November 30, 2007

A bug I'd never heard of . . .

This is an actual support article at the Microsoft web site:

During normal operation or in Safe mode, your computer may play "Fur Elise" or "It's a Small, Small World" seemingly at random. This is an indication sent to the PC speaker from the computer's BIOS that the CPU fan is failing or has failed, or that the power supply voltages have drifted out of tolerance. This is a design feature of a detection circuit and system BIOSes developed by Award/Unicore from 1997 on.

H/T to Marilyn Traber for the link.

Posted by Nicholas at 09:21 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: The Internet

God did not give us the Internet for porn, political fundraising, or pissing off the RIAA. (*)

[. . .]

* Those were Al Gore's contributions. Thank you, Al!

Jesse Walker, "The Rave Museum", Hit and Run, 2007-11-29

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

Change your sexual orientation, get 10% off your flight

Jon, my virtual landlord, sent along this link, which shows how carefully companies need to position their discount offers.

Alaska Airlines and Horizon Air decided to offer a 10% discount to gay travellers who booked their flights through a particular page on their website (at the time this was reported, the page was titled "Gay Travel", but it had changed to "New York City on Sale" soon afterwards.

I have no problem at all with airlines or other businesses offering discounts to individuals or groups, but this is an example of how not to do it. How much does offering the discount to people based on their sexual orientation (or declared sexual orientation, which isn't quite the same thing) differ from offering a discount based on the colour of their skin? Would that not cause serious objections from government and private organizations? Could Alaska and Horizon have managed to find a way to increase their business that didn't run the risk of alienating the a significant number of their existing customer base?

Posted by Nicholas at 08:32 AM | Comments (0)

Road safety at a grade crossing

Here's what happens when a truck driver forgets how long his vehicle is and pulls into (but not through) a grade crossing: Boom.

Video taken last week in Salisbury, North Carolina.

Posted by Nicholas at 08:23 AM | Comments (0)

Another good example of "spin"

A story came out earlier this week, heralded with scare headlines like "Internet Facing Meltdown" and "Internet Blackouts Predicted by 2010". I thought it was bullshit when I saw the headlines, but I was too busy to look at the report the articles were referencing to see how much the media was twisting the original information. Apparently the original authors were similarly impressed by the efforts of the spin-meisters:

When a small Illinois IT research firm published a study on the future of the Internet last week, it didn't expect to create an international furor.

"I had no idea it would get spun this way, twisted this way," report co-author Johna Till Johnson, president and a senior founding partner of Nemertes Research, said Wednesday.

"I've read all sorts of interesting stuff that bears little relation to the truth, but people seem to be basing it on the study."

All the study concluded, she says, is that a mismatch between demand and access capacity will be reached in three to five years that will have to be met by billions of dollars in spending by carriers. Otherwise, the next YouTube may be throttled because the Internet will be hard to access.

[. . .]

"We explicitly are not saying the Internet's going to break," she says.

In hindsight, she adds, the firm should have foreseen the reaction from Internet lobby groups who she says put their own negative spin on the report. "They really failed to see that it's entirely straightforward to build their case [for supporting the Internet] around the findings, which were intentionally policy-neutral."

"It surprised me there was this bipolar response that had nothing to do with the findings."

Of course, you might want to always filter any media scaremongering to do with the internet . . . the normal bias of news organizations to emphasize the dramatic is reinforced by the fact that the internet is, in effect, eating their lunch. Not to say that there aren't news items that deserve to be covered, but that you need to keep in mind the agenda not only of the originator but also that of the publicist.

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

November 29, 2007

We need more micronations

An amusing review of Micronations: The Lonely Planet Guide to Home-Made Nations by Jesse Walker:

Lonely Planet [. . .] deals mainly with charming, tongue-in-cheek projects like Molossia. There are a few purely virtual countries here, but in general, it doesn't make sense to give space in a travel guide to places you can only visit with an Internet connection. There are a few "real" countries as well, but again, not too many. There is Sealand, a decommissioned sea fort in the North Sea that has been ruled and defended by Prince Paddy Roy Bates since 1967. There is Christiania, a hippie squatter district in Denmark — sorry, adjacent to Denmark — that has maintained its autonomy since 1971. (Officially, Christiania is anarchist, so it might be inaccurate to describe it as a state. But a friend who has visited the place tells me that in practice it's run by a benign oligarchy of drug dealers, so anarchist might not be the best label for it either.) And there are the Knights of Malta, who used to control a rather large swath of territory, but today hold just two buildings in Rome. They have diplomatic relations with 98 other countries, and Italy recognizes their sovereign status, so who am I to argue?

But most of the micronations here are less ambitious about asserting their autonomy. Instead, we have entities such as the mobile Copeman Empire (territory: a trailer), the tourist-friendly kingdom of Romkerhall (territory: a hotel), and the libertarian principality of Freedonia (territory: none, but they're looking). "Many find it a rewarding hobby to run a model railroad, or operate model airplanes," Strauss wrote in his 1979 book. "These model enterprises have all the trappings of the real thing, in miniature. Similarly, it's possible to run a 'model country.' You need only declare your home to be an independent nation, and proceed from there."

The patron saint of such projects is Joshua Norton I, the San Francisco eccentric who in 1859 declared himself the emperor of the United States. He issued his own currency, which local businesses honored; he made royal proclamations, which the local newspapers printed; according to legend, he once managed to stop an anti-Chinese riot merely by standing in front of the mob and reciting the Lordís Prayer. I canít endorse all of his policies — the fines he levied on anyone he overheard calling the city "Frisco" were an unconscionable interference with freedom of speech — but his reign was altogether far less bloody than that of his two rival emperors in the east, Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis. When he died in 1880, tens of thousands of people attended his royal funeral.

Posted by Nicholas at 08:56 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: Dogs in Winter

It is cold as Marsí Arse out there. Iím already tired of it. Not a good sign; itís like a stitch in your side sixteen yards into a marathon. The fussy idiot wind doesnít help any either, poking its nose into everything. The dog wants to go out; the dog goes out, rethinks the wisdom of the effort, then barks to be readmitted. A few minutes later he recalls why he wanted to go out, and he walks over to the door and paws the frame once. The door is opened, and a hand is put on his hindquarters to expedite his passage. Once outside, his nose hurts, and he announces a desire for the comforts of civilization. I wonder if thereís anything to be smelled at all when itís this cold. I wonder if dogs lean into the wind, nostrils wide, and think: Iím blind.

James Lileks, The Bleat, 2007-11-29

Posted by Nicholas at 08:44 AM | Comments (0)

No, I didn't take a vow of silence . . .

. . . but it's been tough getting time for blogging this week. I'm hoping that next week will allow a more regular blog-volume. No promises, however.

Posted by Nicholas at 08:42 AM | Comments (0)

November 27, 2007

Is this familiar?

Posted by Nicholas at 04:43 PM | Comments (0)

Glowing review

Jon, my virtual landlord, sent me this item with the comment "With a review like this, you've got to get one":

The Squircle could pretentiously be called a convergence device, but it's really just a glorified card reader. Zero internal memory, no screen, a rubbery shell and a peculiar shape aren't the best starting points for an MP3 player.

But play MP3s it does, and to boot it'll jack into your nearest USB cable for all the card reading fun you can wave a stick and an SD card at. For just £15, we felt we should give this little guy a chance.


Find yourself a large lump of black Plasticine and squish it into a flat square shape. Then round off two opposite corners and leave it to go stagnant. The result is a lump of rubbery gunk that resembles half a square, half a circle — hence the name. There are also five large rubbery buttons that require significant pushing and endless patience. It's about as pleasant to use as putting your hand in a trouser press.

[. . .]


This truly is the most horrible excuse for an MP3 player we've ever heard. Don't be surprised if your toddler's first words are, 'Daddy, why does Noddy sound like he hates me?' As an emergency card reader it's not too bad. But perhaps the most redeeming feature is that it'll skim across a lake like no pebble you'll ever find on a beach. Expect even the most woebegone and wretched five-year old to think you're cool as a result.

A suitable alternative would be any MP3 player on, along with the cheapest card reader you can find in Argos. You may pay a little more but we guarantee your karma will benefit as a result. The fact that some dog toys cost more should push you in the right direction.

At least now I know what I'll be getting Jon for Christmas this year . . .

Posted by Nicholas at 08:56 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: Hillary Clinton

[. . .] I was happy to find in my stack a new copy of Hillary Clinton's famous bestseller, It Takes a Village, revised, updated, and reissued in a special anniversary edition to coincide with her presidential campaign, by which she seeks to take over the whole village.

Like Castro, like Ceausescu, like many other politicians, Mrs. Clinton prefers to be photographed surrounded by schoolchildren, an image that suggests either a kid's birthday party or a hostage situation, depending on your point of view.

Andrew Ferguson, "Read, Weep, and Vote", The Weekly Standard, 2007-12-03

Posted by Nicholas at 08:30 AM | Comments (0)

November 26, 2007

Go, Royson, Go!

