Topping the charts is Theodore Dreiser's The Financier, which I've read and enjoyed (what's not to like about a book that spends what seems to be a 1,000 pages describing a battle to the death between a lobster and a squid and then following up with a plot about mass transit scams in turn of the century Philadelphia?). However, why it's at the head of a list of books supposedly chosen first and foremost for "literary merit" is a real brain buster. I have no interest in arguing whether someone is a "great" stylist (such aesthetic distinctions are by turns vapid and masks for other agendas, methinks), but really. Dreiser not only writes like English is his third language, he makes the reader feel that way, too.
Nick Gillespie, "The 10 Best Business Novels. Or Not.", Reason, 2007-01-25
Photo contributed by Jon, who writes:
What were they thinking at Microsoft? I saw this and the first thing that came to mind was:
Microsoft Vista: Leaves you hanging by your nads.
I showed the photo to our marketing person, and she came up with:
Windows leaves you hanging
-- and --
Microsoft has you by the balls
(Look closely at the photo for the . . . umm . . . attachment point).
Just thought I'd share.
My favourite, though, are the posts where everyone speculates on the motives of the other side. You see, pro-lifers don't care about babies at all, because that would make their points something you might have to listen to and we can't have that, can we? So what they obviously really care about is screwing up women's lives so that they'll have to spend the rest of them barefoot and pregnant and in the kitchen making lemonade for Pa and his friends when they come in from a hard day of plowing and oppressing colored people. And pro-choicers don't actually care about women; all they're really interested is enforcing a radical feminist agenda on the rest of us so girls won't be able to wear dresses and lipstick any more and boys will have to have their genitalia surgically removed at puberty and replaced with a copy of The Feminine Mystique. Also, while we can't be totally sure, it's reasonable to assume that many of them enjoy baby-killing, and would sacrifice live infants if not restrained by the hard work of good, Christian folk.
Jane Galt, "It's all about me!", Asymmetrical Information, 2007-01-23
Do not be fooled by recent television commercials depicting comely young hetero chaps guzzling that horrendous, barely alcoholic, sweet, creamy, Celtic muck known as Baileys (girl's drink). See this for what it is — a shameless attempt to broaden the demographic that consumes Baileys (girl's drink). It will not work. I do not care how many advertisements are broadcast showing Baileys (girl's drink)-clutching studly guys and their mates in bars catching the eyes of implausibly hot women. Baileys (girl's drink) is a girl's drink, and no amount of telemarketing sophistry can alter that fact.
James Waterton, "False Advertising", Samizdata, 2007-01-24
Mrs Thatcher's reign in particular is looking more and more like a magnificent interruption in Britain's bizarre remorseless self-dissolution: whether or not the British people were worthy of her efforts, her own wretched party certainly wasn't. The Conservatives' current leader, whose name escapes me, is a philosophically unmoored squish of almost parodic modishness who demonstrates political "courage" by boasting about how much of Thatcherism's core values he's willing to toss overboard.
Mark Steyn, "The Nightmare Years", Macleans, 2007-01-29
For millennia the question of free will was the province of philosophers and theologians, but it actually turns on how the brain works. Only in the past decade and a half, however, has it been possible to watch the living human brain in action in a way that begins to show in detail what happens while it is happening. This ability is doing more than merely adding to science's knowledge of the brain's mechanism. It is also emphasising to a wider public that the brain really is just a mechanism, rather than a magician's box that is somehow outside the normal laws of cause and effect.
Science is not yet threatening free will's existence: for the moment there seems little prospect of anybody being able to answer definitively the question of whether it really exists or not. But science will shrink the space in which free will can operate by slowly exposing the mechanism of decision making.
At that point, the old French proverb "to understand all is to forgive all" will start to have a new resonance, though forgiveness may not always be the consequence. Indeed, that may already be happening. At the moment, the criminal law — in the West, at least — is based on the idea that the criminal exercised a choice: no choice, no criminal.
"Free to choose?", The Economist, 2006-12-19
As a follow-up to the recent Macleans cover story "Why are we dressing our daughters like this?", you can get your very own kiddy stripper pole from British retailer Tesco. After all, they wouldn't carry it if there wasn't a demand for it, right?
H/T to "Da Wife" for the Tesco link, who also pointed out "there were more inapropriate kids toys following this one. Just press next.".
Update: Here's more on the Tesco product line from the Daily Mail:
Tesco today agreed to remove the product from the Toy section of the site, but said it will remain on sale as a Fitness Accessory, despite the fact that the product description invites users to "unleash the sex kitten inside".
Also on sale on the Tesco website is a strip poker game, "Peekaboo Poker" which is illustrated by a picture of a reclining woman in underwear.
The card game is is described as a game that "risks the risque and brings a whole lot of naughtiness to the table.
"Played with a unique pack of Peekaboo Boy and Girl playing cards, the aim of the game is to win as many Peekaboo chips as possible and turn them into outrageously naughty fun."
The pole dance kit is the latest item to fuel allegations that major retailers increasingly sell products which "sexualise" young children such as T-shirts with suggestive messages.
In recent years Asda was forced to remove from sale pink and black lace lingerie, including a push-up bra to girls as young as nine.
Note to Canadians: Everyone does not love Canada. Following Belgium, Canada is considered to be the most boring country on Earth** and, if it is thought of at all, it is as the uptight, underachieving and humourless*** version of the United States.**** Is any of this particularly fair? You be the judge. Though I have noticed nothing tends to bring out the scratch-the-surface jingoism of Canadians more than pointing out this sort of thing.
