A report at The Sydney Morning Herald details some individuals' struggles to get their Vista installations working:
Early adopters of the operating system, which launched last year, battled with widespread hardware and software compatibility issues. Many PCs initially sold as "Vista Capable" were unable to run some of Vista's core features, sparking a class action lawsuit against Microsoft.
Many computer components and peripherals required updated drivers in order to work with Vista. In numerous cases these were not available until long after the operating system launched.
[. . .] Mike Nash, complained he was "burned" so badly by compatibility issues he was left with "a $2100 email machine".
Steven Sinofsky [. . .] struggled to even get his home printer working with Vista. In an email [. . .] in February last year, Sinofsky outlined reasons why Vista struggled at launch.
He said hardware and software vendors never "really believed [Vista] would ever ship so they didn't start the work [on updated drivers] until very late in 2006".
"People who rely on using all the features of their hardware [. . .] will not see availability for some time, if ever, depending on the [manufacturer]," Sinofsky wrote.
Pretty typical stuff, right? You've probably read things broadly comparable all sorts of places before. The difference is . . . these guys are Microsoft executives.
H/T to Tom Vinson.
Chris mentions his dislike of monkeys, and I'm with him on that: my best friend in grade 6 had a spider monkey at home . . . what a ghastly little monster. My feelings for the other members of the primates never recovered from that meeting. Chris also has this thing about cold pizza . . . I'd have to say that once it drops to room temperature, pizza is no longer human food. Chris must also be a writer, rather than a mathie, as I'm tagged as number 7 in a list of 6!
Damian, on the other hand, can't stand watching people embarass themselves. I'm absolutely with him on that. There are a large number of recent "comedies" I'll never bother to watch, as even the trailers were inducing that sort of sympathy cringe in me. I'm also down with Damian's reluctance to eat meat off the bone . . . it's just wrong in ways I can't describe, but are overwhelming to me.
So, what are my odd quirks? While I could be described as a walking encyclopedia of quirks, not all of them are uncommon enough to qualify for this meme. That'll take some head-scratching.
1. Aside from NFL football, I rarely watch television. I can't stand to have a TV on in the same room while I'm trying to do something. Elizabeth and Victor both have the ability to carry on normal life with a TV set blaring away, but it literally drives me out of the room.
2. I hate driving a car with automatic transmission. I cannot stand having the car make the decision for me on when it's time to change gears — even if modern automatics are technically "better" in the sense of being more fuel-efficient than manual transmission models. My most recent vehicle purchase was very quickly narrowed down to the few in my price range which still offered stick shift. (Yes, of course the Quotemobile is standard transmission.)
3. I'd be perhaps the best subject for market studies of the long-term viability of new products: if I like it, it's in trouble. If I love it, it's dead.
4. I always have dozens of books on the go at the same time. It's rare that I manage to read one book from start to finish without having also started at least one more book in the meantime.
5. I'm a collector by nature ("accumulator" is perhaps a more accurate term: collectors tend to be organized in their collections). I now try to avoid starting to collect something because I'll feel impelled to "complete" the collection, even after the original interest fades away. It's a sickness, I tell you!
6. I'm learning to dislike auto-flushing toilets and urinals: we've just had the washrooms at the office "upgraded" to use them. Far from being more ecologically friendly, they appear to use close to twice the amount of water that the older units do . . . and they operate at the most inconvenient moments.
No point in tagging anyone for this, as I think I'm usually among the last dozen bloggers on the planet to get most of these tag-memes passed along, but feel free to pretend I tagged you if you'd like to adopt the meme without being tagged with it.
Jon, my virtual landlord, sent along this BOFH link:
"So we'll end up with machines which'll slow themselves down at weird and inconvenient times and lose processing power while they ramp up in response to need?"
"No, I'm sure the bloke said you can tune them to only reduce to a certain point and to speed up recovery time. And with virtualisation you can tune them to consolidate virtual servers onto the least number of machines and shut the rest down till they're needed."
"Still sounds like Nancy-Boy boxes," I concur.
"A REAL computer has ONE speed and the only powersaving it permits is when you pull the power leads out of the back!" I blurt. "In fact, a REAL computer would have a hole in the front to push trees into and an exhaust pipe out the back for the black smoke to come out of."
"AND," the PFY adds. "they run so hot - even on screensaver - that they keep the room nice and toasty when you're not there - saves on heating."
"All that is a thing of the past though." the boss burbles. "The bloke was telling me that using mobile processor technology the..."
"What bloke?" I ask.
"Mmm?" the PFY says.
"Bloke... from... uh..."
"...the... green consultancy..."
"So you and the IT Director talk to some yoghurt-eating fruitcake in a hemp suit and sandals and the next thing we know you're planning to replace our high power server environment with a poor imitation of it?"
That is, now that it's official that last year was the coldest in a long time. Ron Bailey has the details:
It's getting cold outside. How cold? As Daily Tech reports:
Over the past year, anecdotal evidence for a cooling planet has exploded. China has its coldest winter in 100 years. Baghdad sees its first snow in all recorded history. North America has the most snowcover in 50 years, with places like Wisconsin the highest since record-keeping began. Record levels of Antarctic sea ice, record cold in Minnesota, Texas, Florida, Mexico, Australia, Iran, Greece, South Africa, Greenland, Argentina, Chile — the list goes on and on.
No more than anecdotal evidence, to be sure. But now, that evidence has been supplanted by hard scientific fact. All four major global temperature tracking outlets (Hadley, NASA's GISS, UAH, RSS) have released updated data. All show that over the past year, global temperatures have dropped precipitously.
I've been a "denier" on the Global Warming/Climate Change issue for quite some time: it's not that man's contributions to climate change don't exist, but I believe they are still miniscule compared to the natural phenomena which have always played their role in climate change. As I've been in the habit of saying over the course of this (bloody cold) winter: "Global warming? Sounds like a good idea to me!"
I strongly suspect, but don't have the formal data to back up my suspicion, that we're actually overdue for an ice age, not a warm period, geologically speaking.
I became a libertarian, politically speaking because — and I know this is going to sound sanctimonious but it is literally true — if you are really concerned about the poor people then you have to pick the system that in fact helps poor people. And the only one that has done that is democratic capitalism, period.
Ron Bailey, interviewed by Sean Higgins in "I Want to Believe?", Doublethink, 2008-02-25
Give me a bit more time . . . I'm stuck at four.
Like all Canadians, Americans are my #1 spectator sport. I find you all hugely entertaining to observe anthropologically, and I know you pretty well by now.
Bruce Rolston, "A quiet plea", Flit, 2008-02-01
William F. Buckley, Jr. died yesterday at the age of 82. Love him or hate him, he was unique in American politics. Reason's former editor Robert Poole has a farewell column posted:
I received the news of Bill Buckley's death with a great sense of loss. No, he was not a major intellectual influence on my becoming a libertarian. I have to credit Robert Heinlein and Barry Goldwater and Ayn Rand for that. But since for most of us libertarianism as an intellectual and political movement has been an offshoot of conservatism, Buckley in truth was a great enabler.
By creating National Review in 1955 as a serious, intellectually respectable conservative voice (challenging the New Deal consensus among thinking people), Buckley created space for the development of our movement. He kicked out the racists and conspiracy-mongers from conservatism and embraced Chicago and Austrian economists, introducing a new generation to Hayek, Mises, and Friedman. And thanks to the efforts of NR's Frank Meyer to promote a "fusion" between economic (free-market) conservatives and social conservatives, Buckley and National Review fostered the growth of a large enough conservative movement to nominate Goldwater for president and ultimately to elect Ronald Reagan.
There's also a PDF of Reason's 1983 interview with Buckely available for download here.
Update: Radley Balko has a few things to add:
The guy got some things wrong, but he got a lot right (in both senses of the word).
Buckley leaves an enormous legacy, but to the detriment everyone, the right left Buckley years ago. Where Buckley stood athwart the tide of history and beat it back with wit, sophistication, and argument, we today get best-selling Regnery screeds from lowest-common-denominator clowns like Ann Coulter, Dinesh D'Souza, and Glenn Beck. Where Buckley mistrusted government and aimed to slow the world down, he's been usurped on the right by the likes of William Kristol and David Brooks, men who want to use government to remake the world in their own image. Where Buckley flourished in cosmopolitan Manhattan and took delight in life's finer things, modern conservatism has grown disdainful of the marketplace of culture, commerce, and ideas abundant in urban areas (witness the last election, where many on the right weirdly smeared John Kerry as a "latte-sipper"—real Americans apparently drink Maxwell House). In fact, today's Bush/neocon-right is often contemptuous of commerce itself, sometimes calling the voluntary, unchecked exchange of goods, labor, and services—a pure free market—"ugly" and "crude."
Jessa Crispin takes a quick look at a pair of shopping guides:
Quick: How do you tell if a woman in a movie is supposed to be intelligent? First off, she'd probably be brunette, but past that. Glasses, yes. Little to no makeup. Her hair is probably in a ponytail. Clothes she probably bought at the Gap in a size too big. You know she's the smart one because she thinks about more important things than her appearance.
