April 30, 2008

QotD: "Intelligent" Design

Dr. Ayala, a former Dominican priest, said he told his audiences not just that evolution is a well-corroborated scientific theory, but also that belief in evolution does not rule out belief in God. In fact, he said, evolution "is more consistent with belief in a personal god than intelligent design. If God has designed organisms, he has a lot to account for."

Consider, he said, that at least 20 percent of pregnancies are known to end in spontaneous abortion. If that results from divinely inspired anatomy, Dr. Ayala said, "God is the greatest abortionist of them all."

Or consider, he said, the "sadism" in parasites that live by devouring their hosts, or the mating habits of insects like female midges, tiny flies that fertilize their eggs by consuming their mates' genitals, along with all their other parts.

For the midges, Dr. Ayala said, "it makes evolutionary sense. If you are a male and you have mated, the best thing you can do for your genes is to be eaten." But if God or some other intelligent agent made things this way on purpose, he said, "then he is a sadist, he certainly does odd things and he is a lousy engineer."

Cornelia Dean, "Roving Defender of Evolution, and of Room for God", New York Times, 2008-04-29

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

Meet the USLP candidates

David Weigel has a look at "wildest Libertarian Party nomination fight in decades". After the big names, he presents the usual list of names nobody should expect to see on the final ballot:

9. The others. There is absolutely zero chance that John Finan, Barry Hess, Dave Hollist, Daniel Imperato, Alden Link, or Robert Milnes will get the Libertarian Party’s nomination. They are occasionally entertaining, and they are harmless. Imperato, in particular, has run a campaign worthy of Max Headroom, bidding (with no success) for the Constitution and Green Party nominations, claiming to run a multi-billion-dollar international organization, to speak seven languages, and to be descended from Emperor Nero. (If that actually was true, why would anyone admit it?) "He is the most ridiculous candidate I have ever seen," says Starchild.

Posted by Nicholas at 08:59 AM | Comments (0)

FLDS update

Jacob Sullum asks some pointed questions about the state's interest in removing several hundred children from their mothers:

I'm not quite as old-fashioned as the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), which hews to the early-marriage customs of the 19th century and the polygamous practices of biblical times. But I'm old-fashioned enough to believe the government needs a good reason to pull a crying, clinging child away from her mother and hand her over to the care of strangers.

The possibility that the child might marry an older man 10 or 12 or 14 years from now does not cut it. Citing that long-term, speculative danger to justify the certain, immediate damage it has done by forcibly separating hundreds of children from their parents, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services has violated its duty to take such extreme measures only when there's no other way to prevent imminent harm.

The department took custody of 463 minors who were living at the FLDS church's Yearning for Zion (YFZ) Ranch in Eldorado after an April 3 raid that was based on an abuse report police believe was a hoax. On Monday state officials said the children, who are now living in group homes or shelters, include 53 girls between the ages of 14 and 17, of whom 31 are pregnant or have children.

It's all very well to act on the basis of credible intelligence, which this case does not seem to have had, but it certainly appears as if the state is treating the FLDS children differently than they would if it had been a non-religious group (or [ahem] if it was another religion which also has a penchant for polygamy). Laws are created in order to apply equally . . . and that does not appear to be happening here.

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

April 29, 2008


Mrs Obama is most famous for declaring, a propos her husband's candidacy, that "for the first time in my adult lifetime I'm really proud of my country". Just a throwaway line reflecting no more than the narcissism and self-absorption required to mount a presidential campaign in the 21st century? Well, possibly — were it not for the fact that almost every time the candidate's wife speaks extemporaneously she seems to offer some bon mot consistent with that bleak assessment.

And when she stops looking back across the final grim despairing decades of the 20th century ("Life for regular folks has gotten worse over the course of my lifetime") and contemplates the sunlit uplands of the new utopia, it doesn't, tonally, get any cheerier. Pretend for a moment that the name of the candidate had been excised from the following remarks. Would it seem part of the natural discourse of a constitutional republic of citizen legislators? Or does it sound more appropriate to the leadership cult of Basketkhazia or some other one-man stan?

"[INSERT NAME OF MESSIANIC LEADER HERE] will require you to work. He is going to demand that you shed your cynicism. That you put down your divisions. That you come out of your isolation, that you move out of your comfort zones. That you push yourselves to be better. And that you engage. Barack will never allow you to go back to your lives as usual, uninvolved, uninformed."

Barack, eh? Barack Jong-Il? Unlikely. Not too many "comfort zones" in Pyongyang. Barack Turkmenbashi, the late dictator of Turkmenistan? Possibly. But he would have exhorted his people to push themselves to grow more melons (a particular source of national pride). No, the above words were his wife's vision of life under the Administration of Barack Obama, the transformative Presidential candidate offering change you can believe in — or else. I hate to sound like I'm walled up in the Shed of Cynicism, but the constitutional right to be "uninvolved" and "uninformed" is one of the most precious, at least if the alternative is being "required" to work at coming out of your isolation and engaging with fellow members of the uninvolved, uninformed masses as we push ourselves to move out of our comfort zone.

Mark Steyn, "Mrs. Grievance", National Review, 2008-04-29

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

Some ideas just won't go away

So it is with the idea of creating new states where existing ones are not meeting expectations. Katherine Mangu-Ward has more:

If Peter Thiel funds something, it's bound to be cutting-edge awesome.

He is a supporter of the Methuselah Mouse Prize, which seeks to slow, stop, and eventually reverse aging. He was a producer of the film Thank You for Smoking, based on Christopher Buckley's charmingly ambiguous novel about a pro-tobacco lobbyist. An early investor in social networking, he was involved with Linked In and was the first investor in Facebook. He's big at the Singularity Institute (reason's Ronald Bailey caught up with him at the Singularity Summit earlier this year, check out the interview in the May print edition), which ponders and pushes artificial intelligence in preparation for a Vernor Vingeian "intelligence explosion." His first success was PayPal, which he originally hoped "would grow to become an extra-governmental system of currency, something reminiscent of the world described in Neal Stephenson's novel Cryptonomicon, in which programmers use encryption to create an offshore data haven free from government control."

And last week, Thiel announced a $500,000 investment — the same amount he put into Facebook in June 2004 — in the Seasteading Institute. Seasteading, or "homesteading on the high seas," is an idea that has long attracted libertarians and others who would like to see a little more competition between forms of government. The idea is to get out into international waters and set up a floating outpost (or 12, or 1,200) from which people can come and go, experimenting with different types of legal, social, and contractual arrangements.

Micronations have been discussed before.

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

April 28, 2008

QotD: Biofuel warm-mongering

The biofuels debacle is global warm-mongering in a nutshell: The first victims of poseur environmentalism will always be developing countries. In order for you to put biofuel in your Prius and feel good about yourself for no reason, real actual people in faraway places have to starve to death. On April 15, the Independent, the impeccably progressive British newspaper, editorialized: "The production of biofuel is devastating huge swathes of the world's environment. So why on earth is the Government forcing us to use more of it?"

You want the short answer? Because the government made the mistake of listening to fellows like you.

Mark Steyn, "Chickenfeedhawks: Global warm-mongering", National Review Online, 2008-04-26

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

Medical humour

Ronald Bailey points to some new suggestions for easing the load on doctors and nurses . . . icons to replace medical charts:


Update: Jon sent along this related link: Giant microbe stuffed toys, and this link: 4 Veneral dolls.

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

Do you want to live forever?

Arthur Caplan refutes some common misconceptions:

What is particularly interesting is that many of those raising the question of the ethics of immortality do so with an answer already in mind — "No, it's not right!" Both conservative and liberal writers alike are expressing a lot of moral angst in recent books, articles and opinion pieces about the prospect of people hanging around long, long after the last broadcast of "The Price Is Right" has aired, which could be an eternity.

Why is the prospect of immortality viewed in such a negative light? A bunch of different reasons can be found in the writings of the growing ranks of anti-agers. An often-invoked argument is that using science to create a world of geezers would not only cost a ton of money, it would not be a lot of fun for anyone, especially the geezers. Living longer and longer only means more arthritis, more osteoporosis, more gum disease and more dementia — and who needs or wants that?

Another concern is that it is not right for humans to strive for immortality because it violates the natural order of things. We were meant to live roughly to a maximum of 100 years. Anything longer is way outside what God or evolution had in mind for us.

And those who fret about a world of immortals also worry that not only will it be stuffy and dull since the young will never get a chance to do anything, but it will also be a world full of the vain and self-centered who think themselves worthy of more and more life ad infinitum.

H/T to Ronald Bailey.

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

April 27, 2008

Two Gents


The best money you'll ever spend on amateur theatre . . . need I say more?

H/T to Meredith Hubbard.

Posted by Nicholas at 09:18 PM | Comments (0)

April 26, 2008

The power of prayer

Regular contributor Roger Henry sent this little gem . . .

A Judge's Dilemma

In a small town, a person decided to open up a brothel, which was right opposite to a church. The church & its congregation started a campaign to block the brothel from opening with petitions and prayed daily against his business.

Work progressed. However, when it was almost complete and was about to open a few days later, a lightning bolt struck the brothel and it was burnt to the ground.

The church folks were rather smug in their outlook after that, till the brothel owner sued the church authorities on the grounds that the church, through its congregation & prayers, was ultimately responsible for the destruction of his brothel, either through direct or indirect actions or means.

In its reply to the court, the church vehemently denied all responsibility or any connection that their prayers were reasons for the act of God. As the case made its way into court, the judge looked over the paperwork at the hearing and commented:

"I don't know how I'm going to decide this case, but it appears from the paperwork, we have a brothel owner who believes in the power of prayer and we have an entire church that doesn't."

Posted by Nicholas at 09:30 AM | Comments (0)

April 25, 2008

Illegal in Montreal, too

A couple of days back, I made fun of my home town for their sudden attempt to create a crime of "taking photos of storefronts". Apparently, Montreal is feeling left out, so they're creating a new crime of illegal sitting in a park:

Most people who walk by Émilie Gamelin Park downtown see its many granite surfaces as an invitation to sit and relax.

Dozens were doing just that in the sun yesterday and ever since the park opened in 1992.

But as a Concordia University student found out Saturday, Montreal police, if they so choose, can hit you with a $628 ticket for nothing more menacing than sitting on a ledge.

The connection is, of course, attempting to suppress photography by "civilians".

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

Freezing assets without recourse to the law

As reported by the BBC, around 70 people in Britain have been, in effect, economically arrested without charge:

Mr Justice Collins said Orders in Council were not subject to the same Parliamentary scrutiny as normal legislation, each being laid before Parliament the day after it was made and coming into force the day after.

He said this was not the proper way to approach asset-freezing and that Parliament should step in.

He gave the Treasury leave to go to the Court of Appeal, delaying quashing the orders until then.

