been a new band saw:


This is a fairly inexpensive 14" model I bought from Dave at The Saw Shop, along with their Red Line fence system. The fence rails are temporarily mounted . . . I still need to lower them to keep the fence itself close to the top of the band saw table. Here's a remarkably effective warning label on the upper blade cover:


Hard to mistake that, wouldn't you say?

Posted by Nicholas at 11:51 AM | Comments (1)

39th Raising of the Red Ensign

The Red Ensign Standard, mark 39, has been posted at Dust My Broom. Go see what the rest of the Brigade has been busy writing about during the past two weeks.

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

QotD: The right to be narrow-minded

My personal favorite quotation comes from American Family Radio journalist Bill Fancher, who apparently declared, "The media doesn't understand [conservative Christians'] inability to compromise on principles. I don't apologize for being narrow-minded."

Actually, it's perfectly all right for Fancher and friends to be uncompromising and narrow-minded in their personal lives. And they can play pretend that they are a persecuted minority, if that makes them feel better. But what's not all right is for them to try to impose their narrow-minded views on other people. According to my reading of the Constitution, the deal is that if they want to hold fast to their narrow-minded views, they have to allow their fellow citizens to have theirs. As unpleasant as narrow-minded people like Fancher may find it, it's not persecution to have to put up with people who disagree with you.

Ronald Bailey, "Celebrating Narrow-Minded Christians", Hit and Run, 2006-03-29

Posted by Nicholas at 12:21 AM | Comments (0)

April 02, 2006

QotD: Canadian Peacekeeping

Under the Liberals, Canada was the quintessential post-nationalist nation, and, indeed, so aggressively so that our post-nationalism became more jingoistic than conventional nationalism: "The world needs more Canada," etc. We were too busy promoting ourselves as the great peacekeeping nation to actually do any. We're currently at No. 32 on the hit parade of UN peacekeeping deployments, below not just the Great Satan (31) but also Benin (30), which I, with my typical dead-white-male Eurocentric arrogance, had assumed was the kind of Afro-Marxist basket case to which you deploy UN peacekeepers. Well, good for Benin for shouldering its share of the globocop burden. And, unlike Canada, it doesn't brag about it on five-dollar bills and in beer commercials.

Mark Steyn, "Enough with the globo-gab", Macleans, 2006-03-27

Posted by Nicholas at 01:27 AM | Comments (3)

April 01, 2006

QotD: The Interstate Commerce Commission

Nobody even remembers what the Interstate Commerce Commission used to do. But you've probably been in the old ICC building on Constitution Avenue in Washington. It had a choice spot in Washington. Important agency, important location, big building. This was a key federal agency. And it spent its time hearing arguments about whether this truck line ought to be able to carry cigarettes in the same trucks as it carried textiles or whether the rates that were being charged to carry pretzels were adequate. People have trouble remembering that today.

Marc Levinson, quoted by Virginia Postrel in "The Box that Changed the World", Dynamist Blog, 2006-03-23

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

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