April 26, 2007

Latest OWR now online

Michael Pinkus is branching out, launching two new wine-oriented blogs: Ontario Wine Reviews and On the Road with the Grape Guy. This is in addition to the bi-weekly OntarioWineReview, of course. This issue of the OWR includes a visit to one of my favourite wineries, Angels Gate, and a report from the Greek Wines Road Show.

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

April 25, 2007

Interview hell

I've had some odd interviews (some of them recently), but thank goodness I've never had to put up with an interview like the one Captain Capitalism went through:

You see, at the time, Goldman Sachs was still a privately held company. So there was no way to know how much they made. And they fed me this line, "well, if you'd like to interview with us, then you'll have to fly out here for the interview on your own expense."

Of course, 5 years later they go public and I find out they made $47 trillion in earnings and could have damned well afforded my flight with my own personal team of redheaded Irish cheerleaders to cheer me on for the interview, but being a naive 22 year old, what did I know? So I fell for it.

Now the thing is, I didn't make $47 trillion in earnings in 1997 either. And I couldn't afford a flight out there, so my only option was to load up my rusty but trusty 1985 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme with some Moutain Dew, some deoderant (no tapes or CD's cause there was no deck), my best suit and head on out.

I scheduled myself two days to get there and two days to get back.

Of course there are logistical problems with planning a cumulative 5 day road trip and making only $16,000 per year without parental support. Namely, you can't afford lodging, which means you sleep in the back of your 1985 Cutlass Supreme. (which is actually quite comfy).

And that's only the start of it. It got worse . . .

H/T to Kate at SDA.

Posted by Nicholas at 01:49 PM | Comments (0)

Potential outages

I've just been reminded by Jon, my virtual landlord, that a server move may be imminent. This will require, at a minimum, moving all files off the current ISP's server and re-installing them on a new ISP's server, then configuring whatever settings that may need to be updated at the new site. This could be as easy as running a simple backup or as complex as starting all over again, and manually re-importing over 3500 individual blog entries plus templates and then rebuilding. Which could drag out over a few days.

Doing system administration for Quotulatiousness isn't Jon's primary job, so I apologize in advance if the site goes dark for an extended period of time. I'll send updates to the members of the Red Ensign Brigade as and when needed. The URL you use to access the blog will probably not need to change.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:22 AM | Comments (2)

QotD: Australian Wine

A lot of people in this country pooh-pooh Australian table wines. This is a pity as many fine Australian wines appeal not only to the Australian palate but also to the cognoscenti of Great Britain.

Black Stump Bordeaux is rightly praised as a peppermint flavoured Burgundy, whilst a good Sydney Syrup can rank with any of the world's best sugary wines.

Château Blue, too, has won many prizes; not least for its taste, and its lingering afterburn.

Old Smokey 1968 has been compared favourably to a Welsh claret, whilst the Australian Wino Society thoroughly recommends a 1970 Coq du Rod Laver, which, believe me, has a kick on it like a mule: eight bottles of this and you're really finished. At the opening of the Sydney Bridge Club, they were fishing them out of the main sewers every half an hour.

Of the sparkling wines, the most famous is Perth Pink. This is a bottle with a message in, and the message is 'beware'. This is not a wine for drinking, this is a wine for laying down and avoiding.

Another good fighting wine is Melbourne Old-and-Yellow, which is particularly heavy and should be used only for hand-to-hand combat.

Quite the reverse is true of Château Chunder, which is an appellation contrôlée, specially grown for those keen on regurgitation; a fine wine which really opens up the sluices at both ends.

Real emetic fans will also go for a Hobart Muddy, and a prize winning Cuivre Reserve Château Bottled Nuit San Wogga Wogga, which has a bouquet like an aborigine's armpit.

Wine Expert (played by Eric Idle), "Australian Table Wines", Monty Python's Previous Record, 1972

Posted by Nicholas at 09:48 AM | Comments (1)

April 24, 2007

Ten times better?

Well, my Symantec license expired for my Norton anti-virus software yesterday, so I installed MacAfee in its place. The biggest difference I've noticed so far has been speed. The last full virus scan I ran using Norton went over 40 hours. Macafee took less than 4. That's pretty significant, if you ask me. As I wrote in a comment on the earlier post, "Now, admittedly, this isn't a big, bad kick-ass machine — it's only a 3GHz box with 2GB of memory, so perhaps it's underpowered for a strenuous task like virus scanning. (Tongue ever so slightly in cheek here, of course.)"

Part of why I decided to switch was the whole update problem I've encountered every time I needed to download the latest version of Norton (detailed here).

Posted by Nicholas at 01:32 PM | Comments (1)

QotD: Poll Results

In one recent survey, 37 per cent of New Yorkers said they'd leave the city if they could. Of course, since none of them had left the city, and since all of them could, the only proper conclusion is that 37 per cent of New Yorkers lie to pollsters.

Steven Landsburg, quoted by Tim Harford in "When sexual restraint is like pollution", Financial Times, 2007-04-22

Posted by Nicholas at 01:14 PM | Comments (0)

Superconducting Maglev Toy Train

H/T to Roger Henry.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:28 AM | Comments (0)

April 23, 2007

QotD: Wal-Mart

[W]ealth is not the same as power. In 2000, Wal-Mart might have been richer than Peru, but set beside the government of even that dysfunctional country, it looked pretty feeble. Wal-Mart had no powers of coercion: it could not tax, raise armies, or imprison people. In each of the countries where it operation, it had to bow down to local governments. Previous giants such as ITT or the East India Company could muster real political power; Wal-Mart was simply rather good at retailing.

John Micklethwait and Adrian Wooldridge, The Company: A Short History of a Revolutionary Idea, 2003.

Posted by Nicholas at 09:48 AM | Comments (0)

April 22, 2007

This ain't your daddy's classical music

H/T again to E.D. Trimm.

Posted by Nicholas at 05:34 PM | Comments (1)

Humour test

First, view this:

Then read this: How Laughter Works.

Feel more enlightened?

H/T to E.D. Trimm.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:37 AM | Comments (0)

April 21, 2007

QotD: France

This may be the only Western culture in which the phrase "creative destruction" is fully paradoxical. All of us balk for a moment at the phrase, but the French, I think, must just shake their heads and say, "no, it's creative or it's destructive." This is a culture that approaches perfection, and for a world like this all of the things that make other Western economies go, innovation, responsiveness, competition and innovations, these, in France, are wrong. These contradict the the French style of life.

The English could invent punk because there wasn't very much to keep them from the aesthetic violence it required. The Germans could rebuild the nation state because all it demanded of them was that they tear down a place stinking of cabbage and soft coal. Americans could push us all down the bobsled of post modernity because all it meant was surviving the the bouleversement of Silicon Valley in the late 1990s.

But the French, for them change must feel lapsarian, a fall from an exquisitely accomplished grace. The rest of us blunder from a uncertain present into the maw of a chaotic future, but then as one of my French respondents said, "it's not like you've got very much to lose." The French, you see, pay dearly for change, and sometimes they just can't bring themselves to budge.

Grant McCracken, "France at the intersection of anthropology and economics", This Blog Sits at the, 2007-04-16

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

April 20, 2007

Hate criminal to have book thrown at him

A report from Lewiston, where the repercussions of this horrible crime still reverberate:

The school incident is being treated seriously as "a hate incident," Levesque said. Lewiston police are investigating, and the Center for the Prevention of Hate Violence is working with the school to create a response plan.

