November 30, 2006

Rome asked to apologize . . .

. . . for invading Britain. Two thousand years ago.

Since Britain just finished apologizing to for the transatlantic slave trade, it must seem fitting to some to have an apology from Rome for enslaving Britons:

Look at Britain today and you see a blighted land, its atomised culture diluted by outside influences, its people resentful and divided. But who would blame a whipped dog for howling? The fact is, these islands are suffering from a collective trauma, harboured for two millennia.

The Roman invasion of Britain left an open wound that cries out to be healed. Our Latin conquerors benefited enormously from enslaving us, and that has got to be put right. Italy's government must apologise and make reparations.

Posted by Nicholas at 06:21 PM | Comments (0)

The 'Dirty Thirties' in colour

The Guardian has an article about a little-known collection of colour photos of everyday life in rural America during the 1930's. It's a bit of a mental shock: we've all seen so many B&W images of that time that subconsciously most of us think that colour didn't exist. These images should help to correct that error.


This image is from the slideshow at The Guardian, showing a rural family going to town on Saturday afternoon somewhere in Greene County, Georgia. Original image by Jack Delano.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:04 AM | Comments (2)

A new European 'extreme sport'

Jason Ciastko sent this link to one of the mailing lists I read regularly. It's one of those things that should end spectacularly . . . and probably fatally: high speed train surfing.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:37 AM | Comments (2)

Non-trivial, indeed

Damian "Babbling" Brooks asked me to call attention to this post at The Torch:

Why don't ordinary Canadians know much about this intensely valuable and important work? Well, partly because the government has done a lacklustre job telling the public about it, as the MND recently admitted. Luckily, they're now working to correct that course of action.

But you can't put it all on the government, either. Here's a stat that might surprise you as well: since January 16th of this year, 175 journalists from 37 different media outlets have embedded with the CF in Afghanistan. How many stories have you seen about the KPRT — other than from the BBC? Now, how many ramp ceremonies have you seen?

Mourning the deaths of our soldiers is important, let there be no doubt. But even a couple of folks within the media think that the balance of coverage has swung too far in that particular direction.

Please do read the whole post.

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

QotD: Big Music

It sometimes seems like the recording industry actually sits around a table a few times a week to brainstorm new ways to make its customers hate it.

Radley Balko, "As God Is My Witness, I Thought Turkeys Could Fly", Hit and Run, 2006-11-25

Posted by Nicholas at 12:24 AM | Comments (0)

November 29, 2006

QotD: Robbing Peter to pay Paul

[. . .] this brings me back to the recurring theme of people (on the "right" as much as the "left") who ignore empirical evidence of many decades, even centuries, that government is not our friend. It is seldom that any one entity, person or corporation gets to be "Paul" all the time. Sooner or later, you are forced to be "Peter." And sometimes you get Petered good and hard, if you catch my drift.

However, through the magic of tax withholding, most people seem to have no idea how much the government is Petering them. Nor do they understand how much the hundreds of thousands of government regulations bleed them almost as much. And most of them think that corporate income taxes are a good idea, making sure they "pay their fair share." This is another of the great mysteries of our current condition: how can people be so ignorant of economics and the world around them that they don't realize that if the government places a more-or-less uniform burden upon businesses, said businesses will pass that cost along to the consumers! We all know that shit flows downhill, and that money talks. This point is easily as obvious, so why is it that people seem oblivious to it?

Chris Claypoole, "Taking from Peter to pay Paul", Libertarian Enterprise, 2006-11-26

Posted by Nicholas at 12:41 AM | Comments (0)

November 28, 2006

Wipe your hard drive

Identity theft is a real danger, but it can apparently get much worse than that. Stories like this one are almost always apocryphal, but you never can tell . . .

Posted by Nicholas at 12:10 PM | Comments (5)

Mother's not always right

According to a new report, your mother's admonition to "sit up straight" was flat-out wrong:

They used a special MRI or magnetic resonance imaging scanner to look at the pressure placed on the spine by various seating positions — a forward slouch, a 90-degree angle and a relaxed position where the knees weren't at a right angle to the floor and the back was reclined slightly.

The scans showed that sitting at a 90-degree angle puts unnecessary pressure on the disks of the lower back, which can lead to back pain, disk degeneration and sciatica.

One of the authors, Dr. Waseen Bashir of the University of Alberta Hospital, said that's because the body is actually working against gravity in that position.

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

Most recent project

If you recall, we'd started to accept the phrase "blogging the cat" as the blogosphere's equivalent of "jumping the shark". I blogged the cat twice in the first year of blogging. I didn't realize there was a lower level of shark-jump-ulatiousness: blogging the cat door.

Since we got the puppy, the cats have had a tougher time getting to their food and litter box. When Xander was very young, he could fit into the same spaces as the largest cat could, so we had to literally barricade off part of the house as "dog territory" to allow the cats to eat in peace.

Now that Xander is much bigger than the biggest cat:


we decided that we could take down the main barricade and provide the cats with a cat door into the laundry room which is now where their food and litter box reside. The first step was to cut a rough opening in the laundry room door:


The door was pretty flimsy, once I started to drill the corners out: it's literally just two formed hardboard sheets, separated by some cardboard spacers. Cutting the opening wasn't particularly difficult, although the pullsaw I was using did tend to catch very easily, so the cuts weren't all that straight. The next step was to cut the lining (the portion joining the front and back frames).

I ended up using maple for this . . . and it turned out to be a lot more work than I'd bargained on. The rough maple board I started with had just about every wood fault known to man. It was warped, so I hand-cut it into three unequal lengths. It was cupped, so putting it through the planer meant it took several more passes before I had a flat-ish face to work with. Two of the pieces developed a twist — after I'd cut the full board down. Once I had a straight-ish, flat-ish piece to work with, I hand planed the edge . . . except that the centre of the edge was literally popping up as I planed it down. What started as a relatively straight edge developed into a noticeable curve.

