January 31, 2008

QotD: John McCain

As a direct result of his long media honeymoon, much of what we think we know about McCain is wrong. Exit-poll numbers out of the early states showed that McCain was doing especially well among primary voters who were antiwar. The numbers say something disturbing about our capacity to believe that independent antiwar voters are seriously considering a man who championed pre-emptive war three years before it ever occurred to George W. Bush, who personally told me that the U.S. share of defense spending — more than one-half of the world's total — was much too small, and who has demonstrated repeatedly these past weeks that he doesn't understand why any American would question the deployment of U.S. troops in Iraq 100 years from now. After more than seven years of increasingly unpopular war, Americans look poised to nominate the most explicitly pro-interventionist presidential candidate since Teddy Roosevelt. Don't say you weren't warned.

Matt Welch, "The Unlikely Comeback of John McCain, Maverick Warmonger", LA Weekly, 2008-01-30

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

The climate debate, all in one handy portal

Whether you're a Global Warming True Believer or an evil Climate Change Denier, you'll find lots of stuff to keep your blood pressure up at Climate Debate Daily, an aggregator of posts on both sides of the Climate Change holy war. It's run by New Zealand philosophy professor Denis Dutton (who also created the Arts & Letters Daily aggregator site).

For the record, I incline to the heretical side of that particular Jihad/Crusade/Inquisition.

Posted by Nicholas at 09:20 AM | Comments (0)

New media model needed

Kevin McLauchlan had some very interesting things to say in a recent thread on copy protection (from the Techwr-L mailing list), which I reproduce here with his permission. I'm trying to encourage him to start blogging, BTW.

[. . .] what your argument fails to consider is that there was a large mainstream(ish) demand for movies, music, and other such product (including good ole text-and-pictures, otherwise known as books), in modern formats (computer and portable) that people preferred them, and that the traditional media empires were not meeting that demand. For the first few years, they weren't even aware of it.

There was really no squawk from the traditional media when the first hackers came up with the first methods of recording and presenting audio and video on computing devices, because they were doing it for their own pleasure and convenience, and that of a small circle of their geeky friends.

Much like Bill Gates ignored the internet while concentrating on his then-traditional (office and home-island users of software), the studios and publishers ignored the web and the culture that was rapidly growing it . . . and being grown by it.

When they finally did notice that there was some potential loss of revenue happening to their existing model (in which they'd prospered for decades), they reacted by whining and hollering "Don't do that!", and allowing years to slide by before introducing their own services.

When those services appeared, they were already outdated, and they annoyed people because it was profoundly obvious that their major premise was enforcement, while the minor focus (the needs and desires of customers) was given short shrift at best. That is, they have far less interest in serving their customers than in preventing rip-offs.

Let's see:
- paying customers are made to jump through hoops and are treated like dirt
- non-paying "customers" get variety, convenience, ease-of-use and responsive "providers"

I had some sympathy for producers and distributors when audio and video "piracy" meant that somebody made physical copies of tapes and DVDs and sold them for money. It was supportable that the media companies would go after the makers and sellers of such "pirate" goods. Notice that they didn't go after the consumers of such goods.

But these days, most of the copies being distributed are free. Somebody might be losing some revenue (though there are convincing arguments that it's the old formats that are losing out and the studios/distributors just didn't jump fast enough to be ready for the current formats), but nobody is directly gaining illicit revenue when another bittorrent completes. Yet notice that the industry heavyweights are going after users/consumers, now.

As for all the creative work going away if studios and 20-million-dollar-a-film actors can't get their exclusive rights enforced, not everybody thinks that's such a bad thing. Lots of craftsmen were displaced when horse-and-buggy went out of fashion. Some whined and pouted (and died broke). Some found different ways to make a living or found new industries to use their same skills (like high-end auto-makers still needed people who could work in leather and fine woods).

You might have noticed that there are increasingly high-quality "movies" being produced for YouTube distribution (among all the dreck, of course), and that's with the studio blockbusters still in theatres (and people still paying to see movies on the big screen). Lots of smart, talented people are simply bypassing the corporate model of entertainment and information, and taking their own work to the masses.

That is, the problem — too easy distribution of works in digital form — is also the solution. People who would once have been content to "distribute" their labors-of-love to just a few friends now have the ability to reach everyone on the planet who is interested, and beyond.

It's a solution from the perspective of the people who are driven to produce art and from the perspective of people who want access to art.

Have you noticed that bands and performers that are already richer than god, and who can count on selling millions of copies of their next studio-made album, are still willing and eager to take their show on the road? There are two forces making that work. One is that the performers crave a live audience. As good as it is to polish off a new CD and get paid royalties, they still feel the need to get out where real live audiences are. At the same time, "consumers" who enjoy a studio album are still prepared to shell out big bucks (often hundreds of dollars per ticket) to experience live performances.

If all the major studios and distribution labels were to close tomorrow, I'm confident that there would still be touring rock bands, and there would still be talented people in their own studios creating recordings for internet distribution. It might be a different crop of productive talented people. It might be some of the ones who are already famous and rich — those who didn't go into a big sulk about the departure of the corporate recording business.

The same would apply to film. There'd be an upsurge of live theatre, and there'd be some real gems of recorded video drama appearing among the YouTube crud. True artists and performers simply can't just stop. They are driven. Only the mostly-mercenary ones would fold up their production companies and go away. Maybe they've had their day and rightfully so.

Have you noticed that TV shows like "American Idol" and "So You Think You Can Dance" are not running out of talent? They tour the same big cities year after year, culling from the tens of thousands of people who choose to show up. Yet each year, there are more extremely gifted people among the also-rans and losers. It's not that new kids are growing up and becoming ready. The people who show up are all ages. For whatever reason, they didn't enter the contest previously. And that's just the ones who want fame and fortune (or the chance of it) via that particular route. There are tons and tons more talented artists of all kinds out there . . . I should say, out here, where we real people are. It's only the major studios and the top 2% earners among the "stars" who have a lot to lose if the world's entertainment-delivery model moves on . . . or moves back to an earlier model based on performers getting paid by the number of tickets they can sell to personal, live performances.

The same general argument applies to the written word and to other forms of art. If the concept of copyright was struck down tomorrow, some writers would stop writing. Most would keep doing what they are driven to do.

Yes, there's a shift in fortunes when there's a shift in paradigm. Some people drop out of sight. Some people adapt and continue to prosper. Some people find opportunity that wasn't there before.

There's a certain degree of success at selling MP3s, when the price is low enough. Nobody bothers to build timed expiry or number-of-playings expiry into simple recordings of songs. So people willingly pay a buck or two to download them, even though they could find free copies if they cared to look.

But the example was paying for a video download that was designed to die after 24 hours, whether it was convenient for you to view it within that time or not. That's just sick, and people have no sympathy. Theatrical and DVD releases still pay the production costs and generate profit for deserving movies. Demanding to get more than a buck or so of profit off a file that costs you nothing to serve, and using artificial methods to boost your revenue is ugly, and people shy away from it. The people who dreamed up that scheme are deliberately driving away potential customers; driving them into the open arms of the very "pirates" they vilify.

If people suddenly stop wanting the big-screen experience, then the model has finally changed, and first-run theatrical release will no longer pay the production costs of a blockbuster. Maybe the new model will no longer support $250-million dollar production costs. So be it.

It was a good ride for some people. The next wave will be a good ride for a different gang.

Maybe the new model will support only movies whose cost can be recouped by low-price, paid-for downloads, low enough in price that people will gladly pay the couple of bucks for a cupful of databits that they are going to show in their homes, on their equipment, using their electricity.

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

It's the inevitable result of "no-knock" raids for non-violent offences

Radley Balko updates us on the most recent "no-knock raid goes horribly wrong" case:

Ryan Frederick was arraigned today. He was charged with first-degree murder, use of a firearm in the commission of a felony, and . . . simple possession of marijuana.

That's right. Though police still haven't told us how much marijuana they found, it wasn't enough to charge Frederick with anything more than a misdemeanor. For a misdemeanor, they broke down his door, a cop is dead, and a 28-year-old guy's life is ruined. Looks like the informant mistook Frederick's gardening hobby for an elaborate marijuana growing operation, and those Japanese maple trees for marijuana plants.

The parallels to Cory Maye are pretty striking. You've got a young guy minding his own business, with no criminal record, whose worst transgression is that he smokes a little pot from time to time. A bad informant and bad police procedures then converge, resulting in police breaking down his door while he's sleeping. He fires a gun to defend himself, unwittingly kills a cop, and now faces murder charges.

It's the inevitable result of the militarization of the civilian police forces: give them military gear, (some) military assault training, and they're going to look for ways to justify all the expense. "SWAT teams" have gone from being held in reserve for serious situations where their extra firepower might actually be needed, through being moved to standby for almost any situation, to (now) conducting commando raids on family dwellings (with children inside) for minor — and sometimes non-existent — offenses.

Does this make anyone safer? I think quite the opposite: it makes everyone less safe, including the police themselves.

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

January 30, 2008

QotD: Save the HRCs!

Who will there be to read before we read, and tell us what is proper for us? Who will be there to edit the editors, to copy check the copy checkers? Who will shield our vulnerable law-students, and who will tend to the commission's most industrious serial complainant? There is one person, so eggshell brittle that he has drummed up a fierce amount of business for the HRCs. Is so loyal a customer now to be ignored because the Steyn-Levant tsunami is about to rumble mercilessly on shore?

[. . .]

Mostly I fear, if the HRCs are tied up, Canadians will be reading, unguided, what they choose to read, deciding for themselves what they like and what they don't, will discard a book or pass it to a friend, like a column or curse one - lit only by the light of their own reason.The horror! Before we know it, we'll have an unstoppable epidemic of free speech, free thought, and freedom of the press. And, surely, no one wants that. Otherwise, why would we have human rights commissions?

