June 30, 2007

QotD: The Clown-Pony Scream

Oh, how they mocked. But my momentary cowardice still allowed me to retain a shred of dignity, and so was worth indulging. Because if I'd gotten on that ride, my friends would have actually heard me scream. Like a little girl. Like a little girl who just woke up because somebody licked her foot. Like a little girl who just woke up because somebody licked her foot, and then when she turns on the light there's an evil clown sitting in the middle of her bedroom, eating her pony.

There's no comebacks from the clown-pony scream.

John Rogers, "Irrational Fear? IRRATIONAL?", Kung Fu Monkey, 2007-06-22

Posted by Nicholas at 10:35 AM | Comments (0)

June 29, 2007

Pirates run out of wind

Another late-night game last night, with a 9:00 kick-off, and another good effort in the first half not being matched in the second. The Pirates once again fielded the bare minimum number of players, with a late arrival at the end of the first half. The game was quite scrappy, with both teams showing the good and bad of their talents. The score was tied 3-3 at the half.

The second half did not go well, as Whitby Red's substitution advantage (four substitute players for Red, with only one for the Pirates) started to give them openings as the half wore on. Red went ahead about ten minutes into the half, and the Pirates couldn't claw back to even. Final score was 7-4, with Nick M., Brad H., Kevin J., and Matt L. scoring for the Pirates.

Next game, another late kick-off, on Monday night.

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

QotD: Philosophy, the use of

Dragging philosophy into the discussion is not always as effective as you might think it is. Just because Ayn Rand ran to Aristotle for every little thing doesn't mean it works for everyone. Hell, it didn't actually work for Ayn Rand.

John Scalzi, "Today's Example of an Egregious Use of Something a Writer Once Learned in a Freshman Philosophy Course", Whatever, 2007-06-28

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

Ontario under siege

The Ontario Provincial Police (OPP) pre-emptively closed Highway 401 near Napanee last night, before a planned blockade was placed:

Ontario Provincial Police, who shut down Canada's busiest highway early Friday morning west of Kingston due to native protesters in the area, have decided to reopen Highway 401.

The OPP had closed it earlier in the day after the protesters blockaded a section of secondary highway and a stretch of nearby railway track on the eve of the National Day of Action.

The OPP closed Highway 401 both ways between Napanee and Belleville and were diverting traffic north onto Hwy 7 due to native protesters "being in the direct area, for safety reasons," said Sergeant Kristine Rae of the Smith Falls detachment.

Hours later the OPP issued an arrest warrant for protest leader Shawn Brant on a charge of mischief.

It's unlikely that the warrant for Shawn Brant will actually be used . . . the OPP have been very cautious in dealing with native protesters (many people feel they've been far more than just cautious). VIA Rail also cancelled all passenger service from Toronto to Ottawa and Montreal, as the protest would also block the railway line, which is in close proximity to Highway 2 and Highway 401.

It's unlikely that the police and the provincial government would be quite as careful to avoid confrontation if it were any other group blocking highways and other transportation corridors.

Phil Fontaine, the national chief of the Assembly of First Nations, stressed at a news conference Thursday in Ottawa that his organization is calling only for peaceful events.

Of course, in this sort of situation, things are peaceful only as long as the police don't actually try to enforce the law, which (in the morally inverted universe of political protest) puts the onus on the police to avoid any contact with the protesters for fear of being the "aggressors".

Tens of thousands of people are being forced to either avoid travel or take lengthy detours (all at their own expense) so that the police can't be accused of "escalating the situation". And there is little or no chance of the courts acting to punish or even censure the protest organizers.

Terence Corcoran tried to dig up some background on the underlying land claims:

If Indian Affairs has clear answers to these and other questions, it will not say. All documents are sealed under legal privilege and cannot be viewed by anyone. Even after settlement is reached, no Canadian, and no resident of Deseronto, will ever know what the facts are behind the Culbertson Tract claim.

Claims like this exist all over Canada. Since 1973, 1,279 claims have been filed by native bands. So far, only a few — maybe 75 — have been rejected as having no legal merit. Most of the rest have been approved and settled (282) by Ottawa or are awaiting negotiated settlement (790). All documents in all claims remained sealed.

So, as today's protest carries on, it also helps to ensure that more of those thousand outstanding claims will be accompanied by "actions" that the police won't — or can't — control. Long hot summer? It's going to be a long hot decade at least!

Posted by Nicholas at 11:49 AM | Comments (0)

June 28, 2007

Mitt Romney loses the pet-owning-voter

This is one of those little stories which may tell much more about a person's soul than about their "emotion-free crisis management" skills:

It is not true that I like dogs better than people. It's just that I like my dogs better than most people. Having said that, however, this story nevertheless raised my hackles on general principles [. . .]

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

Parental rage at kid sporting events

I've coached soccer for several years, but I'm relieved that I never had one of the parents as bad as this one:

Here's your Little League Dad of the Moment. First he cusses out his own kid during the game just to grind down his son's self-esteem a bit, then he lets his anger at the coach boil in his chestal area for two days, after which he threatens the coach outside his home. According to charges, he phoned up the coach and said he'd shoot him "like a dog." Brilliant.

This story serves several important purposes:

1. Every year must have a crazed-sports-father case. This is the one for 2007. We keep waiting for a dad from a different sport, like curling, but it's always Little League, soccer, or hockey. Never interpretative dance. Never have a parent stand up and shout I'M NOT GETTING THE IMPRESSION OF A WOUNDED FAUN, YOU #*&*%(#$ LOSER! INTERPRET HARDER! HUSTLE! HUSTLE! No, it's always the popular sports that attract the guys with M-80 tempers

The worst case I encountered was with two mothers who hated one another so much that their kids weren't allowed to be on the field at the same time (the kids weren't the problem, it was definitely the mothers who had the issues). When I pointed out that I couldn't do that — there weren't enough players to allow me to orchestrate my rotation around their personal issues, one of the mothers pulled her kid from the team.

Posted by Nicholas at 09:58 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: Michael Moore

I have often wondered whether Moore is for real, or a sort of performance artist secretly working for Dick Cheney.

Johnathan Pearce, "The paradox of 'free' healthcare", Samizdata, 2007-06-27

Posted by Nicholas at 09:35 AM | Comments (0)

June 27, 2007

A moderate review of Sicko

It's not a film I'm interested in seeing, so it's kind of Arnold Kling to sacrifice his own time to see the movie and post his response:

Last night, I saw the premier of "Sicko." One of the examples in the new Michael Moore film illustrates the role of beliefs.

The case was of an African-American man who died of kidney cancer. His weeping wife had been told by a doctor that there was hope from a bone marrow transplant, but the insurance company denied the treatment. You were left to conclude that the decision was based on profits or racism.

After the movie, I did a quick search on Google and Wikipedia for the treatments of kidney cancer, and I could not find bone marrow treatment. This reinforced the gut feeling that I had during that segment of the movie, which is that the guy's cancer was so far gone that none of the standard treatments was going to work, and the bone marrow idea was a desperate, last-ditch "hail-Mary pass" that had no proven track record of success.

[. . .]

But this all gets back to the way that beliefs shape the health care system. My guess is that other countries believe that when someone has passed the point where reasonable, proven treatments are available, it is ok to stop throwing lots of resources at the patient and instead use those resources where they are more helpful. In the United States, this runs up against an intense belief in saving lives, an enormous faith in doctors, and a strong desire never to give up.

In this country, we have not really come to terms with the ethical issues concerning hail-Mary health care. Some people even view desperate, last-ditch measures as an entitlement. As long as we believe that, the component of our health care spending that goes for futile care will not go down.

It's a much fairer review than some I've seen, although he does drop this Godwinian bon mot at the end: "Michael Moore has done that, and the potential damage to the belief system of Americans is something that concerns me. Michael Cannon was taken aback when I murmured on the way out, 'I can see how Hitler came to power.' I think he thought I was over-reacting. I hope I was."

Posted by Nicholas at 01:19 PM | Comments (2)

That'll be a vote-winner

Just so I can't be accused of only mentioning Ron Paul among the various presidential candidates, here's Tom Tancredo with a sure-fire, vote-winning idea:

The "crazy people in room doing crazy things" article is a hackneyed one, sure, and I already linked a classic of the genre yesterday, but this Orange County Weekly write-up of a Tom Tancredo rally at the Nixon Library contains some high-grade kookery.