What happened is that a small knot near the centre of the board was decompressing as I took away the surrounding wood, so it was pushing upwards almost in proportion to the amount of wood I was planing off. It was a very nice looking piece of wood: a bit of birdseye along one length, a bit of tiger stripe a bit further along, and some faint spalting at the other end. But it was so badly tensioned that getting straight, flat boards out of it was nearly impossible.

Eventually, with much effort (more from Clive than from me, to be honest), we got the four pieces of maple for the lining assembed and could start working on the "good" face:


I gave up on the idea of trying to use the remaining maple for the face frame, so we grabbed a leftover piece of ash from a previous project and used that:


A quick bevel on the outside edge, then carefully mitred corners, and it was starting to look like an intentional project, rather than a piece of random wood-art.


It took a fair bit of filing and scraping to get the frame to fit the rough opening (you can still see some of the dust from that in the previous photo). Once we were sure it would fit well, a less artistic frame was screwed to the back (the side facing into the laundry room), and several coats of shellac finished off the project.


That's Cinders, one of our two long-haired cats, peering through the cat door. Not only does it make a safe haven for hungry cats, but it also provides occasional amusement when Xander tries to see what's happening in the laundry room . . . a defenceless dog head, just at claw height. Cinders really appreciates the new entertainment option.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:54 AM | Comments (2)

A different ad paradigm

Advertising is so different in other parts of the world that some examples would seem to be the exact opposite of appealing to a western audience.

Ouchies! (H/T to Craig Zeni)

Posted by Nicholas at 10:36 AM | Comments (2)

QotD: Christmas Gifts

Why did we give this book to our wife? For the same reason that inspires most holiday gift-giving: desperation. That particular year we did not start our holiday shopping until Christmas Eve at approximately 7:30 p.m. (Usually we start earlier, around 6 p.m.) We found a store that was open, and we did nearly all of our holiday shopping there. We selected the impressionist book because it was rectangular, which is the easiest shape to wrap.

You may laugh, but you probably are no better. We bet you have bought all KINDS of comically unnecessary holiday gifts for people, to reciprocate for the comically unnecessary gifts that you know they're going to give to you. That is the spirit of the holiday season.

Dave Barry, "What's behind Santa's Ho-Ho-Ho", Miami Herald, 2006-11-26

Posted by Nicholas at 10:36 AM | Comments (0)

November 27, 2006

Xmas humour

Beware of the dangers of hanging Christmas lights!

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

1950's Educational Film Parody

Posted by Nicholas at 12:16 PM | Comments (0)

British Surnames

If your ancestors came from somewhere in Britain, you might be interested in The Surname Profiler, a research project at University College London (UCL). Using data from 1881 and 1998, they provide you with a map of the distribution of the surname you provide.

For example, one of my family names is Thornton. You can see how the distribution of the name changed between 1881 and 1998:

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

Latest OWR available

A belated note that the latest issue of Michael Pinkus' OntarioWineReview is now available. The feature article in this issue is a review of the Long Dog Winery in Prince Edward County.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:55 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: Milton Friedman

If you're a libertarian and are unaware, by now, that the world's premiere free market economist, Milton Friedman, died last week, it must be because you live in a cave or use the same Internet service I do.

We have much to thank "Uncle Miltie" for (my younger readers may not know that the nickname was first applied to the wildly popular 1950s comedian Milton Berle, a contemporary and competitor to Sid Caesar). Friedman and his wife Rose probably did more than anyone to popularize the concept of markets unconstrained by anything except the laws of nature that happen to apply to them. He was a big part of an intellectual revolution so huge, and so threatening to those — like the Bush family — who exist only to control the lives of others, that it gave accidental birth to the hideous reaction we are living through today.

L. Neil Smith, "Of The Dead Speak Nothing But Truth", Libertarian Enterprise, 2006-11-26

Posted by Nicholas at 11:34 AM | Comments (0)

Sorry for the lack of posting

We had some server issues late last week, and I couldn't get access to the blog UI. Once that was cleared up, I was too busy with other things and didn't get online very much, aside from deleting spam comments and spam trackback pings (of which, there were lots and lots).

Posted by Nicholas at 11:30 AM | Comments (0)

November 22, 2006

Thank goodness the government stopped this illegal . . .

. . . sale of gasoline below cost:

This month, King Soopers and City Market (both owned by Kroger) were forced by a federal jury decision to cut out a program called Buy Groceries/Get Gas — which offered consumers modest savings on gas purchases.

Two "independent" gasoline stations in Montrose brought the suit and were awarded $1.4 million in damages. The jury found the big stores had violated Colorado's Unfair Practices Act, illegally selling gas below cost.

Yes, King Soopers was selling gasoline too cheap. It's illegal.

So let's quickly review an old economics adage: Charge too much and you're price gouging. Charge too little and you're predatory pricing. Charge the same as your competitor and you're in collusion.

We should all be grateful to those bold politicians, who realized that it should be illegal to sell an essential product like gasoline below cost! And even more, to the noble and public-spirited competitors who grassed them to the authorities!

Had it been left unchallenged, who knows how low these economic hoodlums would have been willing to go?

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

QotD: The War on Drugs

Longtime drug reformer Eric Sterling (a guy I generally admire), for example, said at the conference that his first step toward a post-prohibition America would be "universal health care," accompanied by comprehensive treatment that addicts could obtain rather easily — in Sterling's words, free treatment should be"as easy as ordering a pizza."

Terrific. If there's one surefire way to make sure America never reforms its drug laws, it's telling the public that step one in "drug reform" would be to have taxpayers foot the bill for morphine clinics, needles, and the local addict's relapses.

This would all still be quite a bit better than today's approach of kicking down doors and filling the prisons with pot smokers, of course (treating drug addiction like a public health problem, I mean — universal health care is another animal entirely). But it's a far cry from treating American citizens as actual adults, capable not only of making their own decisions about what they put into their bodies, but also of assuming full responsibility for those decisions.