"We've got some work to do to turn this around and bring the school community back together again," Levesque said.

Placing ham where Muslim students were eating was "an awful thing," said Stephen Wessler, executive director of the Center for Prevention of Hate Violence. "It's extraordinarily hurtful and degrading" to Muslims, whose religion prohibits them from being around ham. It's important to respond swiftly, Wessler said.

Responses from the blogosphere here and here.

Posted by Nicholas at 02:08 PM | Comments (0)

A documentary about Michael Moore

Canadian filmmakers Debbie Melnyk and Rick Caine are getting some good press for their documentary on Michael Moore:

"That Oscar speech - when he did that, we were standing in our living room literally on our feet applauding," Caine recalled Thursday. "At that time, four days into the Iraq war, 80 per cent of the American public was onside with that war. So it was an incredibly courageous thing to do at that juncture."

Filled with admiration, the couple set out to make a film about their hero, who first became a darling of the left with "Roger and Me." That 1989 documentary centred on Moore's supposedly unsuccessful attempts to get GM president Roger Smith to talk to him about the devastating effects on Flint, Mich., after the carmaker closed down a plant there.

What they discovered about Moore's techniques as they began to research the portly filmmaker stunned and disappointed them. Their journey can be seen in "Manufacturing Dissent," a startling documentary screening Sunday night at Toronto's Hot Docs film festival, running till April 29.

"It was a slow reveal, really," Melnyk says. "We go into things and start to research them as we go along and start to do interviews with people, and we started to realize: 'Oh my God, there are some cheats in these films.' Obviously, the biggest one being that Michael actually did talk to Roger Smith twice during the making of 'Roger and Me.'

Given Moore's popularity in Canada (and his occasional pro-Canuck statements), it's quite surprising that this film was made in the first place: Canadians have a huge soft-spot for anyone who says positive things about the country — especially if they're American. Of course, the two don't want to be taken out of context:

Several Fox News shows were keen to book the couple for some on-air Moore-bashing. They agreed to go on a live Fox show - but only to prevent their comments from being edited to fit what they feel is the network's political agenda.

The couple came out with guns blazing on Fox's "The Live Desk" with host Martha MacCallum [. . .]

"We said: 'This is crap. We do not want to become poster kids for the right-wing media. No, we haven't seen the light and converted.' That is exactly what they were thinking," Melnyk says. "But we were intent on telling them that it's not only Michael Moore who is lying and cheating, it's mainstream news organizations and George Bush."

Interesting take, that: the message shouldn't be tainted by the messenger. Radical. And so unlikely to be understood after the media put it through the sausage-making machinery.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:45 PM | Comments (0)

Somehow, I'm not convinced

Ronald Bailey looks at the implications of a recent study of economic motivations:

Robin Hood took from the rich and gave to the poor. A recent study by a team of researchers headed up by University of California-San Diego political scientist James Fowler suggests that we may all have Robin Hood tendencies. Experimental economists and psychologists from around the world have been watching how people play various economic games as a way to probe the bases of human cooperation. One of the more interesting discoveries is that in economic games some people - altruistic punishers - will take fairly big hits to their winnings in order to reduce the ill-gotten gains of cheaters. Games with altruistic punishers elicit more cooperative behavior among players. In addition, other researchers have found that players will happily spend some of their own winnings in gambling games in order to reduce the "undeserved" winnings of other players.

In re-analyzing some earlier studies, Fowler and his colleagues suggested "that egalitarian motives are more important than motives for punishing non-cooperative behaviour." In other words, people are really more interested in enforcing income equality than they are in punishing cheaters. To tease out motives, Fowler and his colleagues devised a game in which there was no possibility of reciprocity or cooperation. Their hypothesis was that people would spend some of their incomes to equalize the incomes of other players.

I don't dispute that a certain tendency towards egalitarian outcomes may well have been a survival trait in early human development, however I'm not as convinced that the findings (as summarized in the article, anyway) are as applicable as Fowler and team appear to think.

One thing that struck me about their study was that it was — as such studies commonly are — based on the observation of a group of college students. There's plenty of reasons for this being a frequently used group to study: they're generally available during the hours the study's data-collection would normally be easiest to accomplish, they're generally of the same age-cohort, and they're generally willing to be guinea pigs.

On the down-side of using college students as subjects: they're not as representative of the general population. Socially and politically, they're both more likely to be economically well-off and also more likely to be liberal in their views. A sample drawn from this kind of group will have stronger biases toward communitarian outcomes than a more representative sample.

Bailey summarizes:

Assuming that these research findings are valid, how did this innate drive toward enforcing income equality come about? It's hard to see how an inborn drive could arise in Pleistocene hunter gatherers such that people spend their scarce resources to reduce other people's resources promotes either individual or group survival. Or is enforcing equality really all that different an activity from punishing non-cooperating cheaters? Perhaps early in human evolution, large differences in income actually correlated with cheating and thus automatically merited punishment. Another puzzle is if humans are instinctively egalitarian, how did early hierarchical civilizations in which the incomes of priests and kings were significantly higher than those of peasants come about at all? Finally, finding that humans have an innate tendency toward enforcing a norm of income equality would explain the persistent attraction of communism, progressive tax rates, the demand for universal government-supplied health care, minimum wage laws and other such destructive modern leveling ideologies and policies.

Historically, have there been many examples of communitarian groups lasting much longer than the first contact with non-communitarian communities?

Update: Check the comments thread here for more thoughts on the study.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:10 PM | Comments (0)

Swordfighting . . . not just a sublimation of violence

According to this article, the noble art of fencing is also really good at boosting your mathematical abilities:

Mitch Slep took up fencing at the age of 14 because he wanted to improve his coordination and loved the grandeur of the sport. Aside from the aesthetics, there was an aspect of problem solving that appealed to him as he tried to psyche out his opponent's next move.

"It's a really high level of frustration and concentration," says Slep, now 26. "I just felt I was hyper-aware of my opponent's movement."

Little did he know that wielding a sword would enhance his mathematical prowess. What Slep found while serving on his high-school and college teams was that the abstract and analytical aspects of fencing heightened his skill with all things numeric.

"There's a lot of intriguing visualization of space that's involved," says Slep, who majored in math during college and is now a Microsoft software engineer in Seattle. "I haven't picked up a sport with as much technical aspects as fencing. It helped me get where I am today."

What Slep discovered is something sports psychologists are increasingly preaching to educators: Dueling with any one of the three types of fencing swords, whether the lightweight foil, the epee or the thrashing saber, can actually improve math skills.

Hmmmmm. If that's the case, then my base mathematical skills must be pre-reptilian, because I've been involved in various forms of swordplay for decades, and I'm just barely able to calculate the tip to leave when I pay the bill in a restaurant.

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

QotD: Asymmetrical Information

In 1970, American economist George Akerlof wrote a paper called "The Market for 'Lemons'", which established asymmetrical information theory. He eventually won a Nobel Prize for his work, which looks at markets where the seller knows a lot more about the product than the buyer.

