February 28, 2007

RCOB moment

Kerry Howley linked to this TCS Daily article which gave me my first RCOB moment of the week:

A ban was initiated at the Hilltop Children's Center in Seattle. According to an article in the winter 2006-07 issue of "Rethinking Schools" magazine, the teachers at the private school wanted their students to learn that private property ownership is evil.

According to the article, the students had been building an elaborate "Legotown," but it was accidentally demolished. The teachers decided its destruction was an opportunity to explore "the inequities of private ownership." According to the teachers, "Our intention was to promote a contrasting set of values: collectivity, collaboration, resource-sharing, and full democratic participation."

The children were allegedly incorporating into Legotown "their assumptions about ownership and the social power it conveys." These assumptions "mirrored those of a class-based, capitalist society — a society that we teachers believe to be unjust and oppressive."

You know what the saving grace is? The school is private. That means that the parents of the kids being indoctrinated are — or at least should be — fully aware of the politico-economic orientation of the teaching staff. It's also located in Seattle, which is rapidly gaining pole position in the race to be the champion of eminent domain proceedings.

In a way, the most heartening thing in the article was this passage:

Not all of the students shared the teachers' anathema to private property ownership. "If I buy it, I own it," one child is quoted saying.

You tell 'em, kid! Of course, you're now subject to full-time re-education camp for the rest of your childhood, but I admire your spunk.

Posted by Nicholas at 02:45 PM | Comments (1)

Sullum on Vancouver's latest "free" drug program

Reason's Jacob Sullum has some thoughts on the most recent innovation in Vancouver's ongoing attempt to socialize drug abuse:

Vancouver, which already has "a free needle exchange, a methadone maintenance program, a drug injection site where nurses supervise as heroin addicts shoot up, and a clinical trial testing whether chronic opiate addicts can be helped with prescribed heroin," is now experimenting with "maintenance treatment" for stimulant addicts. Under the new program, reports The Globe and Mail, heavy users of cocaine and methamphetamine will receive oral doses of legally prescribed stimulants in the hope that they "might decrease their use of illegal drugs and improve their social and physical health." Both of those outcomes are plausible, assuming the "patients" stop injecting, snorting, or smoking black-market drugs and start swallowing legal, quality-controlled pills instead.

[. . .] More troubling is the Vancouver model of free needles, free methadone, free heroin, and free amphetamines, all courtesy of the taxpayers. This strikes me as exactly the wrong way to achieve drug policy reform, guaranteed to alienate people who might be willing to let others use drugs but don't want to pick up the tab for it. The message should be freedom coupled with responsibility, not government-subsidized drug addiction.

It's certainly better than treating all drug users with penalties and punishments prescribed by the full majesty of law, but he's quite correct that it's shifting the burden from the drug users to the non-drug using through redistributive taxation. Surely it's immoral to require radical anti-drug warriors to pay taxes which support something completely opposed to their own beliefs?

Posted by Nicholas at 02:22 PM | Comments (0)

QotD: Wine Tasting

I went to the liquor store for a bottle of wine. As usual there was a fellow demonstrating this week's specials. I tasted two. Horrible. One spread out all over the back of your palate in an ominous fashion that recalled the WW2 cartoons showing Nazi advances over Europe; the other was a chianti that tasted like glue. With some clerks I'll discuss the wine, because I know it just makes their day when they have to nod and smile and agree with the assessment of some guy whose palate is slightly more diserning than the pads on a dog's foot, but with this clerk I said nothing. Because he never says anything. You say "that's good," he nods and wears a half-smile: whatever. You say "that's been strained through an inch-thick woven mat of underarm hair," and he nods wears a half-smile. So this time I said "I don't like either of them," which earned me a nod and a half-smile. I thanked him and moved on.

And bought what I always buy. Sometimes I get the specials. Once I bought a very confusing red — a blend of three varieties, it was suspicious and aggressive, and you felt like you'd have to drink three bottles before it trusted you.

James Lileks, The Bleat, 2007-02-26

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

February 27, 2007

Accounting and the military

Jack Granatstein reveals some of the real data behind the mind-bogglingly big numbers of military contracts:

The first is something called the accrual system of accounting. In the past, Canadian governments bought a truck for $25,000 and charged that sum to a department's budget. The costs of gas, oil, and maintenance five, 10, and 20 years down the road were charged to future budgets. In accrual accounting, perhaps more reasonably, the costs of operating the truck 20 years into the future are charged to today's budget. That $25,000 truck now becomes a $125,000 charge on this year's budget funding.

This matters. Consider the four C-17s the Harper government has agreed to buy. Each of the huge transports costs about $250-million. The accrual cost, again in round numbers, is $4-billion. Many Canadians remain unaware of the change in accounting methodology, and government rules (or practice) do not appear to permit explanation. So a $1-billion purchase of necessary equipment appears to many as a $4-billion boondoggle. It's not, but it's a hard sell for all of us whose eyes glaze over at the mention of accountants' rules. The answer, of course, is to explain defence purchases (and purchases in every other government department, as well) by making it clear that the total lifetime package is included in the announced sum.

Part of the difficulty in grasping this is that most of us, in our private lives, do not do anything of the sort in our own household budgets . . . we think of the sticker price of your car as "the cost", ignoring the finance costs of a car loan, the regular maintenance, the insurance, the license stickers, and all the other sundry other costs of car ownership. If we did think in this way, we'd all be much more careful in how we spent our money!

The other part of the problem is that the information is presented in the media as if a line of Brinks trucks were taking money from all the "good" areas the government also funds and physically moving all those loonies in through the gates of CFB Boondoggle and handing them over to General Simon Legree.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:41 AM | Comments (3)

QotD: Guns

Following the recent election, and the well-deserved humiliating repudiation suffered by the right, television writers — no doubt anticipating even more Democratic victories — have begun interpreting the Constitution for those (their entire audience, they assume) too illiterate or stupid to read it for themselves. A recent episode of Criminal Minds, for example, had one of its FBI agents lecturing a character to the effect that a group he belonged to had more guns (three per person, as I recall) than the law gave them a right to possess.

Let's see. . . if you happen to own a rifle, a pistol, and, say, a shotgun — as different in their individual functions as a Beetle, a Vespa, and a Hummer, but who would expect a TV writer to know that? — and you decide to add a .22 of some kind to your "battery", then, according to the undercover Supreme Court justices who hack out this program anonymously in their spare time, you've exceeded a secret quota the Founding Fathers somehow wrote into the Second Amendment in microscopic, invisible Sanskrit along the raw edges of the original parchment.

Naughty, naughty.

We have to do something, and do it now, before it gets as bad again as it was in the bad old 60s, when every network "entertainment" show (we're talking Barnaby Jones, here, and Hawaii 5-0) had its obligatory "Guns Are Nasty" moment every week, and you could always tell who the badguy was gonna be, in advance, because he had weapons — and, gasp!, big game trophies — hanging on the wall behind his desk.