Toronto Star columnist Royson James got a public dressing-down from the mayor for his brilliant column on Friday. The mayor's letter was published on Saturday. James responds, with more restraint than I'd have expected:

[. . .] Mayor David Miller inserted his hectoring presence into the debate — and before you know it, a rhetorical hanging became a "public lynching," the memory of his "Uncle Jim" is exhumed and he has concluded that the very foundation of democracy is being threatened by one columnist raging against city hall spending.

As they say in basketball, no harm no foul. At issue is not whether Toronto councillors deserve to be hanged (I'm against capital punishment, banned in Canada), subjected to public flogging (opposed wherever it's practised), or run out of office (we've just elected them, they're in until 2010). At issue is how do we register our disgust — sorry, our displeasure — at their fiscal indiscretions.

A number of readers have emailed concern about the mayor's "over the top" rhetoric. Some, mine. Others fear I'll be beaten (metaphorically?) into submission, afraid to utter a single contrarian view in future. My bosses, far from moving to censure me, are more concerned that I might be "chilled" into overlooking wasteful habits as council embarks on this crucial 2008 budget cycle.

No worries. Let's just use the mayor's letter to the editor Saturday as the template for all further analysis and critique of city hall. Surely, an ink-stained wretch is allowed to borrow the mayor's own carefully crafted words.

A cursory glance at the mayor's letter, dripping with bile and bluster, reveals no cause for concern that one's criticism must now be facile, gracious or temperate. The mayor provides a list of choice adjectives and phrases that might now be at a columnist's disposal.

Appropriating the title of ombudsman, editor and publisher — in addition to chief magistrate and monarch — in an attempt to control all propaganda, er, communications in Hogtown, the official list of approved words and phrases include: "Beneath contempt," "Shows absolutely no respect for democracy," "stoop so low," "outrageous thoughts," "beyond belief," "hateful ruminations," "absolutely offensive," "loathsome advocacy."

The win goes to James, by knockout, in the second round.

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

Eli's really bad, horrible, terrible day

The Vikings were expected to roll into the Meadowlands yesterday and be the token punching bags for the New York Giants, with almost no pundit expecting the game to be even close to competitive. It didn't quite work out that way:

There are 16 teams in the NFC. At 5-6, the Vikings' record is better than only five of them.

That's one way to look at the hometown heroes.

Then, of course, there is owner Zygi Wilf's line of thinking:

"Back in the hunt, big time!" Wilf exclaimed as he nearly sprinted off the field Sunday at Giants Stadium.

Yes, the Vikings were talking playoffs for the first time in three years after a charmed 41-17 victory over the New York Giants. Wilf, the lifelong Giants fan, was euphoric after watching his new team return three interceptions for touchdowns. Even normally conservative coach Brad Childress said the Vikings have shifted from a "footnote" to "significant" in the standings after winning three of four games. Players dished out (mostly) good-natured ribbing toward media members who gave them little chance to beat one of the NFC's top teams.

As for poor Eli Manning, it nearly resulted in him being benched:

Two years and two weeks after throwing four interceptions during a close loss at home to the Vikings, the Giants' fourth-year quarterback played even worse in a humiliating home defeat. Not only did he again throw four interceptions, but the maligned Manning became the first NFL quarterback in 23 years to have three picks returned for touchdowns in the same game.

Giants coach Tom Coughlin contemplated benching Manning in favor of backup Anthony Wright, but only briefly.

Of course, one game does not make a lot of difference to the season Minnesota has been having: they're still only mathematically alive for playoff contention, and will pretty much have to win out the remaining games to have a chance at a wildcard berth.

Posted by Nicholas at 08:32 AM | Comments (0)

November 23, 2007

Toronto council wastes money . . . in other news, water is wet

I was amazed to find this column in the Toronto Daily Worker Toronto Star today:

Toronto city councillors do seem tragically hooked on spending needlessly and foolishly — despite constantly crying poor.

The mismanagement of the Union Station file being a recent example.

The private sector wanted to fix up the place, pay the city an annual fee and make some money off the venture. That deal fell apart. GO Transit wants to buy it, but the city isn't willing to deal. So now a city-inspired fix-up plan has hit $388 million and counting — and hopelessly dependent on cash from the federal government.

Another example. Budget committee voted Wednesday to borrow $700,000 to purchase food carts so the city can then rent them out to food vendors. Why not let the vendors get their own carts? Because the city wants to control the trade, keep entrepreneurs (conglomerates, John Filion says) from cornering the market.

Why the city has created this business to compete against restaurants is another question. But let's say it's good to be selling a variety of food from the sidewalks. Why must city hall get involved in the purchase, maintenance and distribution of the carts?

If Royson James isn't careful, he'll find himself the "token right-winger" in the TorStar newsroom! He may never do lunch in this town again!

All joking aside, this is the kind of thing you very rarely find in the local media: an article that isn't demanding yet more government spending and more government control over businesses and the lives of private citizens. Huzzah, Mr. James.

It's tough to disagree with the sentiments here:

Councillors should be hanged, one a day, at noon, in Nathan Phillips Square. Charge admission. We'll net enough money to pay off most of our civic bills.

To the tumbrils with them!

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

QotD: Coffee, slowly

Continentals who grew up on Hollywood movies where the guy tells the waitress "Gimme a cuppa joe" and slides over a nickel return to New York a year or two later and find the coffee now costs $5.75, takes 25 minutes and requires an agonizing choice between the cinnamon-gingerbread-persimmon latte with coxcomb sprinkles and the decaf venti pepperoni-Eurasian-milfoil macchiato. Who would have foreseen that the nation that inflicted fast food and drive-thru restaurants on the planet would then take the fastest menu item of all and turn it into a kabuki-paced performance art? What mad genius!

Mark Steyn, "For What the Thanks", New York Sun, 2007-11-19

Posted by Nicholas at 08:13 AM | Comments (0)

November 22, 2007

Canada cracks down on religious extremists

Hey, who knew? Canada is apparently getting all muscular over religious extremism, and the Canadian Human Rights Commission is the point of the spear:

Jessica Beaumont does not own a website. She was merely posting comments on existing sites (mostly in the United States). But the fact that she could go to prison for posting Scripture verses on a server in another country means that our religious freedom is in direct jeopardy.

Evelyn Beatrice Hall once wrote, "I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it." It has also been said that the real test of a person's commitment to free speech is their willingness to defend the speech of those with whom they disagree.

I think, despite the fact that many of the targets in CHRC Internet tribunals have been people with political opinions that we find downright offensive, we need to put those differences aside and look at the big picture.

When a government agency has the power to make a ruling that could put a 21-year old waitress in jail for posting thoughts that do not violate the law, we should be worried. When they set themselves up to determine what Scripture quotations should send her to prison, we should be confronting our Parliament.

And high time, too. Those fanatics going around quoting obscure religious books are clearly a threat to the public peace and should be locked up where they can't harm anyone again.

What? What harm did she do? Well, she quoted biblical sayings and not only that, but she did it on the INTERNET! God only knows, er, I mean who knows what other harm she might cause? Society must be protected.

Or, you know, we could mind our own flipping business and let her quote the Bible, the Q'uran, Torah, or the testicles of the Flying Spaghetti Monster without raiding her home and threatening her with five years in prison. Radical concept, I know, but I think it just might work.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:51 PM | Comments (1)

Honest fear

Brian Micklethwait finds an honest expression of pants-wetting fear to be more honest than shameful:

Grayson Perry [. . .] a Brit artist, of the sort that makes you want to reach for the sneer quotes. But, I do give this Other Perry two cheers if not three for saying even this much:

"I’ve censored myself," Perry said at a discussion on art and politics organised by the Art Fund. "The reason I haven't gone all out attacking Islamism in my art is because I feel real fear that someone will slit my throat."

This may seem like a half-arsed attack on Islam and/or Islamism, but it is way better than nothing, I think. Half an arse is better than no arse at all. These kind of remarks are adding up. The project of denouncing Islam as the evil crap that it is gradually gains ground, inch by inch, and what Other Perry says is another inch advanced. And I do mean attacking Islam, rather than merely those accused of 'betraying' it by . . . doing what it says. The word is gradually spreading.

Is this one of those "Freedom from" issues? Freedom from fear of having your throat cut for drawing, painting, sculpting, filming, or writing something that someone feels is offensive to their religion? Hard to put on a button or T-shirt, but valid nonetheless.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:17 PM | Comments (1)

QotD: Where factoids come from

Decades ago, in the days when I labo(u)red in the Central Laboratory at the bottle factory, one of my collegues was dispatched to a conference on air pollution. Upon his return, he related the contents of a paper there presented.

I don't remember the details, but recall the main thrust of it.

In those days, there were numerous claims that "air pollution costs every man, woman, and child in the United States $137.63 every year" or some such number. The paper in question addressed the source of that widely published figure.

It developed that around 1890, a Pittsburgh (The Smokey City) newspaper had printed an article which reported the cost of cleaning the exterior of each of several office buildings during the previous year.

