May 31, 2008

A forensic evaulation of the Ron Paul campaign

A scathing summary of what went wrong for the Ron Paul presidential campaign. In short: just about everything:

No organization: the campaign he ran was a completely disorganized mess, a shambolic fuck-up of such monumental proportions I'm frankly astounded you Libertarians haven't lynched his campaign staff for treason. I've seen better efforts by my city councilmen. The only real traction ever made in the campaign was by the grass-roots element. Fundraising? Grassroots. Internet viral message? Grassroots. Precinct level organization? Grassroots. Certainly, the grassroots deserves a commendation for one of the best efforts in history . . . but the grassroots cannot get your canidate ACCESS. That's the campaign's job, and they failed, leading to . . .

Locked out of the Media: As a result of the campaign's ignorance of how to handle the media, Ron Paul started out crippled. When the money bombs brought in millions, the campaign did not take out nationwide ads, it didn't take out a flood of interviews, it didn't agitate to get him on as many places as possible. Even some writers on this website tried to get him on radioshows and the like and were ignored. And that you cannot do. If you ignore the MSM, it locks you out. Dennis Kunich felt that people should judge him on how he spoke, not the media spin, and he was locked out even more totally than Ron Paul.

There's more. Much, much more.

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

FLDS children to be returned to parents

The Texas Supreme Court has confirmed the ruling of the appeal court last week. The children must be returned to their parents:

In a crushing blow to the state's massive seizure of children from a polygamist sect's ranch, the Texas Supreme Court ruled Thursday that child welfare officials overstepped their authority and the children should go back to their parents.

The high court affirmed a decision by an appellate court last week, saying Child Protective Services failed to show an immediate danger to the more than 400 children swept up from the Yearning For Zion Ranch nearly two months ago.

"On the record before us, removal of the children was not warranted," the justices said in their ruling issued in Austin.

The high court let stand the appellate court's order that Texas District Judge Barbara Walther return the children from foster care to their parents. It's not clear how soon that may happen, but the appellate court ordered her to do it within a reasonable time period.

It's not enough that you disapprove of someone else's lifestyle . . . they have to have actually endangered their children before the state can step in and take the children away. The FLDS may not be a particularly enlightened religious group, and some of their teachings are clearly unpopular with mainstream opinions, but that does not equate with child abuse.

The state clearly over-reached, and the courts are taking the appropriate action to rein in the minions of the state.

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

May 30, 2008

Weight and measurement

At last . . . Sensible Units!

H/T to Craig Zeni.

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

Testing their resolve

I missed it last year when it was first published, but Paul's Ecophobe Checklist is a useful idea. If you really believe that we are facing a true ecological catastrophe, then you'll be trying to do as many of the following things as humanly possible:

1. Live in as small an abode as possible
2. Bath or Shower only once a week
3. Have only one or two hot meals per week
4. Don't use Restaurants, coffee shops, or bars
5. No carbon emitting recreation
6. Drive an electric car (only if grid is Hydro or Nuke)
7. Car pool or use public transit only
8. Do not purchase imports (food, dry goods, hardware etc.)
9. Refuse to have children
10. Read only in the daytime or
11. Use only one fluorescent light at a time; live in the dark
12. Have no freezer or refrigerator
13. Ride a bike or walk
14. No vacation travel . . . ever
15. Don't use electrical products (blow-dryers, shavers, toasters etc.)
16. Keep house temperatures at plus 10C in winter
17. No AC in the summer (home, car)
18. No powered yard equipment
19. No air travel . . . ever
20. Buy Carbon Credits and/or donate all surplus savings to Africa
21. Live in a Cave

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

QotD: Trade is THE solution to poverty

Trade is THE solution to poverty. Throw in international labor mobility, and we're well on the way to remedying any of the problems that money can fix — like controlling infectious diseases, providing electricity, clean water and sanitation, feeding people, educating women, and so forth. Or at least that's what Kym Anderson, an economics professor at the University of Adelaide in Australia more or less asserted in his presentation on trade and migration on the third day of the Copenhagen Consensus 2008 Conference.

Anderson looked at a number of econometric modeling scenarios and calculated the cost and benefits that would obtain from full trade liberalization under realistic assumptions derived from the current World Trade Organization's Doha Development Agenda negotiations. Anderson estimated that liberalization of global merchandise trade would mean an annual increase of $287 billion per year in global GDP, of which $86 billion would go to developing countries. This compares very nicely with the $104 billion in development assistance that the governments of industrialized countries gave to developing countries in 2006.

In other calculations, Anderson found that the long term effects of trade liberalization would be that global income in 2098 would be up to 10% greater than it otherwise would have been. The associated net present values from freer trade range from $50 trillion to $424 trillion. Consider that in 2007, total gross world product was $53 trillion. In other words, both the immediate and long-term benefits from free trade are enormous. Anderson reports benefit cost ratios ranging from 269:1 to 1121:1.

Ronald Bailey, "And the World's Top Priority Is . . . Free Trade?: The fourth dispatch from the 2008 Copenhagen Consensus Conference", Reason Online, 2008-05-29

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

Sometimes, the mistake is the more accurate version

This was posted last month by Tian at Hanzi Smatter:

With two previous posts about the same incorrect tattoo, one would get the hint this does not mean "courage":

Mistake-tattoo.jpg

[The characters actually translate as] (n) serious error; gross mistake; big mistake or shortcoming; (punishment in school, etc.) a major demerit.

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

May 29, 2008

Canarmageddon, 2020

Mark Steyn quotes Tom Kratman at some length:

The Dominion of Canada. It was nice while it lasted:

"Nineteen Regular Army divisions, one dozen divisions of the Army National Guard, plus the Second and Fourth Marine Divisions, rolled across the border just before dawn on 11 May, 2020.

"Despite the gallant resistance put up by the main elements of the Canadian Forces, notably the Royal 22nd and Twelfth Armored, which died in defense of Quebec City, the Royal Canadian Regiment and Royal Canadian Dragoons, shattered in the forlorn defense of Ottawa, and the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry and Lord Strathcona's Horse, butchered in detail in a hopeless defense of the long western border, Canada — rather the thin strip of well-populated area that roughly paralleled the border with the United States — fell quickly."

Oh, dear. Only 12 years of "Canadian values" to go. If you want to put in for your hip replacement now, they may just get to you before the tanks roll. It's going to be mighty expensive once the Princess Margaret Hospital is renamed for whichever Halliburton subsidiary winds up running it.

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

QotD: "Government is complete bullshit"

Now, this strikes me as one of those incidents — like a lot of the cases of intrusive government noted in the old-fashioned anarchist magazine The Match — that should just cut across ideological divides and unite everyone not simply in thinking "That sounds excessive" but in thinking "Government is complete bullshit, and we were not born to be slaves to these uniform-wearing goons."

Todd Seavey, "Wine and Cheese Anarchy", ToddSeavey.com, 2008-05-28

Posted by Nicholas at 09:24 AM | Comments (0)

Pollyanna? Call on line 2

Steve Chapman tries the unheard-of trick of viewing the glass as half-full:

At the risk of ending up on Pollyanna's Christmas card list, allow me to differ. Oil prices are unpredictable, particularly in the immediate future, and it's easy to think of events that could force them higher — like, say, a war between the United States and Iran. But in the long run, there is every reason to think that the steep, rocky ascent we have been on will give way to a welcome downhill path.

I'm not alone in my optimism. Michael Lynch, head of an energy consulting firm in Massachusetts, told the Associated Press the current price of gasoline "is the peak or very close to it." Analysts at the investment bank Lehman Brothers say we are just as likely to see oil at $80 a barrel as at $200.

It's easy to take a trend line as eternal fate. The oil market may look particularly inflexible, given the finite nature of fossil fuel deposits and the insatiable needs of growing economies. But two important things in the oil market can change. One is demand. The other is supply.

Demand here is already in full retreat. People are abandoning SUVs for hybrids, taking mass transit and even venturing out on foot. "The average American motorist is driving substantially fewer miles for the first time in 26 years," reported USA Today recently. "Miles driven in February declined 1.9 percent from February 2006 before rebounding slightly for a 0.3 percent year-over-year gain in March." And that was before gas got to $4 per gallon.

On the other hand, if the price of gas actually started to fall, it wouldn't take long for the professional doom-and-gloomsters to switch to something else to frighten everyone. After all, that's what they do best.

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

Dalrymple on cultural assimilation

Theodore Dalrymple looks at the differing British and French experiences of immigrant integration within the respective societies:

There is another major difference between the Muslim areas of France and Britain, however: this time, to Britain’s advantage. The relative ease of starting a business in Britain by comparison with heavily regulated France means that small businesses dominate Britain's Muslim neighborhoods, whereas there are none in the banlieues of France — unless you count open drug dealing as a business. (This is one of the reasons why London is now the seventh-largest French-speaking city in the world: many ambitious young French people, Muslims included, move there to found businesses.) And since many of the businesses in the Muslim areas in Britain are restaurants favored by non-Muslim customers, the isolation of Muslims from the general population is not as great as in France.

However, increased contact between people does not necessarily result in increased sympathy among them. A large proportion of the indigenous Muslim terrorists caught in Britain are children of prosperous small businessmen, who have been to university and whose individual prospects for the future were good, if they had chosen to follow a normal career path. Cultural dislocation, the readiness to hand of an ideology of hatred that seems to answer their personal need for a fixed identity and an end to cultural confusion, and a disposable income — these, not poverty, account for their terrorism.

In France, the children of Muslim immigrants may not be as alienated from mainstream culture as are those in Britain; but the inflexibility of the French labor market results in a long-term unemployment that embitters them. In Britain, by contrast, relative economic success has not led to cultural integration: so you have riots in France and terrorism in Britain.

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

Another close game

Last night's game was another split-personality experience: the first half allowed our opponents (Whitby Green) to showcase their skills, while the second half was Purple from start-to-finish. I suspect it just reflects the nature of the team this season, in that they need to have a longer warm-up period before they can play at their best.

At the end of the first half, Whitby Green had a 1-0 lead, but that didn't properly show the flow of play . . . most of the action had been concentrated between the halfway line and our 18-yard box. Nick M. played well in goal to keep the game in reach.

The second half allowed more open play, and Nick scored the tying goal about five minutes in. James S. added the go-ahead goal, and Andrew S. scored the winning goal. Whitby Green rallied at about the 80th minute to move the score to 3-2, but Purple held off the last charge to win the game. Chris A. had some hair-raising moments in net, but he was equal to the challenge.

Mark M. had a beautiful bicycle kick just inside the 18-yard box, but Whitby Green's keeper managed to deflect it away.

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

May 28, 2008

Yahtzee tries to enjoy a JRPG experience

Posted by Nicholas at 02:06 PM | Comments (0)

"And we'd have gotten away with it if it wasn't for those blasted kids!"

Grant McCracken points to a very relevant source of political and anthropological insight — The Onion:

But I think things are a little different in the world of politics. Here, the real sophistication of the under-35 voter means that you really have to watch it, and when you don't, this voter will make you pay.

Hence the article today in The Onion. This captures precisely the sensibility of the under-35 vote quite precisely. (With the proviso that The Onion is necessarily a little more observant and unforgiving.) In this wonderful piece, The Onion nails the Obama camp for its artifice in image building. Look, it says with glee, we see what you're doing. And it's precisely because you appear to think we cannot see the artifice here that we must point it out and make you pay. Play us if you must, but don't play us for fools.

The entire piece is worth reading [. . .] but if I may let me quote my favorite passage.

Obama has reportedly been working tirelessly with his top political strategists to perfect his looking-off-into-the-future pose, which many believe is vital to the success of the Illinois senator's campaign.

When performed correctly, the pose involves Obama standing upright with his back arched and his chest thrust out, his shoulders positioned 1.3 feet apart and opened slightly at a 14-degree angle, and his eyes transfixed on a predetermined point between 500 and 600 yards away. Advisers say this creates the illusion that Obama is looking forward to a bright future, while the downturned corners of his lips indicate that he acknowledges the problems of the present.

Oh, sublime. So much of politics is an exercise is posturing (figurative and here literal) that it is hard to image what politics can look like once the new voter is factored in. In the meantime, we leave it to the likes of The Onion, Stephen Colbert and Jon Stewart to point out to the would-be emperors that we can see right through that clothing they don't have on.