L. Neil Smith, "CSI, Retired?", Libertarian Enterprise, 2007-02-25

Posted by Nicholas at 09:34 AM | Comments (0)

February 26, 2007

Royal Navy still plumping for Windows

As reported here back in 2004, the Royal Navy's next generation of destroyers, the Type 45 class, will run a customized version of Microsoft Windows, dubbed Windows for Warships:

Those acquainted with the more foam-lipped Linux fanciers will also be familiar with the position that Windows use is morally corrupt, indicative of sexual perversion, and causes cancer.

A lot of customers keep buying from Microsoft, however. One may want to deploy a particular kind of hardware, perhaps used only by a few organisations. It may well be that you can only get the associated software from the hardware maker, and the vendor in question doesn't provide anything other than Windows-based machines.

One type of hardware where this is happening more and more is warships.

I still think Jon's comment from 2004 is appropriate: "It kind of makes sense, you know. Some wanker at the ministry fired up a Windows box, found the Minesweeper game and realized they could get rid of all those pesky real ships."

Posted by Nicholas at 12:37 PM | Comments (3)

Boro's most recent signing

I have to assume that Middlesbrough's newest addition to the squad is well worth the signing fee, as he's being touted as the best thing since sliced bread. I somehow doubt that he'll be interested in playing in North America, after his time in the UK draws to a close . . . as you can see from the way his name is shown on the back of his jersey, it would just be an invitation for abuse:


Posted by Nicholas at 11:15 AM | Comments (2)

QotD: Pornography

To the libertarian, the arguments between conservatives and liberals over laws prohibiting pornography are distressingly beside the point. The conservative position tends to hold that pornography is debasing and immoral and therefore should be outlawed. Liberals tend to counter that sex is good and healthy and that therefore pornography will only have good effects, and that depictions of violence — say on television, in movies, or in comic books — should be outlawed instead. Neither side deals with the crucial point: that the good, bad, or indifferent consequences of pornography, while perhaps an interesting problem in its own right, is completely irrelevant to the question of whether or not it should be outlawed. The libertarian holds that it is not the business of the law — the use of retaliatory violence — to enforce anyone's concep­tion of morality. It is not the business of the law — even if this were practically possible, which is, of course, most unlikely — to make anyone good or reverent or moral or clean or upright. This is for each individual to decide for himself. It is only the business of legal violence to defend people against the use of violence, to defend them from violent invasions of their person or property. But if the government presumes to outlaw pornography, it itself becomes the genuine outlaw — for it is invading the property rights of people to produce, sell, buy, or possess pornographic material.

We do not pass laws to make people upright; we do not pass laws to force people to be kind to their neighbors or not to yell at the bus driver; we do not pass laws to force people to be honest with their loved ones. We do not pass laws to force them to eat X amount of vitamins per day. Neither is it the business of government, nor of any legal agency, to pass laws against the voluntary production or sale of pornography. Whether pornography is good, bad, or indifferent should be of no interest to the legal authorities.

Murray Rothbard, For a New Liberty, 1978.

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

February 25, 2007

Home in-security

"Da Wife" sent along a link to this blog posting debunking typical home security installations.

Posted by Nicholas at 05:32 PM | Comments (0)

Getting bow-ed over by music

The Stringfever quartet do an original interpretation of Bolero.

Posted by Nicholas at 05:29 PM | Comments (1)

February 24, 2007

QotD: Greatest Hero

When he (Norman Borlaug) won the Nobel Prize in 1970, they said he had saved a billion people. That's BILLION. "BUH!" That's Carl Sagan billion with a "B". And most of them were of different race from him. Norman is the greatest human being. And you've probably never heard of him.

Penn Jillette, "Eat This!", Bullshit Season 1, Episode 11

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

February 23, 2007

QotD: Climate Change

The environmental movement will never forgive Bjorn Lomborg for being right, but as the Christian Science Monitor reported this week, his argument that adaptation to climate change may be more sensible that radical reversals in emissions levels is finding more and more advocates. I believe it's inevitable that environmentalists will gradually become more enthusiastic about Lomborgian adaptationism as they clue in that there's just as much money in it for them and a great deal more political potential; moreover, as the latest IPCC report showed, the steady improvement of climate models has a tendency to shrink the error bars in various measures of calamity and rule out exotic worst-case scenarios, making it harder every year to sell the public on rewinding the economy to the Stone Age. The next stage of the debate will be over whether adaptation should, in general, be allowed to happen at its own pace and guided locally or whether it should be an expensive planned global-governance project.

Colby Cosh, "Recently visited: a roundup for Sunday reading", ColbyCosh.com, 2007-02-18

Posted by Nicholas at 01:17 AM | Comments (0)

February 22, 2007

QotD: Experts

Experts can be and frequently are wrong. An expert working for the government is no less susceptible to bias or ill motivation as one working for a corporation. Which is why it's foolhardy to rely on their expertise when making top-down policies that affect everyone. In fact, the main difference between the two is that when a private corporation's experts are wrong, the consequences are generally limited to the corporation, its employees, and its investors (there are hard cases, of course. Pollution comes to mind. But hard cases make for bad policy.). When the government's experts are wrong, we all get to suffer the consequences. Which is a good reason to have government making as few one-size-fits-all policies as possible.

There was a time when government experts told us to eat lots of pasta. Not so much anymore. The "experts" at CSPI (who aren't the government, but are far too influential on it) once told us trans-fats were hunky-dory, and encourage restaurants to use them instead of butter and other animal fats. Now they say trans-fats are gelatinous death, and they're urging governments to ban them. Right now, government experts are generally lying to us about secondhand smoke, and using that "expertise" to call for public smoking bans. Same for medical marijuana. Government experts now tell us we're going to die if we don't lose a few pounds. But there's some evidence that dieting may be worse for you than carrying extra weight. There's now overwhelming scientific evidence that daily, moderate consumption of alcohol could add years to your life. Yet government experts continue to advocate top-down policies aimed at reducing alcohol consumption, because for whatever reason, they're more worried about the small percentage of people who abuse alcohol than the exponentially [higher] number of people who could benefit from it.

(It's also interesting how the government's preferred experts so often come to carefully-researched conclusions that call for giving more power to the government.)

Radley Balko, "Experts", TheAgitator.com, 2007-02-18

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

February 21, 2007

The Anglican-Catholic merger proposal

The Economist provides a quick overview of this proposed business merger:

A marriage made in heaven?