Radley Balko, "Holiday Row", Hit and Run, 2006-11-20

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

November 21, 2006

How illegal distribution created an $80 billion market

Anime hit it big outside Japan, due, in large part, to becoming an underground phenomenon:

The global sales of Japan's animation industry reached an astonishing $80 billion in 2004, 10 times what they were a decade before. It has won this worldwide success in part because Japanese media companies paid little attention to the kinds of grassroots activities — call it piracy, unauthorized duplication and circulation, or simply file-sharing — that American media companies seem so determined to shut down. Much of the risk of entering Western markets and many of the costs of experimentation and promotion were borne by dedicated consumers.

Posted by Nicholas at 01:07 PM | Comments (0)

Casualty rates

Jon sent me a link to this article at TCS Daily, discussing the long term casuaty rates the American military has sustained in various conflicts:

In the full sweep of U.S history, from the commencement of the Revolution on Lexington Green in April 1775, until the sunny morning of September 11, 2001, our average daily sacrifice [during major wars] has been between 14 and 15 military fatalities (1,217,000 fatalities/83,461 days = 14.6/day). Since 9/11, the average daily sacrifice has been 1.7 per day (3200/1900=1.68).

From the Revolutionary War until the American entry into World War I, the average daily rate was about 11 per day (578,000/52,231=11.07). From World War I through the break up of the Soviet Union, the rate was over 16 per day (636,000/38,811=16.39). Or in our long running confrontation with Soviet communism following World War II until the collapse of the Soviet empire, the rate was over between 6 and 7 per day (112,400/16,892=6.65).

As things stand, the conflict with Islamic radicalism involves the lowest average daily military fatality rate of any long run national security era. It may worsen, it may improve. If Congress had been asked on September 12, 2001, to endorse a national defense posture against Islamic radicalism that traded up to 2 military fatalities per day over the subsequent five years in return for no additional homeland attacks, the deposing of terror friendly regimes in Afghanistan and Iraq, the ending of Libya's nuclear program, what would they have done? Would Congress accept that bargain today?

It's particularly gruesome to discuss any such thing as an "acceptable" casualty rate, but that is, as Philip O'Connor's article titles it, "The Human Calculus of National Security". Even in peacetime, there are military casualties, although they rarely are considered "newsworthy". Serving in the armed forces — of any nation — increases your chance of injury or death, whether in peacetime or wartime. Pretending that this isn't so does not make it true.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:20 AM | Comments (0)

Believing what you want to believe

Jon sent along a link to this item posted by Tim Blair, where the clear unwillingness to believe ordinary chronological order is made manifestly clear.

If you believe that something is true, regardless of the facts, then nothing will persuade you otherwise . . .

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

QotD: Urban "beautification" projects

[. . .] But I was talking about the Plans to revitalize downtown. One of the plans is aimed specifically at rolling the Head-On of Urban Joy on the skulls of the walkers: today's paper had a story about making the sidewalks more entertaining and welcoming, with the usual greenery and pots and signage. Again, I'm split: great idea, sure, but some urban beautification projects might actually make people more wary. When I see evidence of a big plan in a downtown, I think: it's in trouble. A healthy downtown gets what it needs. Think Manhattan — where the one-way is frickin' king, incidentally — and you realize that it's not the pots or street signs or occasional poor poisoned tree dying in a grate that makes New York such a feast; it's the stores and the people. WE don't have stores and people on the ground floor for most of the year, because they're in the skyway. That was our great contribution to urban design: the vast and ever-fascinating skyway system, a new urban paradigm. But now it's the enemy, because it killed the Street. Apparently it is more important to see people on the street in January, freezing, than to be among people in the skyway in January, walking or shopping or eating. The latter may be feasible and profitable and convenient, but the latter is preferable in the abstract.

Anyway, I see lots of planters and old-timey signs, I calculate the likelihood of getting sapped from behind just doubled. But here's what really amused me about the plan: greenery will be installed not just to make things green and lively, but to prevent "climate change."

You could raze the entire downtown core and plant trees, and it wouldn't effect climate change. I swear, it's become the secular equivalent of "peace be upon him."

James Lileks, The Bleat, 2006-11-20

Posted by Nicholas at 08:23 AM | Comments (3)

November 20, 2006

Vikings season done?

After yesterday's comedy of errors (see Miami 24, Minnesota 20 for more details), you'd have to be sporting a middle name like "Pollyanna" to think that the Vikings are still going to be able to make the playoffs. For crying out loud, they went 0-3 during the cream-puff portion of their schedule!

Exactly on time, the cries are now being heard to start Tarvaris Jackson as quarterback:

Now that it's going to take a 5-1 record the rest of the way to make the playoffs, you might as well pack it in. Bench Brad Johnson.

He gave us a great season last year, but he's been awful this year. Brad isn't getting rid of the ball as quickly as he needs to, he's throwing interceptions, he's making poor decisions . . . there's no reason to keep playing him.

If the Vikings had any shot at the playoffs, then Brad would have to keep starting. As bad as he's been, he gives the Vikings a better chance to win than Brooks Bollinger does. And you don't want to start Tarvaris in must-win games.

But it's over at this point, so there's absolutely no reason not to start Tarvaris. If he's 100% healthy, and has a good handle on the offense, Childress would be making a major mistake by not starting him.

I share Anthony's doubts about Brooks Bollinger, but I don't think that benching Brad is the best way to get Tarvaris some game experience. Unless he's showing a lot more mastery of the position than most first-year quarterbacks do, he's not ready to start yet. I think you'd do better treating it like the pre-season: let him handle a few series every game from this point onwards.

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

Jackson not to be involved in making The Hobbit movie after all

According to a thread on slashdot, Peter Jackson and New Line Cinema have not been able to come to an agreement, so Jackson will not be involved in making the next Tolkien movie:

Bloke down the pub: "Oh NOES!!!

"On the other hand, perhaps now they'll follow the books properly (ducks for cover)."

Znork: "And rumour has it they're going to bring in the #1 expert on prequels and CGI characters.

"I, for one, welcome George Lucas and our new taller, more prominently be-eared, rastafarian Gollum.