A a year or so later, someone else totaled those figures, divided by the number of buildings reported, multiplied by the number of office buildings in the Golden Triangle and reported "Air Pollution Cost to Pittsburg Businesses".

Still later, someone took that figure, divided by the population of Pittsburgh, multiplied by the population of the Allegheny County, and published "Cost of Air Pollution for Allegheny County in 1910".

Later, someone divided that by the number of steel mills in Allegheny County, multiplied by the number of steel mills in the state and called the result "Pennsylvania's Cost of Air Pollution".

Later, someone multiplied that figure by the number of states east of the Mississippi to arrive at "Cost to Eastern United States Due to Air Pollution".

Along around 1925, someone adjusted the figure to account for inflation.

In the 1930's someone divided the 1925 figure by the population of the states east of the Mississippi to arrive at an "every man, woman, and child cost of air pollution".

Someone else compared the unadjusted pre-1925 figure to the adjusted 1925 figure, divided the difference by the population of the eastern states to obtain "Increase per capita in Cost of Air Pollution in a Single Year".

Just after WW2 (the big one), the 1930's "every man, etc.." figure was adjusted for inflation, multiplied by the population of the United States, divided by the number of states, and published as "Cost of Air Pollution to Each State".

Finally, after a few more such manipulations over the years, the then- current cost of $137.63 was published.

As noted in the beginning, that's not exactly what the paper said, but the general idea is there. Along the way it was noted that, for example, an alleged total cost for Pittsburgh in 1900 had been divided by the 1914 population of Pittsburgh to get a cost per capita, then multiplied by the 1920 population of Pennsylvania to get a total for the state, even though the population numbers changed from year to year.

The paper's conclusions were:

1) There is a cost incurred by air pollution.

2) No one knows what that cost is.

3) If it is $137.62 per capita, that's just good luck.

4) That the quoted "Cost of Air Pollution . . ." should be scrapped at once.

Robert Netzlof, posting to Yahoo Group "Railroad_Modeling_Still_Makes_Me_Grumpy", 2007-11-21

Posted by Nicholas at 09:19 AM | Comments (1)

November 21, 2007

The real reason Ron Paul's message is becoming popular

Brian Doherty puts his finger on the real reason for Ron Paul's rising stock in the polls:

The real lesson of the Ron Paul phenomenon might be not, as standard right wingers now seem to think as they rise to attack him, that the country is unexpectedly full of dangerous freaks who are being arbitrarily ordered by the voices they hear in their fillings to venerate this out-of-nowhere madman Ron Paul, but rather that the "smaller government" stuff isn't as unpopular as Goldberg thinks, especially when it is surgically detached from the endless international policing and adventurism that, alas, Goldberg's institutional home of National Review has tried to link with small government rhetoric for the past half century.

It must have been tough to be a genuine Republican over the last few years . . . while the talk has still been vaguely market-friendly and constitution-observant, the practice has been corporatist and constitutional-abusive. And let's face it, even the talk hasn't been particularly inspiring. And the Democratic party certainly wouldn't welcome small-government fans, so more and more of them have become alienated from both major parties. Ron Paul is talking to a group of voters who clearly feel that neither party represents them at all. It's going to be interesting to see how many of them go back to the Republican party due to Paul's campaign . . . and whether they stay if Paul falls by the wayside.

You could say that he's providing (temporary) shelter for the politically homeless.

Posted by Nicholas at 09:08 AM | Comments (2)

The Nation's take on Ron Paul

Friendly words from an unlikely source:

It's Romney at 33 percent, McCain at 18 percent, Giuliani at 16 percent, Paul at 8 percent, former Arkansas Governor Huckabee at 5 percent, former Tennessee Senator Thompson at 4 percent — with Colorado Congressman Tom Tancredo taking one percent and California Congressman Duncan Hunter at his usual zero.

Paul doubled his support from September to November.

During the same period, Paul's sparring partner on foreign affairs issues, Giuliani, lost fully one-third of his support. And Thompson lost a remarkable two thirds of his support.

So here's a question: When is the Washington press corps going to start treating Ron Paul as seriously as it does Fred Thompson?

The likely answer is "not soon." And that's the most frustrating thing about the way in which the GOP race is being covered by major media. After all, Ron Paul has more to say — and says it better — than any of the other Republicans. With a fair shake from the media, he'd be rising even faster in New Hampshire and elsewhere.

Of course, one of the reasons Paul's on the rise now is the fact that he is not the kind of contender who tailors his message or his campaign to meet media expectations. And in this volatile year, that may yet prove to be a smart strategy. At the very least, it is starting to pay off in the "Live Free or Die" state of New Hampshire.

Of course, the obvious rejoinder to "Paul doubled his support from September to November" is that he started from such a low base of support to start with that doubling still doesn't make much of a dent in the other candidates.

Posted by Nicholas at 08:56 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: The start of the Christmas season

Why does the Christmas celebration start earlier every year? The commercial reasons are obvious; many retailers do a significant portion of their business during Christmastime, so the sooner the sleigh bells ring, the happier stores are. This year, retailers are said to be worried that gasoline and home-heating prices are poised to soar, so they hope holiday shoppers will spend before that happens. But there is a deeper reason Christmas starts earlier each year: We want to live in the Christmastime world, and this has nothing to do with religion. In the Christmastime world, children are happy, family is gathered round, and all the year's exhausting and stressful overwork has at least led to a pile of presents. Candles are lighted, and we listen for a sound in the distance. Just as our ancient ancestors must have dreamed of living always in the moment of the harvest, we want to live as long as possible in the moment of the holidays — regardless of faith, since Santa comes to everyone. Christmastime also evokes the strongest positive memories of most people's childhoods — of presents, singing, anticipation, and the adults forcing themselves to get along. The Christmas weeks are the time we believe all is right with the world, whether or not we actually go over the river and through the woods to grandmother's house. We want to enter the time of believing all is well, so every year we push up the start date.

Gregg Easterbrook, "TMQ: Cover Them!", ESPN Page 2, 2007-11-20

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

November 20, 2007

Tarantino pulls no punches

Bob Tarantino has the best coverage of the hideous clusterfuck at Vancouver airport:

Having watched the long version of the Robert Dziekanski video (that's a six-minute version - there's also an approximately nine-minute version here), I'm not sure how anyone can come to a conclusion other than that the police conduct on there is utterly . . . appalling. That's the most docile "violent" person I think I've ever seen — how it is that what he was doing warranted two Taser shots is beyond me. What you see on that video is homicide — and now it'll be up to the courts to decide what type of homicide, and the punishment (if any) to be handed down for it.

Those four officers aren't solely to blame, of course. That the staff at an international airport in Canada were apparently befuddled by a traveller who didn't speak English shouldn't come as any surprise to anyone who has travelled extensively, but it is no less absurd for that. That the security personnel evidently weren't quite up to handling a non-violent, frustrated man who was acting erratically is unlikely to qualify as breaking news either. Finally, that the bureaucrats have conducted their own review of their own conduct and found . . . wait for it . . . nothing culpable about it whatsoever, is also about par for the course (my favourite quote is that "airport staff are not responsible for that area" — meaning, as near as I can tell, that there is a no-man's land inside the airport where the writ of the airport does not run — or something).

Go, as they say, and read the whole thing.

Posted by Nicholas at 01:19 PM | Comments (0)

This nicely explains it

A post at Samizdata exactly captures my own feelings:

In recent times I have attacked the Economist for pretending to be pro free market whilst, when one reads it closely, not really being so. Articles like the one on the Australian elections mean I can no longer fairly make this charge. The Economist having now 'come out' as an openly leftist publication.

I've subscribed to The Economist for over 20 years, but I'm letting my current subscription lapse unrenewed. For the last few years, I've been less and less happy with both the editorial and news reporting aspects of the newspaper. They still pretend to support free markets, but so many of their articles in recent years have been apologies for more state involvement in the economy, more state control of private areas of endeavour, and generally more statism than laissez faire.

I'm going to miss reading it, but . . . I'm really missing The Economist of several years ago . . . not what they're currently publishing under that name.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:52 PM | Comments (0)

QotD: Local food debunked

[. . .] locally grown food has its own environmental costs. Academics from New Zealand have produced evidence that it is environmentally friendly to produce dairy products, apples and lamb in New Zealand — where there is plenty of space to accommodate natural, energy-efficient methods of farming — and ship them around the world. Maybe the New Zealanders would say that, but it's not a crazy observation. Eating local can consume fossil fuels too: McKibben enjoyed berries in the winter because he froze them for months. Local tomatoes are grown in northern climes in gas-heated greenhouses. And local doesn't necessarily mean "natural": local apples can be stored for months — in storage sheds filled with nitrogen.

The local food movement would argue that local food is about more than just the environmental cost of transportation. Fair enough. But the connection between local food and some of its supposed benefits is pretty tenuous. If it's fresher food, cheery farmer's markets and decent conditions for farm workers that we want, let’s address those aims directly without this fetish for localism.