SCEPTICS are already casting doubt on suggestions, spread this week in parts of the British press, of a massive remerger in the global communications industry. But the prospect of a tie-up between a vast, Rome-based corporation, and a smaller rival with headquarters in southern England, has sent some analysts into a speculative spin. Early discussions are said to have taken place between representatives of two long-established groups. If successful, the deal would see a parent company rejoined with a unit that separated from it, somewhat acrimoniously, in the 16th century.

Some observers suggest that this deal may be at least as significant as the split and subsequent remerger of parts of the AT&T, a telecoms company that held a monopoly position in America until the 1970s. As with AT&T, the break up of a once-dominant organisation inevitably leaves deep scars. But over time, as new competitors with new ideas change the business landscape, the abuse of monopoly power and the pain of parting may be forgotten for the sake of mutual gains. AT&T’s eventual remerger in 2006 with BellSouth, a branch of the telecoms giant snapped off in the reformation of America’s telecoms business, was acknowledged by most as a sensible reaction to the changing competitive landscape.

Posted by Nicholas at 01:53 PM | Comments (0)


Posted by Nicholas at 01:42 PM | Comments (1)

Catastrophic insurance dilemma in Florida

After last week's attempt by Mississippi to repeal one of the laws of economics, Florida is having to come to grips with a remarkably similar concern:

What should be done when a lot of people have built houses, businesses and infrastructure worth tens of billions of dollars where Mother Nature doesn't like them to be? This is the question that Florida is grappling with. Private insurers, burned by huge payouts for damages caused by two recent big hurricane seasons, are pulling out the state. This would seem like a market "signal" for people to get out. But Florida's state government is ignoring this "signal" and is instead creating a risk pool and a state-owned insurance company to cover property owners who can't find or afford private insurance.

While the Floridian response is somewhat more sensible than that of Mississippi, it's still going to end in tears. As Ronald Bailey points out, the federal government has spent huge sums in Louisiana and Mississippi to start recovering from the hurricane damages from Katrina, and there's still a lot of money that will need to be spent in the near future. Florida is hoping to cover potential claims in the tens of billions range, from a fund which currently holds less than a billion dollars. A fund which is composed of premiums collected from participating private insurance firms . . . who are starting to pull up stakes and leave the area.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:08 AM | Comments (2)

QotD: Hollywood

In poor old Hollywood, it's pretty much the Brit-hit franchises that are keeping the floundering movie business afloat. If I were some bratty all-American moppet, I think I'd be feeling a bit oppressed by cultural imperialism. At school, you're told it's a wonderful multiculti world and have to sit through Swahili dirges for Kwanza and all the other Ramadan-a-ding-dongs, and then you get to the multiplex and every multi-billion-dollar kids' series features English schoolboys, and even when they're disguised as hobbits or fauns in Narnia they still live on toasted crumpets and elderberry tea and such. It can't be long before some studio exec starts mulling over a boffo convergence along the lines of Harry Potter and the Lord of the Wardrobe. Indeed, given that the most successful grown-up franchise is also British, I would have skipped Daniel Craig and opted for Harry Potter as the new Bond, with Aslan as M and Bilbo as Q.

Mark Steyn, "Bewitched by Boarding Schools", Macleans, 2007-02-15

Posted by Nicholas at 12:39 AM | Comments (3)

February 20, 2007

Wil Wheaton's ST:TNG retrospective reviews

Wil Wheaton, who played the most-hated character in the entire Star Trek universe, has been writing some reviews of the early ST:TNG episodes:

  • Encounter at Farpoint (Part I) (series premiere):
  • "[. . .] Picard takes the Red Shirt's phaser and tries to rub Q's nose in its "stun" setting (not the smartest move in the world, dude) and Q tells him that he had better turn around and take his spaceship home, or he's totally going to kick him right in his spandex-covered nuts."

    "[. . .] Riker and the Doctor begin to discuss the mystery, when Wesley interrupts them to explicitly point out how mysterious the whole thing is. (It's right around this moment, according to historical data and polling research, that the Kill Wesley movement got its first member, though scholars are unable to agree upon who it was. It has been narrowed down to a single male virgin, approximately age 24, living in his parents' basement in the American Midwest.)"

  • Encounter at Farpoint (Part II):
  • "[. . .] Back on the Enterprise, Riker heads into the holodeck to meet up with Data, who we learn can't whistle like a human (that's lame) and wants to be human (that's lamer) and is consequently called "Pinocchio" by Riker (excuse me while I recalibrate the scale of lameness.)"

    "[. . .] Back on the planet, Troi tries to get Riker to take her with him to examine the very empty, very secluded, very-good-for-pounding-out-a-quickie tunnels beneath the station. We learn a little something about Riker when he instead sends Tasha and Geordi with her, and takes off alone with the robot. Ooooohhhhhkay, Riker, whatever inverts your matter/anti-matter intermix chambers, big guy."

  • The Naked Now:
  • "[. . .] One of Geordi's first stops is to visit his good pal Wesley Crusher, who shows off one of his science projects (a mini tractor beam,) and one of his toys, a device that lets Wesley recreate speech from anyone on the ship. Any doubt that Wesley is a complete weenie is removed when we learn that he uses this device to have Captain Picard say things like, "Welcome to the bridge, Wesley," instead of having Counselor Troi say things like, "Smack my ass, Wesley, I'm a naughty, naughty bitch." To entirely erase any lingering doubt, Wesley spends the rest of the scene whining that the captain won't let him on the bridge, even though Wesley is so obviously smart and cool. (On a personal note, I'd like to thank the writers for making such a great first impression with my character. In addition to this spectacular scene, I also got to say lines like, "So you mean I'm drunk? I feel strange, but also good!" In fact, John D.F. Black — who I didn't realize at the time hated me — also wrote Justice, where he gave me the awesome line, "We're from Starfleet! We don't lie!" Thanks for that one, too, Mr. Black.)

    "Geordi eventually gets tired of Wesley harshing his mellow, and takes off for a room where he heard there's a wicked rave happening, but not before he shares his infection with Wesley. This is not as gay as it sounds, not that there's anything wrong with that."

  • The Last Outpost
  • "[. . .] Tasha, Worf, Geordi, Data, and Riker all head to the transporter room, where we learn that communication with the Enterprise may be difficult, and they may not be able to be beamed back to the ship if they can't figure out what exactly is holding them and why. But, come on, we know there isn't any real danger on the planet, because there isn't a single Red Shirt beaming down with them.

    "The planet looks really, really cool, and it's one of the very first times we can see the difference in budgets and technologies available to the original series and the Next Generation. It's misty and stormy, and other words that are not also stage names for strippers, and we discover that the energy in the atmosphere has messed up the transporter's coordinates, and Riker's been beamed down alone. He quickly finds Data, who again uses the word "intriguing" to describe things. He keeps using that word. I do not think it means what he thinks it means."