Posted by Nicholas at 01:32 PM | Comments (0)

Miller moves to make Toronto safe . . . for criminals

In a classic display of misguided enthusiasm, Toronto's mayor moves to punish the law-abiding:

Mayor David Miller announced a plan today that would make all handguns illegal in Toronto, a series of measures that will effectively shut down gun ranges and make it all but impossible to manufacture, assemble or store firearms within city limits.

But critics, including one Olympic target shooter, labeled the mayor’s program window-dressing, saying it will penalize law-abiding gun owners while doing nothing to curb criminal gun violence.

"This is not going to have any impact whatsoever on gun crimes in the city of Toronto,' said Larry Whitmore, of the Canadian Shooting Sports Association, which says it has a membership of 15,000 across Canada.

The measures are contained in a report prepared by city staff that is to be presented to the executive committee next week. The report, "City-Based Measures to Address Gun Violence," must still be approved by city council but Mr. Miller wasted no time in signaling his approval of its recommendations.

"I want a safe city," the mayor told reporters. "The truth is, guns are too easily available and if you talk to some kids in some neighbourhoods they tell you they want a gun to protect themselves."

He's right, you know: guns are too easily available.

Unless you want to actually obey the law.

You can't legally buy a handgun in Toronto (or anywhere else in Canada, for that matter) without going through a prolonged bureaucratic process. You cannot get a permit to carry a handgun unless you are employed in law enforcement or a small number of other very specific cases. You have to belong to a gun club, and you have to get specific permission to move your handgun from your secure storage location (which the police have the right to inspect, without advance notice, at pretty much any time) to your gun club.

Even people who are interested in doing so often cannot, because the memberships at many gun clubs are strictly limited and there can be a years-long waiting list.

On the other hand, folks who just want to get themselves a 9mm pistol for "busting caps" can get them on very short notice . . . and Mayor Miller's proposed changes will make no difference to them at all.

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

Arnie's legacy

Matt Welch finds little to be impressed with in Arnold Schwarzeneggar's time in office:

Arnold Schwarzenegger, a big disappointment as Golden State governor (to me, anyway), has at least enriched the lives of one class of Californians: state employees.

The state of California's payroll is skyrocketing, even as its budget deficit has grown to billions of dollars in recent months.

In Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's first four years, the total bill for state workers' salaries jumped by 37 percent, compared with a 5 percent increase in the preceding four years under then-Gov. Gray Davis, a Chronicle analysis of state payroll records shows.

One month before Schwarzenegger took office in November 2003, just eight state employees earned more than $200,000 a year working in the core state government, which excludes universities and the Legislature. In April of this year, there were nearly a thousand, according to records.

Okay, remind me again . . . weren't Republicans supposed to believe in smaller government once upon a time?

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

May 27, 2008

It's the end of the internet as we know it . . .

. . . at least, it will be if a Singapore-based company wins this patent infringement case:

"A Singapore firm, VueStar has threatened to sue websites that use pictures or graphics to link to another page, claiming it owns the patent for a technology used by millions around the world. The company is also planning to take on giants like Microsoft and Google. It is a battle that could, at least in theory, upend the Internet. The firm has been sending out invoices to Singapore companies since last week asking them to pay up."

File this one under "good luck with that" and "it'll be a cold day in hell".

Posted by Nicholas at 01:04 PM | Comments (0)

The Presidency

George Will reviews a new book by Gene Healy:

Healy's dissection of the delusions of "redemption through presidential politics" comes at a moment when liberals, for reasons of liberalism, and conservatives, because they have forgotten their raison d'être, "agree on the boundless nature of presidential responsibility." Liberals think boundless government is beneficent. Conservatives practice situational constitutionalism, favoring what Healy calls "Caesaropapism" as long as the Caesar-cum-Pope wields his anti constitutional powers in the service of things these faux conservatives favor.

War is, as Randolph Bourne said, "the health of the state." And as James Madison said, war is the "true nurse of executive aggrandizement." Today's president has claimed the power to be the "decider," deciding on his own to start preventive wars, order torture prohibited by treaty and statute, and arrest American terrorist suspects on American soil and hold them indefinitely without legal process. But Healy's critique of the heroic presidency ranges far beyond national-security matters.

"Tell me your troubles," said FDR, Consoler in Chief, in a fireside chat with a radio audience. In 1960, the year the nation elected a charismatic (a term drawn from religion) president who regarded the office as "the center of moral leadership," an eminent political scientist called the presidency "the incarnation of the American people in a sacrament resembling that in which the wafer and the wine are seen to be the body and blood of Christ." In 1992, Gov. Bill Clinton promised a "New Covenant" between government and the governed. That, Healy dryly notes, was "a metaphor that had the state stepping in for Yahweh."

From merely the head of the executive branch of government to combined lightning-brandishing demi-god and wish-granting genie . . . it's a hell of an evolution for a mundane political job.

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

Opposition to Barr/Root in the Libertarian Party

David Weigel reports on some of the remaining nay-sayers within the Libertarian Party after the Bob Barr nomination over the weekend:

On the way out of the Denver convention, defeated candidate and Massachusetts party chair George Phillies pulled me aside to express how worried he was about the Barr/Root ticket. "This is a train wreck," he said. "My delegation is majority pagan. Nominating this man is the equivalent of nominating an Imperial Wizard of the KKK to lead a party of African Americans." Phillies raised the possibility of a Massachusetts LP convention that would nominate a new candidate at the top of the ticket, like author L. Neil Smith. And as I left, I heard a rumor that Arizona might do the same thing.

I think this would amount to local party suicide. The only thing all LPers agree on right now is that Barr, by dint of his fame and national media pull, could get more votes than any previous candidate. In most states, a certain vote total will get a party guaranteed ballot access. Nominating an unkown, especially when low-information voters will head to the polls expecting to see Barr, would drive down vote totals.

This really gets to the heart of the matter: why is the Libertarian Party running candidates for the presidency? Is it with any serious intent to win (mathematically unlikely as that may be) or is it to try to raise the public profile of small-L libertarian philosophy and free market economics? In either case, a better-known candidate is going to perform the task more easily than an unknown one.

It could be argued that any principled libertarian could do the job, but the media are the gatekeepers for access to that proportion of the voting public who still pay any attention to TV, and they're not going to provide J. Random Libertarian with any notice at all, unless JRL happens to be "famous" (for some values of "famous). Even a loose-cannon candidate — the more off-the-wall, the better — will get more media exposure than a highly competent, philosophically "pure" JRL.

Does raising the profile of libertarianism make any difference to the philosophy's acceptability to the general public . . . well, that's a completely different question.

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

QotD: Same-sex marriage

We introduced same sex marriage up here after conservatives assured us this would result in wall to wall orgies. This promise was a lie, just like the one about how if we legalized upper body nudity for women in Ontario, Ontario would become a sea of naked boobs despite the climate. And the mosquitos and the blackflies. Conservatives are always promising promiscuity and licentiousness if only we will liberalize our laws and they never deliver.

On the plus side, the initial divorce rate was extremely low for SSM because we didn't think to change the explicitly "one male one female" language in the Divorce Act.

James Nicoll, posting to the Lois McMaster Bujold mailing list, 2008-05-26

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

May 26, 2008

Confusing?

A man, dressed as a woman, was barred from entering an Australian bar . . . even though it's a transvestite-themed bar:

Paul Hurst lives much of his life as a woman.

For years the transvestite has been known to friends and those who have seen him perform in Darlinghurst clubs as Anne-Maree.

Dressed in one of his best frocks, Mr Hurst was photographed partying with Maria Venuti at the launch of Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert at Star City's Lyric Theatre.

So much did he enjoy the event that a month later he and a friend again frocked up for a night out the casino's new spin-off bar, Priscilla's.

The cross-dressing staff serve cocktails in a flurry of sequins and feathers.

But Mr Hurst was shocked to discover that a security guard had deemed him to be a "man" and "inappropriately dressed" when he was refused entry to the casino at 9.15 on the night of November 1, 2006.

The inevitable Fark thread, where the troglodytes and the trolls play.

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

QotD: Testifying before congress

I was watching the Big Oil execs testifying before Congress. That was my first mistake. If memory serves, there was lesbian mud wrestling over on Channel 137, and on the whole that's less rigged. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz knew the routine: "I can't say that there is evidence that you are manipulating the price, but I believe that you probably are. So prove to me that you are not."

Had I been in the hapless oil man's expensive shoes, I'd have answered, "Hey, you first. I can't say that there is evidence that you're sleeping with barnyard animals, but I believe that you probably are. So prove to me that you are not. Whatever happened to the presumption of innocence and prima facie evidence, lady? Do I have to file a U.N. complaint in Geneva that the House of Representatives is in breach of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?"

But that's why I don't get asked to testify before Congress.

Mark Steyn, "Your car can't run on Congress' hot air", Orange County Register, 2008-05-24

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

Taxpayers lose the game

It should be no surprise that major league sports franchise owners love having new stadium facilities for their teams . . . but very few of them actually pay more than a small percentage of the actual costs: the local taxpayers usually pay the lion's share. Do they actually benefit from this?

My favourite NFL team, the Minnesota Vikings, are actively trying to persuade the voters of Minneapolis (and the state government) to pony up several hundred million dollars for a new stadium to replace the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome. The team may move if they don't get a new facility, but that would probably be a better deal for the taxpayers — if not the football fans — and the team owner would have to try bargaining with some other city government for lavish subsidies.

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

The Barr nomination

Bob Barr, former Republican congressman, has taken the Libertarian Party nomination for 2008, with his running mate Wayne Allyn Root. David Weigel was there:

The timing was perfect. Presidential candidate Mary Ruwart, a favorite among the Libertarian Party's Radical Caucus, was 15 minutes into a hard-hitting speech and Q&A with delegates at the contested LP convention in Denver, and she'd just finished enumerating what it is she couldn't stomach in a prospective running mate. In short, she couldn't stomach Bob Barr. As if on cue, Barr's twang exploded over a next-door soundsystem.

"All right!" he said, whooping up dozens of his cowboy-hatted delegates. "Are we ready to go?"

Ruwart's face froze into a devious, oh please kind of smile as Barr briefly addressed his throng. Fired up and ready to go, he marched them past the exhibit area and over into the main convention hall to deliver delegate tokens guaranteeing Barr a place in the Saturday night debate and a nominating speech at the Sunday presidential contest. As the procession went past, Neal Stephenson, a supporter of longshot candidate Christine Smith, loudly sang John Williams' "Imperial March," the song playing when Darth Vader enters the room in Star Wars.

Jim Peron, working the Laissez Faire Books table, opted for less subtlety. "Fuckin' traitors!" Peron yelled. "Go back to the GOP!" As Barr's crowd entered the hall, Peron joined in a burst of sarcastic applause and cheers. "Hooray!" yelled a phalanx of delegates. "They're leaving the convention!"

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

Who'll be the veep?

Steve Chapman looks at the possible choices for Barack Obama and John McCain when it comes to who else'll be on their respective tickets:

People who are under the influence of alcohol often are seized with impulses that seem brilliant at the time but end up looking like horrible mistakes the next day. We are now at the stage of the presidential election when intoxication at the prospect of the fall campaign produces ideas that, if adopted, will lead only to regret.

One came in an article on the influential op-ed page of The Washington Post, proposing a simple way to reconcile Hillary Clinton and her supporters to Barack Obama's looming victory. "It's likely that the next president will face at least one Supreme Court vacancy," wrote James Andrew Miller, formerly an aide to Senate Majority Leader Howard Baker. "Obama should promise Hillary Clinton, now, that if he wins in November, the vacancy will be hers, making her first on a list of one."

In Miller's view, it would guarantee a quick Senate confirmation, gratify her supporters by assuring her life tenure in a job more consequential than vice president and add a solid liberal vote to a conservative-leaning court.

No doubt. But it would brand Obama as an unsavory deal-maker willing to bribe a rival for her blessing, badly tarnishing the rationale of his candidacy. It would also give Republicans a matchless opportunity in the fall campaign — trumpeting the specter of an Obama presidency and a Clinton court.

There'd be no escape from the Spanish Inquisition judicial activism under those circumstances. That would be perhaps the best way for the Democrats to rally wavering Republican supporters behind McCain.

