September 28, 2007

QotD: The Nanny in Chief

[President Bush] sees America as we think of about a 10-year-old child.

Andrew Card, then-Chief of Staff, 2004, quoted by David Harsanyi in Nanny State.

Posted by Nicholas at 09:00 AM | Comments (0)

Nanny State of the Union

Nick Gillespie sits down (virtually) with the author of Nanny State:

In a world where foie gras is outlawed, only outlaws will munch on goose liver fatted by gavage.

In his new book Nanny State, Denver Post columnist David Harsanyi documents in appalling and encylcopedic detail exactly "how food fascists, teetotaling do-gooders, priggish moralists, and other boneheaded bureaucrats are turning America into a nation of children." If there's a smoking ban, a mandatory exercise program, or censorious city government out there, it's pilloried in Nanny State.

In wide-ranging and engagingly written chapters, the 37-year-old Harsanyi argues that preserving life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness means giving individuals more choices in how to live, not fewer. "We've built the freest and most dynamic society the world has ever seen," writes Harsanyi. "To let these lightweight babysitters take over would be absurd, self-destructive, and categorically un-American.

Posted by Nicholas at 08:36 AM | Comments (0)

September 27, 2007

For those of you who think the past was black and white

Radley Balko posted a random link to vintage colour photos of US cities. Some lovely photos in the collection . . . the past was more colourful than we tend to think.

Atlanta, 1951

Posted by Nicholas at 12:46 PM | Comments (2)

Wine without whining

Scraped off the bottom of rec.humor.funny, from August, 1996, and attributed to "":

The Down And Dirty on The Fruit of the Vine

I'm going to do you a big favor. I'm going to free you from feelings of inadequacy that have been haunting you since sometime in your teens. I'm going to fill you in on the greatest scam ever perpetrated upon the consuming public. I'm going to tell you what I know about wine.

The bottom line is that wine tastes awful. It's just grape juice gone south (forgive me, dixiewhistlers). All the millions of poor slobs dutifully disguising the revolted pucker behind looks of thoughtful analysis, parroting gibberish of which they've no idea of the meaning, studying for hours so as not to be humiliated by menial restaurant employees once again, have fallen for a complex and insidious canard (see COLD DUCK). An "acquired taste" they call it. Well, you could acquire a taste for Ivory soap.

Herewith is a glossary of selected wine terms and what they really mean:

APPELLATION CONTROLEE: French for "Trust me"

AROMA: A bad smell that comes from the grapes; See BOUQUET

BEAUJOLAIS NOUVEAU: Wine so awful that it isn't worth aging.

BOUQUET: A bad smell that's added during processing; See NOSE

BRUT: Describes a wine that sneaks up on you and stabs you in the back. Or a wine dealer. From the Latin, "Et tu, Brute"

CHATEAUNEUF DU PAPE: The pope's new house was paid for by swindling buyers into paying the price for this wine.

DRY: Hurts your throat while swallowing.

FRUITY: Tastes like children's cough medicine. See ROBUST

NOBLE ROT: What well-born wine snobs talk.

NOSE: The total effect of AROMA and BOUQUET; something you wish you could hold while drinking.

ROBUST: Tastes like cough medicine. See FRUITY

ROSE: Many people mistakenly pronounce this to rhyme with Jose. A term for a pinkish wine, named for what an early commentator said his gorge did when he tasted it.

VARIETAL: Having the worst qualities of a single type of grape, rather than a mixture of sins.

VINTAGE: How many years we've been trying to get rid of this rotgut.

Posted by Nicholas at 08:38 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: British Fascism

Regular readers will be familiar with my theory that Britain's current system of government is 'soft fascism'. The Labour Party conference has been providing lots more support for the idea.

There on the front of the podium for every speech, in stark red letters, is the slogan for the event, "Strength to change Britain." Four words, capturing the key fascist notions of power, forward movement, and national identity. Because it is a slogan, we know that an offer is being made to us; but the content of the offer is naked power, not what will be done with it. It is not for us to evaluate whether the change will be for the better. Impressive concision.

Guy Herbert, "Some striking phrases", Samizdata, 2007-09-26

Posted by Nicholas at 08:31 AM | Comments (0)

September 26, 2007

Learn something new every day . . .

Apparently, I've been labouring under the misconception that the Spanish Armada was defeated by the English (and the abominable English weather), but according to sparkling new research, it was actually the Turks who did the deed:

"And if there is a practical thing, I would say it is that we need to revisit some parts of that national heritage. to rewrite some parts of that national story to tell the whole story.

"When we talk about the Armada it's only now that we are beginning to realise that part of it is Muslims," Mr Phillips told the meeting.

"It was the Turks who saved us, because they held up Armada at the request of Elizabeth I. "

That neither the English nor the Spanish seem to have noted this "fact" is surely proof of the noted Christian bias against Muslims. After all, the BBC would never attempt to distort history, now would it? (Do read the comment thread on the first link . . . it's quite entertaining.)

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

The enemy of my enemy

I've never quite cottoned on to that old saying, but some people clearly have integrated the notion completely:

Via a DailyKos-reading reader comes this "diary" from one sallykohn, a self-identified Jewish lesbian with a "crush on Mahmoud Ahmadinejad," a man, she acknowledges, that might very well have her killed were she Iranian, but who nevertheless "speaks some blunt truths about the Bush Administration that make me swoon... "

It's hard to choose which bits to excerpt, but here are some favorites:

I want to be very clear. There are certainly many things about Ahmadinejad that I abhor — locking up dissidents, executing of gay folks, denying the fact of the Holocaust, potentially adding another dangerous nuclear power to the world and, in general, stifling democracy. Even still, I can't help but be turned on by his frank rhetoric calling out the horrors of the Bush Administration and, for that matter, generations of US foreign policy preceding. [. . .]

Posted by Nicholas at 08:58 AM | Comments (0)

Hitchens on Europe's American Schadenfreude

Christopher Hitchens has some insight into the European psyche, especially when it comes to their views on the US:

I am occasionally asked why it is that so many Europeans display reflexive anti-Americanism, and I force myself to choose from a salad of possible answers. One of these is the resentment that I can remember feeling myself when I lived in England in the 1970s: the sheer brute fact that American voters who knew nothing about Europe (and cared less) could pick a president who had more clout than any of our elected prime ministers could exert. America could change our economic climate by means of the Federal Reserve, could use bases in Britain to forward its policies in Asia or the Middle East, and all the rest of it. Americans could also choose a complete crook like Richard Nixon, or a complete moron like Jimmy Carter, and we still had to watch our local politicians genuflect to the so-called Atlantic alliance.

Nowadays, this bothers me slightly less than it used to do. (George Bush at his worst is preferable to Gerhard Schröder or Jacques Chirac—politicians who put their own countries in pawn to Putin and the Chinese and the Saudis.) But I can still feel the old pang gnawing away. And I can still sense the European instinct for revenge or, to phrase it another way, for the chance to influence U.S. politics in return. One of the ways in which this influence can be exerted is the award of the Nobel Peace Prize. (And not just the peace prize, either; the so-called "prize" for literature has been awarded quite openly to figures who earned their reputations as enemies of the American imperium, just as the laurels bestowed on Jimmy Carter were accompanied by explicit remarks from Scandinavia to the effect that this might put a spoke in Bush's wheel.)

On Oct. 12, we shall hear again from Oslo, and I will be very surprised indeed if the peace prize is not awarded to Albert Gore Jr. (Don't ask what a campaign against global warming has done for "peace"; that would be like asking what Mother Teresa or Henry Kissinger had ever done to reduce global conflict. The impression is the main thing.)

Posted by Nicholas at 08:45 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: Kids' soccer

I do wonder about these mixed leagues, though. The kids are at the age where the boys' aggressiveness is starting to assert itself, despite all efforts to the contrary; do we really want to teach them that it's fine to bash into girls? I have the feeling that if I raised an objection, however leisurely and off-handedly and amusedly and don't-think-I’m-like-Larry-Summers-or-anythingedly, it wouldn't be met well by all. The idea that boys will be stronger and more aggressive and should treat less strong, less physically aggressive people with restraint is oddly taboo. On one hand, I want my daughter to be able to give as good as she gets, and she's solid enough to hold her ground. But say she's a skinny-mini, one of those three-ounce kids, and gets knocked flat because Bruiser McLaddybuck barrels into her trying to get the ball. This we should applaud? It would be fine if Bruiser knocked over Master Simpy Milquewater, because he's a boy, and part of being a boy consists of getting dominated on the athletic field often enough as a child that you realize your future rests in academic or artistic pursuits, leading to a lifetime of sneering at the jocks and gnashing your teeth when the smartsy artsy girls go flouncing off with the broad-shoulder crowd. THERE IS NO GOD. But in the end, it all works out. Nature has its way. If I'm wrong, explain why pro football isn't co-ed.

I should note to newcomers that I was the fat kid who viewed gym as an endless session of torture and humiliation, so I side with Simpy.

James Lileks, The Bleat, 2007-09-26

Posted by Nicholas at 08:35 AM | Comments (1)

September 25, 2007

Canada's sad record on human rights

The Iranian government is calling Canada's bluff on human rights abuses:

[. . .] the document asserts that the Canadian government denies its people food, clean water and the right to work.