[. . .]


Tancredo closes out the emotional night by reminding the audience that hunting down all illegal immigrants, sending them home, and building a 2,000-mile wall between us and Mexico is our calling, much like a previous generation "saved the world" during World War II. "Next, we build a wall along the Canadian border," he proposes to thunderous applause.

Wow. I thought he was making a gaffe when he originally proposed that in the pages of Marie Claire. He wasn't.

Of course, that idea would only win a lot of votes among Canadians.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:06 AM | Comments (2)

Wired on the Ron Paul phenomenon

Wired looks at the online presence of the Ron Paul presidential campaign:

When Texas Congressman Ron Paul entered the race for next year's Republican presidential nomination, few political analysts paid much notice.

Paul has no backing from political bigwigs or any campaign war chest to speak of. As the Libertarian Party presidential nominee in 1988 he won less than one-half of 1 percent of the national vote.

Yet despite his status among the longest of the long shots, the 71-year-old has become one of the internet's most omnipresent — and some say most irritating — subjects.

According to Technorati, "Ron Paul" is one of the web's most searched-for terms. News about Paul has an outsize presence on Digg and reddit, two sites that allow users to highlight their preferred content. Paul's YouTube channel has been viewed over one million times, dwarfing efforts from competitors like John McCain and Rudy Giuliani. The Ron Paul internet boom has born everything from Belgians for Ron Paul to a reggae music video promoting Paul's views on monetary policy and habeas corpus.

Who else do anti-war Republicans have to support? Who else do small-government Republicans have to support? Those two views alone would make Paul a factor.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:37 AM | Comments (3)

QotD: Public Education and Kieran King

What fascinates me about the case of Kieran King, the Saskatchewan high school student who was threatened, punished and slandered by various officials over the past three weeks for talking with some pals about the health effects of marijuana, is that it explodes almost every single utopian cliche about public schools that has been ever propounded by their employees and admirers. It's almost glorious, in a way. Ever heard an educator say "We're not here to teach students what to think — we're here to teach them how to think"? BLAMMO! "We encourage children to make learning a lifelong process." KAPOW! Poor Kieran didn't even make it to age 16 before someone called the cops.

"Diversity is one of our most cherished values." But express a factually true opinion that diverges from what you've been taught and — WHOOMP! "Public schools aren't crude instruments of social control, they're places where we lay the foundation for an informed citizenry." BOOM!

I could go on, but I'm running out of sound effects and I really don't have time to fire up an old Batman episode on You-Tube to gather more.

Colby Cosh, "Put Kieran on a poster", National Post, 2007-06-22

Posted by Nicholas at 12:36 AM | Comments (0)

June 26, 2007

Those damned billboards

I'm glad I'm not the only person irritated by those David Suzuki billboards:

Don't worry, ad agencies, there's Green for you in this fake-ass crisis too!

Maybe David Suzuki can illuminate and levitate light bulbs through sheer awareness-power, but I am fallen, a denier, no less, and I have to rely on the old fashioned environmentally unfriendly methods. I would just end up dropping the bulb on my floor, and having to vacuum up all that mercury and dump it in my compost heap. What a hassle!

Even if the mini fluorescent bulbs really are the right solution, the ad itself is 3/4 of the way to being a self-parody.

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

Facebook vs Myspace

Danah Boyd looks at the factors which come into play when teens select their primary social network site:

Over the last six months, I've noticed an increasing number of press articles about how high school teens are leaving MySpace for Facebook. That's only partially true. There is indeed a change taking place, but it's not a shift so much as a fragmentation. Until recently, American teenagers were flocking to MySpace. The picture is now being blurred. Some teens are flocking to MySpace. And some teens are flocking to Facebook. Who goes where gets kinda sticky... probably because it seems to primarily have to do with socio-economic class.

I want to take a moment to make a meta point here. I have been traipsing through the country talking to teens and I've been seeing this transition for the past 6-9 months but I'm having a hard time putting into words. Americans aren't so good at talking about class and I'm definitely feeling that discomfort. It's sticky, it's uncomfortable, and to top it off, we don't have the language for marking class in a meaningful way. So this piece is intentionally descriptive, but in being so, it's also hugely problematic. I don't have the language to get at what I want to say, but I decided it needed to be said anyhow. I wish I could just put numbers in front of it all and be done with it, but instead, I'm going to face the stickiness and see if I can get my thoughts across. Hopefully it works.

Hmmm. I recently got invited to join Facebook, and I've already found it to be a better networking tool than one of the more "professional" sites I've used for the last couple of years. I didn't realize there was a backstory. As Danah says, this isn't an academic paper, so it's not attempting to prove or disprove a theory; it's just Danah's interpretation of the data available.

Update: Oooops! Forgot to credit John Scalzi for pointing out the original link.

Update, 27 June: The author has some further thoughts on the strong response to the essay:

Wow. ::jaw on floor:: When I posted my article last night, I sent it to some friends and academic lists figuring that it would stir a conversation. I figured that some usual suspects would read it and offer valuable critiques. I was not expected Slashdot, Digg, Metafilter, del.icio.us/popular, Reddit, and other aggregators to pick it up.

Meme flow on the web intrigues me. When I post a well-thought out, well-written analysis, I get a few thousands hits and maybe a BoingBoing mention. So far, I've received 90K hits for this latest piece, the most problematic of essays I've ever shared publicly. Figures.

I know that there are problems in that essay (and I tried to caveat and caveat away till I annoyed myself). So I am not surprised that folks are up in arms about all sorts of things. Still, the response is fascinating. I guess there's nothing like something problematic to get a conversation started, eh?

Posted by Nicholas at 12:11 PM | Comments (2)

QotD: Political Economics

Leading the charge was the once and future presidential candidate and Ohio Democratic Rep. Dennis Kucinich. He shot off a letter to the SEC (along with Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Ca.)) asking the agency to hold up the Blackstone IPO while Congress puzzled out the best way to demagogue the issue.

Kucinich and Waxman fretted that small investors could be harmed, simultaneously worrying that trading Blackstone on the stock market was "exposing unsophisticated investors" to risk, while "depriv[ing] them of control over the management of the funds and of many of the protections provided by fiduciary duties typically owed to them by management."

To review: Investors are too stupid to know when they're getting screwed, but also deserve a chance to control the "management of the funds." In fact, the biggest hit small investors are likely to take is if they buy Blackstone and then Congress tanks the price by imposing a specifically targeted tax.

Katherine Mangu-Ward, "Idiot Investors? Congress protects people from making money on the stock market", Reason, 2007-06-25

Posted by Nicholas at 11:03 AM | Comments (0)

Important PSA: wear your safety gear

H/T to "John the Mc".

Posted by Nicholas at 10:06 AM | Comments (2)

June 25, 2007

Not the most convincing anti-Taliban vehicle

The British Army is introducing a new vehicle for travelling through Helmand province in Afghanistan (notable for a lack of paved roads): the Mad Maxmobile:

Photo from the Daily Mail article

Some rather good lines from the Fark.com thread:

Isotope ok, so I see I'm not the only one concerned that the vehicle will survive better than the crew...

Prank Call of Cthulhu The vehicle is missing something....hmmmm...what could it be? Oh, I know. It needs the Lord Humungous (The Warrior of the Wasteland! The Ayatollah of Rock and Rolla!) driving it. That'd be sweet!

Cormee I'd like to see the design brief.
'Design a vehicle - suitable for hunting Basset Hounds.'

A Shambling Mound Armored?
You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

reverend_alex Wow, you can almost feel the fevered patriotic drool dripping from the author's lips as he pops a Daily Mail boner over a new *BRITISH MADE* vehicle for exterminating those filthy towelheads. Anyone else notice the barely-restrained glee with which this guy spells out exactly how awesome and powerful the almighty British Army is? Maybe because they're usually sent out into the desert with just some sunscreen and a cap gun. Not that that thing looks any more likely to protect them than Piz Buin factor 15.

Good luck to our boys and all, but the Americans called us 'The Borrowers' during Gulf War I for a reason.

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

Old technology reduces car theft risk

As manual transmission vehicles become less common on the roads in North America, they become less likely to be stolen:

Two U.S. car thieves failed to make their getaway in a car they had just stolen because they couldn't figure out how to use its manual transmission, a witness said on Wednesday.