It's a stereotype, yes, but it's constantly reinforced by intelligent women who should know better. Germaine Greer rallied women to taste their own menstrual blood in The Female Eunuch and then attacked fellow feminist writer Suzanne Moore by stating that "so much lipstick must rot the brain." Feminists must reject the male gaze and use those ten seconds it takes to apply lip gloss to bring down the patriarchy. (Why sensible feminists have not figured out how to band together and write press releases to disassociate ourselves from the crazy women who pretend to speak for us, I'll never understand.) Fashion magazines don't help much either. Elle talks to Ashlee Simpson. And writes down what she says. To be recorded for all time.
[. . .]
Instead of alleviating our body fears, however, so many books advising what to wear do nothing but exaggerate them. The entire structure of Trinny Woodall and Susannah Constantine's book What Not to Wear is built to help you define your particular version of body dysmorphic disorder. Do you think you have short legs? A big butt? Big arms? There's a chapter telling you how to dress around each perceived flaw. It's hard to walk out the door feeling hot and feisty when your entire dressing process has been focused on your main source of anxiety. If I tried to dress to hide all the parts of my body I have ever been self-conscious about, the only thing left to wear would be a hazmat suit.
[. . .]
If more fashion writing was done in the tone of smartypants Freeman, we could avoid the fear that caring about our appearance makes us a vain fool or a victim. A work colleague recently took one look at the four-inch peep toe heels I was wearing and snarled, "Don't you know why men invented high heels?" I doubted anything I said would deflect what was coming next, so I just shrugged. "So you can't run away when they want to rape you." I understand. I used to be a humorless feminist, too, complete with shaved head and my father's combat boots. Then I discovered Charles David heels and got over it. If only The Meaning of Sunglasses had existed sooner, I could have spent less time being a self-righteous twit.
Straternization: Hanging out socially with people not because you like them, but for their strategic benefits (i.e., helping you get ahead in work, getting you closer to that cute young thing, raising your social status in the lunchroom, etc). Usually doesn't work nearly as well as people hope.
John Scalzi, "Today is International Make Up a Word Day", Whatever, 2008-02-27
A brief introduction to the wave of Obama-worship currently engulfing Democratic primary voters by David Weigel:
Maybe it started with the fainting. After a while you couldn't ignore video and reports of Barack Obama supporters, sardine-tin-packed into his monster rallies, blacking out and dropping to the floor as the candidate hit his applause lines. Or maybe it started with the music video Yes We Can, a black-and-white, celebrity-studded mash-up of Obama's soaring South Carolina primary victory speech.
Somewhere on the Illinois senator's improbable march toward the Democratic nomination — and his remarkable steamrolling of the heretofore invincible Clinton family — the American commentariat tried to shake it off. Los Angeles Times columnist Joel Stein fretted about a "cult of Obama." New York Times columnist Paul Krugman, whose anti-Obama tirades have been reprinted in Hillary Clinton campaign mail, saw the campaign becoming "a cult of personality". Neoconservative Washington Post scold Charles Krauthammer, whose ideology has the most to lose from an Obama triumph, warned Americans that history was repeating: "As a teenager growing up in Canada, I witnessed a charismatic law professor go from obscurity to justice minister to prime minister, carried on a wave of what was called Trudeaumania." (Not as spine-chilling as Krauthammer's usual warning of this or that third-worlder becoming the next Hitler, but scary enough.)
The whole Trudeaumania thing would certainly be enough to scare the pants off me!
The best part of the article is this:
The problem for Clinton isn't just that 79% of her fellow Americans actually believe in celestial choirs. The problem for both of Obama's opponents is that being a "cult leader" is not a demerit in the quest for the presidency. Americans don't want a down-to-earth executive. They want Jesus Christ. They'll settle for Sun Myung Moon.
The drive in to the office this morning was faster than I expected, given that the necessary time had elapsed to allow Toronto drivers to forget that they'd ever seen snow on the road before. Perhaps the lack of accumulation gave them enough clues about how to cope . . .
The end of the drive, however, was a different thing altogether: I very narrowly avoided becoming the filling to a GO bus sandwich.
The parking entrance to our building is near the bottom of a moderate hill, and the left-turn lane was much slicker than it appeared to be. I got into the turn lane and barely touched the brakes (I wasn't travelling very fast), and I was almost instantly in ABS mode: there was so little traction that the wheels started to spin even at that low speed. I continued my slow-speed slide down the hill, past the entrance to our parking area and almost into the back of a GO bus waiting to turn into the GO station adjacent to our parking area. I stopped perhaps two metres behind the bus.
I breathed a sigh of relief . . . and then noticed with some alarm that another GO bus was coming down the hill. The bus driver did exactly what I'd just done, pulling into the turn lane and starting to brake. The bus did the same thing that the Quotemobile had just done: slid slowly but steadily down the hill. At almost the last second, the bus driver managed to change direction ever so slightly, so that he just managed to avoid my right corner, as I desperately tried to get moving further to the left (remember that I only had a couple of metres to move into). The car behind that bus wasn't quite as lucky . . . sliding directly into the back bumper of the bus.
A synopsis of an article at Scientific American indicates there may have been a breakthrough in understanding how much more important the "white matter" of the brain may be:
* White matter, long thought to be passive tissue, actively affects how the brain learns and dysfunctions.
* Although gray matter (composed of neurons) does the brain's thinking and calculating, white matter (composed of myelin-coated axons) controls the signals that neurons share, coordinating how well brain regions work together.
* A new type of magnetic resonance technology, called diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), has for the first time shown white matter in action, revealing its underappreciated role.
* Myelin is only partially formed at birth and gradually develops in different regions throughout our 20s. The timing of growth and degree of completion can affect learning, self-control (and why teenagers may lack it), and mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, autism and even pathological lying.
H/T to Sasha Wagner-Adamo for the link.
Despite Fairtrade's moral halo, there are other, more ethical forms of coffee available. Most Fairtrade coffee is roasted and packaged in Europe, principally in Belgium and Germany. That is unnecessary and retards development. Farmers working for Costa Rica's Café Britt have climbed the economic ladder not just by growing beans but by doing the processing, roasting and packaging and branding themselves.
But Café Britt is not welcome on the Fairtrade scheme. Most Café Britt farmers are self-employed small business people who own the land they farm. That is unacceptable to the ideologues at FLO International, Fairtrade's international certifiers, who will accredit farmers only if they give up their small-business status and join together into a co-operative.
There is evidence that Fairtrade is damaging quality, too. Its farmers typically sell in both Fairtrade and open markets. Because the price in the open market is solely determined by quality, they sell their better beans in that market and then dump their poorer beans into the Fairtrade market, where they are guaranteed a good price. That's worth considering next time you pop out for an espresso.
Alex Singleton, "Halo of Fairtrade casts a shadow on poverty", Telegraph.co.uk, 2008-02-24
There seems to be much consternation over Ron Paul failing to win over the mainstream of the Republican Party. The answer is really quite simple, the majority of Republicans are within a few years of getting Social Security. A fiscally sound and Constitutionally honest government would have to tell those Boomers and their still living parents "Terribly sorry but you don't have a contract saying the next generations owe you a damn thing" and they bloody well know it. They may talk a good game about balanced budgets but when push comes to shove they will enslave their kids to provide for their old age.
I just wonder how long it will take for Gen X to start smothering their greedy selfish parents with pillows while they sleep. Especially when "saving" Social Security will mean our contribution will be 25% or more of our paychecks. Until the Boomers start kicking the bucket we wont get that "gimme gimme gimme" monkey off our backs.
Scott Graves, letter to the editor, Libertarian Enterprise, 2008-02-24
With the possible exception of Disney villains, Imagethief cannot think of a group of people that more richly deserve their miserable fates than Hong Kong celebrity Edison Chen and his cavalcade of cupcakes.
If I sound unsympathetic here, that is because I am unsympathetic. Really, how dumb do you need to be? On all sides? Girls, here's a free piece of advice for you from your friendly neighborhood PR man: If you let a guy take digital nudie pix of you, sooner or later those pix are going to end up on the Internet. Not maybe. Not could be. Inevitably. The Internet is like a gravity well for nudity, and there is a 100 percent chance those pictures will end up there someday. Probably the week of your wedding.
[. . .]
But — and I say this with affection for my gender — dudes are stupid. We're especially stupid when it comes to managing technology effectively. We like to portray ourselves as masters of technological realm, with amazing powers of digital wizardry. But a little knowledge is a dangerous thing and in reality we're as screwed over by modern technology as your grandmother. Probably worse, because at least she doesn't pretend to understand it. We'd rather die — or inflict crushing humiliation on our girlfriends — than admit weakness.
"ImageThief", "Let me tell ya about Edison Chen's dirty photos", ImageThief, 2008-02-13
This article at PC World takes us back to those glorious days before the dot-bomb era . . . when cool technology really did cost you an arm and a leg:
Think the iPhone is pricey? The cool cell phone of 1988 cost $4382 in today's dollars. A 150MB hard drive? $8755. Take a trip with us down memory lane, and you'll never whine about the price of a gadget again.