Akerlof illustrated his ideas with a used car market. A used car market includes both good cars and lousy ones (lemons). The seller knows which is which, but the buyer can't tell the difference — at least until he's made his purchase. I'll spare you the math, but what ends up happening is that the buyer bases his purchase price on the value of a used car of average quality.

This means that the best cars don't get sold; their prices are too high. Which means that the owners of these best cars don't put their cars on the market. And then this starts spiraling. The removal of the good cars from the market reduces the average price buyers are willing to pay, and then the very good cars no longer sell, and disappear from the market. And then the good cars, and so on until only the lemons are left.

In a market where the seller has more information about the product than the buyer, bad products can drive the good ones out of the market.

Bruce Schneier, "How Security Companies Sucker Us With Lemons", Wired.com, 2007-04-19

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

April 19, 2007

Animated Bayeux Tapestry

H/T to Jerrie Adkins.

Posted by Nicholas at 05:24 PM | Comments (0)

Everybody's talking about it . . .

. . . so even though I have no particularly special insight to offer, I'm being encouraged to say something. This CNN report was sent to me by regular reader "Da Wife", with a strong hint that this is something I should be writing about. So, if retreading old ideas bores you, you can probably skip this item . . .

First, nothing I say here should be interpreted to mean that this most recent atrocity is anything less than horrible: it was. The killer has done everything he could to ensure his own place in a very special hell. I hope, in his case, that there is some form of afterlife . . . because he escaped too easily into death.

From the CNN article:

When Cho Seung-Hui purchased two handguns this year, he apparently followed the letter of the law to get the weapons he eventually used in a shooting rampage on the Virginia Tech campus.

On so many levels, it is pointless arguing about whether a change in state or federal gun laws would have changed anything here. The fact that he bought his guns legally is not particularly relevant. The weapons he bought would be trivially easy to obtain from illegal sources, although at higher prices (and I'm not even certain about that). They were not particularly unusual or unusually powerful weapons (despite much uninformed commentary in the media about "high powered pistols").

The source is unimportant.

Some questions have been raised over Cho's mental health and whether that should have prevented him from being able to purchase the handguns.

A Virginia judge in December 2005 deemed Cho "an imminent danger to himself because of mental illness" and ordered outpatient treatment for him, according to court documents. [. . .]

Virginia and federal law prohibit the sale of guns to anyone who has been sent unwillingly to a mental institution.

So the man had been found to be dangerous enough that he barely avoided being committed to a mental institution. He had, as the current euphemism has it, "issues".

Much of the rest of the article delineates how he legally purchased his weapons "staying just within the limit of one gun purchase per month", as if that has some relevance. It is unlikely that any such limit would have prevented this tragedy. Laws and regulations only deter the law-abiding and make the illegal transactions that much more profitable. They don't prevent illegal sales of firearms. Countries that have much more stringent controls over legal sales still have illegal black markets in weapons.

Criminal defense attorney Daniel Gotlin told CNN he believes the easiest way to prevent similar incidents in the future "is to not make guns so easily available to individuals with problems."

"Virginia has one of the easiest gun qualification laws in the whole United States," he said.

And Democratic Virginia Rep. Jim Moran said on the House floor: "It is simply too easy to obtain a firearm."

Lovely soundbites, but not relevant . . . because nothing was going to prevent this tragedy, only delay it. Let me say it again: laws do not deter anyone but the law-abiding, and they are especially irrelevant in cases of severe mental illness.

Update: As usual, Lileks has a better way to say that last point:

There is nothing to learn from listening to the killer. From looking at him or reading his writings or poking through his background or sticking mikes in the face of anyone who saw him across a cafeteria. Maybe it's just me, but when I first heard of the case I thought: sociopath. A modern word for the man without a soul, the man who either had it stolen by deed or smothered in the womb. I think you can make a sociopath, if you hurt them early enough in a way they can never get their hands around. Others are simply bad seeds from the womb on up, I suspect. No matter what you do, you get a vacant Narcissus with an infinite supply of masks, a clever manniken who cannot apprehend the humanity of others. He could only feel empathy for the object in the mirror, and it's hardly surprising this example spent his last hours posing for the camera. It was the only thing that understood him, and accepted him for the glorious, tragic creature he knew he was.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:40 AM | Comments (1)

QotD: The Royal Family

[. . .] Prince William has broken with his girlfriend. My first thought was that this is a colossal mistake, since the good prince is rapidly coming to resemble his father, which will make it harder to attract another bride so good looking. The second thought is that of course, this is ridiculous, because of course it probably isn't hard to attract attractive women if you're the future king of England. I don't quite understand that, of course, since being a member of the royal family looks like possibly the worst job in the world that doesn't involve handling human waste. But the British always were a bit strange.

Jane Galt, "Good night, sweet prince", Asymmetrical Information, 2007-04-12

Posted by Nicholas at 10:32 AM | Comments (0)

April 18, 2007

Why have an army at all?

Joe Jacobs, in a letter to the Toronto Star asks the question,

Realistically, why do we need a military at all? It's not like we need to be able to protect ourselves from the Americans. If President George W. Bush wanted to invade Canada and take all of our water and other resources, he could do it tomorrow. How would we possibly stop him? And if any other country invaded or attacked Canada, the United States would respond because we are in its "sphere of influence."

Given this, it is absurd that we should spend some $15 billion annually simply to be an adjunct to the U.S. military. Just imagine what we could do with that money if it was invested in education, the environment, taking care of seniors or building a national child-care system.

If we didn't have an army, what would prevent the Americans, the Russians, or even the Danes from taking over part or all of the country? Well, not much, clearly: the primary purpose of any military is to defend the homeland. Without an army (even as small a one as Canada's), why would anyone even pretend to pay attention to what Canadians claim to be their territory?

Mr. Jacobs is correct that President Bush could order troops into Canada tomorrow, and there would be little or nothing we could do to stop him. Why not? What benefit is it to his government to leave a loose cannon (no, not a cannon; perhaps a loose bong?) like a totally defenceless Canada on the northern border.

Does Mr. Jacobs actually think that we can live as literal freeloaders on the American military (as several Republican politicians have already accused us of, over the last 20 years or so)? What price does he think we would pay in exchange for giving up one of the primary determinants of nationhood? Would our largest trading partner just let us carry on as if nothing had changed?

I strongly doubt it. Canada is constrained by the need to maintain our peaceful trading relationship with the huge US market we serve. A month-long interdiction of the US-Canadian border would shatter our economy, throwing hundreds of thousands of workers on to the streets. It probably wouldn't even take a month for the economic pain to strike very deeply: we are disproportionally dependent on selling our raw materials to US customers . . . and if they stopped buying from us, we'd have damned few options open in the short term. Even dumping everything on the open market would require transportation that we're not set up to organize overnight.

Mr. Jacobs may be sanguine at the notion of Canada becoming a literal "frozen banana" republic, but it's not a future most of us would be happy with. At least, I hope that most Canadians feel somewhat the same way. Recent polls do not leave me too hopeful, in the long run.

Posted by Nicholas at 03:42 PM | Comments (1)

QotD: Sex-Ed's relevance

Before I start, let me say I'm no fan of abstinence based education. But the much-hyped study from HHS, showing that abstinence based education makes no difference in adolescent sexual behaviour, is not exactly a triumph for the prior consensus on sex ed. Everyone seems to have missed the explosive finding, which is that abstinence-based education makes no difference in adolescent sexual behaviour. The kids didn't have sex any later, but they also weren't any less likely to use birth control. If this study is correct, it implies that all sex-ed is useless, a result I don't find particularly surprising, actually.