Jonathan Crow QC, for HM Treasury, had told him the UK government would be left in violation of a UN Security Council order were the orders to be quashed immediately.

The Treasury said the asset-freezing regime and individual asset freezes would remain in place pending the appeal.

A spokesman said the asset-freezing regime made an "important contribution" to national security by helping prevent funds being used for terrorism and was "central to our obligations under successive UN Security Council resolutions".

So it is possible to prevent someone from spending a penny of their own money, without charging them with a crime, and they have no recourse to law? Is this Britain or Soviet Russia during the purges? If the concern is that some of the money is going to be given to terrorists, then surely it would be enough to track the individuals' financial affairs without depriving them of their property? If they've committed no crime, the state should keep its grubby paws off!

Is this yet another move in the direction of enshrining precrime as the law of the land?

H/T to Guy Herbert writes:

The distinction between the legal order in Western democracies and the tyrannies of Stalinist Russia or modern China or the Arab gulf states, is often thought to be stark. In Britain in particular, we are complacent that 800 years of the common law will protect us against the overreaching power of state functionaries.

Today comes a case that shows this conceit to be ill-founded. It was already widely known that the Home Secretary would like the power to lock anyone up for seven weeks on her say-so. But it is not in effect yet, and is likely to be opposed in parliament. Who knew that the British state is already punishing 70 people with effective suspension of all their economic rights on mere accusation, by freezing their assets by Treasury order without any legal warrant or process?

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

More on the FDLS case

A few links on the recent FDLS situation:

For those coming in late . . . there's plenty of paranoia flowing, even this long after the notorious raid on the Branch Davidiansin Waco turned into a prolonged siege, eventually costing the lives of 82 people.

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

QotD: Paranoia in politics

On Tuesday the lesbian assassin of Vince Foster won Pennsylvania's presidential primary. In the larger contest for the Democratic nomination, though, she still lags behind a jihadist sleeper agent who is simultaneously a secret Muslim, a secret Communist, and a secret Republican. Whoever wins their race will go on to face a brainwashed puppet of the Viet Cong, and whoever wins that race will then get on with the modern president's central task: serving the interests of Mexico. It must be true, I read it in my email.

There's a persistant political myth that paranoia is only a feature of the fringe, something common among alienated radicals and reactionaries but rare in the great American center. In fact, paranoia has been ubiquitous across the political spectrum. You can find it in nearly every faction and movement at every point in American history, not least among those establishment figures who think they're immune to conspiracy theories. (The most lurid and destructive tales of Waco were not told by militiamen after the raid was over. They were told by the media and the government while the siege was underway.)

Jesse Walker, "The Paranoid Style Is American Politics: Fear and loathing on every campaign trail", Hit and Run, 2008-04-24

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

Hello? Hello? Is this thing on?

We appear to be back online, but at the new location.

At least, I can see the postings . . . I hope I'm not just typing to myself!

Update: Well, the text of the posts appears, but none of the locally hosted graphics are rendering.

Update, the second: Also, I've got to go through a few more hoops to make new posts appear on the main page: after I publish, it seems that I need to rebuild the index page to make the new post visible (this was not required on the old site). It doesn't appear to be a browser issue on my side: I've tried it with Firefox, Opera, and IE with generally similar results.

Update, the third: Boy, is this a pain in the butt! When I create a new entry, I have to copy the contents to a separate text file before I save it, as more than half the time the save operation appears to fail (I get an error page, rather than returning to the Edit Entry page). But sometimes, even though I get an error, the page was actually saved. I've created a couple of duplicate entries this way already.

So, as I'm having a lot of trouble previewing, I'm just posting to the site and trying to fix any markup errors or typo issues after the fact . . .

Posted by Nicholas at 08:28 AM | Comments (1)

April 24, 2008

Stem cells confirmed at the source of cancer growth

This is a repost from the backup blog:

From an article in the current Economist, a report on recent discoveries about the relationship between stem cells and tumour growth:

STEM cells have a controversial reputation, but in truth they are what makes human life possible. Each tissue in the body grows from a particular sort of stem cell. When it divides, one of its daughters remains a stem cell while the other eventually turns into whatever tissue its mother was designed to produce—be it blood, muscle, nerve or whatever. That is how healthy tissues are renewed, and it is now looking likely that it is how unhealthy tissues are renewed, too. Indeed, many researchers think that the underlying cause of cancer is the brakes coming off the regulatory system that stops normal stem cells from reproducing too much. For one of the most important medical discoveries made in recent years is that cancers, too, have stem cells and that these appear to be the source of the rest of the tumour.

This helps to explain why cancers are so hard to deal with. Treatments that kill the bulk of a tumour, but leave the stem cells alive, are only buying time. On the other hand, if all of a tumour's stem cells could be killed then it would torpedo the old wisdom that no patient is ever cured of cancer, but merely goes into remission. True cures for cancer would be possible.

The cancer-stem-cell theory, though plausible, was based on animal experiments and its relevance to humans was untested. But a series of studies reported this week at a meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research, in San Diego, has changed that. They suggest both that cancer stem cells are very relevant indeed to survival, and that going after them is an excellent idea.

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

QotD: Banning "evil-looking" guns

When a rash of gun murders takes place, it makes sense for the police to do one of two things: renew tactics that have been effective in the past at curbing homicides, or embrace ideas that have not been tried before.

But those options don't appeal to Chicago Police Supt. Jody Weis. What he proposes is a crackdown on assault weapons.

I'm tempted to say this is the moral equivalent of a placebo—a sugar pill that is irrelevant to the malady at hand. But that would be unfair. Placebos, after all, sometimes have a positive effect. Assault weapons bans, not so much.

If there are too many guns in Chicago, it's not because of any statutory oversight. The city has long outlawed the sale and possession of handguns. It also forbids assault weapons. If prohibition were the answer, no one would be asking the question.

Steve Chapman, "The Cops That Couldn't Shoot Straight: Chicago police and their proposed, unworkable gun ban", Reason Online, 2008-04-24

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

April 23, 2008

Illegal in Middlesbrough

I may have been born there, but I certainly couldn't live there now. Apparently the laws are different in the Peoples' Republic of Middlesbrough . . . it is deemed illegal to take photographs of stores:

Security goons, store-clerks and police officers detained Flickr user "i didn't mean to go to Stoke" for taking photos in the outdoor, pedestrianized area of Middlesbrough, UK:

Moments later as i walked away this goon jumped in front of me and demanded to know what i was doing. i explained that i was taking photos and it was my legal right to do so, he tried to stop me by shoulder charging me, my friend started taking photos of this, he then tried to detain us both. I refused to stand still so he grabbed my jacket and said i was breaking the law. Quickly a woman and a guy wearing BARGAIN MADNESS shirts joined in the melee and forcibly grabbed my friend and held him against his will. We were both informed that street photography was illegal in the town.

Two security guards from the nearby shopping center THE MALL came running over, we were surrounded by six hostile and aggressive security guards. They then said photographing shops was illegal and this was private land. I was angry at being grabbed by this man so i pushed him away, one of the men wearing a BARGAIN MADNESS shirt twisted my arm violently behind my back, i winced in pain and could hardly breathe in agony.

Original flickr post here. Video is here. Hat tip to Perry de Havilland, who wrote:

The UK government has been peddling a culture of fear since 9/11 as an excuse for ever more control over people's lives. Strange how people in Britain managed to survive all those years of Irish terrorism without such madness. To see how successful they have been at making this psychosis a pervasive feature of British life, check this out.

Related links:

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

New collective noun

Philip Chaston has a wonderful new (or at least new to me) collective noun: "A certainty of alarmists". Perfect.

Take a pinch of salt, stir in speculation, and pluck figures from thin air. Simmer with press releases escaping. Voila! alarmism, without a shred of evidence, just setting out how the future will shape itself:

Climate change could cause global conflicts as large as the two world wars but lasting for centuries unless the problem is controlled, a leading defence think tank has warned.

The Royal United Services Institute said a tenfold increase in energy research spending to around £10 billion a year would be needed if the world were to avoid the worst effects of changing temperatures.

However the group said that the response to threats posed by climate change, such as rising sea levels and migration, had so far been "slow and inadequate," because nations had failed to prepare for the worst-case scenario.

The source of the report is Nick Mabey, a former senior member of the Prime Minister's Strategy Unit, and has an unsurprising background in environmental charities, non-governmental organisations, and think-tanks. He has contributed to the economic study of global warming and its transmutation into the agitprop term, 'climate change'.

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

Guilt-tripping, environmental style

Ronald Bailey dons his ecological sackcloth to take the various "self-tests" available online:

Are you an ecological bigfoot? Various environmental groups now offer websites where you can supposedly find out. The site provided by the folks at Redefining Progress informs me that if everyone on the planet lived my lifestyle, we would need the resources of 6.5 Earths to supply everyone. I took the test again, this time selecting all the ecological choices, including living a 500-square-foot apartment filled with second-hand furniture in a large apartment building heated with biomass, using electricity generated by solar panels, equipped with low flow toilets and showers, buying all my food at farmers markets, planting my own garden fertilized by compost from my food scraps, eating a vegan diet, recycling all my paper, plastic, aluminum, glass and electronics, owning no car, never flying and traveling no more than 2,000 miles by bus or rail each year. If everyone lived like that we would only need 0.93 earths to accommodate everyone.

[. . .]

It is true that many of us in the rich countries could cut back a bit on our use of energy and other resources without too much pain. But 1.6 billion people around the world still lack access to electricity and 1.1 billion live on less than $1 per day. These poor people desperately need access to cheap sources of energy to improve their lives.

Assuming that these ecological footprint calculations have some merit, the upshot is that if one does not want to "redefine progress" as a return to 19th-century poverty (and surely no one does), then accelerated technological innovation aimed at finding low-carbon sources of cheap energy is crucial. How to achieve that goal is what the real environmental debate should be on this 38th Earth Day.

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

April 22, 2008

News . . . it doesn't occur in an even distribution

Unless you happen to live in New York City, Washington, or Los Angeles, this news-map won't tell you anything you didn't already know:


From the fine article:

As any journalist knows, news has to be about people — they either make it, or are affected by it. No people, no news. It therefore stands to reason that heavily populated areas of the US, like California or the Northeast, generate most of the news stories. But even allowing for population, some locations account for a disproportionately high number of news items.

Researchers extracted the dateline from about 72,000 wire-service news stories from 1994 to 1998 and modified a standard map of the Lower 48 US states (above) to show the size of the states in proportion to the frequency of their appearance in those datelines (below). Some notable results:

* Washington DC accounts for a huge proportion of the news stories — not surprising, since it is the nation's capital, and the home of Congress, the Presidency and other political news generating institutions. But still: DC (pop. 600,000; metro area 5.8 million) generates more news than the most populous state, California (pop. 36.5 million).