There's a twist in the tale, too. Two-thirds of the social costs of the food distribution system have nothing directly to do with the environment at all: They are attributable to accidents and congestion. More than half of those costs are caused by driving to the shops. My socially responsible advice to you, then, is not to worry about from how far away your food came, but to walk — not drive — to the supermarket.

Tim Harford, "Frequent Flier Food", Forbes, 2007-11-15

Posted by Nicholas at 12:29 PM | Comments (0)

Presentations not to be missed

As reported at Hit and Run, some presentations at the American Academy of Religion's annual conference are pretty much mandatory:

The presenters' titles seem almost a parody themselves of academic jargon. [Samuel] Snyder will speak about "Holy Pasta and Authentic Sauce: The Flying Spaghetti Monster's Messy Implications for Theorizing Religion," while Gavin Van Horn's presentation is titled "Noodling around with Religion: Carnival Play, Monstrous Humor, and the Noodly Master."...

But they also insist it's more than a joke.

Indeed, the tale of the Flying Spaghetti Monster and its followers cuts to the heart of the one of the thorniest questions in religious studies: What defines a religion? Does it require a genuine theological belief? Or simply a set of rituals and a community joining together as a way of signaling their cultural alliances to others?

In short, is an anti-religion like Flying Spaghetti Monsterism actually a religion?

Posted by Nicholas at 12:13 PM | Comments (0)

Property rights? Temporary privileges, to be withdrawn at a whim

Jon, my virtual landlord, passed along this story about the continuing erosion of the right to property:

Despite owning the land, despite living only 200 yards from the property, despite hiking past it every week with their three dogs, despite spraying for weeds and fixing fences, despite paying homeowner association dues and property taxes each year, someone else had taken a shine to it. Someone powerful.

Former Boulder District Judge, Boulder Mayor, RTD board member — among other elected positions — Richard McLean and his wife, attorney Edith Stevens, used an arcane common law called "adverse possession" to claim the land for their own.

All McLean needed was to develop an "attachment" to it.

Undoubtedly, his city connections couldn't have hurt, either.

In the court papers, McLean and his family admit to regularly trespassing on the Kirlins' property.

They created paths. They said they put on a political fundraiser and parties on it (though not a single photograph of these events surfaced in court documents).

This habit of trespassing developed into an affection.

If we take McLean at his word, he should have been treated appropriately: like a common criminal. Instead, the former judge demanded a chunk of the land for himself — and implausibly he got it.

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

Academia, schmackademia

James Lileks takes the governor off his cerebellum and goes for academic tenure:

Mr. Whipple, as I'm sure you’ve heard, has died. He appeared in over 400 commercials as the fellow who tried to impose rules he himself could not follow, and thereby revealed not only the essential hypocrisy of the puritan impulse, but the uselessness of imposing any sort of "standards" on human behavior. That he himself was rebuked for failing to stay his own desire to squeeze, some say, was proof of a Natural Law above Whipple and the society he represented, but this was seen quite correctly by critics as a reflexive sop tossed to the reactionaries, a way of undercutting the existential truths Whipple's failings represented. In a society without meaning or purpose, is there anything more absurd that setting up the petty bourgeois rules that keep people from applying manual pressure to Charmin in a public setting? Here, the reactionaries pounce: Whipple did not oppose squeezing; he merely attempted to establish some sort of public standard. But the personal is the public; how can the act of squeezing be acceptable in the personal realm and transgressive in the public sphere?

[. . .]

Inherent in his command is the assumption that the person has a home, which is a way of preferencing the currently-domiciled and excluding the non-housed, establishing them as an "other" whose desires must be denied, not merely moved behind the fiction of "private" property. If one cannot squeeze at home because one has no home, then the act of squeezing in a grocery store becomes more than personal gratification; it recontextualizes both the act and the concept of property. By squeezing the Charmin in the grocery store, the non-housed asserts a claim to the public realm, not just for herself, but for all.

Hence, of course, the necessity of Whipple's edict, and the threat of banishment that put the steel in his peevish irritation.

Could it be said that the land in which all were free to let their Squeeze Flag Fly was, indeed, a forbidden planet? Obviously; the message was quite clearly by using the robot from the movie with the same name, a move that had the extra effect of suggesting that the working class could be replaced at a whim with machinery:

Of course, there's another message, perhaps aimed at the Inner Party: Whipple himself could be replaced. He may have come to embody the message for the proles, but he was expendable as well. It is rare that the Establishment laid things out with such ruthless clarity; usually the messenger had the unassailable authority of the message itself — right up until the moment when he went down the memory hole — but such was the confidence of the Establishment that Whipple himself could be held up as an object of


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

November 19, 2007

Yet more evidence that the judiciary is out of step with the country

Bob Tarantino outlines another case where the judge handed down an incredibly lenient sentence for an outrageous crime:

The maximum punishment which can be meted out for a conviction of aggravated sexual assault is a term of life imprisonment (see section 273 of the Criminal Code of Canada).

Cody Paul Lemay received a sentence from the trial judge of five years in prison.

Now what's fascinating about that punishment is how it was arrived at. It's an example of what I will dub the Moldaver Paradox (for reasons which will become apparent momentarily). As the British Columbia Court of Appeal noted, when the trial judge was reviewing other court cases for guidance on what constituted an appropriate sentence,

"he had difficulty understanding why some of them had not attracted longer sentences"

With the story so far? Confronted with a case of hideous violence (against a baby), the judge looks at what other judges are handing out as punishment — and he's bewildered to discover that the judgments he reads are lenient to the point of absurdity.

So what does he do?

He hands out an even shorter sentence.

Bob's summary is something that should be carved in the doorways of every courthouse in the land: "Our judiciary has the tools. They consciously, deliberately, inexplicably and consistently refuse to use them."

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

QotD: Higher Education

Flirtin’ with disaster, as Molly Hatchet put it. Flirtin’ with Disaster! Wasn’t that a Molly Hatchet album? Weren’t they a southern-flavor hard-rock band with Frank-Frazetta covers, for no discernible reason? Probably so. Flirtin’ with Disaster! The album gave a motto to all those guys in the dorm my second year, the straight-ahead / good-time / dual-lead-guitar / Allman et al guys who lived in the triple room catty-whompus from ours, and would have kicked our assses on general principle for not being like them, and also for using the term catty-whompus. They loved that stuff. Played it all the time. It sounded like music to hear two hours before you truly and seriously get down the business of throwing up, hunched over the bowl making gargoyle faces. College. The enlightenment just rained down from the skies. No, that was the guy in the room above whizzing out the window.

James Lileks, The Bleat, 2007-11-19

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

November 16, 2007

QotD: The missing universe

Fritz Zwicky of Caltech noted in 1933 that large clusters of galaxies don't contain enough visible matter to keep themselves from flying apart. By the 1980s, it had become apparent that individual galaxies don't contain enough visible matter to hold their stars. This triggered the searches for "dark energy" and "dark matter," postulated cosmic forces. Many projects are seeking evidence of dark energy and dark matter, including the Korean Invisible Mass Search, a set of detectors buried inside Jeombong Mountain. The latest estimate from NASA's Microwave Anisotropy Probe suggests that space is 4 percent ordinary matter, 22 percent dark matter and 74 percent dark energy. What might dark energy and dark matter be? No one has the slightest idea. We can't locate 96 percent of the universe. But trust us, we're experts!

Gregg Easterbrook, "TMQ: State of the Nation", ESPN Page 2, 2007-11-12

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

Different, um, strokes?

I can't possibly improve on the title of the post at Hit and Run, "Bullwhips vs. Octopi in Japan":

The land of tentacle porn considers loosening up on Robert Mapplethorpe [. . .]

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

Where does tolerance end?

A quote at Samizdata from this article by Steve Edwards gets to the heart of the problem:

A Muslim is somebody who believes that a man called Muhammad [. . .] passed on certain revelations and instructions directly from God Himself. By logic, a non-Muslim is somebody who does not accept that Muhammad was any such prophet, and thereby rejects his teachings as not having come from God [. . .] If, contrary to Muhammad's claims (assuming he has been represented correctly), we do not believe that he was any such prophet from God, what do we truly think of the man?

The answer must be one of three possibilities: either Muhammad was a liar, or he was deluded (that is to say, he was deeply mistaken), or he was mad. These are the only possible conclusions of the intellectually honest non-Muslim. Let us ponder one of the three possibilities—that Mohammad was a liar. Would it be unreasonable then to posit that a man willing to deceive many thousands of people, perhaps out of hunger for power or self-aggrandisement, could be labelled as 'evil'? If so, on what basis do we object to an extremely negative portrayal (either graphic or prose) of such an 'evildoer'? Whether or not such a portrayal may appear 'gratuitous' or provoke widespread anger, it would nonetheless be a justifiable expression of dissent. Therefore, to place legal sanctions on any such piece of literature is to necessarily outlaw opposition to, and disagreement with, Islam to a logical denouement; this suggests we are implicitly calling for the abolition of the right to proclaim oneself a non-Muslim in clear and in certain terms. That is, one may still be a nominal 'non-Muslim' free of harassment, but one cannot explain and defend one's position in any significant detail without committing the now-proscribed act of blasphemy. In short, we have apparently repealed centuries of intellectual progress in the hopeless pursuit of 'social harmony'.