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

May 23, 2008

Robert Asprin, dead at 62

Fantasy and science fiction author Robert Asprin (known as "Yang the Nauseating" in the SCA) died yesterday. My friend Diane sent me this message which had been forwarded to many SCA mailing lists:

Forwarded from the Glenn Abhinn list:
From: "Alsinda de Rochabaron"

I write this with a heavy heart. Today, sometime between 2 pm and 5 pm, Yang the Nauseating passed away.

I spoke to him around 2 pm - to confirm that I was to pick him up at 5 pm and take him to the airport. He was to go to a convention in Ohio this weekend - MarCon. At 2 pm, everything was fine. When I arrived at his house, he wasn't outside, didn't answer his cellphone, didn't answer his landline. Of course, as I was trying to figure out what to do, someone came up behind me and I had to drive around the block. (The French Quarter.) I called him again as I made the block, but still no answer.

I *thought* I had a key to his house, but I wasn't certain I had it with me. I tried to call another one of his close friends (who works in the Quarter), because I knew that he would have a key, but I couldn't get him. So I parked the car and dug through my briefcase and found the key that I thought was for his house. I did get in with the key, but it took some tugging and pushing.

I found Yang lying on his bed, with a book in one hand (a Terry Pratchett book, no less) and his other hand by his side, his glasses just beyond. To all extents and purposes, it looks as though he had decided to take a nap. But I could tell he wasn't breathing and he had no pulse. I called 911.

The paramedics and firemen arrived quickly and were quite nice and very good. They actually worked on him for 30 minutes, which sort of surprised me, because there was no activity on the heart monitor when they hooked him up. It might have been standard protocol. Whatever the case, they tried very hard, but couldn't bring him back.

I have been in touch with his literary agent, who in turn notified his family. Because Yang was also an author, the news is already spreading very quickly. I am very sorry to have to share this news with my SCA family, but I wanted everyone here to hear it from me before you read it on some sfnet board.

Yang was 62 years old, born June 28, 1946. He had no obvious health problems, but he was also notorious for avoiding doctors. To those who knew him "way back when" - Isolda, John the Bearkiller, and many others - he was very pleased with how the SCA has developed since the "bad old days" of freon can helms with women not allowed to fight in the lists. He would have come and played with us more if he could have.

Lady Alsinda de Rochabaron

I met Bob in the late 1970s at a convention in Michigan . . . he was, at that time, demonstrating that he didn't suffer fools gladly. I asked what in retrospect was a stupid question and got a snappy answer that let me know just how stupid my question had been. You'd hardly say I was a close acquaintance.

Posted by Nicholas at 09:52 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: The Presidency

It's a curious thing in America that each July we celebrate how the founding fathers threw off the shackles of an oppressive monarchy, that we favorably compare our republican system of governance with the world's tyrants, dictatorships and monarchies (and rightly so) — and yet we then celebrate those American presidents who most behaved like tyrants, monarchs and dictators.

Presidents like Woodrow Wilson, Teddy Roosevelt, Franklin Roosevelt and Harry Truman are regularly put at the top of lists of America's greatest presidents. This is true when both historians and the American public at large are polled. Yet these are presidents who did everything they could to expand the power of their offices, to extend the sphere of influence of the federal government and to bully through policies that met inconvenient hurdles otherwise known as checks and balances.

[. . .]

These are odd men to call heroes.

Inexplicably, the presidents who knew and understood their constitutional limits, who respected those limits and who generally took a more laissez-faire approach to government get short shrift — even derision — from historians.

Men like Calvin Coolidge, Warren Harding, Rutherford B. Hayes and Grover Cleveland merely exhibited what Healy calls "stolid, boring competence." Historians loathe them, Healy writes, because they had the audacity to "content themselves simply with presiding over peace and prosperity" and not seek to remake the world in their own image. The nerve of them.

Radley Balko, "Presidential Power-Tripping", FoxNews.com, 2008-05-19

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

Yahtzee on "Painkiller"

Yahtzee goes back to 2004 for another hilarious (NSFW) review:

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

More on the ongoing FLDS case

Jacob Sullum finds some mild amusement in the recent ruling in the FLDS case:

I came across this tidbit while reading about today's appeals court ruling condemning the wholesale seizure of children from the Yearning for Zion Ranch. Or perhaps I should say "children" (emphasis added):

At least half the mothers taken from a polygamist sect's ranch and put in child foster care have now been declared adults, significantly chipping at agency statistics that seemed to demonstrate the widespread sexual abuse of underage girls.

Attorneys for the state's Child Protective Services agency have been conceding, one by one, that many of the mothers authorities cited as evidence that the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints committed widespread sexual abuse of girls are actually adults.

They had admitted by midday Thursday that 15 of the 31 mothers listed as underage are adults; one is actually 27. A few are as young as 18, but many are at least 20.

Another girl listed as an underage mother is 14, but her attorney said in court she is not pregnant and does not have a child.

As so often happens in cases like this one, the state has clearly reacted in haste, and is hoping against hope not to have to repent at leisure.

Update: The ruling went against the government in an appeal court in Texas: removing the FLDS children from their parents was not justified.

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

May 22, 2008

QotD: Secret laws

Like most of Bush's executive power grabs, he relies on findings from the Office of Legal Counsel to give him cover. The OLC's opinions are considered binding on the executive branch. If you work in the executive branch, you're essentially immune from prosecution if the OLC has signed off on whatever you're doing. Which is why John Yoo's OLC memos on torture and detainment are so devastating.

Thing is, over the years Bush (actually, Cheney) has staffed the OLC with lackeys like Yoo and Jay Bybee (now a federal judge). The Bush administration has treated the OLC not as an office from which to get a considered, scholarly opinion on the constitutionality of some power they'd like to claim; rather, they tell the office the power they plan to claim, and ask the OLC to come up with a way to justify it. Yoo's memos would frequently contain footnotes supporting his theories of executive power and secrecy. Unfortunately, those footnotes frequently would refer to previous writings by John Yoo.

Radley Balko, "Now: Secret Laws", The Agitator, 2008-05-22

Posted by Nicholas at 12:06 PM | Comments (0)

Another likely convert to Western Martial Arts

Johnathan Pearce is starting on that road that leads to the mysteries of Western Martial Arts:

In the meantime, I have started to fence. Fencing, I find, is even more physically demanding than Bujinkan (yes, really). Initially, I am learning to use the foil, a very light sword where you score if you hit the opponent on certain parts of the body. Depending on which type of sword one uses, you score differently by hitting certain body parts. Of course fencers wear lots of protection these days so there is little chance of getting injured although you cannot afford to be reckless. I find it incredibly good for eye-hand co-ordination. I have also learned that one needs to do lots of stretching exercises since fencing requires people to be flexlible. My knee joints felt pretty sore the following morning after a class. It is a good incentive to get really fit.

Olympic-style fencing is fun, can be an excellent incentive to improve your general state of physical fitness, but can also lead to the hard stuff: smallswords, rapier-and-dagger, broadsword, and other highly-addictive toys.

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

The real danger of reducing trade with China

Mark Steyn gets to the biggest danger in any potential reduction of trade between China and the west:

I don't mean the moments when he [Obama] gets carried away and announces that his Administration would "stop the import of all toys from China". As it happens, that's a policy I'm not unsympathetic to. Over 80% of American toys are made in the People's Republic and, while that may well be appropriate given the whiff of totalitarian coerciveness that hangs around Barney the Dinosaur, I can't say I'm entirely comfortable with contracting out US innocence to the butchers of Tiananmen. For one thing, come the Sino-American War, Beijing will have the ultimate fifth column inside the west: the nation's moppets, resentful at having their Elmos and Spongebobs cut off the duration, will be shinning down the drainpipe after dark in ski masks and blowing up power stations to hasten the day of liberation.

Scary stuff.

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

"Looking Backwards" from the year 2058

A most depressing read:

As we consider the current condition of libertarianism, here in the middle of the 21st century, we might pause to reflect upon the bleak fate that befell the last flowering of personal freedom. That period of liberalism and liberation blossomed in the late 20th century, before coming to a disastrous end in the first decade of this new millennium. We can call that happy period the Rand Era, in honor of Ayn Rand, author of Atlas Shrugged, a book still intensely and tragically relevant 101 years after its publication.

But let's look back before we look to the present—and to the future. The Randian libertarianism that emerged in the 1950s was a fierce critique of planning and centralization, manifested in its minor (New Deal), major (Swedish), and malignant (Soviet) forms. The school of anti-statist criticism, reinforced by émigré economists, was further strengthened by the obvious failures of American "Big Government" in the 1960s, from the war in Vietnam to the "War on Poverty." Interestingly, during that same decade of the '60s, libertarianism received a major boost from the so-called New Left. These leftists were ostensibly socialist, or even communist, but, in fact, they were more typically, in practice, anarchists and libertarians. Indeed, by the decade of the 1970s, it became clear that radicals and counter-culturalists were mostly interested in "doing their own thing," an attitude leading them toward an insistence on personal freedom-or, as they put it, not being hassled in their "personal space." Thus the New Left helped spawn the New Age, producing a generation of intensely capitalist music producers, natural food entrepreneurs, and then, most portentously, computer geeks and software developers. But of course, in their private moments, these folks retained their youthful predilections for drugs, sex, and rock and roll.

If, as James Pinkerton writes, McCain does win the presidency in November, I fear that it will play out very much as he predicts. I think the Republican brand is so badly damaged that only a very severe beating by the Democrats will force them to abandon their love for big government and re-embrace their libertarian wing. Of course, that means at least four years of economic turmoil . . . but that is preferable to four years of military adventurism.

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

May 21, 2008

The myth of the kilt

I'm shocked, shocked to discover that the kilt is not only not ancient, but was invented by an Englishman:

The name "kilt", in its early form of "quelt", first appears 20 years after the Union; but only as a term for the belted plaid, not for a distinct garment. The author who first uses it is Edward Burt, an English officer posted to Scotland in the reign of George 1 as chief surveyor. The "quelt", he says, is the "common habit of the ordinary Highlands", adding that it is "far from being acceptable to the eye". This quelt, he explains, is not a distinct garment, but simply a particular method of wearing the plaid. This "petticoat", says Burt, was normally worn "so very short that in a windy day, going up a hill, or stooping, the indecency of it is plainly discovered".

Burt was explicit about the Highland dress because already, in his time, it was a subject of political controversy. After the suppression of the Jacobite rebellion of 1715, proposals had been made to ban this dress. So the "Disarming Act", presented to the British parliament by Duncan Forbes of Culloden, had originally included such a ban. However, it had been resisted, and — since the rebellion had been so easily dispersed — had not been pressed. But the discussion had continued, and Burt records the arguments used on both sides. The advocates of the ban argued that the Highland dress distinguished the Highlanders from the rest of British subjects and bound them together in a narrow introverted community: that the plaid, in particular, encouraged their idle way of life, "lying about upon the heath in the daytime instead of following some lawful employment”; that, being “composed of such colours as altogether in the mass so nearly resemble the heath on which they lie, that it is hardly to be distinguished from it until one is so near them as to be within their power", it facilitated their robberies and depredations; that it made them, "as they carry continually their tents about them", ready to join a rebellion at a moment's notice.

It is ironical that, if the Highland dress had been banned after the "Fifteen" instead of 30 years later, after the "Forty-Five", the kilt, which is now regarded as one of the ancient traditions of Scotland, would probably never have come into existence. It came into existence a few years after Burt had made his observations — and very close to the area in which he had made them. Unknown in 1726, it suddenly appeared a few years later; and by 1745 it was sufficiently well established to be explicitly named in the Act of Parliament which forbade the Highland dress.

Its appearance can, in fact, be dated within a few years. For it did not evolve; it was invented. Its inventor was an English Quaker from Lancashire, Thomas Rawlinson.

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

QotD: They are "rational individuals", not "a nebulous glop of misery"

In 1990, the Burmese were asked to choose between a viable pro-democracy party and the status quo. (There were many pro-democracy parties but none with the national appeal of Suu Kyi's NLD.) Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy won a significant majority of seats, which indicates that the significant majority of Burmese were tired of living under a military dictatorship. The U.S. had not yet imposed comprehensive sanctions at this point. But even if they had been a prominent topic of debate, it would be strange to assume that a vote for Suu Kyi's party were a vote for sanctions rather than a vote for regime change. It's as if Americans were asked to choose between McCain and Kim Jong-il, and every voter who went for McCain was then assumed to support a gas-tax holiday.