It does help to look back a bit . . . I still remember thinking that the under-$500 I paid for my very first hard drive (a gargantuan 40 Mb monster) was a very good price at that time. Clive was briefly the techno-god because he scored a very early 120 Mb drive not too long afterwards. A Gigabyte was something you only found in IBM datacentres, spread over half-a-dozen washing-machine-sized objects.
Those indeed were the days . . .
It's actually called the Dunning-Kruger Effect. There may be some doubt about the accuracy of the original observations, but empirically speaking, I think they were exactly right.
H/T to John Scalzi for using the term and linking to the Wikipedia entry.
There is a reason the urban jihadis of Amsterdam and elsewhere specifically target gay men. Islam as a memeplex and as an adaptive strategy is about access to and ownership of women and by extension the control of sexual behaviour. Any number of cults function as a means for a small, core group of men — usually around a single charismatic leader — to mate with as many women as possible while relegating the majority of men to non-breeding status. David Koresh, Mormon fundamentalists, Raelians, the SeaOrg core of Scientology, and, yes, Islam at its earliest foundations down to its most determined exponents today; the list goes on and on. We see this structure over and over again because it works, at least so long as their are neighbouring populations which can be conquered by the otherwise non-breeding males of the cult and mined as a source of slaves, concubines and the spoils these cults cannot produce for themselves. The jihadis target gay men because of the unacceptable truth their overt ideology denies in themselves. And, quite possibly, out of an unconscious recognition of the most dangerous among their enemy if Europe undergoes another phase change, enters a swarm state and carries out another apocalyptic genocide.
Nick Packwood, "Where they make a desert, they call it peace", Ghost of a Flea, 2008-02-22
A couple of examples of the structural weaknesses inherent in allowing bureaucrats to make medical decisions:
Stationary ambulances: "Hospitals were last night accused of keeping thousands of seriously ill patients in ambulance 'holding patterns' outside accident and emergency units to meet a government pledge that all patients are treated within four hours of admission."
Some patients are more equal than others: "Officials said that allowing Mrs. Hirst and others like her to pay for extra drugs to supplement government care would violate the philosophy of the health service by giving richer patients an unfair advantage over poorer ones."
Both examples are from the British National Health Service, but they're matched by similar situations in Canada.
Hit and Run has a link to a story about idiotic campus officials banning a performance of Stephen Sondheim's Assassins:
A student production of "Assassins", the award-winning musical, was to have premiered Thursday night at Arkansas Tech University, but the administration banned it — and permitted a final dress rehearsal Wednesday night (so the cast could experience the play on which students have worked long hours) only on the condition that wooden stage guns were cut in half prior to the event and not used. Assassins is a musical in which the characters are the historic figures who have tried to kill a U.S. president.
The winner here? Honestly, the potential audience for the play, which was godawful in its original conception and execution back in 1990 (and naturally, retardedly well-received in its 2004 Broadway revival). Assassins features ditties about various successful and unsuccessful attempts to kill various successful and unsuccessful American presidents. It's just one man's opinion, of course, but I dare anyone to listen to, say, the Leon Czolgosz number without wanting to put a bullet in his own head and then exhume the corpse of the Michigan-born killer and re-electrify it. Assassins is SCTV-style deep parody at its best and actual musical theater at just about its worst.
The loser here? Freedom of expression on college campuses, which has been taking it on the chin like Gerry Cooney in the first round.
Proving that I have no taste . . . I rather enjoyed Assassins when I saw it in Toronto in the mid-90's. But good or bad, the reaction of the educational bureaucracy is just insane.
An interesting interview with Robert Bryce, author of Gusher of Lies: The Dangerous Delusions of "Energy Independence":
reason: How about domestic renewables as a solution to dependence on foreign oil?
Bryce: I'm not opposed to renewables. I have 3,000 watts of solar panels on the roof of my home. I understand the economics of renewables. But an incurable problem for both solar and wind is intermittency. The sun doesn't shine at night. I like to have lights and TV at night. Unless we come up with some incredibly efficient method of storing large amounts of electricity, it's not a viable source because we can't store it.
It's the same problem with wind. I consider wind the electric-sector equivalent of the ethanol hype. At a conference recently I asked a wind guy, "Without subsidies, how many projects now under way [regarding wind] would make economic sense?" He said maybe 30 percent.
reason: You sound skeptical about ethanol as well.
Bryce: The ethanol scam is the longest running robbery of taxpayers in American history. Some recent news reports, which I don't discuss in the book, include a report showing [that] corn-based ethanol releases [more] greenhouse gases than fossil fuels. That's just one indictment of the inefficiency of the whole process. It's also fiscal insanity — providing 51 cent per gallon subsides for making fuel from what's already the most subsidized crop.
In 2005 federal corn subsidies approached $9.4 billion, which is around the entire budget of the Department of Commerce, with 39,000 employees. It also takes orders of magnitude more water to make corn ethanol than [is used for] gasoline production. Given the problems in the West and Southwest with water, it's insane to think we're going to be able to produce sufficient ethanol to make a dent in gasoline use when the amount of water needed is so high.
Explanation for the kinda-obscure title of this post here.
This year's primary season has been so full of healthy developments that you could package it with oat bran and hawk it at Whole Foods. The country can thank its lucky stars that the process has pushed forward — in McCain and in Democratic Sens. Hillary Rodham Clinton and Barack Obama — the three most formidable figures in American politics. If Obama wins the Democratic nomination, the result will pit the two most widely admired political figures of their generations against each other in a presidential race. The last time the country saw anything remotely like that was when Dwight Eisenhower faced Adlai Stevenson in 1952 and 1956.
Democrats can be grateful they have two tough races on their hands, first for the nomination and then, as now seems virtually certain, against McCain in the general election. Remember LBJ and Jimmy Carter? When Democrats win against weak opponents or crippled parties, they overreach, underperform, and lose touch with the country.
Jonathan Rauch, "Saved by McCain: The presumptive nominee is a tonic for the party", Reason Online, 2008-02-21
Elizabeth had a breakthrough in her genealogical research last night, pushing back her family tree several hundred years in quick succession. She's descended from a long line of mining families in the lowlands of Scotland (miners in Scotland during the middle ages and through well into the industrial revolution were little better than slaves, literally indentured for generations to the mine owners). My family history is a bit more varied, with some agricultural labourers, some merchants, a few publicans and one or two more respectable professions scattered through the years.
Last night, while she was following up what seemed to be an obscure branch of her family, she found a link that seems to be pretty solid . . . straight back to King James II of Scotland (by way of the first marriage of his eldest son the first Duke of Albany), and from there back to William the Conqueror. She still needs to verify a few of the entries, but it seems pretty solid, as records from that far back tend to be fragmentary at best.
. . . I'd have posted some of the great photographs I took last night during the lunar eclipse.
In this world, however, the reality of bitingly cold temperatures, un-gloved hands, and balky camera batteries took their toll on my plans. I froze my butt off standing there in the moonlight, trying to get some worthwhile photos, but it was not to be.
H/T to Nelson Kennedy.
Although I've been finding his occasional (and becoming-less-occasional) 9/11 conspiracy asides to be disturbing, L. Neil Smith's summary of the state of civil and economic liberty in the United States to be pretty on-target:
In the wake of whatever happened on September 11, 2001 (whether anybody likes it or not, the facts of that event, including who was responsible, are far from settled), a fat, lazy, corrupt, rubberstamp Congress passed the so-called "U.S.A. Patriot Act" apparently without even reading it (some politicians claim there were no copies available to read — which should have caused them to reject it on the spot) destroying financial, communications, and medical privacy in this country, and with them, the tattered remains of the fundamental human right to trade with anybody for anything. Among many other new lows, for the first time, the law restricted constitutional and other rights during the period of an undeclared (and therefore totally illegal) war.
In addition to creating a new category of crime called "domestic terrorism", the act allowed the indefinite detention of a steadily widening variety of individuals, secret, warrantless searches of people's homes and businesses, and other violations of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments. (Freedom to travel without harrassment or intrusion had already been obliterated more than a generation earlier.) In short, with one stroke of a President's pen, America completed what had been, until then, a slow, steady, gradual descent into police statism.
The act (and supporting legislation that came later, such as the deceptively-named "Military Commissions Act" and H.R.1955/S.B.1959) mandated "studies" of biometric identification systems — I recently wrote an article about the way "studies" rapidly become law — the early origins of the notorious "No-Fly list" at airports, and fat "security" contracts for fascistic corporations like Halliburton and Blackwater, the latter of which has since become a worldwide military power with a greater armed presence in Iraq than the United States government.
Meanwhile, a brand new and overwhelmingly powerful secret police establishment with the Joseph Geobbelsian monicker "Department of Homeland Security", arose to prominence and has come to dominate all other American law enforcement organizations, Constitutional or otherwise.
But that was only the beginning. The Patriot Act, scheduled to sunset in 2005, was renewed with disgusting haste and followed by Patriot II, giving the government even more power at the expense of what had been unalienable individual, civil, Constitutional, and human rights.