Posted by Nicholas at 01:24 PM | Comments (0)

QotD: Knighthood

Maybe this nonsense still impresses foreigners, but to the British "knight" simply means "famous dickhead in his fifties" or "fat crook who donates to the Labour Party".

Sir Cliff Richard, Sir Jimmy Saville, Sir Elton John, Sir Bono . . . I could go on. Giving one to someone with talent and brains, rather than yet another ignorant blatherskite of the Ian Botham type, is most unusual, even if it wasn't a deliberate slight.

"Everybody has a summer holiday.
Doin' things they always wanted to.
So we're goin' on a summer holiday
To make our dreams come true . . .

It seems to me that if you award knighthoods for that sort of thing, the bar has been set pretty low. Unless you want to try and argue that Sir Cliff embodies the knightly virtues of wysedom, verite, humylite and swiftness.

Harry Hutton, "The Order of the Fat Dickhead", Chase me ladies, I'm in the cavalry, 2007-06-23

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

Only in America

Mark Steyn finds an unexpected source of illegal guns:

I love America! Even the anti-gun groups are full of gun nuts packing totally awesome heat.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:49 AM | Comments (0)

L. Neil Smith on the oil industry

L. Neil Smith has some issues with the way the oil industry is conducting itself:

Let's review, and along the way, examine some details I didn't go into before. Despite those who hold a contrary view (some among us, perhaps unduly influenced by Ayn Rand, never seem to have absorbed the unpleasant fact that corporations are not our friends and don't give a rap about freedom) I do not for an instant believe that the current price of gas — over four dollars in some places, with predictions going as high as six — has anything at all to do with natural market forces.

The commonest maundering you hear when this topic is discussed, is that there's a lack of refinery capacity, brought about by a couple of disastrous refinery fires a few years back. If this is true, then the oil industry isn't simply evil, it's impossibly stupid for not having included such a contingency in its plans. Moreover, as my wife points out, they can throw up a new office building in three months if they really want to. What's so much mysteriously harder about rebuilding a refinery?

The simple, ugly fact is that, while ordinary, productive-class Americans are going to the poorhouse, just to buy gas enough to get their kids to school, themselves to work, and go to the grocery store, the oil companies are raking in record profits — as who wouldn't, selling the world's second most abundant liquid for four dollars a gallon?

Posted by Nicholas at 10:46 AM | Comments (0)

June 22, 2007

Static web site down

Clive just informed me that the server hosting my static web site is down, and will probably be down for a couple of days. I'll let you know when it'll be back in service (once Clive lets me know, of course).

Update, 24 June: As Clive mentioned in the comments, the site is back up again now.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:11 AM | Comments (1)

Pirates sunk 7-0

Last night's game was eminently forgettable: the Pirates just never got going. We started off the night short-handed, only able to field 10 players (Whitby Green had a full squad on the field plus four substitutes). Sometimes, being short-handed can help to rally a team . . . and it did, for the first 20 minutes of the match. After that, however, fatigue started to be a factor.

Our eleventh player showed up at about the 35 minute mark, with the twelfth just before the half. By that point, however, we were facing a 3-0 score.

We had scoring opportunities, but were both inaccurate and unlucky in equal proportions. Whitby Green didn't seem to suffer from the same problems, so that even if we'd managed to convert some of those chances, the final result wouldn't have been much different.

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

June 21, 2007

The Star can still surprise

I'm quite taken aback by this editorial in the Toronto Star:

These events emphasize the importance of a continued combat role for Canada and its NATO allies in the Afghan war. They also emphasize the reality that without the continued effort to take the war to the Taliban, aid and reconstruction will be impossibly dangerous. Indeed, they would become pointless because abandoning the war means handing Afghanistan back to a Taliban dictatorship.

Maintaining Canada's will to fight that war, however, is certain to grow more difficult as casualties mount. Already, 56 Canadian soldiers have died in the war and the Taliban's campaign is becoming more violent as it grows more desperate. As casualties rise, political and public pressure to disengage from Afghanistan is likely to increase in Canada.

There are indications that the terrorist groups operating in Afghanistan are experiencing difficulty in finding recruits among Afghans themselves and have been replenishing their ranks with Chechens, Uzbeks and Arabs. That may be an extension of the war, but it is not one that should discourage Canada. It is more importantly a sign that war against terror there is working, that Canadian combat troops are slowly succeeding in making Afghanistan safer so aid workers such as Mr. Frastacky can eventually do their jobs without fear.

Wow. Just wow.

I find it amazing (and heartening) that the Star, who have generally been against the Afghan mission all along, would be able to print this editorial (but note that it originally appeared in the Winnipeg Free Press, and is reprinted in the Star). Between this editorial and the mayor of Toronto's climb-down over the yellow ribbon issue, it's already been a very unusual week.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:38 PM | Comments (1)

Free speech versus the school authorities

Well, this isn't surprising, but it is rather depressing to read:

Kieran King, a Canadian 10th-grader, did some research and discovered that marijuana is not as bad as his government makes it out to be. When he shared this information with his friends at the Wawota Parkland School in Saskatchewan, King says, the school's principal, Susan Wilson, accused him of selling pot and threatened to call the cops. Outraged at the principal's intimidation, King organized a student walkout to protest what he saw as a violation of his right to free speech. Wilson responded by locking down the school and suspending the 15-year-old for three days, which will force him to miss his final exams. Not your average pothead, King says he's never seen marijuana, let alone smoked or sold it. "The main purpose [of the protest] wasn't cannabis," he told the Regina Leader-Post. "It was the defense of the freedom of speech. I believe we have a right to freedom of expression."

Call me pessimistic, but I don't see this ending well.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:28 AM | Comments (0)

Is your InkJet printer ripping you off?

There's an interesting thread over at Slashdot, discussing the shady practices of inkjet manufacturers:

InkJet Printers Lying, Or Just Wrong?

akkarin writes in about a study reported at Ars Technica on how accurate ink-jet printers are when they report that cartridges are empty. Not very, it turns out. Epson came out on top of the study (and Ars rightly questions how objective it was, given that Epson paid for it), but even they waste 20% of the ink if users take the printers' word for when to get a new cartridge. On average, the printers in the study wasted more than half the ink that users bought.

Elizabeth uses an inkjet printer, and it always seems to be running out of ink . . . yet we don't print that much (certainly less than the advertised number of pages) between needing being told we need new ink cartridges.

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

Late June OWR now online

Michael Pinkus has posted the latest issue of Ontario Wine Review. This issue reports on a visit to Huff Estates Winery in Prince Edward County.

Posted by Nicholas at 09:58 AM | Comments (0)

June 20, 2007

Bucket status: moving ahead

Well, I'm a bit relieved to find that things are still possible on that management job I interviewed for last week. I'd started to assume that silence was a sign that I'd managed to fall on my face despite feeling that the interviews had gone well.

The company had sent me an email which didn't arrive in my inbox, so I was waiting for word from them and they were, in turn, waiting for me to respond. This may be the first time I'm aware that my email spam filter failed me on something important (key word in that statement: aware).

Posted by Nicholas at 12:40 PM | Comments (0)

Calling Yngwie Malmsteen

It's now official: listening to heavy metal music entitles you to a disability income supplement. In Sweden, anyway:

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but for those reason readers who compulsively listen to Stryper and/or Keel, you might consider consulting a doctor. And if you happen to live in Sweden, you might want to locate the closest welfare office. The Local explains:


A Swedish heavy metal fan has had his musical preferences officially classified as a disability. The results of a psychological analysis enable the metal lover to supplement his income with state benefits.

[. . .]

In a country where heavy metal never really went away, this is indeed a dangerous precedent.

Yngwie Malmsteen could not be reached for comment at press time.

I sent a link to this article to my friend (and former editor) Anne. She is the website manager for Yngwie. I'm hoping she'll find this both amusing and worth mentioning to Yngwie himself. (Which reminds me that I haven't listened to Concerto Suite For Electric Guitar And Orchestra In E Flat Minor Op.1 for a while . . .)