I don't want to make too much of my personal experience, but I found that near-universal admiration for Suu Kyi in Rangoon existed alongside some gentle criticism of the NLD's disorganization and general ineffectiveness. You might, in conversations with actual Burmese people, find that they are capable of both supporting Suu Kyi and disagreeing with her on various things. But that would require envisioning them as rational individuals rather than as a nebulous glop of misery.

Kerry Howley, "Do the Burmese Support Sanctions?", Hit and Run, 2008-05-20

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

The world needs more Orwell

Jon sent me a link to this post by Nick Packwood, which serves to remind me that I still need to get caught up on my Orwell readings. (And to think that I wouldn't go near the man's work when I was in school . . . ah, the idiocies of youth.)

Decades later, George Orwell's "The Lion and the Unicorn: Socialism and the English Genius" includes a little something to annoy everyone [. . .] So much to consider — including a precursor to that famous boot "stamping in a human face — forever" — and I am tempted to put quotation marks around the whole book. I will limit myself to one quote. This passage was written in 1941 but could have been written yesterday.

The mentality of the English left-wing intelligentsia can be studied in half a dozen weekly and monthly papers. The immediately striking thing about all these papers is their generally negative, querulous attitude, their complete lack at all times of any constructive suggestion. There is little in them except the irresponsible carping of people who have never been and never expect to be in a position of power. Another marked characteristic is the emotional shallowness of people who live in a world of ideas and have little contact with physical reality. Many intellectuals of the Left were flabbily pacifist up to 1935, shrieked for war against Germany in the years 1935-9, and then promptly cooled off when the war started. It is broadly though not precisely true that the people who were most 'anti-Fascist' during the Spanish Civil War are most defeatist now. And underlying this is the really important fact about so many of the English intelligentsia — their severance from the common culture of the country.

Update: When I originally posted this, a couple of minutes ago, I omitted a link that Nick included in the original. Now that I've read the article, I'd have to say that this sounds like a must-read book:

The first in a projected multivolume chronicle of the years from 1945 to 1979 called Tales of a New Jerusalem, this sparkling book — deeply and imaginatively researched, written with bounce, and informed by the wryest sensibility — charts the evolution of British society during the depleted and dingy years 1945–1951. As Britain shifted from desperate war to bankrupt peace, its Labour government set about building the first welfare state and attempting in myriad ways to uplift the country and its people, a project fraught with the painful collisions between political idealism and people’s daily lives and aspirations.

"Austerity" — a condition and set of policies dictated by the government’s need, owing to a gigantic balance-of-payments deficit with the United States, to limit consumption to wartime levels and divert labor and material to the export trade — meant a home front without a war. Food, clothing, and coal would now in some cases be even more sparingly apportioned than they had been when the war was on; the British would not go completely "off ration" until 1954. With wit and ingenuity, Kynaston mines opinion surveys, radio shows, advertising slogans, parliamentary reports, and above all letters, diaries, and memoirs to evoke the gray tinge that permeated postwar life — the shabby frocks, the sallow faces, the grubby train compartments, the dreary meals ("all winter greens and root vegetables and hamburgers made of grated potato and oatmeal and just a little meat," the food writer Marguerite Patten recalled).

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

Is government funding necessary for "pure" science?

Ronald Bailey looks at a new book by Terence Kealey:

Kealey traces the fits and starts of technological progress through stagnant Bronze Age empires like Egypt and Assyria to the technologically innovative small merchant cultures such as the Phoenicians, Philistines, and Lydians that made crucial advances like the alphabet, ironworking, and coins. Technology stagnated under the Romans and surprisingly made headway during the Dark Ages which saw the invention of three-field crop rotation, the heavy plow and the horse collar which lifted food production by more than 40 percent. These inventions arose in areas of northern Europe where farmers sold food to city markets. This meant that they could specialize in growing food and obtain other goods they needed in trade from city dwellers. In the deep countryside where feudalism held sway, crop yields did not markedly improve for centuries. The period also saw the invention of windmills, trousers, butter, barrels, and buttons.

Then came the Renaissance in Italian merchant cities which invented double entry bookkeeping. This advance in accounting enabled enterprises to accumulate debts and credits in their own rights, making them entities separate from any individual. Italians also invented insurance to cover the risks of trading. The first stock exchange opened in Antwerp in 1460. Kealey then takes us to the dawn of the Industrial Revolution which again took off in small trading countries, especially the Netherlands and England. The common thread that he identifies is that technology takes off when individual and property rights are recognized.

Kealey shows in nearly every case the crucial inventions of the past two and half centuries were called forth by markets, not invented by scientists working from ivory towers. These include the steam engine, cotton gin, textile mills, railroad engines, the revolver, the electric motor, telegraph, telephone, incandescent light bulb, radio, the airplane — the list is nearly endless.

All of this is undeniably true, but it doesn't address the constant refrain from the institutional scientific world: that these are all merely "technological" inventions, not pure science. The usual claim is that private enterprise can't or won't fund basic scientific research because there will be no obvious way to profit from the research — and it won't provide the investigator with a temporary monopoly from which to derive the profits to pay for the research in the first place.

There are lots of data points which indicate that government funding in R&D will actually slow down private investment in that area: for the obvious reason that the government has deeper pockets than most private organizations and is not directly influenced by the profit motive . . . if someone else is already working in that area (and you'll eventually get access to whatever they come up with anyway), you're better off to devote your resources to something else.

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

May 20, 2008

Vote McCain to continue paramilitary raids

If your one-issue hot button is the continuing militarization of police work, Radley Balko tells you how you should vote:

As Jacob Sullum pointed out yesterday, Barack Obama hasn't exactly made crystal clear his position on medical marijuana.

Fortunately, the Republican National Committee has stepped forward to clear up any confusion. If you support ending the federal SWAT raids on cannabis stores and taking a federalist approach to medical marijuana, the RNC says Obama's your man.

If you think the president must continue paramilitary raids on convalescent centers in states that have approved medical marijuana, and that anything less wouldn't be keeping with his oath to uphold and protect the Constitution, well, then you should vote Republican.

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

A victory for military bloggers

In a surprisingly liberal development, the US Army is now encouraging serving troops to write blogs:

Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, who heads the Combined Arms Center [CAC] and Ft. Leavenworth, told his soldiers in a recent memo that "faculty and students will begin blogging as part of their curriculum and writing requirements both within the .mil and public environments. In addition CAC subordinate organizations will begin to engage in the blogosphere in an effort to communicate the myriad of activities that CAC is accomplishing and help assist telling the Army's story to a wide and diverse audience."

Lt. Gen. Caldwell, the former commander of the 82nd Airborne Division, is a blogger himself, contributing to Small Wars Journal. He made waves in January when he wrote that "we must encourage our Soldiers to . . . get onto blogs and to send their YouTube videos to their friends and family."

On the downside, of course, this is still not official policy for the entire army.

Posted by Nicholas at 09:04 AM | Comments (0)

Burma: promise unfulfilled

Kerry Howley looks at the country and notes that even before the tragedy inflicted by Cyclone Nargis, things were trending towards the awful:

In the mid 1950s, denizens of Burma, Thailand, and South Korea were about equally wealthy, but one nation seemed especially likely to prosper. In contrast to the others, Burma was already an exporter of rice and oil, had a relatively high literacy rate, and seemed well on its way toward a parliamentary system of government. It was full of teak, gems, and rich soil. As David Steinberg points out in Burma: The State of Myanmar, any observer "would have pointed to Burma as the potential economic and political leader of the three." War-torn, resource-poor South Korea "would not have been a contender in anyone's imagination." In 2006, South Korea's GNP per capita was $24,500; Burma’s was $1,800.

Look closely enough at the pictures of destruction wrought by Cyclone Nargis, and you begin to realize how very little there was to destroy. There, a bamboo house in shambles; here, a thatch roof torn off; there, a dirt road obscured by scattered palm fronds. When the cyclone struck, tens of thousands of people had no solid structure to cling to, and the cyclone's ghastly death toll is as much a function of the country's poverty as is the storm's strength. Had the same cyclone hit the prosperous Burma that might have been, the death toll would have been far less dramatic.

The South Korea comparison matters because Burmese poverty is so often treated as an inevitability rather than a byproduct of bad governance. The imprisonment of activist Aung San Suu Kyi is well known and roundly denounced; the junta's punishing monetary policy, which maintains an official exchange rate 200 times lower than the market rate in order to benefit state-owned businesses, is less often noted. Burma's banking system is barely functional, and the government tightly controls trade. According to the Progressive Policy Institute, Burmese rice exports have dropped by 99 percent since 1950. The junta says it is committed to a market-oriented economy, but it has reversed most of the gestures it has made in that direction.

The situation in Burma, already tragic, is being made significantly worse by the ham-fisted actions of the ruling junta. People are literally suffering even worse privations because the authoritarian government does not dare be seen to need help from outside — it might weaken their grip on power. There isn't a hell special enough for this kind of inhuman behaviour.

Update: Brian Micklethwait considers the question of whether an invasion threat would help or hinder.

Well, whatever. What is definitely true is that if, during a natural disaster, a government treats its own people as hostages rather than anyone they are supposed to help, then helping those people means shoving the government aside, at least for the duration of the disaster. Trouble is, smashing up a government does not, to put it mildly, necessarily mean helping its people. It's one of those necessary-but-insufficient situations. I actually think that if these generals did fear an old-fashioned invasion, a bit more than they do now, they might tolerate an NGO invasion instead. Surely, a threatened invasion, a real one, might accomplish something here. Trouble is, if you threaten something, it is better to mean it.

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

QotD: Greenery as religion

Since we were here to do things we had not done before, we decided to take in "The Circle of Life," a show about the interconnectedness of man, nature, and anthropomorphic cartoon characters. I hate to be a killjoy grump about these things, but oy, what a load of sanctimonious rubbish. The actual Circle of Life, as applied to animals, consists of birth, killing, consumption, excretion, copulation, and solitary death from small predators in the blood or nasty ones with big teeth. Sometimes there's death by fire, for variety's sake. It takes consciousness on the human level to extract the metaphorical weight in the whole Circle of Life thing, and while I think it's wonderful to appreciate and marvel at the intricate ecosystems of the planet, and tread as lightly as necessary, wordless choirs voicing ecstatic vowels over footage of wildebeest herds does not really equal a High Mass for spiritual impact or depth. All of which I kept to myself, of course. But I felt like the village atheist.

The plot was hugely ironical: Timon and Roomba or whatever the warthog is named were building a resort in the jungle, and damning a stream to create a water feature. Simba showed up to demonstrate the error of their ways. The hilarity of any manifestation of the Disneyverse criticizing an artificial lake to build a resort goes without saying. And it did go without saying, of course. Simba said that Timon and Roomba or whatever were acting like another creature that did not behave in tune with nature, and that creature was . . . man.

BOO HISS, I guess. Jaysus, I tire of this. Big evil stupid man had done many stupid evil bad things, like pile abandoned cars in the river, dump chemicals into blue streams, and build factories that vomited great dark clouds into the sky. Like the People's State Lead Paint and Licensed Mickey Merchandise Factory in Shanghai Province, perhaps? Simba gave us a lecture about materialism and how it hurt the earth — cue the shot of trees actually being chopped down, and I'm surprised the sap didn't spurt like blood in a Peckinpah movie — and other horrors, like forests on fire because . . . well, because it was National Toss Glowing Coals Out the Car Window Month, I guess. I swear the footage all came from the mid-70s; it was grainy and cracked and the cars were all late-60s models. Because I'm pretty sure we're not dumping cars into the rivers as a matter of course any more. You're welcome to try to leave your car on the riverbank and see how that turns out for you.

At the end Timon and Phoomba decided to open a green resort, and everything's hakuna Montana.

James Lileks, The Bleat, 2008-05-20

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

May 19, 2008

New season starts tonight

At 9:00 tonight, under the big lights, my new team will start the summer soccer season. Of course, following tradition, the weather is cold, windy and showing promise of rain later.

This is another combined division, with young men born in the years 1990, 1991 and 1992. I seem to have a disproportional number of Italian names on the team this year: I can already hear the demands that we call ourselves something like "Juventis" or "AC Milan".

Purple uniforms this year, with no direct sponsor, so I'll probably just refer to the team as "Whitby Purple" unless the team persuades me that they want to be called something a bit less generic.