"Routine unlawful strip and beatings by Canadian police has been a matter of concern for international community," notes the booklet, entitled Report on Human Rights Situation in Canada, adding that "the practice of police is alarming simply because . . . it is functioning as if there is no need to have judges."

The publication, which claims its allegations are drawn from "objective and factual information released by authentic and credible international sources," alleges that a range of human rights violation occur in Canada, especially toward aboriginal peoples, refugees and immigrants.

"To the great dismay of the international community, it is a great concern that the rights of women are violated, and no serious attention has been paid in promotion and protection of women's rights in Canada."

You can be sure that Canadian diplomats will be furiously writing and issuing apologies to the world and distributing them at the UN for the rest of this week.

H/T to Damian Penny.

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

The modern world

Johnathan Pearce: When I hear people talk about the erosion of civil society under the impact of officialdom, it is tragedies like this recent story that demonstrate what I mean.

I don't know how those "community support officers" can live with themselves. And their failure to testify (or even appear at the inquest) speaks volumes about their moral nature.

Original link here.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:03 PM | Comments (1)

QotD: Reporters

As I recall, we did manage to get some newspaper reporters to come up and talk to us, and I believe at least one TV channel from nearby Pensacola. But it was then that I first suffered an extremely strange and very frustrating experience. If you've ever been associated with anything that got the attention of the media, I'm sure that you'll recognize it immediately. It was exactly as if the reporters and TV personalities had attended some gathering other than the one all of us had.

The simple truth is that, in all the forty-six years since, during which I've been pretty politically aware and active, there hasn't been a single issue, event, or phenomenon — not one — that the mainstream media haven't lied about, blatantly misrepresented or distorted, or overlooked, ignored, or suppressed, by accident or design. Even when they try, the fools never get it right. I have never been involved in anything I would have recognized afterward from their description of it.

Thomas Jefferson believed that a free press would be the salvation of this country's libertarian values and traditions, but sadly he was wrong. The mass media are uniformly populated by cowards, bullies, and toadies who will unfailingly suck up to whomever they perceive to have power — and immediately fall upon and rip out the throats of whoever they believe to be losing it. They know nothing of history, economics, or the law. They give not a fig about freedom or the future. I have sometimes observed that if the American people ever became fully aware of just how badly they're being served by the media (of course most of them don't want to know), there wouldn't be a single newspaper or radio or TV station left standing above its own ashes anywhere in the country.

L. Neil Smith, "The Bottom of the Birdcage", Libertarian Enterprise, 2007-09-23

Posted by Nicholas at 08:28 AM | Comments (0)

September 24, 2007

QotD: The Ron Paul Candidacy

I would certainly be contradicting myself if I believed that Ron Paul was going to win the 2008 election—the guy's against abortion and for closing the border, after all—but I don't. I regard his candidacy, like that of Barry Goldwater before him, to be a nice sharp cattle-prod applied to the system's tenderest parts, worth doing for that reason alone. And, exactly like Eugene McCarthy's candidacy, the main reason for supporting Ron, of course, is to end the insane War on Everything.

L. Neil Smith, Letter to Libertarian Enterprise, 2007-09-23

Posted by Nicholas at 08:58 AM | Comments (0)

Three games in, the knives are out

Another game I didn't get to watch yesterday . . . and another game I apparently benefitted from not watching:

Looking at the bigger picture, I've completely lost any confidence in Chilly's offensive coaching. First, I've gotta discuss the clock management.

In both halves, the clock management was nothing short of an embarrassment. The Vikings had the ball with 1:07 to go in the second quarter, and they let 30 SECONDS run off the clock after a running play. They had plenty of time to get into field goal range, but they blew it. I couldn't believe what I was seeing . . . it was absolutely incompetent clock management.

Then, in the fourth quarter, the Vikings got the ball back with 1:45 remaining. No timeouts. We threw a three-yard pass and a five-yard pass. To the middle of the field. You can't make it up. Wasted tons of time. Again, clueless clock management.

The word "aggressive" isn't in Chilly's vocabulary. This conservative, "dink and dunk" offense is a joke. How about this: Let's throw the ball down field, let's use some play action, let's do SOMETHING to make this offense less predictable.

Of course, in the game I did get to see (at least part of), watching the Patriots try to do a Joe Thiesmann to J.P. Losman was ugly, ugly, ugly. If the Patriots' Vince Wilfork isn't fined by the league for that hit, it's clearly going to be open season on quarterbacks this season.

Update, 27 September: Vince Wilfork has been fined $12500.

Posted by Nicholas at 08:52 AM | Comments (0)

September 22, 2007

The future's not what it used to be

It's not the technological wonderland described in numerous 1940's SF short stories or 1950's TV shows and movies, but it's still pretty cool:

If this is the future, someone forgot to stock it properly. Where are the personal service robots, the moon vacations, the self-contained cities rising out of the smog? What happened to all those sci-fi prophecies? In Where's My Jetpack? (Bloomsbury), Popular Mechanics columnist Daniel Wilson moans that "it's the twenty-first century, and things are a little disappointing." Wilson, the author of How to Survive a Robot Uprising, begs "all the scientists, inventors, and tinkerers out there" to "please hurry up" (emphasis in original).

Wilson shouldn't be so moony. Fanciful futurist visions can obscure all the neat stuff we’ve accumulated, once-wild innovations that are far cooler and more functional than jetpacks. (Microwave ovens, anyone?) They also make it easy to forget that the ultimate responsibility for choosing which technologies fill our lives lies with us, the ordinary consumers, more than any rocket scientists. Take the titular jetpack. It exists — but no one really wants it. It's a 125-pound monster with a flight time of 30 seconds, powered by expensive fuel. The dream of individual human flight was realized in 1961, and we haven't been able to find any use for it outside of Bond movies, the first Super Bowl halftime show, and Ovaltine commercials.

[. . .]

In another recent book, The Shock of the Old (Oxford University Press), the British historian David Edgerton posits that technological innovations don't matter as much as we think they do. We tend to consider scientific and engineering breakthroughs themselves as the important thing, he says, when what really matters is how we fit them into our lives. Edgerton disparages our high hopes for each new innovation as "futurism," a disease that led us to believe in a new world birthed by engineers, where electricity would be "too cheap to meter," Segways would be ubiquitous, and voice recognition software would replace keyboards. Moving sidewalks exist, after all. Even now they creep through many of our airports. Heinlein's future isn’t upon us for the same reason we don't all have jetpacks: We haven't wanted to make the technology our own.

If Wilson is disappointed with the future, it's because he approaches it the wrong way. He — and we — shouldn't read science fiction to get a sneak peak at as-yet-unseen innovative technologies. Rather than as a blueprint for what should happen, we should read it to imagine the ways humanity will figure out how to use whatever shows up, or to tweak the impressive tech that's already lying around.

All quite true, and yet, not enough to displace those memories of being a 10-year-old SF reader and expecting to have my winter vacations on the moon or on Mars by now. Damn it, I do feel ripped off on that score!

Posted by Nicholas at 10:53 AM | Comments (0)

September 21, 2007

Interesting new research tool

It's probably not of interest to a lot of you, but if you do any web-based research for writing, you'll want to have a look at Zotero. David Neeley sent this link to the Techwr-L mailing list with the following recommendation:

One incredibly useful add-on for firefox, by the way, is Zotero. Created by the folks at George Mason University, it is designed for online research. You can capture bibliographic data from various journal and book sites "automagically" as well as do web page captures, links, list related references, make either free-form or cut-and-paste notes, and more. Then, you can export bibliographic information in standard formats if you wish to do a formal paper.

I've installed it and started playing around with the features, and it's the sort of thing the web is made for: a well-designed tool for a specific purpose that does almost everything you could want to make that task easier. I haven't given it a real road-test, but on first inspection I'm very impressed. Give it a try.

Get Zotero

Posted by Nicholas at 01:36 PM | Comments (0)

QotD: Shibboleths of the 60's

I'm not unsympathetic to those who favor a constitutional amendment prohibiting all baby boomers from public office. It's amazing to me how many institutions remain entirely in thrall to the received wisdom of 40 years ago — scarcity of "resources", world "overpopulation", the growing "inequality" between the rich countries and the "Third World".

None of these things exist. The UN now says the planet's population will peak in mid-century, and in many parts of the developed world it's already in decline: the problem Germany faces, for example, is not "sustainable growth" but sustainable lack of growth. Meanwhile, the last three decades have seen the emergence of what Professor Xavier Sala-i-Martin calls "a new world middle class" made up of over 2.5 billion people in developing lands who now have a standard of living near enough that of the west. So about half the folks in the so-called "poor countries" are, in fact, doing pretty nicely. As Virginia Postrel put it, if you take the planet as a whole, in 1998 "the largest number of people earned about $8,000 — a standard of living equivalent to Portugal's."

Mark Steyn, "Thinking Globally", National Review, 2007-09-21

Posted by Nicholas at 08:39 AM | Comments (1)

September 20, 2007

Reinforcing stereotypes, French edition

By way of a cryptic link from Megan McArdle, this literally stunning bit of information:

The article quotes a pair of dentists, one from a Paris teaching hospital and one from the French dentistry association, and offers the following statistics (without citing sources).