Posted by Nicholas at 11:59 AM | Comments (0)

Why James Lileks won't play

In today's Bleat, James Lileks gets to the real reason he's not willing to play Pokemon card games:

We got bales of paper in various form, a few Pokemon cards (I have made it clear I will not play the card game, because I do not understand the first thing about it. Seriously: Scrofulux is a psychic Pokemon Diamond and Pearl Dragon Master Platinum Level 90 Pokemon. Powers: can release horrible odors, give other Pokemons psoriasis. When played, the Scrofulux cannot wake a sleeping Pokemon but can turn a groggy Pokemon into a sub-level Anti-Pokemon Water Pokemon whose powers have a negative –20 effect on all subsequent cards played by the person on your left if their least powerful Pokemon card was purchased when you begged for 20 minutes on the way to the store in a high, singsongy whine, UNLESS the card has a shiny foil picture, in which case all play ceases while everyone looks at the picture because it’s cool and then you forget the game and swap doubles.)

Victor tried to get me to play the various -mon card games when he was a pre-teen. I couldn't get the handle on them . . . and I used to spend hours and hours playing complex wargames with arcane and mind-numbingly detailed rules, charts, tables, and matrices. Map sheets that covered several tables, and hundreds or even thousands of little printed cardboard unit counters (each with a plethora of numerical values to track). Clearly the ability to soak up arbitrary complexity and incomprehensible names peaks at age 8.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:20 AM | Comments (2)

NBD: the latest online scourge

Lore Sjöberg discusses some of the obvious follow-on additions to the DSM IV:

Narcissistic Blog Disorder

This disorder is characterized by the creation of a blog in which the individual consistently denigrates not only the opinions of others, but the very fact that others have opinions, saying things like "nobody cares what some overpaid starlet has to say about global warming" and "nobody cares what some crusty career politician thinks is wrong with society today." Simultaneously, the individual assumes that people do care about what he or she has to say, in spite of the individual's only political or activist experience being watching the movie Dave twice.

Bookmark Loop Disorder

Web bookmarks remain a popular way to waste time when one should be working. You check a site or two, get something done for a little while, then check your bookmarks again. Careful research, however, has shown that at a certain point the list of bookmarks grows, the "get something done" period shrinks, until the reader goes directly from the end of the list back to the top, just in case there are new updates. Once entered, this "bookmark loop state" often cannot be broken until a couple hours after a sane bedtime.

Guilty as charged, M'Lud, but society is to blame.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:56 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: High School

High school is often asinine and lame — I'm not telling you anything you don't know here — but on the other hand it's a place where you're actually encouraged to do two things that are a writer's bread and butter: to observe and to comment. Provided your teachers are not entirely defeated drones who have bought into the idea that their sole purpose is to detain you in soul-numbing classes so you and your fellow students won't set fire to the school with them in it, they will actually be pleased if you ask a few pointed questions now and then, and as a result, you might learn something, which is always a nice bonus for your day. School is a resource; use it.

John Scalzi, "10 Things Teenage Writers Should Know About Writing", Whatever, 2006-04-27

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

June 19, 2007

DNA testing and Ancestry.com

Ancestry.com recently announced they will be adding an inexpensive (at least compared to what it used to cost) DNA testing kit to their line-up of products and services for genealogical researchers. Slashdot thread here:

Daniel Dvorkin: Here's the worry, I think: law enforcement agencies could take a crime scene sample, run it against the entire Ancestry.com database, and decide that whoever comes up with the closest match must have done it. And in the current climate, they might well make it stick, even if the crime involves ... [gasp] pedophilia ... or [shock] terrorism ... or [falls over dead from the horror of it] record piracy.

east coast: I hate the relatives I have. Why would I want to find out that I have more?

laron: This is going to be interesting. Doctors calculate that about 5-10% of all children have a different biological father than they (and their "social" fathers) think.

Posted by Nicholas at 02:29 PM | Comments (0)

The machine that goes PING

In what sounds amusingly like an updated urban legend, a teenage accident victim unplugs a fellow patient's life support in order to get some sleep:

Police in Southern Germany are quizzing a 17-year-old car crash victim who turned off a fellow hospital patient's life-support machine because it was keeping him awake.

Frederik Moelner wound up in intensive care recovering from the accident, reports Ananova, but his attempts to have a bit of recuperative kip were stymied by the noisy life support machine keeping the 76-year-old in the neighbouring bed breathing.

I guess it's hard to sleep in the same room as the machine that goes PING!

Posted by Nicholas at 02:16 PM | Comments (0)

John Scalzi addresses the suckitude of teenage writers

John Scalzi pulls out all the stops (again) to help teenage writers improve:

More than a year ago I wrote my "10 Things Teenage Writers Should Know About Writing" entry, which had ten bits of useful information for teen writers, the first of which was "The Bad News: Right Now, Your Writing Sucks." Because, well, it probably does: Most teenage writers, for various reasons, aren't particularly good writers (I wasn't). I thought it was important to get that bit of news out of the way, because among other things, the fact that teenage writing sucks isn't a bad thing (that's point number 2), and because I think it's not a bad thing to be honest with teenagers about this stuff. They might not listen (I probably wouldn't have), but they deserve the truth nevertheless.

The only problem with this set-up is that reading the comments to the piece, it's clear that quite a number of the teenagers reading the entry never got past the first point, in which they're told their writing sucks, before making a comment that explains why teenage writing doesn't suck — or, at the very least, why their teenage writing doesn't suck.

He's not just addressing teenagers . . . if you have any interest in writing, there are interesting and useful nuggets of information in this article and in the original he posted last year.

Posted by Nicholas at 01:51 PM | Comments (0)

Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis

H/T to Nick Packwood (aka Ghost of a Flea). This is one of Elizabeth's favourite pieces of music.

Posted by Nicholas at 01:16 PM | Comments (1)

Pirates notch first win of season

Monday night was excellent hunting for the "Pirates": delivering a 9-2 drubbing to hapless Whitby Sky Blue.

The game opened with a quick goal by Kory A., and a second by Blake M. Sky Blue started to look competitive about 20 minutes into the game, when a short shot bounced awkwardly in front of Pirates keeper Matt L. and slid in just inside the post. The Pirates were upset by the goal, and took several minutes to rally and start moving back into Sky Blue territory. Cory R. got on the scoreboard from the left halfback position, and then Kory and Blake each added a second goal.

Scoring in the second half were Cory, Nicolas M., Blake (for the first hat-trick of the season for the Pirates), and Nicolas again.

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

June 18, 2007

Modern childhood

Hit and Run has a graphic example of one of the reasons childhood obesity is becoming more common:

Click to see full-size image

Image from this article in the Daily Mail.

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

QotD: Modern Music

Which brings us, sadly, to today's music — and what a horrible state it's in.

I saw the beginnings of this in the punk scene, and soon afterwards with grunge as well. Punk, at least, was honest about its shortcomings. As the nihilistic "anti-music", it really didn't matter how well the musicians played and sang, or even if they could play or sing at all — and from an artistic perspective, that didn't really matter, because punk's statement was more important than punk music. Some really good bands came out of that era, by the way (eg. The Clash), but their time in the spotlight was lamentably short by comparison with, say, the Beatles.

But it was during the grunge area that we saw how a group of musicians could be brutally exposed by a lack of training. Most, even Nirvana, were garage bands who had been playing in a few clubs off and on, but for no appreciable length of time, and certainly not long enough to harden and hone their skills. Most survived just on raw talent, but, as they discovered after about two years in the spotlight and on the touring circuit, that talent was not enough, and most bands (and the individuals themselves) fell apart very quickly. They never played long enough for the musicians with lesser talent to be weeded out of their bands, and for those with true talent to shine through.

Some carried on, joining other bands, or setting up solo careers, but mostly, they disappeared without a trace, to be replaced by yet another wave of bands just like them — limited talent and no polish. The incessant demand by the music "industry" for new talent has created a kind of ghastly sausage machine, which chews up and spits out musicians at an alarming rate, and it's little surprise to me that pop music is nowadays simply referred to as "content" instead of as art, or music.

It's a good thing that pop music's audience is refreshed every few years by a new generation, because that lack of generational memory is the only thing which allows the process to continue.

Kim du Toit, "Polishing The Jewel", The Other Side of Kim du Toit, 2007-06-16

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

June 17, 2007

Ron Paul in the Washington Post

Rick Sincere highlights yesterday's article on the front page of the Washington Post:

For a so-called "second tier" (or sometimes, more derisively, "third tier") candidate, Representative Ron Paul of Texas gets some pretty good publicity, as well as serious attention, with regard to his quest for the 2008 GOP presidential nomination.