Update: Well, a chilly night it was, but the rain held off. The first half was brutal: we were facing a 3-0 deficit after the first half hour. All the action seemed to be down near our goal area, with only a few feeble attempts to strike back. Nothing we did seemed to change the situation.

After the break, the second half was played in a different mode . . . within five minutes, Anthony C. put us on the scoreboard playing from the left forward position. Within the next five, we tied the score, with another goal by Anthony and one from Nick M.

On the sideline, spirits were lifted by the first goal, but after Anthony's second score, you'd have thought that Purple had a five-goal lead: the pure joy and excitement was a wonder to behold.

We played, with the score level, until about the 80th minute, when Andrew S. managed to get a foot on the ball in a pile-up in front of the Neon goalmouth and just gently nudged the ball into the net. After that, it was merely a matter of keeping Neon from pulling level . . . which put the pressure on Chris A., our goalkeeper, but he was up to the challenge.

A few injuries during the game had Randall and Andrew on the sidelines for a while, but both were able to resume playing after having a chance to recover. Victor was restricted to only limited duty, as he's not fully back from his dental surgery last week.

Posted by Nicholas at 01:00 PM | Comments (0)

Another blogger in the family

Victor has started blogging again. He's already hammering away at things that make him want to rant. Stop by and tell him to watch his language, okay? ;-)

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

May 17, 2008

QotD: Documentation

I have encountered far too many managers who couldn't recognize bad documentation at all. Until the flaws are pointed out to them, or they compare it with good documentation, they are oblivious. That is why there are also far too many people working as technical writers who should be wearing greasepaint and ruffled collars instead. Those of us who are competent should be continually educating our co-workers and managers by pointing out excellent examples of technical communication.

We have a lot of fun commenting on the bad examples, but I think we should be showing off the good ones much more than we do now.

Beth Agnew, posting to the Technical Writing mailing list TECHWR-L, 2008-05-15

Posted by Nicholas at 11:28 AM | Comments (0)

May 16, 2008

Inconceivable!

Hands down, the funniest Day By Day cartoon ever:

I do not think that word means what they think it means.

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

Criminalizing speech is stupid

I've argued against hate speech laws before, not on the basis that I want to hear more of it, but that I distrust the government with the power to tell me what I can and cannot say. Kate has a different reason for being concerned about this:

I do care that "truly marginal and deeply resentful fools" get caught in the HRC web as much as I do the unsuspecting restaurant owner wanting to keep his doorway free of pot smoking loiterers.

I don't need to share their marginal views or resentment to defend their right not to be harrassed by a bureaucracy that defaults to "guilty until proven innocent".

Why? Because, it's the truly resentful who are most likely to carry their frustrations beyond verbal release into murderous violence when backed into a corner, and doubly so when those doing the backing trade in provocateurism and injustice. When the unbalanced finally snap, it's rarely the bureaucrat behind the machinery who endures their wrath — it's the innocent at their workplace, or the police officer who pulls them over for speeding who finds themselves in the crosshairs.

It's a tricky enough business dealing with these individuals within the justice system proper. The last thing we need are the thumbscrews of the human rights racket being applied to such cases.

Hate speech is a form of aggression, but it is not the same as physical assault. We have laws against the kind of behaviour that causes physical harm, but attempting to quantify certain forms of speech for the (potential, perceived) harm they may cause is the wrong way to produce a more tolerant, peaceful society.

As Mark Steyn has noted, it's one thing to attempt to muzzle neo-Nazi/KKK/holocaust deniers, but there is no legal reason why the muzzle can only be applied to far right/anti-semitic whackjobs. As our society becomes more multicultural, there are plenty of ways to offend lots of different groups of people. Just noting the facts can be enough to "harm", and the HRC model is tailored to allow perpetual offence-takers free rein.

All I'd need to say is that people from the country of Absurda commit a certain crime out of proportion to their representation in the general population, and I could be accused of hate speech against the Absurdian-Canadian community. If offence can be taken, offence will be taken . . . and with the various HRCs around to provide both a stick for beating on the "offenders" and a financial carrot for the "offendees", there'll be more folks looking for things to get offended about.

If you're a glass-half-full kind of person, you could see it as a strong positive for our culture that we haven't already been overwhelmed with bogus human rights cases. But the incentives are all stacked to create a less-free society through the enforcement of our expanding definitions of what hate speech actually is.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:38 AM | Comments (0)

Canadian Military WHATegy?

Paul Wells has a bit of fun at the Conservative government's expense:

We tease Le Devoir because we love it. You had to read that paper's Alec Castonguay this morning to begin to understand the true extent of the Harper government's clapped-together, carefully-obscured, clumsily-exercised plan to rebuild the Roman legions on Canadian soil. I refer, of course, to the 20-year, $30-billion defence plan, which the Globe is calling a $50-billion defence plan and which Le Devoir explains — I believe credibly — is actually a $96-billion defence plan.

"The 'Canada First' strategy of the Department of National Defence calls for new spending of $96 billion over 20 years, which is three times what Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced on Monday in Halifax. The five largest military procurement projects alone will incur costs reaching $45 to $50 billion," Alec writes.

Note the Globe's peculiar choice this morning to total only capital costs in their accounting of a plan that will also include increases to operating budgets. It's like reporting that your housing costs for the next 20 years will include kitchen renovations but not mortgage payments or rent. But then, I wasn't at the briefing yesterday and I'm willing to believe it was simply incomprehensible. Because as far as anyone can tell, that's the Harper government's strategy.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but weren't the nice folks in Toryland all keen to address the many failings of previous Liberal governments, especially the multi-decade neglect to which the Canadian Forces had been subjected? Why, then, after two years in office, has the current Conservative government not come up with something a bit more finished than a verbal outline of a spending plan?

Is it me? Am I expecting too much, too soon?

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

QotD: Human Rights Commissions

[. . .] off-air the chit-chat went rather more pleasantly, and, in the course of it, Mr. Awan observed that Jews had availed themselves of the "human rights" commissions for years but it was only when the Muzzies decided they wanted a piece of the thought-police action that all these bigwigs started agitating for reining in the commissions and scrapping the relevant provisions of Canada's "human rights" code.

He has a kind of point. Which is why some of us consistently opposed the use of these commissions even when it was liberal Jews using them to hunt down the last three neo-Nazis in Saskatchewan. Yet, accepting that the principle is identical, there is a difference. For the most part, the Canadian Jewish Congress, B'nai Brith and the other beneficiaries of the "human rights" regime went after freaks and misfits on the fringes of society, folks too poor (in the majority of federal cases) even to afford legal representation. These prosecutions were unfair and reflected badly on Canada's justice system, but liberal proponents of an illiberal law justified it on the assumption that it would be confined to these peripheral figures nobody cared about. You can't blame Muslim groups for figuring that what's sauce for the infidel is sauce for the believer — and that, having bigger fish to fry, they're gonna need a lot more sauce.

Mark Steyn, "I'm starring in one of those movies", Macleans, 2008-05-14

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

May 15, 2008

Template issues

I'm finding some odd intermittent problems with the main page template: if I edit it online, it accepts the change I make, but then seems to randomly delete strings of text from the file when saving it. Sometimes it's just a link that breaks, but other times (like this morning), significant chunks of markup get bollixed.

I've asked Jon to upload the template directly, rather than through the web interface. I hope that fixes the worst of the issues.

Posted by Nicholas at 09:23 AM | Comments (0)

In praise of gridlock

By way of Samizdata, some political wisdom from a man who calls himself "not just stupid", but a "student of stupidity": P.J. O'Rourke:

It occurs to me that America could wind up with a Democratic president. This scares me. Not because I hate Democrats — although I do, come to think of it — but because a strong Democratic president and a strong Democratic Congress could put an end to partisan bickering in Washington and result in politicians from both parties working together to solve America's problems. And then we're really screwed.

I have been covering politics for 38 years. Trust me: we don't want politics to quit. That's why we need a Republican president — not because Republicans are good but because we need gridlock. I love gridlock. Gridlock means government can't do things.

The two most frightening words in Washington are "bipartisan consensus." Bipartisan consensus is when my doctor and my lawyer agree with my wife that I need help.

Bipartisan consensus — like the stimulus package that has been delivered to us courtesy of Congress and the president. A $168 billion stimulus package that is supposed to change the trajectory of a $13 trillion economy.

Now, even somebody who flunked high school physics — and I did — can tell you that the energy of $168 billion is not sufficient to budge $13 trillion worth of inertia. It's like trying to use Dennis Kucinich to push Hillary Clinton off the Democratic campaign platform.

Much more here (PDF document).

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

Drug frenzy

Jacob Sullum pens the headline of the week:

How Hysterical Do You Have to Be for Newsweek to Suggest That You're Overreacting to a Drug Menace?

This doesn't quite make up for Newsweek's anti-crack hysteria circa 1986 or its anti-meth hysteria circa 2005, but the magazine's latest issue includes a careful, balanced story about Salvia divinorum that could serve as a model for how the press should handle controversies involving psychoactive substances. Noting salvia's longstanding use as a Mazatec folk remedy, its modern use as an aid to introspection, and its medical potential, author Brian Braiker says media attention attracted by YouTube videos of teenagers smoking salvia "is spooking legislators and law enforcement" into banning the plant and arresting people for possession.

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

QotD: Expert Witnesses

Lawyers and scientists have completely different ways of discovering truth. The lawyers’ way is dueling witnesses. This is as good as any in determining which of two people is lying about a police shootout. It is no good in determining whether a hair sample matches that of the murder defendant or whether Vioxx caused a heart attack. Do heavy objects fall faster than light ones? Scientists answer with an experiment. A court would answer by having the jury hear from two experts, one saying yes, the other saying no. It would make as much sense to have the jury watch a medieval jousting contest between the two witnesses.

William Baldwin, "An Expert? Prove It", Forbes, 2008-06-02

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

Why is Rogers "improving" my service?

Elizabeth got a very confusing message from Rogers (our ISP) yesterday, saying that "to improve our service" they'd be eliminating all but one email account from each customer account. That is, of the _five_ free user accounts we were previously entitled to, we'd only be able to keep one. Since Elizabeth and I both use our Rogers accounts for primary personal email, you can understand that we'd be a bit freaked out by the notice. I was even more worried, as I didn't get the notice, indicating that my account was going to be disconnected (only the "primary" email address was to receive this information).

I'm not sure how Rogers figures that reducing our service by up to 80% is an improvement. Perhaps it's some weird form of new math. It goes without saying that there would be no price decrease for this "improvement", right?

Elizabeth called to try to get to the bottom of the issue. Supposedly, the email accounts aren't actually going away . . . they just won't have access to the Rogers portal. It's not clear whether this means only one email address per account will be able to use the Rogers webmail (since that's accessed through their portal) or if they'll still allow webmail access for each email account.

Confused yet?

Update: I originally posted a version of this on my Facebook page, to which Brendan responded:

"New math you say — it's nice to see a creative side coming through on their end . . . INNOVATION!!! It might be a new take on the 80-20 rule — perhaps they've been taking notes from the master-crafted Customer Satisfaction attack plan over at Bell? You see — as a Sympatico customer, leaving me only 20% of my services would mean that they have, in fact, freed me of 80% of my hassles and irritations. Perhaps they'll only be interested in collecting 20% of your payments?"

Great. My backup plan was to switch to Sympatico. That doesn't sound like it'd be much of an improvement after all.

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

May 14, 2008

Yahtzee kinda likes Grand Theft Auto IV

Posted by Nicholas at 03:58 PM | Comments (0)

"Tepidly gung ho" about education reform

In perhaps the least emphatic possible way, Megan McArdle picks a favourite among the various contending educational reform notions:

But while taking away much of the teacher's union's power is definitely not sufficient, it does seem to be necessary. They resist changes to their work practices that the best evidence [. . .] seems to show works with disadvantaged kids: rote memorization, and phonics. These replace the tools that upper middle class give their kids earlier — even if you went to a whole language school, if you're reading this blog it's a safe bet you had phonics, too, when your parents taught you to "sound it out".

Instead, they agitate for things like smaller class sizes. It is true that schools with smaller class sizes tend to do better — but this is not surprising, since they tend to be more affluent. Pilot programs with disadvantaged kids also seem to show a benefit, but these suffer from the same problem that I discussed in a previous post about the Perry Pre-School: who's staffing your smaller class sizes? If smaller class sizes means employing more marginal teachers, it's far from obvious that this is a net boon. To the kids, I mean. It's an obvious win for the union.