- one million French citizens never brush their teeth

- half of all French do not brush their teeth in the evening

- 57% of French children under five have never brushed their teeth

- the average French citizen uses between one and two toothbrushes in a year

Of course, as one of the commenters pointed out at Megan's blog, half the children under five will be 0-2.5 years old . . . and another commenter pointed out that it was a "British columnist who read something in Le Figaro written by two French dentists who cited no sources for the stat".

But you guys all believe everything I post here, don't you? If it's on Quotulatiousness, it must be true . . . ish.

Posted by Nicholas at 01:11 PM | Comments (0)

Apparently, I don't know as much as I thought I did

In contrast to Megan's stellar 100%, I could only muster a paltry 91.67%. Of course, I can take a certain amount of satisfaction that I'm well above the average for all Americans who've taken the test — 75.3% currently — especially as I'm not American.

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

Let's party like it's 1976

For the first time in over a quarter century, a FrozenTundraMicroPeso is at par with the mighty, mucho-macho American dollar:

The Canadian dollar reached parity with the U.S. dollar this morning for the first time since November 1976.

The loonie has been gaining on its American counterpart since bottoming out below 62 cents in early 2002.

It has risen about five U.S. cents since the beginning of the month.

Helping the Canadian dollar reach the same level as its U.S. counterpart has been continuing weakness with the American currency.

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

Telling the players without a scorecard, Iranian Kurdish division

Michael Totten finds that things are often even more confusing than you believe:

Don't confuse the Komala Party with the Komala Party. Iraqi Kurdistan hosts two exiled leftist parties from Iranian Kurdistan, both with the same name, the same (red) flag, and the same founder. Both parties have armed camps and military wings. Both built their compounds on the same road outside the city of Suleimaniya. They're right next to each other, in fact. Stand in the right place, and you can see one from the other. The difference is that one is liberal and the other is communist.

I didn’t know there were two until I set up an appointment to meet Mohtadi, of the liberal Komala Party, and wound up inside the communist camp, unannounced. The communists were good sports about my mistake. They granted me interviews, introduced me to Secretary General Hassan Rahman Panah, and fed me lunch. They gave me the grand tour. They didn't tell me I was at the wrong compound. That news came from Modarresi, when he called to ask why I hadn't shown up.

On the surface, the two parties are more confusingly interchangeable than the Judean People's Front and the People's Front of Judea in Monty Python's Life of Brian. Perhaps not coincidentally, Mohtadi says Life of Brian is one of his favorite movies.

Posted by Nicholas at 09:14 AM | Comments (0)

A day late . . . how to speak Pirate

H/T to Lois McMaster Bujold for the link.

Posted by Nicholas at 08:47 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: The uses of inflation

At a conference this weekend, talking (once again) about the gold standard, I was struck by the fact that the things economics writers take for granted often sound horrifying to ordinary people.

In this case, the trouble came when I said that it's a good thing that the Federal Reserve errs on the side of having a little bit of inflation, and that in fact inflation in small amounts is probably good for the economy. The reaction of the assorted nice, normal people I said this to was about what you'd expect: they looked as if I'd suggested recreationally vivisecting their cat.

And yet, this isn't really all that controversial. A little bit of inflation lubricates the problem of sticky wages and prices: which is to say, that prices and wages are quicker to adjust upward than downwards.

To liberals, this generally sounds great: once you get a wage gain, it's yours to keep! The problem is, in an economic downturn, or a sectoral slump, the cost of your keeping that wage gain is that oftentimes, someone else gets the lovely parting gift of a layoff.

Megan McArdle, "In praise of (a little) inflation", Asymmetrical Information, 2007-09-17

Posted by Nicholas at 08:38 AM | Comments (0)

September 19, 2007

There's a reason talking cars never caught on

Arroxane Ullman sent this link to the Techwr-L mailing list:

A new company called Cognitive Code has built software that it believes will let everyday gadgets talk with humans. At the Techcrunch40 conference in San Francisco on Monday, the startup unveiled a developer's studio with a set of algorithms that convert strings of words into concepts and formulate a wordy response. The developer's studio could let businesses, such as cell-phone manufacturers and toy makers, use the technology to add conversational abilities to a product.

Instead of composing an e-mail on a PDA, says Leslie Spring, the company's chief technology officer, imagine instructing a handheld to "send an e-mail to Tom and tell him 'I'll be there in 10 minutes.'" Spring says that such a feature could be possible with the algorithms--based on 15 patents--that Cognitive Code has developed.

Geoff Hart, the list's resident pessimistic realistic futurist almost immediately posted this response:

A scene from 10 years in our future:

Device: "Dave, I'm sorry, but I seem to have experienced an
unrecoverable application error. Abort, retry, fail?"

Dave: "Huh? WTF? Speak English!"

Device: "Reinitiating speech mode. Dave, I'm sorry, but I seem to have
experienced an unrecoverable application error. Abort, retry, fail?"

Dave: "Could you possibly elaborate?"

Device: "Unrecognized user input: Elaborate: No such command.  
Initiating debugger mode."

Dave: "Hello? Hello?"

Device: "Debugger mode shows error lies between keyboard and chair.
Initiating ejection mechanism."

Dave: "Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!"

Device: "Anyone for a nice game of minesweeper?" [Distant THUD! in
the background] "Unrecognized user input: Thud: No such command.
Initiating debugger mode..."

Which, of course, reminded me of that brilliant Dave Allen bit on talking cars:

Posted by Nicholas at 05:48 PM | Comments (0)

Modern TV

Grant McCracken looks at the latest lowlight of "reality television":

But ABC seems to be implying that this is an experiment out of the political philosophy handbook. It's an attempt to see if kids can do what adults cannot, build a peaceable world.

And this makes Kid Nation a kind of latter day equivalent of the Children's Crusades of medieval Europe. Will children, protected by their innocence, triumph where adults have failed? Will they help save network TV from falling numbers? Can children convert the infidel, those godless creatures who now watch cable and visit the internet?

This is a measure of the desperation and panic induced in the old media by the new. Sending children into the brink. I mean, really. Even for a network executive, this is low.

This show's trailer reminded me that I hadn't missed much by giving up on network TV several years ago . . .

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

The former Iraqi army

Christopher Hitchens makes an excellent point:

However, one thing has become even clearer in retrospect than it was at the time: It was absolutely correct to dissolve the pre-existing Iraqi armed forces and to begin again with local and national elements who have been trained by, or are willing to work alongside, the coalition itself or the still-vestigial Iraqi government.

The opposite view of this question has become so much accepted that even President Bush now imagines that it was his policy all along to keep the Iraqi army intact. (The interview in which he claims this is perhaps the most alarmingly dysfunctional moment of his entire presidency.)

If there was one thing about U.S. foreign policy that used to make one shudder, it was the habit of ruling by proxy through military regimes. Especially beloved by the CIA, this practice befouled us in Chile, Greece, Indonesia, and numerous other cases where we made ourselves complicit in the policies of a local uniformed elite. The case of Iraq, where the armed forces routinely acted as a phalanx of naked aggression against neighboring countries and as a spectacularly cruel internal police force, as well as a parasitic consumer of the national income, was the instance above all where it was right to break with this abysmal tradition.

[. . .]

Take a moment to imagine what would have been written in the liberal press had the old military class been preserved and utilized to "stabilize" Iraq. I can write the headlines for you: "Baathist War Criminal Gets Second Career as American Employee"; "Once-Wanted Man, Brigadier Kamal Now Shares Jokes With 82nd Airborne"; "Kurds and Shiites Say: What Regime Change?"; "From Basra to Kirkuk, America Brings Saddamism Without Saddam." And, if you like, I can add the names of the reporters who would have written the stories.

Once the decision had been taken to invade, getting rid of the Iraqi army had to be done . . . the situation would be much worse for Iraqi civilians if it had been preserved.

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

QotD: Defining irony, but not understanding it

Canada was the only Western democracy to seize The Satanic Verses at the border. It was Freedom To Read Week. You can explain this stuff to people and they will still go on about the Patriot Act about which they know not a single particular. Gramsci called this phenomenon "ideology".

Nick Packwood, "John Landis, John Carpenter & David Cronenberg", Ghost of a Flea, 2007-09-19

Posted by Nicholas at 09:16 AM | Comments (2)

Traffic congestion

In my morning commute into Toronto, there's a definite difference in both traffic density and convenience between the private toll highway I use to get most of the way west, and the public highways I use to get the rest of the way into town. The distance travelled is about the same, but the time factor is very disproportional: the toll route is about ten minutes of travel, while the public highways take between 20 and 60 minutes to go a similar distance.

It could, however, be much worse . . . I could be trying to drive in L.A.:

As readers of reason know, "Traffic Jams Are Made In City Hall," and they can be solved, or at least greatly reduced through a series of five improvements ranging from creative construction, smarter management, market pricing for roads, market pricing for parking, and privatization. Read all about it — while you're stuck in traffic wasting as much as an extra 72 hours a year — hey, watch out for that stopped car! — here.

The 407 isn't perfect: it only has two different rates for travel at different times of the day, and they don't refund you any of that electronically collected toll if you're delayed, but it's a vast improvement over the parallel public highway 401 (the MacDonald-Cartier Freeway).