Rex Murphy, "Coming to a human rights commission near you", Globe and Mail, 2008-01-27

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

If only he actually meant it

Republican front-runner John McCain:

We believe government should do only those things we cannot do individually, to tax us no more than necessary, and spend no more than necessary, and then get out of the way of the most industrious, ingenious and optimistic people in the history of the world so that they can build an even greater country than the one they inherited.

If that was a good summary of his views and intentions, I'd be much more favourable towards a McCain White House. The reality, however, doesn't quite measure up to the rhetoric:

It was a fine sentiment, similar to what he was saying after winning South Carolina . . . and it has absolutely nothing to do with McCain's voluminous track record as a congressman, senator and public figure.

The road begins to fork at the definition of what "we cannot do invidually." For instance, individually we — and by "we" I mean "John McCain," his Senate office, and even his own campaign website — can enjoy making or facilitating bets on, say, college basketball games. But it's only through the government can we — and by "we" I mean "John McCain" — make betting on college athletics illegal.

The same goes for the most sacred style of expression guaranteed by the First Amendment (or should I say, "quote First Amendment"): political speech. Sure, individuals such as John McCain can pay for advertisements attacking his political opponents within 90 days of an election. But thanks to John McCain, if two individuals join forces to pay for an ad attacking an elected official 90 days before an election, they are either forced to register as a political committee (and therefore comply with Byzantine federal laws regarding donation limits and disclosure), or do battle in the courts long after the election in question fades away.

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

January 29, 2008

Cute cat photos

Last night, trying to pack my equipment for badminton, I had to persuade a cat that he didn't really want to come along with me:

Harry1_28Jan08.jpgHarry2_28Jan08.jpg

That's Harry, our youngest cat. He really thought that the badminton bag was a great place to play peekaboo.

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

Rambo, Rimbaud, what's the difference?

A lengthy discussion of the Rambo series at Reason Online, finds some interesting nuggets:

Twenty years after he last sprayed bullets across America's movie screens, John Rambo has returned in Rambo, a 93-minute feature in which Sylvester Stallone's bulky soldier wields a bow, a machine gun, and his muscle-bound, 215-pound body against another army of foreign villains. If you're rolling your eyes, you're not alone: According to Rotten Tomatoes, just 38 percent of the new film's reviews have been favorable, with its critics deploying such phrases as "torture porn," "jingoistic imperialism," and "the Schindler's List of B-list butchery."

For the most part I'll have to join in the jeers. This is basically a paint-by-numbers action picture that has almost as little to say as its laconic protagonist. But I can't dismiss the Rambo franchise entirely, and even this entry shows a brief glimmer of something thoughtful beneath the monosyllabic grunts and the CGI gore.

There are three things people forget about the Rambo series. One is the original book. Before there were any Rambo movies, there was a novel called First Blood, written by a young John Barth scholar named David Morrell and published in 1972. It's about a Green Beret called Rambo — the name was inspired partly by Rambo apples and partly by the French poet Arthur Rimbaud —who has come home from Vietnam and is tramping across America. It's also about a sheriff named Will Teasle, who doesn't want the long-haired, unshaven kid bringing trouble to his corner of Kentucky. Their conflict builds until it engulfs the entire town, with countless meaningless deaths. The book is told alternately from both characters' point of view, switching back and forth until their identities essentially merge. In the end they both die.

I don't think I've ever seen more than five minutes of any of the various Rambo films . . . and even after reading this article, I'd have to say that they're still of very minor interest to me.

Posted by Nicholas at 08:55 AM | Comments (0)

The anti-drug frenzy reaches new lows

In something that could only have been ripped from the pages of The Onion, yet was not, Radley Balko reports on the criminalization of sniffing hand sanitizer:

A 14-year-old boy in Lewisville, Texas was arrested, booked, and fingerprinted last October for sniffing his teacher's hand sanitizer.

Mr. Ortiz said the family's ordeal began Oct. 19, when his son picked up a bottle of hand sanitizer from the desk of his fifth-period reading teacher at Killian Middle School in Lewisville. He rubbed the gel on his hands and smelled it.

In the view of school officials, the boy "inhaled heavily," according to Mr. Ortiz, who said his son sniffed the cleanser "because it smelled good."

The youth was sent to the principal's office, and the Lewisville police officer assigned to the school began investigating.

[. . .]

Mr. Ortiz said he believed the matter was over until Tuesday when he was served with a petition charging his son with delinquency for inhaling the hand sanitizer to "induce a condition of intoxication, hallucination and elation."

He said he couldn't believe that his son would have to go to court for smelling hand sanitizer. "I think it's ludicrous," said Mr. Ortiz, who blames overzealous police and prosecutors for initially pursuing the case.

Joni Eddy, assistant police chief in Lewisville, said Friday that hand sanitizer has become a popular inhalant. "That is the latest thing to huff," she said.

Let's re-read that. The kid was charged for smelling the scent of a commercially available hand sanitizer. In what world is it possible to consider this a crime? What the hell are these folks smoking?

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

January 28, 2008

Eccentric behaviour

Be on the watch for this sort of deviant eccentricism:

According to behavioral psychologist Dr. Elizabeth Schulz, Meyer's reading of entire books is abnormal and may be indicative of a more serious obsession with reading.

"Instead of just zoning out during a bus ride or spending hour after hour watching YouTube videos at night, Mr. Meyer, unlike most healthy males, looks to books for gratification," Schulz said. "Really, it's a classic case of deviant behavior."

"At least, that's what it seems like from what little I've skimmed on the topic," she added.

As bizarre as it may seem, Meyer isn't alone. Once a month, he and several other Greenwood residents reportedly gather at night not only to read books all the way through, but also to discuss them at length.

"I don't know, it's like this weird 'book club' they're all a part of," said Brian Cummings, a longtime coworker and friend of Meyer's. "Seriously, what a bunch of freaks."

Posted by Nicholas at 03:04 PM | Comments (0)

Is this the return of "Morning in America"? Naw, probably not.

In the news you've all been breathlessly waiting for . . . the numbers are in:

In a close and bloody box office battle, the bumbling warriors of the spoof Meet the Spartans edged out aged mercenary John Rambo of the franchise flick Rambo to win the weekend box office by a tight margin of just $575,000, according to Sunday's estimates. Meet the Spartans grossed $18.725 mil while Rambo brought in $18.150 mil, but we'll have to wait for the final numbers to come out on Monday before officially declaring a winner. Still, this is good news for both films — well, good news for the Greek fighters and really good news for the Vietnam vet.

I dunno. If one of the things going through bin Laden's head was that America was a soft country incapable of defending itself against theologically motiviated suicide bombers, having a satire of one of the most famous battles in history starring Carmen Electra be the biggest movie in the country might kick off a whole new round of attacks. Then again, it may be a sign that all is right with the world again. Or, more probably, it means nothing beyond the good news that Kevin Sorbo won't be be collecting Social Security at age 67.

Posted by Nicholas at 08:55 AM | Comments (0)

January 25, 2008

Look out, drivers, here comes Victor!

The driving experience is about to get a bit more interesting . . . Victor just called to say he'd passed his G1 test and can now legally drive on Ontario's roads. The actual "learning how to drive" thing will take a bit longer . . .

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

Happy Birthday, Jon!

Today is my virtual landlord's 40th birthday. I'd thought to grab some amusing or mildly insulting image from the web to mark the auspicious occasion, but the pickings were remarkably slim.

JonP_at_40_25Jan08.jpg

He's celebrating by not celebrating.

Update, 27 January: A note from Jon's wife: "Nicholas the text here is not big enough for Jon's geriatric eyes. I am not sure if he will understand the context of this picture without reading the text."

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

QotD: Libertarianism, the scourge of the GOP

Without attempting to untangle the mess of that second graf — seriously, read it again — my question is this: Exactly where and how has libertarianism poisoned "public life"? Certainly not in the modern, Weekly Standard-approved national GOP, which has shot federal spending through the roof, created mammoth new entitlements, rammed through panicky regulatory nightmares, got the feds deep into local education, and lived out the doctrine of pre-emptive war. Of all the many, many things to complain about the party that has run most of the federal government for the past eight years, "dogmatic libertarianism" has to rank somewhere near the proliferation of Esperanto.

It's always flattering that libertarianism — almost uniquely among strains of modern political thought — is constantly challenged to defend itself against its most theoretical extremes.

Matt Welch, " 'The moral vacuity of dogmatic libertarianism is poisonous to public life'", Hit and Run, 2008-01-25

Posted by Nicholas at 08:29 AM | Comments (0)

Juvenile writer wannabe . . . take hope

No matter how bad it is, you'd have to work long and hard to make something as painfully bad as this:

Scott Westerfeld: Recognition of the House of Eleven took no long time, and the lady midst the compliment was none other than wench Mary, a liaress whom I had met before in the rank combats of her style, and who had left more than one of the Clan Demonus with garrote between chin and breathless breast.

I doff my cap to Mr. Westerfeld for the balls-to-the-wall fearlessness to publicly read some of his juvenilia.

Posted by Nicholas at 08:25 AM | Comments (0)

January 24, 2008

QotD: How bad could it get?

While sharing cocktails with some delightful Reasonoids at the Happy Hour at The Big Hunt earlier this month, I initiated a little game of ranking presidential candidates. I began by saying that I would have to vote for Hillary Clinton if Mike Huckabee were the Republican presidential candidate. On further reflection, I added that I would have to vote for Mike Huckabee if John Edwards were the Democratic candidate. So my short ranking is that Edwards is worse than Huckabee who is worse than Clinton. On further consideration (and some cocktails later), I began to wonder if reason needs a foreign correspondent for the next four years or so.