Take Saturday's Washington Post, which put Ron Paul on the front page — admittedly below the fold, but next to a big story about how the Jefferson Memorial may be sinking into Washington's primordial ooze, which is open to much symbolic interpretation in itself — that highlights his campaign's dominance of the Internet . . .

Perhaps Paul's omnipresent internet fans are starting to have some effect on the MSM after all.

Posted by Nicholas at 04:20 PM | Comments (0)

QotD: Modern Architecture

Architecture offers quite extraordinary opportunities to serve the community, to enhance the landscape, refresh the environment and to advance mankind — the successful architect needs training to overcome these pitfalls however, and start earning some serious money. I get all kinds of people from the schools and universities and my job is manifold and various. Firstly, of course, it's visual. Young people use their eyes — to be a good architect in Britain today you need to more than use your eyes, you must have them surgically removed. But you don't just have to be blind to be a modern architect, you must develop a lively sense of contempt for your fellow man, so early meetings with borough planners and council administrators are essential.

Next a carefully planned system of mind-direction seminars, as we like to call them. In these we show our students film of old buildings, old village communities, interviews with noted conservationists such as the late John Betjeman and His Royal Highness Prince Charles. By disseminating toxic gasses and introducing mild electric shocks we induce a feeling of nausea, sickness and acute physical pain, which in time is associated with those images. Next we show film of large glass boxes, rough concrete towers and enormous steel girders, all the time stimulating the students with underseat vibromassage and soothing selections of Mozart, while they drink venerable clarets and smoke jazz cigarettes. By this means an aversion to old forms of architecture and a loving acceptance of the new can be effectively inculcated.

"Sir Jeremy Creep", Principal of the London College of Architects, quoted by Stephen Fry in Paperweight, 1992

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

June 16, 2007

R+J in L33t-speak

Ever wondered what might happened if you combined a literary classic with the internet language known as L33t speak? Wonder no more.

From the Fark thread, where user "Kublai Khan" wrote the immortal words:

I support IM speech. It's an excellent way for the stupid to effectively exclude themselves from positions of influence in society. It's a pyramid baby, and I'm on the top end!

Posted by Nicholas at 11:30 AM | Comments (1)

Arnollia invaded by Royal Marines

Breaking news of a seaborne invasion by Royal Marines:

All next week a worldwide virtual war is being fought. Soldiers, warships, jets, and unmanned drones from the US, UK, Australia, Canada and New Zealand are combining in cyberspace to form "Task Force BISON," which will join NATO's "Task Force ATLANTICA" to mount massive amphibious landings in a conflict-stricken West African warzone.

In the simulated world, however, the western USA takes the place of Africa. California becomes the fictional country "Arnollia," bounded to the north by the "Wassegon Republic" and to the east by the expanionist, aggressive nation of "Nevatan".

In the wargame, evil Nevatan plans to destabilise neighbouring governments and seize control of "Terrizona" are thwarted in all-out war by the hard-charging Task Force BISON. British marines storm the beachhead at San Diego, capturing the vital harbour so heavy armoured units can move ashore.

Sounds like fun: in my day we only ever got to wargame against the "Fantasian People's Republic", usually against a random-numbered "Motorized Rifle Division". Of course, back then, our theoretical battalion barely mustered enough troops and equipment to make a light infantry company (on a very good day), so active defence was pretty much all we could realistically practice.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:53 AM | Comments (2)

June 15, 2007

". . . starving would become the new black"

Anti-corporate pranksters have a successful field day at the Go Expo Energy event in Calgary:

At first, the speech just seemed odd.

"Without oil, at least four billion people would starve," one of the speakers earnestly told the crowd. "This spiral of trouble would make the oil infrastructure utterly useless.

"And starving would become the new black."

When the speaker started to talk about vivolium — a renewable energy source nobody in the room had ever heard of — the red flags started to go up.

But once the pair lit up two torch-like candles and urged the audience to do the same in memory of a dead Exxon oil worker, attendees and organizers realized they'd been had.

The pair were quickly ushered off the stage and out of the building by security guards.

I can easily believe that this sort of stunt could be pulled off at dozens of other events of this nature . . . in a boom market, it's much more likely that you'll have too many new players and new names appearing. How effective stunts like this are in advocating particular causes is tougher to figure out. It's likely inversely proportional to their frequency: if everyone is doing it, the media will quickly lose interest and fail to provide the free exposure that the gimmick is intended to garner.

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

June 14, 2007

Latest Red Ensign recruit

At Home in Hespeler has just joined the Red Ensign Brigade. Welcome aboard!

Posted by Nicholas at 10:30 AM | Comments (0)

Culpepper may find home in Jacksonville

Former Vikings quarterback Daunte Culpepper's career may not be over — the Jacksonville Jaguars are expressing some interest:

"Any time you have a quarterback the caliber of Daunte Culpepper, any time you can add a guy to your roster of that caliber, as an organization it's smart to look into that," Leftwich said. "Especially with me having one year left on my contract, that's not a bad business move if you were to look at it from that point. I have no problems with it, no problems whatsoever."

Culpepper, acquired by Miami before the 2006 season, had his best NFL seasons with the Minnesota Vikings and coach Mike Tice — now an assistant head coach in Jacksonville under Jack Del Rio.

Of course, that interest may not extend to giving Miami a trade offer . . . and Culpepper's contract is still with the Dolphins.

I certainly hope that Culpepper both gets his release from Miami and finds a good team to join . . . he's a very talented player, but may still need some recovery time from that extremely serious knee injury which finished off his Vikings career.

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

June 13, 2007

Hurrah for the 4th Circuit Court

Jacob Sullum wraps up the news about the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit decision which strikes down the government's claim to have the power to detain suspects and hold them without charges indefinitely:

By the administration's account, the president already had the authority to detain not just aliens but citizens, not just for a week but for life, based on his own determination that they qualify as "enemy combatants." Rejecting this theory, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit has struck a blow for due process and the rule of law, both of which are threatened by President Bush's assertion of the king-like power to lock people up at his discretion and throw away the key.

[. . .]

In deciding that al-Marri can likewise be tried in a criminal court but cannot legally be kept in military detention, the 4th Circuit distinguished his case from those of Hamdi and Padilla, noting that he has not been accused of taking up arms with the Taliban. "The President cannot eliminate constitutional protections with the stroke of a pen by proclaiming a civilian, even a criminal civilian, an enemy combatant subject to indefinite military detention," the court ruled, adding that such a power "would effectively undermine all of the freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution."

With the Bush administration winding down and the strong possibility of a Democrat in the White House come January 2009, perhaps Republicans will begin to see the wisdom of this warning.

The power to hold someone in custody for an indefinite period of time without ever charging them with a crime is too much power to grant to any government. As Blackstone wrote, "The King is at all times entitled to have an account, why the liberty of any of his subjects is restrained, wherever that restraint may be inflicted." (Quoted here.) The US Constitution is pretty clear on this, too: "The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion, the public safety may require it." Neither of those two cases apply to the current situation.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:14 AM | Comments (0)

Scientific juvenile humour

A detailed analysis of . . . farts.

H/T to Craig Zeni.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:14 AM | Comments (2)

June 12, 2007

Bucket status: still undefined

Another interview today: this was the chance to either impress senior management at the firm or to fall firmly — and painfully — on my face. I didn't face-plant, but I don't know if I managed the necessary degree of positive impression either. Time will tell.

It was interesting talking to one of the company founders: after the work-related stuff, we got onto some other topics (economics, history, demographics) and the conversation was quite enlightening. It may not track with a job offer, however . . .

Posted by Nicholas at 06:06 PM | Comments (2)

When state funding diminishes

Grant McCracken gets it exactly right here:

But $975 million is not the real cost. No, the real cost is much higher This is because when we fund culture this way, we actually diminish it. The opportunity cost is, in other words, phenomenal. I reckon this cost is roughly equal to the Pirates, Spiderman, and Oceans trilogies combined, but then I'm a trained professional working in the controlled circumstances of a New England laboratory. (Don't try these calculations at home.)

Sure, it sounds paradoxical. Spending more gets you less? Funding culture dismantles culture? But dynamism teaches us, that cultures are like marketplaces, the less you intercede the more they flourish, the more you intercede, the less they do.

[. . .]