Posted by Nicholas at 08:48 AM | Comments (0)

September 18, 2007

Russian boomer, up close

By way of Ghost of a Flea, a look at a Typhoon-class ballistic missile submarine:

Posted by Nicholas at 01:06 PM | Comments (0)

QotD: The day the firewall fell

It was never quite the Berlin Wall of American journalism, but The New York Times' pay wall for full content has officially been reduced to rubble (or, more precisely, will be as of Wednesday). Let us pause for a moment and consider the good the subscriber wall accomplished: By making it just a teeny more difficult to access content by opinion columnists Paul Krugman, Maureen Dowd, and Frank Rich, it freed most of us from having to pay attention to such generally braying jackasses.

Nick Gillespie, "The Day the Times' Pay Wall Fell", Hit and Run, 2007-09-18

Posted by Nicholas at 12:27 PM | Comments (0)

This'll turn out well, I'm sure

New technology always seems to have impact outside the area its' inventors or popularizers envisage. This one, for example, is being introduced as a tool for quickly and remotely telling "whether someone is dead or alive on the battlefield." It also has other potentialities:

Figuring out whether detected heart rates give a reasonable cop excuse for coming in shooting is one of those legal and strategic conundrums we'll be sweating over in the magically transparent world of tomorrow.

Oh yeah, this is gonna go just great . . .

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

Apologies in advance

. . . lack of time . . . work . .. . later, maybe . . . sorry.

I think that covers the territory adequately without over-elaboration, don'tcha think?

If you're really desperate, you could always watch "Pulp Fiction Hockey":

H/T to Jason, Referee, Ciastko (who says he's "Seen coaches like this").

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

September 17, 2007

QotD: Gentrifying McDonalds

I have a feeling that the senior brass at McDonald's Canada have forgotten who their primary demographic is. So here's a brief reminder:

     1. Kids
     2. Kids with ketchup in their hair
     3. Rambunctious kids with ketchup in their hair and bladder control problems
     4. Parents of 1), 2) and 3).

The reason that the Starbucks approach works so well for them is because their demographic target is a little different. If you walk into a Starbucks you can be reasonably sure that you will be shamefully overcharged for coffee and subjected to the staff's horrible musical taste, but you'll have the opportunity to take up their comfortable seating for an hour and surf the web on your laptop, without any interference from the McDonald's demographic.

I'm trying to imagine sitting in a leather club chair at Mickey D's, watching ESPN on the plasma and surfing the wi-fi web. While in the background, the deep fryer beeps away madly and inattentive parents are more focused on chatting with each other than on surpervising their offspring. Kids are playing tag throughout the restaurant, running and laughing as they bump into and hide behind other patrons. Yep, that sounds like a winning formula to me.

Chris Taylor, "Not Lovin' It", Taylor and Company, 2007-09-13

Posted by Nicholas at 01:11 PM | Comments (2)

September 16, 2007

Vikings blow opportunities at Ford Field

At first, I regretted our local Fox affiliate's choice of games to broadcast . . . after all who really cares about what the Cowboys do in Miami? After reading this account, maybe I got the best of the available choices after all:

The Vikings (1-1) had plenty of chances to start 2-0 for the second straight year, but lost many of the opportunities as Tarvaris Jackson tied a team record with four interceptions.

"I didn't play very well. I threw four away," Jackson said. "The defense kept us in the game."

Both teams had shots to win at the end of regulation.

Hanson pushed a 48-yard field goal try to the left with 45 seconds remaining after making 18 straight field goals dating to Nov. 19, 2006.

The miss gave Minnesota another chance, but Ryan Longwell bounced a 52-yard attempt off the left upright with 2 seconds left — wasting a chance to follow up a 24-3 win over Atlanta.

"We had an opportunity to win this game at the end, but we didn't take advantage," Vikings coach Brad Childress said. "I was looking to see some consistency from Game 1 to Game 2.

"Unfortunately, we took a step back in terms of 12 penalties that we had. That's not acceptable."

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

Vikings management makes good move

The fans have been asking for this for a while, and the management has finally changed something . . . they'll now play Led Zeppelin's "The Immigrant Song" when they're introducing the players . . . I'm guessing it won't look much like this, however.

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

Library Porn

Jerrie Adkins sent along a URL to Curious Expeditions:

Everyone has some kind of place that makes them feel transported to a magical realm. For some people it's castles with their noble history and crumbling towers. For others it's abandoned factories, ivy choked, a sense of foreboding around every corner. For us here at Curious Expeditions, there has always been something about libraries. Row after row, shelf after shelf, there is nothing more magical than a beautiful old library.

We had a chance to see just such a library on our recent visit to Prague. Tucked away on the top of a hill in Prague is the Strahov Monestary, the second oldest monastery in Prague. Inside, divided into two major halls, is a breathtaking library. The amazing Theological Hall contains 18,000 religious texts, and the grand Philosophical Hall has over 42,000 ancient philosophical texts. Both are stunningly gorgeous. Strahov also contains a beautiful cabinet of curiosities, including bits of a Dodo bird, a large 18th century electrostatic device, numerous wonderfully old ocean specimens, and for unclear reasons many glass cases full of waxen fruit. Our delight was manifest.

Shocked into a library induced euphoria, Curious Expeditions has attempted to gather together the world's most beautiful libraries for you starting with our own pictures of Strahov. We hope you enjoy them as much as we do.

Posted by Nicholas at 09:54 AM | Comments (1)

Pirates finish out of the medals in playoffs

Yesterday's three games encapsulated the Pirates' entire season: a brutally hard-fought draw, a loss, and a bad loss. The first game was played in the chilly, windy conditions at 8:30 in the morning. Only 10 players showed up by the start of the game, so Whitby Silver had an extra player on the field, and three substitutes waiting on the bench. At the end of the first half, the Pirates were leading by 1, a very pretty goal scored by Nick M., direct from the corner.

During the second half, the Silver players were getting increasingly angry that the Pirates were able to hold them off, until they finally got the tying goal about five minutes from the end of the game.

The second game was played on the same field at 10:30. Again, the Pirates could only muster 10 players, and played at a disadvantage on the field. Whitby Teal jumped out to a three-goal lead by halftime, and added two more by the end of the game. The Pirates came close to scoring on several different attempts — Victor R. put on an amazing performance near the end of the game, but was thwarted by some incredible goalkeeping by the Teal goalie: three hard, accurate shots over less than two minutes, barely pushed past the post or the crossbar by athletic leaping.

The third game of the day was played in warmer, but windier conditions at Peel Park. Whitby Blue again had a significant advantage in numbers, fielding a full team plus four substitutes, while the Pirates still only had ten on the field. By this point, the Pirates were pretty much just running on fumes . . . there wasn't much left to give. The run of play was almost entirely in Pirates territory, with only a few opportunities to go upfield. The score was 5-0 at the half, with the Pirates looking shell-shocked on the bench. The Pirates put on a better display in the second half, with Anthony C. scoring from inside the 6-yard box, and Ian S. and Nick M. both coming close to scoring as well. The final score was 8-1, mathematically eliminating the Pirates from the tournament.

Sunday's scheduled 8:30 game didn't happen: the Pirates could only show five players on the field after the 15-minute grace period expired, so Whitby Green got a 1-0 win by default.

Posted by Nicholas at 09:31 AM | Comments (0)

September 15, 2007

QotD: Helicopter Journalism

Polls show the public steadily losing respect for journalism, and the absurd obsession with using news helicopters to generate pseudo-drama must be one reason. News helicopters don't just roar above highway chases — although all the viewer sees is a jumpy image of a vehicle with police cruisers behind. Increasingly when a news event involves some place, agency, company or school, the local station has its helicopter circle overhead as a correspondent does a report from the scene. This is done to fabricate the impression that something more sensational is happening than actually is: The correspondent deliberately arranges the "stand-up" so she has to shout above the whomp-whomp of helicopter rotors, creating an illusion of drama. That is, the purpose of the helicopter is to distort the news, not report same. Twice in the past couple of years, my kids' high school has been involved in controversies, and each time, news helicopters have circled above the school as correspondents did their stand-ups outside. What could a helicopter contribute to a report on an educational dispute? Why, live footage of cooling fans on the school roof, of course! Last week, two stations of the subway line I commute on were closed by this incident; walking past one closed station, I noted three news helicopters circling above. Circling above a subway station — where, by definition, you cannot see anything from the air! Typically, local news stations spend about $1 million a year to maintain and operate a news helicopter. If that amount were invested instead in serious reporting, maybe the public wouldn't have so little faith in local newscasters.

Gregg Easterbrook, "TMQ: Overloading the shotgun",, 2007-09-11

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

September 14, 2007

An excellent question

Perry de Havilland boils down the big question about Iraq (and Afghanistan):

In both the USA and UK, much of the debate about how to react to the military situation in Iraq really strikes me as really odd. If a person thinks the available facts indicate we are not doing well against the insurgents, surely the choices should be either:

  1. Conclude the enemy will inevitably win and no military and political victory is feasible, therefore accept being defeated and get out completely as soon as possible
  2. Conclude the enemy can be beaten, but not at an acceptable cost, so accept being defeated and get out completely as soon as possible
  3. Conclude the enemy can be beaten and therefore reinforce to improve the military force levels (i.e. the 'Surge') in order to actually win

What does not make any sense to me is any talk of reducing force levels by a person who does not think we have either already won or already been irretrievably defeated . . . and the stated position of most politicos on both sides of the Atlantic is neither of those things.