Ronald Bailey, "The Presidential Candidate Ranking Game — Who is Worse?", Hit and Run, 2008-01-23

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

Microcars, Steam-power, and Corvairs

I had no idea there had been so many attempts to market micro cars. Some of them are remarkably ugly, some of them could easily appear in the dictionary as illustrations for the term "death trap", while others look kinda cool. H/T to Robert Netzlof.

Also on the topic of cars, I had no idea just how time-consuming it was to start a Stanley Steamer. (H/T to Ken Olsen for that link.)

And to think that I used to consider Ralph Nader's crusade against the Corvair to be a joke . . . Maarten Vis tells of his own Corvair experiences:

Around that time (1960), GM decided to market the Chevrolet Corvair in The Netherlands. The cars arrived by boat in Rotterdam where I studied at the time. So they needed drivers to get the cars to the selling dealers. There was good money in doing just that as a student.

Of course, the quality of the Corvairs was almost atrocious. So we always drove 4 - 6 cars in a convoy, and had a cable on board in case one needed to be pulled!! During months that I did this we had:

2 cars that burned out
about 10 cars that simply quit functioning
I had one once that lost 2 doors while going straight, they just fell off.
Numerous cars were pulled to their destination.
One ended in a canal, due to loss of the right front wheel...

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

Breaking news: expensive wine really does taste better

A report in this week's Economist on the latest twist in the "do we get what we pay for when we buy expensive wine" issue:

The scanner showed that the activity of the medial orbitofrontal cortices of the volunteers increased in line with the stated price of the wine. For example, when one of the wines was said to cost $10 a bottle it was rated less than half as good as when people were told it cost $90 a bottle, its true retail price. Moreover, when the team carried out a follow-up blind tasting without price information they got different results. The volunteers reported differences between the three "real" wines but not between the same wines when served twice.

Nor was the effect confined to everyday drinkers. When Dr Rangel repeated the experiment on members of the Stanford University wine club he got similar results. All of which raises the question of what is going on.

There are at least two possibilities. The point of learning is to improve an individual's chances of surviving and reproducing: if the experience and opinions of others can be harnessed to that end, so much the better. Dr Rangel suspects that what he has found is a mechanism for learning quickly what has helped others in the past, and thus for allowing choices about what is nice and what is nasty to be made speedily and efficiently. In modern society, price is probably a good proxy for such collective wisdom.

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

January 23, 2008

Update on AHRC investigation

Jon (my virtual landlord) sent along this link to the progress report on the interrogation of noted hatemonger Ezra Levant:

CLERK OBSERVATIONS (use extra sheets if necessary)

Defendant acknowledges awareness of charges against him. He is represented by counsel but insists on opening statement and filming the hearing. Despite warnings and brochure on self incrimination he proceeds.

Defendant states he is attending under protest and would do crime again. States belief that AHRCC has no authority to prosecute. Under eye contact, defendent's counsel shrugs. Defendant says hearing in violation of "separation Mosque and State" (note: potential violation of Section 118-c(a) AHRCC Innuendo Act?). Claims "original intent" of Commission not to enforce Islamic law. Defendant apparently unfamiliar with AHRCC interoffice memo HVM-d11, "Koranic Compliance Guidelines for Non-Muslim Associates."

Calls Commission "dump for junk," cites previous cases. Calls AHRCC "joke," "pseudo court," "Judge Judy." Cites critical statements of Commission founder, even though he doesn't work here any more. Says authority unlawful, unconstitutional. Counsel seems oblivious to client's contempt, is seen reading "Highlights for Children" magazine from waiting room.

Starts yapping about British common law, Magna Carta, Canadian law, UN Declaration of Human Rights, other documents of white male privilege, etc. Subject seems agitated. Stuff about conscience, religion, expression blah blah blah. Seems to be stonewalling because none of this has any reference in my copy of Publication AHRCC-0503(k), "Hearing Guidelines for Human Rights Clerks." Long diatribe about Sharia Law, radical Islam.

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

QotD: Economic Interventionism

It can even be argued that in one respect President Reagan was extremely fortunate: the problems he faced, though they had baffled liberals, were problems which gave conservatives no great intellectual difficulty. Liberals were then wont to say, indeed, that conservatives were offering simple answers to complex problems. But the problems were complex to liberals only because they insisted on misunderstanding them at a very simple level. Just as the Ptolemaic theory that the sun goes around the earth can be made to yield accurate predictions only by qualifying it with a multitude of exceptions and special cases, so the liberal belief that inflation was caused by unions and corporations seeking higher prices led to a multitude of difficulties as each intervention to hold down prices created more problems which required more interventions which in turn created more problems and so ad infinitum. And what was true for inflation also held for most areas of policy. It was the complex solutions advocated by liberals that caused the complex problems — at least as much as the other way around. No wonder liberals suffered from malaise.

John O’Sullivan, "Flashback: After Reaganism", National Review

January 22, 2008

The sky is falling! The sky is falling!

There's a good reason why most Canadians hold Toronto in contempt: one of the bigger reasons . . . Toronto's pansy frou-frou reaction to a little bit of snow:

TorontoWinter_22Jan08.jpg

Two frickin' hours to get to work through a tiny little bit of snow. You'd think they'd never seen the stuff before.

Posted by Nicholas at 09:43 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: The Afghan mission

[. . .] We recognize the conflict in Afghanistan as a liberation struggle, waged by the Afghan people and their allies, against oppression, against obscurantism, illiteracy, and the most brutal forms of misogyny. It is a fight for democracy, and for peace, order, and good government. It is also a struggle waged by the sovereign Government of Afghanistan, a member state of the United Nations, against illegal armed groups that seek to overturn the democratic will of the Afghan people.

In Afghanistan, the great global struggle for the recognition and protection of basic human rights — universal rights — is being waged with a particular and necessary ferocity. We cannot and must not retreat from that struggle.

The objective of extending and securing the sovereignty of the Government of Afghanistan to all corners of that great country cannot be achieved without a robust international military presence. Canada is one the richest countries on earth, and as such we have absolutely no excuse to shirk from our duty to make a proper and effective contribution to that military engagement.

Canada-Afghanistan Solidarity Committee, "Submission to the Independent Panel on Canada's Future Role in Afghanistan", 2007-11-28

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

January 21, 2008

QotD: Bad SF books

[. . .] a lot of SF authors are more interested in the science than the people, so the psychological depth required for good writing is simply missing, whereas romance and mystery authors have to have some minor grasp of psychology, however bad they are. Written by Aspergers for Aspergers.

Rachel Ganz, posting to the Bujold mailing list, 2008-01-20

Posted by Nicholas at 11:36 AM | Comments (0)

Australian Surf

Australian_Surf.jpg

Photo and story sent along by Roger Henry.

Whipped Ocean in Australia

Suddenly the shoreline north of Sydney were transformed into the Cappuccino Coast. Foam swallowed an entire beach and half the nearby buildings, including the local lifeguards' centre, in a freak display of nature at Yamba in New South Wales. One minute a group of teenage surfers were waiting to catch a wave, the next they were swallowed up in a giant bubble bath. The foam was so light that they could puff it out of their hands and watch it float away.

Boy in the bubble bath: Tom Woods, 12, emerges from the clouds of foam after deciding that surfing was not an option It stretched for 30 miles out into the Pacific in a phenomenon not seen at the beach for more than three decades. Scientists explain that the foam is created by impurities in the ocean, such as salts, chemicals, dead plants, decomposed fish and excretions from seaweed. All are churned up together by powerful currents which cause the water to form bubbles. These bubbles stick to each other as they are carried below the surface by the current towards the shore. As a wave starts to form on the surface, the motion of the water causes the bubbles to swirl upwards and, massed together, they become foam. The foam 'surfs' towards shore until the wave 'crashes', tossing the foam into the air.

Whitewash: The foam was so thick it came all the way up to the surf club. 'It's the same effect you get when you whip up a milk shake in a blender,' explains a marine expert. 'The more powerful the swirl, the more foam you create on the surface and the lighter it becomes.' In this case, storms off the New South Wales Coast and further north off Queensland had created a huge disturbance in the ocean, hitting a stretch of water where there was a particularly high amount of the substances which form into bubbles. As for 12-year-old beach goer Tom Woods, who has been surfing since he was two, riding a wave was out of the question. 'Me and my mates just spent the afternoon leaping about in that stuff,' he said. 'It was quite cool to touch and it was really weird. It was like clouds of air - you could hardly feel it.'

Kent Taylor adds more: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/worldnews.html?in_article_id=478041&in_page_id=1811 and http://lighthousepatriotjournal.wordpress.com/2007/12/19/myth-blaster-foam-envelopes-beach-in-new-south-wales/.

Posted by Nicholas at 09:19 AM | Comments (0)

When you pull into the Tim Horton's drive through . . .

. . . you'll want to be sure you follow proper ordering practices.

H/T to "Da Wife" for the link.

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

January 20, 2008

Comic strip crossovers

A sick, but still kinda touching, tribute to Calvin and Hobbes.

Apropos of the season, I always thought Watterson did a great snowman comic.

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

January 19, 2008

QotD: Business Schools

The danger is that this will be another jolly club, where pals appoint pals, and the odor of self congratulation extinguishes the possibility of fresh thinking. Creatives may have the Canadian problem I was talking about this week: people who are brilliant as individuals and small groups working in agency circumstances find themselves diminished by still larger groups and the scale, to say nothing of the pretensions, of university life.

I guess the real challenge is how you get the academics and the creatives to play together This is not a famously productive relationship and it will take some tremendously good mediation to make these two parties mutually useful, let alone mutually inspirational. No one has a Rosetta Stone for these two communities, and it is hard for me to imagine an ExEd program that manages to install a linga franca even over 18 months.