I'm not saying that Canada could have established it's own cultural ascendancy, if only the state had spent less. I am saying spending more virtually guaranteed its present obscurity on the world stage. (And before someone writes in to complain about all the great music coming out of Montreal, let me point out this was made without state subvention too.)

Armies fight the last war. States embrace the last idea. There was a time when the model of state sponsorship worked. My travels in Europe might as well have been a tour of opera houses, each more glorious than the last, extravagant evidence that cities and states tied their identities to the musical accomplishment of local sons and daughters. (The Paris house, I was interested to note, was funded by private subscription.)

The state is no better at predicting the direction of artistic endeavour than they are at picking economic "winners". Most state spending on cultural items disproportionally benefits the economically better-off, too. How many folks working ordinary office jobs go to the opera? Listen to classical music? Watch the ballet?

Artistic welfare for the rich? Isn't that just as morally questionable as economic grants to wealthy firms? You can't even really say that it's the struggling artists who benefit from this kind of spending . . . it's the already successful ones who garner most of the return.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:49 AM | Comments (0)

June 11, 2007

Pirates fall 5-3 to Whitby Blue

Tonight's game wasn't easy . . . we'd built up a 2-0 lead in the first 20 minutes, but we were unable to keep Whitby Blue down. They managed three goals before the half, and we only just kept the score even. The second half wasn't any improvement . . . we kept pushing down into their goal area, but not converting any chances, while they took full advantage of the chances we gave them.

After last week's game being rained out, we're still looking for our first win of the season.

Next week will be even more challenging: we have games on both Monday and Thursday nights, and it's exam time, so several players have indicated they can't make one or both games.

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

Now I recall why I don't watch much TV

Christie Blatchford has a few swats at the Mother Corpse:

First, they congratulated the network (that is, themselves) on the astonishing response the contest got - 20,000 nominations, and a million votes (not that the votes would turn out to matter, because the CBC appointed a panel of three judges to make sure the winners would be geographically balanced and culturally appropriate). Ms. Rogers noted "the passion, the avid, fervent love" so many viewers had shown for the country. It was the first of several times the hosts or judges would mention the "passion" in their most insipid voices, as though by saying something is filled with passion makes it so. And then correspondent Mark Kelley came into view to talk about the judges' task - to narrow down the 15 choices they'd made the night before to the final seven.

"It was a gut-wrenching and soul-searching process," he said.

By this point, Strach and I were in hysterics: The show was already like a parody of Canada and Canadians. "What about AK-47s at Jane and Finch?" Strach yelled. "I bet there are more AKs in this country than there are canoes." [. . .]

Mr. Kelley was soon back to tell us that, "A wonder of its own, seven choices overlapped," but that wasn't the end of it. Ms. Jamieson then gestured to the map of Canada and said, "Look at this vast part of the country we are not touching," she said, and the judges began to do a little horse-trading to up the geographical diversity quotient, with Mr. Kelley intoning, "The judges must make an agonizing choice." Ms. Jamieson had already confessed, the night before, that as a Mohawk woman, "I place a lot of value on the process," meaning the consensus-building la-la-la in which she was now engaging, though I think it fair to say that she ran the show, steered the discussion and appeared to be leading Messrs. MacGregor and McGuire around by the nose.

She looked pretty bossy to me, but I am not a Mohawk woman, so what do I know?

Ah, quality television. [Pause] Wouldn't it be a good idea?

Posted by Nicholas at 05:35 PM | Comments (0)

QotD: Fairtrade doesn't automatically mean "good"

I tried a 'fairtrade' wine. It was Ochre Mountain Sauvignon Blanc FAIRTRADE, Chile 2006, and was utterly appalling. It was nasty, sharp and acidic, with nothing at all behind it. It was filthy stuff, and I was careful not to get any of it on my hands. Whoever made it has achieved the difficult feat of making a bad Chilean wine. I suppose they think the 'fairtrade' tag will sell it anyway. Fortunately I didn't waste £12.95 on a bottle. I had a glass at £3.65. The five friends with me were so intrigued by my description of its awfulness that they all took a taste, and that got rid of it pretty quickly.

Madsen Pirie, "Utterly appalling", Another Food Blog, 2006-09-05

Posted by Nicholas at 05:19 PM | Comments (0)

Off to an early interview

This is for a change of pace . . . a contract training position. I've never done this sort of thing, so it'll be interesting to find out more about it.

If I'm back in time, I may get some posting done later this afternoon.

Posted by Nicholas at 07:47 AM | Comments (3)

June 08, 2007

RETRACTION: It wasn't the French Navy . . .

Yesterday, I linked to a story which claimed that a French naval vessel had allowed a Danish merchant ship to be taken by pirates. The ship was indeed taken by pirates, but the French navy had nothing to do with the situation:

Hold the presses and belay my last! Don't blame France (sorry buds), but this is a all USA show. Despite the multiple source reporting earlier - word now is that it was a US warship, USS Carter Hall (LSD-50) [Wikipedia entry here . . .]

We are enabling pirates. The nation that fought the Barbary Wars has a 10 SEP 01 attitude towards pirates. Because the do not "regularly kill" their hostages (often you will hear "do not kill" — which is true of Western Hostages) we will allow them to have a fair run at any ship they can reach? What? Is that really it? Is that were the US Navy and the International Community stands? The Somalia gov'munt cannot police their waters — I will say that again — cannot. We will not. Therefore you have de-facto pirate territory that they are using as a safe base to hold hostages for ransom. What happens when you do that? ECON101 tells you the value of all ships to pirates is greater — and the risk premium is minimal.

We are appeasing the pirates. Yes, I know the "we can do non-compliant boardings — someone might be killed" argument. OK then, never deploy a SWAT team against kidnappers until they kill someone. Next time someone takes a hostage, give them a helicopter and let them escape to Mexico. Just make sure they get their money as well.

My apologies for the slur on the honour of the French Navy.

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

QotD: Canadian Immigration Policy

What worries me is when settled nations start to fetishize immigration to almost absurd degrees. In 1997, the government in Ottawa festooned the land with posters marking the 50th anniversary of Canadian citizenship and showing people of many lands holding hands around a globe — ie, Canada's idea of itself is as a great compilation of other people's hits rather than as a concept album in its own right. The idea that a nation expresses itself as merely an ongoing receiver of people from elsewhere, that it's Gate 57 at Heathrow writ large, no more or less than whoever happens to be standing in it, is very reductive.

Mark Steyn, "Re re re re re: Nation of immigrants", The Corner, 2007-06-07

Posted by Nicholas at 12:40 PM | Comments (1)

The finest British motorbike technology

H/T to Craig Zeni.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:13 AM | Comments (1)

June 07, 2007

When bureaucrats put to sea

CDR Salamander has a distressing report from Somalia:

The Danish merchant "DANICA WHITE" was seized by pirates off of Somalia.


A small Danish-owned and, we understand, Danish-crewed general cargo vessel, has been captured by pirates in the latest series of ships and fishing vessels being boarded and taken over, with their crews held to ransom, off the Somalia coast.


What's worse . . . the piracy took place almost under the nose of a French warship:

A French warship reportedly looked on as the event unfolded, and refused to enter Somali waters as the mv DANICA WHITE was taken into the region.

Piracy is bad enough, but piracy enabled by illogical and inhumane standing orders? The French navy is looking particularly bad in this episode, but it's the crew of the Danica White who'll suffer the most.

H/T to The Armorer for the link.

Update, 8 June: See the following post for a clarification and a retraction . . . it wasn't a French ship which allowed the pirates to escape into Somalian waters.

Posted by Nicholas at 01:40 PM | Comments (0)

QotD: Lifeboat economics

Are shoes subject to the ordinary laws of supply and demand? Try telling that to a child in a snowstorm who doesn't have a pair! Are flashlights a widget? Even been in a blackout without one? — there are times when you'd pay a thousand dollars for a flashlight. If you're homeless, Pizza Pops aren't a widget. They might mean as much to a bum under a bridge as a defibrillator does to a pork-fed executive collapsed in a marbled bank lobby. To a fellow who's just been laid off from the only job he's trained for, food, shelter, clothing, even money itself, all have non-widgetary nature.

So all hail the new lifeboat economics, which instantly replaces orthodox price mechanisms with the scrawlings of an idiot child in the presence of any good that might conceivably be immediately necessary to life, health, or safety. Is there any reason this intrepid nescience should be limited to health care? If we can't plan for an ambulance ride, how can we plan for anything? (Maybe, he said in an ominous whisper, there are no widgets at all.)