This is why almost all educational ideas fail: they don't scale when you take the highly motivated grad students and gifted teachers out of the equation. That's why I'm tepidly gung ho about Direct Instruction: it has been proven to work with ordinary teachers using ordinary resources.

I don't care if the teachers have unions to negotiate over salary and benefits. But I think the power to block terminations and set work rules should be entirely stripped from them.

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

QotD: Sign of the times

Would you find it odd to walk into a place that billed itself variously as an "internet café" and a "cybercafé" in the year 2008, only to be told "Sorry, [we] don't have wireless [internet]?" This happened to me on Sunday and I am still trying to figure out whether I am the crazy one.

Colby Cosh, "This is a sincere question", ColbyCosh.com, 2008-05-13

Posted by Nicholas at 09:04 AM | Comments (0)

May 13, 2008

150,000th reader

A mini-milestone to mark the start of the fifth year of blogging: the 150,000th visitor came in a few minutes ago from ncsu.edu (I'm guessing that'd be North Carolina State University in Raleigh, NC). Typically, it was a very short visit . . .

Posted by Nicholas at 09:26 AM | Comments (0)

Hurrah for Jindal!

Until his name came up as a potential running-mate for John McCain, I don't remember ever hearing about Bobby Jindal. I think this will change regardless of whether he joins McCain or not. Megan McArdle is a fan:

With a river of federal money flowing in, Louisiana, which used to be stuck at the bottom of state corruption indices, could have gone back to business as usual while the politicians and the powers that be diverted a few rivulets to their own use. Instead, Jindal and the legislature passed anti-corruption laws that in a surprising turn of events actually seem to have done something about corruption — suddenly the state is getting the best scores in the country. They pushed through disclosure rules for all government officials — state and local, appointed and elected. He got a law passed that forbid legislators from doing business with the state. And he took on a tax and regulatory structure that had been built around the notion that companies couldn't go anywhere, and could hence be bled dry.

Huey Long deliberately built a bridge lower than standard so that boat traffic couldn't go upriver. The days when New Orleans could enforce that kind of dominance are long gone, but the old institutional structures remained. For example, Louisiana had special taxes on utilities, on new equipment purchases, on businesses that borrowed money. The unsurprising result was that companies deferred maintenance and refused to buy new equipment, making them uncompetitive unless they paid low wages. It's classic rent seeking behavior by the legislature, and Jindal actually got rid of it; new businesses are now locating there, and others are upgrading.

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

QotD: Invading Burma?

Now in all probability if the "good old U.S. military" actually does invade Burma it will incinerate every vestige of armed opposition in its path. Burmese Army units will stand about as much chance as ants before a kid's homemade flamethrower. And then all of a sudden the assumptions will collapse in reverse order. People are going to say, 'we didn't realize invasions meant killing people'; 'we didn't realize we wouldn't have allies'; and finally 'we did not think it would be so expensive'. And then we will hear that classic line: "I was for it before I was against it."

"Wretchard", " Invasion Burma", The Belmont Club, 2008-05-10

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

Lemons to video lemonade

When you can't afford studio time to record a music video, what are your options? In Britain, you can take advantage of the omnipresent Big Brother cameras:

But all is not lost. Boing Boing reports...

The Get Out Clause, an unsigned Manchester band who could not afford a camera crew for their video, 'performed' in front of a load of CCTV cameras, requested the footage from the camera operators under the Data Protection Act and then stitched the results together for their music video.

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

Staving off disaster in Massachusetts

Katherine Mangu-Ward realizes that she missed some key elements after her move to Massachusetts:

Massachusetts must have been a terrifying place in 1995. A relatively recent arrival in the commonwealth myself, I had no idea that the mid-90s was a time when health care was unobtainable. I didn't know about the washed out bridges and unplowed roads. Nor do I recall seeing bands of feral children roaming the streets from 8:00 am to 3:00 pm due to the lack of public schools.

But a popular ballot initiative to eliminate Massachusetts's income tax — thus bringing the state budget back to 1995 levels — is being greeted with howls of protest and predictions that the state will degenerate into underfunded chaos.

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

May 12, 2008

Myths my organic propagandist told me

I found this article to be an eye-opener: I knew that many people seriously over-estimated the value of organic foods, but the situation is much, much worse than I thought:

Myth three: Organic farming doesn't use pesticides

Food scares are always good news for the organic food industry. The Soil Association and other organic farming trade groups say conventional food must be unhealthy because farmers use pesticides. Actually, organic farmers also use pesticides. The difference is that "organic" pesticides are so dangerous that they have been "grandfathered" with current regulations and do not have to pass stringent modern safety tests.

For example, organic farmers can treat fungal diseases with copper solutions. Unlike modern, biodegradable, pesticides copper stays toxic in the soil for ever. The organic insecticide rotenone (in derris) is highly neurotoxic to humans — exposure can cause Parkinson's disease. But none of these "natural" chemicals is a reason not to buy organic food; nor are the man-made chemicals used in conventional farming.

Myth four: Pesticide levels in conventional food are dangerous

The proponents of organic food — particularly celebrities, such as Gwyneth Paltrow, who have jumped on the organic bandwagon — say there is a "cocktail effect" of pesticides. Some point to an "epidemic of cancer". In fact, there is no epidemic of cancer. When age-standardised, cancer rates are falling dramatically and have been doing so for 50 years.

Far too many people believe, strongly, that organic produce is better (for many different values of "better") than non-organic produce. They're willing to pay extra for organic-grown produce, and that's fine for them . . . it's still a (mostly) free world. But they're fooling themselves to think that non-organic foods are worse for them than the organics for which they pay premium prices.

Locally grown produce may or may not be better for you, but if it can be picked closer to full ripeness and take less time in transit to you, it'll almost certainly taste better. Freshness matters a very great deal. But for most of us, the time during which our local farm crops are ready to harvest is very brief.

We planted some tomatoes in our garden a few years ago, almost as an afterthought. Once the tomatoes started to ripen, they were fantastic: the best I'd ever tasted. It was wonderful . . . but the plants all ripened at about the same time, so we weren't able to eat them fast enough. Worse, no matter how good they were, there's a definite limit to how many you can eat. We got sick of eating them before the last one was ready to pick. We probably threw out more than we ate . . . and this was from only half-a-dozen plants.

Since then, I rarely bother to eat tomatoes because the ones that are available through most of the year aren't even a pale imitation of the great tomatoes we grew: they seem to be mostly "wood" with very little flavour.

The article above? It's from The Independent . . . one of Britain's more green-oriented newspapers. That they're willing to poke holes in the common beliefs about organic foods is very heartening.

H/T to SDA.

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

QotD: Title IX and the candidates

USA Today asked the three remaining major-party candidates how they feel about Title IX and about performance enhancing drugs.

Refreshingly, all three said neither steroids nor gender participation are any of the government's business, and that, being private entities, sports organizations should be free to set their own rules free of meddling from the federal government or grandstanding congressmen.

Just kidding. All three favor using the federal government to bend pro and amateur sports to their liking.

Radley Balko, "Sports and Election '08", The Agitator, 2008-05-11

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

Bioethics

Steven Pinker has a look at the use and misuse of the term "human dignity" in the realm of bioethics and politics:

Many people are vaguely disquieted by developments (real or imagined) that could alter minds and bodies in novel ways. Romantics and Greens tend to idealize the natural and demonize technology. Traditionalists and conservatives by temperament distrust radical change. Egalitarians worry about an arms race in enhancement techniques. And anyone is likely to have a "yuck" response when contemplating unprecedented manipulations of our biology. The President's Council has become a forum for the airing of this disquiet, and the concept of "dignity" a rubric for expounding on it. This collection of essays is the culmination of a long effort by the Council to place dignity at the center of bioethics. The general feeling is that, even if a new technology would improve life and health and decrease suffering and waste, it might have to be rejected, or even outlawed, if it affronted human dignity.

Whatever that is. The problem is that "dignity" is a squishy, subjective notion, hardly up to the heavyweight moral demands assigned to it. The bioethicist Ruth Macklin, who had been fed up with loose talk about dignity intended to squelch research and therapy, threw down the gauntlet in a 2003 editorial, "Dignity Is a Useless Concept." Macklin argued that bioethics has done just fine with the principle of personal autonomy — the idea that, because all humans have the same minimum capacity to suffer, prosper, reason, and choose, no human has the right to impinge on the life, body, or freedom of another. This is why informed consent serves as the bedrock of ethical research and practice, and it clearly rules out the kinds of abuses that led to the birth of bioethics in the first place, such as Mengele's sadistic pseudoexperiments in Nazi Germany and the withholding of treatment to indigent black patients in the infamous Tuskegee syphilis study. Once you recognize the principle of autonomy, Macklin argued, "dignity" adds nothing.

Goaded by Macklin's essay, the Council acknowledged the need to put dignity on a firmer conceptual foundation. This volume of 28 essays and commentaries by Council members and invited contributors is their deliverable, addressed directly to President Bush. The report does not, the editors admit, settle the question of what dignity is or how it should guide our policies. It does, however, reveal a great deal about the approach to bioethics represented by the Council. And what it reveals should alarm anyone concerned with American biomedicine and its promise to improve human welfare. For this government-sponsored bioethics does not want medical practice to maximize health and flourishing; it considers that quest to be a bad thing, not a good thing.

H/T to Nick Gillespie.

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

First sign of impending old age

You know you're not as young as you think you are when a little thing like staying up until 4 in the morning wipes you out the next day. The wine? That couldn't have had anything to do with it. Unpossible.

The performance was good, the dinner was delayed, but the conversations afterwards were worth hanging around for. Elizabeth bailed at midnight — clever of her, actually — but I somehow stayed awake and talkative for a little while longer.

The after-performance gathering wasn't quite a cast party, nor quite a going-away party, but had sufficient elements of each to satisfy the two different groups of participants. It was Brendan's final party in Stratford, as he's taken a job that will require him to move to Brantford . . . not too far away in actual distance, but quite some way in travel time if you don't have a car.

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

May 09, 2008

Yahtzee answers his critics

Oh, just in case you've never watched a Yahtzee review . . . er, not safe for work. Or if you're squeamish. Or if you're one of those people who hasn't yet grasped that life is a contact sport. Toughen up, princess!

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

QotD: Looking for a new England

"I do wish Billy Bragg would stop banging on about Englishness" wrote one correspondent, before going on to suggest that "as a socialist, Bragg should be celebrating the internationally minded South African trade unions who refused to unload arms destined for Mugabe's regime — rather than some highly dubious notion of Englishness". The implication that, as socialists, we should disavow all notions of Englishness plays into the hands of the far-right, leaving them free to define who does and who doesn't belong on their own terms. Our folly would be compounded if we were to go around taking down St George's day bunting and ordering those celebrating to replace it with slogans of solidarity with the South African Congress of Trade Unions. Such behaviour would only serve to give credence to the lies that the BNP spout on the doorstep.

I doubt it will come as a surprise to learn that this is not the first time that I have been shouted down for putting forward challenging ideas about what it means to be English. Hoping to provoke debate by styling myself a progressive patriot, I seem more often to provoke kneejerk reactions from fellow leftists. Last week was no different. "The idea of the 'progressive patriot' is worthy but misguided," argued one letter. "The prospect of watching an England game with bellicose fans belting out 10 German Bombers or Dambusters doesn't appeal." Unsurprisingly, that doesn't appeal to me either, but we are never going to escape from that mentality unless we make the effort to counter it.

As socialists, we are all too familiar with the tactic of opponents who are quick to portray those who question the free-market system as supporters of the worse excesses of Stalinism. It's a blinkered mindset that refuses to accept that there are different strands within socialism, preferring instead to dismiss as a commie anyone who argues for a more compassionate society. Such simplistic attempts at stifling debate are mirrored by those on the left who fail to recognise that there are different types of patriotism, some adamantly opposed to that voiced by the xenophobic minority.

Billy Bragg, "A different strand of socialism", Comment is free, 2008-04-30

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

Happy birthday tomorrow

It'll be the fourth anniversary of the blog tomorrow . . . and I probably won't be online to note the occasion, as I'll be attending the PlayMakers! performance of Two Gentlemen of Verona in Stratford (2pm at City Hall Auditorium, if you're in the area).