"Meesa servsa the precious."

Tet: "Given the hideous mess he made of LOTR, I'm relatively pleased that he won't be butchering The Hobbit in the same way. I am, however, horrified at the thought of a 'prequel' to LOTR, no matter who ends up directing/producing it."

famebait: "Given the size of the book it was inveitable he'd have to emit large chunks of it

"Sorry, I don't mean to be a spelling nazi, but I just can't get over the mental image of Peter Jackson emitting large chunks of books. My day is ruined."

Posted by Nicholas at 12:18 PM | Comments (0)

QotD: The Legal Profession

I just got the California bar exam results back, and according to the website, below my name it says, "The name above appears on the pass list for the July 2006 California Bar Examination."

They couldn't just say, "You have passed." Even here they have to hedge and disclaim. Boy, how I hate lawyers me.

Russell Wardlow, "Just What the World Needs, Another Lawyer", Mean Mr. Mustard 2.0, 2006-11-17

Posted by Nicholas at 12:33 AM | Comments (0)

November 19, 2006

QotD: George W. Bush

Here's the thing. We've got ourselves a Republican President who likes to whiz all over the Constitution; really, he just likes to whip out Lil' Dubya and make a splatter tinkle all over James Madison's handiwork. Then he looks over to the Republican Congressional leadership, which says "that's a right pretty tinkle, Mr. President," and hands him a six-pack so he can reload. And while they're doing their little Andres Serrano act on the founding document, they're holding back a reserve for your basic Republican ideals of individual freedom, fiscal responsibility and smaller government. You see how this might be a problem.

John Scalzi, "A Small Plea to the Right: Vote Left in 2006", Whatever, 2006-11-07

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

November 18, 2006

SF Mil-Tech now

Committees of Correspondence has a linkulacious post up about chameleonic camouflage technology (or, for the more SF-oriented, a personal cloaking device). If something like that works, it'll be a huge advance for the PBI. But some things that work brilliantly in the lab or on the testing range never pan out on the field of battle.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:37 AM | Comments (1)

"Things not to do" lists

This list, Things I am not allowed to do at Hogwarts, was directly inspired by the brilliant The 213 Things Skippy Is No Longer Allowed To Do In the U.S. Army.

H/T to "Iestyn" for the link.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:32 AM | Comments (0)

What Miles V. did for his summer vacation

A fan of Lois McMaster Bujold's Vorkosigan Saga has put together a brief summary of Miles Vorkosigan's: summer vacation.

H/T to Andrew Lambdin-Abraham, who says he found it referenced on John Scalzi's blog.

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

Ya gotta love the Danes

They've come up with a perfect solution to speeding: Speedbandits (NSFW).

H/T to Dave Slater.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:08 AM | Comments (0)

November 17, 2006

Sorry for the unscheduled quiet period here . . .

. . . I took a quick trip out of town for a few days, and I discovered that I didn't even have access to email, never mind the blog, so I didn't manage to post anything. Normal-ish activity should resume in the near future.

Posted by Nicholas at 03:54 PM | Comments (0)

November 15, 2006

Riiiiiights iiiiiiiin Spaaaaaaace!

If you've ever considered homesteading off old home Terra, you'll want to read Ed Minchau's round-up of what the current legal situation is for owning property outside the atmosphere.

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

Sports Update, Tuesday edition

Victor's indoor soccer team had their hands full this evening, playing against one of the undefeated teams in the division. A final score of 5-5 does not come close to indicating just how tense and exciting this game was, especially with the opponents' last-second drive to the goal . . . a good result, but Victor's team lead through most of the second half, yet were still lucky to escape with a point for the draw: if even a quarter of the other team's shots on net were accurate, the score would have been significantly worse.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:59 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: Meet the new boss

Election 2006 has come and gone, uprooting Bible-thumpers, born again warmongers, xenophobes, torturers, and homo-haters, replacing them with what will soon prove to be endless hordes of food fascists, tree huggers, Luddites, energy Nazis, anti-smokers, animal rights (but never human rights) crazies, acid rain, ozone depletion, and global warming hoaxers, Sandalistas, and gun-grabbing victim disarmament zombies.

I realize that it needed to be done, but it's a lot like having a festering wound cleaned out by maggots. Somehow I don't really feel much better. It seems that Skull & Bones still wins, no matter what we do.

L. Neil Smith, "There's no such thing as 'Goodminton'", Libertarian Enterprise, 2006-11-12

Posted by Nicholas at 12:53 AM | Comments (0)

November 14, 2006

QotD: Power Corrupts

We have to accept the fact that the conservatives we sent to Congress in 1994 became the bloated, earmarking, tone-deaf toads of 2006. They thought they could do whatever they wanted, regardless of what their constituents think, and now they have been reminded of just who is working for whom. Remedying that sense of isolation and disconnect and unchecked power is why we have elections in the first place, and as to the consequences of it, we have no one to blame but ourselves. That imperial attitude is not unique to Republicans or Democrats. That is human nature, and correcting the excesses of human nature only becomes more costly and painful the longer it is allowed to go on. Democracy is error-correcting.

Bill Whittle, "Making A Choice", Eject! Eject! Eject!, 2006-11-07

Posted by Nicholas at 02:35 AM | Comments (2)

November 13, 2006

Weekend sports roundup

Middlesbrough had a winning outing against West Ham, netting the only goal of the match from Massimo Maccarone. Report from BBC Sport here. The Premiership have postponed a decision on whether Boro manager Gareth Southgate can continue in the job: the league has amended their rules, but not sufficiently that Southgate's case is guaranteed to succeed.

Minnesota fans are starting to feel that the season is effectively over, after yesterday's home loss to Green Bay:

Thunderous boos rained down at the end of the first half Sunday afternoon as the Vikings jogged into the locker room. And guess what? That had been their good half.

So it went for the Vikings in a sobering 23-17 loss to Green Bay, one in which their offense showed the briefest sign of life early on before collapsing amid a potent Packers pass rush. Losers of three consecutive games and under .500 for the first time this season, the Vikings are becoming a team worthy of boos even for its best efforts.