Grant McCracken, "B-School + B-School = C-School?", This Blog Sits at the, 2008-01-18

Posted by Nicholas at 11:39 AM | Comments (0)

Comment policy

I've had to leave the comments turned off, but if you have anything you'd like to have posted as a comment, just send it to me (Quotulatiousness AT gmail DOT com), and I'll add it from the admin side of MovableType.

Posted by Nicholas at 11:32 AM | Comments (0)

January 18, 2008

Your-mind-will-melt statement of the week

"Looking back, it seems that only one institution functioned properly during this whole mess. And quite unbelievably, it was Parliament."

[Blink, blink]

I can't believe I just read that. But it's apparently true.

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

The economics of the sex trade

An article in this week's Economist has some recent findings about the sex trade in Chicago and in Ecuador:

These studies contribute to our understanding of the suppliers of paid sex, but tell us little about their customers. The session's organiser, Taggert Brooks of the University of Wisconsin, attempted to fill this gap in knowledge. He shed light on the sex industry's demand side in his analysis† of men who attend strip clubs. He argued that habitués of strip clubs featuring nude or semi-nude dancers are in search of "near-sex" — an experience of intimacy rather than sexual release. They are aware that paid sex is on offer elsewhere, should they desire it.

Strip-club patrons are more likely to be college-educated (cue some uneasy seat shifting from conference delegates), to have had an STI, and to have altered their sexual behaviour because of AIDS, than non-patrons are. They are typically unmarried, relatively young (against the stereotype of old married men) and are characterised as "high-sensation seekers".

One of the more surprising findings was that condom use is significantly higher among prostitutes in Ecuador than in Chicago:

As in Chicago, the paid-sex market in Ecuador is tiered, with licensed brothel workers earning more per hour than unlicensed street prostitutes. These gradations might reflect different tastes: brothel workers tend to be younger, more attractive and better educated. They are also slightly less likely to have an STI. Condom use is the norm: 61% of street prostitutes surveyed used a condom in the previous three transactions. In Chicago, condoms were used in only a quarter of tricks.

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

More eye-searing photos from the 1970's

From the decade that time wishes it could forget, photo studio outtakes (at least, the folks in them probably wish these were outtakes).

1970sphoto.png

Update: Argghhh! Forgot to credit Jeff Shultz for the URL.

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

Government-provided services

I've often made the case that the government is generally bad at providing services, even in the case of soi disant "natural" monopoly situations. About the only thing that governments do well is kill people . . . and even the most incompetent government can do a crackerjack job of that. This story is an example of why government-provided goods and services are a waste of time, energy and resources, compared to letting individuals and companies provide them:

A new bus-stop has been built in Lashikar Gah as part of the 'reconstruction' effort.

The report does not say whether it is a replacement for a pre-war bus-stop. Somehow I doubt it. It is very well-equipped, having its own mosque and a pharmacy, as waiting times "can be rather long".

An odd approach. In most of the world a bus-stop is a place where buses happen to stop. Of course bus-stops, like ports and railway stations all round the world provide opportunities for traders, places of worship, bars and cafes and so forth, but they seldom have them built in. Bus companies and their passengers are primarily interested in selling and buying travel. The pause at the roadside to move from foot to wheel, wheel to foot, refuel, refresh, is just procedural necessity.

Okay, you ask, what's the problem? It's a big, over-built bus station, so what is your point? This is my point:

[. . .] a government bus-stop is built to different, higher, standards. A throwaway line at the end of the report reveals just how long those waiting times are: "There are no buses yet."

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

Offensensitivity goes wild

I spotted this mindboggler yesterday, but I was too busy with non-blog activities to link to it. James Lileks did me the favour of not only linking, but putting a far more entertaining spin on the story than I could have done:

This story made my eyebrows hoist. A "conservationist, columnist for the Daily Telegraph, and the chairman of the Countryside Restoration Trust" named Robin Page won 2K pounds in a court award for false arrest. It took five years to do so. From the article:

He claims that in order to gain the attention of listeners at the gathering in Frampton-upon-Severn, Glos, he started in a "light-hearted fashion". His opening remark was: "If you are a black, vegetarian, Muslim, asylum-seeking, one-legged lesbian lorry driver, I want the same rights as you."

Naturally, he was arrested for committing a hate crime. It made me think of a Jay Leno remark I heard excerpted on the Hewitt show; Chris Matthews was describing the GOP contenders in terms of the Iraqi political players — these guys are Sunnis, these guys are Shiites, Romney's the Kurd. Leno responded that "Larry Craig was the guy with the sheep." If you wanted to be offended, you could note that this equated homosexuality with bestiality, and cast Arabs as dispositionally zoophilic. Should he be arrested? Charged with inciting the easily incitable, with equating the newly-minted right to play jiggery-pokery in a lav with an aberrant behavior? If it's aberrant , that is. We're probably ten years away from bestiality japes entering the no-go zone. Within five years they'll probably remake "Flipper," and it'll be a hard R. Critics of the movie, if they’re on the right, will be subjected to the usual eye-rolling, because they can’t possibly be objecting to sex with animals; it’s part-and-parcel of their desire to return to the 50s, when Donna Reed was chained to a stove, deprived of footwear, perpetually pregnant and forced to vote for Ike at knifepoint. Oh, sure, you disapprove of sex-positive dolphin movies. Your kind didn't want the nation to see Elvis from the waist down. Doesn't mean the critics will be comfy with Flipper-gets-busy movies, but they have a dread of making common cause with the trogs. So the movie will be criticized on aesthetic grounds. If nothing else, its poor script and pedestrian direction will be a lost opportunity to advance a controversial topic.

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

January 17, 2008

You want to invade where? Are you mad?

Unlike a lot of bloggers, I don't spend too much time taking potshots at the current leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition . . . but this just cries out for comment. Stephane Dion has been pushing for a definite end to Canada's commitment to the mission in Afghanistan, but now is talking about somehow invading a nuclear-armed nation to make that mission more likely to succeed:

Any attempt to counter terrorists war-torn Afghanistan will not succeed without an intervention in neighbouring Pakistan, Liberal Leader Stephane Dion said Wednesday.

Mr. Dion hinted NATO could take action in Pakistan, which has a porous border with Afghanistan, if the Pakistani government doesn't move to track terrorists.

"We are going to have to discuss that very actively if they (the Pakistanis) are not able to deal with it on their own. We could consider that option with the NATO forces in order to help Pakistan help us pacify Afghanistan," said Mr. Dion in Quebec City, commenting after his two-day trip to Afghanistan last weekend. "As long as we don't solve the problem in Pakistan, I don't see how we can solve it in Afghanistan."

That's not just ill-advised . . . that's absolutely batshit-crazy.

Posted by Nicholas at 12:07 AM | Comments (0)

Jeremy Clarkson puts the boots to eco-weenies

Jeremy Clarkson goes to town on the anti-nuclear power agitators:

The fact of the matter is this. The decision to go nuclear has exposed the whole environmental cause for what it is: not a well intentioned drive for clean power but a spiteful, mean-spirited drive for less power. Because less power hits richer countries and richer people the hardest.

I've argued time and again that the old trade unionists and CND lesbians didn't go away. They just morphed into environmentalists. The reds become green but the goals remain the same. And there's no better way of achieving those goals than turning the lights out and therefore winding the clock back to the Stone Age. Only when we're all eating leaves under a hammer and sickle will they be happy.

I'm serious. All the harebrained schemes for renewable energy are popular among Britain's beardies only because they don't work. I heard one of them on the radio last week explaining that if he were allowed to build 58,000 islands in the Caribbean he could use steam coming off the sea to make enough power for everyone.

Yeah, right. And then you have their constant claims that the tide can be used to make electricity. Really? If that's so, why am I not writing this on a computer powered by the Severn Bore?

Sure, this summer work will begin on a tidal plant off the coast of Wales. Eight turbines, each 78ft long and 50ft tall, will harness the moon's gravitational pull, and if all goes well it won’t even provide enough electricity to run Chipping Norton. You'd be better off burning tenners.

If you're unfamiliar with Clarkson's, er, energetic style, you might enjoy reading his "election manifesto".

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

QotD: Age and aging

Sometimes I suspect that everyone under the age of 50 or so thinks they need to get a promotion every few years in order to think of themselves as successful just because the characters on Star Trek all did.

It was noticeable that in the early series, pretty much every StarFleet admiral was either corrupt, insane or a traitor. They only seemed to ease off this unusual hiring policy once Kirk, Scotty, et al reached pensionable age.

Stuart Burnfield, posting to the Techwr-L mailing list, 2007-10-24

Posted by Nicholas at 12:02 AM | Comments (1)

January 16, 2008

It's not Bullshit, but it is more Penn

If you're a fan of Penn & Teller's Bullshit, you may want to direct your browser here, for a selection of uninhibited, unedited, unshaven Penn Jillette.

H/T to Katherine Mangu-Ward for the link.

Posted by Nicholas at 09:13 AM | Comments (0)

The secret language of cats

You suspect Fluffy is dissing you? You're probably right:

Remember that vocalizing is not your cat's preferred mode of communication. A cat's "first language" consists of a complex system of scent, facial expression, complex body language, and touch whereas we humans communicate primarily through sound. Cats soon realize that we don't understand the non-verbal signals they send to each other, so they vocalize in an attempt to communicate in our language. By observing which sounds elicit which actions from us, a cat is always learning how to make requests (or demands).

Posted by Nicholas at 08:29 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: But what do you really think, James?

Insert slippery-slope argument here and an acknowledgment that decades on USENET has biased me in favor of crushing potentially destructive practices, exiling their adherents, sowing their homelands with cobalt-60, raising the temperature of their homeworld to one million degrees, detonating their sun and then ramming a galaxy into their home island universe.