Jane Galt, "I do not think that means what you think it means", Asymmetrical Information, 2007-04-16

Posted by Nicholas at 10:11 AM | Comments (2)

April 17, 2007

QotD: Taxes

Sub-headline from an article about a survey on taxes: "An MSN-Zogby poll says that many Americans think they're paying too much in taxes even though research shows the average tax burden is light compared with other developed countries."

Interesting. I've also heard that for some reason, paraplegics would like to get the use of their limbs back, even though other people are totally paralyzed from the neck down. Oh, and people who have lost an eye would like to get their 3D vision back, despite the existence of blind people. What is wrong with these people?

Glen Whitman, "Non Sequitur City", Agoraphilia, 2007-04-12

Posted by Nicholas at 10:06 AM | Comments (0)

April 16, 2007

QotD: Principles

[P]rinciples mean nothing — in fact, they mean less than nothing — when adhering to them is easy. Adhering to them when it's hard is what principles are all about, and the determination to do so is called integrity.

L. Neil Smith, "Immigration and Integrity", Libertarian Enterprise, 2007-04-15

April 15, 2007

QotD: Movie geekery

[Nathan Fillion]: I love to go see movies.

[Choire Sicha]: And what have you seen?

[Nathan Fillion]: "300"! I'm always waiting for an opening for someone to say, "This is crazy" or "This is weird" — it has to be "This is" — and then I kick them and say, "THIS IS SPARTA." You have to have it ready. In your holster, cocked and loaded.

Choire Sicha, "These days, he's taking the lead", L.A. Times, 2007-04-15

Posted by Nicholas at 11:58 PM | Comments (0)

April 14, 2007

Equestrian dance

The WEG2006 Freestyle Dressage Final performance of ANDREAS HELGSTRAND on BLUE HORS MATINE. H/T to Diane Echelbarger.

Posted by Nicholas at 05:18 PM | Comments (0)

QotD: Human Nature

The more I think about it, the more I'm beginning to feel that this is the basis for all wrong-headed thinking in the world. To quote Monty Python: "Strange women lying in ponds distributing swords is not a basis for a system of government." We all had a good giggle at that; and yet, "From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs" is no less ridiculous as a basis for a system of government, because it starts off with an unreal premise: that Man is a selfless human being, will continue to suppress his innate selfishness for the sake of the greater good, and will not take advantage of the hard work of others to make his own life easier.

Kim du Toit, "Not That Way", The Other Side of Kim du Toit, 2007-04-11

Posted by Nicholas at 05:09 PM | Comments (0)

April 13, 2007

The Chinese economy

Everyone must have heard many different variations on how incredible the Chinese economy is: spectacular growth, innovations galore, etc., etc. And there's much truth to it — China has been industrializing at a mind-croggling pace. At least, the visual evidence says so. The economic data coming out of China is, to be kind, not as dependable as similar data from most other countries.

I realize it's considered bad form to quote yourself, but I still think the same way as when I wrote this and this.

[From August, 2004]: While there is no doubt that China is a fast-growing economy, the most common mistake among both investors and pundits is to assume that China is really just like South Carolina or Ireland . . . a formerly depressed area now achieving good results from modernization. The problem is that China is not just the next Atlanta, Georgia, or Slovenia. China is still, more or less, a command economy with a capitalist face. One of the biggest players in the Chinese economy is the army, and not just in the sense of being a big purchaser of capital goods (like the United States Army, for example).

The Chinese army owns or controls huge sectors of the economy, and runs them in the same way it would run a division or an army corps. The very term "command economy" would seem to have been minted to describe this situation. The numbers reported by these "companies" bear about the same resemblance to reality as those posted by Enron or Worldcom. With so much of their economy not subject to profit and loss, every figure from China must be viewed as nothing more than a guess (at best) or active disinformation.

Three years on, I must retract a tiny bit there . . . Enron's and Worldcom's figures, while deliberately misleading, were refutable (and the culprits taken to court).

[From October, 2004]: Much of the problem is that even now, the Chinese economy is not particularly free: the official and unofficial controls on the economy provide far too many opportunities for rent-seeking officialdom to play favourites and cripple antagonists (and for once, "cripple" is not just a bit of hyperbole). Any numbers provided by the Chinese authorities can not be depended upon, and should probably only be viewed as an indication of what the Chinese government wants the outside world to believe.

Even in a relatively free economy like Canada, the underground economy can be huge, with plenty of economic activity happening out of reach of the taxman. In China, where everybody was raised in an environment where providing the "wrong" answer to your leader could get you imprisoned (or executed) as an economic criminal, the numbers upon which the bankers and financial officials depend can only be described as extremely unreliable.

Samizdata links to a brief Tyler Cowen post which includes this quote:

...of the 3,220 Chinese citizens with a personal wealth of 100 million yuan ($13 million) or more, 2,932 are children of high-level cadres. Of the key positions in the five industrial sectors - finance, foreign trade, land development, large-scale engineering and securities - 85% to 90% are held by children of high-level cadres.

That's even higher than I expected. But it's an excellent example of what I originally wrote about back in 2004: the economy isn't free, and the beneficiaries are disproportionally those who are politically well-connected. Caveat investor.

Posted by Nicholas at 04:54 PM | Comments (0)

QotD: Belinda Stronach's retirement

Suppose, on entering politics, she had been content to start out as a humble backbench MP. Suppose she had spent some time learning the ropes, mastering a few files, practicing public speaking, acquiring a smattering of French, demonstrating an ability to work with others. Suppose she had supported the same party for more than a year or two. After a while, people might have said: you know, she's got a lot of money, she looks good in expensive clothes — and she's qualified. Let's put her up for leader!

But that would have taken time — a year at least — and Ms. Stronach is not accustomed to waiting. Or perhaps, to be more charitable, she was the recipient of spectacularly bad advice. At any rate, that is not how things worked out.

Andrew Coyne, "She could have been a contender", National Post, 2007-04-12

Posted by Nicholas at 09:02 AM | Comments (0)

April 12, 2007

Iacocca jackhammers W

John Scalzi finds an excerpt from Lee Iacocca's book which clearly impresses him:

Seriously, this is what it looks like when an 82-year-old man has a real live moment of catharsis. An 82-year-old man who is coming to kick your ass. I hope to be so stemwinding at that age.

Some of Iacocca's thoughts:

You might think I'm getting senile, that I've gone off my rocker, and maybe I have. But someone has to speak up. I hardly recognize this country anymore. The President of the United States is given a free pass to ignore the Constitution, tap our phones, and lead us to war on a pack of lies. Congress responds to record deficits by passing a huge tax cut for the wealthy (thanks, but I don't need it). The most famous business leaders are not the innovators but the guys in handcuffs. While we're fiddling in Iraq, the Middle East is burning and nobody seems to know what to do. And the press is waving pom-poms instead of asking hard questions. That's not the promise of America my parents and yours traveled across the ocean for. I've had enough. How about you?

I'll go a step further. You can't call yourself a patriot if you're not outraged. This is a fight I'm ready and willing to have. [. . .]