  • Where No One Has Gone Before:
  • "[. . .] However, this show still has its flaws, and the growing pains are evident. Wesley is given some horrible dialogue, including after school special standbys like, "Mom, he's my friend!" but he's less annoying than he is in 'Naked Now', and Rob Bowman directed me to be as mature as I was capable of being when I was just 14. If you really hated Wesley already, it was unlikely that this episode would change your mind at all, but if you were looking for a glimmer of evidence that he wouldn't be a total weenie for the whole series, there was just enough here to get your hopes up before we dashed them to hell in season two."

Posted by Nicholas at 02:28 PM | Comments (1)

Pajamas Media hates Ron Paul

The good folks at Pajamas Media have chosen to remove Ron Paul's name from their straw poll of presidential candidates in spite of him winning last week's poll:

Pajamas Media says it's implementing a new policy where only candidates who garner one percent or more of the vote in the previous month's Gallup poll are eligible for its online poll. But Paul wasn't listed as an option in Gallup's last poll. I don't know Gallup's reason for not including him. But even if Gallup's people don't find Paul credible, he obviously does have quite a bit of credibility with Pajamas Media's readership.

The only other candidate eliminated from the Republican field by the new policy is former senator Fred Thompson, who hasn't even announced.

Seems like a strange policy that eliminates the previous week's top vote-getter. It's even stranger when you consider the fact that the only real use of a straw poll from Pajamas Media would be to determine which candidates might be resonating with the blogosphere. On the right, the blogosphere skews libertarian. So Paul's ascendancy makes perfect sense. Hiding the fact that he's popular with the Internet right robs the poll of its only real utility.

Of course, if the PJM folks are actively pimping for a Socon candidate, Ron Paul is a name they don't want anyone discussing . . .

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

Minnesota . . . the home of the Manly Men

Minnesotan males will be scrambling to attempt to recover their suddenly shaky claims to being manly:

All of a sudden, he spotted the "rat."

"Ryan comes out of the office screaming, and he says, 'It's huge!'" Bergman said. "It was the size of a cat."

"I guess he jumped on top of a desk and screamed like a girl who had seen a mouse," Starr said of Ryan Dethloff.

In the end, an employee shot and killed what turned out to be a muskrat.

Green Bay Packer fans were seen purchasing large numbers of stuffed muskrat toys in preparation for the next Packers-Vikings game.

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

QotD: Global Warming

Climate Cassandras say the facts are clear and the case is closed. (Sen. Barbara Boxer: "We're not going to take a lot of time debating this anymore.") The consensus catechism about global warming has six tenets: 1. Global warming is happening. 2. It is our (humanity's, but especially America's) fault. 3. It will continue unless we mend our ways. 4. If it continues we are in grave danger. 5. We know how to slow or even reverse the warming. 6. The benefits from doing that will far exceed the costs.

Only the first tenet is clearly true, and only in the sense that the Earth warmed about 0.7 degrees Celsius in the 20th century. We do not know the extent to which human activity caused this. The activity is economic growth, the wealth-creation that makes possible improved well-being — better nutrition, medicine, education, etc. How much reduction of such social goods are we willing to accept by slowing economic activity in order to (try to) regulate the planet's climate?

George Will, "Inconvenient Kyoto Truths", Newsweek, 2007-02-12

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

February 19, 2007

Uneconomic alternative

Brian Micklethwait points us to an article from Times Online, illustrating that things are not quite as rosy for local power generation as we're sometimes led to believe:

Having spent £13,000 on installing a wind turbine at his home, John Large is disappointed at the return on his investment, which amounts to 9p a week.

At this rate, it is calculated, it will take 2,768 years for the electricity generated by the turbine to pay for itself, by which time he will be past caring about global warming.

The wind turbine was installed at the engineer’s home in Woolwich, southeast London, four weeks ago and has so far generated four kilowatts of electricity. An average household needs 23kw every day to power its lights and appliances.

Mr Large said that his difficulties highlighted the problems faced by consumers who wanted to buy wind turbines to save money and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Posted by Nicholas at 01:39 PM | Comments (2)

Timing is everything

Elizabeth pointed out these two duelling headlines today: "New genetic link to autism" Toronto Star and, as a counterpoint, "Children's TV 'is linked to cancer, autism, dementia'", The Scotsman. Take your pick . . .

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

Misunderstanding economics

Jon sent me a link to this Toronto Star story, which displays an astonishingly poor grasp of economics:

The storm stretched from Montreal to Kingston and caused $1.6 billion in damage. To this day, there are houses that still have not been repaired.

Yet, the Ice Storm of 1998 is the biggest single event in Canadian history to boost the Gross Domestic Product, a simple totalling of all goods and services in the economy that is the most-used measure of the economy.

It's this irony — that rebuilding in the wake of devastation is good for the economy — that is in large part fuelling an ambitious attempt to produce an alternative to the GDP, one that balances economic growth against a much larger and more comprehensive set of numbers to tell us if we are truly better off. It's called the Canadian Index of Well-being [. . .]

First off, this "irony" is rather un-ironic. The GDP is a measurement of the approximate value produced in a year (the big clue is the word "product", yes? Check Wikipedia's entry). If you somehow managed to destroy every item of value in the entire country, then anything produced to replace the missing items shows up as part of the "product". The fact that it's replacing lost goods isn't captured by the GDP . . . because the GDP pays no attention to existing value. That's not part of its mission.

The writer's grasp of basic economics makes me suspect that he'd think it was a good idea to pay people to go around breaking windows . . . because of all the new business it would create for glazing companies and window installers. (See the Parable of the Broken Window for the original story.)

One thing the GDP has going for it is that it is measuring similar things in a constant manner: goods and services produced as recorded by the dollars for which they are exchanged. This proposed new measurement would include "ER wait times, rates of cancer and other diseases, body mass index, smoking rates, life expectancy, infant mortality and low birth rates, even rates of depression and suicide." With disparate data sources like that, you can pull any interpretation out that you might like . . . it's not a measurement of anything; it's a numerical toxic waste dump.

This doesn't mean that the attempt to measure non-dollar-denominated benefits is doomed to failure, but that you need to select the data to use for your measurement in as transparent and meaningful a way as possible. I could construct an "index of lifestyle health" by charting the number of Tim Horton's outlets in a given area, divided by the number of cigarette packs sold, and then multiplying by the number of hot tubs were listed in housing ads, but it wouldn't tell you anything useful at all.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:24 AM | Comments (1)

QotD: Coaching in Professional Sports

A complex stew of cultural trends has made coaching more precarious than ever. A sports-mad population hooked on instant gratification, in which Donald Trump has transformed firing people into mass entertainment for the sensitivity-impaired, has turned up the heat on an already sizzling seat. Coaching has become a model of social Darwinism, in which only the strongest endure — and even they probably will hear the words "You're fired" at some point in their careers.