James D. Nicoll, in a comment on Whatever, 2008-01-13

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

January 15, 2008

Teenage sleeping patterns

An interesting article at the New York Times:

It's Monday morning, and you’re having trouble waking your teenagers. You're not alone. Indeed, each morning, few of the country's 17 million high school students are awake enough to get much out of their first class, particularly if it starts before 8 a.m. Sure, many of them stayed up too late the night before, but not because they wanted to.

Research shows that teenagers' body clocks are set to a schedule that is different from that of younger children or adults. This prevents adolescents from dropping off until around 11 p.m., when they produce the sleep-inducing hormone melatonin, and waking up much before 8 a.m. when their bodies stop producing melatonin. The result is that the first class of the morning is often a waste, with as many as 28 percent of students falling asleep, according to a National Sleep Foundation poll. Some are so sleepy they don’t even show up, contributing to failure and dropout rates.

Posted by Nicholas at 09:22 AM | Comments (0)

Having solved all other crime problems . . .

. . . police in San Mateo County turn to stamping out the scourge of small stakes poker games:

Police in San Mateo County, California apparently first spent months investigating the small-stakes poker game. From this firsthand account, it looks like a couple of the officers were playing regularly for several weeks before sending in the SWAT team, guns drawn, last week. If California is like most states (and I believe it is), a poker game is only illegal if the house is taking a rake off the top. In this case, it looks like that "rake" was the $5 the extra the hosts asked from each buy-in to pay for pizza and beer.

Police also took a 13-year-old girl out of the home, away from her parents, and turned her over to child protective services. In addition to the charge of running an illegal gambling operation, the hosts are also charged with contributing to the delinquency of a minor. Good thing the poor girl was saved before slouching toward an inevitable life of crime.

Update, 16 January: Radley Balko provides some corrections and additions to the original report:

A reason reader shared with me a correspondence he had with Sam Mateo, California Sheriff Greg Munks. Munks says the raid on the San Mateo poker game was not done by the SWAT team. I assumed it had been due to firsthand accounts that described police in "full riot gear" with their "guns drawn." Also via email I learned that the child seized in the raid was a boy, not a girl.

I apologize for the errors. The other points about the appropriateness of the raid, seizing the kid from his parents, etc. still stand. One more thing: Several regular players at this game have emailed to assure me that the hosts were not cheating or defrauding participants, which police seemed to hint was the real reason behind the raid. If the players are right, the only real justification for the raid would then be the $5 charge on top of the buy-in for refreshments.

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

How do you say "oops" in binary?

H/T to "JtMc".

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

January 14, 2008

Flashman's creator

The Economist's obituary for George MacDonald Fraser includes a fond farewell to his his best-known fictional creation:

Mr Fraser had known him from the start of his career, when he was dragged bragging and hiccupping from the pages of "Tom Brown's Schooldays" and pitchforked out of Rugby; and he had followed him, like some devoted batman, through all his military campaigns, from Afghanistan to South Africa to the Indian wars. He had seen him frozen in a blanket in a corpse-strewn defile on the retreat from Kabul in 1842; almost split neatly in two by a grinning Chinaman in a top-knot while running guns down the Yangtse in 1860; struggling in an Indian swamp, after the great ghat massacre at Cawnpore, with what looked like man-eating crocodiles; and charging, by accident, for the Russian guns at Balaclava. As Flashman accumulated the tinware — the Victoria Cross, the Queen's Medal, the San Serafino Order of Purity and Truth ("richly deserved"), both he and Mr Fraser knew it was sheer terror that propelled him, delirium funkens, plus a large measure of luck. The great hero of Jallalabad was, in fact, "yellow as yesterday's custard". But he always emerged in splendour.

And with women. Every Flashman novel writhed with them, preferably all bum, belly and bust, giggling and bouncing at the prospect of an officer "who had raked and ridden harder than most". After the beauteous Fetnab (who "knew the ninety-seven ways of love . . . though . . . the seventy-fourth position turns out to be the same as the seventy-third, but with your fingers crossed"), came Lola Montez and Cassie and Susie the Bawd; and, finest of all, the Indian princess Lakshmibai, her "splendid golden nakedness" dressed in no more than bangles and a tiny veil. It was a serious disaster that could interrupt the tumbling for any long period of time.

Posted by Nicholas at 01:46 PM | Comments (0)

If you didn't have to live through the 1970's

For those of you lucky enough to have skipped the 1970's (the first time around, any way), James Lileks encapsulates (perhaps that should be encrapsulates) the decade that never should have been:

[. . .] a dreadful 70s generic look that screams END OF AMERICAN INFLUENCE AND CONFIDENCE, plus Kojak-style urban decay. If you weren't around during the rise of the generics you might not recall how depressing these products were; yellow cans that said BEER, yellow boxes of gummint cheese, yellow generic cigarettes. You saw a world where retail would consist entirely of a 7-11 store with buzzing fluorescent lights and the stink of incinerated coffee, a fat greasy unshaven clerk looking at you between glances at a yellow-covered magazine whose cover simply said SMUT, shelves and shelves of generic food, CHUDs in the parking lot siphoning gas from your '77 Pacer — she was twenty years on, and parts were hard to find — while you put a few items in the filthy plastic basket. This was our future in 1975. Little did we know that things would turn around, and in a few years we'd all be spending money on gourmet jelly beans. Morning in America!

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

QotD: Cabernet Franc

Ontario's grape is Cabernet Franc [. . .] and after smelling and tasting my way through over 50 different kinds in a variety of styles, I'm even more convinced than ever before. Franc is the blending grape of Bordeaux — the right bank has Merlot, the left bank has Cab Sauv . . . but the lowly Franc has neither, used mainly to add structure to the blend — basically it's a back up role, it's along for the ride, think of it as the Ringo Starr to Merlot and Sauv's Lennon and McCartney.

Here in Ontario, Franc shines. Sure we blend it into Meritages, sometimes it's at the forefront of the blend and other times it takes a backseat, but we also make straight Cab Franc, Reserve Cab Franc, Late Harvest and Icewine Franc wines; we run the gamut of Franc and we make it well and consistently year after year.

I've been in discussions with winemakers, winery owners and wine people from all aspects of the industry — some hear Franc calling out to them while others dismiss it as the rantings of lunacy . . . but it is my belief that Cabernet Franc should be the grape we focus on as an industry and use it to help turn the world's attention to Ontario. It seems these days that every winemaking country has a calling card — a grape to call their own. I mention Riesling you think Germany, Cabernet Sauvignon = California , Shiraz = Australia, Sauvignon Blanc = New Zealand, Carmenere = Chile, Malbec = Argentina , Zinfandel = California, Chardonnay = anywhere that makes wine, same thing with Merlot, of course blends (Meritage) go to France [Bordeaux ] . . . the list goes on and on but nobody has adopted Cabernet Franc as their mainstay. It's homeless — sure it roams the globe popping up here and there, but it has nowhere to call "home". It's time we heed its calling and bring Franc into our fold, and give it a place to finally call home. We have the world's attention with Icewine. Now it's time to show them that we can make other wines too — not just copies of wines from other places, but a distinctive Ontario wine — Cabernet Franc; as with Shiraz, Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandel, when people hear Ontario, they should think "great Cab Franc".

Michael "The Grape Guy" Pinkus, "My Two Barrels Worth — Cabernet Franc and Ontario", Ontario Wine Review #73, 2008-01-03

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

January 13, 2008

QotD: The Canadian Soul

I almost never pull multiple quotations from the same article or blog post, but in this case I had to make an exception (after yesterday's QotD from This Blog Sits at the):

One concept of Canadians is that they are products of contraction and complexity. They come from a world of two founding cultures (the famous "two solitudes") for which integration is always sought. Two cultures and languages have given way to many cultures and languages as the multicultural experiment continues. Canada licenses newcomers with the right to keep and cultivate their differences. This means that for every cultural characteristic that might serve as a national identifier, there is another that contradicts it. Take as one case in point, Toronto as a city animated by the "tension" between Methodist Scots who made it Canada's second city (after Montreal), and the Italians who arrived after World War II to save them from culinary, fashion, social and emotional inadequacies.

Canadians must also endure the fact that they practice a communitarian capitalism, that they insist on a tall poppy individualism, that they are both aggressively egalitarian and aggressively hierarchical. There are really lots of contradictions swimming about here, and I think the people who rise in a world like this are people who are good at surviving and managing complexity. The fact that Canadians generally are uncomfortable with the "imperial self" that is sometimes popular south of their border gives them a certain perspectival flexibility, let's call it. The ones who flourish are precisely the ones who use these complexities as a staircase with which to climb to acts of integration and creativity.

[. . .] Canadians suffer here from the devotion to consensus. Much more than Americans, Canadians think they have to agree. Much more than Americans, Canadians think they have to approve. One of the things I love about Americans is their pragmatism. You will be hammering away at a problem in a boardroom and it becomes clear that we are not looking for a consensus, we are looking for something that is "good enough for television. Let's get on it."

As I recall from my museum days in Toronto, it was customary to watch people withdraw their compliance and it was customary for people to sniff their disapproval. Again, in the American case, people pursue the thing much less personally, and are inclined to go with things that are responsive to the opportunity . . . even if they are not especially consistent with one's own preferences. Finally, Canadians believe [there is] a null space to which a committee, an institution (and their nation?) can retreat, a place of no decision and no momentum. For most Americans, this is intolerable. In American committee meetings there is a unspoken but deeply shared understanding. We are going to decide on something, and we are going to act on it, it's just a matter of what.

In Canadian groups, contradictions live and they have the power to derail things. [. . .] These Canadians cannot escape their contradictions. They cannot integrate. They can ascend to higher plane of generality, a richer synthetic moment of creativity. Canadians in groups become the victim of their differences while as individuals they are the beneficiaries of these differences. Or, to put this another way, the integration that Canadians do so well as individuals is denied them in collectivities.