You can't be a leader if you don't have COMMON SENSE. I call this Charlie Beacham's rule. When I was a young guy just starting out in the car business, one of my first jobs was as Ford's zone manager in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania. My boss was a guy named Charlie Beacham, who was the East Coast regional manager. Charlie was a big Southerner, with a warm drawl, a huge smile, and a core of steel. Charlie used to tell me, "Remember, Lee, the only thing you've got going for you as a human being is your ability to reason and your common sense. If you don't know a dip of horseshit from a dip of vanilla ice cream, you'll never make it." George Bush doesn't have common sense. He just has a lot of sound bites. You know — Mr. they'll-welcome-us-as-liberators-no-child-left-behind-heck-of-a-job-Brownie-mission-accomplished Bush.

Former President Bill Clinton once said, "I grew up in an alcoholic home. I spent half my childhood trying to get into the reality-based world — and I like it here."

I think our current President should visit the real world once in a while.

Posted by Nicholas at 02:36 PM | Comments (1)

German tanks, Dutch tanks, Canadian tanks

To my surprise, this news just got reported over at The Torch:

Here's what I've heard from sources within the defence community, what I was waiting for the official announcement to confirm:

  • The 20 Leopard 2A6M's we'll be acquiring from the Germans aren't a lease, they're a loan. That is to say, while we're going to have to give them back in the condition we got them, and while there may be some incremental costs to their transport, operation, et cetera, we're not paying the Germans for the use of their tanks. A big, hearty thank-you needs to go out to Germany for this gesture of friendship and allied solidarity. We're going to try to get them into theatre this summer, for the worst of the heat, but meeting those timings will be tight.
  • We're going to be buying a total of 100 used Leos from the Netherlands, for delivery sometime this fall. These tanks have apparently been properly stored and maintained to keep them in top shape. Of those 100 tanks, 40 will be 2A4's for two training squadrons in Canada (one in Gagetown, one in Wainwright), 40 will be two squadrons of 2A6's that after some Canadianization and upgrades (especially to the armour) will be deployable anywhere we need them, and 20 will be specialist tanks (bridge-layers, ARV's, dozers, etc).

For the troops in Afghanistan (and potential future deployments), this is excellent news.

Posted by Nicholas at 01:41 PM | Comments (0)

Latest issue of OWR now online

This week's edition of the OntarioWineReview is now online. Michael talks about the "cork problem": when contamination from TCA has impaired (or even ruined) the wine:

Simply put, "corked wine" is wine that has been tainted or contaminated by TCA, more specifically 2,4,6-Trichloroanisole. How it gets into your wine is an interesting story. You see, for aesthetic purposes, cork, once it has been taken off the tree, is given a bath in a bleaching mixture. Within said mixture is the real culprit, chlorine, which when it comes in contact with some molds, that occur naturally and harmlessly in cork, causes a chemical reaction. If natural corks aren’t properly and thoroughly rinsed and dried after their bath, the mold lives on and they are considered contaminated, and when said cork comes in contact with the wine, you get the dreaded TCA . . . and that equals yucky wine. I have over-simplified the science and chemistry, but I'm sure you get the point. TCA manifests itself as smells that have been described as wet, musty and moldy, as in wet cardboard, wet newspaper, musty basement, old dirty socks — need I go on? The taste isn't much better than the smell — musty, muted and hollow flavours — subdued is one of the best ways to describe TCA tainted wine. Your wine does not have to be swimming in it either, as little as 5 parts per trillion can be detected. It's not just old wines that can be affected; young wines can get it too. Once the wine comes into contact with tainted/contaminated cork you have yourself some TCA-wine. However, have no fear, it can’t hurt you to drink it . . . it's just not very pleasant and you won't want to, as I found out from my bottle of 2000 Casillero del Diablo (which smelled like the devil’s gym socks).

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

QotD: Blogging Code of Conduct

OK, so I run a good little blog here and have for sometime imposed my will on the idiotic and rude by giving clear warning, then imposing supersmall text or messing around their words and then deleting. No guru needed yet. All sensible and, of course, none of your business because all this is mine and all you are here based only on my will. Yet now I and you have to have read crap like this: "We celebrate the blogosphere because it embraces frank and open conversation." I cannot bear when people use celebrate like this. I do not "celebrate the blogoshere." I (and you) waste my life on the internet and record that futile and stupid hobby through blogs. That is the second step. First, the gurus make us listen to them. Then they tell us what to celebrate.

And what would be my Code? I care not for your frankness and openness — I have to be honest, right?. I do like your wit or unusual experiences but I reserve the right to edit them to my liking when I am having a bad day. Your thoughts are like crayons in the desk of a six year old, to be considered and abused as I deem fit. I reserve the right to demand civility but not have it demanded of me. Yet gurus would have me not be so fully me. I have to remake myself in their image.

Alan McLeod, "Attack Of The Gurus Of Blogging Sighted", Gen X at 40, 2007-04-10

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

April 11, 2007

Belated thanks, Helmut

By way of a post at The Torch, I found out something of which I had previously been unaware: that Canada nearly gave up its armoured warfare capability in 1976. Of all people, it was German chancellor Helmut Schmidt who saved the day:

After the Second World War, the need for armour on the future battlefield was self-evident to all who had served in the army. As a result, Canada's army was equipped with the then latest Centurion tanks. In the late '60s and early '70s, the Centurions became obsolete and the Canadian government announced it would end its tank capability by 1976.

However, talks between Germany's Chancellor Helmut Schmidt and then prime minister Pierre Trudeau resulted in Canada acquiring German-built Leopard tanks to resolve the imbalance of trade between the two countries. Resolving the imbalance in trade, not the government's need to maintain an armoured fighting capability, resulted in this necessary capability being reinvigorated.

Thanks, Helmut.

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

Thanks, Wil. My brain is now fried

By way of that heartless bastard Wil Wheaton, I must direct your attention (and your speakers) to Polka Floyd.


No, you can't have those minutes back either.

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

No more racist, sexist, ethnic or other hurtful language

Marty Beckerman discusses the several recent brouhahas (brouhahii?) over hurtful epithets:

So when does race-based humor qualify as harmless entertainment — albeit risqué and provocative — and when does it qualify as actual racism?

With my friends of other ethnic backgrounds — and okay, I probably need some more of these — the back-and-forth of boorish jokes is simply a way to kill time, share a few laughs and ease subconscious tension: the other night I joked that my Japanese immigrant friend should have applied for a yellow card instead of a green card; he fired back that if my bad Jewish self ever walked into a brick wall with an erection, I'd suffer a broken nose. (Neither of us felt the need to file a petition with the Anti-Defamation League, although I might need to watch my back for the little guy's razor-sharp throwing stars.) The wider American culture's embrace of stereotype-laced humor serves a similar purpose to our banter: making people feel more comfortable with one another so they can get past their prejudices.

This is why Richards, Coulter and Imus landed on their faces even though Americans love to laugh at bigotry: these entertainers poured salt into centuries-old wounds with cheap punch lines-simple, worthless slurs; spiteful, desperate pleas for attention-instead of throwing our collective ridiculousness back into our faces. Their sin had nothing to do with edgy jokes; it was that instead of shedding light on everyone, they only shed light on themselves.