All in all, it has been a time of bitter disillusionment. The nation's courts, for example, particularly the United States Supreme Court, have revealed themselves to be fully as corrupt and unreliable in their stewardship of the Constitution, especially of the Bill of Rights, as Congress, or even the mass media Thomas Jefferson believed — falsely, as it turned out — would preserve them. If somebody set out from the beginning, with the deliberate intention of destroying American civilization, he would be following exactly the same policies — running the Abraham Lincoln playbook — that George W. Bush is following.
Regardless of who ends up occupying the White House after the November election, you'd have to be wilfully blind not to be disturbed at how far the government has managed to extend its tendrils into so many more aspects of daily life than it had before 9/11. The restrictions on civil and economic liberties are not accompanied by jackboots and stylish uniforms, nor are they heralded by demagogues and mobs, but they're real — and growing — nonetheless.
By way of John Scalzi, a primer for Americans on how Europeans think about other Europeans:
The Scandinavians — Widely respected by most other Europeans, because of their high standard of living . . . and blond hair and blue eyes. However, within Scandinavia there are some persistent stereotypes. The Norwegians, Danes and Finns all think the Swedes are stupid and uptight. Norwegians are considered racist. Danes are considered more blunt than the others, maybe a bit more cranky, and the Finns are oddly introverted, even by Scandinavian standards. Except for the Danes really disliking Germans, and Finns really disliking Russians, they don't really have anything against other Europeans.
The Belgians — Considered idiots by both the Dutch and the French. Belgians, in turn, consider the Dutch to be a bunch of cranky assholes, and French stuck-up.
The Dutch — The Dutch, like the Scandinavians, have an enviable economy and social order that's admired by southern European countries. However, they do have a reputation of being self-righteous "know-it-alls" and very similar to their German cousins in terms of their rigidity. But they do not like any comparisons to Germans, and if you remind them that the Dutch national anthem makes a reference to the Dutch being "van Duitse bloed" (from German blood), you might quickly get the silent treatment. The Dutch are also disliked for being the biggest misers in Europe, and because of this they incur the wrath of the tourist industry wherever they travel. The Dutch have been known to stock up on water before they take their campers down to the south of France.The Dutch, in turn, kind of look down on just about everyone. Yes, there's a bit of a reason for the "know-it-all" smart-ass reputation they have.
That known environmental and climate change heretic James Lileks apparently has some doubts about the all-healing powers of Barack Obama:
On the radio today Medved and Hewitt both asked Obama supporters to call and say why they were supporting their man. Specifics, please. The replies were rather indistinct. He would end the division and bring us together by encouraging us all to talk about common problems, after which we would compromise. He will give us hope by giving us hope: for many, the appeal has the magical perfect logic of a tautology. It's a nice dream. But compromise is impossible when you have a fundamental differences about the proper way to solve a problem. I believe we can achieve a fair society by taking away your house and giving it to someone else. I disagree. It is my house. Then let us agree to give away half of your house. Compromise! But that is not a compromise. You have taken half my house. We have compromised on your behalf with those who would have taken it all. Let us not return to the politics of division. There are strangers living in my spare bedroom. Then we have truly come together. Look, this isn't a matter on which we can compromise, because we have conflicting premises. You're pretending matter and anti-matter have the same relationship as Coke and Pepsi. They don't.
If he wins, I do look forward to dissenting; since it's been established as the highest form of patriotism, I expect my arguments will be met with grave respect. Shhhh! He's dissenting.
Among the arguments offered by the callers:
* He will help save the planet by encouraging everyone to recycle cans and bottles and paper (the caller discussed a local drought, and said she did not think that recycling would stop it, but if everyone recycled — something she thought Obama would bring about through a general new era of ecological concern — future droughts would not occur.)
* He will pay for college tuition (the caller thought tuition was too expensive, and did not want to be burdened with loans)
* He will meet with the Iranians, personally, and conduct a frank personal interrogation about their nuclear intentions
* He will inspire the Youth of America to get involved in politics again
* He will prevent American companies from moving manufacturing overseas (The caller was unsure how this could be done, only that it would be done, because it should be done)
* He will not raise taxes on anyone except maybe millionaires (The caller was surprised to be asked if Obama would raise taxes; it was a strange, peculiar, irrelevant issue)
* He will give everyone health care (This would make American industry competitive, since companies would be freed of the obligation of making it an employee benefit)
* He will talk to the Europeans
And so on. There is tremendous faith in his ability to just wave a love-wand and get things done. I remember the same zeitgeist afoot in the land in 1992; change was the mantra then, too. Odd how things turn out — I'd be happier with Hillary as President than Obama, simply because she seems a bit more seasoned and realistic. And I do find it interesting that people who have decried the shallow, theatrical, emotion-based nature of contemporary politics are now so effusive in their praise for someone's ability to move crowds. Perhaps they don't mind a fellow on a white horse if he promises to nationalize the stables.
Although it's (obviously, from these sample responses) easy to poke fun at the Obamaniacs, I still have to say that the idea of Hillary Clinton as President bothers me even more than the idea of President Obama. Clinton is as reflexive an authoritarian as you're likely to find in modern American politics. She is as strongly anti-market in her economic rhetoric as she is communitarian in her social rhetoric. About the only thing that would keep the US economy running smoothly during another Clinton presidency is that the President actually has fairly small ability to make changes over the economic side (certainly compared to the powers of congress).
On the other side of the fence, I think John McCain is likely to be the Republican candidate, and he's remarkably similar to Clinton in his views on the economy. For a Republican, he'd make a fine Democrat on economic issues. Both Clinton and McCain are likely to continue existing intervention in the affairs of foreign nations (not just in the Middle East, but more so there than elsewhere)
If you prefer your government to keep its nose out of the economy, and avoid creating or exacerbating foreign tensions, you're probably out of luck regardless of who wins the election in November.
Update: Jeff Taylor has some thoughts on the election:
Is Barack Obama more Michael Dukakis or Bill Clinton? Don't laugh. The answer is far more salient to who becomes the next President than feverish declarations that Obama in the heir to JFK or that McCain is really Winston Churchill.
Let's also stipulate that Hillary Clinton should not be forgot — not until the last spark of energy is wrung from her battle-chassis will she concede, and perhaps not then. Still in her playbook — the triple-whammy cry, where she and Bill and Chelsea all cut loose. Don't rule it out.
But the GOP's electoral offering is locked in stone, and one half of the November equation is set. McCain has an absolute ceiling as a candidate above which he cannot rise. He cannot out-debate or out-speechify his opponent, and he is prickly and prone to outbursts. In short, voters absolutely must prefer him on substance, not style, for McCain to win.
So, what about that substance? Here we find McCain in favor of perpetual war in Iraq, possibly a new war with Iran, an immigration reform process loathed by conservatives, and rewriting the First Amendment to protect incumbent federal office holders, plus hatred of earmark spending and support for tax cuts, then opposition to tax cuts, now morphed into a pledge against future tax hikes. Overlay this with a general suspicion of all motives not directly tied in to government "service" and you have a candidate with something to offend very many voting blocs.
Now recall that in 1988 Bush I was a similar polyglot — East Coast blue blood, Texas oilman, Nixon Republican suspicious of "voodoo economics," loyal Veep to Hollywood shaman — but he had the considerable advantage of running for Ronald Reagan's third term. And that was enough to beat a Dukakis.
Four years later a rudderless Poppy was helpless before Bill Clinton's mix of energy, outsider myth, and rope-a-hope symbolism. Whatever we can say today about Obama, surely one of the truest things is that stylistically he is no Dukakis. If so, McCain must find some substantial difference to hold up in front of voters or go the way of GHWB and the last aging senator/war hero the GOP coughed up for commander-in-chief, Bob Dole.
From a point-counterpoint article at The Guardian, Frank Furedi argues that boosting self-esteem has been a wasted effort:
In schools, decades of silly programmes designed to raise children's self-esteem have not improved wellbeing, and the new initiatives designed to make pupils happy will also fail. Worse still, emotional education encourages an inward-looking orientation that distracts children from engaging with the world.
Perversely, the ascendancy of psychobabble in the classroom has been paralleled by an apparent increase in mental health problems among children. The relationship between the two is not accidental. Children are highly suggestible, and the more they are required to participate in wellbeing classes, the more they will feel the need for professional support.
The teaching of emotional literacy and happiness should be viewed as a displacement activity by professionals who find it difficult to confront the many challenges they face. At a time when many schools find it difficult to engage children's interest in core subjects, and to inspire a culture of high aspiration, it is tempting to look for non-academic solutions. Many pedagogues find it easier to hold forth about making children feel good about themselves than to teach them how to read and count. This therapeutic orientation serves to distract pupils and teachers alike from getting on with the job of gaining a real education.
Earlier this year, Castro had said that there would be no change in the Cuba-U.S. relationship until that man in the White House had vamoosed. And George W. Bush, along with most Dems and Reps, haven't shown much interest in changing the ongoing, and idiotic, U.S. embargo of Cuba. (Two pols who dare speak logic on this issue are Reps. Jeff Flake and Charles Rangel).