It's only a quagmire if you choose to make it one. Sending enough forces to do the job (however you define "the job") is the only sensible way to operate. Sending insufficient forces just means that success must be defined down to fit what is possible with the forces you sent. Demanding that they accomplish more than is possible is just plain delusional.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:34 PM | Comments (0)

If you think "organic" food is better, then don't read this

A round up of some of the more dubious claims made on behalf of organic farming, with much refutational goodness.

One critical point to note is that conventional farming using genetically modified crops has been reducing its effects on the natural world over time using the findings of science. Since organic is an ideology, its ability use of scientific findings to reduce its impact on the natural world is heavily constrained.

Look folks, eat all the organic food you want. Just don't be fooled into thinking that you're doing something good for your health or for the health of the planet. You're not.

I have always been somewhat dubious about the various claims, but this summary undermines some of the strongest claims. Next thing you know, someone will be busy debunking Biodynamics in wine-making . . . (just in case I'm being too subtle: I think biodynamic wine is a marketing rip-off).

Posted by Nicholas at 12:17 PM | Comments (0)

The value of software documentation

Here's an interesting twist: sales of open source software appears to be highly linked to the quality and quantity of the available documentation:

[. . .] the vast majority of our deals are fed by two direct sources: those who read our documentation and those who actually download and try our Enterprise code. Now, we also know that most of these people first start with our Community code (and often evaluate it for months, reading documentation and visiting our website in the meantime).

What does this mean? It means that if our demand generation software is telling us that someone has both read documentation and evaluated Enterprise, the odds of them buying support from Alfresco are huge. We want to be calling that prospect immediately.

But it also means that documentation is a huge opportunity for open-source companies to drive sales. Documentation is often treated as the shabby cousin of software development, but it is really the essential link between development and dollars. It's hard to motivate good documentation.

Software development without documentation is self-centric. Documentation is a signal that the developer actually cares about her downstream users. For projects that actually want downstream users, write good documentation. It won't cannibalize buyers: it will create them.

H/T to David Neeley.

Posted by Nicholas at 09:33 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: Miscarriage of Justice

Now, I can think of some reasons why a prosecutor would want to destroy a piece of physical evidence that could prove that the state executed an innocent man. But none of them are compatible with . . . um . . . being a human being.

Perhaps, for example, the prosecutor was one of the prosecutors who worked on the case, and doesn't want the stain on his career that might come with a wrongful execution. Perhaps he wants to avoid the inevitable stain on Texas' already execution-happy reputation that would come with proof that the state executed an innocent man. Perhaps he knows that proof of a wrongful execution will make it much more difficult for him to win death penalty cases in the future.

But here's the thing: While I can perhaps see a prosecutor harboring such sentiment deep down inside, I can't possibly conceive of anyone actually making these sorts of arguments publicly. Or with a straight face.

Because, you see, if Texas did execute an innocent man, all of those things should happen. Because . . . well . . . because Texas . . . would have executed an innocent man.

And if Texas did execute an innocent man, that Texans might find out about it — and subsequently raise understandable questions about the morality and efficacy of the death penalty — isn't something to be avoided, it's something that damned-well ought to happen. Because — at risk of repeating myself — Texas would have executed an innocent man.

Radley Balko, "Did Texas Execute an Innocent Man? Who Cares!", Hit and Run, 2007-09-14

Posted by Nicholas at 09:10 AM | Comments (0)

Movies that could have been worse if they'd been more accurate

My friend Diane sent me a link to this set of mini movie reviews, letting us know that sometimes historical inaccuracies are our friends:

The Flick: Mel Gibson's earliest example of "loose" historical reenactment, Braveheart marks a promising start to a career later spent boiling complex political issues down to "Mel Gibson kills Englishmen with an axe" (The Patriot) and curiously drawn-out torture scenes involving his heroes (The Passion of the Christ).

The Inaccuracies: Far from a scrappy commoner who clawed his way up from the mud to defend his homeland, William Wallace was actually a knight from a noble family, and his father Malcolm wasn't killed by the English, but fought on the English side in exchange for political favor. Also, instead of kilts, the Wallace and his army wore saffron shirts.

Why It Would Have Sucked Otherwise: We have to imagine that if Mel Gibson were forced to play a role any more layered than that of the just and righteous warrior-king-redeemer, his face would melt off from the challenge, revealing the circuitry within. And as entertaining as that would be, it's not as entertaining as the actual movie, or the years of mileage we've gotten out of screaming "They may take our things — but they'll never take our FREEEEEEDOM!" when we have our nail clippers taken away from us at airport security.

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

Today's "what a surprise" entry

I thought this thread on would be potentially entertaining:


Here's the link to the original article in New York Magazine. Some of the attitudes on display among the women quoted in the article are, um, odd.

Best comment from the Fark thread (at least in the first dozen or so):

Retardo Montalban: I can't wait to come back in the morning after the full-fledged flamewar has broken out. See you then Farkers!!

Do I need to warn you that, it being a thread, the language is probably NSFW?

Posted by Nicholas at 08:38 AM | Comments (0)

September 13, 2007

Arctic Patrol Vessels: now with less sonar

The not-yet-fully designed Arctic patrol vessels may have a lot of capabilities, but sonar isn't going to be one of them:

Canada's new Arctic patrol ships will likely lack sonar capability, forcing them to use other methods to detect submarine threats in northern waters, a project official said yesterday.

"They will not have the ability to detect submarines," Captain Ron Lloyd, a senior navy planner, said in an interview with The Canadian Press.

Both the operation and even the installation of sonar equipment on the new warships may prove to be impractical, he said.

"You're talking about a ship that's going to run up onto ice and all of the noise that ice makes and still be able to detect submarines," said Capt. Lloyd, who is the former commander of the frigate HMCS Charlottetown.

"From our perspective we have not examined that as a potential [capability] for this platform."

"What?" I pretend to hear you ask. "How are our not-yet-built Arctic superships supposed to deter eeeeevil Yankee and Ruskie nuclear subs if they can't even detect 'em?" A good question. Professor Dan Middlemiss is quoted in the article and he says that helicopters can be used (when the weather allows), and that would give some anti-submarine capability. Moreover, actually hunting submarines is primarily a job for other submarines in the modern era.

Still, you can't help but feel that the new boats won't have quite the same effect without the ability to "ping" the heck out of intruding subs.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:43 PM | Comments (1)

Copyright less valuable than fair use?

According to a report in Information Week, the economic return from fair use may be significantly greater than that from copyright:

Fair use exceptions to U.S. copyright laws account for more than $4.5 trillion in annual revenue for the United States, according to a report issued on Wednesday by the Computer and Communications Industry Association.

"Much of the unprecedented economic growth of the past 10 years can actually be credited to the doctrine of fair use, as the Internet itself depends on the ability to use content in a limited and nonlicensed manner," CCIA president and CEO Ed Black said in a statement. "To stay on the edge of innovation and productivity, we must keep fair use as one of the cornerstones for creativity, innovation, and, as today's study indicates, an engine for growth for our country."

By one measure — "value added," which the report defines as "an industry's gross output minus its purchased intermediate inputs" — the fair use economy is greater than the copyright economy.

Recent studies indicate that the value added to the U.S. economy by copyright industries amounts to $1.3 trillion, said Black. The value added to the U.S. economy by the fair use amounts to $2.2 trillion.

The fair use economy's "value added" is thus almost 70% larger than that of the copyright industries.

"Fascinating," says the guy who uses quotations for more than 50% of his weekly wordcount on the blog . . .

H/T to the ever-diligent researchers at Slashdot.

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

The great conundrum is finally solved

John Scalzi has the goods . . .

Posted by Nicholas at 09:14 AM | Comments (0)

Cool camouflage, WWII style

A post at Ghost of a Flea linked to this very cool pictorial of how the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hid this aircraft factory:


Posted by Nicholas at 08:50 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: Private stupidities versus public ones

Personally, I'm on the record as believing that companies quite often do stupid things. The difference between companies and the government is that thanks to market discipline, companies that do stupid things eventually have to stop, because they run out of money. Government programs that don't work, on the other hand, have a seemingly indefinite shelf life. The US government seems to be doing almost every stupid thing it has ever done, and to be planning to continue doing those stupid things forever. In the past sixty years we've had three serious attempts that I can think of that even partially grappled with the problem of programs that weren't working: the Carter/Reagan deregulations; the Reagan tax simplification; and the Clinton welfare reform. Of those, the first is intact, the second has been gutted, and the third is slowly eroding. This is not a promising track record for people arguing that the government should do more stuff.

Megan McArdle, "Success is in the eye of the beholder", Asymmetrical Information, 2007-09-12

Posted by Nicholas at 08:22 AM | Comments (0)

September 12, 2007

Today's lesson: don't be a good samaritan

Radley Balko has a disturbing story of deliberate entrapment:

The Chicago Sun-Times tells the story of Erasmo Palacios, who, after dropping off his six-year-old daughter at school, was with his wife Rocio and their 22-year-old daughter, all on their way to breakfast when they saw a woman waving her arms. Thinking she was in distress, they approached her in the car, at which point...