Posted by Nicholas at 08:27 AM | Comments (0)

November 15, 2007

A word to the Word-Wise

It's been many a long year since I last had to struggle with Microsoft Word (aka "Microsoft Weird"), especially with the master document feature. This is a seemingly useful way to incorporate several individual MS Word files together into one book or volume. It's also the easiest way to force yourself to recreate your documents from scratch, as the feature is notorious for corrupting the documents you include into your master document. This FAQ exactly captures the situation with MS Word master documents:

When we say you "lose" your master document, this "loss" can take many forms. You wouldn't be reading this at all if you had not so far experienced one of the lesser forms. You can still read "some" of your text, right? Trust me, it can get worse! The ultimate master document corruption results in some or all of the text paragraphs disappearing. Once this happens, there is no way to get them back: they are no longer in the file. Which can be very disconcerting if the corruption happened several weeks ago, and because you were not looking at that part of the document, you didn't find out about it until you came to print the whole thing, by which time you had long since over-written your backup!

A master document has only two possible states: Corrupt, or just about to be corrupt. And that is why we say that the only possible fix to a master document is "don't use it!"

Posted by Nicholas at 09:54 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: Responsibility

Because Americans can't be held responsible for the consequences of using products in ways they were neither designed not intended to be, game publishers should instead, apparently. According to Macworld, game publisher TakeTwo Interactive Thursday announced a preliminary settlement with all consumer class action lawsuits in the U.S. related to the infamous "Hot Coffee" software mod which unlocked simulated (not actual — participants are fully clothed) sex scenes in video game Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas.

The question, as I see it, isn't one of scruples, but whether "existence" should blindly trump "intentionality" in the eyes of the law, especially with software governed by an End User License Agreement that explicitly forbids tampering and unauthorized modification of the game code. Does the presence of what amounts to particular sequences of 1s and 0s on a game disk make a game's publisher culpable if a user violates the EULA and manages to access them anyway?

Matt Peckham, "Take Two Takes Hit, Settles Hot Coffee Sex Lawsuit", PCW: Game On, 2007-11-15

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

November 14, 2007

RN to re-learn skills they pioneered

By way of a post at Ghost of a Flea, some interesting information on the Royal Navy's need to learn how to operate aircraft carriers again:

Because the ship no longer operates with a dedicated air wing — Britain’s joint Royal-Navy-Royal Air Force Harrier force has shrunk, and four squadrons are fully committed to operations in Afghanistan — the head of the Royal Navy asked the commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps for help.

After months of elaborate planning and a few days of high-tempo carrier-qualification ops, 16 U.S. Marine AV-8B Harriers and 200 support Marines settled aboard Illustrious, the largest Marine-aviation detachment ever to fly from a foreign warship.

The Harriers joined two Navy search-and-rescue and two airborne surveillance and control Sea King helicopters, and together the two-nation air wing set off on high-tempo air operations to test men and procedures at a record-setting pace.

Illustrious also became the first foreign warship to welcome aboard the Marines' newest aircraft, the V-22 Osprey. The landings demonstrated the feasibility of operating the 23-ton tiltrotor, but also pointed up the difficulty of flying an aircraft with an 84-foot rotorspan from a small deck. That shouldn't be a problem on the new carriers, whose 4-acre flight decks are more than twice the size of Illustrious' and only half an acre smaller than those on America's Nimitz-class supercarriers.

The sad note in the article is the information that the RN no longer has enough Harriers of its own to fully arm the two remaining carriers in the fleet (although at least in part because of operational demands), but the inter-operability aspects are quite interesting.

Update: Links are working now. Thanks to Jon for pointing out that I'd been an idiot and neglected to insert them properly the first time around.

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

More from the fat front

Jacob Sullum outlines the current situation in the war on obesity:

At five feet, nine inches tall and 175 pounds, I have a body mass index (BMI) of 25.9, which makes me "overweight." If I lost seven pounds, I'd have a BMI of 24.9, indicating what the government considers a "normal," "healthy" weight.

Yet that weight is not normal, since two-thirds of American adults exceed it. And judging from the latest research, it is not necessarily healthy either. According to a study recently published by The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), people in the government-recommended BMI range of 18.5 to 24.9 are more likely to die from a variety of diseases than people with BMIs of 25 to 30.

The JAMA study updates research by Katherine Flegal of the National Center for Health Statistics and three other government-employed scientists, who two years ago scandalized the public health community by concluding that the annual death toll associated with excessive weight was far lower than the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) had been claiming. The CDC later reduced its estimate from 365,000 deaths blamed on "poor diet and physical inactivity" to 112,000 "obesity-related deaths."

Posted by Nicholas at 08:33 AM | Comments (0)

November 13, 2007

LFB rises from the ashes

I'd reported earlier that Laissez Faire Books had announced it was shutting down, but apparently plans have changed:

Although its owners had announced plans to lay the venerable mail order libertarian book seller to rest last month (see my earlier Hit and Run post eulogizing it), the International Society for Individual Liberty is going to take Laissez Faire Books on and keep it alive.

Posted by Nicholas at 07:32 PM | Comments (0)

Either TTLB's fixed or it's really busted

After I whined about it a few days back, I guess I should just shut up and hope for the best now:


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

QotD: The Boomers

If there's one conviction that afflicts the keenest mind as it ages, it's the belief that Things Were Better Then, and Things Are Horrible Now, usually because no one has learned the lessons of your own generation and insisted on experiencing the world for themselves. (Frank Rich provided a neat example of this a few days ago, when he diagnosed Americans as "clinically depressed" and unable to capture the glories of his demographic, which Took It To the Streets, Man. And blew up a few buildings while they were at it, but you can’t make an omelette without breaking into a farmer's coop, stealing his chickens, setting fire to the coop and running off with the eggs, all of which you later misplaced because you were high.)

I'm so used to being lectured by sour Boomers I’ve come to think of them all as the Gratingest Generation.

James Lileks, The Bleat, 2007-11-13

Posted by Nicholas at 09:03 AM | Comments (0)

No matter how you slice it . . .

John Scalzi hardens his heart, girds his loins, takes the bit between his teeth, and . . . visits the Creation Museum:

Here's how to understand the Creation Museum:

First, imagine, if you will, a load of horseshit. And we're not talking just your average load of horseshit; no, we're talking colossal load of horseshit. An epic load of horseshit. The kind of load of horseshit that has accreted over decades and has developed its own sort of ecosystem, from the flyblown chunks at the perimeter, down into the heated and decomposing center, generating explosive levels of methane as bacteria feast merrily on vintage, liquified crap. This is a Herculean load of horseshit, friends, the likes of which has not been seen since the days of Augeas.

And you look at it and you say, "Wow, what a load of horseshit."

But then there's this guy. And this guy loves this load of horseshit. Why? Well, really, who knows? What possesses someone to love a load of horseshit? It's beyond your understanding and possibly you don't actually want to know, even if you could know; maybe it's one of those "on that path lies madness" things. But love it he does, and he's not the only one; the admiration for this particular load of horseshit exists, unaccountably, far and wide. There are advocates for this load of horseshit.

And so this guy who loves this load of horseshit decides that he's going to do something; he's going to give it a home. And not just any home, because as this is no ordinary load of horseshit, so must its home be no ordinary repository for horseshit. And so the fellow builds a temple for his load of horseshit. The finest architects scope this temple's dimensions; the most excellent builders hoist columns around the load of horseshit and cap them with a cunning and elegant dome; and every surface of the temple is clad in fine-grained Italian marble by the most competent masons in a three-state radius. The load of horseshit is surrounded by comfortable seats, the better for people to gaze upon it; docents are hired to expertly describe its history and features; multimedia events are designed to explain its superior nature, relative not only to other loads of horseshit which may compete in loadosity or horseshittery, but to other, completely unrelated things which may or may not be loads of anything, much less loads of horseshit.

The guy who built the temple, satisfied that it truly represents his beloved load of horseshit in the best possible light, then opens the temple to the public, to attract not only the already-established horseshit enthusiasts, but possibly to entice new people to come and gaze on the horseshit, and to, well, who knows, admire its moundyness, or the way it piles just so, to nod in appreciation of the rationalizations for its excellence or to clap in delight and take pictures when an escaping swell of methane causes the load of horseshit to sigh a moist and pungent sigh.

When all of this is done, the fellow turns to you and asks you what you think of it all now, now that this gorgeous edifice has been raised in glory and the masses cluster in celebration.

And you say, "Well, that’s all very nice. But it's still just an enormous load of horseshit."

It just gets better. Read the whole thing.