And, in the indoor soccer world, Victor's team doesn't play until tomorrow night, so no news on that front yet.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:39 AM | Comments (0)

" . . . a serious flaw . . . "

An old friend of mine recently started reading the blog on a regular basis. When I started blogging, I didn't think it would work as an old friend re-collection system, but that's not the first time it's happened. Anyway, Brian sent me the following email, which I found quite thought-provoking:

I've discovered a serious flaw in the whole "blogging" concept.
(No, really.)

Perhaps it only affects a small enough portion of the population that nothing will ever be done, but . . .

Whenever my brain goes "I wonder what Nicholas is up to?", I get the feeling that we've just recently spoken (/e-mailed/whatever) and this week I realized why . . . I've been reading your damn blog. (I use the term advisedly. The first time I checked it out — a couple of weeks ago — I started clicking on interesting links. The next thing I knew it was 3 AM and NOT when I had planned on going to bed. ;-) )

Anyway, Quotulatiousness is my current home page for Mozilla, which means you've been dropping random comments into my sphere whether you're aware of it or not. Hence the disconnect w.r.t. feeling like we've talked recently.

It's actually quite odd. It's given me lots to think about regarding the anthropological aspects of blogging. (I've always been intrigued by the effects of technology, especially the internet and web, on society/community/communication.)

Anyone else find this happening? I suspect that a lot of fractured conversations happen among active bloggers: instead of responding to a post on your blog, the blogger posts something on his or her own blog instead . . . which may or may not come to the attention of the original poster.

This comment is from a later email:

I spend a lot of time considering how socialization among young people (especially, but not only) has changed as a result of technology. Everything from IM, to cell phones, to text messaging. Watching my kids, comparing it to others', remembering my own experiences. Fascinating contrasts.

The thing about younger folks is seeing what they take for granted or assume as a minimum of acceptable connectedness. It reminds me of a comedian I saw a few months ago on TV: "I remember when the telephone was ON A WALL, in the KITCHEN, with a cord >THAT< long. And if it rang after 11? Oh my god, Nana's dead!"

Posted by Nicholas at 10:26 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: Stem Cell Research

Look, if Republicans had opposed embryonic stem cell research on the grounds that dim-witted government bureaucrats haven't a clue about how to choose between scientific boondoggles and scientific brilliance, then perhaps the stem cell issue wouldn't have cut against them. Instead, conservative Republican pandering to the Religious Right on this issue made them look like uncaring anti-progress know-nothings to most voters.

Ronald Bailey, "Americans Vote Pro-Life: Did stem cells give the Senate to the Democrats?", Reason Online, 2006-11-10

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

November 12, 2006

QotD: Corruption

Corruption is the result of a federal government too flush with money and too fat with influence. When billions of dollars are at stake — either in the form of handouts and corporate welfare, or from the effects of regulation — it only makes sense that corporations and special interests would spend millions to secure a spot at the trough, or to tweak regulations to their liking. The more influence wielded in Washington, the further corrupting forces will go to win a share of it.

Radley Balko, "The Return of Two-Party Rule: With the right GOP leadership, Election '06 may prove to be a boon for limited government", Reason Online, 2006-11-10

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

November 11, 2006

In memorium

A simple recognition of some of our family members who served in the First and Second World Wars:

The Great War

  • Private William Penman, Scots Guards, died 1915 at Le Touret, age 25
    (Elizabeth's great uncle)
  • Private David Buller, Highland Light Infantry, died 1915 at Loos, age 35
    (Elizabeth's great grandfather)
  • Private Walter Porteous, Northumberland Fusiliers, died 1917 at Passchendaele, age 18
    (my great uncle)
  • Corporal John Mulholland, Royal Tank Corps, died 1918 at Harbonnieres, age 24
    (Elizabeth's great uncle)

The Second World War

  • Flying Officer Richard Porteous, RAF, survived the defeat in Malaya and lived through the war
    (my uncle)
  • Able Seaman John Penman, RN, served in the "Destroyer Equipped Merchant" fleet on the Murmansk Run (and other convoy routes), lived through the war
    (Elizabeth's father)
  • Private Archie Black (commissioned after the war and retired as a Major), Gordon Highlanders, captured at Singapore (aged 15) and survived a Japanese POW camp
    (Elizabeth's uncle)

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)

Posted by Nicholas at 11:00 AM | Comments (0)

November 10, 2006

You knew it would come to this, didn't you?

According to this article in the well-known publication, The Onion, we have finally reached the holy land of fat-free snack foods:

According to Frito-Lay's website, the new snacks contain one-third of the fat, one-half of the calories, and one-1,000th of the irresistible flavor of Frito-Lay's classic line of potato and corn chips. The presence of trans-fats and saturated oils is avoided by employing a cooking process "strikingly similar to the method used to create particle board." Serving suggestions that will be printed on the packaging include "definitely not adding any salt or seasoning, because then you might die"; dipping the chips in "delicious plain yogurt, lettuce paste, or other ground-up Flat Earth products"; and enhancing the flavor by replacing the chip in your hand with a Hot'n Spicy BBQ chip.

In January, Frito-Lay will launch a Flat Earth marketing campaign based on the slogan, "Bet You Can't Eat Even One." Surprisingly, however, the company is also in talks with distributors to ensure that Flat Earth snacks are installed in every school vending machine in the country.

"Oh, they're definitely going in the vending machines," Carey said. "Everyone's going to share in this misery, not just a handful of Naderites with spastic colons or loser kids with no taste buds whose parents want them to grow up to be boring milquetoasts afraid to have any fun. And don't think we haven't forgotten you either, office workers on snack breaks and anyone who wants to serve a big bowl of disappointment at a cocktail party."

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

A town called Middlesbrough

Nick Donnelly did a short documentary on the town of Middlesbrough, starting with the wartime years:

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

Samizdata celebrates their fifth anniversary

Congratulations to the grizzled blogging team at Samizdata on their fifth blogging anniversary.