** Excepting Montreal.
*** Outraged list of famous Canadian comedians arriving in 4... 3... 2... Yes, there are some witty Canadians; they live and work in the United States. The rest of Canada's limited comedic output works on Air Farce, a show so ham-fisted and lame it makes Egyptian soap-opera look like Shakespeare. Rick Mercer is the exception that proves the rule, btw, so don't even go there.
**** Canadians like to point to our largely mythical role as peacekeepers. I have rarely encountered a better example of what Antonio Gramsci described as hegemonic ideology; a myth propagated in the interests of an established elite at complete variance with material fact.
[Ghost of a Flea], "Angeline Jolie is afraid of Americans", Ghost of a Flea, 2007-01-23
Jane Galt has some interesting things to say about the Victorian intersection of economics, innovation, and (of all things) woodworking:
Now, I come from a family with a fairish amount of Victorian detritus floating around, and I know how the machine age resulted in the invention of a whole lot of barely marginally useful crap, just because there were a lot of newly rich people and middle class people around, and a lot of new machines that could mass produce stuff for the newly rich people. One of the reasons that there is so much hideoeusly ornate late Victorian furniture is that the Victorians invented wood-turning machines, and started putting decorative spindles on everything.
And, perhaps more interesting for many people, dining etiquette:
The Victorians liked to show off their new wealth with massive dinner parties, one of the objects of which was to show just how much silver you had. There was a fork, knife, or spoon for everything, and special tongs for asparagus besides. Many of these things were at best marginally more useful than an ordinary fork, knife or spoon, and some of them were actively less useful. Useless silver was their version of the Quesadilla maker or the $5,000 coffee machine.
[. . .] (Incidentally, the cultural horror of using the wrong fork is completely ridiculous. The Victorians made it dead easy: start outward and work in, unless a specialty item like a lobster pick is served with the course. Anything located at 12 o'clock is for dessert. If you get the wrong fork under this system, they have set the table wrong, entitling you to sneer.)
This is still one of the bigger differences between British restaurants and North American ones: silverware. (I can't speak for Continental restaurants, as I've never been across the Channel . . .). In a British restaurant of any standing, you get sufficient cutlery to handle the food you've ordered without having to use your dinner knife as a butter knife and a first-, second-, and even third-course utensil. Lately, I've noticed improvement in this, but it's still common in North American middle-class eating establishments to be expected to use the same knife and fork through several dishes. Not that I dine in fancy places that often, I assure you.
Some of the Victorian extravagance on silverware can be usefully carried on into the next century . . . but over half of the "innovations" belong only in museums, not in the dining room.
Sheila Copps reminisces about the need to work with French officials who didn't bother to try to hide their support for Quebec separatism:
At one point, I hosted a dinner at the Canadian embassy in Paris for then-French minister Catherine Trautmann. Trautmann was planning an international meeting to which she intended to separately invite the PQ minister. When the subject came up, I politely informed her as a sovereign country, Canada would determine the composition of our delegation. At the time, political upheaval in Corsica had just led to a couple of arrests, and I pointed out that if she felt compelled to issue a separate invitation to the Parti Quebecois, I would have to invite a separate Corsican delegation to our next international rendezvous.
Trautmann literally choked on her dinner. She claimed there was absolutely no legitimate comparison between the state of Corsica in France and Quebec in Canada. She further pointed out that France does not permit separation since the country was deemed indivisible during the French Revolution. Voila. End of story.
H/T to Colby Cosh, who admits that he "must have agreed to do something humiliating or biologically impossible on the day Sheila Copps actually wrote an interesting newspaper column". He'd appreciate it if nobody troubles themselves to remind him . . . because it just happened.
[Of the Golden Globes awards]: At least in this awards show, there were no big dance numbers or skits. However, there was still a nauseating amount of self-congratulation and back slapping. The worst part: when someone winning an award has to look down to Jack Nicholson and gesture to him like he's some kind of royalty. And he just leans back, grinning, like a porn-fed toad. Viagra will do that to you.
Greg Gutfeld, "Some more crap about the Golden Globes", The Daily Gut, 2007-01-17
Jon sent along a couple of photos as possible blog-fodder:
"[. . .] a tree decorated for the holidays. The tree is on Old Yonge Street in Holland Landing, just north of Newmarket. It's been like this since at least the beginning of December. Every time I passed it I meant to snag a photo — finally got around to it a few days ago."
"[. . .] a restaurant in the soon-to-be-demolished Terminal 2 at Pearson. I had breakfast there last week. Why is it that ferry terminals never have airport-themed concessions?"
Further to today's QotD, there's this report from The Register:
High definition video can reveal more than was intended, as the porn industry, in its rush to embrace the new technology, is finding out.
Sets and scenery for shows made in HD need a much higher level of finish, but in most cases the actors' bodies are sufficiently covered for imperfections not to matter. Not so in the porn industry, where some "stars" are having to go to new lengths to deal with the imperfections highlighted by the new formats
[. . .] HD-DVD is the format that the porn industry is going to embrace. Even the creation of the hybrid players isn't as significant as this development, because any time there's been a format war before now, it was the format used by the porn industry that emerged as the victor.
It's particularly bizarre if the second story is true and Blu-Ray actively chose not to be involved with the porn industry. That's commercial suicide, and it's going to come back to haunt whoever made that decision.
Of course, all of this avoids the elephant in the room, which is that HD porn is a scary prospect on many levels. I'm not sure I'd want to see someone like Ron Jeremy in high definition. There are, after all, things you can't unsee.
"Moriarty", "Moriarty’s DVD Blog! Is The Format War Over?!", Ain't It Cool News, 2007-01-11
A sad example of unexpected consequences at the intersection of tattoo artistry and soccer fan rivalry:
A young Argentinian footie fan who decided to celebrate his love for Boca Juniors by having the team's logo tattooed on his back paid the price for not adequately researching the body artist's own allegiances.