Posted by Nicholas at 08:44 AM | Comments (0)

November 12, 2007

Day off work means no blogging either

Unlike James Lileks, who is compelled to blog even when he's officially on vacation, I feel no such compulsion. Today is my first "vacation" day since starting on the new job back in July, so I'm making the most of it by avoiding being online at all.

Until now.

So I guess I wasn't as successful as I'd originally thought.

Blogging will probably resume at a more normal pace tomorrow . . .

Posted by Nicholas at 05:15 PM | Comments (0)

November 11, 2007

Captain Blackadder's real-life inspiration?

An article at The Register talks about the recently published wartime memoirs of Captain Alexander Stewart, of the Cameronians:

"I am very much annoyed by memos sent round from Headquarters that come in at all hours of the day and night; they stop me getting a full night's rest and some of them are very silly and quite unnecessary.

"When I am very tired and just getting off to sleep with cold feet, in comes an orderly with a chit asking how many pairs of socks my company had a week ago; I reply 141 and a half. I then go to sleep; back comes a memo: 'please explain at once how you come to be deficient of one sock'. I reply 'man lost his leg'. That's how we make the Huns sit up."

Stewart's grimly black humour amid the carnage of WWI forms the highlight of his newly-published diary which lay forgotten until his grandson Jaime Cameron Stewart decided to make the book available online. He writes: "Ninety years ago my grandfather wrote a very personal and graphic account of his time on the Somme in the Great War. He typed three copies and called it The Experiences of a Very Unimportant Officer in France and Flanders during 1916 - 1917.

"Until now it has only been read by one or two members of my family and close friends. But now, as his grandson, I would like to share this amazing piece of personal history of his time in the trenches as an officer serving with the Scottish regiment The Cameronians. This account brings to life the reality and horror of what happened to him in those war-torn fields and the loss of life at Mametz Wood.

I hope you will find it equally fascinating."

I rather hope the book is eventually published in hardcopy, but it's currently available for download for £9.95. Five percent of the purchase price goes to the Royal British Legion's Poppy Appeal.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:13 PM | Comments (0)

Remembrance Day

National Steel Car has a very well-done, very respectful, and very appropriate Remembrance Day clip. (Enter the main site, then click the "In Memoriam" link and the Remembrance Day, 2007 links.

Well done, NSC!

Update: John Donovan posts his recognition of Canada's military heritage.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:00 AM | Comments (0)

In memoriam

A simple recognition of some of our family members who served in the First and Second World Wars:

The Great War

  • Private William Penman, Scots Guards, died 1915 at Le Touret, age 25
    (Elizabeth's great uncle)
  • Private David Buller, Highland Light Infantry, died 1915 at Loos, age 35
    (Elizabeth's great grandfather)
  • Private Walter Porteous, Northumberland Fusiliers, died 1917 at Passchendaele, age 18
    (my great uncle)
  • Corporal John Mulholland, Royal Tank Corps, died 1918 at Harbonnieres, age 24
    (Elizabeth's great uncle)

The Second World War

  • Flying Officer Richard Porteous, RAF, survived the defeat in Malaya and lived through the war
    (my uncle)
  • Able Seaman John Penman, RN, served in the "Destroyer Equipped Merchant" fleet on the Murmansk Run (and other convoy routes), lived through the war
    (Elizabeth's father)
  • Private Archie Black (commissioned after the war and retired as a Major), Gordon Highlanders, captured at Singapore (aged 15) and survived a Japanese POW camp
    (Elizabeth's uncle)

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae, MD (1872-1918)

Posted by Nicholas at 11:00 AM | Comments (0)

November 10, 2007

How big government influences big business

Radley Balko shows why telephone companies doing the federal government's bidding isn't necessarily the fault of big business:

You can inveigh all you like against corporate power. But corporations by themselves can't force us to do anything we don't want to do. Only the government has the power to do that — or corporations with power on loan from the government.

The federal government is enormous. It has a massive and growing influence over what happens in the private sector. Witness (as I've pointed out many times before) the fact that the richest counties in America today aren't near the country's entrepreneurial epicenters, but in the D.C. suburbs, home to most of the country's federal employees and government contractors. Now as lefties, you may find all of this to be sweet potato pie. But know that a federal government of today's size and scope also gives whoever is controlling it enormous leverage to bend the private sector to his liking. That's great when your party is holding the reins. Not so good when it isn't.

Sure, in an ideal world, all the telecos would've consulted their lawyers, realized that what the Bush administration was asking was illegal, and boldly told the White House where to stick its nosy information requests. But come on. Incentives matter. Such a move may have been principled, but it would have been foolish. Corporations are obligated to their shareholders to protect their bottom lines. Pissing off the people in power who with a swipe of the pen can swing hundreds of millions of dollars, either to you or to your competitor — well, that's just not good for the bottom line.

In a truly free economy, this obligation to shareholders is a good thing. Because in a free market, shareholder interests are generally in line with customers' interests. Piss off your customers, they take their business elsewhere, and you're shareholders are angry.

Unfortunately, in a market where the government is likely to be one of a particular industy's biggest customers, shareholder and (non-government) customer interests start to clash. You see, the telecos made a calculated decision. Billions of dollars in federal contracts over the long-term, combined with the other value they saw in in winning favor with the Bush administration and the Republicans in Congress (a favorable turn of phrase in the Federal Register, for example, can mean millions) was in their estimation more lucrative than protecting the privacy of their non-government customers in the short-term.

Shouldn't that tell you something about just how frighteningly large and influential the federal government has become? The telecos concluded it's better for their collective bottom lines to risk pissing off all of their other customers than to risk pissing off this one.

Posted by Nicholas at 01:34 PM | Comments (0)

November 09, 2007

15 Days

I'm not yet finished reading Christie Blatchford's latest book, but on the whole, I agree with Lewis MacKenzie's review:

Blatchford has the rare ability to make her descriptions of combat, particularly those involving loss of life or serious injury, almost embarrassing to the reader. You feel that you are eavesdropping on very private matters. Her extensive research and her own recollections as she was caught up in the thick of some of the heaviest fighting are compelling, gut-wrenching and, unfortunately, real. Her admission that on one occasion during a firefight her bowels turned to water and got the best of her is ample proof that that she walked the walk. Her description, witnessed up close and under fire, of the evacuation of fatally wounded Corporal Anthony Joseph Boneca, shot in the throat and bleeding on the dirt under her feet, exposes the reader to the gut-wrenching reality of close combat.

During three extensive stays with the Canadians in Afghanistan, Blatchford was able to penetrate the macho faÁade presented by soldiers in combat, and to see the cohesion and affection born of an obligation to those vets who have gone before them, and of an intense dedication to their fellow soldiers. Contrary to popular myth, soldiers don't risk their lives — and in some cases die — for God, Queen, country or even the regiment. They do so for their fellow soldiers, their buddies, frequently only a few meters away due to the tunnel vision generated by the rush of adrenalin when someone is trying to kill you.

So far, my only complaint is that she takes some discredited research about combat as a proven issue: US Brigadier General S.L.A. Marshall's Men Under Fire, with its contention that only a tiny minority of soldiers ever fire their weapons in combat situations. She doesn't reference Marshall by name, but talks about this factoid in one of the early chapters.

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


This can't be good:


I didn't think I'd managed to drive away so many of my usual visitors! (Or, you know, it could be an artifact of a reconfiguration at TTLB's ecosystem, but it's so much more bloggable to reach for the unlikely cause . . .).

Posted by Nicholas at 08:20 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: The attempt to justify torture

[. . .] any discussion of torture for the sake of the GWOT is bound to be misleading if it does not take account of the hyperbolic, wolf-crying tropes that government officials employ every time a suspected terrorist is apprehended or a plot foiled. (Gregory Djerejian has a good summary with commentary of one instance of the sort of thin gruel we're talking about.) Whether it's a small group of Cherry Hill, NJ poseurs diabolically scheming to attack a heavily armed and armored US military base with weapons they didn't have, or a lunatic who hoped to bring down the Brooklyn Bridge with a blowtorch, or UK-based terrorist scoundrels who might have succeeded in hijacking planes to the US if wishes were ponies, or that weirdo who packed his shoes with C4 but didn't have the means to detonate it, the US (and UK) government(s) have consistently, deliberately, shamefacedly overhyped, oversold, and outright lied about all these and many other purported existential crises. (DHS might admit, sotto voce, that a particular plot "was not technically feasible," but why should nuances such as these stop a hack like Murdock when he's on a roll.)

Just a sprinkle of induction should get us from the premise that the administration and its defenders will trumpet the best examples of the utility of torture they've got, to the conclusion that this sad assortment is the best they've got, so forgive me if I'm not quivering in my boots.