Posted by Nicholas at 02:23 PM | Comments (0)

Maybe I should see this film . . .

Jacob Sullum has a belly laugh at Borat:

Because I live in the U.S. rather than Russia, last night I had the opportunity to see Borat, which I highly recommend. In addition to making me laugh so hard I couldn't breathe (the look on former Georgia congressman Bob Barr's face during his brief encounter with Sacha Baron Cohen's Kazakh alter ego is by itself worth the price of admission), it made me sympathize a bit (a teeny-weeny bit) with the Anti-Defamation League's concern that people confronted by the outrageous anti-Semitism of Borat and his compatriots might not get the joke.

[. . .]

What the ADL misses, I think, is that part of Cohen's talent is to amuse and discomfit his audience at the same time. Sometimes you laugh because you're so uncomfortable. I still have reservations about his mistreatment of perfectly nice people whose patience he tests with Borat's boorish and disgusting behavior, but it produces some undeniably hilarious moments. Many of his targets, who include mysoginists, homophobes, anti-Semites, and anti-Muslim bigots, deserve to be goaded and mocked, and their comments tend to make you uncomfortable in a different way.

Posted by Nicholas at 02:10 PM | Comments (0)

Why did the Republicans lose?

As with the last US federal election, I didn't spend much time commenting about it. Not being in the States, I felt that there were already plenty of commentators (on every side) covering that beat well enough. Now that it's over, I don't feel quite as constrained. This wasn't a triumph for the Democratic Party — it was, however, a rebuke to the Republicans. They did a lot to ensure that they'd lose this one. Here's a particularly good example:

I was rummaging through my closet the other day when I came across an old T-shirt. Stamped across the front were the words "SCRAP THE CODE: The Armey-Tauzin Tax Reform Debates." On the back was a list of 25 cities on the "National Tax Reform Tour."

What a difference a few years makes. During this election season, Republican congressional leaders awarded members with a bronze bust of Ronald Reagan if they could prove they'd hosted town halls to explain to seniors how to sign up for the newly created Medicare Part D, which created a huge new prescription-drug entitlement in an already huge entitlement program.

And we wonder why we were beaten like a rented mule on Tuesday?

The party of "small government" became the party of wild spending. Twelve years is a long time to be in power (see Canada, Liberal Party of). There's a reason that parties get complacent and corrupt when they've been in power too long: they get lazy and they start to feel entitled to the power they wield and they lose whatever scruples they once may have had. It's like the old joke about politicians and diapers, except the joke is too kind to politics . . . it's always full of shit, but the longer a party has been in power, the more they're driven by the need to keep that power out of the "wrong hands".

The Democrats didn't need to do much to win this election . . . but the Republicans did a heck of a lot to lose it.

The Farm Bill probably provides the best example of where we've gone wrong, and what we need to do to hew back to our first principles.

During the 1990s, then-Sen. Phil Gramm accurately described U.S. farm policy as "enough to make a Russian Commissar puke." The Republicans assembled the "Freedom to Farm Act," which, starting in 1996, put U.S. farmers on a glide path toward an end to subsidies. Somewhere between the field and the silo, however, we became mired in the political mud. In 2002, we repealed the Freedom to Farm Act and in its place installed the "Farm Security Act" — those who value the adage about trading freedom for security can pause and shudder here — with even more lavish subsidies.

Now, with reauthorization of the Farm Bill on the horizon next year, we have to decide whether we will up the ante with Democrats in terms of red state/blue state politics in the heartland, or whether we believe our own rhetoric about free markets. This debate will have implications larger than the fiscal one. Most notably, it will determine if we are serious about the future of free trade.

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

This could get ugly

According to a report in The Economist, Ontario is starting to introduce roundabouts:

One afternoon last month roadworkers removed the covers from Yield signs at a newly built roundabout in Cambridge, in south-western Ontario, watching anxiously to see what would happen. Traffic lights, the traditional method of controlling intersections in Canada, had been ripped out. Drivers faced an unfamiliar circle. Would they know what to do?

The question would seem absurd to Britons, who invented the modern roundabout in the 1960s. But in Canada until very recently, they were rare (as they were, apart from the odd circle in New York and Washington, DC, in the United States until the 1990s).

While roundabouts work remarkably well in Britain, they're not the be-all and end-all of traffic control. One of my few visits to the south of England found me in a horrific piece of roadwork the locals called the "magic roundabout". It was a gigantic ring, composed of interlocking mini-roundabouts. Clearly I wasn't the only unfortunate visitor, because just as we entered one of the mini-circles, there was a crash from one of the adjacent circles (fortunately for me, it was "upstream", not in the direction I needed to travel). I needed a stiff drink and a change of underwear after negotiating my way 3/4 around the damned roundabout. My local guide nearly wet himself laughing . . .

Similarly, the few roundabouts I've encountered in the Boston area appear to be the automotive equivalents of free-fire zones: vehicles entering at speed, forcing the vehicles already in the circle to yield. Lots of fun.

Posted by Nicholas at 01:37 PM | Comments (0)

QotD: Post-election reactions

Trolled around some radio and websites today, and noted something interesting: no rancor. Well, you say, this reflects the circles in which you choose to move, and I suppose it does, but the places I haunt were not brimming with outrage and fury and tales of Diebold deviltry or voter suppression. If anything, mixed among the rue and worry, there was something unexpected:


I'm serious: no one said as much, but I have the feeling that many on the right & center-right are relieved to have this Congress repudiated, as much as they dislike the potential effect of the alternative. Two more years of the same would have been two more years of tentative dithering, culminating in another appeal to hit the polls lest the Republic crumble. But we haven't seen an innovation in policy or rhetoric since the last election. It is the adult thing to expect you will get half of what you want in politics, but this is not an excuse for making an lackluster attempt to get one-quarter and serving it up as one-hundred percent.