The tattooist was, unknown to the unnamed teen, a follower of rival club River Plate, and accordingly substituted a penis for the Boca Juniors' crest.
Jon sent me a link to a new item in the Lee Valley Tools online woodworking catalogue: a chainmail glove for woodcarvers. He titled the email "SCA masturbation accessory".
. . . some stinkin' badges:
H/T to Richard Zellich.
Though I am greatly sympathetic to the libertarian cause, I can't allow any group or movement to control my intellect (such as it is), my free will, or my family's checkbook. Or my ass-crack, for that matter.
This blog is mostly about not letting other people decide for you, about extending a bit fat middle finger to the meddlers and the smug-faced moralists and the self-professed paragons of virtue.
Rogier van Bakel, "May Libertarians Drive SUVs?", Nobody's Business, 2007-01-11
"Finnish artists Tellervo Kalleinen and Oliver Kochta-Kalleinen collected the pet peeves and angst-ridden pleas of people in Helsinki and then composed this choral work around the list of complaints. Music composed by Esko Grundström."
H/T to Jerrie Adkins.
Just because it's amazing on the commercial doesn't mean it's amazing in real life
Natalie "Gnat" Lileks, as quoted by James Lileks in "Amazing commercial, not-so-amazing real life: I'll hire the guys who hyped those useless Blo-Pens!", Star Tribune, 2007-01-12
Both of my soccer teams did well . . . Middlesbrough put a severe beating on Bolton, while Victor's indoor team had an uncharacteristic easy win 8-2.
Victor's anti-virus subscription appears to have expired some time in the last month. He didn't get any pop-ups from Norton informing him of the fact until today, when it told him that he had to uninstall and re-install because of a critical error in the Norton engine. After doing that, it finally got around to mentioning that he needed to re-subscribe in order to re-install.
Okay, that was pretty sleazy, but sure. I dug up my "online use only" credit card and we started navigating the Symantec website to get him re-subscribed. To no surprise at all, just like every previous year, the route to paying for the download is very straightforward and direct. You provide the basic info, select the download you want, provide your credit card number, and badda-bing, you're done.
And just like every other year, when it comes to actually receiving the product you've just paid for . . . it gets extra difficult.
We've paid, the invoice number is provided, along with a "Download Now" button. Simple. Just copy the access key to a separate file, then click the download button. Except that when you click the download button, it invites you to download a file called "pixel.GIF", of 1 byte in size.
Call me suspicious, but I don't think this is the file I just paid to download.
Click the button again, same result. Try downloading, and the browser goes off into a reverie, but never actually downloads anything useful. Try a different browser . . . same result.
Try finding a way to talk to a real human being . . . you might as well be searching for Amelia Earhart. They've invested huge amounts of time and money to prevent you ever finding a contact email or telephone number that might possibly lead to a real person. A few years ago, I had to actually get a friend who had high-level contacts at the firm to prize out a contact email for me to get the damned program to download.
After half an hour of wasted time, we cancelled the order and Victor downloaded Macafee instead. It took less than five minutes from deciding to switch Anti-virus vendors to having the Macafee software installed and running on his machine.
I'm thinking that I'll do the same for my own machine, when my subscription expires in the next month or so (assuming that Norton tells me in advance, that is).
Symantec may have a good software package to sell, but when I encounter difficulties every year when I try to renew my license, I have to assume that they don't really want my business. Macafee clearly does.
Ossified societies guard positional goods more, not less, jealously. A flourishing economy, on the other hand, creates what biologists call "a tangled bank" of niches, with no clear hierarchy between them. Tyler Cowen, of George Mason University, points out that America has more than 3,000 halls of fame, honouring everyone from rock stars and sportsmen to dog mushers, pickle-packers and accountants. In such a society, everyone can hope to come top of his particular monkey troop, even as the people he looks down on count themselves top of a subtly different troop.
To find the market system wanting because it does not bring joy as well as growth is to place too heavy a burden on it. Capitalism can make you well off. And it also leaves you free to be as unhappy as you choose. To ask any more of it would be asking too much.
Lois McMaster Bujold sent this link to her mailing list: Strange statues around the world:
It is not merely that inflation breeds dishonesty in a nation. Inflation is itself a dishonest act on the part of government, and sets the example for private citizens. When modern governments inflate by increasing the paper-money supply, directly or indirectly, they do in principle what kings once did when they clipped coins. Diluting the money supply with paper is the moral equivalent of diluting the milk supply with water. Notwithstanding all the pious pretenses of governments that inflation is some evil visitation from without, inflation is practically always the result of deliberate governmental policy.
Henry Hazlitt, The Inflation Crisis and How To Resolve It, 1978.
The current version of The Economist has an article on Stephen Harper's minority government:
In freakishly warm weather, Stephen Harper met the press earlier this month in the snow-free gardens of his official residence to discuss his new-found commitment to the environment. He candidly admitted that his Conservative minority government had let the public down when it presented a climate-change plan whose main targets were set 50 years in the future, and vowed to do better. He promptly named a new environment minister with a reputation as a political pitbull.
A different politician might have chosen a different backdrop for this confession of failure. But as Canadians have learned from watching Mr Harper over the past year, their young prime minister is not a man to dodge realities, however unpleasant. On issues ranging from revisiting same-sex marriage to ending favourable tax treatment for business entities known as income trusts he has followed his instincts rather than the opinion polls.
It has worked. Instead of falling within months, as Canada's liberal punditocracy had predicted, Mr Harper has become an increasingly assured performer. The talk in Ottawa now is that, despite commanding just 125 of the 308 seats in the House of Commons, his government may even manage to carry on until 2008.