Rachel Blount, "Coaches: Caught in crosshairs", Star Tribune, 2007-02-12

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

February 18, 2007

Dog meets MP3 player . . . dog wins

Victor's almost brand-new MP3 player (vintage February 2007) met an untimely end at the hands . . . well, actually the jaws of Xander:


I somehow suspect that Samsung's warranty department isn't going to accept the "My dog ate my" excuse any more than Victor's high school teachers do.

Posted by Nicholas at 01:30 AM | Comments (2)

QotD: "Campaign" Bloggers

Blogging is supposed to be rude, anarchic and distinctly "unofficial". Hiring a "campaign blogger" is like hiring a "campaign farter" or setting up a "campaign mosh pit." "Official" bloggers are to real bloggers what the Monkees are to the Beatles, except that's unfair to the Monkees, who actually put out some damn fine recordings. Make that "what Jazzercise is to jazz".

Kathy Shaidle, "'The Catholic Church killed a 100 million humans during its inquisitions and crusades'", Relapsed Catholic, 2007-02-14

Posted by Nicholas at 01:02 AM | Comments (2)

February 17, 2007

Blogstravaganza tonight

If you're bored, lonely, and broken-hearted, the absolute worst place for you to be tonight is at Fiddler's Green in downtown Toronto. This is the irregular gathering of the Toronto and GTA bloggerati. I won't be able to attend this one, having a prior engagement, but if you're there have a drink for me.

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

Mississippi traps State Farm

The state of Mississippi reacted rather badly to the announcement that State Farm Insurance was going to stop issuing new home and business policies in that state. Dan Melson tries to point out the economic issues at issue:

Mississippi to State Farm: You Can't Win, You Can't Break Even, and We're Not Going To Let You Leave The Game

So the Mississippi Attorney general wants to make it tougher and more expensive to buy auto insurance as well as homeowner's insurance? [. . .]

But when you make them pay for things which were explicitly not insured, don't you think they're entitled to second thoughts about whether to do business in that state? State Farm is not a charitable organization. They are entitled to charge enough to make a profit — otherwise there is no reason to be in business. If they decide they cannot do that within the environment in a given state, they are entitled to decide to leave. If they can't do it at all, the correct decision is to go out of business.

Add hefty punitive fines for not wanting to pay out claims for things which weren't insured, and it's a miracle that anyone is willing to issue homeowner's insurance in Mississippi.

Insurance is supposed to be a private safety net for individuals and businesses who encounter unforeseen and unpredictable loss. When the government steps in to try to force an insurer to provide coverage for a loss which can be predicted, it is undermining the whole basis of the insurance industry. In much of the southern United States, the government has been meddling in the insurance field for so long that it's difficult to figure out just what any rational company would do in that area (and it would take a very brave and/or foolhardy company to start doing new business in that region).

At the basic level, when you take out an insurance policy, you're making a bet. You're betting that you will need to be compensated for damage and the insurance company is betting that you won't. If the odds look bad to the insurance company, they'll demand a much higher premium (the odds) to offset the increased chance of having to pay out on their side of the bet. Government mandates on who must be given insurance and at what rates is exactly like a third-party muscling in on your private betting to say that the insurance company must give you better odds — in spite of the chances being against their best interests. After that, you may find that there are many fewer choices for you (and everyone else in your area) when you need to place another "bet".

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

Tickling your ventral tegmental area

A belated Valentine's Day entry: the brain science of love.

H/T to "Da Wife" for the URL, with apologies for not posting it in a more timely fashion.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:22 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: Crime and Punishment

I do not believe the state is morally allowed to do that which individuals are not morally allowed to do; I do not believe that prison sentences should have "off label" uses; and I think that if you are willing for the state to impose a sentence in your name, you should be willing to carry it out. I am not willing to execute a prisoner, or to rape one. Therefore, I don't authorise the state to do things for me. Nor do I want those tasks delegated to some fiendish thug in order to give myself plausible moral deniability.

If you do think that rape is an appropriate punishment for securities law violations, then you should say so. You should pressure your representatives to write these penalties into law. And when volunteers are needed to carry out the sentence, you should be willing to put your name in the hat.

Jane Galt, "Do it yourself", Asymmetrical Information, 2006-09-26

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

February 16, 2007

The tour went well . . .

. . . it's a tough sell in deep snow and icy wind, but Trent's main campus is well laid-out and looks very impressive. The tour guide we had was quite well informed, although she did try to push prospective students into her area (Women's Studies).

I only embarassed Victor once during the tour.

Our guide was pointing out the separate area in the dining room of (I think it was) Champlain College, where the alternative café is located. They only serve vegetarian/vegan "Fair Trade Certified" dishes, and are not included in the food plans. I asked her if they required payment in "Cruelty-Free Currency". Victor hit me.

Posted by Nicholas at 09:46 PM | Comments (2)

Canadians in Afghanistan, via The Economist

A positive — one might even say warm-fuzzy — post on the Canadian contribution to the fight against the Taliban, from The Economist:

The deployment in Afghanistan is a much bigger deal for Canada than it is for the Americans or the Brits. The Canadians stormed the beaches of Normandy on D-Day, but for most of the past 50 years they turned themselves into the ultimate "soft" power, deploying their soldiers mainly for peacekeeping.

In Kandahar they have gone back to being a fighting force, and have lost more than 40 lives in the process.

If the Brits have been having a hard time in Helmand, it is the Canadians in Kandahar province who fought the decisive battle of Nato's war so far, leading a brigade-sized assault on Taliban positions in the Panjwayi valley last autumn.

The Canadians are the first contingent to bring main battle tanks to Afghanistan. The French-speaking men of the Vandoos regiment in Panjwayi look even bigger and meaner than the Royal Marines in Kajaki.

The operation is hugely controversial at home. A Canadian Senate report this month said: "Anyone expecting to see the emergence in Afghanistan within the next several decades of a recognisable modern democracy capable of delivering justice and amenities to its people is dreaming in Technicolor."

Yet among the soldiers there is a sense of relief at getting rid of the blue helmets and white paint from their armoured vehicles. There is even some macho mocking of the Dutch in the neighbouring province of Uruzgan: "Wooden shoes, wouldn't shoot," they quip.

Posted by Nicholas at 06:41 PM | Comments (0)

Another quiet blogging day

Victor has a campus tour booked at Trent University, so we'll be heading off to Peterborough in a few minutes. Expect a paucity of posts for the next few hours.

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

QotD: Hiring Bloggers

Here's a handy guideline for anyone thinking to a hire a blogger for anything: Assume they've written something someone somewhere will get offended about, because that's what bloggers do. I mean, shit. Just the other day, if my e-mail serves, I offended religious homophobes and at least some gay-positive folk in the very same entry. That, my friends, is a skill to have.