* New York is the largest news provider of the country, of course nearly all originating in New York City (pop. 8.2 million; metro area 18.8 million). Compare this to Illinois, home of the the nation’s third largest city, Chicago (pop. 2.8 million; metro area 9.5 million). Especially when considering metropolitan areas, Chicago/Illinois should be half the 'news size' of New York City/New York, while in fact it seems to be less than one fifth. Could this underrepresentation be down to another 'capital effect' (i.e. New York being the 'cultural capital' of the US)?

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

"It ain't what we don't know that hurts us . . ."

". . . it's what we know that ain't so." Mark Twain's famous saying should be carved over the doorways of most media outlets. TimesOnline does a bit to refute some common mistaken beliefs about health and medicine:


How wrong is this? Fairly. The risk is hugely exaggerated by the familiar portrayals of men in books, films and dramas gasping their last in flagrante.

What are the facts? Research shows that the chances of a 50-year-old non-smoking male suffering a heart attack is about one in a million in any hour. Having sex increases these odds to two in a million, but doubling a barely existent risk means that risk is still negligible.

Any related myths? That sex is a form of exercise. In fact, it equates only to climbing two flights of stairs.

[. . .]


How wrong is this? Totally.

What are the facts? The stats alone may be ease your headache. After all, your GP sees this symptom daily, but encounters a brain tumour only a few times in his entire career. Nasties of this sort almost always produce other symptoms — fits, personality change or unsteadiness.

Any related myths? That a scan is a good idea. The chances of turning up an irrelevant but worrying abnormality are fairly high.


How wrong is this? Totally, with the exception of the antibiotic metronidazole.

What are the facts? Any interaction of alcohol with virtually all antibiotics is nonexistent, or so small as to be irrelevant. Metronidazole, an antibiotic used for a variety of infections, is the exception to this rule. When mixed with even small amounts of booze, it causes vomiting.

Any related myths? That you should always finish your course of antibiotics. It usually makes little difference.

Update: The usual suspects weigh in on the Fark thread (the usual warnings apply about NSFW language and images at that link).

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

April 21, 2008


L. Neil Smith tries to get to the bottom of a pathology:

Suppose you were fond of books . . .

You liked their leather bindings, their fancy endpapers, the way they speak to you of other times and places, the way they feel in your hand.

You even liked the way they smell.

Naturally you were aware that books are dangerous. They give people ideas. Over the long, sad course of history, they've resulted in the slaughter of millions — books like Uncle Tom's Cabin, Das Kapital, Mein Kampf, even the Bible — but you had too much intelligence, too much regard for the right of other people to read, write, think whatever they please, to blame the books themselves.

Now suppose somebody came along who agreed with you: books are dangerous — and something oughta be done about it! Nothing you couldn't live with: numbers could be stamped inside them, a different number, not just in each kind of book, each title or edition — but in each and every individual book.

"We can keep track of 'em better that way — it'll help get 'em back if they're stolen." [. . .]

Originally written in 1997, but even more applicable today. There's more.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:34 AM | Comments (0)

Gushing over naval power

P.J. O'Rourke gets a chance to visit the "Big Stick":

There is only one window in the freight/passenger compartment, and you're nowhere near it. Your seat faces aft. Cabin lighting and noise insulation are absent. The heater is from the parts bin at the Plymouth factory in 1950. You sit reversed in cold, dark cacophony while the airplane maneuvers for what euphemistically is called a "landing." The nearest land is 150 miles away. And the plane doesn't land; its tailhook snags a cable on the carrier deck. The effect is of being strapped to an armchair and dropped backwards off a balcony onto a patio. There is a fleeting moment of unconsciousness. This is a good thing, as is being far from the window, because what happens next is that the COD reels the hooked cable out the entire length of the carrier deck until a big, fat nothing is between you and a plunge in the ocean, should the hook, cable, or pilot's judgment snap. Then, miraculously, you're still alive.

Landing on an aircraft carrier was the most fun I'd ever had with my trousers on. And the 24 hours that I spent aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt — the "Big Stick" — were an equally unalloyed pleasure. I love big, moving machinery. And machinery doesn't get any bigger, or more moving, than a U.S.-flagged nuclear-powered aircraft carrier that's longer than the Empire State Building is tall and possesses four acres of flight deck. This four acres, if it were a nation, would have the fifth or sixth largest airforce in the world — 86 fixed wing aircraft plus helicopters.

The Theodore Roosevelt and its accompanying cruisers, destroyers, and submarines can blow up most of the military of most of the countries on earth. God has given America a special mission. Russia can barely blow up Chechnya. China can blow up Tibet, maybe, and possibly Taiwan. And the EU can't blow up Liechtenstein. But the USA can blow up . . . gosh, where to start?

H/T to Nick "Ghost of a Flea" Packwood.

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

QotD: Texan marriage laws

I haven't had the time to thoroughly read up on the case, so I don't yet have an opinion of the propriety of the police action. If Scott Henson's take is correct, I guess my opinion would be that given what we now know, the tactics seem excessive, the justification for the raid iffy at best, and the cult in question is unquestionably icky.

Ickiness alone isn't illegal, of course. And if Texas law says parents can marry their 15-year-old daughters off to 60-year-old men, perhaps we should talk about the wisdom of that law, not arrest the people who still manage to stay within it, repugnant as they may be.

I have seen other reports in which police do claim to have found evidence of girls on the compound being pregnant while as young as 13. So I guess we'll have to wait and see how it all shakes out.

In the meantime, here's something to mull over: Should we allow parents to give consent for a child under 18 to marry, or to have sexual relations? If 18 is that state's age of consent, I think I'd be inclined to argue that we shouldn't.

Radley Balko, "Big Love and Big Government", Hit and Run, 2008-04-18

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

April 18, 2008

Best debate report ever

I don't even bother to listen to our own inane political debates, never mind those in a far away foreign land of which I know little. This, however, would be a debate worth watching:

MR. GIBSON: So we're going to begin with opening statements, and we had a flip of the coin, and the brief opening statement first from Mr. Lincoln.

LINCOLN: Thank you very much, Charlie and George, and thanks to all in the audience and who are out there. I appear before you today for the purpose of discussing the leading political topics which now agitate the public mind.

We are now far into the fifth year since a policy was initiated with the avowed object, and confident promise, of putting an end to slavery agitation. Under the operation of that policy, that agitation has not only not ceased, but has constantly augmented.

STEPHANOPOULOS: I'm sorry to interrupt, but do you think Mr. Douglas loves America as much you do?

LINCOLN: Sure I do.

STEPHANOPOULOS: But who loves America more?

LINCOLN: I'd prefer to get on with my opening statement George.

STEPHANOPOULOS: If your love for America were eight apples, how many apples would Senator Douglas's love be?



LINCOLN: In my opinion, slavery will not cease, until a crisis shall have been reached and passed. "A house divided against itself cannot stand." I believe this government cannot endure permanently half slave and half free.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Excuse me, did an Elijah H. Johnson attend your church?

LINCOLN: When I was a boy in Illinois forty years ago, yes. I think he was a deacon.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Are you aware that he regularly called Kentucky "a land of swine and whores"?

LINCOLN: Sounds right — his ex-wife was from Kentucky.

STEPHANOPOULOS: Why did you remain in the church after hearing those statements?

LINCOLN: I was eight.

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

It was the right thing to do in 1972 . . .

. . . and it's the right thing to do now:

Presumably because April 20 is a Sunday, Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) today introduced his briefly anticipated marijuana decriminalization bill. Dubbed the Personal Use of Marijuana by Responsible Adults Act of 2008, it would eliminate federal criminal penalties for possession of up to 100 grams (about three and a half ounces) of marijuana and the nonprofit transfer of up to an ounce. This is similar to the change recommended by the Nixon-appointed National Commission on Marihuana and Drug Abuse (a.k.a. the Shafer Commission) 36 years ago.

Predictably, in a nation where the majority of adults admit to having tried marijuana at least once, it will almost certainly not become law. Probably because it will "send the wrong message".

Posted by Nicholas at 08:40 AM | Comments (0)

Megan is wrong . . . this time

I don't usually find a lot to disagree with in Megan McArdle's writing . . . she thinks a lot about what she writes, and that thought is usually well expressed and logical. Here, however, I find I must disagree with her on freedom of speech:

Florida has just passed a law preventing property owners from barring shoppers and employees from bringing guns onto their property and leaving them inside of locked cars. Glenn Reynolds says "Seems reasonable to me." I'm not so sure. I'm second to none in my love of the Second Amendment, but that's for the government, not private owners. My freedom of speech does not extend to telling my boss he's a flaming jerk (and aren't I lucky that James Bennet is such a great guy!). I'm not sure why my right to bear arms should include the right to bear them on someone else's land.

Megan is — very unusually for her — confusing the freedom to do something with the necessity of taking responsibility for the consequences of that action. I can tell my boss whatever the heck I like: but I also need to bear the consequences of shooting my mouth off. Just because it may cost me my job does not mean I'm forbidden to say it . . . but I would have no right (or realistic expectation) to keep my job if I tell my boss he's a "flaming jerk".

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

QotD: The Right to Discriminate

[. . .] even if I endorsed the principle that racist shop owners ought to be free to exercise their beliefs, one's right to discriminate against people on the basis of race or creed is literally the last right I am interested in defending. When we have rolled back eminent domain abuse, ended state nannying about our health choices, curbed prosecutorial abuses, obliterated corporate welfare, stamped out farm subsidies, ended the moronic drug war, established well-funded school voucher programs, pruned our overgrown tax code, torn down our trade barriers, shoved the government all the way out of our bedrooms, rationalized regulation, and gotten the Supreme Court out of the business of approving nativity scenes in remote town squares . . . well, then I might be prepared to sit down and ponder, philosophically speaking, whether one's fundamental human right to be a repulsive racist should be recognized by the legal system in this context.

Last time I looked, we still had a ways to go on those other things yet.

Megan McArdle, "The rights order", Asymmetrical Information, 2008-04-10

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

April 17, 2008

Fun with lightning

Posting to one of the many mailing lists upon which I lurk, Roger Henry tells a few lightning-related tales:

Never actually been adjacent to something that was explosively damaged. When I worked for the national Telco a lot of the network was still magneto (wind up and wait) and much of the copper was overhead. Equipment was often destroyed by lightning. One I attended had destroyed the telephone. Chunks of it had spread through the kitchen like shrapnel. The magneto, the heaviest part, had punctured a fibro-cement wall. All that was left of the cabling was an inch of charred cable under each staple. The two batteries had exploded and spread their innards under most of the house and the small fuse box was only fragments with two bits of bakelite underneath the mounting screws. The poor woman who owned the house was making a cuppa when the 'phone blew up. She nearly cashed in her chips.