The article isn't totally a tongue-bath for Mr. Harper, although it's rather odd to read this sort of thing here. The Economist, like so many other British publications, has been moving away from traditional free market policies (most of the others weren't all that much in favour of free markets to start with, but they've gotten worse lately), so it's almost a surprise to see positive comments about the current prime minister from that side of the pond.
One of the things I didn't expect, when I started getting more interested in wine, was that it would end up ruining some restaurant experiences for me. I've been paying closer attention to the wine business for the past couple of years, with the result that I'm now much more likely to find something acceptable on a wine list or visiting the LCBO or a liquor store when I'm away from home. This is a good thing.
Most of my wine-buying has been down in the wine equivalent of the penny stock market: I still consider anything over $20 to be "expensive". Given that I like to have a glass of wine with dinner most evenings, I'd have to have a much bigger income to support a wine-drinking habit of $500 a month or more . . .
The bad part of accumulating this knowledge is when we go out for dinner. I often know, almost to the penny, just how much a particular bottle of wine cost the restaurant to buy and therefore just how scandalous the mark-up on that bottle is. In short, expect a moderately priced bottle of wine — domestic or imported — to cost at least twice what you'd pay for it retail. Much more than that, and the restaurant is ripping you off. When you see an $18 bottle of wine billed at $50 or more in the restaurant, it's time to find a different place to eat. In general, the cheaper the wine at retail, the more likely you are to find a 250% markup (or more). A more expensive bottle may actually carry a lower markup.
We were in a new restaurant a few weeks back, and not only did I know every wine on the wine list (okay, to be fair, it wasn't a huge list . . . about 20 wines in total), I also knew the current retail prices on them all at the LCBO. Once, I'd have thought this was a good thing . . . except that I found myself feeling oddly resentful at paying the markup for a wine list that pretty clearly was assembled by someone driving down the street to the local LCBO outlet and filling a shopping cart with vin extremely ordinaire. Don't get me wrong: they weren't bad wines, but they were not the sort of thing I'd expected to find in a place that advertised itself as a "bistro". At least, if they had them, they'd be supplemented by a selection of more exotic or unusual bottles.
Part of the attraction of going to a wine bar rather than an ordinary restaurant is the chance to taste uncommon wines . . . the downside to that is that you rarely have an idea what the retail cost of those unfamiliar wines might be, so you're running the risk of over-paying for what you select.
On the general topic of wines, here were the wine books I've read over the past few weeks:
Of the four, I'd rate Billy Munnelly's book the most valuable for beginning wine fans: it's tailored to folks who'd like to know more about the wines that are available in Canada (BC and Ontario in particular), what to expect from them, and (perhaps most importantly) when to serve them. I have a few quibbles with his selections . . . his local winery choices aren't what I'd have recommended in some cases . . . but over all, it's a bargain for anyone who doesn't already have a multi-thousand bottle cellar and specialist wine importers on your speed dial.
Jennifer Rosen is probably the funniest writer in the wine trade. "Irreverant" doesn't even come close to it. I think she's the only writer who should be required to put a "Danger: Laugh out loud humour within. Approach with caution" sticker on her books.
Jay McInerney is far better known for his novels, but I've only read his wine writing. His style is less belly-laugh funny than Jennifer Rosen's, but he does have a deft touch with wine humour . . . I've quoted him more than once on the blog. This book, along with the first collection of his wine writing, Bacchus & Me, is more for the person who's already interested in wine and wants more background on the people than on the brix measurement or the vintage chart.
Natalie MacLean's book is based on her free wine newsletter, Nat Decants, and most of the material in the book is expanded from articles that have already appeared in the newsletter. Not that this should discourage you from buying the book: it's still a very good read.
Another reader-contributed link (this from "Da Wife" . . . not my wife, just in case anyone is confused): an extreme case of moving:
Moving one household is a complicated ordeal that can take thousands of dollars and many weeks to organize. Try moving half a town.
The Arctic town of Kiruna, Sweden's northernmost municipality, is under threat as cracks caused by decades of iron ore mining slowly erode its foundations.
So two years ago the municipal council decided to move more than half of the town from the shadow of Kiirunavaara mountain, site of the world's largest underground mine.
This month it chose the new site for Kiruna's centre, at the base of Luossavaara mountain, about 4 km (2.5 miles) away.
The town's deputy mayor puts the cost of moving the buildings at about 30 billion Swedish crowns ($4.28 billion), not including rerouting the railway and roads.
The "good" news is that they're not having to do this overnight: the municipal government expects the move to take 40 to 50 years to complete.
Age is not measured by years. Nature does not equally distribute energy. Some people are born old and tired while others are going strong at seventy.
Jon sent me a heads-up that local fast food delivery joint Pizza Pizza now has a wine matching brochure:
Click the image to see the original on the Pizza Pizza site. It's actually not too bad a set of wine choices, although you'd think they'd have managed to select something other than just French wines to match Italian-ish food. Perhaps a few local wines?
They didn't . . . and the reason is clear if you scroll to the bottom of that page. It's sponsored by someone like the "Wines of Bordeaux" (I'm not certain, as that image isn't linked to a website and the image name isn't conclusive. A quick Google search points to this site.)
Also, on a slightly different topic, Michael Pinkus has the latest OntarioWineReview newsletter online. This issue includes a visit to a new winery in the Lake Erie North Shore region: Muscedere Vineyards.