Point is, there is hardly a blogger with any sort of traffic who doesn't have something in the archive that will make for tantalizing pullquotes. The only sane response to someone who waves these quotes about is to ask them, quite sincerely, if they're aware that water has a certain quality of wetness about it. Likewise, if you hire a long-time blogger, particularly if you're a political campaign, by God be prepared.

John Scalzi, "More little things", Whatever, 2007-02-09

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

February 15, 2007

Rewriting Puccini

Thaddeus Tremayne does a social and artistic good turn by updating the sordid, racist, western-hegemon-advancing Madama Butterfly:

This insenstive cultural anachronism is completely outmoded and needs to be consigned to the dustbin of history. In fact, I have taken the liberty of writing a short synopsis of a new, modernised version of the Puccini opera which will more accurately reflect the values of a modern-day audience.

Act I

Murderous red-necked robot goon, Lieutenant B.F. Pinkerton is sent to Japan by his ZioNazi imperialist overlords on a mission to oppress the indigenous people, steal their natural resources and poison their atmosphere with harmful hydrocarbon emissions.

While engaged in a random and bloody act of ethnic cleansing, Pinkerton happens upon a strong indigenous person of a different but equally valid gender. Unable to resist the impulses of his phallocentric culture, Pinkerton calls her 'butterfly' and demands that she love him long time for five dollars.

It's a valiant try, but as "Sunfish" points out in the comments, "You still insist on perpetuating the outdated dogma of audience nonparticipation, by insisting that only the cast and crew may be on stage during the performance. This reinforces their dominant position as the running dogs of the (generally white male) writer and composer. Further, by allowing this travesty to be carried on in a Western language, you marginalize the equally-valid and equally-useful languages of the rest of the world."

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

Tech support hell . . . 1300's edition

H/T to Phil Boswell for the link.

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

QotD: Archaeology

People's avid interest in sex and in the portrayal of sexuality in various media goes back far beyond that, historically, back beyond the lascivious frescoes and mosaics discovered in Pompeii and Herculaneum. Archaeology abounds with examples of pornographic pottery. (I always leaned toward "The Babes of Crete" collection, myself.) It's long been my personal theory that articles like the Venus of Willendorf are not "fertility symbols" or "objects of religious veneration" — a conclusion academics always leap to with absolutely no justification whatever — but were, instead, the stone-age equivalent of Playboy or Penthouse, fashioned by cavemen, to be passed around and chortled over around the campfire after the cavewomen and cavekids had gone to bed.

L. Neil Smith, "Some Thoughts About Censorship", Libertarian Enterprise, 2007-02-11

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

February 14, 2007

The Oenophile Next Door

Richard Best has posted the first chapter of his forthcoming wine book, The Oenophile Next Door. He's trying a different approach to wine education:

The current wine book market is overcrowded and highly competitive, with new books appearing almost weekly. Unfortunately for the consumer, most wine books are written to one of just a few formulas: expensive coffee table picture books, everything-you-ever-wanted-to-know-about-wine books, wine buyers' guides, and focuses on certain wines or certain regions.

A new approach to teaching about wine is long overdue.

The Oenophile Next Door is unlike any wine book that has gone before. It is a novelized story that takes the reader on a wine adventure that is rich with education and discovery. Unlike "do all" wine books that tend to recycle established truisms, this book and its characters question much of what has been passed off as wine education.

He's basing his publication plan, at least in part, on the reaction to the first chapter he's posted.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:47 PM | Comments (0)

February 13, 2007

HMS Intrepid to be scrapped (again)

The assault ship HMS Intrepid, one of the Royal Navy veterans of the Falklands war is being consigned to the scrapyard for the second time:

One of the Falklands war's doughtiest fighters, HMS Intrepid, is to be dismantled, 25 years after she was first saved from the scrapheap and four months from the 25th anniversary of the islands' liberation.

HMS Intrepid, which was launched in 1964, should have been taken out of service in 1982, but was reprieved in the nick of time to join the Royal Navy Task Force ordered to liberate the islands from Argentine invaders. The assault ship played a significant role in the conflict and served another 17 years in Her Majesty's Fleet before being decommissioned in 1999.

The Ministry of Defence announced yesterday that HMS Intrepid would be "recycled", the modern, environmentally friendly term for scrapping a ship. Leavesley International, a British company, has been chosen to cut up the ship, and those components that can be recycled, such as the anchor chain and the steel hull, will be reused. Some items will be sold as souvenirs.

To be honest, I'm astonished that the ship stayed in service as long as she did: I'd rather assumed that she'd been scrapped years ago. More information at the MOD website.

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

Another self-selected audience analysis

Scott Adams has a bit of fun with his readers:

In yesterday's post, I asked how many of you guys would have sex with a robot if it was indistinguishable from a hot human woman. About 95% of the hetero guys said they would. The other 5% expressed a strong preference for lying.

Based on your responses, it seems that every guy has his own threshold for the quality of the robot. Some guys would only consider tapping the robot if it was indistinguishable from an attractive human woman. Other guys are already humping their TiVos.

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

Digital rethinking

H/T to Chris Anderson.

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

More absurdity

Remember this case?

A Utah teen is being charged with having sex with a minor (in this case, someone under the age of 14). The other involved teen is also being charged with the same crime. Each of them is accused of criminal activity, and each of them is considered a victim of criminal activity.

Just in case you thought this was a one-of-a-kind, Radley Balko is here to disillusion you: teenagers, 16 and 17, get charged with taking photos of themselves engaging in "sexual behaviour". They emailed the photos from one computer to the other. Then the long arm of the law intervened, to "save them" from themselves:


Amber and Jeremy were arrested. Each was charged with producing, directing or promoting a photograph featuring the sexual conduct of a child. Based on the contents of his e-mail account, Jeremy was charged with an extra count of possession of child pornography.


He is 17. She is 16. They were actually convicted. Worse, the sentence was upheld on appeal. [. . .]

So they've been convicted of exploiting themselves. And though the article doesn't explicitly say, I would guess that the two will have to register as sex offenders for the rest of their lives. [. . .]

Also note that the acts themselves weren't illegal. Only photographing them.

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

QotD: Sustainable Development

[M]ost environmental "principles" (such as sustainable development or the precautionary principle) have the effect of preserving the economic advantages of the West and thus constitute modern imperialism toward the developing world. It is a nice way of saying, "We got ours and we don't want you to get yours, because you'll cause too much pollution."

Michael Crichton, State of Fear, 2004.

Posted by Nicholas at 01:05 AM | Comments (0)

February 12, 2007

The climate change meme

Jon sent me an email from which I had to extract a lovely little mini-rant:

Speaking of which, the local theatre will be hosting a special engagement of A Convenient Bullshit Excuse For Socialist Domination, or whatever Gore's version of Apocalypto is called. Because it's "an educational film that everyone should see" (according to the theatre owner), admission to the show is significantly reduced. I expect Jamie's school to make attendance at the damn thing mandatory.