It really has changed the public sphere over the last generation: racist jokes were very common on the playground when I was a child, and sexist neanderthals still inhabit some niche ecosystems in the working world. Anti-gay jokes are less common — at least I encounter them far less frequently than just a few years ago, although (to borrow a term from Berke Breathed) offensesensitivity seems to be more widespread now than ever before.

There's really only one safe group to joke about: Englishmen. Not English women, certainly. And not British people in general: the Scots, the Welsh, and the Irish have been slighted sufficiently. Other Europeans have borne the brunt of more than their fair share of jokes. No other form of stereotyping will pass muster in this day and age, so stick it to the Bloody Poms . . . they're (temporarily) safe to abuse.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:12 AM | Comments (0)

The diet dilemma

Radley Balko reviews the latest findings from the front-lines of the obesity wars:

A comprehensive meta-study from UCLA of 31 other studies of dieters found that 83 percent of people who go on diets eventually put on more weight than before they started. What's more, the wear and tear associated with yo-yo weight loss and gain makes them much less healthy for trying. This would include the low-fat, high-fiber diet recommended by the U.S. government. [. . .]

All of which could mean that all of these calls from ant-fat activists and PR campaigns from the U.S. government encourage people to lose weight aren't just meddlesome. If 83 percent of people who try to lose weight fail, and are less healthy for trying, these sorts of messages could well be doing harm. As the dietitian in the Guardian article suggests, you're far better off just trying to get some cardiovascular exercise several times per week and not worrying so much about weight.

Among the many reasons for North Americans getting fatter is the huge change in our working lives over the past twenty years or so: more of us work in sedentary jobs, yet we still tend to eat as if we were going out to hew coal from the mine every morning. We're programmed by our upbringing to eat "three square meals" every day, and the meals we eat are almost certainly higher in calories than those our parents and grandparents prepared.

Dieting is a mug's game: we're fighting our own genes to avoid adding that extra layer of fat that our prehistoric ancestors needed to survive. To avoid the weight gain, we need to be more physically active. I say this as someone who knows that I'm carrying my own share of extra weight, so this isn't an exercise junkie preaching here . . .

Posted by Nicholas at 09:56 AM | Comments (0)

April 10, 2007

The hydrogen future: a non-starter

Ronald Bailey quotes at length from Robert Zubrin's article providing the facts and figures debunking the idea that hydrogen is the solution to energy problems:

Neither type of hydrogen is even remotely economical as fuel. The wholesale cost of commercial grade liquid hydrogen (made the cheap way, from hydrocarbons) shipped to large customers in the United States is about $6 per kilogram. High purity hydrogen made from electrolysis for scientific applications costs considerably more. Dispensed in compressed gas cylinders to retail customers, the current price of commercial grade hydrogen is about $100 per kilogram. For comparison, a kilogram of hydrogen contains about the same amount of energy as a gallon of gasoline. This means that even if hydrogen cars were available and hydrogen stations existed to fuel them, no one with the power to choose otherwise would ever buy such vehicles. This fact alone makes the hydrogen economy a non-starter in a free society.

And even if you are among those willing to sacrifice freedom and economic rationality for the sake of the environment, and therefore prefer hydrogen for its advertised benefit of reduced carbon dioxide emissions, think again. Because hydrogen is actually made by reforming hydrocarbons, its use as fuel would not reduce greenhouse gas emissions at all. In fact, it would greatly increase them.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:38 AM | Comments (0)

Ain't science amazing?

It must have been a dull day in the labs when they cooked up this experiment:

The UK's universities are fast forging a reputation for the kind of ground-breaking research which can only leave lesser seats of learning looking on in awe.

Indeed, hot on the heels of the Aberdeen better darts project, triumphant scientists at Leeds have cracked that most imponderable of posers: how to create the ultimate bacon sarnie.

And the answer? Simple: take two or three back bacon rashers, cook under a preheated grill for seven minutes at around 240°C and nestle between two slices of farmhouse bread around 1-2cm thick. Then eat.

In case you think this recipe is something any self-respecting undergraduate could cook up, you should know that it took four Leeds University Department of Food Science experts 1,000 hours to work their way through 700 bacon sarnie variations.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:50 AM | Comments (0)

April 09, 2007

QotD: Port

The added brandy contributes to port's incredible longevity — good ports from major years can easily improve for fifty years and last for a hundred. [. . .] On the downside, the brandy and the residual sugar contribute mightily to your hangover. Not to mention the fact that you have inevitably thrown back a few glasses of the dry red stuff and perhaps the odd cocktail before you get to the port. The alcohol level of most ports is around 20 percent — as opposed to a rough average of 12 percent for dry red wines — but the next day you may have a hard time believing that it's not even higher. This may be the place to say that it's never a good idea to pour a third glass of port, no matter how excellent the plan seems at the time. And even the second should not be undertaken lightly, particularly by those who hope to get lucky, or to drive home, like patriotic Americans, on the right-hand side of the road.

Jay McInerney, Bacchus & Me: Adventures in the Wine Cellar, 2002-03

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

April 08, 2007

It's tax-time again, kids!

H/T to Jason Ciastko.

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

Kids go hungry at Vimy Memorial

In yet another silly move, the Veterans Affairs department of the Canadian federal government takes careful aim and shoots itself in the foot:

The department has withdrawn an offer to provide lunch for 3,600 Canadian students — one for each of the Canadian soldiers killed in the attack — who are to attend a ceremony at the memorial on April 9.

Meanwhile, Radio-Canada has reported that the translation at the memorial has errors in verb tenses, gender and word usage. [. . .]

The trip organizers thought the government was going to feed the students, but then told teachers across the country that Veterans Affairs changed its mind about providing the lunches due to the cost.

Now organizers are allocating $30,000 that was to have bought the students souvenir hats to buy box lunches.

The students raised the funds to pay for their travel and other costs on the trip.

Typical cheese-paring behaviour of certain branches of the government. Surely the cost of 3600 boxed lunches wouldn't have broken the budget?

Obligatory declaration of interest: two of Victor's friends are among the 3600 students taking part in the ceremony.

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

April 07, 2007

Off to (Ontario) wine country . . .

. . . try not to kick up too much of a ruckus in the comments while I'm out, okay?

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

April 06, 2007

QotD: Letters to the editor

Editors love it when you write outraged letters to them, but not for the reasons you might think.

Editors love your outraged letters because it tells they you're reading them.

They love your letters, even when you scold them, because it shows you care.

Editors love printing your letter that takes them to task because it shows they are pleased to balance a large chunk of airtime or copy with a few seconds or inches of dissent.

But the dirty little secret beneath the editors' love for your outraged letter is that means, almost all of the time, that you didn't send that letter to one of the editors' advertisers.

Gerard Vanderleun, "And Now, A Word to Rosie's Sponsors", American Digest, 2007-04-04

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

April 05, 2007

The deep meaning of WC&GS

Courtesy of the inimitable Bob Tarantino, we have the latest evidence of why I'm so happy to be old, shrivelled, and no longer even aware of what's happening on the dating scene:

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

QotD: The purpose of the military

The Army is complete and utter totalitarianism. When you enter, you're stripped of all individuality, then built back up into a proper, orders-taking, unquestioning drone. Dissent is punished. At the onset of your career, all facets of your life are dictated to you. Whatever the state orders of you — even if it orders you to your death — you're trained to comply willingly and with vigor, and to never question the validity or morality of the order. [. . .]