Much later, in Canberra, an Indian born colleague, a devout Hindu and a pretentious twit whom I didn't much like, had put up an imposing array of Christmas decorations. A thunderbolt crisped them all, set fire to the lounge and, for good measure melted most of his air-con ducting. Cost him about $30,000 to have it all put right. He also didn't believe in insurance which he claimed was a Western plot to enslave the masses.

He was less than impressed when I told him it was probably Divine intervention and he should have known better than to put up Christian decorations. Like I said, I didn't much like him.

I was in Katmandu, a Hindu nation, when a lightning bolt clove one of the principal temples in half. This threw the local religious leaders into a near panic. (The Goddess of lightning is also the Goddess of modesty so houses and temples are decorated with obscene carvings and paintings. The theory being that when the Goddess takes aim with a thunderbolt her sensibilities are so shaken it puts her off her aim and this particular temple was liberally decorated). The religious leaders went into a retreat to consider the matter, emerging a couple of days later to say there was nothing basically wrong with the theology. The lightning bolt was a warning against all the fornicating hippies that then infested the city. Next day there were truckloads of hippies being deported over the border to India.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:18 AM | Comments (0)

The best drag race you'll see this week

"So I'm fighting for the Germans in a battle against the RAF!"

H/T to Dave Slater.

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

I think I need to get out more

I must have an inherently filthy mind, because I misread the last word in this headline. Twice.

Delta takes Northwest up the aisle.

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

A different kind of shareware

John Scalzi is offering one of his least-read short stories as a shareware download:

Around the time I was editing Subterranean Magazine's cliche issue in 2006, I wrote my own short story based on a science fiction cliche ("Aliens! And humans! Having sex!!"). The story, "How I Proposed to My Wife: An Alien Sex Story," was not printed in the magazine itself, but was printed in a chapbook for the 80 or so folks who bought the hardcover limited edition of the magazine. So you could say this story has had an extremely limited circulation — indeed, it's easily the least seen published story of mine. Which I think is too bad, because it's a pretty funny story (which, yes, features alien sex). I'd like to see it have a bigger audience

And so: Starting right this very second, a (zipped) pdf version of "How I Proposed to My Wife: An Alien Sex Story" is available for you to read and enjoy. I’m offering it as shareware — that is, it's free to read, but if you like it, you're encouraged to send a little money my way. How much? Up to you (but, you know. Not too much. It's a short story, not a novel).

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

QotD: Energy policy

In the realm of energy policy, there are a great many bad ideas and a very few good ones. The usual practice of presidential candidates is to 1) sift through all these proposals, 2) separate the wheat from the chaff, and 3) keep the chaff.

Steve Chapman, "Springtime for Stupid Ideas: The candidates' pathetic energy policies", Reason Online, 2008-04-17

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

Nice place to visit, but don't eat the coconuts

By way of Slashdot comes a link to this New Scientist article on the recovery of the coral reefs at Bikini:

What does a coral reef look like 50 years after being nuked? Not so bad, it seems. Coconuts growing on Bikini Atoll haven't fared so well, however.

Three islands of Bikini Atoll were vapourised by the Bravo hydrogen bomb in 1954, which shook islands 200 kilometres away. Instead of finding a bare underwater moonscape, ecologists who have dived it have given the 2-kilometre-wide crater a clean bill of health.

"It was fascinating — I've never seen corals growing like trees outside of the Marshall Islands," says Zoe Richards of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies in Australia.

Richards and colleagues report a thriving ecosystem of 183 species of coral, some of which were 8 metres high. They estimate that the diversity of species represents about 65% of what was present before the atomic tests.

The ecologists think the nearby Rongelap Atoll is seeding the Bikini Atoll, and the lack of human disturbance is helping its recovery. Although the ambient radiation is low, people have remained at bay.

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

April 16, 2008

Donner, party of 15? Your table is ready.

How many cannibals could your body feed?
Created by OnePlusYou

H/T to John Scalzi for the link.

Posted by Nicholas at 01:14 PM | Comments (0)

Astronomical journalism, 101

Colby Cosh indicates that AFP's science writers may not be paying close attention to their own stories:

As the tale goes, a German schoolboy has corrected some NASA math and found that a 26,000-kilotonne asteroid actually has a 1 in 450 chance, not a 1 in 45,000 chance, of striking the Earth in 2036. The AFP's take is "Ho ho, look how a teenager showed up those American boffins." As an editor I'm pretty sure my headline would be "0.2% CHANCE HUMANITY IS SCREWED". That seems to me like an A1 above-the-fold story, but the NASA homepage hasn't gotten around to mentioning it, much less recommending the most effective anti-asteroid prayers from various world religious faiths. And for some reason, according to this account, NASA and the boy wonder have a good idea where the asteroid will hit, if it does hit.

Why do I suspect that some junior science reporter has got in over his head here? I will say this: if the story checks out, this kid should definitely get that blue ribbon at the science fair. And also Al Gore's Nobel Prize.

Update, 17 April: Er, oops:

Widespread media reports claim that a German schoolboy has recalculated the likelihood of a deadly planet-smasher asteroid hitting the Earth, and found the catastrophe is enormously more likely than NASA thought. The boy's sums were said to have been checked by both NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA), and found to be correct.

There's only one problem with the story: the kid's sums are in fact wrong, NASA's are right, and the ESA swear blind they never said any different. An ESA spokesman in Germany told the Reg this morning: "A small boy did do these calculations, but he made a mistake... NASA's figures are correct."

Posted by Nicholas at 11:34 AM | Comments (0)

Target: busy executives

A recent report in PC World illustrates the increasing sophistication of online phishing expeditions:

Panos Anastassiadis didn't click on the fake subpoena that popped into his inbox on Monday morning, but he runs a computer security company. Others were not so lucky.

In fact, security researchers say that thousands have fallen victim to an e-mail scam in which senior managers such as Anastassiadis are told that they have been sued in federal court and must click on a Web link to download court documents. Victims of the crime are taken to a phony Web site where they are told they need to install browser plug-in software to view the documents. That software gives the criminals access to the victim's computer.

This type of targeted e-mail attack, called "spear-phishing," is a variation on the more common "phishing" attack. Both attacks use fake e-mail messages to try to lure victims to malicious Web sites, but with spear-phishing the attackers try to make their messages more believable by including information tailored to the victim.

I guess the "Security update from your bank" scam has started to hit the point of diminishing returns. This newer scam promises to be more lucrative for a while, until spam filters start to catch on to them. It will take more time, as the personalization of the initial phishing message will tend to give that message plausible details that would deter spam software from tagging it.

As always, watch what you click on, especially if it seems alarming (court summonses, subpoenas, tax documents, etc.).

Posted by Nicholas at 09:07 AM | Comments (0)

History teachers live in vain

If this had appeared at Fark.com as a parody, it would have been totally appropriate. History teachers really do live in vain.

Posted by Nicholas at 08:59 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: Brigitte Bardot, convicted racist

Aside from sheep-slaughtering, Mlle Bardot is also opposed to Canadian seal-culling. But when she denounces seal-clubbing, nobody prosecutes her for racism. Islam is everything but a race. It's a religion, an ideology, a politico-legal system, a set of cultural practices — and there's something disquieting about the zeal with which the French state is pursuing her under the catch-all of "racism". In the last decade, she's been convicted and fined on four occasions for "inciting racial hatred". The first was for some remarks about the number of mosques in France, and the most recent was for some observations about "the Islamization of France". She is not a lady of moderate disposition, but it would hardly seem to be in the public interest to give the impression that these subjects are now beyond discussion.

Via the Hyacinth Girl, who yokes Bardot's name to mine to a degree that would boggle Roger Vadim. Who would have thought the quintessential Euro-sex kitten would end her days as the Mark Steyn of France? Although I guess that makes me the Brigitte Bardot of Canada.

Mark Steyn, "Cette sacrée gamine", The Corner, 2008-04-15

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

April 15, 2008

Arts funding

Nick Packwood has a suggestion for the arts community . . . or at least that part of the arts community which depends on public funds:

As an artist whose work is tax-payer supported to the tune of no dollars at all, I could not agree more. In fact, from what I can make out the musical genre I work in is ineligible for public funding of any kind be it municipal, provincial or federal. Perhaps as it should be.* But every cent I pay in taxes toward Polley's solipsistic vision is a cent I cannot put toward my own equally solipsistic - but I can assure you far more interesting - vision. I find it difficult to believe it has ever crossed her mind her subsidized work is in some sense stealing from those who have no interest in it. Still less that subsidizing her work is at the expense of other artists.

Here is a thought: Find a patron, build an audience or pay for it yourself. It was good enough for the Renaissance. And it is difficult to argue with the results then and now from the divine to the dire.** Though Sarah Polley really is very good in John Adams so props for that.

* Of course, I would be delighted should enterprising Flea-readers stumble across a martial industrial/neofolk fund to which I might apply. There are principles and then there is cash.

** That goes double for CBC television and publicly funded basketball stadiums. If we are going to throw money at sport it should at least be something gladiatorial.

Friends of ours (many years ago, now that I think on it) who were active in trying to increase government funding for the arts were mortified at the very notion of going back to the days of private patrons. Apparently the need to satisfy the paymaster is utterly beneath contempt for a true artist. Artists are the "soul of the culture" and should be free to explore, create, and ponder art to their hearts' content, we were earnestly informed. Let's just say that the conversation didn't go well from that point onwards . . .

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

QotD: Policing in Britain

From one of our readers, "Fed_Up", commenting on my recent encounter with the police. Thanks for the comments. The one here raises the issue of class. It is sometimes said that these days, the cops, or at least some of them, are the "paramilitary wing of the Guardian newspaper". This represents a significant shift in the cultural/political standing of the police over my lifetime.

Consider this: there is no doubt that during the 1980s, when the Conservatives were in power, some of the police powers used at the time got on to the statute books with relatively little complaint from what I might loosely call "the right". Not everyone was complacent, of course. Libertarian Alliance Director Sean Gabb and the LA's founder, the late Chris R. Tame, were early in pointing out at the time that no consistent defence of liberty makes sense if it is confined purely to economics, a point that some Tories to this day don't seem to grasp. While coppers were pinching Rastafarians in Brixton and hitting coalminers on the head in Yorkshire, a lot of the middle classes were happy to look the other way. As an unashamed middle class Brit with mortgage, happy marriage and decent job, I am the sort of person, I suppose, that has in a certain way been radicalised by the CCTV state, or "parking warden culture", as one might call it. It is important to understand, however, that the sort of petty exercise of power has been going on, sometimes unremarked, for years. So I certainly don't feel sorry for myself. I am, more than anything else, depressed at the fatuity of "security theatre" policing. It must, at one level surely, gnaw away at the morale and self respect of decent coppers. But there is no doubt that the role and status of the police has changed and so has the type of person that might be attracted to making a career in it.