One of my favourite local wineries has a few new wines being released this week:
2004 CHARONNAY - $22
One half of this lightly-oaked Chardonnay was fermented in new French, American and Hungarian oak barrels and then blended with unoaked Chardonnay. Tropical and citrus flavours along with caramel and toffee, finish with a hint of toast. This full bodied Chardonnay will compliment creamy pasta, vanilla bean risotto, rich poultry dishes, and aged cheddars.
2003 MERITAGE - $35
Dark and concentrated with ripe and rich tannins. A youthful nose of chocolate, coffee and spicy toasted oak. Dense mocha, currant and blackberry-laced flavours tease the palate finishing with a touch of cedar box. A blend of Merlot (50 %) and Cabernet Franc (25%) with Cabernet Sauvignon (25%).
I probably won't have a chance to sample these for a few weeks yet, but Kacaba rarely disappoints. Unfortunately, my budget doesn't stretch to having $35 bottles of wine on a daily basis, but I'd be willing to give it a shot.
I'd like to extend a welcome to OfficiallyScrewed, the latest blog to join the Red Ensign Brigade.
A.A. takes individual human strengths and [attributes] the strength to quit to something else. It's this collectivist thing. It's God. It's your "higher power".
Penn Jillette, interviewed by Nick Gillespie in "Love and Memory and Humanity", Reason 2004-12
Burgundy is a wine for chronic romantics — those for whom hope perenially triumphs over experience. If you are a sensible person with a family, a full-time job, and a sound belief in cause and effect, you might want to avoid the Côte d'Or. Once you've experienced the transport of a great bottle of Burgundy, you may end your days broke, drooling on Burgundy Wine Company catalogs, offering sexual favours to sommeliers — all in the vain hope of re-creating that rapture.
Jay McInerney, "Baby Jesus in Velvet Pants", A Hedonist in the Cellar, 2006
The explosion in conspiracy-theory thinking, in books and movies supposing there are secret agencies and master plans controlling our lives, spills over into sports in the sense that we want to believe Team A didn't win mainly because it's better than Team B, it won because someone was in control of the entire event. That someone has to be the coach. The phrase "everything happens for a reason" has taken on resonance in popular culture, and not only in religious circles. We don't want to believe luck and coincidence are major factors in our lives. We want to believe someone is in control.
Gregg Easterbrook, "Stop Obsessing Over Coaches!", Page 2: Tuesday Morning Quarterback, 2007-01-09
"The aroma is laden with red currant, plum, chocolate and sweet herbaceous mint character with spicy biscuity oak to compliment the lifted perfume"And that's just the beef. Wait until you taste the wine.
I just got back online, after a few days (literally) offline in Boston. The trackback spammers had a little celebration while I was away:
All of those entries in the Inbox and the Spam folder are comment spam and trackback spam notifications — the vast majority of 'em are trackbacks. The MovableType UI, at least in the version I'm currently using, doesn't give me an easy way to verify which trackback pings are from legitimate blogs and which ones are from scumbag spammers, so I've turned off the trackback permission for new postings going forward. When you have about a 400:1 ratio of spam to legitimate pings, it's time to close down that attack method altogether.
Have you ever heard that the proverb that a columnist's job is to "afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted"? It sounds awfully nice, but in practice it translates to "embarrass your enemies and suck up to your friends," leaving no hope of persuasion by means of logic. The majority of my fellow-toilers, I'm afraid, follow this directive all too enthusiastically. Maybe we change people's minds so rarely because we don't even try.
Colby Cosh, "Odds and Sods, ColbyCosh.com, 2006-12-22
Yes, I've filed this under "Liberty." What would you file it under?Hat-tip to the most underrated liberty blog out there.
Da Wife and Kids made a small batch of this stuff yesterday. I thought they had just made a big mess in the kitchen, but then I started playing with the stuff. It's pretty cool: a liquid most of the time, but compress it or shock it in any way, and it acts like a solid. Very cool.
And who would guess that something as simple as corn starch and water would have a cool name* like "Non-Newtonian fluid?"
Here the hosts of a Spanish science show demonstrate its properties:
Getting back to the title of this post, I can think of other ways to use a wading pool full of this stuff.
Hmmmm... n o n - N e w t o n i a n f l u i d . . .
* I do not consider the popular name to be cool. Not even a little bit.
The Defense Department is warning its American contractor employees about a new espionage threat seemingly straight from Hollywood: It discovered Canadian coins with tiny radio frequency transmitters hidden inside. In a U.S. government report, it said the mysterious coins were found planted on U.S. contractors with classified security clearances on at least three separate occasions between October 2005 and January 2006 as the contractors traveled through Canada.Now, who would be going to all that trouble?
Top suspects, according to intelligence and technology experts: China, Russia or even France — all said to actively run espionage operations inside Canada with enough sophistication to produce such technology.Think about that the next time the dimwit at Timmies gives you too much change and you think you've scored a quick loonie or toonie. You've probably just been tagged.
Update: Or maybe not.
A report that some Canadian coins have been compromised by spies secretly embedding transmitters in them is wrong, a U.S. official said yesterday. A report from a Pentagon agency made headlines this week because it stated Canadian coins found in the possession of U.S. defence contractors had been tampered with. While some special-issue Canadian coins briefly triggered suspicions in the United States, the U.S. official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the fears were groundless. "We have no evidence to indicate anything connected with these coins poses a risk or danger," the official said.
The big media companies shouldn't worry that people will post their copyrighted material on YouTube. They should worry that people will post their own stuff on YouTube, and audiences will watch that instead.
Paul Graham, "The Power of the Marginal", www.paulgraham.com, 2006-06
I'll be out of town for a few days, with (at best) spotty access to the net, so I've asked Jon (aka "my virtual landlord") to guest-blog for me while I'm away. He's threatened to do an "all kittens, all the time" theme, but in spite of that I gave him the keys to the blog . . .