I'm not an anti-military libertarian. I think it's necessary, and I think there are times when it's necessary that we use it. When used properly — to kill people and destroy infrastructure — it's marvelously good at what it does (it's not so good at building liberal societies from sand, rubble, and ethnic strife, but that's another discussion). But that is what the military is for. It's for destroying things, including large quantities of life. The values Wright so admires — and the procedures the military uses to instill those values — are emphasized because time and experience has shown that those are the values most conducive to the military's mission. Which — at risk of repeating myself — is killing people and destroying their countries.

Radley Balko, "We're All in the Army Now", Hit and Run, 2007-04-05

Posted by Nicholas at 12:42 PM | Comments (0)

Peter Bagge on the homeless problem

Last month's artistic interpretation from Reason magazine, now online.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:37 PM | Comments (0)

Japanese Culture, 101

The art and science of eating sushi . . . a much more intricate and culturally sensitive topic than you might think.

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

April 04, 2007

Religious discrimination in North Carolina

Pastafarian suspended from school for wearing distinctive garb of his religion:

A student has been suspended from school in America for coming to class dressed as a pirate.

But the disciplinary action has provoked controversy — because the student says that the ban violates his rights, as the pirate costume is part of his religion.

Bryan Killian says that he follows the Pastafarian religion, and that as a crucial part of his faith, he must wear 'full pirate regalia' as prescribed in the holy texts of Pastafarianism.

H/T to Wil Wheaton.

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

John Scalzi on getting out of poverty

John Scalzi, in another of his reader-suggested articles, discusses the ways and means of escaping from poverty:

The second anecdote involves my wife — who to be sure is not in poverty, but bear with me. When Krissy and I met, she had her high school diploma and that was it. Anyone who knows me knows I think my wife is smarter, more sensible and better organized than I am, because she is — I have met very few people who are as flat-out competent as my wife. But because she had only a high school diploma, she was locked into a series of jobs that were, to put it mildly, wildly below her abilities, and wildly below what should have been earning. It didn't matter that she was clearly capable enough and intelligent enough for other jobs; those jobs weren't open to her because employers listed a college diploma as a criterion. Fortunately, her current employer recognized her brains and paid for her to complete her college education, so they could put her in a job that required a BA. Now she has a quite nice job with a perfectly good salary. What has changed about Krissy? Not her intelligence, her competence or her abilities. What's changed is now she has a piece of parchment that says "bachelor of arts" on it.

It sucks that by and large smart, capable people are locked out of good jobs because some HR dweeb has decided to use a college degree as a filtering device. In perfect world this wouldn't be done. This is not that world. Getting a college degree does not assure one will lift out of poverty — I know lots of starving post-grads — but does mean one's options are much wider. Poverty in the United States is very often about a lack of options, and a lack of good choices. Giving one's self the ability to have more options in one's life matters. Beyond the simple fact of the college degree, the process of education can offer other useful things — placement services, access to internships, the implicit task and time management training that comes from attending classes on a schedule, etc — all of which will come in handy in the real world. But at the end of the day it's really simple. Education provides options.

Excellent advice, and remarkably close to what we've been telling Victor: a university degree isn't a guarantee of wealth, but the lack of one is a big handicap to overcome. Nowadays, with so many companies doing their recruiting on the web, if you don't have a degree, your application never even makes it to a living human being. The kinder ones at least let you know that you don't meet their requirements, but others just silently send your application to /dev/null. They get enough applicants who do meet their initial criteria that they don't even worry about those that don't. They don't have time or resources to do additional intelligent filtering on applicants who might otherwise be suitable, but who don't have a degree.

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

Toronto to export garbage at retail level

Well, that's not what the official intent of the proposed $15 per month garbage collection fee, but it will be one of the most likely outcomes.

Toronto homeowners could soon be paying an average fee of $15 a month to have their garbage hauled away. But Mayor David Miller is pledging he'll cut property taxes by the same amount.

Households that toss the most trash also would pay the highest bills, as a way of encouraging composting and recycling, according to a city staff proposal that would overhaul the city's garbage-collection system.

Garbage collection, especially in a large urban area like Toronto, is one of the classic "free rider" problems. Everyone benefits by having municipal garbage collected and taken away (regardless of whether the service is public or private), and few of us would want to revert to a no-collection scheme: it's a public health concern. How to allocate the costs of these services is always a problem, because of the free riders: those who pay little or nothing toward the costs, but receive benefits regardless.

Many municipalities have gone with various forms of garbage bag tags: each household receives a set number of tags, which must be attached to the bag for the bag to be collected. This works fine . . . as long as the number of tags issued is proportional, and that extra tags are not over-priced. And also, that the scheme isn't being used as a political weapon to force behavioural changes on the participants.

Most people, most of the time, will be willing to go along with bag tags (or some other equivalent pay-as-you-pitch scheme), but some won't. When we lived in Toronto, for example, we would frequently discover that one or more of our neighbours had added their trash to ours . . . pushing us over the limit for what would be picked up. So we were left, literally, holding the bag.

At one point, we actually saw someone doing this. The person was walking past our house, and dropped a garbage bag on our lawn, and was out of sight by the time we got out to the street. Fortunately for us, there was an addressed envelope in the bag, so we were able to track down and return the bag to its origin. What was truly puzzling was that the bag came from an apartment building about a block away . . . where the garbage was collected communally. This person had gone to the trouble of taking the garbage bag from the building . . . probably even walking past the garbage chute, out onto the street, then carried it past half a dozen other houses before selecting our lawn as an appropriate resting spot.

This person wasn't even being personally inconvenienced, yet chose to impose her externalities on us. Multiply that by all the folks who'll prefer to just find a quiet area along the road to dump their trash, rather than pay for having it collected. Pickering, Markham, and Mississauga are certainly going to discover a significant increase in the amount of dumped trash along their borders with Toronto.

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

A shitty educational experience

Ah, Toronto public schools. Where else does the term "shitty education" get so literal?

A suspended Toronto elementary school principal has pleaded guilty to throwing feces (excrement) on a child.

Maria Pantalone, 49, was charged with two counts of assault — one against that child and one against another — but only admitted to one of the charges today.

"I couldn’t take it any more," she testified, in describing the provocative circumstances leading up to the incident last June 30.

But she agreed it wasn't in any way justified.

H/T to Hit and Run.

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

QotD: History repeats

The curious thing is the lion that didn't roar. Tony Blair has views on everything and is usually happy to expound on them at length — if you'd just arrived from Planet Zongo and were plunked down at a joint Blair/Bush press conference on Iraq or Afghanistan or most of the rest of the world, you'd be forgiven for coming away with the impression that the Prime Minister's doing 90 per cent of the heavy lifting and the President's just there for emergency back-up. Yet, on an act of war and/or piracy perpetrated directly against British forces, Mister Chatty is mum. [. . .]

Even odder has been the acquiescence of the press. If pictures had been unearthed of some over-zealous Guantanamo guards doing to our plucky young West Midlands jihadi what the Iranian government did on TV to those Royal Marines, two thirds of Fleet Street (including many of my Spectator and Telegraph colleagues) would be frothing non-stop.

Instead, they seem to have accepted the British spin that there's been no breach of the Geneva Conventions because the Marines and sailors weren't official prisoners of war, just freelance kidnap victims you can have what sport you wish with.