Grant McCracken, "Canada, the Martin Paradox, and The Opposable Mind", This Blog Sits at the, 2008-01-10

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

January 12, 2008

QotD: Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense, Canadian version

A skeptic might say I am going easy on Martin because I have met him, because he is a Canadian (and there is Canadian mafia), and/or because he gave me a copy of his book. May I reassure you that there is no Canadian mafia. Furthermore, I have met, worked with, and deeply admire Zaltman, so personal acquaintance has no sway. And if you think my good opinion can be purchased with a free book, well, I wonder if we should step into the corridor and discuss this further. (This is the Canadian version of Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense. Or, as we might call it in honor of the national sport, Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense on ice.)

Grant McCracken, "Canada, the Martin Paradox, and The Opposable Mind", This Blog Sits at the, 2008-01-10

Posted by Nicholas at 11:39 AM | Comments (0)

Don't do this at home . . . really

H/T to Craig Zeni.

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

January 11, 2008

"Ask your dealer about a new Intercity 125!"

H/T to Craig Zeni.

Posted by Nicholas at 03:44 PM | Comments (0)

In other news, GPS receiver sales spike in Providence R.I.

Frequent commenter "Da Wife" sent along this link, which explains why sales of GPS units to sex offenders has skyrocketed in Providence:

A tech company with ties to a school district plans to test a tracking system by putting computer chips on grade-schoolers' backpacks, an experiment the ACLU ripped Monday as invasive and unnecessary.

The pilot program set to start next week in the Middletown school district would have about 80 children put tags containing radio frequency identification chips, or RFID chips, on their schoolbags. It would also equip two buses with global positioning systems, or GPS devices.

The school and parents will be able to track students on the bus, and the district hopes the program will improve busing efficiency, Superintendent Rosemarie Kraeger said. The devices are intended to record only when students enter and exit the bus, and the GPS would show where the bus was on it's route.

Because, of course, it's far too difficult to attach an RFID to a schoolbus . . . putting them on the kids is the obvious solution. After all, what could possibly go wrong?

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

Calfornia temperature controls

Perry de Havilland finds that California is hoping to become even more intrusive into the lives of private individuals:

According to American Thinker, there is a move afoot to nationalise the ability of people to control the temperatures of their own homes (yes, really!) in, where else, the People's Republic of California:

What should be controversial in the proposed revisions to Title 24 is the requirement for what is called a "programmable communicating thermostat" or PCT. Every new home and every change to existing homes' central heating and air conditioning systems will required to be fitted with a PCT beginning next year following the issuance of the revision. Each PCT will be fitted with a "non-removable " FM receiver that will allow the power authorities to increase your air conditioning temperature setpoint or decrease your heater temperature setpoint to any value they chose. During "price events" those changes are limited to +/- four degrees F and you would be able to manually override the changes. During "emergency events" the new setpoints can be whatever the power authority desires and you would not be able to alter them.

In other words, the temperature of your home will no longer be yours to control. Your desires and needs can and will be overridden by the state of California through its public and private utility organizations. All this is for the common good, of course.

Just remember . . . once you've accepted that government has a role in setting energy prices, they've got a foothold into controlling energy usage, too. And in this proposal, they're creating an even greater incentive for folks to go "off the grid". Wait and see how they choose to address that leak, should enough people attempt to take advantage of it.

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

So much for opening up the wine market . . .

Jacob Sullum looks at the lack of progress in opening up the domestic wine trade after the US Supreme Court decision on the topic:

In a new report, the Specialty Wine Retailers Association (SWRA) notes that liquor wholesalers have been throwing money at state legislators in a largely successful effort to maintain their government-enforced monopolies on the distribution of alcoholic beverages. Those privileges were threatened by a 2005 Supreme Court decision overturning state laws that prohibited out-of-state vintners from shipping wine directly to consumers while allowing in-state wineries to do so. The Court found that such laws violated the Commerce Clause by erecting discriminatory trade barriers. Since then the wholesalers have been urging state legislatures to comply with the ruling not by opening up their markets but by imposing uniform bans on direct shipping. According to the SWRA (whose members want the freedom to buy directly from wineries), those lobbying efforts have been accompanied by a total of $50 million in donations to state political campaigns, an amount that "dwarfs that of any other sector of the American alcohol industry as well as numerous other groups." In Texas, for example, "alcohol wholesaler political contributions were greater than the political contributions of all gambling and casino interests, retail interests, food interests and all business services . . . combined." This generosity, says the SWRA, "coincides with the enactment of alcohol wholesaler-supported policies in nearly every state that protect the wholesaler."

Yet another proof of the dangers of regulation to a free market. Adam Smith wasn't thinking of the wine trade when he wrote "People of the same trade seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public, or in some contrivance to raise prices." People of the same trade are even more effective in this sort of conspiracy when they can get the government to do their dirty work for them.

Posted by Nicholas at 08:55 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: Bipartisanship

Rep. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said bipartisanship tends to produce the worst that Washington has to offer — transactional politics where lawmakers scratch one other's backs without regard to the bigger picture. Pork-barrel spending goes unchallenged because members of both political parties know that by objecting to one project, they jeopardize their own, Flake said.

"Partisanship is underrated. There is a time and place for it, and more time and place than we realize," he said.

Jonathan Weisman, "GOP Doubts, Fears 'Post-Partisan' Obama", Washington Post, 2008-01-07

Posted by Nicholas at 08:53 AM | Comments (0)

January 10, 2008

Vamping it up in your library

A very amusing discussion broke out on the Bujold mailing list, after this gem from Marna Nightingale:

Ok, seriously, can somebody tell me what is up with the Vampires?

I mean, look. They undoubtedly have terrible breath, you'd have to give up garlic, a big church wedding is Right Out, and you really don't ever want to go on a holiday somewhere remote with one. And they don't help with the yardwork. Or the school run.

Presumably they don't mind getting up with the baby, assuming that
a) they have not eated it and
b) they're not out batting about biting the necks of other nubiles,

but surely that's not by itself enough to overcome their other shortcomings as life partners to the extent that my library's romance section has almost entirely taken over by pointy-toothed dudes in penguin suits, is it?

Posted by Nicholas at 08:53 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: Libertarian turncoats

One career strategy I considered during my happy time at Reason magazine was to become just enough of a bright boy of the libertarian movement to allow me to stage a very public falling out, write a tell-all book with a title like Ex-Friends or Movement Man or Up From Libertarianism or Whose Freedom?, then build a career as a David Horowitz/Michael Lind-style intellectual turncoat, getting paid to warn the masses about the dangers posed by my erstwhile allies. The strategy was unworkable for many reasons: It was a little too dishonest even for me; libertarianism doesn't generate enough public interest to support a longterm market in defection; and as it happens, defectors from and within libertarianism are a dime a dozen.

But the tactic I was planning to use would have been very effective: Simply collect story after story of the moonlight-and-magnolias Confederate nostalgists, stop-the-war-on-men misogynists, traditionalist homophobes, scientific racists and similar fringe characters who seemed to gravitate toward libertarianism, in numbers that I and others found remarkable.

Actually, I probably wouldn't have been very good at this tactic either: I don't do well with policing unacceptable commentary, "kicking" people "to the curb," writing colleagues out of polite society, defining away extremists and all those other things movement types (in all movements) love to do.

Tim Cavanaugh, "Paul vault opens can of worms", L.A. Times Blogs, 2008-01-09

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

January 09, 2008

Sea Kings: "You can only stretch that rubber band so far"

To no great surprise, given the sordid history of the entire saga of the Sea King replacement helicopters, there's another hitch in delivery:

The delivery of new military helicopters to replace Canada's aging fleet of Sea Kings will likely be delayed by 30 months and Ottawa is threatening to deeply penalize the U.S. contractor "thousands of dollars" for each day the choppers are late, The Canadian Press has learned.

A senior government source, speaking on background, said late Wednesday that department officials told Public Works Minister Michael Fortier on Monday that Sikorsky Aircraft Corp. would be late with the long-awaited delivery of new CH-148 Cyclones.

The Cyclones were scheduled for delivery later this year, and the delay means the breakdown-prone Sea King fleet will have to be maintained until the new helicopters arrive.

For Canadian air crew, it's not at all surprising to find that the senior member of the crew is younger than the airframe of the chopper they're flying, but at this rate, it'll become common for the airframe to be older than the crew's parents, too.

For all the great technology that went into the helicopters (and they were top-of-the-line birds when we first go them), there is a definite limit to how long they can be safely kept operational. Most other nations flying Sea Kings decided that they'd passed that point about a decade ago. Our military flight crews deserve far better than that from Canada.

Posted by Nicholas at 09:37 PM | Comments (0)

Everyone weighs in with comments on the "Ron Paul" newsletters

Matt Welch rounds up the first batch of responses to the "Ron Paul" newsletter revelations:

David Harsanyi:

The end of Ron Paul? For me, it is. Not the principles, but the man. Sure, Paul has experienced tremendous grassroots support and I've been very sympathetic to a lot of his strong Constitution-based rhetoric. But if even a slither of the quotes in this New Republic article by James Kirchick are accurate, I'm not sure how mainstream libertarians can absolve him.

David Bernstein:

I give Paul the benefit of the doubt on this one, and assume that some right-wing cranks paid him to use him name on their newsletters, and he didn't actually read the newsletters carefully if at all, much less write them. That shows very poor judgment, but is a lot less damning than if he did read, write, or edit these newsletters.

[. . .]

Ryan Sager:

I truly don't understand the Paulites defense that Ron Paul bears no responsibility for any of this . . . just because. (Read the comments to the article — as usual for the Paul brigades, they're unhinged.)

At least Andrew Sullivan may be waking up to the fact that the Ron Paul "revolution" is a front for something much uglier than opposition to the Iraq war and defense of the Constitution.

[. . .]