I hope it's still here when I get back!
I should probably also mention that it's Jon's fault that I'm blogging today, and it's indirectly his fault that the blog has an unpronounceable name: he started blogging at Blogulaciousness, and invited me to start my own blog at his site — since he already had the software installed on his server. I chose the name of this blog (assuming that only three other people in the world would ever actually read it) as a play on the name of his blog.
See? It's his fault, okay?
Brian Reid sent me a link to some cartoon wine labels. It's a significantly different approach to presenting the wine, but I'd have to say that the cartooning style doesn't do a lot for me.
But what do I know? I generally avoid new wines with cutesy animals on the labels, so I'm hardly Mr. Mainstream Wine Drinker, am I?
Following up from my earlier posting. The technician at Toyota took an hour this morning, spraying and digging mud out of the engine compartment before he could diagnose the problem. In brief, a mangled radiator. Not leaking, just a bit . . . um . . . resculpted. They're ordering in the new rad for me, so I need to go back to the dealership tomorrow morning to have it installed. Could have been much worse, I suppose.
Update: In the cold light of day, the damage didn't look too bad (from the outside, anyway):
On the way home from Victor's indoor soccer game tonight (a 6-6 tie, with the other team recovering from a 5-3 halftime deficit), we found ourselves taking an unexpected detour. It had been snowing earlier in the day, so the roads were a bit greasy on the way down into Whitby, but otherwise no problem. The drive home was a bit more fraught.
Coming north, just about where the 407 is eventually going to come through our area, we hit some black ice and had an unscheduled off-road experience. The traffic was light, thank goodness, so even though the road went to the left, I continued in a rough straight line through the [empty of opposing traffic] oncoming lane and then across the gravel, down into a ditch, up the other side of the ditch, and then about 20 metres into a field.
I have to admit, in the past I've sometimes wondered just how people got themselves into odd situations like this. I usually assume that they were travelling too fast, or not paying attention to road conditions, or just plain careless. In my case, I was well under the speed limit, paying what appeared to be careful attention to the condition of the road, and still ended up sitting in a snowy field looking stupid. I could easily have made the situation worse . . . by trying to brake or trying to steer in the direction the road was curving, for example . . . but there's a certain peaceful feeling once the situation has gone fully pear-shaped and all you can do is mitigate the consequences as they come along. I don't recommend this as an experiment, however.
Victor and I were both fine . . . seatbelts fastened and not enough impact to deploy the airbags, and from what I could see in the flashlight beam, the Quotemobile had only suffered minor damage. I had been planning to go in to the dealership tomorrow for an oil change, so I'll have them look to see if there's more significant (that is, more expensive) damage that isn't immediately visible.
Getting out of the field was a bit more effort than getting into it. I had to drop into four-wheel drive and find a more solid portion of the ditch to cross to get back to the road. I don't think I'd have managed without the 4WD. Having accomplished that, and resuming our interrupted journey, we found that we were far from the only folks to have left the road . . . we'd just been the most southerly. There were three or four vehicles abandoned in the ditch or through the ditch and into the Hydro field beyond, plus plenty of dramatic skidmarks in the road to show that several others had nearly had the same experience, too.
When you make the paper, you're city-wide, all day long. TV is nice, but TV is a running stream, and the moment it's done with you something else fills your place. When you finish reading a newspaper story about someone you know, the story's still there, right in your hands; you can fold it up and put it away, you can read it again, you can pass it to someone else, and all day when you pass the newspaper boxes or see the paper in the stores, you know the story's there. It has presence. It's a persistent, physical medium, and has no peers. Those who cheer its demise — as opposed to its rehabilitation — are shortsighted, to say the least. Towns need papers. I don't mean to prop up a strawman; most critics of the papers don't want them to vanish, and if newspapers do die it'll be suicide, not murder. But much of the criticism boils down to "JUMP!" in tenor and intent.
James Lileks, The Bleat, 2007-01-08
Roger Henry sent this message to one of my various mailing lists, and I found it well worth
The long awaited Taiwan bullet train looks set to actually carry passengers this year. Plagued with cost overruns — surprise, surprise — technical glitches and a couple of derailments! The operators have now discovered that the public has little faith in the train's ability to run on time and stay on the line. See http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/afp_world_business/view/176135/1/.html or Google around on Taiwan bullet train.
Another train related news item advised of a Portuguese woman who gave birth to a girl while traveling on one of the country's trains. The rail operator has rewarded the mum, and the bub, with a lifetime free pass. Presumably because she didn't blab that the child was also conceived on the same journey.
This made me wonder what the reaction would be in other jurisdictions to a woman giving birth on a train.
London Transport would almost certainly prosecute for attempted fare evasion (That's if the Metropolitan police didn't shoot them both, just in case)
The NY Subway would . . . what? Congratulate her for not getting mugged in the process?
Washington Metro . . . Security staff would simply watch and observe, unless the mother put the baby on her breast then they would both be arrested for consuming "food" on a train.
Tokyo subways . . . Probably halt the train and make the mother reimburse the operator for cleaning costs, lost revenue and insist on a groveling, public apology. (You should see what they do to the TV weather announcers who get it "wrong").
Sydney suburban network . . . Train would be halted (for the tenth time on a four station trip). An ambulance would be called but would be directed to the wrong station. Mother and child would be separated and transported to different hospitals. TV stations would "sort" out the mess and woman (and child) would make a motzah out of teary, TV, appearances. Five different fathers would be located. Finally the poor woman would have to submit to having a P*L*T*C*AN fawn all over her and the child. He would not be able to pronounce her name.
How would it work out on your subway?