Colby Cosh, "Whatever they are, I'm pretty sure they're manufactured from straw", ColbyCosh.com, 2007-06-07

Posted by Nicholas at 01:16 PM | Comments (0)

Julie Amaro wins a new trial

There's still hope for common sense and justice to prevail in the strange case of Julie Amaro. (See here for earlier reports on this case). According to a link posted at Slashdot, the judge has granted the defence request for a new trial:

A New London Superior court judge this morning granted a defense request seeking a new trial for Julie Amero, the former Norwich middle school substitute teacher convicted of exposing her middle school students to Internet porn. Acting on a motion by Amero's attorney, William Dow III, Judge Hillary Strackbein placed the case back on a trial list. Amero had faced 40 years on the conviction of four counts of risk of injury to a minor. State prosecutor David Smith confirmed that further forensic examination at the state crime lab of Amero's classroom computer revealed "some erroneous information was presented during the trial. Amero and her defense team claimed she was the victim of pop-up ads — something that was out of her control. Judge Strackbein said because of the possibility of inaccurate facts, Amero was "entitles to a new trial in the interest of justice."

Real justice would entail giving Ms. Amaro her life back, but that's not likely to happen. Judicial over-reach and media feeding frenzy between them have destroyed any chance of her being able to resume her teaching career, even when (not if) she is completely exonerated. But at least she shouldn't have to be further abused by serving a term in prison.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:41 AM | Comments (0)

At least, James has his bucket . . .

James Lileks is now officially blogging at buzz.mn, the Minneapolis Star-Tribune blog. Thank goodness . . . other than following the Vikings, I didn't have any other reason to check out local Minnesota websites.

Q. What are your plans for Buzz.mn?

A. Small, incremental changes that distract my superiors from my secret plan to rewrite the website's code so I can seize control at any moment, and this time Jack Bauer will be powerless to stop me.

Q. No, seriously.

A. Okay: small, incremental changes that build on the fine work everyone's done so far, and make this site a place to visit throughout the day. I don't expect you to make it your homepage tomorrow. I'd like to think we could earn the honor down the road. And how will we do that? Well, you'll get fresh posts every morning when you get to work and start your morning troll, and updates throughout the day — all supplemented by the usual stellar contributions from Strib scribes and your blog posts, of course. Eventually we'll be adding video and podcasts, photo contests, celebrity bloggers, balloons for the kids, et cetera. For now, I'm concentrating on giving you something to read while I learn the ropes and settle in.

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

Early June OWR now online

Michael Pinkus has the early June issue of Ontario Wine Review online. This issue talks about his reservations about the term "reserve", and a couple of wine reviews for Prince Edward County wines.

Posted by Nicholas at 09:53 AM | Comments (0)

June 06, 2007

Bucket status: undefined

To borrow a meme from James Lileks, my state of bucket-ness is not yet resolved. I had an interview today for one of the (now three) positions I'm potentially able to take on. At 1:30 this afternoon, while waiting at the dealership for information on why the Quotemobile's dashboard was displaying a particular idiot light, I'd have said that the top choice was no longer in play. The interview went okay, but I'd hate to play poker with the HR manager I interviewed with: I had no idea whether I was still considered a viable candidate for the position or not.

At 4:00, I got a very welcome bit of news that I'd survived the HR interview and was being scheduled for the next stage: meeting senior management at the firm. Wonderful! And yet, at the same time, a great opportunity to fall flat on my face. Let's see what wonders next week might bring . . .

You may have encountered something of the same ilk: literally on the way up the street this morning, I found that the Quotemobile's error-sensor had decided that I needed to pay attention to the tires. The friendly warning light was letting me know that I was taking my life in my hands to drive anywhere other than an authorized Toyota dealership. Having not left enough spare time for a side-trip to the service department, I drove on . . . probably setting an Ontario record for slowest maintained speed on an 400-series highway, for fear of a four-tire blowout at the worst possible moment.

Kudos to Whitby Toyota, for quickly diagnosing and fixing the problem: the spare tire pressure was just a bit lower than the other four tires, and had set off the sensor. Even more kudos for not charging me for the service.

Posted by Nicholas at 06:19 PM | Comments (4)

QotD: The complexity of particle physics

The problem, of course, is that I have no idea if any of this is true. My ability to assess the accuracy of his article, as opposed to the "Gee-whiz!" factor, is roughly the same as my ability to assess writing on the subject of 18th century Chinese porcelain. Unless they start claiming the Ming empire was in Peru, I'm pretty much gullible putty in their hands. And I have been taken in before; a physicist of my acquaintance confiscated my copies of The Tao of Physics and The Dancing Wu-li Masters and wouldn't let me have them back even when I threatened to sue.

Jane Galt, "The words, the lovely lovely words", Asymmetrical Information, 2007-06-04

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

June 05, 2007

Mailing list etiquette

I know, having run a few mailing lists in my time, that list membership varies substantially: some people sign up the day the list is opened while others drop in and out so fast they barely leave a ripple. Apparently, some folks need a little time in a corner with a cluebat, because they've completely lost the sense of how things are properly done:

Would those of you who are on AOL and who decide that you don't want to receive list postings any longer please unsubscribe instead of reporting postings as spam to AOL? I have to spend time dealing with the fallout, and you jeopardise the ability of other AOL users to receive their mail (and not just list mail; anything else that goes through that server).

That's the administrator of one of the busiest lists I subscribe to: probably at least an order of magnitude larger than any list I've ever run. It describes a lovely sense of both entitlement and petty revenge on the part of the no-longer-desiring-to-be-members. They can't be bothered just unsubscribing, so they flag the no-longer-wanted incoming email as spam and let the big guns of the ISP take care of it for them. To call that inconsiderate is a big understatement.

Posted by Nicholas at 01:22 PM | Comments (0)

Purest symbolism

Perry de Havilland has some innocent fun with a newly introduced logo:

What does it look like to you? To me it is obvious: a collapsing structure of some sort, perhaps a building at the moment of demolition. The sense of downwards motion towards the bottom of the page is palpable.

Breathtaking. I mean what truly magnificent symbolism. The entire Olympic endeavour has been a massive looting spree with already grotesque cost over-runs (and it is only 2007), so surely something that conjures up images of collapse and disaster is really on the money . . . and speaking of money, at £400,000 (just under $800,000 USD) for the logo, it perfectly sums up the whole 'Olympic Experience' for London taxpayers.

It should go without saying that he's not a fan of the Olympic project . . .

Update, 6 June: James Lileks has a few footling concerns:

Seriously, what is the matter with people who come up with this? And what is the matter with the people who approved it? Ads that showed the logos have reportedly caused seizures among British epileptics, but I think this thing would make a fossilized femur bone suffer convulsive muscle spasms. If you can't tell, it’s the year of the London games — 2012. I think it's also meant to imply a human form — say, a discus thrower, or a runner bursting from the blocks. Whatever it is, it's an aesthetic catastrophe, and would seem to indicate there's no one around in the London Games who had the nerve to bark "rubbish, that; try again, and give me a proper logo with some bloody numbers." I think there's a point at which people lose the ability to pretend they have any sort of aesthetic criteria, and embrace whatever's loud and ugly simply because loud and ugly is the style of the times. There's always a fair amount of coin to be had for dissing the traditionalists, of course; I imagine that if someone submitted a logo with a flag or a bulldog they would have suffered a gentle sneer: still pining for the empire, eh, Smithson. Well, Kipling's dead. Yes he is. Dig him up, you'll find Posh Spice's heel stuck in his heart, the coffin stuffed with I Heart Diana memorial teddy bears.

Posted by Nicholas at 01:14 PM | Comments (1)

Apologies for light posting lately

I'm in the running for a couple of jobs (one technical, one managerial) at the moment, so my attention isn't particularly blog-focussed at the moment. I'm hoping to have some good news in the next week or two. In keeping with my policy to maintain that imaginary firewall between my personal and professional lives: don't expect details on the next employer to be posted here . . . what I write about and link to are my own concern, not my employers' and they shouldn't need to worry that I'll be writing about their business here.