Ann Althouse:

Look, I said it on Bloggingheads: The things Ron Paul has been saying made me suspect that his libertarianism was a cover for racism.

Much, much more in the original article, with links a-plenty. No matter how it turns out, this is an ugly development for the Paul campaign, and even more so for libertarians and classic liberals.

Posted by Nicholas at 09:13 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: The Ron Paul newsletter

I'm disappointed in Paul and in his campaign.

First, a few caveats. I think Paul's prone to nutty conspiracy theories, but I don't think he's a racist, at least not today. Perhaps there was a time when he held views that I and many people reading this site would find repugnant. But I certainly don't think that's the case now. Paul's temperament and demeanor in public does not suggest he's the kind of person capable of writing the bile Kirchick quotes in his article. Paul's position on the drug war alone — which he has acknowledged disproportionately affects minorities — would do more for blacks in America than any proposal any of the other candidates currently has on the table. Paul has also recently rescinded his support for the federal death penalty, also due to its disproportionate impact on blacks. Those two positions alone certainly don't indicate a candidate who fears "animal" blacks from the urban jungle are coming to kill all the white people.

I also think the Paul phenomenon ought to be separated from any personal baggage Paul may have. Yes, there are some losers who support Paul's candidacy. Any time you're a fringe candidate cobbling together support from those who feel disaffected and left behind by the two-party system, you're going to end up bumping elbows with a few weirdos. But there's nothing bigoted about the thousands of college kids, mainstream libertarians, war opponents, drug war opponents, and hundreds-long threads on sites like Digg and Reddit where enthusiasm for Paul's candidacy is strong. This movement is about ideas. There's a vocal, enthusiastic minority of people out there, skewing young, that is excited about "the Constitution," limited government, and personal freedom. That's significant and heartening, and shouldn't be tainted by the fallout from Kirchick's article (though I fear it will [. . .]

Radley Balko, "Ron Paul", Hit and Run, 2008-01-08

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

January 08, 2008

The SWAT team "dynamic entry": it's not just for drug busts anymore

Radley Balko posted this little tidbit over at Hit and Run:

Sheriff: SWAT Team Necessary Because Man Is a "Self-Proclaimed Constitutionalist"

World Net Daily reports:

Nearly a dozen members of a police SWAT team in western Colorado punched a hole in the front door and invaded a family's home with guns drawn, demanding that an 11-year-old boy who had had an accidental fall accompany them to the hospital, on the order of Garfield County Magistrate Lain Leoniak.

The boy's parents and siblings were thrown to the floor at gunpoint and the parents were handcuffed in the weekend assault, and the boy's father told WND it was all because a paramedic was upset the family preferred to care for their son themselves.

The boy had apparently fallen and bumped his head. His father, who says he was a medic in Vietnam, says he examined the boy, determined he was fine, and saw no need to take him to the hospital. A paramedic called by neighbors forced his way into the home, then called police when the father refused to let the son go to thie hospital.

The police then sent social workers, who according to the Associated Press reported "a huge hematoma and a sluggish pupil." That night, they sent in the SWAT team.

As it turns out, the kid was fine. After the raid, a doctor examined him, and told him to drink some fluids and take a Tylenol.

No drugs involved in this little contretemps, however:

The sheriff said the decision to use SWAT team force was justified because the father was a "self-proclaimed constitutionalist" and had made threats and "comments" over the years.

However, the sheriff declined to provide a single instance of the father's illegal behavior. "I can't tell you specifically," he said.

"He was refusing to provide medical care," the sheriff said.

Posted by Nicholas at 01:18 PM | Comments (0)

QotD: Fascists will heart Huckabee

After a year of wringing their hands over their choices in the presidential race — a pro-choice mayor with an authoritarian streak, a serial flip-flopper, and a senator who is a dedicated opponent of free speech — the Republicans finally have a new front-runner.

Mike Huckabee won the Iowa caucuses Thursday night with 34 percent (with 95 percent of precincts reporting) of the vote, handily defeating Mitt Romney, who came in second with 25 percent in spite of heavy stumping in the key Midwestern state.

Just what Republicans longing for a new Ronald Reagan needed: a religious-right candidate who is also a big-spending nanny statist.

Reporters have been quick to jump on Huckabee's comments in a 1992 Associated Press questionnaire that seemed to confirm their suspicions about a Baptist minister for Arkansas. Huckabee told the AP that "homosexuality is an aberrant, unnatural and sinful lifestyle," and called for isolating people with AIDS. That was a position, by the way, that the venerable Reagan had firmly rejected five years earlier. In 1997, then-Arkansas Gov. Huckabee pushed for a reaffirmation of the state's sodomy law, and in 1998 he compared homosexuality to necrophilia.

Huckabee says his rise in the polls can only be attributed to God's will. He endorsed the Southern Baptist Convention's declaration that "A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband." He says he entered politics to "take this nation back for Christ."

David Boaz, "Shakeup in Iowa changes the outlook for both parties:What fresh Hell is this?", San Francisco Chronicle, 2008-01-07

Posted by Nicholas at 01:08 PM | Comments (0)

January 07, 2008

Why mandating higher MPG sooner won't work

Shikha Dalmia explains why mandating higher miles-per-gallon on car makers isn't the panacea everyone seems to assume:

This is an impossible task. The federal standards will be tough enough for automakers to deliver without compromising on space, safety, power and (above all) low prices — all things that consumers value more than gas mileage. There is simply no technology now available that can combine everything that consumers want with the stipulated gas mileage. If there was, automakers wouldn't need a mandate — they'd run, not walk, to put it on the market.

But why are California's goals so much tougher, even though the federal rules allow just four more years to another 1.2 mpg? Because cars have a long production cycle — models now in the planning stage won't be available until 2014.

So there's simply no time to come up with new designs that will do the job. That means the only way automakers could comply with California's deadline is by withholding from consumers the higher-emission vehicles they want in states that insist on it.

In other words, they'd have to pull the vast majority of their vehicles from those markets, not only SUVs and light trucks, but even most sedans.

Consider Toyota, the darling of the greens: It now makes maybe two vehicles — manual-transmission Yaris and hybrid Prius — that meet California's standards. Toyota's Camry, the top-selling car in America, gets only 25 mpg in combined city and highway driving.

Indeed, the net effect of the California standard would be to impose either small compacts or hybrids on all new-car buyers — even though hybrids costs $3,000 to $5,000 more than their non-hybridized versions and have a much shorter lifespan.

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

QotD: Economics, government style

This is terrific logic. Americans should be bothered with useless, unsolicited junk mail so that the USPS can continue to pay otherwise unneeded postal workers to deliver it. Makes sense to me.

I thus propose a federal "Agency for Digging Holes in Americans' Front Yards." Then, because of the holes-in-people's-front-yards problem that will inevitably result, I propose a second "Agency for Filling In Yard Holes."

These two agencies will create thousands of new federal jobs. And as we all know, new jobs are good for the economy.

Radley Balko, "Public Choice in Action", Hit and Run, 2008-01-06

Posted by Nicholas at 08:53 AM | Comments (0)

Comment spam levels rise back to "normal"

Well, it was a nice break, but now that comments have been available again for more than a week, each post is attracting dozens of spam comments, so I'm turning off the comments again. Sorry!

If/when I move to a newer version of MovableType, I'll be able to incorporate some sort of spam control mechanism, but the version I'm using doesn't have anything useful in that line.

Posted by Nicholas at 08:35 AM | Comments (0)

January 05, 2008

QotD: Final wishes

I do ask (not that I'm in a position to enforce this) that no one try to use my death to further their political purposes. I went to Iraq and did what I did for my reasons, not yours. My life isn't a chit to be used to bludgeon people to silence on either side. If you think the U.S. should stay in Iraq, don't drag me into it by claiming that somehow my death demands us staying in Iraq. If you think the U.S. ought to get out tomorrow, don't cite my name as an example of someone's life who was wasted by our mission in Iraq. I have my own opinions about what we should do about Iraq, but since I'm not around to expound on them I'd prefer others not try and use me as some kind of moral capital to support a position I probably didn't support. Further, this is tough enough on my family without their having to see my picture being used in some rally or my name being cited for some political purpose. You can fight political battles without hurting my family, and I'd prefer that you did so.

On a similar note, while you're free to think whatever you like about my life and death, if you think I wasted my life, I'll tell you you're wrong. We're all going to die of something. I died doing a job I loved. When your time comes, I hope you are as fortunate as I was.

Andrew Olmstead, posted on his blog by "hilzoy" after his death, "Final Post", Andrew Olmstead, 2008-01-04

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

January 04, 2008

QotD: The tone of the campaign

It strikes me as a little-remarked phenomenon in this election that, for the first time since maybe 1988, the Democrats are running a serious candidate with an essentially Naderite worldview on the evils of Corporate Greed. I haven't paid much attention to the Blue Team so far — the Red crack-up being so much more entertaining — but whenever I do I hear some Democrat espousing economic-policy ideas (hatin' on corporations, hi-fivin' Lou Dobbs on trade) much further to the left of Howard Dean in 2004, Bill Bradley in 2000, and Bill Clinton in the 1990s.

With the one-day Hucka-BOO-yah on the GOP side, the big winner in Iowa tonight seems to be illiberal economic populism.

Matt Welch, "Million-Dollar Haircut; Ten-Cent Head", Hit and Run, 2008-01-03

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

Even a high-quality GPS can't detect stupidity

Even if you carefully follow the directions of your GPS unit, you still have to pay attention to the real world through which you are driving:

A Global Positioning System can tell a driver a lot of things - but not when a train is coming.

A computer consultant driving a rental car drove onto train tracks Wednesday using the instructions his GPS unit gave him.

A train was barrelling toward him, but he escaped in time and no one was injured.

The driver had turned right, as the system advised, and the car somehow got stuck on the tracks at the crossing.