Dixon was alive again. Consciousness was upon him before he could get out of the way; not for him the slow, gracious wandering from the halls of sleep, but a summary, forcible ejection. He lay sprawled, too wicked to move, spewed up like a broken spider-crab on the tarry shingle of the morning. The light did him harm, but not as much as looking at things did; he resolved, having done it once, never to move his eyeballs again. A dusty thudding in his head made the scene before him beat like a pulse. His mouth had been used as a latrine by some small creature of the night, and then as its mausoleum. During the night, too, he'd somehow been on a cross-country run and then been expertly beaten up by secret police. He felt bad.
Kingsley Amis, Lucky Jim.
Marketers give tests, conduct surveys, consult oracles, etc., and constantly rediscover a simple fact: people read fiction that reinforces their often inarticulate beliefs about society, life, and fate.
People who believe that life's problems can be solved through intelligence and effort are often attracted to crime fiction, which centers around the logical solution of various problems. People who believe along with Shakespeare that there are more things on heaven and earth than we dream, are attracted to science fiction of various kinds.
People who believe that a good relationship between a man and a woman can be the core of life are attracted to romances.
People who believe that absolute evil lurks just beneath the surface of the ordinary are attracted to horror. And so on.
Think about that the next time you hear someone dismiss what they (or usually other folks!) read as "escapism." Existentialists escape into their fictional world. We escape into ours. The fact that our world feels good and theirs feels bad doesn't mean theirs is always more valuable, much less more intelligent: I have known many intelligent people who need to be reminded of the possibility of joy; I have known no intelligent people who need to be reminded of the reality of despair.
Some things are worth escaping from. Despair is definitely one of them.
Ann Maxwell/Elizabeth Lowell, "Why We Read It, Why We Write It", ElizabethLowell.com
Personally, my home is practically a cave. I have to burn lights even in the day, because I'm in a first floor apartment shaded by tall buildings. I'm also really cheap, and a fairly committed green. So if you can't get me to use the things [compact fluorescent bulbs], you know there's a big problem. And that problem is not, as the article suggests, that light-bulb companies are resisting producing enough of them, that consumers are uneducated, that they are not displayed in the stores correctly, or that the bulbs are a funny shape. The problem is that after five minutes of sitting under a compact flourescent bulb, I feel like an extra in a Fellini film. I use one in the range hood, and if I had closet lights, I'd install them there. But there's no way I'm using them as my primary form of illumination unless legally forced to do so; it's just too murderously depressing. Which is what every single other person who writes about the things says. I can only assume that the New York Times author has never tried the product, or is out too much to actually notice what the lights look like, or lives in some kind of penal institution where such lighting looks natural.
Jane Galt, "Let there be (compact flourescent) light", Asymmetrical Information, 2007-01-02
Blue Origin had a successful test launch and landing of their VTOL sub-orbital prototype on November 13 (reported on their website by Jeff Bezos). It's an odd looking craft:
Photo from the Blue Origin website
The video shows the craft taking off and landing again (after reaching a height of 285 feet), but it just looks wrong. Of course, after all the footage of traditional rockets and the shuttle, anything a bit unusual is going to look weird.
It's almost like this Wicca shit doesn't even work. I've spent so much money on goddamned candles and incense and all other kind of whatnot. The worst was the dagger and silver plates, not cheap. Not to mention the cuts and other injuries sustained from sacrificing cats and shit. I just don't undertand, I got all the instructions from one of those girls who dyes her hair black and listens to metal. I mean, she would know right?
The prestige of soldiering in the United States is being annihilated by American virtues: high social mobility, low unemployment and infinite possibilities for the young. Because of the same virtues, hundreds risk their lives every day just to physically enter the bounds of the U.S. If they were asked to face similar hazards on behalf of the American cause, in exchange for English-language instruction and access to genuine American citizenship, the queue would girdle the globe.
Some find the idea of recruiting "American" soldiers in Mexico or India distasteful. The concept has already inspired talk of "blood money" and "coercion" of the world's poor. And foreign military recruitment is dangerous to national security in the long run, as the Romans (and the French) discovered. But for the U.S., there is no other way out of the immediate dilemma. Sooner or later, under one name or another, there will be an American Foreign Legion.
Colby Cosh, "Does America need a Foreign Legion?", National Post, 2006-12-29
The first 2007 edition of the OntarioWineReview is now available. In this issue, Michael has a good rant about the abomination that is wine in Tetra-Pak containers:
Just like Peter Finch in the movie Network, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not gonna take it anymore". The LCBO seems to be forcing its will on the people and in typical Canadian-sheep-like fashion we are going to put up with it . . . again. Well it's time to take a stand. What am I so hopping mad about? Tetra-Paks, and the more I learn, the more incensed I get, and I'm thinking you should be too. Sure Tetra-Paks have their place in society for juice boxes, soups and soy milk — but keep your cotton-pickin' Tetra-Paks off of my wine. You've probably noticed that the LCBO is shifting into high gear promoting this "alternative packaging" as the great saviour in wine packaging — lighter, more versatile, more consumer friendly, and recyclable.
[. . .] Terence Corcoran tells us in his article "Monopoly Wine to Come in a Box" dated December 9th, 2006 in the National Post. "The idea that this is a waste-reduction plan is a trick concept. Glass is heavier than Tetra Pak, so replacing one with the other will reduce waste by weight. But glass, properly sorted and processed, is recyclable. Tetra Pak is not." That's because of Tetra-Pak's make up which is 75% paperboard, 20% food grade polyethylene plastic and 5% aluminum — which makes it light and unbreakable, but for recycling purposes it's a cost nightmare to separate out the materials. Even the new recycling program announced in September and touted by the Premier of the province as dragging Ontario "out of the dark ages" is actually, according to Corcoran, part of the sham to get you to buy Tetra-Paked wines: "This new 20-cent deposit system is actually the product of the LCBO's plan to make a major shift away from bottled products and towards boxes . . . [the LCBO] is mounting a major international effort to get vintners to repackage wines in boxes." The LCBO is also hoping you will see the new deposit-system as another form of taxation on booze and will refuse to pay it, opting instead for the lower cost of Tetra-Wine.