...the woman approached their car, parked outside Manolo's restaurant, leaned in to the passenger side where Rocio was sitting and asked Erasmo if he wanted oral sex for $20 or sex for $25.

The couple laughed, realizing this wasn't a woman in distress after all.

But within seconds, Chicago police swarmed the family car, hauling Erasmo Palacios out in handcuffs. He was charged with solicitation of a prostitute.

Okay, so you might make a far-fetched case that Palacios really was trying to solicit the woman, but even if that was true, does it justify this kind of heavy-handed enforcement? As Radley puts it, "how many men have been wrongfully arrested for solicitation who didn't have their wives and daughters nearby to vouch for them"?

Posted by Nicholas at 06:22 PM | Comments (1)

Why John Tory will not be Premier of Ontario

Colby Cosh does the honours:

Where were you when John Tory lost the Ontario election? I was at my usual post in far-off Alberta, but even here Tory's Wednesday self-immolation cast a glow that you could almost warm your hands by.

As I hear it told, a radio reporter looking for a new angle asked the Conservative leader whether the fully funded religious schools he wants to pay for as premier would be permitted to teach creationism.

There's no word on whether Tory actually expressed gratitude for the layer of gasoline he had just been super-soaked with: he just went ahead and whipped out the Zippo. Creationism? Sounds great! Why, it's just one more of the menu items our $400-million will buy us! Say, why's my tie melting?

It's funny the number of normally conservative folks I've talked to lately who are considering voting for anyone but the Tory candidate in their riding . . . the majority because of this very issue. It's going to be a particularly unpleasant day when the votes get counted.

Posted by Nicholas at 01:24 PM | Comments (2)

Dick Wetherbee likes tax

. . . well, he likes one particular tax:

Congress is debating whether it should tax cigarettes more in order to help children's health care. This child would love it. Tax 'em to the moon.

Right this minute I can buy cigarettes for 30 pesos a carton in Merida. A tad less than 30 US cents a pack at today's exchange rate.

There is a beach bar in Chelem where you can lie in a hammock, drink rum and coconut water and wait for a flat calm day. A moderately powered 18 footer on such a day can make the run to Cockroach Bay in less than 12 hours. An 18-foot fiberglass boat is practically invisible to radar. Only the motor makes a blip. The wake shows up on satellite but, generally, no one checks it in real time.

Right now, I know where you can get two 225 mercs for $1500. Solid (used) 18 ft center console hulls go for $2-3k all over Florida.

At present, few people go to prison for smuggling cigarettes. That will change. The bad guys will discover there is money to be made and it will be time for little guys to get out of the business. I figure about a 2-year window for those who love adventure and like to make a few bucks but would prefer to stay out of prison.

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

The possible testosterone link to autism

A link from Hit and Run led to this fascinating TimesOnline article on the possible links between testosterone and autism:

The theory that autism is caused by an extreme version of the "male brain" has won strong support from new research showing that male hormones in the womb are linked to social and emotional skills in childhood.

Scientists at the University of Cambridge have found that both boys and girls who are exposed to high levels of testosterone before they are born are more likely that usual to develop traits typical of autism, such as a preference for solitary activities and strong numerical and pattern-recognition skills.

Though the study included only children who are not autistic, it provides some of the firmest biological evidence yet that the social impairments that characterise the condition may be affected by prenatal hormone exposure.

This in turn backs the theory that autistic people are best understood as having extreme versions of a brain type that is common in the population at large, particularly among men.

The idea advanced by Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, who leads the Cambridge team, is that human brains are predominantly attuned either to empathising with others, or to understanding how systems work. Women are more likely to fall into the first group and men into the second, while autistic people are extreme systemisers whose social problems emerge from a fundamental difficulty with empathy.

The model fits with the way in which autism is four times more common among boys than girls and one possible explanation is that male hormones in the womb could promote systemising at the expense of empathy. Very high exposures may thus trigger autism.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:31 PM | Comments (0)

QotD: War Economy

More than any other single period, World War I was the critical watershed for the American business system. It was a "war collectivism," a totally planned economy run largely by big-business interests through the instrumentality of the central government, which served as the model, the precedent, and the inspiration for state corporate capitalism for the remainder of the twentieth century. That inspiration and precedent emerged not only in the United States, but also in the war economies of the major combatants of World War I. War collectivism showed the big business interests of the Western world that it was possible to shift radically from the previous, largely free-market, capitalism to a new order marked by strong government, and extensive and pervasive government intervention and planning, for the purpose of providing a network of subsidies and monopolistic privileges to business, and especially to large business, interests. In particular, the economy could be cartelized under the aegis of government, with prices raised and production fixed and restricted, in the classic pattern of monopoly; and military and other government contracts could be channeled into the hands of favored corporate producers. Labor, which had been becoming increasingly rambunctious, could be tamed and War Collectivism in World War I bridled into the service of this new, state monopoly-capitalist order, through the device of promoting a suitably cooperative trade unionism, and by bringing the willing union leaders into the planning system as junior partners.

Murray N. Rothbard, "War Collectivism in World War I", 1972

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

September 11, 2007

Why BMI is Bloody Mindless Idiocy

I've posted the odd critique of the obsession on the part of public health officials with BMI (here, here, and here for example), but in case you're not persuaded, here's Paul Campos to set you straight:

A particularly clear example of this is provided by the Harvard School of Public Health, which for many years has been pushing a phony claim with great success. The story is simple: That it's well-established scientific fact that being "overweight" — that is, having a body mass index figure of between 25 and 30 — is, in the words of Harvard professors Walter Willett and Meir Stampfer, "a major contributor to morbidity and mortality." This claim has been put forward over and over again by various members of the School of Public Health's faculty, with little or no qualification. According to this line of argument, there's simply no real scientific dispute about the "fact" that average-height women who weigh between 146 and a 174 pounds, and average-height men who weigh between 175 and 209 pounds, are putting their lives and health at risk. Furthermore, according to Willett, such people should try to reduce their weights toward the low end of the government-approved "normal" BMI range of 18.5 to 24.9 (the low end of the range is 108 and 129 pounds for women and men respectively).

It's difficult to exaggerate the extent to which the actual scientific evidence fails to support any of this. In fact, the current evidence suggests that what the Harvard crew is saying is not merely false, but closer to the precise opposite of the truth. For the most part, the so-called "overweight" BMI range doesn't even correlate with overall increased health risk. Indeed "overweight," so-called, often correlates with the lowest mortality rates. (This has led to much chin-scratching over the "paradox" of why "overweight" people often have better average life expectancy and overall health than "normal weight" people. The solution suggested by Occam's Razor — that these definitions make no sense — rarely occurs to those who puzzle over this conundrum). Furthermore, it's simply not known if high weight increases overall health risk, or is merely a marker for factors, most notably low socio-economic status, which clearly do cause ill health.

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

QotD: Immigration

America could not survive without immigration. Even the undocumented immigrants are contributing to our economy. That's the country my parents came to. That's the image we have to portray to the rest of the world: kind, generous, a nation of nations, touched by every nation, and we touch every nation in return. That's what people still want to believe about us. They still want to come here. We've lost a bit of the image, but we haven't lost the reality yet. And we can fix the image by reflecting a welcoming attitude — and by not taking counsel of our fears and scaring ourselves to death that everybody coming in is going to blow up something. It ain't the case.

Colin Powell, interviewed by GQ, quoted in Hit and Run, 2007-09-11

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

Lomborg in NYC

John Tierney talks to Bjorn "The Skeptical Environmentalist" Lomborg on a walk around New York City:

The effect of the rising temperatures is more complicated to gauge. Hotter summer weather can indeed be fatal, as Al Gore likes us to remind audiences by citing the 35,000 deaths attributed to the 2003 heat wave in Europe. But there are a couple of confounding factors explained in Dr. Lomborg’s new book, Cool It: The Skeptical Environmentalist’s Guide to Global Warming.

The first is that winter can be deadlier than summer. About seven times more deaths in Europe are attributed annually to cold weather (which aggravates circulatory and respiratory illness) than to hot weather, Dr. Lomborg notes, pointing to studies showing that a warmer planet would mean fewer temperature-related deaths in Europe and worldwide.

The second factor is that the weather matters a lot less than how people respond to it. Just because there are hotter summers in New York doesn’t mean that more people die — in fact, just the reverse has occurred. Researchers led by Robert Davis, a climatologist at the University of Virginia, concluded that the number of heat-related deaths in New York in the 1990s was only a third as high as in the 1960s. The main reason is simple, and evident as you as walk into the Bridge Cafe on a warm afternoon: air-conditioning.

The lesson from our expedition is not that global warming is a trivial problem. Although Dr. Lomborg believes its dangers have been hyped, he agrees that global warming is real and will do more harm than good. He advocates a carbon tax and a treaty forcing nations to budget hefty increases for research into low-carbon energy technologies.

But the best strategy, he says, is to make the rest of the world as rich as New York, so that people elsewhere can afford to do things like shore up their coastlines and buy air conditioners. He calls Kyoto-style treaties to cut greenhouse-gas emissions a mistake because they cost too much and do too little too late. Even if the United States were to join in the Kyoto treaty, he notes, the cuts in emissions would merely postpone the projected rise in sea level by four years: from 2100 to 2104.