Why didn't Bush think of that one?

Mark Steyn, "Ayatollah So", Daily Telegraph, 2004-06-07

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

April 03, 2007

Scott Adams' latest economic theory

Scott Adams, creator of the Dilbert-based economic empire, has come up with a new economic theory, which appears to be unrefutable:

We can test the validity of this theory by seeing how well it predicts behavior. For example, the Boner Theory of Economics predicts that eventually all shoe salespeople jobs will be filled by men with foot fetishes. The only reason it’s not completely true already is that the managers filling those jobs haven’t realized they are overpaying. I wonder how many interviews have gone like this:

Manager: "The job involves kneeling in front of women and touching their feet. Are you okay with that?"

Applicant: "Um . . . er . . . yes."

Manager: "The pay is $10 per hour."

Applicant: "I can only afford to pay you $8 per hour."

Manager: "We pay you. You don’t pay us."

Applicant: "Can we start over with the negotiating?"

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

Pessimistic report on Britain's military

Nick Packwood rounds up all the depressing news from Britain, confirming that things are getting worse on several fronts:

I can only hope the anemic reaction of the British public to the last five years is because the British public does not understand the scope of the problem.* This LA Times (?) opinion piece explained the problem to the American public over a month ago. It has been born out by events.

The linked LA Times editorial has nice things to say about both British and Canadian military personnel, but correctly points out that both governments have been trying to do too much with too little:

Royal Navy, which is at its smallest size since the 1500s. Now, British newspapers report, of the remaining 44 warships, at least 13 and possibly as many as 19 will be mothballed. If these cuts go through, Britain's fleet will be about the same size as those of Indonesia and Turkey and smaller than that of its age-old rival, France.

Britain is hardly alone in its unilateral disarmament. A similar trend can be discerned among virtually all of the major U.S. allies, aside from Japan. Canada is a particularly poignant case in point. At the end of World War II, Canada had more than a million men under arms and operated the world's third-biggest navy (behind the U.S. and Britain), with more than 400 ships. Today, it has all of 62,000 personnel on active duty, and its navy has just 19 warships and 23 support vessels, making it one-fourth the size of the U.S. Coast Guard.

Of course, numbers aren't the entire story. Both Britain and Canada have top-notch soldiers, allowing them to punch above their weight class in military affairs. But there is only so much that a handful of super-soldiers can accomplish if their numbers are grossly inadequate. Quality can't entirely make up for lack of quantity.

In Canada's case, decades of neglect cannot be made up quickly: equipment takes time to order, build, and deploy, but it takes even longer to rebuild the units themselves. Soldiers do not wander in off civvie street today and become militarily effective tomorrow; it takes years to re-create effective battalions. Canada's military may not have years . . . the current minority government has no guarantee that it will see out the next session of parliament, never mind win a majority in a subsequent election (and it will take years of uninterrupted efforts to get the Canadian Forces back into shape).

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

Optimistic report from SpaceX

Dale Amon has an upbeat report on the recent test flight data from SpaceX:

It turns out that as many of us suspected, there was a feedback between fuel slosh and the control equations:


In a nutshell, the data shows that the increasing oscillation of the second stage was likely due to the slosh frequency in the liquid oxygen (LOX) tank coupling with the thrust vector control (engine steering) system. This started out as a pitch-yaw movement and then transitioned into a corkscrewing motion. For those that aren't engineers, imagine holding a bowl of soup and moving it from side to side with small movements, until the entire soup mass is shifting dramatically. Our simulations prior to flight had led us to believe that the control system would be able to damp out slosh, however we had not accounted for the perturbations of a contact on the stage during separation, followed by a hard slew to get back on track.

There was indeed a contact of the first stage with the bell of the stage two motor at stage separation and it was indeed not a big thing [. . .] The vehicle will be launching a satellite on its next flight

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

QotD: The Year of the Fall

I tell younger people sometimes that "I was there at the fall" — that I can remember a time before the Western world finished going crazy. They don't believe me. They think everyone remembers the end of his childhood that way. But no: they are wrong and I am right. The nadir was achieved around 1969, when all the gulls of the 'sixties came home to roost. On the exposed hull of the ship, as it were.

The proof came to hand, recently, when a friend since early childhood sent me the link to a website where my high school yearbooks were stored: including the entire contents for my Grade IX year of 1967-68, and ditto for my drop-out year of 1969-70. (You will have to take this on faith, I won't supply the link. I don't need some blogger in Saskatchewan re-posting pictures of me as a young dweeb.)

The difference is dramatic. The teachers in the earlier yearbook are, when male, invariably in boring suits with narrow ties; and when female, regardless of age, dressed as school marms. The kids themselves, though not uniformed, are almost uniformly wholesome-looking. The photographer has obviously told them how to pose, they haven't been left to smirk and look ridiculous. The boys look as if they had slide-rules in their pockets. None of the girls look like sluts. (Even the ones who, as I recall, were sluts.)

Just two years later, and the teachers are a mess. The ties are disappearing, and some of the men are growing beards. One is actually wearing sunglasses. The younger female teachers are dressing to kill. Longhairs have started to roam the corridors; several of the kids look drugged. Group photos are chaotic, and the photographers should have been sued for half the mug shots. Hippie-dippie graphics have invaded the yearbook itself. The comments with the graduates' pictures have become dangerously risqué and smartass.

David Warren, "Date of inversion", Ottawa Citizen, 2007-04-01

Posted by Nicholas at 08:54 AM | Comments (0)

April 02, 2007

QotD: Orwellian April

Finally, in a story so bewildering it may retire the entire concept of "Orwellian" once and for all, the company that owns the copyright to Orwell's 1984 recently sent a chill letter to YouTube over the now-famous anti-Hillary "Vote Different" video because, at the end, it makes a reference to the Orwell's novel, the implication being that copyright law prevents anyone from citing 1984 in a work attempting to warn us that the state is ascending to 1984-like proportions. Which probably means this entire post is illegal, too.

Unfortunately, there isn't an April Fool's joke anywhere in this post.

Radley Balko, "Reality Nudges Ahead of Dystopia", Hit and Run, 2007-04-01

Posted by Nicholas at 10:17 AM | Comments (0)

April 01, 2007

Latest addition to the Red Ensign Brigade

Please welcome Akaash Maharaj, the newest member of the Red Ensign Brigade. He's been blogging recently about his adventures in 19th-century cavalry exercises . . . tent pegging.

I was roused for competition just after half-past five in the morning, by a mullah belting out prayers from a minaret facing my hotel room. Somehow, the world equestrian skill-at-arms championships just keep getting more surreal.

The hotel lobby was a sartorial riot of anachronism and multiculturalism: riders from around the world; sporting breeches and polished spurs; variously adorned with circlets, gilt armbands, and theatric turbans; carrying swords, sabres, and lances. Well, Willow, I don't think we're in Parkdale anymore...

The first day was given over to individual competition with the lance. In the morning, each horse and rider pair would attempt to skewer a course of ground targets, which dwindled in width from 6cm to 3cm. In the afternoon, we would also attempt to thread our weapons through elevated targets, rings of 6cm diameters suspended at the height of a man's eye.

Posted by Nicholas at 04:38 PM | Comments (0)

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