Johnathan Pearce, "A further thought on policing in Britain", Samizdata, 2008-04-14

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

Educational bureaucracy meets student reality

I really thought we'd already reached the nadir of political correctness in the schools, but I was wrong:

Is American public education a form of child abuse? A week ago, The Washington Post's Brigid Schulte reported on a student named Randy Castro who attends school in Woodbridge, Virginia. Last November at recess he slapped a classmate on her bottom. The teacher took him to the principal. School officials wrote up an incident report and then called the police.

Randy Castro is in the First Grade. But, at the ripe old age of six, he's been declared a sex offender by Potomac View Elementary School. He's guilty of sexual harassment, and the incident report will remain on his record for the rest of his schooldays — and maybe beyond. Maybe it'll be one of those things that just keeps turning up on background checks forever and ever: Perhaps 34-year old Randy Castro will apply for a job and at his prospective employer's computer up will pop his sexual-harasser status yet again. Or maybe he'll be able to keep it hushed up until he's 57 and runs for Governor of Virginia and suddenly his political career self-detonates when the sordid details of his Spitzeresque sexual pathologies are revealed. But that's what he is now: Randy Castro, sex offender. The title of the incident report spells out his crime: "Sexual Touching Against Student, Offensive." The curiously placed comma might also be offensive were it not that school officials are having to spend so much of their energies grappling with the First Grade sexual-harassment epidemic they can no longer afford to waste time acquiring peripheral skills such as punctuation.

Randy Castro was not apprehended until he was six, so who knows how long his reign of sexual terror lasted? Sixteen months ago, a school official in Texas accused a four-year old of sexual harassment after the boy was observed pressing his face into the breasts of a teacher's aide when he hugged her before boarding the school bus. Fortunately, the school took decisive action and suspended the sick freak. By the way, is that the first recorded use in the history of the English language of the phrase "accused a four-year old of sexual harassment"? Well, it won't be the last: In the state of Maryland last year, 16 kindergartners were suspended for sexual harassment, as were three pre-schoolers. School officials declined to comment to The Washington Post on Master Castro's case on the grounds of student confidentiality. However, they did say that the decision to call the cops was "the result of a misunderstanding". And it's not like he was Tasered or anything.

Words fail me.

Posted by Nicholas at 08:34 AM | Comments (0)

April 14, 2008

Engineers and cats . . . an uncomfortable arrangement

H/T to Patrick Vera.

Posted by Nicholas at 05:29 PM | Comments (0)

George Jonas on banning hate speech

Jon, my virtual landlord, sent me a link to this article on the restrictions on hate speech:

What is "hate-speech"? It's speech the authorities hate. No doubt, it is often worth hating. It may be speech that every right-thinking person ought to hate, but it is also, by definition, speech that falls short of unlawful or tortuous speech — i.e., speech that's fraudulent, defamatory, seditious, conspiratorial — for which a person could be either sued or charged criminally. Hate-speech legislation seeks to regulate speech that is not against any law — logically, since unlawful speech doesn't need to be outlawed.

Here's the paradox. Hate-speech legislation can only ban free speech. Prohibited speech is already banned.

People often say that freedoms aren't absolutes and they're right. Free expression is anything but "absolute" in free societies. It's hemmed in by strictures against slander, official secrets, perjury, fraud, incitement to riot, and so on. The question is, should laws go beyond these strictures? And if they do, won't they suppress opinion and creed in the end? The answer is yes. There is nothing else for them to suppress.

Repressive positions are difficult to defend for those who wish to keep their liberal credentials intact. They usually do so by quoting bits of pernicious nonsense from the kind of speech they would ban to illustrate how worthless and abhorrent it is. But pointing to the abhorrent nature of despised speech is insufficient because no speech is legislated against unless it's abhorrent to some. Nobody outlaws Mary Poppins, not even the Human Rights Commissions (though this could be famous last words).

[. . .]

Like Canadian supporters of hate-speech legislation, supporters of the Weimar Republic thought that their groups and causes would occupy all seats of authority and set all social and legal agendas forever. Shades of the Canadian Civil Liberties Association or the Canadian Jewish Congress! They couldn't envisage the guns of their own laws being turned around to point at them one day.

Eradicating hateful ideas through free discourse is liberal; trying to eradicate them through legislation is illiberal. "There is always a chance that he who sets himself up as his brother's keeper," wrote Eric Hoffer, "will end up by being his jail keeper."

Another thing: "Banned in Boston" sells tickets. As Victor Hugo put it: "The writer doubles and trebles the power of his writing when a ruler imposes silence on the people." I'd think twice before banning neo-Nazis for this reason alone.

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

Britain . . . is done

Albion may still exist, but it's pretty clearly just a shadow of its former glory. A few recent developments merely point to the coming surrender:

The Royal Navy no longer is to be tasked with anti-piracy patrolling, for fear that the apprehended pirates will be able to claim sanctuary in Britain.

Random searches of vehicles under anti-terrorism laws.

British courts have now recognized a 'right to life' even under combat conditions. It's difficult to fault the underlying intent, but the practical applications will be nigh-on crippling to the British army.

Update: It must be a coming meme, as Nick Packwood hits some of the same points in his post on the decline of Britain.

Piracy on the high seas merited the death penalty until 1998. Now the Royal Navy has taken advice not to intervene lest the human rights of pirates be compromised by sharia courts. Somebody get the Archbishop of Canterbury on the phone... Worse yet, lest pirates claim asylum - and the dole - in the UK.

[. . .]

The Foreign Office is four-square in favour of this latest sordid mistreatment of the Royal Navy. They do not call it "foreign" for nothing.

Update, the second: Of course, heavy-handed police tactics are hardly the sole preserve of the bobbies . . . it's now effectively illegal to dance at the Jefferson Memorial:

The background: twenty people were at the Jefferson Memorial, dancing to the private groove of their own iPods so as not to disturb anyone. Apparently cops showed up and ordered them to disperse anyway, despite the fact that they were not doing anything obviously illegal. One of the libertarians joyfully (yet tastefully and quietly) celebrating the birthday of a favorite founding father questioned why they should have to move along — at which point one of DC's finest shoved them up against a pillar, cuffed their hands behind their back, and hauled them away.

As a resident of DC, I'm certainly overjoyed to hear that violent crime has fallen to a level where we can spare valuable police resources to fight the silent scourge of . . . dancing. Now that we have no more murders or muggings, it seems to me that we should also be looking at newsboys who smoke, women who attend the theater, and of course, the iniquitous habit of playing cards on the sabbath.

Megan links to several reports on the incident, including this gem of a comment from Julian Sanchez: "given that my friend's immediate social circle is largely composed of journalists, bloggers, and constitutional lawyers who sue the government for fun, I predict hilarity."

Update the third: I hesitated about adding this to the list of British shame, but it's too illustrative of just how bad Chav "culture" can get.

Posted by Nicholas at 09:05 AM | Comments (0)

Cartoon of the day


From this article on whether Economics can be considered a science.

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

QotD: The perception of safety

The government crackdown on airlines over alleged safety lapses fits a familiar storyline: Conscientious regulators saving the public from heartless corporations that put lives at risk to fatten profits. It's a tale that would be perfect for a movie — since movies are famous for taking liberties with the truth.

In real life, this story may not have a happy ending. By forcing the cancellation of thousands of flights, the Federal Aviation Administration most likely did not prevent fatalities but caused them.

Commercial aviation, after all, is by far the safest form of travel. When people can't fly, many will drive. When they take to the road, they're at greater risk of ending up in the morgue. This is the law of unintended consequences with a vengeance.

Steve Chapman, "You're Stranded? You're Welcome: A nightmare that never got to 20,000 feet", Reason Online, 2008-04-14

Posted by Nicholas at 08:40 AM | Comments (0)

April 11, 2008

Daily reminder: help preserve freedom of speech in Canada

Visit these blogs to read about their legal situation. Help keep the right to freedom of speech alive in Canada.

Don't let kangaroo courts become the arbiters of what we are allowed to say, write, and publish here in Canada. Fight for freedom of speech!

Update: Red Tory weighs in:

You might well ask why I’m writing this. Good question! Although I rather doubt it, I suppose the Google-happy Mr. Warman could conceivably take it upon himself to sue me, after all, I've repeated alleged libelous statements and have insinuated that he's a "litigious crank" and furthermore have suggested by implication that he's a self-appointed "Witch-Finder General" amongst other things. Well, all I can say to that is I wish him much luck in such a futile endeavour — no blood will be forthcoming from this stone, I assure you. The reason is quite straightforward and perhaps rather naïve — it's simply to express my concern as an individual about the state of free speech in this country. The inviolability of this particular right is something that I believe is absolutely paramount and is an issue that touches all of us in a quite direct manner. Debate on political issues cannot be robust and wide-open if the looming threat of a potential inquest under the Human Rights Act or a libel suit hangs over you. Is that really the sort of country we want to live in?

The time has come for legislative reform, not only of the Human Rights Act, but also of Canadian libel law in general. A good first step would be to reverse the burden of proof in lawsuits involving public figures: the plaintiff, not the defendant, should have to prove the statements in question are false. Furthermore, statements of personal opinion or belief should be exempted and the plaintiff forced to prove that the statements were actually made with malicious intent.

I wish the government, or the Liberal opposition if it ever manages to locate its testicles, would aggressively pursue these legal reforms with some vigor . . . but will they? Well, that’s very much up to YOU, isn't it?

Posted by Nicholas at 12:59 PM | Comments (0)

Cheap sign humour

Awkward sign language:


Posted by Nicholas at 12:42 PM | Comments (0)

This actually makes a lot of sense

Mark Steyn, after he gets over the shock of Newsweek using the term "Steyn-hugger" to diss Martin Amis, gets to the real reason for certain themes being dominant in the media right now:

Islam is everything but a race. It's a religion — which is to say (if you're an atheist like Amis and his friend Christopher Hitchens) an ideology. It's also a political platform and an imperialist project, as those terms are traditionally understood. It has believers of every colour on every continent. So, if Islam is a race, then everything's a race — from the Elks Lodge to the Hannah Montana Fan Club to the British Airways frequent flyer program. Moreover, to denounce as "racist" any attempt to discuss Islam is to accept that being Muslim, like being black, is a given, fixed, unchangeable. That's what its adherents believe: 36 per cent of young British Muslims think that anyone attempting to leave Islam should be killed. But there's no reason for non-Muslims to sign on to that. "Racist," of course, no longer has anything very much to do with skin colour. It merely means you have raised a topic that discombobulates the scrupulously non-judgmental progressive sensibility. I wonder if one reason we seem so bizarrely fixated on "climate change" and the flora and fauna is because it's one of the few subjects we can talk about without having any dissenting view greeted by cries of "Racist!" For the moment.

H/T to Jon, my virtual landlord, for the link.