Crickey. It seems to me like this hysteria is getting a little out of hand. I prefer my hysterias to be just a little better managed, like, say, the Princess Diana thing. You have to admit that that whole thing was pretty well choreographed. This climate change freakout is just getting out of control.

You have to admit, whether you believe that global warming is a serious issue or not, recasting the issue as "climate change" allows you to use every single instance of unusual weather as "proof" that it's the end of the world as we know it. This leads directly into subtle-and-not-so-subtle calls for "something to be done", which usually entails handing control over to a small group of experts, specialists, or what-have-you. Because, of course, the problem is too big and complex for mere individuals to be allowed to make their own decisions . . .

Update: Oddly enough, L. Neil Smith alludes to the same thing in an article in the latest Libertarian Enterprise:

This is exactly the situation we're seeing lately with another false orthodoxy, that of Global Warming. Its advocates are having more and more difficulty getting people to accept it, so now they want to "decertify" meteorologists who are, in their words, "Global Warming deniers".

It's also the same dynamic that fuelled the Inquisition.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:18 AM | Comments (2)

QotD: Scrumpy

Scumble [in Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels] is obviously a reference to West Country "scrumpy" or "scumpy" homebrew cider. Wunnerful stuff. Sweet, smooth, deceptive. I didn't think it was affecting me at all until I tried to stand up and apparently somebody had stolen my knees.

Susan Fox-Davies, posting to the Lois McMaster Bujold mailing list, 2004-04-17

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

February 11, 2007

16! 16! 16! Yikes!

Today is Victor's 16th birthday.

I feel very . . . old.

Victor and his friends didn't destroy our house during the party. No calls to the police were made (or required). Only minimal damage to property was recorded. In spite of this, everyone seemed to enjoy themselves.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:53 PM | Comments (1)

February 10, 2007

Model Railways get a bad ass reputation in Europe

The Times suddenly discovers — and views with alarm — that some model railway fans in Europe are doing things a bit more, um, adult in nature with their displays:

Thomas the Tank Engine, the cleanest-living locomotive on the track, would not approve. Train sets on display at the International Toy Fair in Germany include scenes of policemen raiding brothels, battery-driven copulating couples and round-ups of immigrants. There is trouble in Toyland.

[. . .] But visitors to the trade fair in Nuremberg have been gaping at the antics around the railway lines. Merten, which makes train-set figures, is offering a nudist beach, a waitress wearing only an apron and stockings and a couple of lascivious pole-dancers. One scene shows a man urinating against a wall, watched by a woman. Another shows a couple performing oral sex. Look carefully at the scene depicting a brothel raid and, behind the naked prostitutes, you will see the figure of a priest trying to make a quick getaway.

Steamy, irreverent stuff for the train set veterans. Sometimes the Lilliputian world of Exhibition Hall 4A resembles a splatter movie rather than a children's paradise. A horse is about to be battered to death with a hammer by a butcher. A worker at the blacksmith's appears to have lost an arm. Blood is spread around liberally. Near a castle, a squad of soldiers have just executed a man. And that's just the start-up kit.

I guess it's a slow news weekend in London, then.

H/T to Roger Henry for the URL.

Update: Also from the same mailing list, Craig Zeni points out the wonders of capitalism unfettered:


"HO scale, $185.00, sold out at Walthers
This product is on-sale today for $99.98"

Guess it could be on sale for $1 if that's the way it works . . .

Posted by Nicholas at 11:52 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: Legislating behaviour

Some people are perfectly capable of talking on a cell phone, drinking coffee, or having a dog in the backseat without endangering themselves or anyone else on the road. Others can have eyes on the road, hand in the 10-2 position, and seatbelt securely fastened — and still drive like a drunk 12-year-old.

So here's a novel idea: Why not ignore what's going on inside the car, and just pull people over and fine them when they drive recklessly?

Radley Balko, "Vermont Ups the Nanny Ante", Hit and Run, 2007-02-09

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

February 09, 2007

Adventures in babysitting

Jon was taking care of a friend's children the other night. He also had to drop them off at their school this morning. This is his report:

Attached are photos of a bench in front of the school. We should not be too mean about these, as the bench is a monument to someone who is no longer with us. But still . . .

This is what I first spotted while dropping off the kids:


My first thought was that someone was trying to be clever in a poetic, pierce, tattooed, greasy, dreadlocked, plant-guerilla-marketing-devices-that-set-off-a-bomb-scare-and-paralyse-a-city-and-then-make-hair-jokes-during-the-press-conference-at-the-courthouse sort of way.

But then I spotted the front of the bench


Yup. My thoughts then were something along the lines of "Be proud! Wear the union label! Teachers are the future! But only because they own our children!"


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

Personal (sub-) watercraft

This report claims that the first private submarines for individual use are now for sale. That can't be true: I remember reading the ads in the back of comic books when I was 8 offering one-man submarines for sale. If I continue this line of thought, this could turn into a James Lileks-like reminiscence thread . . . and none of you would want to read that . . .

Of course, I don't remember hearing about anyone actually sending away for one of those "subs". But they must have been real, right?

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


"Cops"-style Imperial Troopers.

Posted by Nicholas at 09:40 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: The 1960s

I came out of college with lots of trappings of '60s radicalism which had been tempered somewhat by the fact that almost all the real radicals I knew were assholes. You know, the guys who were "for the people," but really just seemed to hate people. And guys who wanted to be in Weatherman mainly so they could get into fights.

Dave Barry quoted by Glenn Garvin in "All I Think Is That It's Stupid: Dave Barry on laughing at Very Big Government", Reason, 1994

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

February 08, 2007

When Justice is not only blind, but computer illiterate

Remember the pop-up porn case? The teacher who was charged (and now convicted) of morals charges for exposing seventh graders to pornography? She's facing a possible 40 year sentence for being the victim of spyware:

Julie Amero, a substitute teacher in Norwich, Connecticut, has been convicted of impairing the morals of a child and risking injury to a minor by exposing as many as ten seventh-grade students to porn sites.

It's a short story: On October, 19, 2004, Amero was a substitute teacher for a seventh-grade language class at Kelly Middle School. A few students were crowded around a PC; some were giggling. She investigated and saw the kids looking at a barrage of graphic, hard-core pornographic pop-ups.

The prosecution contended that she had used the computer to visit porn sites.

The defense said that wasn't true and argued that the machine was infested with spyware and malware, and that opening the browser caused the computer to go into an endless loop of pop-ups leading to porn sites.

Amero maintains her innocence. She refused offers of a plea bargain and now faces an astounding 40 years in prison (her sentencing is on March 2).