James Lileks, The Bleat, 2006-11-09

Posted by Nicholas at 01:09 PM | Comments (0)

November 09, 2006

Latest issue of OntarioWineReview now online

Michael Pinkus has posted the new issue of OntarioWineReview. This issue talks about:

. . . issues, which is why I call it "The Issues Issue". First, there's the announcement about the upcoming bottle recycling program in A Call is Answered, then we look at screwcap closures and their swelling popularity in Are You Getting Screwed?, and finally, we learn the difference between Pinot Noir clones, thanks to Flat Rock Cellars, in the Pick of the Bunch.

Posted by Nicholas at 09:57 AM | Comments (0)

Brad Warbiany celebrates his second blogiversary

Brad Warbiany, of The Unrepentant Individual, is celebrating his second blogging anniversary. Brad was a founding member of the Life, Liberty, Property group. Congratulations, Brad.

Posted by Nicholas at 09:50 AM | Comments (0)

Indulge those atavistic urges

Let it burn, baby!

H/T to JtMc.

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

QotD: Not your Daddy's Congress

Now that we know the Virginia Senate race will remain in doubt for at least days to come, and the Dem House majority will be sufficiently dramatic that Nancy Pelosi will be capping one of her own freshman reps execution style just to prove she can, America can move on to the day's real top story: the Britney/K-Fed split.

Julian Sanchez, "What's the Solution? Blue Revolution", Hit and Run, 2006-11-08

Posted by Nicholas at 12:48 AM | Comments (0)

November 08, 2006

Too rich for my blood

I got an email yesterday from Vintages, the LCBO's specialty arm, offering a great deal on some Bordeaux from the 2005 vintage:

This beautifully boxed set contains one bottle each from nine of Bordeaux’s best producers. This is a one-of-a-kind opportunity to acquire these legendary wines. Included is Château Pétrus which, during our first wave en primeur (Futures) offer, sold out in record time. This may be your last chance to acquire this wine.

The box contains one bottle each of:

  • 2005 Château Margaux
  • 2005 Château Haut-Brion
  • 2005 Château Mouton Rothschild
  • 2005 Château Lafite Rothschild
  • 2005 Château Latour
  • 2005 Château La Mission Haut-Brion
  • 2005 Château Pétrus
  • 2005 Château Cheval-Blanc
  • 2005 Château d’Yquem

Sounds like a pretty good line-up, wouldn't you say? I'd definitely be interested in trying all of these wines, but there's a minor stumbling block in my way . . . the $8,995 price tag for the selection.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:21 AM | Comments (2)

Another old colleague is blogging

Michael O'Connor Clarke has a blog concentrating on the business side of things. He writes well, and is certainly worth a quick read, if you happen to be so inclined: Uninstalled.

Posted by Nicholas at 09:48 AM | Comments (2)

QotD: Election Results

How much does it say about my lack of enthusiasm for the current crop of Republicans that the biggest benefit I can see to the failure of the Dems to take the House or the Senate (which seems at least possible now) is the spectacle amongst the douchebag wing of the Democratic party. The breast-beating, hair-tearing, garment-rending on the day after, the rantings about stolen elections and intra-party recriminations, and the subsequent intra-party recriminations and backbiting (sic 'em, Kos Kidz!) will likely be a heady mixture of high tragedy and low comedy. Or high comedy and low tragedy. Either way, popcorn will be in order.

Russell Wardlow, "Dividends of Republican Victory", Mean Mr. Mustard 2.0, 2006-11-06

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

November 07, 2006

Borat for Presi . . . oh, wait

Borat was briefly elected President of Kazakhstan, but only in a Wikipedia hack:

Fans logged onto internet site Wikipedia and edited the page for the fictional character's home nation.

The alterations to the site said the country's motto is "High Five" and the national anthem opening line was changed to say: "Kazakhstan greatest country in the world. All other countries are run by little girls."

The Wikipedia page in question has been locked. High marks to Wikipedia's users, who flagged the hacked page in short order.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:20 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: Fame

There are cheeses that last longer than some literary reputations.

James Lileks, The Bleat, 2006-11-07

Posted by Nicholas at 09:35 AM | Comments (1)

November 06, 2006

Carte Blanche for ambitious bureaucrats

A new bill to change the way charities are governed is well on the way to becoming law in Britain. The bill has some horrifying new powers for the Charities Commission:

Next week, the new Charities' Bill will finish its passage through Parliament. It should become law before the end of the year. In spite of being billed as "the biggest review of charity legislation in the past 400 years", it has generated very little comment. This is surprising, because the Bill will vastly increase the power of the Charities' Commission to dissolve charities, confiscate their endowments and assets, and give them to what the Commission considers a more genuinely "charitable" cause.

That threat is alarming and real. It used to be taken for granted that organisations devoted to education, to religion, or to the relief of poverty, were automatically providing a "public benefit". The new legislation dissolves that assumption. Even more worryingly, it also leaves it up to the Charities Commission to decide what constitutes a "public benefit". There is no guidance in the legislation on how that slippery notion should be defined. Ministers and members of the Commission have referred to "case law", but there is almost none, precisely because, for the last 400 years, there has been so firm a consensus that education, religion and the relief of poverty constitute public benefits.

Read that again: dissolve charities, confiscate their endowments and assets, and give them to what the Commission considers a more genuinely "charitable" cause. Does that sound like something you want a bunch of bureaucrats doing? I certainly wouldn't!

Update: Perry de Havilland at Samizdata writes:

The fascist approach has clearly won out over the old socialist approach of simple 'nationalisation'. In the fascist way of doing thing, individuals and companies and indeed 'private' charities could remain in 'ownership' of the means of production, but only if they actually used them in accordance with the government's national objectives. Clearly this is Britain's future. You can set up a charity and get endowments from willing people, but if the state decides it disapproves, it will simple take the money are give it to someone more politically correct. Can you imagine a charity in the future saying anything that might displease or embarrass a future British government?