Based on the skimpy information in the news report, at least this isn't a candidate for the Darwin Awards: the driver did get out of the vehicle before the train struck it . . .

Posted by Nicholas at 08:57 AM | Comments (0)

Home Owners 2, Home Invaders 0

In a surprising result, the latest match between home invaders and home owners resulted in a decisive win for the home owners:

A home invasion in this bustling hamlet east of Calgary early Thursday morning ended with one of the invaders dead and the second in critical condition in hospital.

Two men forcibly entered a home and burst into a bedroom where a 35-year-old man and his 24-year-old girlfriend were asleep.

When it ended, the 32-year-old attacker was dead and his accomplice, 27, was eventually taken to hospital with stab wounds where he was listed in serious condition.

"It is an unusual case. It doesn't happen very often to have a home invasion where you have an attacker who ends up deceased," said RCMP Cpl. Patricia Neely. "It is pretty rare."

Of course, this is Canada, where the rights of the criminal often seem to trump those of their intended victim:

The police investigation will now try to determine what precipitated the attack. There is no indication whether the death of the home invader could be described as a murder, said Neely.

"I think if people enter your home at 3:30 in the morning it's not for a cup of tea and there was probably some nefarious component to the entry," she said.

"The Criminal Code authorizes people to use as much force as necessary to protect themselves and their property."

"However, that force must be the minimum amount necessary. Obviously this person had a right to protect himself but the investigation will focus on whether or not he used the minimum amount of force necessary to ensure his safety and that of the other person in the home," she added.

Unless there is clear evidence of premeditation on the part of the home owner, the Crown should not be automatically assuming that cases like this mean that the person defending their life and property is culpable. (And no, "premeditation" in this context would not include "owning a weapon".)

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

January 03, 2008

It's contribute your link day . . .

Continuing the trend to reader-suggested links, frequent commenter "Da Wife" sent this one along with the comment "I just had to smirk and shake my head":

Malaysia's Muslim men are suffering sleepless nights and cannot pray properly because their thoughts are distracted by a growing number of women who wear sexy clothes in public, a prominent cleric said.

Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat, the spiritual leader of the opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, said he wanted to speak about the "emotional abuse" that men face because it is seldom discussed, the party reported on its Web site Wednesday.

"We always [hear about] the abuse of children and wives in households, which is easily perceived by the eye, but the emotional abuse of men cannot be seen," Nik Abdul Aziz said. "Our prayers become unfocused and our sleep is often disturbed."

I'd like to say that I, for one, don't at all object to women wearing "sexy clothes in public", and would encourage as much of that as possible . . .

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

New reader comments on an old post

A new reader contacted me yesterday about adding a comment to a post from over a year ago. As I've had to close down the comments for anything over a couple of days old, I thought I'd add it here instead. This is from the original posting:

The search for easy labels and obvious scapegoats is as old as the news business. People don't want to think more than they have to: providing them with an easy, obvious person or group to blame for misfortune or bad news is, I hate to say it, a deeply rooted part of the human psyche. If it's not the Gypsies, it's the Jews. If it's not the Jews, it's the Mexicans, or the Masons, or whatever group will most easily satisfy the need to assign blame to among your listeners.

Perhaps the most reprehensible reaction seems to be the most common . . . something bad is happening? Who can we blame? It's sick. It's twisted. It often prevents logical thought. And it's absolutely human.

And the would-have-been-a-comment is:

Dunno about Canada . . . but the more whoever is in power can pit us against one another dividing us by race, looks, preferences and such, the more they can make us think it's the other one, and the more we fight, the more distracted we are from what they can do above our heads.

Sometimes it even gets other people fired up to fight wars against another. But a part is also in the mind naturally, too no doubt. It is sick. Ignorant, and horrible to imagine.

You've just gained a new reader.

Natilya

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

No more Flashman, ever

I was saddened to hear of the death of George MacDonald Fraser yesterday at the age of 82. I've been a huge fan of his work since encountering his Flashman, the first of a series of "memoirs" of the fictional villain from Tom Brown's Schooldays:

MacDonald Fraser served as a soldier in Burma and India during World War II and later rose to be deputy editor of the Glasgow Herald newspaper.

He was still working there when the first Flashman book was published in 1969.

A further 11 followed, the last in 2005.

The inspiration for Sir Harry Flashman came from the 19th century novel, Tom Brown's Schooldays, where the character features as the cowardly bully who torments the hero, Tom.

MacDonald Fraser based his tales on the idea that Flashman's "memoirs" had been unearthed in an old trunk in a Leicestershire auction room.

Despite being a vain, cowardly rogue, as well as a racist and a sexist, the character managed to play a pivotal role in many of the 19th Century's most significant events, always emerging covered in glory.

If you've never read any of the Flashman series, do yourself a favour and pick up the original . . . if you have any taste for history at all, I think you'll be hooked.

John Sutherland wrote:

One sure way to determining true Britishness in a work of fiction is to see whether or not it joins the Titanic at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean, never making it across to the other side. [. . .]

With Flashman, Americans didn't understand the inverted Victorianism that was Fraser's gimmick. Instead of Thomas Hughes's prig Tom Brown (he of the Schooldays) Fraser chronicled the British empire through the dandy-cad who roasts young Tom over the dormitory fire and is, to the relief of decent Rugbeians, expelled by the fearsome Dr Arnold (the most eminent of Lytton Strachey's eminent Victorians) for drunkenness and hanky panky with the barmaid at the local pub.

Fraser was intending amusing travesty, but, underneath it all, the author really believed in Britishness. When the chips are down (when sepoys, for example, are murdering women and children in the Indian Mutiny) Flashman is a gallant and decent fellow (and no racist). Flashy, not unflashy Tom, embodies what made the empire work.

The Flashman novels spoke eloquently to the British reader. They articulated that mixture of cynicism, shame, and pride that contemporary Britons felt about Victorian values and Great Britain.

America just didn't get it. As Fraser recalled in an interview; "when Flashman appeared in the US in 1969, one-third of 40-odd critics accepted it as a genuine historical memoir. 'The most important discovery since the Boswell Papers,' is the one that haunts me still . . . I was appalled . . . I'd never supposed that it would fool anybody."

Update, 8 January: Major General Flea has been kind enough to link to this post, and to offer in return a link to Fraser's final article in the Daily Mail:

When 30 years ago I resurrected Flashman, the bully in Thomas Hughes's Victorian novel Tom Brown's Schooldays, political correctness hadn't been heard of, and no exception was taken to my adopted hero's character, behaviour, attitude to women and subject races (indeed, any races, including his own) and general awfulness.

On the contrary, it soon became evident that these were his main attractions. He was politically incorrect with a vengeance.

Through the Seventies and Eighties I led him on his disgraceful way, toadying, lying, cheating, running away, treating women as chattels, abusing inferiors of all colours, with only one redeeming virtue — the unsparing honesty with which he admitted to his faults, and even gloried in them.

And no one minded, or if they did, they didn't tell me. In all the many thousands of readers' letters I received, not one objected.

In the Nineties, a change began to take place. Reviewers and interviewers started describing Flashman (and me) as politically incorrect, which we are, though by no means in the same way.

This is fine by me. Flashman is my bread and butter, and if he wasn't an elitist, racist, sexist swine, I'd be selling bootlaces at street corners instead of being a successful popular writer.

But what I notice with amusement is that many commentators now draw attention to Flashy's (and my) political incorrectness in order to make a point of distancing themselves from it.

Do, as they say, read the whole thing.

Posted by Nicholas at 08:18 AM | Comments (0)

January 02, 2008

Introverts, unite! Except . . . separately. And quietly.

A paean to the joys of full-blown, red-blooded, rip-snortin' . . . introversion:

Introverted children are pressured to "speak up" and "make friends" — or told they're not leaders. Introverted adults are hounded to "be more outgoing" and tortured with invitations that begin, "Why don't we all . . ." No thanks, we don't want to do anything that involves "we" and "all"; we prefer to visit you, just you, and not a dozen other people.

The 17th-century French philosopher Blaise Pascal wrote, "The sole cause of man's unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room." Introverts do.

So let's make Jan. 2nd "Happy Introvert Day." We'll be quiet and happy. As a bonus, January's weather is on our side.

You say it might snow? Oh darn, I guess I'll have to stay home.

Posted by Nicholas at 06:32 PM | Comments (0)

Toys for little girls

It's a bit late for Christmas, but if you've just got to get a new toy for a little girl with a taste for "Hello Kitty" and serious firearms, here's your solution:

HelloKittyGun.png

H/T to Raye Johnsen.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:57 AM | Comments (0)

Back to work . . .

Sorry for the unscheduled break in posting over the Christmas-New Year week . . . I had a very traditional cold, which managed to linger over the entire vacation time down to today. I thought about blogging, but that's about all I could manage. (I don't think I even responded to email.)

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

Windows Vista: it's not just your imagination

For those of you unfortunate enough to have moved to Windows Vista, it's not just your imagination that your computer is actually slower than it was under Windows XP:

Analysis: Moving from Office 2007 to Office 2003 definitely improved Vista's showing. Instead of being over 2x slower than XP on the same OfficeBench workload, Vista is now "only" 1.8x slower.

To quote Darth Vader: "Impressive...most impressive."

H/T to Mathew Foscarini for the link.

Update: Steve Udovenko sent along a link to this report, which includes a QotD-quality summary:

Executive Executive Summary

The Vista Content Protection specification could very well constitute the longest suicide note in history

Posted by Nicholas at 08:29 AM | Comments (0)

January 01, 2008

Happy New Year!

The "let a thousand comments bloom" experiment wasn't overly successful: even though I wasn't posting over the last week, I still spent nearly an hour each day pruning comment spam (but, oddly enough, only on two specific posts). Once I turned off comments on those two posts, things went back to "normal".

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


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