Corcoran puts forth another reason for the LCBO's love of Tetra-Paks, which has nothing to do with environmental concerns. Profits are the main reason for these wine-drink-in-boxes, at the expense of consumers tastebuds. "the LCBO now has business relationships with two box plants." Thus a vested interest in you and I buying and consuming Tetra-Paked wines.
There is another down-side to having a monopoly supplier of wines and spirits here in Ontario: if they get a massive brain-fart (like, for example, wine in Tetra Paks), there's no alternative for most consumers . . . you just go along with whatever the LCBO has decided will be good for you. Or, more accurately, what's good for the LCBO.
A few days ago, Perry de Havilland suggested the rather cute idea of erecting statues of the US Senators who cooked up the Sarbanes-Oxley accounting law, on the grounds that this law has encouraged many firms into listing their businesses outside the United States and holding Initial Public Offerings (IPOs) outside Jefferson's Republic. London's stock market has benefited from this, as have bourses such as the Amsterdam Euronext, for instance. I do not know whether some of the impact of S-O has been exaggerated — this may be the case — but there is no doubt that from a regulatory point of view, the United States is not quite the model of laissez-faire capitalism that its supporters or indeed opponents imagine it to be. In fact, the US has been becoming a regulatory hell-hole for some time, such as with the recent crackdown on online gambling, to take one example.
Johnathan Pearce, "Another wrecker of US capitalism steps down", Samizdata, 2007-01-03
Jon briefly came out of hibernation and sent me a link to this: Remember those educational wildlife video fillers on TV when you were a kid...?.
Hilarious, as Jon wrote. Even so, I did find the ad running on the right side of the page to be a bit distracting . . .
"Jane Galt" briefly references her own real first name:
Megan says I said I didn't like her. What I actually said was that I don't like being around other Megans, because I get confused when someone else says their name. If you're a David or a Jennifer you get used to this, but I was a rare breed in my generation.
Growing up, I had a relatively obscure name. I don't recall meeting anyone else named Nick, Nicky or Nicholas in my neighbourhood or at my school, so I felt a bit singled out. I hated my own name, largely because of all the jokes (especially near Christmas), and being quite a self-centred little brat, it took me a long time to realize that almost everyone's name is a burden to them at some point in their childhood.
I started to prefer being called "Nicholas" when I entered the working world, and I've stuck with that ever since.
The more recent problem is that the name has been quite popular for the last dozen years or more, so that I'm constantly hearing parents bellowing my name at their misbehaving children. Some twitches, you just can't ever quite shake off, I assure you.
"Americans need to start viewing wine as an everyday beverage," claim producers. Then, on the back label they write, "Pairs well with truffled oxen snout in finnberry reduction on a bed of flaked Andalusian taro." Sure. Every Thursday.
The front label is even worse. But winemakers refuse to see the problem. "Reading a Moravian label is easy!" they say. "Just three quality levels, ten regions and four grapes. Anyone can learn that!" Yeah, anyone who plans to spend the rest of his life in Moravia.
Jennifer "Chotzi" Rosen, from the Introduction, The Cork Jester's Guide to Wine, 2006.
Radley Balko indulges in the traditional predictions column for the coming year, here. It's as dispiriting as could be, until you get to the end of the column, where it gets worse than that.
STATS.org presents the 2006 Dubious Data Awards, including my personal fave:
Both Forbes and the New York Times bit on a study by the National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse (CASA), which claimed that almost half of the alcohol industry’s revenue (almost 50 billion dollars per year) comes from underage drinkers, who consume over 20 billion drinks a year. For that to be true, the 36 million kids in the 12 to 20 age group must be consuming nearly as much booze as the entire adult population. If this seems unlikely on its face, do the math: If we accept CASA’s claim that nearly half the teenagers in America are drinkers, each of them must each be consuming over 1,000 drinks per year, or almost three drinks a day, for CASA’s numbers to add up.
But still, why let a mere data discrepancy deter you from running a really juicy story, right?
I spent a goodly chunk of the holidays watching one of my favourite British TV shows:
It's hokey, the special effects are (in some cases) just awful, the fight choreography ranges from poor to ludicrous . . . and it's still great. I've only managed to get through the first 6 DVDs, but it's been a great experience (so far, the best episode has been Dial a Deadly Number).
It is also interesting seeing all the familiar faces from other British TV shows appearing (often very early in their respective careers). I'm terrible with names, but I did recognize Gordon Jackson and Paul Eddington, along with several other "I know that face!" actors.
. . . whoever's responsible — be it Ma Nature, or a consortium of evil, greedy, gas-guzzling Western corporations — vineyards are heating up. German whites are improbably lush, Napa and Australia are turning out reds with enough alcohol to be considered breakfast food in Russia, and, for the first time since the Magna Charta, English wine is drinkable.
Jennifer "Chotzi" Rosen, "Russian Roulette", Cork Jester, 2007-01-02
Note that this column is not yet on the website.
Ed Minchau has set up a new blog aggregator for the Red Ensign Brigade: http://redensign.blogspot.com/. It's only got a few recent posts up right now, but it will pick up new posts from all the members of the Brigade going forward.
Visitors since 17 August, 2004