Should you want to see how badly the quality has declined since then, you can check out the entire month's blogging from May, 2004.

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

RCMP lowers the bar . . . again

The bold gendarmes of the RCMP/GRC upheld peace, order and lousy policework yesterday in Kamloops, BC. At great risk to themselves, they fearlessly tasered an 82-year-old.

Three times.

While he was lying in his hospital bed after heart surgery.

I'm not making this up . . .

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

May 08, 2008

QotD: Peter Jackson Isn't A Better Choice

Anyone who suffered through the Star Wars prequel trilogy — or Godfather III — will understand when I suggest that it's not always wise for a director to return to his old stomping grounds. Jackson left Middle Earth as a hero to geeks and film investors, and on such a creative high note, he essentially slacked through King Kong and no one gave him any crap for it. That being the case, what's the upside for him to re-direct in Middle Earth? If he does it perfectly and sticks the dismount, it's still not fresh. If he screws it up, the fan response will make the Phantom Menace backlash look like a group hug.

Jackson put a huge target on himself by agreeing to return to Middle Earth; getting someone else to direct gets him out of the line of fire. Now, if it works, he'll still get (producer) credit. If it fails, the audience will blame del Toro — because among other things, he's not Jackson, or more accurately, the imaginary Jackson who did the film perfectly.

That said, I don't think Jackson hired del Toro just to aim flak toward someone else. I think he hired del Toro because Jackson's aware that — contrary to O'Hehir's worry — these films need someone who isn't very much in love with either Tolkien or the world that he made.

This has to do with the subject matter, namely, The Hobbit. That book, written by Tolkien to amuse his kids, is a twee bit of fluff at best. Beloved, yes, but a bit squishy in the middle. This is fine for bedtime readings and Rankin-Bass animated adaptations, but for the continuation of one of the most successful film series of all time, every installment of which was nominated for Best Picture? The Hobbit needs someone willing to slice through the fat and mush and not ask himself WWTD (What Would Tolkien Do?) at every critical juncture. Jackson did this with The Lord of the Rings, which is why, among other things, the film series is thankfully Tom Bombadil-free, but The Hobbit needs an extra wash of astringency. Del Toro's love of the fantastic has never descended into huggy cuteness, which makes him perfect to save The Hobbit from itself.

John Scalzi, "Is Guillermo del Toro the Right Man for The Hobbit?", AMCTV SciFi Scanner, 2008-05-08

Posted by Nicholas at 02:26 PM | Comments (0)

Canadian wine marketing follies

Michael Pinkus points out how not to market Canadian wine:

Jackson-Triggs has two new wines out to celebrate the spirit of the Olympics called "Esprit" — a Merlot and a Chardonnay. Now, let's forget about what's in the bottle for the moment and focus on the outside — the packaging, more specifically, the label. Yes, it's a standard bottle and sure the label isn't as eye-catching as it could be, but take a good hard look at the label, when you get a chance, and you'll notice something's missing. I'll give you a hint by telling you what the wine is celebrating: The 2010 Winter Olympics in British Columbia, currently and arguably Canada's hottest wine region. Time's up?

If you guessed that a VQA logo is missing you'd be absolutely correct. Canada's official wine of the Vancouver games is a blended, cellared in Canada bulk wine, from "imported and domestic" wines, all whipped up by our most recognizable "industry leader". This to me is a crime and a slap in the face to B.C. and all of Canada's wineries. This would be the equivalent of the Albertville (France) Olympic games (1992) having Masi as their official wine; the Sydney (Australia) games (2000) with a George DuBoeuf produced product or the Turin (Italy) games (2006) relying on Wolf Blass for their wine. Am I the only one appalled by this action?

You'd be hard-pressed to find a better example of marketing self-inflicted wounds.

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

For purposes of political balance . . .

. . . if it seems like I'm deliberately poking fun at the Democrats for their current imbroglio with Obama and Clinton, I don't want to appear to be partisan. So, here's a cry from New Jersey: "Is it too late for the GOP to dump McCain?"

They can't say I didn't warn them. But do they listen to me? No, they don't. If they had, we wouldn't be in the mess we're in today.

I'm talking about the leaders of the national Republican Party. Way back in 1999, I warned them they should find someone other than a certain George W. Bush to run for president.

And now I fear I must resurrect that warning as regards John McCain. As bad as Bush has been in undermining virtually every traditional Republican principle of good governance, I fear McCain would be worse. If he wins, that is. I fear the Straight Talk Express is going to run off the road if the driver doesn't get his foot out of his mouth and onto the brake pedal.

Since winning the nomination, McCain has uttered a nonstop string of gaffes. His many statements on Iraq, for example, amount to an admission that he has no idea who the enemy is there and why we're fighting there.

Having proved himself incompetent on foreign policy, McCain has moved on to economics. The man who has confessed on several occasions that he doesn't know much about economics went on to prove it by proposing a summer gas-tax holiday that was ridiculed by every economist who heard of it — and then laughed at some more after Hillary Clinton picked it up and tried to sell it to the Democrats.

H/T to Nick Gillespie for the link.

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

Wil Wheaton also offers some advice

After yesterday's John Scalzi link, today's writer-offering-kindly-advice link goes to Wil Wheaton:

hillary clinton: the psycho ex-girlfriend of the democratic party

[. . .] It's over. She knows it's over. It's been over for almost three months, but she's been moving the goalposts and cynically and cravenly pandering to voters in a way that's not only insulting, but is embarrassing. John Cole frequently says that he can't believe he ever supported Bush, and I can now join him in saying that I can't believe I ever supported, defended and believed in the Clintons.

The thing about all of this is that, with a Clinton victory in the primary about as likely as jumping off the roof of your house and landing on the moon, it's become clear that this whole thing isn't about Democrats or beating McCain (who is inexplicably running for Bush's third term) or saving our country from the catastrophic failure of the Bush years. No, it's all about her. It's about her ego. It's about refusing to admit that she did her best, but voters (except those encouraged by Rush Limbaugh to cross party lines and fuck with our primary) have pretty clearly said "No thanks. You're a good senator, but we want something different now."

It's been crystal clear for weeks, yet she refuses to put party and country over personal ambition and drop out of the race, forcing Barack Obama to not only run against McCain and the Media, but also against her. It's particularly galling, because she can only win if her campaign can force Democratic superdelegates (one of the worst creations in the history of politics) to tell millions of Democratic voters — many of them first time voters who, like me, finally feel truly inspired by someone — to go fuck themselves.

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

May 07, 2008

Political advice from John Scalzi

John Scalzi thinks there is a way out:

You know, today would be an excellent day for the mandarins of the Democratic Party to pay a call to Hillary Clinton, sit her down and then, kindly and gently, and with full appreciation of everything she's done for party and country, stick a goddamn fork in her.

Posted by Nicholas at 01:32 PM | Comments (0)

Gas tax economics

Megan McArdle explains why gas prices are so high, and why mucking around with tax holidays is not going to fix anything:

Supply is elastic on the downside — companies can take the stuff off the market and store it if they don't like the price, or throttle back their refineries. But there's no way to expand the supply, because Americans can't import gasoline from abroad; each mix must be specially formulated to the air quality regulations of its regulatory region.

Lots of people are unaware of this: regional variations in price sometimes prompt the idea of bringing in supplies from other regions, but for regulatory reasons this generally can't be done. Individual states and provinces have differing standards for additives and blends — which can't be easily met by supplies for other markets — so they sometimes act to drive up the prices disproportionally within that market.

It's not a market failure . . . it's another example of unintended consequences of regulatory action.

Because supply is unresponsive to price on the upside, and prices are already quite high enough for companies to make a profit, the price of oil is currently basically set by consumer demand: they bid the price up to the point where they want to consume the maximum amount that refineries can supply. Oil companies can't sell more gasoline by lowering prices, and they also will not sell any less gasoline, because the current price is the price at which consumers want to consume all the gasoline they produce. Hence, if you lower the tax, the price stays the same, and 18.4 cents goes to the oil companies for every gallon.

Now, one might say that this is good because it will incent them to find more oil. But this is not, in my opinion, a very good argument. First of all, we're also considering mucking around with windfall taxes, which are a much bigger disincentive to invest than any piddling 18.4 cents per gallon. Second of all, oil companies can discover more oil, but they are hard put to increase refinery capacity, because no one wants any refineries near anyone; virtually all of our refineries are decades old, with improvements coming from throughput enhancement rather than new built capacity. The limiting factor on gasoline right now is refinery capacity, not oil supplies. And third of all, they're already making really quite a lot of money. We don't need to give them even more.

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

Steyn and the sock puppets

Mark Steyn recounts his discussions with the "sock puppets" both on the air and after the show. The core of the problem (aside from having extra-legal "courts" at all) is this:

I believe these Canadian Islamic Congress lawsuits — and, yes, I can hear the Socks yelling "That's a lie! They're not 'suits', they're 'complaints'," but that's a distinction without a difference if you're paying lawyers' bills and you regard, as I do, the Human Rights Commissions as a parallel legal system that tramples over all the traditional safeguards of Common Law, not least the presumption of innocence. Where was I? Oh, yeah. I believe these lawsuits are deeply damaging to freedom of expression. If they win (when they win) and the verdicts withstand Supreme Court scrutiny, Canada will no longer be a free country. It will be a country whose citizens are on a leash whose length is determined by the hack bureaucrats of state agencies.

And that leash will shrivel, remorselessly. One of the better points Khurrum made off-air was that this is the first (federal) "human rights" complaint by a Muslim group, and that when it was just the Jews and gays milking this racket we didn't have any of this talk about scrapping Section 13 and abolishing the commissions. And he's right. Which is why the Canadian Jewish Congress position is untenable. As I said in my speech to the "legal jihad" conference in New York a couple of weeks back:

Canada and much of Europe have statutes prohibiting Holocaust denial. Muslim scholars are not impressed by these laws. "Nobody can say even one word about the number in the alleged Holocaust," says Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the favourite Islamic scholar of many Euroleftists, "even if he is writing an MA or PhD thesis, and discussing it scientifically. Such claims are not acceptable." But a savvy imam knows an opening when he sees one. "The Jews are protected by laws," notes Mr Qaradawi. "We want laws protecting the holy places, the prophets, and Allah's messengers." In other words, he wants to use the constraints on free speech imposed by Europe and Canada to protect Jews in order to put much of Islam beyond political debate. The free world is shuffling into a psychological bondage whose chains are mostly of our own making. The British "historian" David Irving wound up in an Austrian jail, having been convicted of Holocaust denial. It's not unreasonable for Muslims to conclude that, if gays and Jews and other approved identities are to be protected groups who can't be offended, why shouldn't they be also?

They have a point. How many roads of inquiry are we prepared to block off in order to be "sensitive"?

It was wrong to create a special category of speech that was protected under Canadian law: holocaust denial is pure, distilled idiocy, but the best way to refute it is to let it be spoken and ridiculed. Forbidding it to be spoken created the worst possible precedent . . . and that precedent is being used now by the "sock puppets" and their controllers to create more restrictions on freedom of speech. It's no longer a question of "whether", it's just a question of "how much more?".

Remember folks, "just because Pierre Trudeau cooked it up" doesn't mean "it's chiseled in granite".

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

QotD: Judicial Activism

For the better part of six decades, in fact, judicial activism was associated almost exclusively with the protection of economic rights, while its counterpart, judicial restraint, was the rallying cry of liberal reformers. Between Reconstruction and the New Deal, as the states began legislating a variety of new "progressive" regulations, it was judges acting in the name of private property and "liberty of contract" that "usurped" the power of the people, "invented" new rights, and gave birth to judicial activism as we know it today.

This history suggests that a principled form of libertarian judicial activism — that is, one that consistently upholds individual rights while strictly limiting state power — is essential to the fight for a free society. In fact, a genuinely libertarian jurisprudence would, in the words of the legal scholar Randy Barnett, "requir[e] the state to justify its statute, whatever the status of the right at issue." The real legal challenge facing libertarians isn't judicial activism; it is defending individual rights from the liberals and conservatives who seek to take our liberties away.

Damon W. Root, "Unleash the Judges: The libertarian case for judicial activism", Reason, 2005-07

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

May 06, 2008

Yet another admin post

Jon let me know that there may be a temporary outage at some point today . . . so I may not be posting much until later today.

Posted by Nicholas at 09:45 AM | Comments (0)

May 05, 2008

Freedom of the (virtual) press?