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

Overprotective parents

Ah, the irony:

Parents who forbid their children to cross roads alone may be preventing them from learning vital lessons in how to avoid being run over, according to an analysis of official figures.

The proportion of children who are never allowed to cross a road unsupervised has risen each year for the past five years. But the number of child pedestrians being killed is also rising.

Department for Transport research found that, last year, almost half (49 per cent) of parents with children aged 7-10 said that they never allowed them to cross the road on their own, compared with 41 per cent in 2002.

Posted by Nicholas at 07:02 AM | Comments (0)

Pirates outmanned, outscored

I didn't mention last week's opening game of the playoffs, as our opponents were unable to field a team, so we took the game by default. Last night, the situation was nearly reversed: at scheduled kick-off, we only had eight players available while Whitby Red had almost twice that number ready to play. As the teams were lining up for the start, two more Pirates came running up to the field, so we only played with a one-man disadvantage.

During the first half, both teams had scoring chances, but only the Reds were able to put points on the board. At the half, the Pirates were down by three goals.

The second half was when the Reds' advantage in numbers started to show, as the Pirates only had a few opportunities to move the ball over the halfway line. Nick M. scored for the Pirates on a break-away, but that was all the attack the Pirates could muster. Final score, 4-1.

The rest of the playoff games will be held on Saturday and Sunday.

Posted by Nicholas at 06:43 AM | Comments (0)

September 10, 2007

Quiet blogging day today

Sorry, busy with other issues. Blogging will probably resume at a more normal pace tomorrow.

Posted by Nicholas at 02:03 PM | Comments (0)

September 09, 2007

No matter how bad your meetings are . . .

. . . they could still be worse if they were more like online chatzones:

H/T to Craig Zeni.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:04 AM | Comments (1)

September 08, 2007

QotD: Modern Families

Well, I would say that, wouldn't I? As National Review's in-house demography bore, you'd expect me to find in a successful single woman's $27,000 fertility treatments the flip side of the Afghan baby boom I mentioned last issue. Just as Europeans preserve old churches and farms as heritage sites so Martha has amputated the family from family life, leaving its rituals and traditions as freestanding lifestyle accessories. So okay, let me nudge the argument on a bit. Today many of the western world's women have in effect doubled the generational span, opting not for three children in their twenties but one designer yuppie baby in their late thirties. Demographers talk about "late family formation" as if it has no real consequences for the child.

But I wonder. The abortion lobby talks about a world where every child is "wanted". If you get pregnant at 19 or 23, you most likely didn't really "want" a child: it just kinda happened, as it has throughout most of human history. By contrast, if you conceive at 42 after half-a-million bucks' worth of fertility treatment, you really want that kid. Is it possible to be over-wanted? I notice in my part of the world there's a striking difference between those moms who have their first kids at traditional childbearing ages and those who leave it to Miss Stewart's. The latter are far more protective of their nippers, as well they might be: even if you haven't paid the clinic a bundle for the stork's little bundle, you're aware of how precious and fragile the gift of life can be. When you contemplate society's changing attitudes to childhood — the "war against boys" that Christina Hoff Summers has noted, and a more general tendency to keep children on an ever tighter chain — I wonder how much of that derives from the fact that "young moms" are increasingly middle-aged. I wish Miss Stewart happiness and fulfillment, but she seems a sad emblem of a world that insists one should retain time-honored traditions when decorating the house for Thanksgiving but thinks nothing of re-ordering the most basic building blocks of society.

Mark Steyn, "Homemaking for One", National Review, 2007-09-06

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

September 07, 2007

Amusing co-incidence

I opened Google Earth this evening, intending to try out the hidden flight simulator. Instead, I thought to zoom in on my local neighbourhood . . . and found that I can give you an exact date for when the photos of my area were taken: 5 May, 2005, because I recognized the overturned gravel truck across the road from that morning . . .


Posted by Nicholas at 08:24 PM | Comments (0)

Weird Al does eBay

Posted by Nicholas at 07:59 PM | Comments (2)

Sneering at early adopters

A post at Asymmetrical Information pointed to a post at Marginal Revolution, which had this lovely comment on it from "Matt":

The thing that annoys me most about all this is that most iPhone early adopters didn't uneasily spend $600 on the phone. They gladly spent it. They paid to break their contracts with their existing provider. They lined up in front of stores and camped out to spend $600 on the iPhone. People actually paid for spots in line just to have the chance to spend $600 on the iPhone. By any economic account, Apple under-priced the iPhone when it launched. And now these people have the audacity to "feel totally screwed". Forgive me if I'm not sympathetic.

Couldn't have put it better myself. (I may allow myself a discrete smirk, however.)

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

The economic double-standard

It's often noted that governments often exempt themselves from having to comply with the laws that they pass . . . so this example should be no real surprise:

The workers who clean Baltimore's Camden Yards baseball stadium are planning a hunger strike to protest their $7 per hour wages. The stadium is the largest employer of the city's homeless day laborers. The kicker, though, is that the Maryland legislature recently passed a "living wage" bill, setting the minimum at $11.30 per hour. But while the bill covers any business with state contracts in the Baltimore area, the state government is exempt, and Camden is owned by the state of Maryland.

Such double standards aren't new to the living wage debate. The labor activist group ACORN is largely credited with jump-starting the national living wage movement. But ACORN itself has a notoriously shabby record when it comes to paying its own workers. In fact, not only did the group once sue the state of California to exempt itself from the very living wage it helped the state to pass, ACORN actually used free market critiques of the minimum wage in its brief (ACORN argued that if it had to pay existing workers more, it wouldn't be able to hire more workers).

You see, if we let evil capitalists pay people less, that's exploitation, but if we morally superior types pay people less, then that's compassion at work. See the distinction?

Posted by Nicholas at 09:06 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: The Fashion Industry

Snazzy but thrifty dressers no longer have to wait for knockoffs of the latest fashions, The New York Times reports. Now that photographs of Fashion Week models are available immediately for analysis by software that allows overseas factories to produce simulations of designer clothing within a couple of months, the knockoffs can get to stores before the originals do. You might think this development would lead designers to rethink the practice of unveiling their latest creations in early September and delivering them to stores in February, nearly half a year later. Or to consider reducing the huge price gap between their clothing and the stuff that looks just like it. Instead they are whining about the theft of their intellectual property and citing their competitors' efficiency as yet another reason to establish a copyright in clothing design.

Jacob Sullum, "The Knock Against Knockoffs", Hit and Run, 2007-09-06

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

September 06, 2007

QotD: Regulating Reincarnation

In one of history's more absurd acts of totalitarianism, China has banned Buddhist monks in Tibet from reincarnating without government permission. According to a statement issued by the State Administration for Religious Affairs, the law, which goes into effect next month and strictly stipulates the procedures by which one is to reincarnate, is "an important move to institutionalize management of reincarnation." But beyond the irony lies China's true motive: to cut off the influence of the Dalai Lama, Tibet's exiled spiritual and political leader, and to quell the region's Buddhist religious establishment more than 50 years after China invaded the small Himalayan country. By barring any Buddhist monk living outside China from seeking reincarnation, the law effectively gives Chinese authorities the power to choose the next Dalai Lama, whose soul, by tradition, is reborn as a new human to continue the work of relieving suffering.

Matthew Philips, "BeliefWatch: Reincarnate", Newsweek, 2007-08-20

Posted by Nicholas at 09:00 AM | Comments (0)

Economic illiteracy at the Associated Press

Kerry Howley has some fun fisking an AP report on the sinister world of remittances:

Hard to know where to start here. The use of Hawala networks for terrorist funding is not a "downside" of the remittances sent by working immigrants; it is a distinct phenomenon that happens to also involve informal means of money transfer. The actual members of that "vast permanent army of economic exiles" are not necessarily permanent, bear no relation to the military, and are only exiles in the sense of self-imposed absence. Much of the remittance cash is coming from places like Singapore and Saudi Arabia, where the immigrant population is subject to constant, state-controlled, churning.

[. . .]

The U.S. "lost" $41.1 billion? If I buy a toothbrush in China with money I made in D.C., does the treasury lose that money? We’d better stop Americans from investing abroad — think of all the money the U.S. is losing. (It's not completely clear to me whether the AP is referring to foregone tax revenue, or to forgone spending in the domestic economy, or something else. In either case, "loss" is an odd way to put it.)

Posted by Nicholas at 08:43 AM | Comments (0)

September 05, 2007

Good description of Canada

Jeremy Clarkson enjoyed his visit to Canada, although he had some issues with the rental vehicle. Even if he thinks "no one in Canada ever wins on the horses, or escapes from a knife fight with their life, or has an orgasm. It is Switzerland with wheat."

When I'm faced with intransigence at a car-rental desk, what I like to do is summon up some little nugget of military history. It's never difficult. In Germany I tell them about Dresden, in France it's Agincourt, in Spain I wax lyrical about Drake, in Italy I'm spoilt for choice, and in Argentina, where I'm going next year, I shall be mentioning Goose Green.