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

QotD: "They are not adult—that's why they're in the military"

We were kind of drunk at the time so we forgot to mention it, but on Monday Fox News Channel aired a debate between Candy Lightner, the founder of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and Alex Koroknay-Palicz of the National Youth Rights Association, which contends that if you're old enough to vote, marry, and join the Army, you're old enough to guzzle Jäger. As you can imagine, Lightner was unimpressed, and rather vocal about it [. . .]

Koroknay-Palicz said U.S. soldiers between the ages of 18 and 21 should have the legal right to drink a beer, which seems more than reasonable considering that they might, you know, die at any moment. (You need to unwind after your day at work?) But Lightner was disgusted that our fighting men and women would have the audacity to imbibe. She ranted that 18-year-olds haven't "developed, and that's exactly why the draft age is 18, because these kids are malleable." She added: "They will follow the leader, they don't think for themselves, and they are the last ones I want to say, 'Here's a gun, and here's a beer.' They are not adult—that's why they're in the military. They are not adults."

There ya have it: Thanks for protecting us at home and abroad, ya mindless juvenile killing machines. No drinky for you!

Marty Beckerman, "MADD Founder Hates Troops Almost As Much As She Hates Alcohol", Fresh Intelligence, 2008-04-10

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

April 10, 2008

Only serious paintball fanatics need apply

I vaguely knew that paintball was popular in some areas, and that the equipment was getting more serious, but I didn't know just how serious it could be:

The EMT Paintball Sentry Turret is the first and only Video Relay Paintball Turret available. It comes loaded with standard options and can be customized to meet your needs. You will not find anything else like it.

On the field, The EMT Paintball Turret adds a whole new level of game play to any scenario game. It is also a huge hit for public groups when used to guard a base or target. The Video Relay Remote Controls allow physically disabled persons an opportunity to participate in paintball when they previously were unable to. It's also a popular option for parents or children too shy to participate on field with more experienced players.

The unit is completely sealed from paintball impacts and is also available in both water proof and winter weather (up to -30 C) versions for the hardcore players who play year-round in the cold winters.

The EMT Paintball Sentry Turret can be upgraded with a number of options such as infinite 360 degree rotation, 1000+round hoppers, RPS upgrades, etc. There are also a number of customizable options and add-ons that can be installed for free at the time of purchase or bought for an existing setup.

I know of several people who'd have given body parts for toys like this a few years ago . . .

Posted by Nicholas at 03:31 PM | Comments (0)

Please consider donating to the cause of free speech in Canada

As you may or may not know, the battle to preserve freedom of speech in Canada has entered a new phase. Several conservative bloggers are facing lawsuits intended to tie them up in court and financially cripple them. The situation has gone from farcical to potentially disastrous for these folks almost overnight. Please visit these blogs and read their accounts of the case.

Don't let kangaroo courts become the arbiters of what we are allowed to say, write, and publish here in Canada. Fight for freedom of speech!

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

QotD: Guilty, without trial

So in effect the Ontario "Human Rights" Commission, the world leaders in labiaplasty jurisprudence, have decided that, even though they don't have the guts to hear the case, they might as well find us guilty. Ingenious! After all, if the federal Human Rights Commission hadn't been so foolish enough to drag Marc Lemire to trial, their bizarre habits of posting their own hate messages using telecommunications fraud and identity theft would never have come to light. If they'd simply skipped the trial and declared Mr Lemire guilty anyway, they wouldn't be in the mess they're in.

So, having concluded they couldn't withstand the heat of a trial, the OHRC cut to the chase and gave us a drive-thru conviction. Who says Canada's "human rights" racket is incapable of reform? As kangaroo courts go, the Ontario branch is showing a bit more bounce than the Ottawa lads.

I'd be interested to know whether the Justice Minister of Ontario thinks this is appropriate behaviour. At one level, Chief Commissioner Barbara Hall appears to have deprived Maclean's and me of the constitutional right to the presumption of innocence and the right to face our accusers. But, at another, it seems clear the OHRC enforcers didn't fancy their chances in open court. So, after a botched operation, they've performed a cosmetic labiaplasty and hustled us out.

Mark Steyn, "Hey, why bother with a trial?", Steyn Online, 2008-04-09

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

Biofuel subsidies: bad economics and bad for the environment

Peter Suderman pokes some holes in the balloon of bio-fuel subsidies:

Thanks to these crop shifts [from barley to subsidised corn and rapeseed], the price of barley has doubled in the past two years, an increase that eventually gets passed along to consumers. Some brewers have raised their prices already, and many others are planning on raising them soon. German beer drinkers are already feeling the hit on beers like Erdmann's Ayinger, which raised its price from 6.10 euros to 6.40 euros over the last year. That's roughly fifty cents a beer for Germans who consume an average of more than 30 gallons of beer person each year.

But that seems like a fairly small price to pay for such a worthy cause, right? After all, if, as scientists like NASA climatologist James Hansen say, global warming threatens humanity with imminent catastrophe from climactic shifts and sea level rise, then biofuels might be a little more important than brew prices.

Problem is, it turns out that even if you consider climate change a serious threat, biofuels are hardly an effective means of preventing it. In fact, they just might exacerbate the problem. These days, anyone saying otherwise—like, for example, European regulators—must be sloshed.

Two studies published in the journal Science at the beginning of February indicate that, rather than producing less carbon emissions than regular fuels, biofuels, once the full production costs are taken into account, probably produce greater overall emissions than their traditional counterparts. And the difference isn't tiny, either. According to one of the studies, "converting rainforests, peatlands, savannas, or grasslands to produce biofuels in Brazil, Southeast Asia, and the United States creates a ‘biofuel carbon debt' by releasing 17 to 420 times more carbon dioxide than the fossil fuels they replace." As Joe Fargione, a scientist at the Nature Conservancy and author of one of the studies, has explained, "carbon debt" is what results from the additional land clearing, beyond food production, needed to grow biofuel crops. Clearing land releases natural stores of carbon into the atmosphere; so greater reliance on biofuels means increasing our carbon debt.

That's a heck of a two-for-one deal, isn't it?

It's actually even better than 2-for-1, as we get all these "benefits": increased cost of food (because cropland is diverted away from food to biofuel production), higher taxes (to pay for the subsidies to farmers), lower fuel efficiency per litre of fuel, increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, greater pressure on rainforests (to replace the food crops no longer being produced elsewhere), and much more government involvement in both farming and food production.

It's the civil equivalent of what the military calls a "force multiplier".

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

April 09, 2008

Old and busted: Internet. New and hot: Grid

Victor sent me a link to this article about the proposed successor to the Internet . . . the Grid:

The power of the grid will become apparent this summer after what scientists at Cern have termed their "red button" day — the switching-on of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC), the new particle accelerator built to probe the origin of the universe. The grid will be activated at the same time to capture the data it generates.

Cern, based near Geneva, started the grid computing project seven years ago when researchers realised the LHC would generate annual data equivalent to 56m CDs — enough to make a stack 40 miles high.

This meant that scientists at Cern — where Sir Tim Berners-Lee invented the web in 1989 — would no longer be able to use his creation for fear of causing a global collapse.

This is because the Internet has evolved by linking together a hotchpotch of cables and routing equipment, much of which was originally designed for telephone calls and therefore lacks the capacity for high-speed data transmission.

By contrast, the grid has been built with dedicated fibre optic cables and modern routing centres, meaning there are no outdated components to slow the deluge of data. The 55,000 servers already installed are expected to rise to 200,000 within the next two years.

Professor Tony Doyle, technical director of the grid project, said: "We need so much processing power, there would even be an issue about getting enough electricity to run the computers if they were all at Cern. The only answer was a new network powerful enough to send the data instantly to research centres in other countries."

That network, in effect a parallel Internet, is now built, using fibre optic cables that run from Cern to 11 centres in the United States, Canada, the Far East, Europe and around the world.

Posted by Nicholas at 05:53 PM | Comments (0)

The opposite of being "Punked"

The epic struggle between the Mudcats and the Lugnuts in Hermosa Beach, California.

Posted by Nicholas at 05:34 PM | Comments (0)

All boats are lifted, but some much more so than others

Victor Davis Hanson notes a significant economic change and how it has not been matched by political changes:

In the general enrichment of the United States over the last quarter-century of globalization, it is hard to ascertain one’s politics by one's financial circumstances. Being a Democratic leader now does not suggest any greater intimacy with poverty than a Republican's, or any greater reluctance to indulge in the rarified good life. If anything, the Democratic party (cf. the Obama nexus) is increasingly an alliance of those who want federal entitlements, combined with the elite who are willing to hand them out — precisely because their own financial circumstances mean that tax increases hardly affect their standard of living.

Indeed, whereas indulgences in gambling, sex, or drugs may have embarrassed conservative Republicans, the hypocrisy for Democrats lies in the combination of high living and condemnation of the present economic system. Al Gore leaves a bigger carbon foot-print than most of those he condemns. Rev. Wright disdains the middle class — perhaps because he lives as if he were in the upper-class. The Clintons talk ad nauseam about "fairness," but weren't about to stop at $50 million when $100 million could buy so much more.

There's a reason that the phrase "silk stocking socialists" entered the language!

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

QotD: Ideological attacks on Islam

I brought prejudices acquired during the Cold War to the struggle between civilisation and Islam, but tried — and try still — to be careful to see the differences as well as the similarities between the two struggles.

In this spirit, I at first thought that whereas Soviet communism was ideologically breakable, Islam is not breakable. More than a billion souls believe in it, and however true it might be that it is evil and repulsive nonsense, saying this would accomplish very little. It would merely poke the hornet's nest with a stick. But slowly, I have been coming round to thinking almost the complete opposite. Not only does denouncing Islam as evil nonsense establish the mere right, of us civilisationers, to denounce Islam — along with our right to say anything else we might want to say — true or false, nice or nasty, sensible or daft. Such talk also, I am starting to believe, strikes a dagger into the heart of the enemy camp, by spreading doubt in it about basic beliefs and hence sewing discord and confusion. I used to think that Islamists were indifferent to such ideological attacks. Now, I am starting to believe that they fear them very much. Hence all the murder threats. They sense that this is one of their weakest and potentially biggest fronts in the struggle. The biggest front of all, in fact.

Brian Micklethwait, "Exflux from Islam?", Samizdata, 2008-04-09

Posted by Nicholas at 08:49 AM | Comments (0)

Clear the way, here comes the FDA!

Jacob Sullum looks at the arrival of the US Food and Drug Administration on the tobacco scene:

Last week the House Energy and Commerce Committee overwhelmingly approved legislation that would authorize the Food and Drug Administration to regulate tobacco products. Since the FDA is usually portrayed as a benevolent (if occasionally sleepy) watchdog, you might assume the bill is all about consumer protection. But it's actually aimed at consumer prevention, which is not quite the same thing.