Daniel Koffler, "The National Review's Stupid Defense of Torture",, 2007-11-07

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

November 08, 2007

Joss Whedon returns to the small screen

There is news of a new Joss Whedon television series, called Dollhouse:

Echo (Eliza Dushku) [is] a young woman who is literally everybody's fantasy. She is one of a group of men and women who can be imprinted with personality packages, including memories, skills, language — even muscle memory — for different assignments. The assignments can be romantic, adventurous, outlandish, uplifting, sexual and/or very illegal. When not imprinted with a personality package, Echo and the others are basically mind-wiped, living like children in a futuristic dorm/lab dubbed the Dollhouse, with no memory of their assignments — or of much else. The show revolves around the childlike Echo's burgeoning self-awareness, and her desire to know who she was before, a desire that begins to seep into her various imprinted personalities and puts her in danger both in the field and in the closely monitored confines of the Dollhouse.

H/T to Ghost of a Flea.

Posted by Nicholas at 07:49 PM | Comments (0)

For Thomas Tallis fans

Nick Packwood pulls together some information on Ralph Vaughan Williams' "Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis" . . . which happens to be Elizabeth's favourite piece of music, hence the link.

Posted by Nicholas at 07:40 PM | Comments (0)

QotD: SF clichťs

These shows owe a lot to "Forbidden Planet," or perhaps vice versa; it was just how people saw the future. A logical extension of their own norms. We do the same, of course, which is why Star Trek: The Next Generation had a sob-sister grief-counselor on the bridge. There weren't any women on 50s sci-fi ships. The captain was hard-boiled, the engineers were laconic and practical, and the enlisted men were whooping rabble who'd get drunk and throw a rock through the window of a deserted alien city. You suspect that the authors of these stories were all WW2 Navy vets.

James Lileks, The Bleat, 2007-11-08

Posted by Nicholas at 08:56 AM | Comments (0)

No surprise here . . .

Frequent commenter "Da Wife" sent in this link to yet another "who's the best candidate for you" quiz. My top result was no huge surprise:


Those other two guys? Hmmm.

Posted by Nicholas at 08:23 AM | Comments (0)

November 07, 2007

Weight, health, and political control

Jacob Sullum reports on the latest shots from the BMI war:

Standing alone, these data do not prove that plumpness is healthy or that thinness kills. But they do cast doubt on the conventional wisdom that everyone should strive for a government-approved weight. In response to Flegal et al.'s research, JoAnn Manson, chief of preventive medicine at Boston's Brigham and Women's Hospital, tells The New York Times "health extends far beyond mortality rates," which is true enough. In particular, Manson notes that "excess weight makes it more difficult to move about and impairs the quality of life." But that sort of day-to-day impairment is much more obvious than the lurking, lethal risk of a few extra pounds that Manson has been warning people about for years. A 1995 New York Times headline inspired by one of Manson's studies warned that "Even Moderate Weight Gains Can Be Deadly." The story quoted Manson's prediction that "it won't be long before obesity surpasses cigarette smoking as a cause of death in this country." It looks like both of those claims were wrong, which is good news not only for "overweight" people but for anyone worried about the social engineers with plans for making us thinner.

Ronald Bailey has more on the topic of BMI.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:46 PM | Comments (0)

Employment hurdles for the miseducated

A few screamingly funny examples of actual cover letters received by Killian Advertising:

"Skills: Microst word, excel, and power point. Mulitaks person, public speaking, and surveying.
Professional Associations
Chairwomen of Studnts Teaching Awareness and Responsibility organization Responsible for research of all 10 event topics, coordinating all campus chiarpersons."
[Editor's note: Despite the many and obvious limitations of SpellCheck, isn't it worth at least a try ... for instance, while you Mulitaks with the other chiarpersons?]

"Who's better to spew out incite, than a college senior ... ?"
[Editor's lament: We don't have the "imaginatiation" to make up stuff like this.]

An all-time classic sent in by a CLFH fan from the great state of Michigan, where the cyclical nature of the automotive industry leads to a lot of job switching. It's yet another example of why you can't just rely on spell-check to catch all your errors:

"I am seeking a new position as i have recently been laid."
[We wish her the best of luck in her career.]

"I need real world experience and after reviewing your web site I get the impressing that your company believes in maintain a lax work environment while efficiently meeting the needs of it's customers (right?)."
[We replied to this college senior, on an ill-advised rescue impulse, gently suggesting he get some remedial help with his writing, since he had an error in every single sentence of his three-page letter. His furious four-page reply included some amazing stuff, such as]
" should be straight forward and ... simply state that your company is seeking a grammar teacher who lacks creativity but knows how to properly write a letter and knows exactly where to place punctuation. If your company takes such a serious position towards proper grammar then I think you guys are in the wrong profession. I believe even the leader of this country that we live in lacks proper grammar yet he is still our leader. I can assure you that he leaves grammar and punctuation to the proper authorities such as his receptionist or grade school English teacher. ...I am not precisely sure why you choose to take such a stance perhaps because you have nothing better to do, or maybe because you have personal insecurities that seep out and you feel the need to degrade or target others based on stupid little infractions to make yourself feel better, I don't know what the case is ... if I am out of line please let me know but if I recall properly your companies web site is not the most professional site there is. If you guys are trying to project a laid back yet hard working image through your site and request the same from prospective employees then you should not be so prudent about minor infractions such as punctuation and grammar.... (I reread it before sending it and it states my point clearly and unless you lack the mental capacity to make out the meaning without having exact and precisise grammar maybe you should seek a new proffsion, I hear this country lacks alot of grammar school teachers perhaps that would be a better fit for you) In conclusion I have indeed made many mistakes in this e-mail many on purpose and many accidentaly I did not have the time nor the patientce to deal with it I will leave the grammer checking to the professionals such as yourself."
[Editor's note: although his response fascinated us, you can understand why we no longer reply to the Differently Stable.]

And there's more . . . much, much more . . .

Posted by Nicholas at 12:35 PM | Comments (0)

QotD: Tyrants left and right

Preventing global warming will become our new orthodoxy, anyone who questions its wisdom must be silenced. Better million starve than more greenhouse gasses be emitted. And as for trying to engage in upward social mobility, forget it!! everything will be rationed, and don't you dare complain we must save Mother Earth.

Which is hogwash. Mother Earth can save herself, thank you very much, that's if she needed saving. Earth has been warmer, we're just now reaching the temperatures the earth enjoyed just before the Little Ice Age.

Man made global warming may be happening, but it is within the range of temperature changes over geological history. With or without human activity the environmental will change creating new niches and destroying old ones and sooner or later species specialized for current conditions in the Arctic will die out anyhow, While we should show a decent concern for not trashing the World we live in, neither should we deny that we are part of that World and have a right to be in it and change it to suit our needs and as we harvest the things we need to survive.

Religious tyrants on the Right try to claim evolution and natural selection are not realities.

Tyrants on the left try to prevent natural selection and the environmental change that causes it from happening.

Perhaps this is simply a reflection of the fact that they are in so many ways living fossils, bearers of memes (cultural equivalent of genes) that are not appropriate for a world that has left them behind. Which is okay, if they'd leave the rest of us alone to evolve and enjoy our freedom.

A.X. Perez, "Ecotyranny", Libertarian Enterprise, 2007-11-04

Posted by Nicholas at 12:23 PM | Comments (0)

November 06, 2007

Sorry for the lack of postulatiousness

. . . it's still deadline crunch at work, and I've (literally) got someone looking over my shoulder so I don't dare spend too much time on the blog right now. That, and seems to have attracted the attention of low-life spamscum, so I'm busy deleting pr0n and pharmaceutical spam comments and banning the IP addresses from which they originate (over 50 this morning alone).

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

November 05, 2007

But not its spelling centre


A sign I pass every day on the way home. We may be the "Bus ness Centre", but we're not so gud at speling.

Posted by Nicholas at 04:41 PM | Comments (1)

November 04, 2007

Outlook for Vikes-Chargers game today

Chris Lempesis doesn't see much cause for hope for the Purple in this game:

Wait, are you telling me there are OTHER National Football League games this week other than Pats vs. Colts? No . . . really? Aw man, I thought I was going to get a week off. Oh well, let's talk Vikings/Chargers, shall we?

On the surface, this looks like a match-up of two teams heading in completely different directions. San Diego (4-3, tied for first in the AFC West, although it's technically in second as a result of its week four loss to division-leading Kansas City) is pistol-hot coming into Sunday's contest at the Dome. The Chargers have won three games in a row, all in decisive fashion — outscoring league titans Denver, Oakland and Houston by a combined 104-27 margin — and are starting to look like the team most "experts" thought they'd be before the start of the season (Norv Turner's coaching be damned). The Vikings? Well, is it really worth re-hashing how things have gone so far for the Purple and Gold in 2007? Methinks not.

On top of the revolving quarterback situation, both of the starting wide receivers are out (Williamson is on personal leave for a death in the family, and Wade is injured and probably won't be able to play). The run defence is still pretty good, but the pass defence is God's gift to mediocre quarterbacks: everyone has a career day lighting up the Vikings' pass defenders.

The only bright light for Minnesota is Adrian Peterson, and even he is not going to be the best running back on the field in this game: LaDainian Tomlinson is a guaranteed first-ballot hall of famer.