Kathy "Five Feet of Fury" Shaidle is being harassed over a blog post — which merely quoted a section from a national newspaper:

So now this chick Mitra Kermani is calling me on the phone, telling me to take down this post.

I not-very-patiently explained to her that I can post whatever the hell I want on my blog, because this is Canada not Ooongaboongaland, that I got my info from a national newspaper and linked to it, so she has to take up her complaints with them

Based on the original story, you'd have to say that major Canadian corporations must not be running the country, because the kind of trouble Loblaws put up with would be unthinkable in most countries. If the corporate world really did run everything, there'd have been a scurry and hustle on the part of police and courts to cater to the whims of the all-mighty corporate leadership. Obviously that didn't happen in this case . . .

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

US greenhouse gas emissions up 6.6%

It's true! Of course, it pales in comparison to the 21.1% increase notched by those smug Kyoto signatory nations, of course.

H/T to Nick Packwood, who writes:

The average global increases in so called "greenhouse gas" emissions 1997 - 2004 has been 18%. The average decrease in greenhouse emissions amongst signatories to Kyoto is... let's see here... you are saying it is a 21% increase? But that is impossible. They signed an agreement.

Posted by Nicholas at 10:26 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: Bureaucrats

The problems with the actual good bureau'rats (the 'c' is silent) are:

a) their good efforts are often overshadowed by the effects of the nasty buggers, who really know how to play the system to worst effect — and as we know, a single bad experience wipes out a world of OK and good experiences in the mind of the 'consumer'.

b) everybody in a department might be a hardworking, efficient saint, but if what they are doing is not needed or is actively harmful in its conception and its implementation, then all the good will in the world won't suffice to put lipstick on that pig. Think Gun Registry.

I won't even get into the subclass of bureau'rats who are "true believers" — they can sometimes be worse than the malicious ones.

Kevin McLauchlan, personal email, 2008-05-02

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

May 04, 2008

QotD: Audio recordings

I am, sadly, old enough to have been assistant manager at an A&A Records and Tapes and to remember the excitement and trepidation that came with the introduction of the CD. It was not just the new colder sound of these things but a sense of loss at all that acreage of cover art reduced to the CD's smaller footprint. They were so compact we used to shelve each CD in a cumbersome plastic box three times its length; the new digital format seemed all too easy to steal. Little did any of us see where that logic would lead.

Nick Packwood, "The return of the repressed", Ghost of a Flea, 2008-02-14

Posted by Nicholas at 12:06 AM | Comments (0)

May 02, 2008

London election humour

I happened to visit the Guardian home page this afternoon, and found the following items front-and-centre:

MayorOfLondon.png

Hmmm. Red Ken versus Robert Mugabe in a run-off? What?

Posted by Nicholas at 04:40 PM | Comments (0)

Those untrustworthy Chinese economic numbers

Regular readers will know that I've been a long-term skeptic about the economic figures reported by the Chinese government (for example, here and here back in 2004). As a result, this post at the Economist is not very surprising:

As China's importance in the global economy increases, investors are paying more attention to its economic numbers. Yet the country's official statistics are notoriously ropy. Some commentators accuse China's government of overstating GDP growth for political reasons, others complain that the official inflation rate is fraudulently low. So which data can you trust?

One reason to be suspicious of GDP figures is that China is always one of the first countries to report them, usually only two weeks after the end of each quarter. Most developed economies take between four and six weeks to produce them.

However, the Economist still feels that the Chinese economy is larger than reported. My sense of distrust in the figures argues for it being neither as big nor as robust as the reported figures indicate. They're professional economic reporters . . . I'm a guy typing a blog entry. I wonder what the long-term odds are for either of us to be closer to the truth?

It's tough to disagree with this, though:

The prize for the dodgiest figures goes to the labour market. The quarterly urban unemployment rate is meaningless because it excludes workers laid off by state-owned firms as well as large numbers of migrant workers, who normally live in urban areas but are not registered. Wage figures are also lousy. There has recently been much concern about the faster pace of increase in average urban earnings. But this series does not cover private firms, which are where most jobs have been created in recent years.

Now that China is such an engine of global growth, it urgently needs to improve its economic data. Only a madman would drive a juggernaut at full speed with a faulty speedometer, a cracked rear-view mirror and a misty windscreen.

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

Like shooting conservative fish in a barrel

Radley Balko posts a link to the most popular 50 pages on Conservapedia under the heading Compensate Much?:

ConservapediaTop50.gif

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

Display issues

As you may occasionally find, we're having some CSS issues on the site at the moment (for instance, when I rebuilt the site a minute ago, I lost the sidebar at the left). They're not consistent, which makes it much tougher to track down. Jon and I are looking at our options: fixing the current site, upgrading to the latest version of MovableType, or switching to another blogging software package.

Sticking with the current software isn't likely: it's old and no longer supported by Six Apart. Upgrading is more likely, except that it will require a double-upgrade, once to version 3.5 and then again to version 4.2. The alternative is to switch to something like WordPress (which has the advantage of being already installed at the new ISP).

Short version: no matter what, expect a bit of odd-looking pages for the next little while as we work through the options.

Update: Argghhh! Still having time-outs on just about everything. Even saving and rebuilding doesn't fix all the posting issues (I've got one post that just plain refuses to appear, and another one with a graphic that won't display at all). Very frustrating.

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

The nature of guilds

In a discussion on the technical writing mailing list earlier this week, someone proposed trying to organize technical writers in some form of union or guild. Kevin McLauchlan tackled the idea of a guild head-on:

Doctors and lawyers don't often work in groups of hundreds or thousands, but their guilds regulate them (a little) and keep their clubs exclusive (sorta), and collude with government, thereby keeping membership numbers controlled and prices up. For example, [in Ontario] the medical association just graciously "permitted" a new medical school to come into existence.

The other side of that is that they've been not permitting some/many to come into existence. This, in a province and a country that is becoming desperately short of doctors. Here in the land of socialized medicine, a large (and rapidly increasing) percentage of the population does not have a family doctor, simply because there are not enough licensed doctors to go around. Instead, people use the hospital Emergency room for every medical need, or they go to walk-in clinics (where they rarely see the same doctor twice . . . but at least some records are kept . . . but they don't always go to the same clinics because. . .)

Clinics are closing, or are going on reduced operating hours because they can't find doctors to work the time-slots. Lots and lots of our doctors (including my own GP) are foreign-born and foreign-trained, but many foreign-born, foreign-trained doctors are working as taxi drivers or other occupations because they are not permitted to practice medicine in this place that is so desperately lacking doctors.

Between government (that gives them the clout to enforce) and the medical association that does the enforcing, the number of doctors is kept artificially low. The newly arrived doctors from India, Malaysia, Arab counties, Eastern Europe, etc. are not permitted to become Canadian doctors. Part of the excuse that's given is that their skills need to be harmonized with the Canadian medical standards of practice . . . but there are not enough resources to process most of the applicants. But the lack of resources lies directly at the doorstep of the /g/u/i/l/d/ Medical Association that sets the numbers of med-school seats, the number of med schools that can be accredited, the number of programs and personnel that can mentor and supervise immigrant doctors until they get up to speed.

That kind of power and impunity can exist only when you've got government in your corner, supplying the legal clout to make your /g/u/i/l/d/ association pronouncements carry the force of law. The results are kinda harsh, when the turnaround time for a change of priorities is a matter of years or decades.

So, STC (or some other techwriter guild) would need to get government on-side in order to set quotas and price guidelines that could be enforced on the hundreds of thousands of companies that employ us in onesies, twosies, and small groups. They'd also need to enforce requirements for our services. Unlike engineers, we provide services that can be dispensed with, or that can be offloaded to non-professional, non-accredited techwriters . . . unless the law says that any product that is sold must be accompanied by documentation that carries the <STC?> seal of approval . . . having been created by <STC?> accredited writers. Of course, that kind of requirement would drive even more production offshore. Unlike the provision of medical services, product development and production can be done very far away from the people who eventually purchase the product.

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

May 01, 2008

Hmmm. Must be something in the water

I ran the same test on the blog, once at the old location and once here. Apparently I've developed a written form of Tourette's Syndrome:

Old Site

New Site

The Blog-O-Cuss Meter - Do you cuss a lot in your blog or website?
Created by OnePlusYou

The Blog-O-Cuss Meter - Do you cuss a lot in your blog or website?
Created by OnePlusYou

Posted by Nicholas at 06:28 PM | Comments (0)

Advice for new bloggers

My usual piece of advice is to blog frequently, but Megan McArdle provides an even better word of advice:

Note to all new bloggers: this sort of thing is generally, at least in the blogging circles in which I travel, considered to be rather poor form. Worse, indeed, than accidentally neglecting to provide a link to someone you have already conceded to exist.

That doesn't excuse me for forgetting the link — I shouldn't be so careless on that score. But if you use substantial parts of another blogger's post, you should mention that you found it somewhere else. Direct paraphrase without even attempting attribution is regarded with less horror by bloggers than it is by English professors . . . but not all that much less horror. Especially since linking a source is a lot faster and easier than footnoting.

The answer to the question I posed in the title is, basically, "Always!" As Nick Gillespie noted yesterday, "there's no cost to acknowledging sources—if anything, it's a sign of erudition and plugs an author into a broader network of thinkers." Besides, as he also noted, if you go over the line you're very likely to be caught.

I'd add to what she says about linking being "a lot faster and easier than footnoting" that it's also significantly more useful for the reader. That argument seals the deal every time for me: if I want you to have to work hard to understand what I'm writing, I'd be an academic, not a blogger.

Posted by Nicholas at 09:16 AM | Comments (0)

QotD: The origin of the name Canada

"Canada" [. . .] is the ancient Ojibwa word for "kick me"

Kathy Shaidle, "I missed 'Pingu' for this?", Five Feet of Fury, 2008-04-30

Posted by Nicholas at 09:04 AM | Comments (0)

Book reviews . . . of DOOM

You know those books you read but would prefer that nobody knew that you read . . . no, not those ones. The worst trash you read. Everyone seems to have some reading vice like that. David Hines knows exactly what you feel:

You think that paragraph alone would make this book awesomely bad, but no. IT GETS MORE SO. Yes, you will be horrified by a lot of this, because Mike Harmon's adventures are by turns awesomely horrific and horrifically awesome; I freely confess that I cannot stop reading these books, because *I have to see what Ringo does next.* I do, however, have a finely-tuned defense mechanism: whenever something trips my circuit breaker, causing me to cringe away from the page, I utter aloud a cry that resets my noggin. You will probably need it yourself, so I provide it here, as a public service: "OH JOHN RINGO NO."

GHOST is Ringo's own admitted Lord King Badfic, his id run wild. By his own account, he was trying to write several books he was actually contracted for, but GHOST kept nudging at him, and finally he just wrote the damn thing to *make it go away* so he could get back to fulfilling his contracts. Ringo locked the spewings of his id away on his hard drive, until he mentioned in passing on an online forum that yeah, he'd written another book, but it was *awful* and would never see the light of day. Naturally, folks were curious, and when Ringo posted a sample, nobody was more surprised than him to find that the response was, more often than not, "Hey, man, I'd buy this."

So his publisher put it out, and the books are now doing pretty well for them. I'm sure this is a pleasant surprise if you're Ringo or his publisher, but it's also got to be a little embarrassing; he's committed the literary equivalent of charging money for folks to watch him roll naked in a pile of dead and smelly fish. And then being begged for encores. As of this writing, I have only the first three books in the series, because dammit, I will buy crap, but I refuse to buy crap in hardcover. That's *expensive.* I mean, I could be spending that money on *guns.*

I've read a few of these, and David is being very precise in his review. Ringo is a very good writer . . . and this series is gut-churningly disturbing. David continues:

I feel about the PALADIN OF SHADOWS series the way that a lot of people feel about ALL-STAR BATMAN AND ROBIN: it is so horrifically awful that it becomes TOTALLY FUCKING AWESOME. Unless, of course, you have triggers about some or all of this stuff, in which case my recommendation is TO RUN AS FAR AND AS FAST AS YOU CAN. I will, however, say that GHOST and its sequels are *excellent* for reading out loud to people, particularly friends who are horrified and actively begging you to stop. (And you will be inclined to disregard such pleas, because you will need to share the pain.)

Amusingly, John Ringo himself liked the review.

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


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