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

Monday sports update

Another inglorious weekend, I'm afraid. Victor was still suffering from a racking cough, so he had to skip his indoor soccer game on Saturday. At least, that's the official story. Oh, he was sick, no question about that, but the rest of the sentence implies that we knew he had a game on Saturday. Which we didn't. The schedule, because it encompasses a matrix of fourteen teams, playing on up to three separate nights per week, is an unreadable mess.

That's my excuse, and I'm sticking to it.

Over in the old country, Middlesbrough put in a pathetic performance against Watford, handing them a 2-0 result and their first win in the top-flight since they were promoted. Just to be sure that Watford won, Boro went ahead and started the scoring on their own net . . . Details, should anyone be that masochistic, are here:

Watford suffered a blow when goalkeeper Ben Foster was forced out due to a knee problem, with Richard Lee stepping in for the in-form stopper.

But Boro's attacking efforts were so lacklustre that the home side could have probably played without a keeper in the first half and still managed to extend their run without conceding.

A third clean sheet on the trot means they have now gone 293 minutes without letting in a goal in the league.

Watford's forward line hardly set the place alight, but fortunately Middlesbrough's defence were there to offer them a helping hand.

In the sixth minute Woodgate failed to properly clear Gavin Mahon's throw and when the Boro defender stuck out his leg to try and block Bouazza's shot he deflected it past Schwarzer's despairing dive.

Meanwhile, having stunk up the Metrodome last Monday against the Patriots, the Minnesota Vikings have now managed make the hapless San Francisco 49ers look like a serious football team. This was a game I'm happy not to have had to watch:

The Vikings had the 49ers overmatched on paper but once again could not assemble a competent performance on offense, committing three turnovers and going scoreless after Ryan Longwell capped their opening drive with a 21-yard field goal.

San Francisco's moribund defense was allowing 33.6 points per game this season and hadn't held a team without a touchdown since the final game of 2001. But Sunday's affair was the Vikings' fourth game this season without an offensive touchdown, a feat so second nature that — like Williamson — the Vikings seemed dazed and not entirely convinced they are good enough to win on Sundays.

"We've just got to come together on this," said receiver Travis Taylor, whose illegal block in the third quarter nullified Chester Taylor's 65-yard touchdown reception. "It's like we need to get some fight and some dog in us, to get a little emotion. We have to want to get better. I think we're lacking a little in emotion right now."

Posted by Nicholas at 12:24 PM | Comments (0)

QotD: Teenage Spending

Richer teenagers spend more money on everything, including booze, fags and weed. Yet this is not purely an effect of extra spending power. The source of the money counts too. A teenager who earns an extra $1,000 through a job is 1.1 per cent more likely to smoke and 1.6 per cent more likely to drink and 0.6 per cent more likely to use marijuana. But when the same sum comes from pocket money, the effects are more than five times greater: a teenager with an extra $1,000 annual allowance is 6.2 per cent more likely to smoke, 9.6 per cent more like to drink and 4.5 per cent more likely to use marijuana.

It is not clear whether this difference is because part-time workers have less time to indulge, whether they come from different backgrounds (some effort is made in the research to allow for this) or whether there is a difference in character between the workers and the pocket-money scroungers. Still, the conclusion is clear enough: cut off pocket money for teenagers and lower the minimum wage at once. It's the only way to keep our teenagers living clean lives.

Tim Harford, "The Undercover Economist: Round numbers",, 2006-09-22

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

November 05, 2006

QotD: Italy

Here in Italy, my Catholic friends think impure thoughts, use birth control and don't truck much with confession. While an American might seek out Our Lady of So What — a church to match his morals — Italians don't see it as a matter as religious choice, but one of identity. Sure, the Pope might be a loonbag, but he's our loonbag.

Plus, he supplies rules, much beloved in this country where you need a permit to paint a house or mow a lawn. Regulations permeate Italian life like smoke in a bar — passers-by see the cloud, but insiders are too acclimated to notice. Not that anyone follows rules, personally. Laws are necessary for other people.

Jennifer "Chotzi" Rosen, "A Law is to Break" (note: link is to main website), 2006-11-04

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

November 04, 2006

QotD: Midterm Elections

I'm eagerly anticipating a Republican defeat because the party richly deserves it after failing so miserably to deliver on its promises of smaller (or even slightly less gargantuan) government. The combination of a Democratic Congress and a Republican president could not possibly be worse, and might very well be better, than the current arrangement, in which a Republican executive and a Republican legislature conspire to mulct our money and filch our freedoms.

I know, I know: Bush cut taxes. But cutting taxes without restraining spending just postpones the pain, imposing a burden on future taxpayers who did not even make the mistake of trusting Republicans.

Jacob Sullum, "Divide the Spoiled: A Republican defeat is the best hope for limited government", ReasonOnline, 2006-11-01

Posted by Nicholas at 09:37 AM | Comments (0)

November 02, 2006

First Snow Flurry

As I took Xander out for his afternoon walk, we were treated to the first snow flurry of the season:


He's been enjoying chasing all the fallen leaves, but the snowflakes had him a bit confused for a while.


He was throwing himself into the air, trying to bite the blowing snowflakes, but this meant I had a heck of a time trying to get a photo of him. This is about the best I could manage:


Posted by Nicholas at 04:40 PM | Comments (3)

November 01, 2006

QotD: Vulgarity

Vulgarity, I suppose, has its uses. A strong tradition of satire and mockery of the rich, famous and powerful can and does act as a check on the over-mighty. A certain level of vulgarity is probably rather healthy. But my goodness, would it not be refreshing, just for once, if the supposed public merrymakers focused more of their aim on our corrupt and power-mad political elite, and rather less on people who, for all their supposed failings, are not really very important? But perhaps to state the question is to know the answer. Taking the piss out of religious fundamentalists, crooks or tyrants is quite dangerous to the would-be piss-taker. (Just ask Theo Van Gogh). Much easier to have a go at a pop star instead.

Johnathan Pearce, "Making fun of amputees is not terribly funny", Samizdata, 2006-10-31

Posted by Nicholas at 01:04 AM | Comments (0)

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