U.S. policy toward Cuba has been generally misguided for well over a century. Here's hoping the Congress and the president will do something right to accelerate a shift to freedom there. And here's hoping that Cuba becomes a better place as Castro puts one foot into the grave. I don't believe in hell, but I sort of hope there is a place like it for a guy like Castro.
Nick Gillespie, "Castro Resigns as President for Life of Cuba; Wants to Spend More Time with Families", Hit and Run, 2008-02-19
H/T to Jenny Sessions for the link.
. . . because I'm writing on a borrowed computer. Our office was broken into overnight and several laptops were stolen (including the two I've been using). Investigations continue, but it's looking like an inside job unfortunately.
To celebrate, try perusing the offerings from the denizens of Fark, with their renditions of Valentine cards to send to your ex:
A guest writer at Samizdata goes through the (UK) Green Party's Manifesto for a Sustainable Society, to sort out the likely effects from the implementation of the proposed policies:
Rob Johnston has produced a very interesting essay on the true soulmates of Green Politics in Britain
* Forbid the purchase of corner shops by migrants
* Stop people from inner cities moving to the countryside to protect traditional lifestyles
* Grant British citizenship only to children born here
* Boycott food grown by black farmers and subsidise crops grown by whites
* Restrict tourism and immigration from outside Europe
* Prohibit embryo research
* Stop lorry movements on the Lord's Day
* Require State approval for national sports teams to compete overseas
* Disconnect Britain from the European electricity grid
* Establish a "new order" between nations to resolve the world economic crisis
These are the policies of one of Britain’s most influential political parties: a party that has steadily increased its vote over the last decade; a party that appeals overwhelmingly to whites; and a party that shares significant objectives with neo-fascists and religious fundamentalists.
Perhaps — the BNP? Despite its attempts to appear modern and inclusive and the soothing talk in its 2005 General Election Manifesto, of "genuine ethnic and cultural diversity" .
Or UKIP? It harbours some pretty backward-looking individuals — but would they stop Britain buying electricity from France if necessary?
Or, maybe, the Conservatives? Could that be a list of recommendations from one of Dave’s lesser-known policy groups — chaired by the ghost of Enoch Powell — quietly shredded to avoid "re-contaminating the Brand"?
Actually, affiliates of the progressive consensus may be surprised to learn that all the reactionary policies in the first paragraph are from the Green Party’s Manifesto for a Sustainable Society (MfSS) or were adopted at the party’s Autumn Conference in Liverpool over the weekend of September 13-16, 2007 .
It's a lengthy post, but well worth reading the whole thing.
Peter Bradshaw at the Guardian sums up in just a few brief words. You can't accuse them of being over-kind:
Well, it had to happen. Madonna has been a terrible actor in many, many films and now — fiercely aspirational as ever — she has graduated to being a terrible director. She has made a movie so incredibly bad that Berlin festivalgoers were staggering around yesterday in a state of clinical shock, deathly pale and mewing like maltreated kittens. She is also the producer and co-author of the script. If she'd done the location catering as well, they'd have had a Jonestown situation on their hands.
According to a report in the Wall Street Journal, American railways are enjoying a bit of a renaissance:
The upgrade is part of a railroad renaissance under way across much of the U.S. For the first time in nearly a century, railroads are making large investments in their networks — adding sets of tracks, straightening curves that force engines to slow and expanding tunnels for bigger trains. Their campaign is altering the corridors of American commerce, more so than any other development since interstate highways spread to the interior.
For decades, railroads spent little on expansion, even tore up surplus track and shrank routes. But since 2000 they've spent $10 billion to expand tracks, build freight yards and buy locomotives, and they have $12 billion more in upgrades planned.
The buildout comes as the industry transitions away from its chief role in recent decades of hauling coal, timber and other raw materials in manufacturing regions. Now, increasingly, railroads are moving finished consumer goods, often made in Asia, from ports to major cities. Their new higher-volume routes, called corridors, often serve the South, where the rail system is less developed and the population is rising.
Noticeably absent from the discussion are two of the largest surviving North American railways: CN and CP, each of whom own substantial networks south of the 49th parallel. That might just be because the article is focussed on US-based railways, or it might indicate another situation where Canadian business is failing to invest to keep up with their American competitors.
I recently spent three hyper-stimulated hours at the Exploratorium in San Francisco. The Exploratorium is a hands-on museum, with devices and experiments that you usually only find in the proximity of "cool" high school science teachers with missing fingers. Various exhibits involving dry ice, piles of sand and other edu-thrilling materials allow you to observe all sorts of scientific principles. Have you ever spent an afternoon wondering why honeycombs are shaped the way they are? Then it's time you discovered something called television, and the Exploratorium can tell you how it works!
The latest Exploratorium exhibit is called The Mind, and it explores those precious 3 pounds of gray matter that keep our skulls from making a marimba sound when we hit our head on the car door. I learned something I've always suspected: The mind is a cruel, lying, unreliable bastard that can't be trusted with even an ounce of responsibility. If you were dating the mind, all your friends would take you aside, and tell you that you can really do better, and being alone isn't all that bad, anyway. If you hired the mind as a babysitter, you would come home to find all but one of your children in critical condition, and the remaining one crowned "King of the Pit."
Lore Sjöberg, "Don't Turn Your Back on Your Brain", Wired, 2008-02-13
I don't need to travel much in my current job, but I used to be on a regular run to Boston several years ago. The hassle of going through US customs and immigration was trivial compared to what is now required of airline passengers in the TSA era. PC World offers some advice for those of you travelling with laptops, PDAs, and other modern electronic impedimenta:
1. No evidence needed to take your laptop
Border agents do not need any evidence or suspicion of illegal activity to examine a laptop or other electronic device.
Every time you cross the border, customs officials have the right to look at anything in your possession, including the content on your laptop, handheld device, cell phone, USB memory stick and digital cameras, Gurley said. They have the right to both view that information and to download or mirror it if they think it's necessary, she said.
2. Anything can be searched
Everything on an electronic device is open to search. This includes personal photographs, personal banking, any business documents and stored or unopened e-mail, Gurley said.
3. Your PC might not be returned right away
Seized devices may be kept for an indefinite period of time. Carry only a laptop or electronic device you can afford to lose or hand over for an unspecified period of time.
Sensitive data should be sent by e-mail before crossing the border in case the data becomes unavailable if the device is seized, she said.
4. Don't take anything you don't want to share
Don't carry anything on these devices that could potentially embarrass you or that you don't want others to see, Gurley said.
If it's information you don't want to share, don't carry it. That includes data such as personal banking information, photos, correspondence, health and password information. If the device is a company-owned computer, don't carry proprietary business information or personnel records on it, the ACTE advised.
5. Be cooperative
Cooperate with customs officials. Ask for a receipt and a badge number if your computer is seized. Try and get whatever information you can on the reason why it was seized.
The goal is not to hide data from border officials or the U.S government, Gurley said. Rather, it is about being aware that your laptop and other electronic devices in your possession could be searched and to prepare for that eventuality, Gurley said. ACTE's surveys in the past have shown that very few travelers are aware of the potential for such searches. "Our primary concern is to alert travelers that their laptops and other electronic devices can be seized at a border without explanation, provocation or even likely cause," she said.
You're more likely to encounter this sort of problem in some airports than in others (California is the most commonly mentioned area where this sort of thing has become more common recently).
What little actual use there is in the current Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms is being steadily undermined by the courts. This is just the latest move to make the concept of "rights" a mockery in Canadian jurisprudence:
The Ontario Court of Appeal yesterday approved the use of evidence obtained through flagrant police misconduct, saying any black eye caused to the justice system is outweighed by public interest in prosecuting a serious crime.
In a decision that even one of their fellow judges finds intolerable, a majority of the court upheld a trial judge's decision to admit evidence of 35 kilos of cocaine found in Bradley Harrison's rented SUV – despite the judge's finding an OPP officer had no legal grounds to stop the vehicle, seriously infringed the Toronto man's Charter rights and misled a court while trying to justify his actions.
The 2-1 ruling is the latest in a line of recent decisions in which the court has been accused of weakening Charter protections by refusing to exclude evidence obtained unlawfully. In a case last fall involving a gun found in a backpack at Westview Centennial Secondary School, the court said throwing out reliable evidence because of Charter violations must be balanced against public concerns about escalating gun violence.
So the message is two-fold: first, that the courts will back the police in any blatant abuse so long as the perp can be convicted, and second, that there really isn't any protection of rights in the Canadian justice system anyway.
Sweet. If you're a cop looking to harass people, that is.
H/T to Jon, my virtual landlord, for the link.
On the BBC Radio Four News at 18:00 tonight, there was a story about a ceremony in Spain marking the two hundredth anniversary of a 'liberation struggle'.