Also, apologies to the poster whose comment I eradicated about five minutes ago . . . I was cleaning out the usual assortment of spam comments and I think I blew away a real comment while I was whacking the dross. Please don't imagine I spiked your comment for content . . . I wasn't paying close enough attention to the list I had ready for deletion.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:26 PM | Comments (0)

QotD: The Media

If you believe everything you read in the newspaper, try getting interviewed sometime.

Kate McMillan, "The Real Buzz", Small Dead Animals, 2007-06-02

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

June 04, 2007

How not to encourage foreign companies

A friend of mine, whose name I can't use for reasons which will become obvious, had to travel by way of Moscow recently. Unfortunately for him, he'll have to travel there again. He's not likely to be looking forward to the opportunity, however:

On [date] I booked flights from Kiev (Ukraine - not Russia) to Minsk (Belarus - also not Russia) through Moscow on Aeroflot. The email confirmation made no mention of any requirement for transit visas but when I collected the ticket from the Aeroflot desk [at a western European airport a week later] I asked if I need one and was told not, provided I had a valid Belarussian visa, which I did.

Some days later I was in Russia on a single entry visa and, on leaving for Kiev, again checked whether I needed a transit visa for my Kiev-Minsk flight and was assured I did not.

[Two weeks later] I lectured in Kiev and then caught the first of my Aeroflot flights.

On arrival in Moscow en route for Minsk I went to the transfer desk and was told to go Immigration. When I got to the head of the queue I was told to go to the transfer desk, who in turn sent me back to Immigration, who told me that I did need a transit visa.

After making me wait for an hour they produced an Aeroflot official who escorted me to the Russian Consular Office on the airport who issued me with a transit visa — it was now forty minutes before the flight to Minsk left from the other terminal, five road miles away. Instead of taking me to the aircraft Aeroflot told me to take a taxi round the perimeter.

Having queued at an ATM for roubles and found a taxi driver who spoke enough English to understand what I wanted I arrived at the other terminal to find that the officials who were supposed to have been alerted to my arrival had not been — and by the time they agreed that they should be helping me the flight to Minsk had long gone.

There was no flight to Minsk arriving before midday, and my lecture was at 09:00, so about 100 people from all over Belarus had to be sent home without hearing it.

Since there was now no point in going to Minsk I asked Aeroflot to rewrite my ticket back to Kiev, where my flight home was to depart (with no convenient flights from Minsk I had booked an overnight train back to Kiev to fly home via Amsterdam from there). There were no seats available until the following day but that would still have enabled me to make my connection.

So I found myself a hotel near the airport and waited.

[The next day] I checked in on the flight to Kiev and at Immigration was told that my transit visa had only been valid for two hours and that because I had not caught my flight I was criminally guilty of illegally remaining in Russia and would be fined $2,600. When I objected that I had not been issued with a visa in time to catch the flight and enquired what I should have done I was sent to an expensive hotel, which took my credit card for B&B but would not accept it for meals, nor, because I was an "illegal immigrant", would it change my money. So eating ceased to be an option, and my "No refund, no alteration" ticket to Amsterdam from Kiev died unused.

I was told that I could not leave Russia until [my country's embassy] had made a formal diplomatic apology to the Russian Foreign Ministry, and they told me that as it was a holiday weekend there was a real risk that this could take a week. Fortunately it did not and I was told at 16:00 on the [following day] that I must leave Russia by 20:00 or face the same problem again. Of course I did not have a flight booked so I had to find a flight in the time-frame with an available seat. This was not cheap — but I made it to Amsterdam where I discovered that my electronic ticket, which I had not seen because the only hard copy was handed to Immigration and not returned to me, was to Brussels as its final destination, not [my actual destination].

On Schipol I received all the help and consideration which, if I had had one tenth as much in Moscow, would have had me to Minsk in time and the audience not disappointed. KLM, the airline for the last leg, although it was not their fault reissued the ticket to the correct destination without charge and provided a car to take me to the aircraft to avoid my having to run to make the connection.

As I write my luggage, which did make it to Minsk, is still impounded by the Belarussian authorities awaiting my arrival in person to claim it. It will be interesting to see if I can ever pry it loose.

A pretty crummy experience, as you can see, and yet in a disturbing way . . . successful. In the sense that, at several points along the way things could have gone much worse. This sort of thing isn't by any stretch of the imagination new: travellers were reporting similar problems with Russian/Soviet officials in the 1950's and 1960's. The sad thing is that clearly little has improved since then.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:25 AM | Comments (1)

June 03, 2007

QotD: The evolution of equality

Back Then, for many reasons including muscle-powered weapons, biology was seen as destiny and women as property. Note that upper-class women in a world where the labor was done by the slaves and the protection by the Legions had the most freedom of any in the ancient world except perhaps Egypt, where the labor was done by slaves and the protection by Pharoah's Armies.

Now, when knowledge trumps muscle mass, women's equality is coming on apace, and certainly women's status as human beings is established by all above the feral-narcissist level.

You know what I mean by feral-narcissist. "What I want, I'm entitled to get. Woman! Rape! Convenience store! Rob! Enemy! Kill! Cop! Run! Why am I behind bars for the rest of my life? Not fair!"

Pat Mathews, posting to the Lois McMaster Bujold mailing list, 2007-06-03

Posted by Nicholas at 05:07 PM | Comments (0)

June 02, 2007

QotD: The music retail industry

[I]f the record companies could be persuaded to stop suing their customers for 10 minutes, it might dawn on them that their best chance for survival conceivably lies in buying interests in "stores" like the Sam's flagship and giving the music away for free — in an environment where the customer, while he's filling up his terabyte thumbnail hard drive, is kindly given the opportunity to buy overpriced coffee, beer, books, audio equipment, digital storage and concert tickets. But instead they seem content to die from what amounts to a hunger strike against the existence of the Internet.

Colby Cosh, "Gone the way of the horse and buggy", National Post, 2007-06-01

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

June 01, 2007

Is someone running a pool on this one?

If they're not, then a good betting opportunity is being missed: waiting to find out who's the #1 on the list of people who are screwing up Canada.

Hint: neither Stephen Harper nor Stephane Dion have yet appeared, and the countdown is at 19. (David Ahenakew, Conrad Black, and Jack Layton have already been listed.)

Posted by Nicholas at 03:56 PM | Comments (0)

QotD: Life

As I grow older I am unpleasantly impressed by the fact that giving each human being but one life is a bad scheme. He should have two at the lowest — one for observing and studying the world, and the other for formulating and setting down his conclusions about it. Forced, as he is by the present irrational arrangement, to undertake the second function before he has made any substantial progress with the first, he limps along like an athlete only half trained. His competitors, to be sure, are in the same case, and in consequence his inadequacy tends to be concealed, but it is there none the less, and I sometimes suspect that it may be the main cause of the blowsy vacuity which marks so much of the so-called thinking of mankind.

H.L. Mencken, Minority Report, 1956.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:57 PM | Comments (0)

The wine counter-culture testifies

Bored of the same-old, same-old in wine writing? All those tedious reviews that all seem to use some fancy gastronomic thesaurus to describe the smell and taste of wines? Then perhaps you'll find Deacon Dr. Fresh to be more your kind of wine writer:

World's Lurchest Wine Writer - The Gangsta of the Grape - The Sultan of Shiraz - Yellow Tail's Bane - Locus of the Ladies' Focus - Wielder of the trousered Hammer of Thor - I have arrived to rescue the wine world from overly-serious, rigid, deconstructionist, peckerwoods who'd never dream of gettin' a tattoo or crackin' a smile. I am without a doubt, the smartest, funniest and toughest sumbitch in the entire wine industry. And I aint goin' away. All disputes will be settled bare-knuckled in the Octagon. You heard me.

Update: He provides a secret decoder ring should you be a bit fuzzy on the exact meaning of the terms he uses.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:38 AM | Comments (1)

This'd qualify as a grade-A parental nightmare

The kids don't come home on the school bus, because the driver takes them all away:

Paul Merriman said his two children, aged seven and 11, told him the bus didn't follow its normal route, but instead meandered through neighbourhoods and then hit a parked car at a shopping mall.

The school bus continued moving until the driver was forced to pull over by the drivers of two other school buses who blocked her path.

"They thought it was just kind of a joke at the time, that the bus driver was taking a different route or something. And then the bus driver was, from what the kids tell me, was very unresponsive," he said.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:46 AM | Comments (0)

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