A consumer protection bill that reduced competition, raised prices, restricted choice, blocked information, and made products more hazardous could not really be counted as a success. Yet the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which has broad support in both houses of Congress, promises to do all these things in an effort to discourage consumption.

The act imposes new regulatory burdens and advertising restrictions that will help industry leader Philip Morris, which supports the bill, maintain its market-share advantage over smaller cigarette manufacturers, which oppose the bill. The compliance costs and reduced competition are likely to raise prices, which counts as an advantage if your goal is "smoking prevention" but a disadvantage if your goal is to buy a pack of cheap smokes.

But it's not just a bill to hand greater market dominance to Philip Morris:

Worse, an existing product can be deemed a "modified risk tobacco product" subject to FDA approval if its manufacturer indicates on the package, in advertising, or in any other forum that it's less hazardous than cigarettes. If an executive at a smokeless tobacco company mentioned in a TV interview or an op-ed piece that his products were much safer than cigarettes, which is indisputably true, those products could suddenly be considered illegal.

Here the concern is not fraud but accurate information that consumers might "misuse" (by, for example, switching from cigarettes to oral snuff instead of giving up tobacco altogether). As far as this bill's authors are concerned, you can't handle the truth.

Posted by Nicholas at 08:37 AM | Comments (0)

April 08, 2008

". . . you can drink it every day . . ."

I'm on the LCBO Vintages mailing list, so I get notices of new offers, new releases, and so on. Today's mailing was of some minor amusement. This issue is about a special release of wines from Château Calon-Ségur, and came with the approval of no less a wine celebrity than Johnny Depp:

It's a marvellous wine that you can drink every day and it's also very affordable.
Johnny Depp, quoted in Madame Figaro Magazine, Dec. 2005

Of course, luminaries like Mr. Depp have deeper pockets than most of us: the cheapest wine in this offering is $52, and they range up to $1,625.00 (admittedly, that's for a seriously oversize bottle: 5 litres).

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

QotD: Revolutionary nihilism

The enemy abroad is by turns barbarously ignorant or a cave-dwelling comic opera evil but can under no circumstances be taken seriously for his accomplishments or his ideas. Our own fifth columnists are another matter.

When Palestinians living in the West — and their academic allies — spout the same rhetoric of grievance one is forced to concede they might mean it, that their calls for blood are not entirely coerced and that their holy men are indeed representative of popular sentiment. The will of the people truly is to throw candy to their children in celebration of the death of the children of their cosmic enemy. Their aims really are circumscribed by a seventh century psychotic fugue and have nothing whatsoever to do with the years 1948, 1967 or 1973 let alone the collective would be piety of Western onlookers.

Where is the Palestinian Thomas Jefferson or Thomas Paine? Where is the Palestinian Burke or Voltaire? If some Dark Ages Dianetics manual is the best they can manage for inspiration there can be no surprise at their barbarism and penury and no one to blame for their condition but themselves. Though, if some democratic successor government is of a litigious turn of mind, it might consider suing the likes of Avi Lewis. Such men claim to speak for an oppressed people; they do not. These men oppress Arabs, condemning them to despotism and ignorance. These men take no pleasure but in hating themselves and could care less who else pays for a masturbatory nihilism.

Nick Packwood, "Revolutionary nihilism", Ghost of a Flea, 2008-04-08

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

Playmobil strikes again

Last month, I posted a link to Playmobil's TSA thug playset. If that was up your alley, you'll want to add Traffic Police Checkpoint.

It's never too soon to get your kids used to providing their papers whenever challenged by a uniformed member of the state security apparatus, is it?

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

April 07, 2008

Drive failure again

As I related a while back, I'd been having intermittent problems with a new USB external hard drive. I thought I'd resolved the issue, as the drive was correctly identified by the operating system and backups had resumed successfully. I wrote too soon.

When we got back from vacation last week, the USB drive was dead again. This time, it wasn't even pretending to work. The computer didn't acknowledge it when I plugged it in to the USB port . . . it was now an electric-powered brick.

I'm starting to get superstitious about any hardware I get from Best Buy: this is the second piece of equipment I bought from them this winter that's gone south. I had nearly the same level of infant mortality with a batch of hardware I bought there the previous year (four items bought, two of which didn't last the week). And in each case, the returns have to go back to the manufacturer, not to the store. Victor is still waiting for a wireless card replacement that was supposed to be shipped back from the manufacturer over a month ago.


Posted by Nicholas at 08:59 AM | Comments (0)

Forgetting about that whole "internet" thingy

James Lileks points out that Absolut's ad for the Mexican market might just work against their brand if it should ever be seen outside Mexico:


In this world, Phoenix and the environs would not exist as they do today, and that includes the Mayo Clinic. Brilliant move, Absolut. I'm done with you. A few nights ago I found myself at a bar on the waterfront in Scottsdale — absurd as that sounds, there is such a thing, and I'll talk about that in a few days. It was warm, and I wanted a cool clear beverage. To order an Absolut in such a place, surrounded by things Mexico never would have bothered to accomplish, would seem ungrateful. I went with the Reyka. From now on I will always go with the Reyka. I love Absolut, but I draw the line at giving money to companies that pander to the Reconquista — and manage to avoid any southward expansion of Mexico, so as not to irritate those developing markets.


Update, 11 April: Greg Beato weighs in on the topic:

Apparently, Absolut's ad agency put too much faith in news stories that we gringos are so geographically illiterate we think maps are just promotional posters for globes. But as any border patrol vigilante worth his margarita salt can tell you, what happens in Mexico City doesn't always stay in Mexico City. The controversial Absolut ads crossed the Rio Grande via the Internet, and U.S. bloggers with anti-immigration leanings, already sensitive to the idea of being undermined by an army of dishwashers and day laborers, demanded a boycottini.

But do these angry patriots really believe drunken Mexicans fantasize about owning Salt Lake City? Do they really believe Absolut wants to decrease the size of its most lucrative market, America? It's just an ad, part of a campaign that portrays a glibly "idealized" alternate universe. In another ad in the campaign, men get pregnant instead of women. In a third, the Almighty Bartender reaches down from the heavens to dump ice cubes into an ocean that is presumably hot with the sweat of boiling dolphins. As much as Absolut may position itself as a light-hearted advocate for gender equality and the War on Climate Change, it's mostly a light-hearted advocate for selling as much vodka as possible—and it's not above sucking up to its many different constituencies to do so.

Posted by Nicholas at 08:37 AM | Comments (0)

April 06, 2008

Google Moon

Bill Johnson sent this link to the Lois McMaster Bujold mailing list:


Posted by Nicholas at 01:41 PM | Comments (0)

QotD: The mood of language

The way a language sounds to someone who doesn't speak it is something that I'm not sure has a formal name, but which I'll call mood. You can learn grammar, vocabulary, idiom, usage and accent, but nobody will ever teach you mood.

Yet you must know mood to speak like a native, and it's something we all recognise. To English-speakers, Italian sounds excitable, Russian sounds annoyed and depressed, Brazilian Portuguese like flirting, and Hebrew like an argument. Newsreaders do their best to eliminate mood, which is why the news sounds the same in all languages. (Try it next time you’re channel-hopping in a hotel room.)

Intonation plays a big role in mood; so do facial expressions, gestures and speed. But mood is also subjective: it depends on your perception of the speaker. To Israeli Jews, Arabic sounds sinister and threatening. To Palestinians, Hebrew sounds arrogant and overbearing. However, once you know the language and can evaluate what people are saying, you gradually stop noticing mood.

Except, that is, when different countries speak the same language.

"Language: Lush Life", The Economist, 2008-04-01

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

April 04, 2008

Russian Slang

From The Economist comes a fascinating look at the two different forms of Russian slang:

Finally, Russian is also rich in slang — so rich that it has not one slang, but two. The first, fenya, is a criminal patois similar in style to Cockney rhyming slang, Argentinian lunfardo and the mid-20th-century British gay argot, polari. It uses substitutions, as well as loan-words from other languages, to confuse the unwary: silver is "laundry", having sex is "frying", stealing is "buying", and so on.

Interestingly, fenya contains a lot of Yiddish and Hebrew words: Jews entered the criminal world during tsarist times, when they were barred from owning land and from many professions. A common phrase even today in Russian is na khalyavu, "for free", from the Hebrew khalav, "milk", because "milk money" was the name of donations for the Jewish community in Palestine.

The second kind of slang, mat, is like a much more sophisticated version of the Chilean huevón words — an entire language derived chiefly from a handful of sexual swear-words. One of my prize possessions is a 560-page dictionary of mat that I found at Grant and Cutler, a specialist languages bookshop in London.

The dictionary, published in Moscow in 1997 by one Professor Tatiana Akhmetova, seems to be an academic lexicon rather than a survey of current usage. Most of my Russian-speaking friends have never heard of much of it. But one particular phrase is so original and colourful that I have been running a small private campaign to bring it back into everyday use. To describe something that has shown up unexpectedly, out of nowhere, you say that it appeared kak iz pizdy na lyzhakh, which translates as "like out of a cunt on skis."

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

I'm not saying it wasn't safe

H/T to "John the Mc" for the link.

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

Coming to your computer desktop

A brief excursion to the near future, when computer-generated artifacts can be considered alive (sorta). H/T to "JtMc" for the link.

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

QotD: Polygamy

To start, I think we might have a bit of term confusion. I suspect Tristan is asking if I support polygamy, which is marriage (presumably legal) among multiple partners, rather than polyamory, in which a person has multiple emotional/sexual relationships. Nearly all polygamists are polyamorous, I would imagine (otherwise what’s the point); but not everyone who is polyamorous is a polygamist, nor to my understanding would necessarily choose to be even if polygamy were legal. Some would; others not so much.

Be that as it may, being as I am in science fiction/nerd circles, I have a fair number of friends who are openly polyamorous, and some who are in functionally polygamous relationships, which is to say, there’s more than two of them who live and function as a household. Would I support these folks having legal rights and responsibilities to each other as well emotional/romantic ones? At the risk of making sure I’m absolutely, positively never elected to any public office in the land (and this may be a feature, not a bug): Sure. Why? Because it would make them happy, it would do me no harm, and in a general sense I’m a fan of people who care for each other being afforded the legal right to make sure they can care for each other, which when it comes down to it is one of the big attractions to being in a legally codified relationship.

John Scalzi, "Reader Request Week 2008 #9: Polygamy", Whatever, 2008-04-02

Posted by Nicholas at 09:05 AM | Comments (0)

Obama's glamour

Virginia Postrel pinpoints the difference between Barack Obama and other candidates:

Barack Obama has brought glamour back to American politics — not the faux glamour-by-association of campaigning with movie stars or sailing with the Kennedys, but the real thing. The candidate himself is glamorous. Audiences project onto him the personal qualities and political positions they want in a president. They look at Obama and see their hopes and dreams.