The listeners were informed that this was a struggle against the Empire of Napoleon and it had helped create 'modern Europe' where everyone works together. Of course it was actually Napoleon who was working to 'get all of Europe working together' (it was called the Code Napoléon and Continental System). The words 'national independence', what the Spanish were actually fighting for, were not mentioned. And although it was mentioned that the British call the conflict 'the Peninsula War' the name "Wellington" was also not mentioned.
Sometimes I suspect that even North Korean radio presents a slightly less distorted view of the world than the BBC does.
Paul Marks, "'BBC History' strikes again", Samizdata, 2008-02-13
It's almost as shocking as cats and dogs living together, but the Berkeley City council has admitted it made an error about the USMC being "unwelcome intruders":
After a day of enraged confrontation outside Berkeley City Hall between anti-war and pro-military demonstrators, the City Council backed down early Wednesday from its controversial decision to tell the U.S. Marines they are "unwelcome intruders" for operating a downtown recruiting center.
Council members conceded that they had erred in passing a resolution Jan. 29 that condemned the Marines — rather than the war in Iraq — and some council members added that they felt they owed U.S. troops an apology as well the many Berkeley residents who were ashamed and offended by their position.
"To err is human but to really screw up it takes the Berkeley City Council," said council member Gordon Wozniak. "We failed our city. We embarrassed our city."
In the end, however, the council voted against issuing a public apology for its January action.
Self-esteem isn't all that it's cracked up to be. In fact . . . it can be a huge part of the problem. New research has found that self-esteem can be just as high among D students, drunk drivers and former Presidents from Arkansas as it is among Nobel laureates, nuns and New York City fire fighters. In fact, according to research performed by Brad Bushman of Iowa State University and Roy Baumeister of Case Western Reserve University, people with high self-esteem can engage in far more antisocial behavior than those with low self-worth. "I think we had a great deal of optimism that high self-esteem would cause all sorts of positive consequences and that if we raised self-esteem, people would do better in life," Baumeister told the Times. "Mostly, the data have not borne that out." Racists, street thugs and school bullies all polled high on the self-esteem charts. And you can see why. If you think you're God's gift, you're particularly offended if other people don't treat you that way. So you lash out or commit crimes or cut ethical corners to reassert your pre-eminence. After all, who are your moral inferiors to suggest that you could be doing something, er, wrong? What do they know?
Self-esteem can also be an educational boomerang. Friends of mine who teach today's college students are constantly complaining about the high self-esteem of their students. When the kids have been told from Day One that they can do no wrong, when every grade in high school is assessed so as to make the kid feel good rather than to give an accurate measure of his work, the student can develop self-worth dangerously unrelated to the objective truth. He can then get deeply offended when he's told he is getting a C grade in college and become demoralized or extremely angry. Weak professors give in to the pressure — hence, grade inflation. Tough professors merely get exhausted trying to bring their students into vague touch with reality.
Andrew Sullivan, "Lacking in Self-Esteem? Good for You!", Time, 2004-01-17
Grant McCracken muses over the not-likely-to-come-to-fruition MicroHoo merger, and finds that the evidence is that most mergers don't work out:
Mergers and acquisitions are fraught with difficulty and Mary was pointing out that the failure rate is sometimes as high as 60%. And this is after tough minded MBAs have examined the deal with their own particularly sophisticated, sighted, numerate version of due diligence.
When things go bad in a merger or an acquisition, the problem is sometimes not with the mechanics, not with the infrastructure of the deal. The problem is with the superstructure of the deal, the ideas, practices and cultures that must now be brought together for things to work. We are still inclined to suppose that mergers and acquisitions are straight forward, that the individuals who must now work together need merely resort to an instrumental logic to find common cause and a shared modus operandi.
But of course the truth is often otherwise. Corporations are cultural, drawing their answer to the Levittian question (what business are we in), and the Druckerian one (what customer are we for) from the vision of the founder, the history of the enterprise, the region of the country. Even the business school that supplies the C suite can make a difference here. I think it's safe to say Microsoft and Yahoo see the world differently and that a rapprochement would have been challenging.
One company that I used to work for was acquired by a similar-sized firm, and six years later the two organizations still were not working smoothly as a single entity. Most of the management from my original firm had left (in waves, rather than as a single "die-off"), and new managers were brought in, but the two firms' cultures never coalesced. When the combined firm was taken over by a third organization, almost the first thing the new owners considered doing was re-splitting the two original groups back out into separate entities again.
Johnathan Pearce discusses the implicit biases against life extension:
Considering how many health-scare news items there are these days, it makes me want to smile in a wry way when I also read about the supposed problems caused by an ageing, greying, population. The first and obvious question is: if we are all at such risk from obesity, drugs, booze, stress, pollution or the angst of watching Jonathan Ross, why are we living so much longer than our parents or grandparents? If this is what happens when the sky is supposedly always about to fall in, then what must a healthy population be like? And yet there is something in the human psyche, or our culture, that rebels against the happy prospect of a longer life. We are told, or at least have until recently accepted, that three-score years and ten is Man's rightful due (perhaps a tad longer for women); it is almost a hangover from religion to believe that it is impious, even blasphemous, to want to live for much longer. Andrew O'Hagan, writing in the Daily Telegraph today in a moan about how the elderly are treated in Britain — a valid subject — makes this point:
Growing old is now considered more of an option than an inevitability, something to beat rather than be resigned to, something that is thought to take away from one's individuality rather than deepen it.
I don't really know how death, or its inevitability, adds to one's individuality. I think I know what O'Hagan is trying to say: We are unique, precisely because we are mortal. We cannot be replaced, or copied.
The trouble, though, is that I don't see how one's uniqueness is somehow reduced by living for 200 years rather than say, 100, or 50, or 30. Were the ancient Romans — average lifespan about 35 — more individualistic and unique than a 21st Century Brit? How on earth can one measure this? Also, the desire to keep the Grim Reaper at bay surely attests to a love of life, not a denial of its value; if one believed in a craven acceptance of the inevitable, then why do we have doctors and hospitals?
It's Charles Darwin's birthday (he'd be 199 today). The IHS is celebrating:
Hundreds of groups across the United States and the globe will celebrate the date as "Darwin Day" in honor of the discoveries and life of the man who famously described biological evolution via natural selection.
"Darwin Day promotes understanding of evolution and the scientific method," said Matt Cherry, executive director of the Institute for Humanist Studies. "This celebration expresses gratitude for the enormous benefit that scientific knowledge has contributed to the advancement of humanity."
The Darwin Day Celebration is a project of the Albany, N.Y.-based Institute for Humanist Studies, an international educational nonprofit that promotes reason and humanity.
As the folks at Fark say, strive not to be a Fark headline on February 13th.
I've always told folks that technical writing pays far better than creative writing for the vast majority of writers. For every J.K. Rowling in the creative field, there are tens of thousands of aspiring writers who can't earn enough to support themselves. Someone has kindly pulled together the figures for various writing jobs, including technical writing, and it mostly supports my contention.
This is a list of the average salaries for a number of writing and editing professions. The figures represent typical scales for a mid-sized metropolitan area in the United States. Larger markets tend to pay more and smaller markets tend to pay less. Remember that these are typical salaries for people who are employed by other companies. There is a much greater income variation among people who freelance or own their own businesses.
Yes, as a technical writer, you may never see your name on the cover of the books you write, you almost certainly won't be going on glamorous book tours of exotic locales, and you'll be writing things that don't exactly engage the most creative portion of your brain. But you'll be relatively well-paid, work in reasonably comfortable conditions, and have a pension or some other form of retirement savings for your post-writing lifestyle.
I've never met a rich technical writer, but I've met many, many starving creative writers.
If you're really clever, there might even be a way of leveraging your technical writing career to, I don't know, maybe even support your creative writing habit until that multi-million dollar advance comes in for your next novel.
John Scalzi offers some unsoliticted financial advice to aspiring writers (and to other creative types):
Why am I offering this entirely unsolicited advice about money to new writers? Because it very often appears to me that regardless of how smart and clever and interesting and fun my fellow writers are on every other imaginable subject, when it comes to money — and specifically their own money — writers have as much sense as chimps on crack. It's not just writers — all creative people seem to have the "incredibly stupid with money" gene set for maximum expression — but since most of creative people I know are writers, they're the nexus of money stupidity I have the most experience with. It makes me sad and also embarrasses the crap out of me; people as smart as writers are ought to know better.
The following advice is not complete; there's lots I won’t be covering here. Some it is repeated from things I've written before but are so far down in the archives I know you'll never find them. Some of this advice may not apply to you; some of it may apply to you but you may be too delusional or arrogant to acknowledge it, or you may decide you don't like my tone and ignore it all because of that. Most of it is applicable to writers who are not new, too, but I don't know how many of them are interested in taking advice from me. This is US-centered although may be generally applicable elsewhere. It's meant for writers but may have application to you in other fields; decide for yourself.
I do not guarantee this advice will make you a more successful writer or a better human being. Follow this advice at your own peril. That said, know that it's generally worked for me. That's why I’m sharing it with you.
There is a post at The Torch you really should read.