Still, there's always hope:

[. . .] the formula is simple: constantly stop Tomlinson early, force Rivers to throw more times than he’d prefer (I'm still not sure Rivers is a great quarterback if he has to throw 30 or 35 times a game) and hope you can maybe pressure him into making a mistake or two . . . or three . . . or, really, four or five if this Minnesota team hopes to have a shot at a win.

Okay, maybe not.

Update, several hours later: Uh, oops, but in a good way:

I'm kinda at a loss for words. I'm just glad I was able to see this game . . . true, it would have been awesome to see it in-person, but anyone who was able to watch it should consider themselves very lucky. These displays of sheer dominance don't happen too often.

What else can be said? Adrian’s a rookie. He just ran for 296 yards. I don't know how anyone could possibly doubt that he'll be one of the all-time greats.

For the Vikings, this game should be their blueprint for the rest of the season. Run Adrian often, while mixing in Chester Taylor for a change of pace. Pass just enough to loosen the pressure on Adrian.

The defense was also spectacular. They constantly frustrated a great running back in Tomlinson, and they ruthlessly pressured Rivers (Frazier's blitzes were quite effective, and the defensive ends had their best game of the year). And we held the dangerous Antonio Gates to 10 yards. All things considered, it was an excellent performance from the Vikes D.

Amazing, and (as usual), I didn't get to see any of it:

He rumbled around right end, paused to set up his blocks, and sprinted 46 yards up the sideline for Minnesota's game-clinching touchdown.

This rookie doesn't make many mistakes. He simply sets a lot of records.

Racing to the NFL's single-game rushing record of 296 yards at the midpoint of his first pro season, Peterson carried the Vikings to a 35-17 victory over the Chargers on Sunday.

He didn't realize the significance of his performance until his benign 3-yard carry took the clock under 60 seconds and sent him past Jamal Lewis' 295-yard performance against Cleveland in 2003 for the best game a running back has ever had in this league.

"Oh, no. I was out playing ball," Peterson said. "I wasn't thinking about the record at all."

There are more for him to ponder.

-- On 30 carries, Peterson topped 200 yards rushing for the second time in one season, a feat no other rookie has accomplished.

-- Peterson scored two of his three touchdowns and gained 253 yards in the second half, helping the Vikings rally from a 14-7 deficit. They trailed at the half after Antonio Cromartie plucked a missed field goal out of the air and returned it 109 yards for a touchdown, the longest play in NFL history.

-- Peterson reached 1,036 yards rushing this season, a pace that would smash Eric Dickerson's rookie record of 1,808 yards set in 1983. Dickerson's all-time record of 2,105 yards in 1984 is also in reach.

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

November 03, 2007

An easy way to make enemies

The administrator for one of the mailing lists I'm subscribed to has had a recurring problem:

Hi folks,

If you are an AOL user, and want to get off the list, I would appreciate it if you would do one of the following: either

(a) use the instructions that were mailed to you when you subscribed to the list,

(b) go to [list subscription management site] and use the links there, or

(c) ask someone for help.

Please do _NOT_ mark the list email as spam, as you run the risk of killing our AOL whitelisting and thus affecting our ability to get mail to other list members (not to mention some of my clients) who use AOL.

It hadn't honestly occurred to me that some people were not only so lazy, but so thoughtless as to do something like this. I can understand the decision to leave a mailing list, but to do so in a way that actively harms both the list and a potentially high number of subscribers? That's low.

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

Pterry survives "mini stroke"

Terry Pratchett, one of my favourite authors, just discovered that he'd had a stroke . . . and not even realized it:

But working on one of his manuscripts last August, he started to find it difficult to coordinate his hands and brain.

"I was having a bad day and my typing was going askew. It was as if I was typing wearing gloves."

Terry, who lives with his wife Lyn and has a 39-year-old daughter Rhianna, went to see his GP.

"After going through the symptoms, the first thing she asked was whether I'd suffered any memory loss and I wisecracked back: 'Not that I can recall.' "

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

November 02, 2007

QotD: "the autumnal aroma of a burning straw man"

Are you still afraid terrorists will attack the Mall of America?

I was never afraid. I was always concerned. I still am; who wouldn't be? It's a big red target with great symbolic value. It never keeps me from going there, though. Somehow I've avoided the FEAR and PARANOIA and PERMANENT WAR HYSTERIA that we're supposedly fed 24/7. You know how it goes; if you believe there's actually a credible threat from Islamofascists — well, no, that's not the right word, because it's inflammatory, inaccurate, racist, and is used as a code-word for an exterminationist agenda founded in a desire to control all the oil in the Middle East and convert it to Christianity. So call it the Small but Legally Containable Conservative Religion threat, since that reminds us that all religions are equally dangerous when taken to extremes. I mean, Fred Phelps, Catholic priests, Timothy McVeigh, and that little thing called the Crusades. Also the Inquisition and the persecution of Galileo. No one has clean hands here, except for me, because I washed them before I put that clever COEXIST bumpersticker on my car. No, I'm more afraid of the Mall of America itself. You go there in December — not that I do — and see people walking around eating meat and shopping for things they don't need and shouldn't really have because they don't need them, and you can almost hear the planet shriek like the music in that scary movie about the psycho, whatever its name is. I didn't watch it. I don't support movies that promote violence against women. Wasn't she in a shower? Those are so wasteful. I clean myself with a pumice stone and the sharpened edge of a clam shell.

(Sorry; I just enjoy the autumnal aroma of a burning straw man.)

James Lileks, The Bleat, 2007-11-02

Posted by Nicholas at 08:51 AM | Comments (0)

The Muppet Matrix

Posted by Nicholas at 08:41 AM | Comments (0)

Alcohol and Islam

Jennifer "Chotzi" Rosen tries to get to the bottom of the Islamic prohibition of alcohol (and it's notable lack of success, early on):

So what is it with Islam and alcohol? The ban is actually more about social engineering than theology. It started when Mohammed (his name be praised) couldn't get his party-animal neighbors to shut up and let him sleep. His first decree merely pointed out that harmful effects of liquor sometimes outweigh good ones. Later, he forbid followers from drinking while praying. When none of this made a dent in local keggers, he finally outlawed drinking altogether.

This left some technicalities to quibble over. For example, alcohol is considered an abomination of Satan as well as najs (impure), khamr (mind-fogging) and haram (forbidden). But while all forbidden things are impure, not all impure things are forbidden. For example, Hashish and Qat, two highly intoxicating herbs, are najs, but allowed.

But what about other products containing alcohol? Are Old Spice and Listerine unholy? What about cough syrup? And if alcohol is the devilís work, how do you explain Paradise, whose delights, along with the infamous virgins, include rivers of wine flowing free for the drinking?

The explanation is that alcohol, itself, isn't really sinful, only the behavior it causes. Since everything is different in Paradise, it follows that wine there is not intoxicating; it just has "pleasing effects." Whatever that means.

This column isn't up at the usual site, but will get posted to her personal site, soon (well, soon-ish).

Posted by Nicholas at 08:27 AM | Comments (0)

November 01, 2007

Audi kicks Lexus in the yarbles

Grant McCracken gets all analytical about the ad:

This ad satisfies the two objectives of all creative. It gives us engaging and strategic.


"Parking" is visually arresting, impressive, amusing, darn near sublime. Tivos will stop for this one. Consumers will rewind. We will see this ad many times over it's lifetime on the air, and chances are it will be a gift that keeps on giving. It's a little like a magic trick. How did they do that?


This ad takes on the competitor very effectively.

[It mocks the Lexus's] ability to park itself. This is a remarkable accomplishment. It cancels the technological lead of a competitor. Lexus has just given its car thet and Lexus is justly proud. Not everyone is going to use this feature, but we are assuming that Lexus is assuming that the consumer is assuming that any car company with engineers capable of this kind of thing must be very good at everything else it does. The self parking ability is a part that stands for, and speaks for, the whole.

Now we are guessing that when Audi turned to its engineers to ask if this could be replicated, they scratched their heads and replied, "We need 18 to 36 months. Don't call us. We'll call you."

Unlike a lot of analysis of visual media, I enjoyed watching the ad more after reading Grant's posting.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:25 PM | Comments (0)

QotD: Political Experiment goes wrong

Political scientists at the Cato Institute announced Monday that they have inadvertently synthesized a previously theoretical form of government known as megalocracy.

"We were attempting to recreate a military junta in a controlled diplomatic setting, and we applied too much external pressure," said head researcher Dr. Adam Stogsdill, a leading expert in highly reactionary ruling systems. "The resultant government has the ruthless qualities of a dictatorship combined with the class solidarity of a plutocracy — it's quite a remarkable find."

Stogsdill explained that megalocracy is extremely unstable and can only exist in idealistic conditions for a few minutes before collapsing into anarchy.

"Political Scientists Discover New Form Of Government", The Onion, 2007-10-30

Posted by Nicholas at 08:30 AM | Comments (0)

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