Let's remember the proportionality of this offence: murderers and rapists get significantly shorter sentences than this. This case is a terrible example of both judicial computer illiteracy and the modern witch-hunt whenever children's interests are involved. One can only assume that the presiding judge has somehow never encountered an unwanted pop-up from a porn site (hard though that may be to believe).

Although an appeal is pretty much guaranteed, regardless of the sentence to be handed down on March 2nd, the case should never have gone to trial in the first place.

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

Those shifty IT guys

According to a recent study by CERT, the ones you need to watch carefully for sabotage are the IT workers:

The research suggests that potential troublemakers should be easy to spot. Nearly all the cases of cybercrime investigated were carried out by people who were "disgruntled, paranoid, generally show up late, argue with colleagues, and generally perform poorly."

According to the research, 86 percent of those who committed cybercrimes held technical positions and 90 percent had system administrator or privileged system access. Almost half — 41 percent — of those who sabotaged IT systems were employed at the time they did it but most crimes were committed by insiders following termination. Most incursions — 64 percent — involved VPNs and old passwords that had never been terminated, highlighting a lack of security controls and gaps in their organizations' access controls.

So, the next time you have a run-in with a surly system administrator or LAN technician (and you know it's going to happen), you can get your revenge by fingering them on the anonymous tip line as a potential saboteur. Revenge and self-righteousness in one easy package.

Or, you know, not.

Furious responses from readers who work in IT starting in three, two, one . . .

Posted by Nicholas at 09:37 AM | Comments (4)

The original "War of the Stars" unveiled

H/T to Craig Zeni.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:05 AM | Comments (2)

February 07, 2007

Declining to dine Roman style

With the recent cold snap, we've had some uninvited guests join our household . . . mice. Our cats are both too well-fed and self-confined to areas of the house that the dog doesn't go, so the mice have set up housekeeping in our kitchen. We're working on getting the dratted little beasts out, but they're remarkably fast, agile critters, so it's taking some time.

This morning, Elizabeth found a quick way of getting rid of 'em, but it's probably neither economical nor particularly humane. She put some bread in the toaster, pushed down the lever, and suddenly the toaster started to scream in a high-pitched voice, and emitted some noxious smelling smoke.

Yep . . . toasted mouse.

I guess we've been effectively removing all the food sources they'd found when they first got into the house, so they're having to scavenge in new spots . . . and the crumb tray in the toaster hadn't been emptied for a while. So now we're in the market for a new toaster, too.

Perhaps we're not being adventurous, but even if toasted dormice were a Roman delicacy, we'll pass.

Posted by Nicholas at 03:36 PM | Comments (2)

QotD: Fashionable Fears

I think for anyone to believe in impending resource scarcity, after two hundred years of such false alarms, is kind of weird. I don't know whether such a belief today is best ascribed to ignorance of history, sclerotic dogmatism, unhealthy love of Malthus, or simple pigheadedness, but it is evidently a hardy perennial in human calculation.

Michael Crichton, State of Fear, 2004

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

February 06, 2007

Not recommended for airline use

Dave Slater sent this message to one of the mailing lists I frequent:

For those who do a lot of traveling by air or train you may want to remember this one.. LOL

Subject: FW: Irritating fellow passengers

>> If you are sitting next to someone who's irritating you on a plane or train....
>>1. Quietly and calmly open up your laptop case.
>>2. Remove your laptop.
>>3. Boot it.
>>4. Make sure the guy who won't leave you alone can see the  screen.
>>5. Open your email client to this message.
>>6. Close your eyes and tilt your head up to the sky.
>>7. Then hit this link: http://tinyurl.com/e8efm
Posted by Nicholas at 10:15 AM | Comments (2)

QotD: Old magazines

I fell in love with old Life magazines at the Fargo Public Library while in high school, and had a mystical moment when I laid my hands on an actual copy of the first issue of Life. I mean, I touched it. I touched something from 1936. Somehow that was different from shaking hands with your dad. Completely different. So many things in my life have changed since then, but I have the same emotions when I open the old magazines. They're yelling at ghosts. They're talking to someone who isn't there. They're not talking to me. I hear what they're saying, and I want to join the conversation, but they're all dead, and these are just echoes, just wind in the door.

James Lileks, The Bleat, 2007-02-05

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

February 05, 2007

QotD: British Education

A perverse ideology reigns, in which truth and probity play no part. When marking the children's work, [the teacher] is expected to make only favorable comments, designed to boost egos rather than to improve performance. Public examinations are no longer intended to test educational attainment against an invariant standard but to provide the government with statistics that provide evidence of ever-better results. In pursuit of such excellence, not only do examinations require ever less of the children, but so-called course work, which may actually be done by the children's parents or even by the teachers themselves, plays an important part in the marks the children receive — and it is marked by the very teachers whose performance is judged by the marks that their pupils achieve. The result, of course, is a swamp of corruption, to wade through which teachers become utterly cynical, time-serving, and without self-respect.

A perfect emblem of the Gogolian, Kafkaesque, and Orwellian nature of the British public administration is the term "social inclusion" as applied in the educational field. Schools may no longer exclude disruptive children — that would be the very opposite of social inclusion — so a handful of such children may render quite pointless hundreds or even thousands of hours of schooling for scores or even hundreds of their peers who, as a result, are less likely to succeed in life. Teachers [. . .] are forced to teach mixed-ability classes, which can include the mentally handicapped (their special schools having been closed in the name of social inclusion). The most intelligent children in the class fidget with boredom while the teacher persistently struggles to instill understanding in the minds of the least intelligent children of what the intelligent pupils long ago grasped. The intelligent are not taught what they could learn, while the unintelligent are taught what they cannot learn. The result is chaos, resentment, disaffection, and despair all round.

Theodore Dalrymple, "How Not to Do It", City Journal, 2007-02

Posted by Nicholas at 01:33 PM | Comments (0)

February 02, 2007

QotD: Back-to-Nature

My own observation is that most of the bellyachers about the ugliness of our cities and singers of paeans to the unspoiled wilderness stubbornly remain ensconced in these very cities. Why don't they leave? There are, even today, plenty of rural and even wilderness areas for them to live in and enjoy. Why don't they go there and leave those of us who like and enjoy the cities in peace. Furthermore, if they got out, it would help relieve the urban 'overcrowding' which they also complain about.

Murray Rothbard, Egalitarianism as a Revolt Against Nature, and Other Essays, 1974

Posted by Nicholas at 01:09 AM | Comments (2)

February 01, 2007

QotD: Perfectionism

The surest hindrance of success is to have too high a standard of refinement in our own minds, or too high an opinion of the judgment of the public. He who is determined not to be satisfied with anything short of perfection will never do anything to please himself or others.

William Hazlitt, 1778-1830

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

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