[ObFarkJoke]: I have two drummers in the house right now, so I'm really getting a kick out of these replies.
As a people we have two problems. The first I would dub the Tilley Hat phenomenon. No-one looks good in a Tilley hat, but they're damn practical. When you live in a country where you spend eight months a year trying to stay warm and four more warding off mosquitoes you tend to lean toward the practical. Tilley hats and Sears down coats are not sexy.
The other problem arises from another innately Canadian character trait. We're so obsessed with fairness and inclusion we hand out the status of "sexy" the way a special-ed teacher hands out praise. How else to explain Defence Minister Peter MacKay's annual topping of the sexiest parliamentarian list?
Having begun with a hoary old quote, allow me to paraphrase another. The answer to the question of whether Canadians are sexy would appear to be "as sexy as possible under the circumstances."
John Moore, "Canadians - as sexy as possible", National Post, 2008-02-09
At some point, an expensive bottle of wine stops being just wine and starts being primarily a status symbol. Case in point:
Staff were delighted at the sale and the three customers were eager to taste the £18,000 magnum of Pétrus 1961 — one of the greatest vintages of one of the greatest wines in the world — which they had reserved from the cellars several weeks before.
Unfortunately, the guests at Zafferano in Knightsbridge proved to be a little too discerning.
As the magnum was uncorked, they declared it to be a fake, refused to touch the bottle and sent it back.
I enjoy wine, and I'm usually able to appreciate the extra quality that goes with a higher price tag . . . up to a limit. The most expensive wine I've tasted was a $400 Chateau Margaux, which was excellent, but (to my taste anyway) not as good as a $95 bottle I sampled on the same evening (a Gevry-Chambertin). Wine is certainly subjective, so my experiences can't be easily generalized, but I think it would be safe to say that the vast majority of wine drinkers would find that their actual appreciation of the wine tapers off beyond a certain price point.
If you normally drink $15-20 bottles of wine, you'll certainly find that the $30-40 range will taste better and have more depth and complexity of flavour. Jumping up to the $150-200 range will probably have the same relative effect, but you've gone to 10 times the price for perhaps 2-4 times the perceived quality. Perhaps I'm wrong, and the $1,000+ wines have transcendental qualities that peasants like me can't even imagine, but I strongly doubt it. Any wine over $500 has passed the "quality" level and is from that point onwards really a "prestige" thing.
Update: A commenter at Fark.com offered this link as counter-evidence:
"Contrary to the basic assumptions of economics, several studies have provided behavioral evidence that marketing actions can successfully affect experienced pleasantness by manipulating nonintrinsic attributes of goods. For example, knowledge of a beer's ingredients and brand can affect reported taste quality, and the reported enjoyment of a film is influenced by expectations about its quality," the researchers said. "Even more intriguingly, changing the price at which an energy drink is purchased can influence the ability to solve puzzles."
This is why wines are generally tasted blind for comparative purposes (that is, with no indication of the wine's identity provided). It's a well-known phenomena that people expect to enjoy more expensive things than cheaper equivalents.
You can try this one for yourself: next time you're pouring a beer or a wine for a guest, hide the container and tell them that what you're pouring is much more rare/expensive/unusual than what it really is. Most people, either from politeness (they don't want to be rude) or fear of being thought ignorant (that they can't actually perceive this wonderful quality) or genuine belief in what you've said, will go along with the host's deception and praise the drink as being so much better than whatever they normally drink.
Human beings are wonderful at rationalizing . . . and self-deception.
According to this report, Folic Acid (which was required to be added to all US enriched grain-based products in 1999) has benefits beyond the original hopes:
Every once in a while, the government does something amazing.
Since 1999, all U.S. enriched cereal grain products, such as bread, pasta, flour, breakfast cereal and rice, have been required to be fortified with folic acid — the synthetic form of folate.
The purpose was to reduce birth defects, says Dr. Judith Reichman, gynecologist and "Today" show medical specialist.
But since the FDA mandated the fortification, researchers have found a decrease in the prevalence of high levels of homocysteine, which is linked to heart disease, and a 3 percent per year reduction in mortality from strokes, she says.
And there's more.
There is now some evidence fortified grains reduce the risk of Alzheimer's disease.
This is really good news, although the opening sentence reminds me about that old saying about blind pigs and truffles.
Rowan Williams knows when to set off an explosion . . . which he did yesterday by announcing that he thought that the introduction of Sharia Law to Britain was unavoidable:
The Archbishop of Canterbury drew criticism from across the political spectrum last night after he backed the introduction of sharia law in Britain and argued that adopting some aspects of it seemed "unavoidable". Rowan Williams, the most senior figure in the Church of England, said that giving Islamic law official status in the UK would help to achieve social cohesion because some Muslims did not relate to the British legal system.
[. . .]
Williams was . . . criticised by the Tory peer Sayeeda Warsi, shadow minister for community cohesion and social action. "The comments may add to the confusion that already exists in our communities," she said "We must ensure people of all backgrounds and religions are treated equally before the law. Freedom under the law allows respect for some religious practices. But let's be clear: all British citizens must be subject to British laws developed through parliament and the courts."
Sharia law sets out a broad code of conduct for all aspects of life, from diet, wearing of the hijab to marriage and divorce.
British courts do not recognise Islamic marriages performed in this country unless they are registered separately with the civil authorities. The result is that some Muslims think they are protected by family law when they are not, and others can think they are properly divorced, when they are still married. However, Britain recognises Islamic marriages and divorces conducted in Muslim countries such as Pakistan or Bangladesh.
Under Islamic law polygamy is condoned, allowing a man up to four wives and giving him the primary right to call for divorce. This means he can leave his first wife, refuse her a divorce and remarry, yet still consider himself living in accordance with his faith.
Sorry for the lack of posts today . . . I was working from home, due to the snowstorm overnight, and never actually got around to updating the blog. I expect tomorrow to be a somewhat more normal day around here.
Thanks to a link from John Scalzi's Whatever, here is the page from which you can download Steven Brust's Firefly-verse novel "My Own Kind of Freedom".
Global warming can mean colder, it can mean drier, it can mean wetter, that's what we're dealing with.
- Steven Guilbeault, Greenpeace 2005, as quoted by Canada Free Press
Afterwards, another activist clarified the remark by stating that of course taller can also be evidence of shortness, richer can mean living in poverty, baboons can mean chairs, giraffes can mean pencils and hello Ms. Robinson, your lacy trousers are well buttered with smoked trout, can you hear what I'm writing with my toaster?
"Samizdata Illuminatus", "The Scientific Method is over-rated", Samizdata, 2008-02-05
. . . Toronto drivers may eventually learn how to cope with snow on the streets.
The view outside my office window. (It's actually pure white, but either the window coating or some artifact of how the Treo compresses the image adds some false colours.)
In a post about shilling for environmentally friendly energy subsidies, Radley Balko touches on one of the biggest boondoggles of the 19th century, the building of the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads:
In 1862, Congress justified passing the Pacific Railroad Act as a way to forestall a secessionist movement in California during the Civil War. The government subsidized the Union Pacific and Central Pacific railroads at $16,000 per mile over an easy grade and up to $48,000 in the mountains. In addition, the government offered substantial land grants along the right-of-way. Despite these government subsidies, both companies were bankrupt in the early 1870s.
As an example of how government subsidies distort incentives, both railroad construction crews worked past each other building an extra 200 miles of parallel rail
linesgrades (and some parallel tracks) instead of linking up so their companies could earn more subsidy payments and land grants. The fact that government subsidies were not necessary for building a transcontinental railroad was proved when James J. Hill built the highly profitable Great Northern Railway from Minnesota to Seattle completely without them or land grants.
The UP/CP are an excellent example of how injecting government money into what should be a private endeavour will seriously distort the market, creating a huge incentive to "game the system" to maximize the unearned profits from the government, rather than by serving the public by actually running a business.
If you've read any of the histories of the Union Pacific1, you'll very quickly discover that the company spent far more time and effort lobbying for subsidy, manoevering against potential competitors (by legislation, bribery, and political obstruction, not by actually serving their customers), and hiding the mind-boggling levels of waste, corruption, and incompetence of their day-to-day operations.
That's not to minimize the difficulties of actually building and running the railroad, which cost the lives of many men (disproportionally immigrant Irish and Chinese labourers), but the fact is that the railroad itself was a very distant second to the government largess to be diverted for private profit by the executives of the two corporations. The excesses and criminality of the various officers of the company had an even more important legacy: after the scandal broke, leaving both companies bankrupt, successive governments felt totally justified in heavily regulating all railroads, introducing economic burdens which would cripple most of them for nearly a hundred years (some of the worst regulatory burdens weren't lifted until the 1980's2).
1. Except for the sanitized versions produced for children, which only cover the engineering achievements, not the grubby reality of the UP & CP in their early years.
2. See the Staggers Act for information on the deregulation which belatedly allowed the revitalization of the American railroad industry.