Glamour is more than beauty or stage presence. You can't generate it just by having a wife who dresses like Jackie Kennedy. Glamour is a beautiful illusion — the word glamour originally meant a literal magic spell — that promises to transcend ordinary life and make the ideal real. It depends on a special combination of mystery and grace. Too much information breaks the spell. So does obvious effort. That's why glamour is so rare in contemporary politics. In post-Vietnam, post-Watergate America, skeptical voters demand full disclosure of everything from candidates' finances to their medical records, and spin-savvy accounts of backstage machinations dominate political coverage.

Obama’s glamour gives him a powerful political advantage. But it also poses special problems for the candidate and, if he succeeds, for the country.

Like John Kennedy in 1960, Obama combines youth, vigor, and good looks with the promise of political change. Like Kennedy, he grew up in unusual circumstances that distance him from ordinary American life. But while it was Kennedy’s wealth that set him apart, Obama’s mystery stems from an upbringing and ethnicity that defy conventional categories. He is glamorous because he is different, and his differences mirror his audience’s aspirations for the country.

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

April 03, 2008

Molten slag and water don't mix

This is what happens when you're pouring molten slag (the un-usable remnants from the steel-making process) and you hit a puddle of water. I suspect the camera operator wished they'd been filming from much further away . . .

H/T to "JtMc" for the link.

Posted by Nicholas at 09:42 AM | Comments (0)

It's another bad indicator, EVERYBODY PANIC!

Steve Chapman suggests that the constant din of pontificators demanding that "something be done" about the crisis du jour could benefit from the words of a college football coach:

A couple of alleged crises are getting all the attention at the moment. The first is the risk of a recession. The second, not unrelated, is the mortgage meltdown and the credit crunch it has helped to bring about. Just about everyone in Washington agrees that swift action is needed on both.

The scenario brings to mind what the late Ohio State football coach Woody Hayes said about throwing the football: Three things can happen, and two of them are bad. Efforts to micromanage the macroeconomy may be useless, or they may be destructive. In either case, they can impede a painful process that is needed to correct mistakes like the housing bubble.

For all the alarms about a repeat of the Great Depression, it's not a sure thing we'll even have a recession, much less a serious one. A recession is technically defined as two consecutive quarters of negative economic growth — meaning total output actually declines. A recent Wall Street Journal survey of 51 economists, however, found that, on average, they expect not shrinkage but very slow growth in the first and second quarters.

Of course, the media has been almost in unison trying to talk up a recession for several years now . . . and they're finally getting some statistical backing that the economy is slowing down (at least in America). In the same sense that a single swallow doesn't make a spring, a single quarter of negative growth does not make a recession.

There are lots of good reasons for people to be aware of the general state of the economy: it's dangerous to make long-term plans without some awareness of the potential turbulence in the market, but with few exceptions the print and broadcast media has been painting everything in shades of impending doom. There is a distinct difference between reporting economic issues and trying to turn every economic data point into a "proof-of-crisis" factoid.

One economist interviewed by the Journal suggested that "there might not be even one negative quarter in this recession" — which is the equivalent of a damp drought. Herbert Hoover should have had such problems.

This is not meant to go all Pollyanna on the economy: there are things that could be handled a lot better than they have been, but when talking heads are managing to talk down even positive news, you have to assume that reporting and opinionating have become too tightly entwined. Bad news sells . . . for a while. You often find that sensationalism will spike the public attention, but if there's nothing to actually support the induced panic, the next time it'll require much more "push" to get that same reaction. I think this has already happened with economic reporting: we've heard so many different variations on "the sky is falling!" that we're becoming numb to certain kinds of news.

Acting in a hurry without considering the long-term consequences, you may recall, is how we got into this predicament. Fixing major mistakes is not an overnight task. But in time, foreclosures will subside, the housing sector will return to normal and the economy will regain its usual vigor. Here's what Washington should do to help: Let them.

Exactly. Precipitate government action will almost always do one thing really well: extend the current crisis, and create even more unintended consequences. Let's hope that they manage to avoid the temptation.

But I'm not betting on it.

Update: For example, Roger de Hauteville points out that The Independent titled a recent article "USA 2008 The Great Depression", and included photos of Americans in a breadline:

You see, in the thumbnail view of the picture, the noble Bob Cratchit figure is holding his poverty-numbed fingers in the universal sign for "Please sir, can I have some more porridge?" It's a shame to ruin it by showing him in closeup, fiddling with his MP3 player to get just the right mix, and shod in elaborate, new, expensive footwear and clothes. Because what we're looking at here, is indeed a line of people who are willing to stand in a line to get free stuff. You're right there, Percival. Unfortunately for you Someone at the National Review Online read the caption on the image you used, and it reads:

"NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 30: People wait on line to receive donated coats at the kickoff of the 17th annual New York Cares Coat Drive a the Bowery Mission November 30, 2005 in New York City. Bloomberg helped give out coats to residents of the Mission and the coat drive hopes to collect and distribute 80,000 coats to needy New Yorkers by New Years. (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)"

But your point is made, even if fraudulently. Very truthy, Cedric. People are lining up virtually, if not physically, for free food coupons, which you inartfully mention later in your article can be illegally sold to unscrupulous people for seventy cents on the dollar to buy drugs and booze and . . . wel l . . . I don't know, maybe MP3 players.

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

QotD: Compact Fluorescent Bulbs

Rep. Michele Bachmann has proposed a bill that would repeal the ban on normal light bulbs. They're scheduled to be phased out by 2012 AD, replaced by compact fluorescent bulbs, which are either Godless Death Coils or Sensible Joy Spirals, depending on your opinion. Those of us who prefer incandescently salute the attempt. Oh, I wish I liked fluorescents — they bring your electricity bill down to $1.95 per year, you get to shake a fist at OPEC, and those curly pig-tail tubes look cool. But I detest the light.

I put a few in closets and as I turn on the switch, the clothes burst into tears and confess.

It's an aesthetic preference, and so there isn't a correct position. It's OK to prefer incandescent. It's OK to prefer CFLs. But some curious form of moral authority has been applied to CFLs, and when I'm at Target stocking up on Reveals I get the sense I might as well be wearing fur, pushing a cart full of veal and foie gras — and that makes the issue rather contentious.

Then there's the mercury issue. Supposedly each bulb contains actual Alien blood that eats through the floor if you break the bulb, but that doesn't worry me. Heck, we played with mercury when I was a kid. We gargled mercury. We'd rub it in our pants so we could go down the slide twice as fast. Mom made us mercury omelettes, in fact. Dad used to sit down at night with his pipe and smoke up some mercury.

Never did no one no harm, except for all the hair falling out and the fact that I still pass silver kidney stones 'round about noon on a daily basis. Yes, I've warm memories of the stuff; we called it Slippery Fun Putty, or would have, if our jaws hadn't gone numb after playing with it.

James Lileks, "To revel in the glow of choice is to court glare of the eco-correct", Star Tribune, 2008-03-28

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

April 02, 2008

Pat Condell on appeasing Islam

Posted by Nicholas at 05:58 PM | Comments (0)

Redefining the word "voluntary" to mean "mandatory"

Senator Harry Reid patiently explains to Jan Helfeld that the American tax system is voluntary.

<Inigo Montoya voice>You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.</Inigo Montoya voice>

Posted by Nicholas at 09:05 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: Two kinds of people in the world

There are two kinds of people in the world: the kind who think it's perfectly reasonable to strip-search a 13-year-old girl suspected of bringing ibuprofen to school, and the kind who think those people should be kept as far away from children as possible. The first group includes officials at Safford Middle School in Safford, Arizona, who in 2003 forced eighth-grader Savana Redding to prove she was not concealing Advil in her crotch or cleavage.

It also includes two judges on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit, who last fall ruled that the strip search did not violate Savana's Fourth Amendment rights. The full court, which recently heard oral arguments in the case, now has an opportunity to overturn that decision and vote against a legal environment in which schoolchildren are conditioned to believe government agents have the authority to subject people to invasive, humiliating searches on the slightest pretext.

Jacob Sullum, "The School Crotch Inspector: Fighting the Advil menace, one strip search at a time", Reason Online, 2008-04-02

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


For those of you fortunate enough to live in areas that don't experience ice on the roads, the following videos may be amusing . . .

This is a home video taken in Portland, Oregon (H/T to "JtMc"):

The combination of slick ice, overlaid with powdery snow, on what is apparently a fairly steep hillside leads to GTA-like antics. Except these are real drivers in real cars. Ouch!

This one is in Tennessee (H/T to Den Lippert):

This is more typical black ice driving . . . the road surface looks a bit damp, but there's not enough advance warning that it's ice, and the "instinctive" reactions of some drivers actually make the situation worse. Top it off with a DOT vehicle making the situation worse by directing traffic into the danger area, and you've got the makings of some hot and juicy lawsuits.

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

April 01, 2008

QotD: Humour

[On the topic of satire and A Modest Proposal]:

It's not that it's harder to detect humour now. It's that having an internet address and the ability to email hundreds of people at once doesn't make you Jonathan Swift.

"Azalais Malfoy", posting to the Lois McMaster Bujold mailing list, 2005-06-22

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

One idiot survives this bout of idiocy

Watch this little video to see just how close the trucker got to being just another statistic.

H/T to "jtMc".

Posted by Nicholas at 09:17 AM | Comments (0)

Trespassers, beware

A few weeks back, Roger Henry posted this to one of the mailing lists I'm still gettting caught up on reading:

In tropical, North Queensland, the Barron River plunges over an escarpment (See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Barron_Falls ) A diversionary weir sends most of the water off to a hydro-plant and only a trickle tumbles down the rocks. Being more of a slope than a cliff the rocks are very tempting to rock-climbers, despite numerous warnings that operation of the power plant may, without notice, cause water to be restored to the falls. A siren alerts people that this is about to happen.

I asked a tour guide about the siren and if it was to give any climbers time to escape.

"No" he laughed "The water would arrive in a minute or two and climbers would not be able to get clear. The purpose of the siren is to give tourists a chance to prepare their cameras"

"And the climbers?" I enquired.

"Ahh. They would be swept away and certainly killed. No concern of ours. There are warning signs everywhere. The climbers have to get over a fence and trespass. Up to the police and relatives if they want to search for bodies".

That was many years ago™. Doubt if such candor would be PC today.

Posted by Nicholas at 09:02 AM | Comments (0)

There's regrets, and then there are "regrets"

Tom Tomorrow captures the nature of the regrets being offered after five years:


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

Back to the grindstone

Vacation over, back to work and back to blogging. Jon's administrative work over the weekend wasn't fully successful, so we're still running the older version of MovableType for the next little while. I'll post warnings again if/when we may experience more downtime.

Posted by Nicholas at 08:49 AM | Comments (0)

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