In Canada I told the smiling girl at the Thrifty desk all about the massive superiority of General Wolfe over the pitiable Marquis de Montcalm and explained that if she didn't come up with a car — right now — I'd visit the Plains of Abraham on her desk.

It worked, and 10 minutes later I was driving through Canada . . . in a Dodge Grand Caravan . . . from a company called Thrifty. As recipes go, this is right up there with a plate of pork sausages and strawberry ice cream served in a puddle of tepid Greek urine.

H/T to Damian Penny for the URL.

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

A call for an end to the "War on Drugs"

Ronald Bailey quotes at length from a new article at Foreign Policy by Ethan Nadelman:

Global drug prohibition is clearly a costly disaster. The United Nations has estimated the value of the global market in illicit drugs at $400 billion, or 6 percent of global trade. The extraordinary profits available to those willing to assume the risks enrich criminals, terrorists, violent political insurgents, and corrupt politicians and governments. Many cities, states, and even countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Asia are reminiscent of Chicago under Al Capone — times 50. By bringing the market for drugs out into the open, legalization would radically change all that for the better.

More importantly, legalization would strip addiction down to what it really is: a health issue. Most people who use drugs are like the responsible alcohol consumer, causing no harm to themselves or anyone else. They would no longer be the state’s business. But legalization would also benefit those who struggle with drugs by reducing the risks of overdose and disease associated with unregulated products, eliminating the need to obtain drugs from dangerous criminal markets, and allowing addiction problems to be treated as medical rather than criminal problems.

No one knows how much governments spend collectively on failing drug war policies, but it’s probably at least $100 billion a year, with federal, state, and local governments in the United States accounting for almost half the total. Add to that the tens of billions of dollars to be gained annually in tax revenues from the sale of legalized drugs. Now imagine if just a third of that total were committed to reducing drug-related disease and addiction. Virtually everyone, except those who profit or gain politically from the current system, would benefit.

The amount of harm done in the pursuit of this nonsensical war is far in excess of the harm done (generally to themselves) by drug users. The restrictions on individual liberty required in this "war" are more far-reaching than anything governments inflicted on their people during actual shooting wars, and the benefits are hard to identify . . . but the costs are astronomical.

Update: Of course, the situation in some countries doesn't seem to change, even with western troops on the ground:

According to a recent report from the U.N. Office on Drugs and Crime, 19,047 hectares of poppies were eradicated in Afghanistan this year, 24 percent more than in 2006. Meanwhile, the number of opium-free provinces more than doubled, from six to 13.

Those victories were somewhat overshadowed by the news that the total amount of land devoted to opium poppies in Afghanistan rose from 165,000 to 193,000 hectares, an increase of 17 percent. Due to "favorable weather conditions," estimated opium production rose even more, hitting an all-time high of 8,200 metric tons, 34 percent more than the previous record, set last year.

If even thousands of highly trained soldiers are unable to stem the tide in just one country, what chance do the other "drug warrior" forces have to restrict the supply of drugs to western markets?

Posted by Nicholas at 12:22 PM | Comments (0)

QotD: Public Washrooms

My general philosophy on public restrooms was summed up by the late Derek Jackson, the Oxford professor and jockey, in his advice to a Frenchman about to visit Britain. "Never go to a public lavatory in London," warned Professor Jackson. "I always pee in the street. You may be fined a few pounds for committing a nuisance, but in a public lavatory you risk two years in prison because a policeman in plain clothes says you smiled at him."

Mark Steyn, "There were two creeps in the men's room", Orange County Register, 2007-09-01

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

September 04, 2007

Myths of Katrina, part 3

Daniel Rothschild discusses another dominant myth in the post-Katrina world:

In his opening column to the recent issue of Time devoted to New Orleans, managing editor Richard Stengel reports that his impressions of the city's recovery efforts are based on "conversations with everyone from Mayor Ray Nagin to jazz great Terence Blanchard."

That sounds impressive, but truth be told, "everyone from the mayor to a famous jazz musician" isn't a terribly wide range, and misses a good deal of the city. The tendency of journalists to look first to political leaders-who, to say the least, usually have other motives for pushing a narrative-and big names explains why so much of the media has gotten post-Katrina New Orleans so wrong. Turning first to the great and the good to get the story is an easy mistake to make in a society where everything from the foods we eat to the way we garden is subject to the whims of the ruling class.

But leadership isn't something you are elected into. There have been plenty of leaders on the Gulf Coast over the last two years. It's just that their names don't roll off the tongues of magazine editors, or appear in newspapers or campaign ads.

You can certainly understand the visiting journalist's desire to talk to people who can explain themselves well, and who are willing to talk to the press, but it helps to explain why many people feel that they're being ignored by the world at large: their interests are not adequately represented in the press coverage.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:34 PM | Comments (0)

A new thermal event in the blogosphere

My friend Liam, whose neglected, dusty blog was still linked from my blogroll, has decided to return to blogging:

Welcome to my explosive re-entry into this "Sphere of the Blogs". Feel free to imagine that as more of a "Volcanic eruption of awesome" than a "Space Shuttle Colombia" sort of deal.

Prologue: Second Coming of the DJ Saviour

I warn you now, this post may come across as exceptionally poorly typed, but that's actually the fault of the bottle of champagne I just smashed across my keyboard to inaugurate this shiny new blog. The combination of a glass covered typing surface and my razor wit will make it difficult to finish this post without major blood loss, but I'll worry about that when the paramedics make me let go of the keyboard before they rush me to Emerge.

Update, 7 September: Fixed URL glitch.

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

When coming in to the office seems too much like work

. . . imagine coming in to a job like this every morning:

Frankly, I have to admit in general that push systems are to working steam railways what pornography is to real sex, both are great in moderation but neither is quite as good as the 'real thing'. The 300mm (!) gauge colliery railway at the top end of Sichuan's Shibanxi railway is, however, a little bit special. I make no claim to originality, others like Hiromi Masaki have been here before. Being extremely committed in other directions, I had not bothered to check their sites before I came, I just noted some advice from John Raby to check it out during my visit. Thanks are due to all concerned for pointing me in the right direction.

Makes the old 9-to-5 seem positively sybaritic, doesn't it?

Posted by Nicholas at 12:14 PM | Comments (0)

QotD: Asking too much of your wine

As a child of divorce, I spent twelve years shuttling between two households, two sets of values, two realities. When, during my parents' frequent spats, I was pressured to take sides — I froze. How could I choose when I loved them both?

I face a certain dilemma in the wine world that feels similar: on one side are producers declaring, "We must make wines of place! Of character! Uniquely quirky wines that sing of grape and terroir!"

On the other, you've got a multitude of consumers who want nothing of the kind. They couldn't tell a mountain vineyard from a valley one and the last thing they need is a new grape to learn. They want wines of predictability and simplicity; of style and fun.

Jennifer "Chotzi" Rosen, "Flow: Pay attention! It's fun", The Wine Jester, 2007-09-03 (link goes to her main website . . . this article will be posted there later)

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

September 03, 2007

Burlington Ribfest

After delivering the layout to Burlington, my sister suggested that the four of us (Elizabeth and I, Hil and Gord) go out for dinner. We had a variety of food allergies and preferences to cope with so we ended up compromising on where to go . . . Montana's. Now that was an experience. I'm sure they'll have lifted the lifetime ban within a few years . . .

Hil didn't get into a fistfight with the manager (but it could have gone that way, and the smart money wouldn't have been betting on the restaurant employee), but it wasn't the kind of memorable experience we'd expected. To compound the awkwardness, Hil also tipped off the waiter that it was my birthday, so I got the kind of "birthday treat" I'd been able to avoid since I was about 13: having the wait staff all gather around and sing to me.

On the way out to the truck, Hil tried to get me to double-dog dare her to moon the restaurant. I valiantly resisted. It didn't help. She insisted on doing it anyway.

On the drive back, Hil persuaded Elizabeth that it would be a really good idea to go to the Burlington Ribfest.

I should point out that I'm not a fan of crowds, so I wasn't expecting to have a particularly good time on this outing. Aside from the crush at the front of the main stage (where the performers were the Downchild Blues Band), it wasn't too bad at all. This was at the back of the crowd, just within sight of the main stage:


That's Elizabeth and Gord, with Hil's shoulder just edging into the picture. Here, Hil has been trying to persuade the balloon guy to make her a balloon hat that "looks like half a peace sign":


Hil decided that a "blooming onion" was the perfect food to eat while strolling the festival. Here she's trying to get Gord to try some:


At one booth, it looked like the decriminalization movement had won:


Sadly, the other half of the sign said something like "Old-fashioned fudge".

Posted by Nicholas at 12:56 PM | Comments (0)

Trains to Burlington, conclusion

As you may remember, the saga of moving an HO scale train layout to Burlington has taken a bit longer than originally planned. I'm happy to say that the final piece has been installed and is working well. Jimmy is delighted with his new model train empire.

The ceremonial first trip to the new turntable was awarded to, of course, Thomas the Tank Engine:


The installer's ceremonial wine glass was also accorded a place of honour:


Posted by Nicholas at 12:34 PM | Comments (0)

September 01, 2007

Do not tailgate this vehicle!


You remember that old expression ". . . it fell off the back of a truck"? Here's an example of just what could be falling nowadays.

H/T to Roger Henry for the photo.

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

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