Studies of the rail industry showed dramatic benefits for both railroads and their users from this alteration in the regulatory system. According to the Department of Transportation's Freight Management and Operations section's studies, railroad industry costs and prices were halved over a ten year period, the railroads reversed their historic loss of traffic (as measured by ton-miles) to the trucking industry, and railroad industry profits began to recover after decades of low profits and widespread railroad insolvencies.
On the general topic of British decline, here is another fascinating precendent being set for men with more than one wife:
Even though bigamy is a crime in Britain, the decision by ministers means that polygamous marriages can now be recognised formally by the state, so long as the weddings took place in countries where the arrangement is legal.
The outcome will chiefly benefit Muslim men with more than one wife, as is permitted under Islamic law. Ministers estimate that up to a thousand polygamous partnerships exist in Britain, although they admit there is no exact record.
[. . .]
Islamic law permits men to have up to four wives at any one time — known as a harem — provided the husband spends equal amounts of time and money on each of them.
A DWP spokesman claimed that the number of people in polygamous marriages entering Britain had fallen since the 1988 Immigration Act, which "generally prevents a man from bringing a second or subsequent wife with him to this country if another woman is already living as his wife in the UK".
It's a bad decision, for many reasons, but the kicker is in this statement:
In addition, officials have identified a potential loophole by which a man can divorce his wife under British law while continuing to live with her as his spouse under Islamic law, and obtain a spouse visa for a foreign woman who he can legally marry.
So . . . expect more claimants under the new policy.
Who these "others" are is left unsaid, though one could argue that "information warfare" hardly counts as a "secret strategy." And while it is at least conceivable that the CIA would be stupid enough to cut off Iran's lifeline to an independent media (it is the CIA, after all), ABC's source for this claim, an "Internet columnist" called Ian Brockwell, is of dubious reliability. According to his online bio, Mr. Brockwell's interests include UFOs and climate change, the latter of which he attributes to the perfidy of the former. But here's some free advice for the kids at ABC: Be slightly more skeptical of claims by online columnists whose work can be found on Holocaust denier Ernst Zundel's website, such as Brockwell's crie du coeur against "people fear those who debate the 'Holocaust'?" (Scare quotes around Holocaust in original, naturally).
Michael C. Moynihan, "Who Cut the Cables? An ABC Investigation" Hit and Run, 2008-02-04
It wasn't as bad as the fog last week, but it was certainly an "atmospheric" drive into work this morning:
British history appears to be badly muddled with fiction, according to this report:
Perfectly understandable, what? "King Arthur" and "Sherlock Holmes" sound totally real, while "Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery" and "Florence Nightingale" really do sound like made-up names.
If you never read a book in your life, of course.
Update, 5 February: Michael Moynihan feels a pinch or two of salt is warranted here:
Considering the source (British cable network UKTV Gold), I think a measure of skepticism is in order, though previous surveys have come to similar conclusions. As the BBC reported back in 2001, "Sir Edmund Blackadder was a real historical figure and Adolf Hitler was the prime minister who led Britain to victory in World War II, many schoolchildren in Britain believe."
. . . there's this.
China Dispatch: Using the Squat Toilet
Rule One: Exhaust all other possibilities.
If you are truly in need and condemned to use the squat toilet, comfort yourself with the knowledge that you are several thousand miles from friends and family. No one has to know.
Proceed as follows:
Most stalls do not have toilet paper. This is the best time to realize this. Either take paper from the general dispenser in the bathroom area or preferably bring your own as it will be made of tissue and not plywood carpaccio.
It gets much, much worse.
Link courtesy of "Da Wife", who clearly isn't planning a trip to that part of the world in the near future.
Jennifer Abel, writing for the Hartford Advocate, tries to find out:
According to a 2006 Scripps-Howard poll, over a third of Americans believe high-ranking officials either helped commit the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, or at least allowed them to happen. Other polls report even greater levels of cynicism.
Where do you draw the line separating "fringe conspiracy theory" from "mainstream phenomenon"? We're not sure, but if one-third of the populace isn't the mainstream it's at least a significant tributary of it.
So last November, when we learned that the Connecticut Citizens for a New 9/11 Investigation were hosting a symposium at St. Joseph's College in West Hartford, we paid it more attention than the usual "UFOs killed JFK" conspiracy e-mails that flood our in-box: rather than delete the message, we called the contact number within.
Distrusting the government is like drinking wine: if you never do it, you're probably too uptight. If you do it in moderation, it's very good for your health. But if you do it too much you make yourself ridiculous. Where on this spectrum do the 9/11 deniers fall? Not in the "uptight" zone, that much we knew. The question was, did they have a healthy anti-government buzz or a sloppy-drunk one?
This is a tough area: I know there are lots of otherwise intelligent folks who are absolutely convinced that George Bush himself was at the controls of one of the planes, and Dick Cheney was at the controls of the other one. Except they weren't really planes . . . except that they were planes, but not the hijacked planes . . . except they fired missiles just before impact . . . and so on, and so on. The libertarian movement has more than their fair share of conspiracy theorists, including some well-known authors and public speakers.
Of course, there have always been conspiracy theorists, and there's always just enough plausibility to persuade some people that something is fishy about assassinations, terrorist attacks, and other major disruptions to everyday life. Here's Penn & Teller's take on conspiracy theories:
There, that should keep you busy for the next 30 minutes . . .
The problem with Mitt Romney is that he isn't Mormon enough. His unusual, unpopular religion is the one part of his public image that doesn’t feel like it came out of a focus group. Naturally, he does everything he can to minimize, marginalize, and neuter it. Most voters, he said at one point, "want a person of faith as their leader. But they don't care what brand of faith that is." He thus reduced his purportedly heartfelt beliefs to a brand name, just another toothpaste in the great big CVS in the sky. It might not be Colgate, but the important thing is that he brushes daily.
Jesse Walker, "Make Mine Mormon: If only Mitt Romney were as colorful as his faith", Reason Online, 2008-02-04
. . . the jackals close in:
Somewhere in South America, a village is getting a shipment of "19-0" T-shirts. Giants upset Patriots 17-14 to win Super Bowl
impaler: Brady really played like the 6th round draft that he is.
rally_monkey_must_die: Cheaters never win.
rfronk: Bill leaving the field before the game was over was the best thing I've seen all day.
Electriclectic: Underdogs everywhere rejoice at this one. I don't even like pro ball, and this was a great game.
RomeoJr: Dogs and cats I tell you. Best time I ever had cheering for NY.
/Only time I ever cheered for NY.
yvmnoc: And across America, the sound of a million wives getting backhanded rings out...
inconnu: On one hand, I am happy the underdogs won. But seeing the old Dolphins geezers crow about it and drink champagne, while their team went like 1-16 this year, is going to kill me.
I was cheering for the Giants, but I didn't really expect them to win. And since when is it the default for the winning QB to get the MVP award? Eli didn't lose this game, but he certainly wasn't the most valuable player out there: the Giants' defensive line deserved the award more than anyone else, and the Patriots' Wes Welker was also more valuable than either QB (although on the losing side, I admit).
It's perhaps unkind to link back to some comments from earlier in the season at Brett Singer's Mostly Giants blog:
- Fred Robbins with another sack. The pass rush is good, especially against sub-par teams.
- Wow, Jackson just took off for a 19-yard run there. The entire Giant D was nowhere to be found.
- This supposedly spectacular Giant defense is showing that they aren't really all that good. I mean, they're good, but they aren't a legendary shut-down group. As if to prove it, Strahan allows Tavaris Jackson to get away and run for another first down.
[. . .]
- So what do you do? Do you bench Eli? Of course not. Do you fire Coughlin? You should but they won't. They seem to like him. Here's an idea: start penalizing teams financially for losing. Is that why the owner's never seem to care that much? I mean, of course they care. But it never seems like they care as much as they could. Or should.
Amazing how you can call for benching the QB and firing the coach in week 12, and then be cheering them as Superbowl champions just a few months later, isn't it?
Update, 4 February: The five stages of Patriots grief.
Update, 5 February: Gregg Easterbrook sings the praises for the Giants' defensive front:
Television cameras focus on the quarterback and running backs, but 90 percent of football action occurs away from the ball. Tuesday Morning Quarterback has long contended that line play is a bigger determinant of football victory than "skill player" performance, and never was this on better display than in Super Bowl XLII. Jersey/A's front seven simply ate the lunch of the league's best offensive line. Michael Strahan, Fred Robbins, Barry Cofield, Osi Umenyiora, Reggie Torbor, Antonio Pierce and Kawika Mitchell as starters, Justin Tuck and Jay Alford off the bench — this group turned in one of the top performances in sports history. The Giants' defensive front recorded five sacks of Tom Brady, who had been sacked only 21 times during the regular season. Giants defenders also knocked Brady down hard five times — Brady went through entire games in the regular season without getting his jersey dirty — and forced him into several inaccurate throws when receivers were open, while holding New England to an anemic 45 yards rushing. In successive postseason contests, the Giants' front seven ate the lunch of the league's third-best offensive line (Dallas), then the second-best (Green Bay), and finally, in the Super Bowl, the best. What a performance! The Giants' front seven should, as a group, have been named MVP.
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